It’s easy to become sentimental about the cross. There are a lot of people who are. There’s a lot of sentiment about the cross, a lot of emotion about the cross, a lot of, I suppose, artificially-induced emotion. There are some people who think you need to sort of sit in a corner and conjure up feeling and conjure up joy and somehow conjure up even sorrow and tears, and have a full emotional bath before you engage in obedience. And if you’re not emotional about the cross, if you’re not swept away by feelings about the cross, somehow your obedience is not legitimate. Somehow something is missing that trivializes your obedience.
I do think that we feel emotional about the cross. We’ve expressed that with all our hearts tonight haven’t we? We’ve felt those emotions and rightly so, but I’m far more concerned that you have a true understanding of the cross than anything you might feel. I want you to feel, but I want your feeling to be generated by a true understanding of the cross. We have a large congregation, a lot of new folks coming into our church. I know in a night like this we have guests and visitors. As I think about what I want to draw to your attention it is simply this: I want you to understand the most important aspect of the cross. The most important aspect of the cross is not about you.
I know that may surprise you a little bit because we have literally been drowned in a sea of emphasis on the fact that Christ died for you, that God loves you, God loves you. We hear it all the time. God loves you so much He gave His Son to die for you. He wants to redeem you. He wants to save you. He wants to forgive your sins. He wants to take you to heaven. All those things are true, but those are secondary purposes for the cross. While the cross included us, the cross really was for God. It was for God, primarily. Christ died for us, yes, but primarily Christ died for God. That may surprise you.
Open your Bible for a minute to Romans chapter 11, and that is the best way to understand the essence of the death of Christ, to understand that it is for God. While you’re turning to Romans chapter 11, you might remember that our Lord said to Peter in John 21:9, He said essentially to Peter, “You’re going to die. You’re going to stretch forth your hands. People are going to take you where you don’t want to go. You’re going to give up your life.” And He was speaking, it says, of a martyr’s death, and He was saying to Peter, “This is the death by which you will glorify God.”
So even the death of Peter was to the glory of God. Peter’s death was the death of one man. It had no efficaciousness for any other man. It was not transferrable. It was not redemptive. His death glorified God in a singular way. It didn’t mean anything to anybody else. But if the death that meant nothing to anyone else could glorify God, how much more does the death of our Lord Jesus Christ, which means everything to all who believe, glorify God? That’s the comparison you can think about.
For 11 chapters in the book of Romans, Paul has been unfolding the glories of salvation. He has basically talked about man’s condition in the early chapters, God’s provision through Christ. He has literally given us the greatest treatise on the significance of soteriology and salvation on the pages of Holy Scripture. And it all wraps up at the end of chapter 11. Chapter 12 starts a practical aspect of the book of Romans, but notice how it wraps up. Verse 33, “Oh, the depths of the riches, both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!” That is Paul’s reaction to these 11 chapters of salvation theology, soteriology we call it, the theology of salvation.
He is overwhelmed. It’s an “Oh” because there aren’t enough words in his vocabulary. He can search his own brain and not come up with an adequate description. He talks about the wisdom and knowledge of God being unsearchable and unfathomable. It can’t be reduced to concepts and words. Verse 34, “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor? Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to Him again?” No one informed God. No one gave God this plan. No one advised God in this plan. It was all Him. It was His. It is unsearchable, unfathomable, and in the end, verse 36, “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.”
That is the doxology. That is the benediction that Paul gives to 11 chapters of discussion on the great truth of salvation. All glory goes to God. All glory goes to God. In every sense, the cross and the death of Christ was for God. It was for God. Peter affirms that when he says in 1 Peter 4:11, “In all things God is glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.” In the work that Christ did, God was glorified. Jesus said in John 17, “He came into the world to glorify the Father.” In John 7, he says, “He seeks the glory if the one who sent Him.” In John 8 he says, “I do not seek My own glory.” In John 12, listen to these words from our Lord, verse 27 and 28, “Now my soul has become troubled, and what shall I say? Father save Me from this hour?” the hour of His death. “But for this purpose I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name.”
He saw the cross as glorifying God. “Then a voice came out of heaven, ‘I have both glorified it and will glorify it again.’ The people who stood by heard it and thought that it had thundered.” Jesus came into the world to do the Father’s will. He came into the world to seek the Father’s glory. When we come to this wonderful beloved table before us, the table that is set for us to remember the cross, I want us to look at the cross not from the perspective of what it means to us, but what it meant to God. That gives so much more meaning to us.
Thinking about the cross only superficially or even personally is to think about it in a minimalistic way. I want you to think about it from the standpoint of God. I’ll give you several things to think about. First of all, the death of Christ was a sacrifice to God. The death of Christ was a sacrifice to God. All sacrifices, all offerings prescribed in the Old Testament, laid out in the law of Moses, and you’re familiar with them; all of them were offered to God. There was never a sacrifice offered to a man. There was never a sacrifice offered to the Sanhedrin in Israel. There was never a sacrifice offered to a priest or a prophet. There was never a sacrifice to be offered to a king in Israel. Every offering ever offered was offered to God.
It was God who was the recipient of every sacrifice. Every sacrifice that was given was to rise to God as a sweet smelling savor in His nostrils. Incense rose to God as a symbol of prayers that were lifted up before Him. The offerer was guilty and by sacrificing, he was acknowledging his guilt and that that guilt had come upon him because he had violated and offended and dishonored God. It was God who needed to be appeased in that sense. The offerer brought an animal to the priest, but the offering was not to the priest. It was by the hands of the priest and with the hands of the offerer laid on that offering, offered to God.
