Salvation

And Jehoash the king of Israel sent to Amaziah king of Judah, saying, The thistle that was in Lebanon sent to the cedar that was in Lebanon, saying, Give thy daughter to my son to wife: and there passed by a wild beast that was in Lebanon, and trode down the thistle. Thou hast indeed smitten Edom, and thine heart hath lifted thee up: glory of this, and tarry at home: for why shouldest thou meddle to thy hurt, that thou shouldest fall, even thou, and Judah with thee? But Amaziah would not hear. Therefore Jehoash king of Israel went up; and he and Amaziah king of Judah looked one another in the face at Bethshemesh, which belongeth to Judah.
~ 2 Kings 14:9-11

Surely, shall one say, in the LORD have I righteousness and strength: even to him shall men come; and all that are incensed against him shall be ashamed. In the LORD shall all the seed of Israel be justified, and shall glory.
~ Isaiah 45:24-25

Save that the Holy Ghost witnesseth in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions abide me. But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God.
~ Acts 20:23-24

For what if some did not believe? shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect? God forbid: yea, let God be true, but every man a liar; as it is written, That thou mightest be justified in thy sayings, and mightest overcome when thou art judged. But if our unrighteousness commend the righteousness of God, what shall we say? Is God unrighteous who taketh vengeance? (I speak as a man) God forbid: for then how shall God judge the world?
~ Romans 3:3-6

That no flesh should glory in his presence. But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.
~ 1 Corinthians 1:29-31

The Means of Salvation, by Martyn Lloyd-Jones.

But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.
~ Galatians 6:14

Give me the faith which can remove
And sink the mountain to a plain;
Give me the childlike, praying love
Which longs to build Thy house again;
Thy love, let it my heart o’erpower,
Let it my ransomed soul devour.
I would the precious time redeem
And longer live for this alone—
To spend and to be spent for them
Who have not yet my Saviour known;
Fully on these my mission prove,
And only breathe, to breathe Thy love.
My talents, gifts and graces,
Lord, Into Thy blessed hands receive;
And let me live to preach Thy word,
And let me to Thy glory live;
My every sacred moment spend
In publishing the sinners’ Friend.
Enlarge, inflame and fill my heart
With boundless charity divine;
So shall I all my strength exert,
And love them with a zeal like Thine;
And lead them to Thine open side,
The sheep for whom their shepherd died.
— C. Wesley

Could you and would you gladly spend all your days in that way? That is the question. Is it your desire to spend all your days in praising this friend, of whom all those words are true?

Well, in order to try to help you to answer that question, I would like to call your attention to the words found in Paul’s epistle to the Galatians. In chapter 6 verse 14, he writes: ‘But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.’ Now, this verse follows on from what went before, the word ‘but’ suggests it. Verses 12 and 13 read like this: ‘As many as desire to make a fair shew in the flesh, they constrain you to be circumcised; only lest they should suffer persecution for the cross of Christ. For neither they themselves who are circumcised keep the law; but desire to have you circumcised, that they may glory in your flesh. But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.’

As I have just reminded you, this statement can only be understood properly if we also take it in its own context, since this helps us to see why the Apostle speaks as he does in this way about the death of the Son of God, our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, upon the cross on Calvary’s hill. He is finishing his letter to the Galatians. These were people who had become Christians as the result of his own preaching and teaching. But certain other teachers had gone round, who had been upsetting them. They had taught that while it is all right to believe in the gospel, yet, if you really want to be a full blown Christian and want to be truly blessed of God, you have also got to submit to circumcision and go back under the old Jewish law. The Apostle has written this, his own epistle, in order to deal with that question. And here he is now at the very end of his letter summarizing all he has been saying. And, at the same time, he is reminding the Galatians, and all others through them, of certain fundamental truths and principles of the Christian faith.

The first thing of which he reminds them is that life in this world is a very serious and a very solemn matter. Life when truly understood is not the sort of thing that the world would teach you to think of, it is not something flippant and light, through which you waltz, having a good time. Not at all. It is a tremendously serious matter. For this reason: ‘Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting’ (vv.7–8).

