The Cross

J.C. Ryle on the Cross of Christ

old-pathsHow important is the cross of Christ? How central is it to the message of the Bible? Here is what J.C. Ryle has to say about that subject:

“Take away the cross of Christ, and the Bible is a dark book. It is like the Egyptian hieroglyphics without the key that interprets their meaning – curious and wonderful, but of no real use.” (Old Paths, p.233)

Indeed the cross is so central to the message of the Bible, so interwoven throughout it’s pages in both the Old and New Testaments, that you would scarcely be able to make any sense of the Scriptures without it. It would be, as Ryle said, a rather “dark book.”

Judging by Satan’s manifold temptations against our Lord in trying to dissuade Him from going to the cross (Matthew 4:1-11; 16:21-23), it is clear that this is precisely the kind of Bible that Satan himself would readily approve of. Cross-less preaching is certainly his preference for much the same reason.

No wonder the Apostle Paul wrote to the church at Corinth,: “we preach Christ crucified” (1 Corinthians 1:23, ESV), and “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” (1 Corinthians 2:2, ESV). He was determined to keep the main thing the main thing, as the saying goes. And the main thing in Scripture is “Jesus Christ and him crucified.”

 

The Heart of the Gospel

Heart of Gospel

In his classic book, Knowing God, J.I. Packer includes a chapter entitled “The Heart of the Gospel.”  And what is that chapter all about? Propitiation.

Propitiation (according to Packer) is the heart of the gospel; it is central to the gospel. And yet that word is strangely absent from the vocabulary of far too many believers.  Worse yet, it is often absent in the preaching and teaching of the church.  No doubt the former is largely the result of the latter.

Concerning the vital doctrine of propitiation, Packer writes,

Has the word propitiation any place in your Christianity? In the faith of the New Testament it is central. The love of God, the taking of human form by the Son, the meaning of the cross, Christ’s heavenly intercession, the way of salvation – all are to explained in terms of it, . . .and any explanation from which the thought of propitiation is missing will be incomplete, and indeed actually misleading, by New Testament standards. (p.181)

He even goes so far as to say that “a gospel without propitiation at its heart is another gospel than that which Paul preached” (p.182).

What, then, is propitiation?  What does the word mean? The New Bible Dictionary (Third Edition, IVP, 1996) defines it as “the removal of wrath by the offering of a gift” (p.975). The Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Baker Book House, 1984) offers a better definition of the biblical use of this word as “The turning away of wrath by an offering” (p.888).

The Biblical use of the word expresses the idea that on the Cross Jesus Christ took the wrath of God for the sins of His people upon Himself – that God’s wrath for our sin was poured out upon Him in our place. It is the same idea expressed (even if the word itself is absent) in Isaiah 53:5 where Isaiah says that upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace.” 

Perhaps the key use of the Word in the New Testament is found in Romans chapter 3, where Paul writes,

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, to be received by faith. (Romans 3:23-25a, ESV, emphasis mine)

God put forth his own Son “as a propitiation by His blood.” The death of Jesus Christ turned away the wrath of God from His people.  We who were “by nature children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3) are redeemed, forgiven, reconciled and even adopted as children of God in Jesus Christ because of His death in our place, taking the wrath of God for our sins upon Himself!

No wonder Packer holds this great truth to be central to the Christian faith! It really is at the heart of the gospel. The gospel just isn’t the gospel without the truth of propitiation.

God the Judge

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“From thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead.” (The Apostles’ Creed)

The just judgment of God on sinful humanity is one of the essential doctrines of the Christian faith.  It is found again and again in Scripture, and is featured prominently in three of the four great ecumenical Christian creeds.

The Apostles’ Creed, Nicene Creed, and Athanasian Creed all explicitly state that the Lord Jesus Christ Himself will come again “to judge the living and the dead.” (Chalcedon being the only exception, which was not a broad summation of the faith like the other three, but was primarily written to state and defend the orthodox understanding of the hypostatic union of the two natures of Christ.)

And yet the popular misconception has seemingly always persisted that God will not surely judge sinners.  Rob Bell (in his book, Love Wins) is certainly no innovator in that regard.  In fact, the idea that God will not judge sinners is practically the original lie of Satan himself.  In Genesis 3:1 the serpent questioned the Word of God (specifically the commandment against eating the forbidden fruit, which certainly also implied the punishment threatened for transgressing that commandment – death), and then in v.4 flatly denied the just judgment of God, saying, “You will not surely die.”

That lie has been repeated in one form or another again and again throughout history, with deadly results.

