The Cross : Gods Sacrifice
READ 1 Corinthians 1.18-25, 30-31 (stand)
What we are about to talk about is sheer folly: it is foolishness. This message about Jesus being crucified is ridiculous: many people are unwilling to entertain the thought.
I think we need to remember that as we dive into the wonders of the cross: your belief structures are not accepted around the world. You and I are increasingly becoming the minority in our culture.
It’s one thing to say that Jesus was a real person who lived in first-century Palestine. Its another thing to say that his death actually does something for other people. To most people, he is lofty martyr and that’s it. He brought principles, he brought revolution, but nothing else.
But to those who believe, to those who have embraced the message about the cross, to those who acknowledge the Word, the cross is power, the cross is victory, the cross is salvation.
It is the truest of wisdom: a person can allege wisdom, people can say they have wisdom beyond their years. And there is some merit to that; there is biblical evidence for wise living. But the ultimate evidence for wisdom is not being good with your finances or giving good advice; the ultimate wisdom is acknowledging the person and work of Jesus Christ and bowing your knee to him, saying, Jesus is King and Lord of all.
So we are not stumbling upon some dusty, outdated, close-minded doctrine. No, we are entering into a discussion about the center of everything. Reality as we know it finds it place at the Son of God nailed to a tree.
P.T. Forsyth, a 19th and 20th century theologian, says, “[On the work of Christ] the whole church rests. If you move faith from that centre, you have driven the nail into the Church’s coffin. The Church is then doomed to death, and it is only a matter of time when she shall expire.” (The Work of Christ)
If we forget this message, if Redeemer chooses to step away from the truth about the cross, we won’t last. And so, from the very beginning, we focus on the cross. We choose the cross over worldly wisdom. Are we fools? Yes we are. But the foolishness of God is wiser than men.
Let’s Dive In: A Crucial Preposition
- Our approach: the topic of the cross is massive—it could easily be taught for weeks and weeks.
- So we’re just going to dig beneath the surface to observe a few, though not all, important realities of Jesus dying on the cross.
As we study the Bible together, we’re looking for meaning. What does a text say; what does it mean?
- Turn to Galatians 3 and read verse 13.
- Turn to Romans 5 and READ verses 6 and 8.
- Turn to John 10 and READ verse 11.
The first thing we should see is that Christ is our substitute. When we look at these verses and many others, it becomes abundantly clear that Jesus is doing something for us. He has replaced us for something we should be doing ourselves. The preposition, ὑπὲρ: its general meaning is to do something that benefits another, to take on someone else’s interests. So at the very core of the Christian message about the cross is that Jesus has done something for us: he has done something that we should have done ourselves. He has accomplished something that was ours to accomplish, but we could not do it.
What then becomes very important is to ask, Why do we actually need Jesus? What are we incapable of doing that would require Jesus to be our substitute?
Here is a simple answer: humans are unable to please God. Humans are unable to follow God’s ways, his intentions, his laws. God demands holiness: a perfection in living. He demands a life that never goes against his designs: a complete submission to his will.
And so what’s the problem? No one can do this. Everyone is a sinner. Everyone, no exceptions.
When we think of someone and say, ‘Oh yeah, that is good guy’ or ‘She’s a good girl,’ we can say it lighthearted—in a cultural sense. (I do this…) But not from a theological sense: before a living and holy God, no one is good. Not one person.Not only that, we hold that everyone by nature is a sinner. We cannot ascend the holy hill of God: he is unapproachable because we are born into sin. As King David writes, Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me (Ps 51.5).
And so, that is the problem; that is our current status. And the message about the cross directly addresses this problem.
And it does so through several images.
It goes something like this: God is holy; he has standards of holiness. He hates sins; going against the intentions of God arouses his wrath.
We get this from dozens of passages, but perhaps one of the most important places is Romans: (turn there) Rom 1.18: For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness, suppress the truth.
- That word “for” at the beginning of the verse is the grounds or the basis for what comes right before it in verses 16-17.
- Leon Morris, a 20th century theologian says, “The entire weight of verses 16, 17, which contain a summary of the Epistle, rests upon the assumption that all men are, apart from the Gospel, under the anger of God. Salvation for Paul is essentially a salvation from as well as a salvation unto” (Apostolic Preaching, 168).
- Then right after them Paul makes a sweeping statement that humanity is under God’s wrath.
- Those two verses are his shorthand for describing the gospel: to be made right before God through faith in Christ.
And so we have to understand this carefully and plainly: the wrath of God is very real. Our culture refuses to deal with it, but there is a God who is a wrathful Judge who is angry with the choices of humanity.
Paul makes this argument in these first few chapters of Romans: both Jews and Gentiles are under God’s wrath because of their sin.
READ Romans 3.23-25a: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood.
What does it mean that Jesus is our propitiation before God?
- It means that Jesus dying for us, as our substitute, satisfies the wrath of God.
- God’s wrath is placed upon his own Son. And notice in Romans 3.25, its something God the Father planned! God put his own Son forward. That is the Trinity at work!
- God is angry with our sin, he is angry with us, but Jesus dying on the cross for us completely deals with that divine anger.
And so we see right alongside God’s terrible wrath against humanity is his wonderful love toward us, that he would give his only Son. Leon Morris says it really well: “Divine love and divine wrath are compatible aspects of the divine nature. There is a divine wrath, but if we may put it this way, it is always exercised with a certain tenderness, for even when He is angry with man’s sin God loves man and is concerned for his well-being in the fullest sense. There is a divine love, but it is not a careless sentimentality indifferent to the moral integrity of the loved ones. Rather it is a love which is a purifying fire, blazing against everything that hinders the loved ones from being the very best that they can be” (Apostolic Preaching, 158).