Life is a matter of sowing and reaping, and what a man sows that shall he also reap. There are certain moral laws in operation in this world which are absolute. All of us are responsible beings, and we shall all die and stand before God in judgement and give account of the deeds done in the body. And our eternal destiny will depend upon what we have done in this life and in this world. Life therefore is a tremendous matter. It is the most serious thing conceivable, because what we get in this life and what we will get through all eternity depends upon whether we sow to the flesh or whether we sow to the Spirit.

Very well then, the most important thing to discover in this world is—how does one sow to the Spirit? How am I so to live that I shall reap the blessing of joy and happiness and peace in this world and in the world to come for ever and for ever? That is the question, but unfortunately, as the Apostle goes on to point out, and as indeed he has been indicating in the whole of his epistle, that question, that problem, has become somewhat confused, because there are false teachers. The position had arisen in the early church, and it still remains today. There are contradictory voices going out in the name of the Christian church. They all say they are Christians, all claim to belong to the Christian church, but they are saying things that are diametrically opposed to one another. So the first thing we have to do is to discover which is the true message. How do you differentiate between the true and the false? The Apostle has answered the question in this epistle, as he has answered it in other epistles. As indeed the whole of the Bible answers it.

What then is the true message? What is the Christian gospel? What is it about? What does it proclaim? What has it got to say to us? How can a man be right with God? How can I sow to the Spirit? How can I reap life everlasting? What have I got to do in this life and in this world which will render me immune to what may happen round and about me, which would enable me to smile in the face of death, which already assures me that I have nothing to fear when I come to the judgement of God, and which guarantees me everlasting and eternal bliss in the glory indescribable? What have I got to do? How can I get to that position? Here, very fortunately for us, the great apostle answers the question. He puts it in this glorious and tremendous statement. ‘God forbid that I should glory …’ the thing is unthinkable, he says, that I should glory in anything ‘… save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me and I unto the world.’ This is the thing in which he glories. This is the thing which he preached. And this by the grace of God is the thing that I am privileged to preach to you. It is the same answer, there is still only this one message.

What is it? Let us look at it like this. The preaching of the cross, the preaching of the death of the Lord Jesus Christ on that cross is the very heart and centre of the Christian gospel and the Christian message. Now, I think you must all agree that that is an inevitable deduction, both from what the Apostle says here and from what he picks out as that in which he glories. The central thing, the thing that matters above everything else, and what he picks out is the cross, the death on the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.

This is, as I want to show you, what he always preached, and what all the other apostles always preached. If you and I want to know what the message of the Christian church is, surely the thing for us to do is to go back to the beginning. How did the Christian church begin? What was the message? Here are men called apostles. These were the men who founded the Christian church. They all said that they were not preaching their own ideas, but that they had been given the message by the Lord Jesus Christ. So, if we want to know what the Christian message is we must go back and consider the Apostle’s message. And that is what we are going to do now. And I hope to show you that the message was the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Now, what I want to emphasize is that this is what they preached, and that they did so in spite of the fact that it was not popular. The preaching of the cross has never been popular. It is not popular today. It never has been. The preaching of the cross was a stumbling block to the Jews, it was foolishness to the Greeks. Paul says, ‘As many as desire to make a fair show in the flesh, they constrain you to be circumcised’ (v. 12). And this is their reason, lest they should suffer persecution for the cross of Christ.’ The preaching of the cross of Christ has always led to persecution. Earlier in the same epistle, the Apostle speaks about what he describes as the offence of the cross. It has always been offensive to people. They did not like it in the first century, the Jews did not, the Greeks did not, nobody liked it. Nevertheless, in spite of the fact that it was not liked and that it was thoroughly unpopular, this was the very thing that all the apostles preached. They went on preaching and eventually suffered martyrdom and death because they persisted in doing so.

