Friday, 22 March 2013

What sense can we make of the Cross today?

What sense can we make of the Cross today?
(Lent Course talk)

The Cross is at the very centre of all that it is to be Christian.  It is arguably the most important thing in the history of the world. Right from the killing of animals to give skins to Adam and Eve to hide their shame, through God’s accepting Abel’s animal sacrifice and not Cain’s offering of grain, to Abraham about to sacrifice Isaac but God substituting a ram for Isaac (not the Lamb of God promised), to the Passover, the Levitical Sacrifices of the Day of Atonement, and the words of Prophets – the Cross of Jesus is the central event of the Bible. 

But what does it mean? What did it achieve?
There are too many facets of the Cross to cover in a short session, and I would wager more books have been written about the Cross and what Jesus achieved than on any other subject in all of history.

Scripture teaches that everyone has sinned (except Jesus) and not only that, but that we are all ‘depraved’ – 26 verses of Scripture declare that even from birth all of us are lost and our hearts are inclined to evil, even from birth we are all in desperate need of a Saviour.  Indeed, we are so lost that of our own power and choice we would never seek out God None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God” (Romans 3.10-11).  That God hates this sin because He is Holy is clear from even the most cursory reading of the Bible.  God detests sin, when we sin we become enemies of God.  As Saint Paul said

8But God proves His own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us! Much more then, since we have now been declared righteous by His blood, we will be saved through Him from wrath. 10 For if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, then how much more, having been reconciled, will we be saved by His life! 11 And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ. We have now received this reconciliation through Him.” (Romans 5.8-11)

Note carefully how Paul says that Christ died for us whilst we were sinners. And that because of this death we will be saved through Him (Jesus) from wrath – that is the anger and just judgement of God against sin. Note that we were enemies who are reconciled by the death of Jesus and that because of His resurrection (His life) we are saved.  This is something we should rejoice about!

Jesus on the Cross died for us.  He removed the wrath of God against sin.  He brought us into a right relationship with God (that is made us righteous) and He frees us from condemnation and gives us assurance of salvation.   In the sacrifices of the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16), which point towards Jesus, we see two aspects of what Jesus did on the Cross.  These two aspects of the Cross have two special words to describe them: Propitiation and Expiation. 

The first goat becomes a substitute for the people’s sins and is killed – much as the Passover Lamb was killed in the place of the Hebrews in Egypt.  On this goat goes all the just judgement against sin, all the righteous anger of God.  As Isaiah makes clear in his famous prophecy of the Cross in Isaiah 53 “He was pierced because of our transgressions, crushed because of our iniquities; punishment for our peace was on Him and we are healed by His wounds. We all went astray like sheep; we all have turned to our own way; and the LORD has punished HIM for the iniquity of us all.  Thus Jesus is our Propitiation – He takes the death we deserve and the punishment we deserve and the wrath of God on Himself.

After this the priest would place his hands on the second goat’s head and put all the people’s sins on the goat and sends it into the wilderness where it can never be found. This is called Expiation – at the Cross Jesus takes our sins away from us by putting them on Himself, on the Cross “God made the One who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Corinthians 5.21) – not just a sinner but sin itself, all our sin was placed on Him.  In return, when we believe in Him we were given His Holiness, His Righteousness, His perfect standing with the Father.

So what does this practically mean for us who believe that Jesus is LORD, God, and Saviour?

-          Firstly, it means that we have no reason to fear God or His righteous judgements against sin.  As Saint Paul said Therefore, no condemnation now exists for those in Christ Jesus,” (Romans 8.1).  People often think Christians are all gloomy and think of nothing but their sin, that they live lives where they are depressed by guilt.  People think that Christians carry so much baggage around.  But on the Cross Jesus took all of our sin, all our guilt, and all our baggage away. Christians should never feel condemned or fear Hell and judgement.  Jesus took our condemnation on Himself and so satisfied the Triune God’s need for Holy justice. (Condemnation and conviction are two different things)

-          Secondly, it means we have nothing that can stop us knowing God and speaking to Him whenever we like.  In the Old Testament sacrifices had to be made all the time so that people could get right with God and have a relationship with Him.  Now Jesus has been sacrificed once and for all for the sins of the whole world so that those who believe in Him are given a place in God’s family and are adopted as the Father’s children.  As it says in Hebrews 10.10 “By this will of God, we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once and for all”

-          In the Old Testament a covenant was made and signed in Blood.  On the Cross Jesus begins the New Covenant with His own Blood “This cup is the new covenant established by My blood; it is shed for you” (Luke 22.20).  God never breaks His covenants, God always uphold His end of the deal.  This is why with Abraham and on the Cross He was the one who did all the covenant making – He knew we could not keep up our side but He will keep up His.  Because of the Cross we have complete assurance that God will always love us, that He will keep all His promises, and that He will give to us all His gifts.  We should never have to doubt God.

31 If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?36 As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8.31-39)

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