J.I. Packer writes,

“People who do not actually read the Bible confidently assure us that when we move from the Old Testament to the New, the theme of divine judgment fades into the background. But if we examine the New Testament, even in the most cursory way, we find at once that the Old Testament emphasis on God’s action as Judge, far from being reduced, is actually intensified.” (Knowing God, p.140)

God does not change (Numbers 23:19; Malachi 3:6; Hebrews 13:8).  The idea that God is somehow different now than He was during the Old Testament is simply untrue.  The idea that the God of the Old Testament was the harsh God of wrath and judgment, while the God of the New Testament is the nice God of love is simply untrue.  God was gracious in the Old Testament, and God is still the righteous Judge of all the earth in the New Testament.

The gospel comes to us and says not “You will not surely die” (Genesis 3:4), but rather that Jesus has died in the place of sinners.  The good news is not that the judgment of God has somehow been done away with or abrogated, but that it has been propitiated – God’s wrath has been poured out upon Jesus Christ on the Cross!  A sinless substitute has been fully punished for our sins in our place!

We are not only saved from judgment, but saved through (or by) judgment – through the Son of God Himself (the Judge!) taking the punishment for our sins!  So if you are a believer in Jesus Christ, you no longer need to fear the final judgment, for the Judge of the living and the dead is the One who died for your salvation!  As Paul writes in Romans 8:31-34,

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.

Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect when the Judge Himself is the One who died for our sins and was raised from the dead, and is also the One who ever lives to intercede for His people at the right hand of God the Father!

The Precious Blood of Christ

Machen

1 Peter 1:19 calls the blood of Christ “precious.”  And it is precious because of it’s power &  effect (that by it we we “ransomed” from the ‘futile ways  inherited from our forefathers’ – v.18), as well as because of the identity of the One whose blood it is.

J.Gresham Machen writes,

When we come to see that it was no mere man who suffered on Calvary but the Lord of Glory, then we shall be willing to say that one drop of the precious blood of Jesus is of more value, for our own salvation and for the hope of society, than all the rivers of blood that have flowed upon the battlefields of history. (Christianity & Liberalism, p.128)

As the chorus from that great old hymn by Charles Wesley “And Can It Be That I Should Gain” reminds us:

Amazing love! How can it be that Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

Amazing love indeed!

If you are ever tempted to doubt the love of God, look to the Cross!  And remember just who it is that died for your salvation & mine!  We who are in Christ by faith were ransomed and redeemed by the precious blood of the Lord of glory Himself!

Warfield on the Most Precious Title of Christ

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In his classic book, The Person and Work of Christ, Benjamin B. Warfield has the following to say about Christ’s title of “Redeemer”:

There is no one of the titles of Christ which is more precious to Christian hearts than “Redeemer.” There are others, it is true, which are more often on the lips of Christians. The acknowledgement of our submission to Christ as our Lord, the recognition of what we owe to Him as our Saviour, – these things, naturally, are most frequently expressed in the names we call Him by.  “Redeemer,” however, is a title of more intimate revelation than either “Lord” or “Saviour.”  It gives expression not merely to our sense that we have received salvation from Him, but also to our appreciation of what it cost Him to procure this salvation for us. It is the name specifically of the Christ of the cross. Whenever we pronounce it, the cross is placarded before our eyes and our hearts are filled with loving remembrance not only that Christ has given us salvation, but that He paid a mighty price for it. (p.325)

Redeemer – it is the name of the Christ of the cross; and for that reason it is the most precious title of Christ to the heart of a believer!

Famous Last Words

Acts 7:59-60 gives us the last words that Stephen spoke before he was martyred for the cause of the gospel of Jesus Christ:

And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.

His last words in sound familiar, don’t they?  They are an echo of Jesus’ last words from the Cross (Luke 23:34, 46)!  Like his Lord Jesus, Stephen showed great love, mercy, and grace to those who showed him none of the above!

If you stop and think about it, those are amazing words.  That is an amazing prayer!

How was Stephen able to pray for the Lord not to hold their sin (his own murder!) against them? How was he able to cry out for their forgiveness even as they were killing him?

Can you even imagine being able to do that? We often have trouble forgiving far lesser things, don’t we?

How can we learn to forgive our enemies like Stephen did here in Acts 7? The key is the gospel.

The more that you grasp the reality of the love and forgiveness that are yours through faith in Christ, the more willing you will be to stick your neck out for the gospel.

And the more willing you will be to forgive even the worst offenses against you.

More than a Clean Slate

 

chalkboard-152414_1280We sinners need much more than a clean slate.  A clean slate is the record of our sins being wiped clean by the blood of Christ. (And we certainly need that!)

But we also need righteousnessHow can sinners like us attain righteousness?

By works?  No.   The Apostle Paul writes,

What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness . . . .  (Romans 4:1-5 ESV)

When we believe in Jesus Christ, the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ is accounted to us by faith!  Our justification in Jesus doesn’t just mean that we are accepted by God just as if we had never sinned, but also just as if we had always perfectly obeyed God’s law!

If you are in Christ, you don’t just have a clean slate – you have a perfect slate!

Hallelujah, what a Savior!