This then establishes the fact that it was the very centre and heart of their message, and there is nothing that I know of that is more important than that every one of us should realize that this is still the heart and the centre of the Christian message. In order to emphasize that, let me put it negatively first. What is the message of the Christian gospel, and of the Christian church? Now at the risk of being misunderstood I will put it like this. It is not primarily the teaching of our Lord. I say that, of course, because there are so many today who think that this is Christianity. They say: ‘What we need is Jesus’s teaching. He is the greatest religious genius of all times. He is above all the philosophers. Let us have a look at his teaching, at the Sermon on the Mount and so on. That is what we want. What the world needs today,’ they say, ‘is a dose of the Sermon on the Mount. A dose of his ethical teaching. We must preach this to people and teach them how to live.’ But according to the apostle Paul, that is not their first need. And I will go further. If you only preach the teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ, not only do you not solve the problem of mankind, in a sense you even aggravate it. You are preaching nothing but utter condemnation, because nobody can ever carry it out.

So they did not preach his teaching. Paul does not say, ‘God forbid that I should glory, save in the Sermon on the Mount; God forbid that I should glory save in the ethical teaching of Jesus.’ He does not say that. It was not the teaching of Christ, nor the example of Christ either. That is often preached, is it not? ‘What is the message of Christianity? The imitation of Christ. Read the Gospels,’ they say, ‘and see how he lived. That is the way we all ought to live, so let us decide to do so. Let us decide to imitate Christ and to live as he lived.’

I say once more that that is not the centre and the heart of the Christian message. That comes into it, but not at the beginning. It is not the first thing, it is not the thing the apostles preached initially, neither was it our Lord’s example. What they preached was his death upon the cross, and the meaning of that event. Now this is an assertion, and of course I must substantiate it, because people are ready to say, ‘Yes, but that is only your opinion. You have attacked the other opinions, and of course like all you preachers, you say that you alone are right.’ But, my dear friends, I want to show you that this is not my opinion. I am going to establish what I have said from the book called the New Testament, which is a book written by or derived from apostles and their apostolic authority.

What, then, do you find when you examine the book? You find that the cross was there at the centre of our Lord’s own teaching. There is a very striking illustration of this that people do not often remember. It is the event that happened at Caesarea Philippi, and what immediately followed it. There, you remember, our Lord turned to his disciples and said, ‘Whom do men say that I am?’ and they gave various answers. And then he said, ‘Whom say ye that I am?’ and Peter stepped forward and said, ‘Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ And our Lord turned to him and said, ‘Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.’ And then he went on to say, ‘Thou art Peter, upon this rock I will build my church’ (Mt 16:13–18).

But then read on: ‘From that time forth began Jesus to shew unto his disciples, how that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes and be killed, and be raised again the third day. Then Peter took him and began to rebuke him, saying, Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee. But he turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan: for thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men’ (Mt 16:21–23).

Now, you see after this great confession of Peter that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, the Lord immediately introduces them to his death, and they cannot take it. Peter was not the only one who failed, they all did so. Our Lord rebukes him and tells him in effect, ‘You do not understand. You think that the fact that I am the Son of God is the thing that is going to save you. It is not. It is what I am going to do.’

And then of course you have other statements. There is that great statement recorded in all the Gospels where the Lord turned to these same men and said, You have got to rethink the whole matter. I am a king. I have a kingdom, but it is not like the kingdom of men, nor is it like all the other kingdoms in this world. In this world great men are served by others. But I come amongst you as one who ministers. ‘For the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many’ (Mt 20:28).

And then there is the last supper. He arranged it. He told them exactly what to do. And there, as they were eating, he took the loaf and he broke it and he said, ‘This is my body which is given for you’ and likewise he poured out the wine from the cup and said, ‘This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you’ (Lk 22:19,20). This, he says, is my giving myself, my body to be broken, my blood to be shed for you. Well there it is, plainly and clearly and simply in his teaching. But then in addition we have other things which might pinpoint this. Do you remember the amazing event which took place on the Mount of Transfiguration? Our Lord went up on to a mountain taking Peter and James and John with him, and there he was transfigured before them, and two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in spirit form and they spoke to him while the three disciples looked on in amazement. But what was the conversation about? What did Moses and Elijah discuss with our Lord ? We are told that they discussed with him the exit, the exodus, that he would be making outside the walls of Jerusalem. They discussed his death with him. The representatives of the law and of the Prophets discussed with him his death upon the cross. The cross is vital.