Therefore, God’s wrath no longer rests on us if we believe in faith. Jesus, as our substitute, absorbs the wrath of God that is intended for each and every one of us.
In both Jewish and Greek literature, to redeem someone is to pay a ransom price to secure his or her liberation.This is found in several contexts, and in the first century, when someone heard this word, “redemption,” they thought of the purchase money necessary to liberate a slave.
And so once again, we need to work backwards to see why this imagery is relevant for us.
Moreover, you and I have a debt we owe. Just like slaves have a certain amount of time they serve to pay off their slavery, so also we have a debt for our sins. And that debt, that payment is death itself. Sin has complete control. We live our lives for sin. That is the state of humanity. That means that sin is our master. If sin tells us to do something, we have no option but to do it. Our entire lives are dependent upon sin. Jesus himself says, Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin (John 8.34). Because of our sin, because of willful rebellion against God, the Bible says we are enslaved to sin.
But then a new master suddenly comes. He comes in power and he comes in might. He comes to win back those who have been lost. He comes to redeem those who are in shackles. (read every word!!!)
And his method is striking. It is substitution! Jesus comes, as our humble substitute, and he dies forus. He dies the death that we were supposed to die.
Therefore, he takes us back. The chains of sin are broken. And instead of having death hung around our necks because of our sin, we are wonderfully redeemed and sin becomes dead to us.
Do you see the reversal? Death was the result of sin. But now, because of Christ on the cross, sin itself dies. It no longer is our master. Sin has been defeated.
Titus 2.14: Jesus Christ gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.
Notice the language: “redeem” and “possession.”
1 Peter 1.18-19: Know that you were ransomed [you were purchased!] from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ.
1 Corinthians 6.19-20: Do you not now that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God with your body.
The God of the Bible is a God of law. As Abraham calls him, he is the “judge of all the earth” (Gen 18.25). The word the Bible uses to describe God is righteousness: he is by nature, righteous. That is, he acts rightly; his ethics are impeccable; he is perfectly moral. In fact, he is so righteous that he cannot be matched; he has no competitors. His righteousness, his “rightness,” is hot; it is sizzling; it is a light that blinds. Therefore, his righteousness reveals his holiness.
His own righteousness leads to the same requirement for his people.
There is not one person in the history of the world who can be considered righteous. If we are to match, imitate, assume the righteous standards that God has for humanity, then we’re in serious trouble.
And that is exactly what we see in Scripture:
Ps 143.2: Enter not into judgment with your servant, for no one living is righteous before you.
And so, with God as judge, you and I stand condemned. In the courtroom of God, we overwhelmingly plead guilty. Over and over again. Even the most righteous people we can think of cannot even get close to this divine standard of right living. One broken law, one lie, one lustful thought, one idol: it doesn’t matter. The track record of any human being in history is crushed before this Holy Judge of the universe.
But here is the beauty of justification.
Imagine us there, standing before the Judge. He has given the decree: guilty sinner, eternally condemned. There is no hope; we have been given the death sentence. But then suddenly, Jesus busts through the doors; he comes running in and says, No, I’ll take it. I’ll do it. I will take the guilt, I will take the sin, I will take the death sentence.
The death sentence isn't erased at all. It’s exactly opposite: Jesus himself takes that verdict upon himself. He is the one who is punished.
So when we think about what Jesus did on the cross? What does the cross mean? It means that when Jesus died on the cross, he took your punishment. And so he who is perfectly righteous and holy takes our guilt upon himself. In return, we receive his righteousness.
Through the substitutionary death of Jesus, God the Father declares that we are justified; he declares that we are in right standing with him. We are acquitted.
Therefore, we need to be careful with our language: so often we tell others to “accept Jesus into their hearts.” This is backwards: justification is not accepting Jesus into your heart; it is God, through the death of Christ, accepting you!
We are not the subject of the acceptance; we are the object.
READ Romans 8.14-17.
Also John 1.12: “But to all who received [Jesus], who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.”
Up to this point, the images have been technical: the wrath of God is pacified, the debt you owe is paid, the guilty verdict you have is reversed. But now the imagery gets incredibly intimate: not only is the cross a transaction; it also restores a relationship.
This comes across well in Galatians 3-4. READ Gal 4.1-7
Verse 5 says it really well: the purpose (“so that”) of our redemption is adoption.
God sent his Son to die on the cross to purchase us, to free us. He freed us from slavery so that we might be adopted as his own children.
Therefore, we belong to God.
Paul reminds us that before our faith in Christ’s death on the cross, we were not children of God. This is hard to accept because we want to think that any human is a child of God. But this is the gravity of sin. Though we are designed to be in God’s family, that is not possible unless we place our lives in Christ. Sin creates separation; it creates a familial break. But Jesus, the only begotten Son of God came to the earth and died a grueling death that we should have died ourselves. And the wonderful benefit of that event is that we become the beloved children of God. Those once called children of wrath become children of God.
What are some important implications/applications of adoption in Christ?
One application: our identity
Knowing who we are should impact the way we live. Especially men: we don’t like thinking in these intimate kinds of ways, but it is essential. Its not soft; its gospel.
One application: our view of one another. We are trained in a capitalistic, individualistic culture to compete, to win, to judge, to size up, to compare. But not here. Adoption should be sending shockwaves into our understanding of the church. You are not a threat; you’re my family. You are not my competitor, you are the ones I trust to protect me and keep me.
A third application: the importance of foster care and adoption.
The church should always be the leader in the world. This is one of the best pictures of the gospel: obviously so, Paul used it!
Reconciliation, Union, Access, and others!
Conclusion: I Cor 2.1-2: And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.