Calvary Church of the Nazarene Huntsville, Alabama
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Humanly speaking, the cross of X is the greatest defeat of the ages. But when viewed in light of the subsequent resurrection, the cross becomes the greatest victory of all time. The cross is the focal point in gospel preaching. This is also true of gospel singing. Some of our most popular hymns, for example, are about the cross: At Calvary - At the Cross - Beneath the Cross of Jesus - Near the Cross - When I Survey the Wondrous Cross - The Old Rugged Cross. And yet, as we recognize the centrality of the cross, we ask ourselves,AJust what is its meaning?@ The meaning of the cross may be examined from a 3-fold standpoint: The Cross is the Suffering, Revealing, Redeeming Love of God.
I THE CROSS IS THE SUFFERING LOVE OF GOD - The cross is
God Himself suffering in Jesus Christ.
A. Jesus suffers humiliation. The price He paid was to leave heaven=s glory where He had a Father but no mother, & come to earth=s gloom where He had a mother but no father. He emptied Himself of His glory; not of His essential deity & Godhead, but of the outward appearance & shining manifestation of that glorious deity & Godhead. He was condemned to death by crucifixion. AHe was led like a lamb to the slaughter and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so He did not open His mouth@ (Is. 53:7). The so-called trials before Annas & Caiphas, Herod & Pilate were not worthy of the name. Peter=s denials, though predicted, pierced the air as poisonous darts. The cruel mockery by the priests and soldiers; the spitting, the scourging, & the hysteria of the mob - all this for the Sinless Christ Who was treated as a sinful criminal. A crown of thorns was crushed upon His head in mockery. His hands and feet were pierced w/ nails. His tongue clave to the roof of His mouth as He experienced the agonies of intense thirst. Indeed, His whole body cried out from the pain of utter exhaustion. It was humiliation at its heights!
B. Jesus suffers heartache. His heartache included His mental agony & deep sorrow over the failure of His people, the Jews, to repent. The experience of their ingratitude, spiritual blindness, the insults & sheer mockery to which He was subjected were heart rending. But the deepest and certainly the greatest pain was His spiritual heartache - for He Who knew no sin was made sin on our behalf. He who, because He was sinless should not have died, was voluntarily submitting Himself to the death of the cross. So intense was His spiritual heartache and suffering that it brought forth from the depths of His soul that agonizing cry of dereliction:AMy God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?@ The cross is the suffering love of God. Nevertheless, AThe preaching of the Cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God.@
II THE CROSS IS THE REVEALING LOVE OF GOD - It reveals man at his worst: Man is not some innocent victim of circumstances beyond his control; he is a guilty rebel. He has defied God, corrupted His gifts, & despised His love: the Holy One has become the hated one. Sinners have mangled, mocked, & murdered Him. At the cross, the sinfulness of man is clearly & unmistakably revealed:AThere is none righteous, no, not one@ (Rom. 3:10). But the sins which crucified Jesus were not just the sins of the Jewish religious leaders & Roman officials of that day. They were our sins, as well. Nothing reveals the gravity of our sin like the cross. For ultimately, what sent Christ to the cross was not only the greed of Judas, the envy of the priests, & the vacillating cowardice of Pilate, but also our greed, our envy, & our cowardice - our sin! It is impossible for us to face the cross of Christ w/ integrity & not be overwhelmed w/ the gravity of our sins - whether that sin be apathy, complacency, selfishness, or whatever we may mention. And it is only when we see sin in its true light that we will cry out, AGod, be merciful to me the sinner!@ And yet, man=s sin does not triumph at Calvary. For the cross also reveals God at His best. God could have left us alone to reap the fruit of our wrongdoing & to perish in our iniquity. That is what we deserved. But He did not desert us to our just deserts. He came after us in Christ. Because He loved us, He pursued us, even to the desolate anguish of the cross - where He bore our sin, our guilt, our judgment, & our death. On the cross, AGod made Him Who knew no sin, sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him@ (II Cor. 5:21). And it takes a hard & stony heart to remain unmoved by a love like that! In fact, the cross was God=s greatest >love-gesture= to the world. It was an AI Love You@ message to the world of the undeserving. The judgment of a Holy God demanded the cross & the love of an all-gracious God provided the cross. Therefore, the cross of Christ reveals the amazing depths of the love of God for sinful man because His love was directed toward those who were completely unworthy of it. God did not wait for us to become good, but Awhile we were yet sinners@ (i.e., in rebellion against God), He loved us & demonstrated that love by giving His Son to die for our sins. As the hymnist expressed it:
O love that will not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in Thee;
I give Thee back the life I owe,
That in Thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be.