Not only that, we read of him later on that he set his face steadfastly to go to Jerusalem even though he knew exactly what was going to happen to him. And here is another notable fact if you are interested in statistics. Read your four Gospels and calculate, in terms of proportion, the amount of space given to our Lord’s death. Though they are very brief records, look how much space is given to the account of the death. See how we are given every detail. In fact, as someone once pointed out, it is so graphic and so detailed, we could almost hear the sound of the hammer knocking the nails into his hands and into his feet.

Why this prominence? It is because it is the crucial and the central matter. There it is in the Gospels, and when you come to the book of Acts of the Apostles, what do you find? Read Acts 13:14–41…in order to make the matter absolutely clear. Paul, preaching to the people of Antioch, went over the facts with them, emphasizing especially the Lord’s death and resurrection. Then he applied his message saying that through this man and through this event salvation is preached and is offered (v. 38). This is the wonderful thing. And then you go on further to chapter 17 and read about Paul visiting Thessalonica. This is what happened: ‘Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them and three sabbath days reasoned with them out of the scriptures, opening and alleging, that Christ must needs have suffered, and risen again from the dead; and that this Jesus, whom I preach unto you, is Christ’ (17:2–3). That indeed was his preaching everywhere, as it was the preaching of all the other apostles.

And then you come on to the epistles. I could, by just quoting scriptures to you, prove that this is the central message of the Christian gospel. There is a wonderful one, that I cannot refrain from quoting, in Romans 3: ‘Therefore by the deeds of the Law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God without the law (apart from the law) is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood ….’ Blood, the blood of the cross. This is the great theme of all these epistles. Read it again in Romans 5. ‘For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him.’ And on and on I could go, quoting scriptures to you. The Apostle tells the Corinthians in the very first chapter of his first epistle to them: ‘For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: but we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness ….’ Not only that, he says in the second chapter, ‘For I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.’ This was his constant sermon, his constant preaching. If you are in any doubt about it, let him summarize it himself at the beginning of 1 Corinthians 15, ‘Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; by which also are ye saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received …’ What was it? ‘… how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: …’ but you notice that is the thing he preached most of all, first in importance as well as in time. This was the centre of the message, how that Christ died for our sins.

Paul preached it everywhere; in 2 Corinthians 5, he puts it like this: ‘Now then we are ambassadors for Christ …’ I do not speak in my own right, he says. I am not visiting you in my own right or at my own cost. I am a man who is sent. He says this is my whole position: ‘Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.’ What then is the message? It is that ‘God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; … he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.’ I must not go on, my friends, though I am tempted to do so. I enjoy reading these glorious scriptures. But what I am trying to establish is that this is the first essential and central message of the preaching of the Christian gospel. Let me, therefore, take you finally to Revelation and the letters to the seven churches which are in Asia: ‘Grace be unto you, and peace, from him which is, and which was, and which is to come; and from the seven Spirits which are before his throne; and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood.’

There it is then. It is in the whole of the Scriptures. What right have you or anybody else, what right has any ecclesiastic, to get up and pour his scorn upon the blood of Christ, and to say the cross does not matter, that it is the teaching we want, or that it is the imitation of the person that we need? The whole of the New Testament is proclaiming the blood of Christ, the death of Christ upon the cross, on Calvary. It is the heart and centre of the Christian evangel, the good news of salvation.

And finally, if you want further evidence, consider the Communion table, w ith the plates of broken bread, and the glasses holding wine. Bread and wine, what do they signify? There is only one answer: I have received of the Lord,’ says Paul, ‘that which also I delivered unto you …’ (1 Cor 11:23). It is the command of the Son of God himself. The one who instituted the Last Supper, who had it with his own followers the night before he was crucified. Go on doing this, he said, let my people go on doing it always. Let them come and break bread and drink wine. ‘This do in remembrance of me.’ And we Christians do this as the Apostle instructs us, that we may declare, proclaim, preach and announce, the Lord’s death, till he come. Not his teaching, not his example primarily, but his death. And one of the sacraments has been ordained in order that we might never forget.

Very well, there is our evidence. This is the first and the central thing. That is the Apostle’s first reason, therefore, for preaching it. But let me ask a second question. Why does he glory in this? He does so, he tells us, because it is by this cross that we are saved. Paul puts it like this: ‘But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.’ By whom. Now this is most wonderful. He preached the cross because it is the cross that really does this thing that sets us free, and gives us our salvation. This is absolutely vital. The death of our Lord upon the cross was not an accident, it was not the greatest tragedy of all time, neither was it something that you and I must imitate. These are the things that are preached about it. So often this is what you hear: ‘Oh, of course it was an accident. It need not, nor should it, have taken place. Those dull, stupid people, those politically minded Jews, those jealous people, those Pharisees, who could see that he knew more than they did, and could teach better than they did—they were the cause of the trouble. It was all a terrible tragedy. That is why it happened, and it is a great shame that it ever did happen. So let us say as little as we can about it, and praise him and his teaching and his example.’

That is the exact opposite of what the whole of the New Testament says. The cross, the death of our Lord upon the cross, is not something to be regretted. It is not something to be explained away. Nor is it something to be kept out of sight or hidden. ‘God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ Put that in the centre, place it in the front. Proclaim it above everything else, as he has already done in the first verse of the third chapter of this very epistle. He says that he is amazed at the foolish Galatians: ‘Who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth ’ — placarded , enacted in dramatic manner, that is the meaning of ‘set forth’. He held it before them that this was the centre and the core of his preaching, because it is by this that we are saved.

So you do not regret the cross, and you do not try to forget it or idealize it, or philosophize about it, and turn it into something beautiful and wonderful. No, what you say is this: I glory in it! Why? Because it is by this that ‘the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.’ It is the means of my salvation. It is the very way in which I am saved. In other words, the Apostle tells us that he preaches this because that which happened there, when our Lord died on that cross, is the very thing that saves us. If he had not died upon the cross, nobody would ever have been saved. There would be no gospel to preach. It is the saving event. It is the act whereby our salvation is accomplished. That is why the Apostle glories in it. That is why Isaac Watts says ‘When I survey the wondrous cross’. It is the thing which saves us and without which we would not be saved at all.

Again, there is abundant evidence to establish this point. Read at the end of Luke’s Gospel what our Lord himself says after his resurrection: ‘ Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures, and said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved, Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And ye are witnesses of these things.’ And we have seen that Paul, preaching to the people of Antioch, finishes his sermon by saying, ‘Be it known unto you, therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins: and by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses’ (Acts 13:38–39). This is the thing whereby we are saved. And the Apostle has already told that to the Galatians at the very beginning of his letter: ‘Grace be to you and peace from God the Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father’ (1:3–4).

There you have exactly the same thing that he is saying here in the summary at the end. He was always saying it. So the cross is the centre of apostolic preaching because it is the thing that saves us. It does not ask us to save ourselves, it does not tell us to do something that will save us, it says it is done, it has happened, it was happening there. That is the gospel. There is the event which saves us. It is a saving event, that is why he glories in it and that is why he preached it.

That in turn leads me to the next principle which is, ‘How does this cross save us?’ That is what you want to know, is it not? Any man who is saved, is saved by the cross, and to be saved means that your sins are forgiven, that you are reconciled to God. You become a child of God, and you begin to receive his blessing. You have no fear of death or the grave and the judgement. You know you are going to inherit glory. How then does the cross save us? Here is the question of questions. Let the Apostle answer it in his own words here: ‘God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.’