Nevertheless,AThe preaching of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God.@
III THE CROSS IS THE REDEEMING LOVE OF GOD - In I Peter 1:18-19:Ayou were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished & spotless, the blood of Christ.@ The word redeemed was used in the first century to refer to >purchase from slavery or deliverance from slavery.= Here in I Peter, the word is a powerful description of deliverance/liberation or being set free from the slavery of a godless life. Now, if we consider how sin masters a man, warps his will, and binds him w/ iron chains of evil habits, then we can understand why being >set free= from the bondage/slavery of sin is so essential. All sin is futile/vain/empty/profitless. In fact, one of the Biblical words for Asin@ literally means a missing of the mark. Sin is always a blunder - no one ever gets the good which was expected from sin; or even if we do, we also get something else which spoils the good. Sin is Avain@ because it produces a godless life which is a wasted & barren life. The devil always plays w/ loaded dice. Sin never produces anything that is worth having or keeping. Sin is a hungry tyrant - always looking for new territory to steal & spoil. The meaning of the cross, however, is that God has redeemed us from the death-grip of sin=s dark domain. He purchased our deliverance at the high price of His own Son=s life-blood. There is nothing left for us to pay. Nothing! AI hear the Saviour say, >Thy strength, indeed, is small. Child of weakness, watch and pray, Find in Me thine all in all.= For nothing good have I Whereby Thy grace to claim; I=ll wash my garments white In the blood of Calvary=s Lamb. Jesus paid it all, All to Him I owe; Sin had left a crimson stain, He washed it white as snow. And when, before the throne, I stand in Him complete, >Jesus died my soul to save,= My lips shall still repeat: Jesus paid it all, All to Him I owe; Sin had left a crimson stain, He washed it white as snow.@ When on the cross, Jesus exclaimed, AIt is finished,@ He really meant it; there is nothing left for us to contribute: AChrist has for sin atonement made, What a wonderful Saviour! I am redeemed the price is paid, What a wonderful Saviour! What a wonderful Saviour is Jesus, my Jesus! What a wonderful Saviour is Jesus, my Lord!@ Oh, let us humble ourselves at the foot of the cross, confess that we have sinned & deserve nothing but judgment. But let us then thank Him that He loves us & died for us & then commit our lives to Him - thereby receiving a full & free forgiveness. Jesus= death on the cross was for folks like you and me. He died a shameful, dishonorable, despicable, substitutionary, redeeming death for us! The cross is, indeed, the redeeming love of God. No wonder, then, that in Gal. 6:14 Paul cried out, ABut God forbid that I should glory, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.@ Nevertheless, AThe preaching of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God.@ The cross is the suffering, revealing, redeeming love of God as manifested in Jesus Christ. All the glory of the gospel centers in the cross. It is the center of NT thought. It is the exclusive mark of the Xn faith. But to you, the cross is meaningless/dull/void/empty or foolish, until you receive the One Who was put to death on that cross for our sins - and who was subsequently raised from the dead as God=s proof of acceptance of His sacrifice. God offers life through Him. Only by responding affirmatively/positively to what God did at the cross will you know that the cross is both the power of God and the wisdom of God for salvation. Only then can you joyfully sing:
Redeemed, how I love to proclaim it!
Redeemed by the blood of the Lamb;
Redeemed through His infinite mercy,
His child, and forever, I am.
Redeemed, Redeemed, Redeemed by the blood of the Lamb.
Redeemed, and so happy in Jesus, His child, and forever, I am.
Dr. Morris Murray, Jr.
Content copyright July 2010 jmhall. All rights reserved.