Look at the cross, my friend. Have you ever really looked at it? Have you ever, w ith Isaac Watts, surveyed this wondrous cross? I am asking you to do so now. Look at those three crosses on that little hill called Calvary, outside the city of Jerusalem. Look at the middle one and at that person who is dying there. They are amazed that he has died so quickly. Who is he? That is the first question. You will never understand the significance of what happened there until you are clear about who it was that was dying there. Who is this person in the middle nailed to a tree? And the Apostle answers the question: he is our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus is a man, obviously, you look at him and you can see he is a man like the other two. Ah yes, but who is he? He is a carpenter brought up in a place called Nazareth. He worked here until the age of thirty, and then he set out as a preacher. He was an extraordinary prophet, and people said that he had worked miracles. Ah, he is a remarkable man, he is an outstanding religious genius, perhaps a political agitator to boot? Who is this? That is the question.

And the answer is that he is the Lord, which means that he is the Son of God. You remember what he said to Peter at Caesarea Philippi Peter said, ‘Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ You are right, Jesus said, ‘Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.’ If you were only looking with eyes of flesh you would see nothing in me but a man, but you see more, and you know that I am the Christ of God. It is my Father who has revealed it; that is the truth. Jesus is the Lord of Glory. He is the eternal Son of God. He is the second person in the blessed Holy Trinity. He is God the Son.

But you say, now you land me with another problem. If he is the Son of God what is he doing there on the cross? If you say that this is the eternal Son of God who has come out of eternity into time, and has taken unto him human nature and a human body, why has he died? Why does God die? What is he, of everybody, doing there? How did he come to that? I do not want to waste your time with foolish modern suggestions and ancient suggestions that have been put forward. That is not the death of a pacifist. That is not the death of a good man who was misunderstood or the death of someone who was too weak to assert himself. My dear friend, you are doing violence to him, you are insulting him, it is a libel upon him. What is he doing there? He tells us himself, I have already quoted it to you. ‘The Son of Man,’ he says, ‘came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many’ (Mt 20:28). He taught them that he had come in order to die. I reminded you of the phrase ‘He stedfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem’. His disciples did not understand all this, and they did their utmost to keep him from Jerusalem. We are given the actual record of this very thing. ‘The same day there came certain of the Pharisees, saying unto him, Get thee out, and depart hence: for Herod will kill thee. And he said unto them, Go ye, and tell that fox, Behold, I cast out devils, and I do cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I shall be perfected. Nevertheless I must walk to day, and to morrow, and the day following: for it cannot be that a prophet perish out of Jerusalem’ (Lk 13:32–33). He knew exactly where he was going, and why he had come into this world.

And there at the very end when he is surrounded by his enemies, and they have confined him to the Garden of Gethsemane, his own disciples become concerned for him and they say, Shall we go out and buy swords? We must defend you at all costs. And one of them drew out his sword and cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant, you remember.

Put the swords back, he says. ‘Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me, more than twelve legions of Angels?’ He says what do you think I am, and what do you think I am doing? Do you not know that if I wanted to get out of this world without the death of the cross, I have simply to ask my Father and immediately he would give me twelve legions of angels and I would be wafted by angels back into the glory out of which I have come? But, he says, if I do that, how can I fulfil righteousness? How can I do the work that my Father has sent me to do? No, he says that he has come deliberately to die.

Now there is a wonderful statement of all this in Hebrews 2:9, ‘We see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels’—what for?—‘for the suffering of death …’ We see him now, ‘… crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man.’ My friends, the Son of God is there dying on that cross because he came from heaven into this world in order to die. That is why he came. He was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death. He took on human nature in order that he might die. It is not an accident. It is not something to be explained away. It is essential. He came to give his life a ransom for many.

But why did he do this? The answer is here in the whole of the Bible, from beginning to end. It is here in this one verse. He came because you and I and all mankind are guilty and under the condemnation of a Holy God. He came to deliver us from this world which is doomed to disaster and final destruction, ‘by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.’ We all belong to the world. We are men of the world, we are born in the world, and we will bear the world’s fate, unless he can deliver us. That is why he did it. Paul, as we have seen, says in Romans 3: ‘For all have sinned.’ There is no difference, Jew or Gentile, ‘For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.’ All this nonsense about the good men and the bad men, moral and immoral men. It means nothing in the sight of God. I agree it is important from the point of view of the state, but in the sight of God the most respectable non-Christian is as damned and as hopeless as the vilest reprobate and sinner. There is no difference. Respectability does not count with God. Morality is nothing in the sight of God. It is filthy rags, it is nothing. ‘All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.’ That is one reason why he came.

Yes, but then you say, Why can God not forgive this, why does the love of God not forgive a man who says he is sorry and who repents? That question, also, is answered in the Bible, and this is why the Son of God died. God, unlike us, is light, and in him is no darkness at all. God is just, God is holy. God is righteous. Of course, that means nothing to us. How can we think of holiness? We, ugly, foul, vile, sinful creatures. No, we do not understand the righteousness of God. That is why modern man does not believe in the blood of the cross. He does not know what righteousness is. He does not know what justice is or what law is. He does not believe in discipline, and his world is becoming a hell for that reason. But God is righteous, he is the law giver, he is holy, he is of so pure a countenance that he cannot even look upon sin; and God cannot pretend that he has not seen it. God sees sin. He sees everything. He must punish sin. His own holy nature insists upon it and he has told us abundantly that he is going to do so. So here is the problem. Man is a guilty sinner, God is a holy God. How can the two be brought together? The answer is the cross of Christ.

How is it the answer, says somebody? Let me tell you. I am putting this as plainly, as simply and as briefly as I can. The answer is like this. The wages of sin is death. That is God’s own pronouncement. Without shedding of blood there is no remission of sins. If you go back to the Old Testament, what do you find there? Well, you find a great deal about sacrifices for sin. The people take a bullock to the High Priest and he puts his hands upon its head. They then kill the bullock, take its blood and present it before God in the holy place. What are they doing? Well it is God who has told them to do it. But why did he tell them to do it? The answer is that the wages of sin is death and that without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins. What they were doing, in a picture, was this. By putting their hands on the head of the bullock they were, as it were, transferring their sins to the bullock. The sins were on the bullock. They then killed the bullock and presented his blood as an offering. God taught them to do that. They transferred their guilt to the animal and then the animal was killed and his blood was offered. They did that every day in the Temple. They took a lamb, a pure unblemished lamb, they killed it and took the blood. You remember what happened when the children of Israel were taken out of Egypt —the tremendous night when death came and killed all the first born of the Egyptians, but not the first born of the Israelites. Why? Because they had painted the posts and lintels of their doors with blood. They had taken a lamb and they had slain it and then painted the door posts and the lintels with the blood of the lamb. And they were passed by, their sins were not punished and their lives were saved.

Jesus Christ, the Son of God, comes. Why has he come? John the Baptist who went round before him, he gave the answer. John the Baptist had only got one sermon and he kept on repeating it, and this was it. Behold, he says, I am not he. I am unworthy to undo the laces of his shoes. Behold, behold, behold ‘the lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.’ All the others were but types and shadows, indications and adumbrations. The Lamb of God has come. God has provided his own sacrifice. It is his own Son. The Lamb of God. This is what happened on Calvary’s tree. God took your sins and mine and he put them on the head of his own Son, and then he smote him, he punished him, he struck him, he killed him. The wages of sin is death.

So what was happening on the cross was that God himself was laying your sins and mine upon his own dearly beloved Son, and he paid the penalty of our guilt and our transgressions. ‘For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him’ (2 Cor 5:21). ‘The Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all’ (Is 53:6). That is what the Father did. What did the son do? He was passive as a lamb, he did not grumble, he did not complain. He took it all upon him. He allowed it to happen. He surrendered himself deliberately and freely.

Again I remind you how the Apostle puts it. ‘Who gave himself for (on behalf of) our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father’ (Gal 1 : 4 ) . But still more wonderfully, at the end of Galatians 2: ‘I through the law, am dead to the law, that I might live unto God. I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.’

That is the gospel. ‘For God so loved the world, that he gave—to that death—his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life’ (Jn 3:16); ‘Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed’ (1 Pet 2:24 ). That is why it happened, that is the meaning. That is why the Apostle gloried in it. It is the cross of Christ that saves us. He saves us by bearing our punishment and by taking our guilt upon him. God smites him, and the law of God is satisfied. I am dead to the law through the law. The law has been carried out. Carried out upon him, so I am free. ‘There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus ….’ ‘For God so loved the world, that he gave the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.’ This is the preaching of the cross. It is the cross that saves me. What am I to do? You and I have only one thing to do. I have nothing to do but to believe this message. Nothing else. Do not tell me you are going to live a better life. You have not seen the truth if you say that. Do not tell me you are going to be a better man, or a better woman. Do not tell me that you are going to stop this or that. You have not seen it. You have only one thing to do. ‘Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins: and by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses’ (Acts 13:38–39).

Only believe (nothing else) and thou shalt see That Christ is all in all to thee. It does not matter what you have been, men and brethren, let me address you as the Apostle addressed these people at Antioch in Pisidia. I do not know you, my friends, not individually, most of you, but this is the wonderful thing about the work of a preacher, he does not need to know his congregation. Do you know why? Because I know the most important thing about every single one of you, and that is that each of you is a vile sinner. I do not care who you are, because all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. I do not care what particular form your sin takes. There is a great deal of attention paid to that today. The preacher is not interested in that. I do not want a catalogue of your sins. I do not care what your sins are. They can be very respectable or they can be heinous, vile, foul, filthy. It does not matter, thank God. But what I have authority to tell you is this. Though you may be the vilest man or woman ever known, and though you may until this moment have lived your life in the gutters and the brothels of sin in every shape and form, I say this to you: be it known unto you that through this man, this Lord Jesus Christ, is preached unto you the forgiveness of sin. And by him all who believe, you included, are at this very moment justified entirely and completely from everything you have ever done —if you believe that this is the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and that he died there on the cross, for your sins and to bear your punishment. If you believe that, and thank him for it, and rely utterly only upon him and what he has done, I tell you, in the name of God, all your sins are blotted out completely, as if you had never sinned in your life, and his righteousness is put on you and God sees you perfect in his Son. That is the message of the cross, that is Christian preaching, that it is our Lord who saves us, by dying on the cross, and that nothing else can save us, but that that can save whosoever believeth in him. You remember the Philippian jailer? That violent fellow was about to commit suicide, and was stopped by Paul. Then he came to the Apostle and to Silas and said, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’ The answer was simply this. ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house,’ and he believed and he was saved, and he began to rejoice from that very moment (Acts 16:30–31).

My friends, that is why the Apostle glories in the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ. He had a message that he could take throughout the world, to the blackest and the vilest and the most hopeless of men and, equally to the respectable and all the good and the nice and the kind. He could take it to all men. And he had the same message for them all, that they were all lost and dead, but that whosoever believed in this message was immediately justified. Very well, I put it before you exactly as the Apostle did in Antioch of Pisidia. I want to ask you a question and this is it. When the Jews were gone out of the synagogue, the Gentiles be sought that these words might be preached to them on the next Sabbath. They wanted to hear more about it. Do you? Do you want to hear more about it? I am going on with this great theme, and I am going to test you. If you have had even a glimmer of an inkling into this truth you will want to hear more about it. But if you do not want to hear more about it, let me warn you in the words of the Apostle. ‘Beware, therefore, lest that come upon you, which is spoken of in the prophets; behold, ye despisers, and wonder, and perish: for I work a work in your days, a work which ye shall in no wise believe, though a man declare it unto you’ (Acts 13:41). Tell me, do you glory in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ? Would you willingly and gladly spend all your days in singing the praise of this Son of God who loved you and gave himself for you? Let us examine ourselves. Let every man and woman answer for himself and for herself.

Let us, then, finish with the answer which Charles Wesley gave two hundred years ago:

And can it be that I should gain
An interest in the Saviour’s blood!
Died He for me who caused His pain?
For me, who Him to death pursued?
Amazing love! how can it be
That Thou, my God,
shouldst die for me!

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