It was a sacrifice to God. Every sacrifice was an offering to God, and the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ was no different. He was God’s Lamb. He was the Lamb of God offered to God as a sacrifice. If you look at Hebrews chapter 9, Hebrews chapter 9. There are several statements, of course, back in chapter 7. But we’ll look at chapter 9 where we read starting in verse 12 about the sacrifice of Christ that Christ, verse 11, comes, “Enters a greater more perfect tabernacle not made with hands and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, he entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption.”
Down in verse 26, “He would have no need to suffer since the foundation of the world, but now once at the consummation of the ages, He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. He offers Himself,” in verse 12. Again, in verse 26, “It is the sacrifice of Himself.” Verse 28, “So Christ also having been offered once to bear the sins of many.” There it is again. He is offered to bear the sins of many. “But to whom is the offering made.” Go back to verse 14, “How much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God.”
Just to remind you that it was God who was offended. It was God who was dishonored. It was God who was disobeyed. It was against God that rebellion came. God was transgressed. God was violated. God’s holiness was ignored. And the sacrifice has to be offered to God. He died as a sacrifice because God required that.
Secondly, the death of Christ was not only a sacrifice to God; it was a submission not God. It was a submission to God. Since you’re in Hebrews, go to chapter 10 and verse 5. After having said that it is actually impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sin, the writer says, “Therefore, when He comes into the world, He says, ‘Sacrifice and offering that is of animals you have not desired; but a body you have prepared for me. In whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin you have taken no pleasure. Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come (in the scroll of the book it is written of Me) to do your will, O God.’”
There is the statement of our Lord Himself, really a prophetic statement that comes out of the Old Testament book of Psalms where the Messiah Himself understands that He comes as a sacrifice in submission to God. Then again in verse 8, “After saying above, ‘Sacrifices and offering and whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin You have not desired, not have You taken pleasure in them’ (which are offered according to the law), then He said, ‘Behold, I have come to do Your will.’ He takes away the first in order to establish the second. By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”
Not only was it an offering to God obviously, but it was an act of submission to God because it was obedience to God’s requirement. John 4:34, Jesus said, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work.” Christ came obviously and rendered to His Father perfect submission and perfect obedience. John 10:17, Jesus said this, “For this reason the Father loves Me because I lay down My life so that I may take it again. No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down. I have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father.” Why did Christ die? He was commanded to do so by the Father, and He willingly submitted to that command.
Paul in Romans 5 puts it this way, “Through one man’s disobedience to God – ” that being Adam, “ - the many were made sinners, even through the obedience of One to God, many will be made righteous.” The submission of Christ to the will of God provided righteousness for us. His whole life was a life of obedience. It was a vicarious obedience as well. He was perfectly obedient, perfectly righteous, absolutely holy throughout His entire life from birth to ascension. He obeyed God perfectly in every way, every second of His existence on earth. He did that that He might render a perfect offering to God. A lamb without blemish and spot indeed He was.
He was always fulfilling all righteousness. He was always obedient, always holy. It didn’t mean His obedience was without a struggle. Luke 12:50, He said, “I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is accomplished!” No part of our Lord’s obedience was without a struggle. He was tempted in all points like as we are, all the way through His life. His obedience, His perfect obedience rendered Him consistent with what God required for an acceptable sacrifice.
Think about it this way, Jesus lived for God. He loved for God. He worked for God. He believed for God’s honor. He worshipped for God’s honor. He preached for God’s honor. He healed for God’s honor. Every word He spoke was for God’s honor. Every thought He had was for God’s honor. Every deed He did was for God’s honor. He submitted to Him in all things, and it culminated in death. That’s what the writer of Hebrews means when he tells us that the Lord offered Himself because God commanded it. The death of Jesus Christ was a sacrifice for God and a submission to God.
Thirdly, the death of Christ was a substitution to God. While you’re in Hebrews chapter 9, verse, 28. I’ll take you back there. Christ having been offered once to bear the sins of many. Please notice that. That is absolutely crucial. He was offered once to bear the sins of many. He didn’t die because He had sins of His own, because He did not. He lived in perfect submission to God, but He died bearing the sins of many. Second Corinthians 5:14 said, “One died for all.” Verse 21, “God made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” First Peter 2:24 says, “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By His wounds we are healed.” That, of course, is borrowed from Isaiah 53. Peter also said in 1 Peter 3:18, “He died, the just One for the unjust.”
All these are saying that Christ died as a substitute. He was innocent, but He died in the place of the guilty. He was punished by God. He died as God’s chosen substitute. God had determined that the penalty for sin is death. Christ endured that penalty for His people willingly. This is what God required. The Father sent Him into the world as the substitute for us, the death due to us for sin. What is the death due to us for sin? Eternal exclusion from God’s presence. Everlasting hell, that’s the death, eternal death, eternal punishment. Yet Jesus Christ satisfied the justice of God by absorbing all that punishment in three hours of darkness on a Friday afternoon in Jerusalem.
If you ask how He could do that, it’s because He’s an infinite person, apparently with an infinite capacity to absorb judgment. He took our sins and the full wrath of God against our sins, all the people through all history who will ever believe, and absorbed it all in three hours. It would take all the sinners forever to suffer what He absorbed in those hours. And when we remember Him, we say what He told us to say, “This is My body, which is – ” what? “ – given for you. This is My blood shed for you.”
John 6:51, “He gave His life for the life of the world.” 1 John 3:16, “He laid down His life for us.” Christ took the guilt of our sins and the punishment of our sins. He was a substitute for God. God required punishment. God required judgment. He took the judgment. Christ’s death was a sacrifice to God, a submission to God, and a substitute to God.
Fourthly, Christ’s death was a satisfaction to God, a satisfaction. It was the death that satisfied divine justice. Justice had to be satisfied, and it is satisfied in the death of Christ. This is discussed in the New Testament with an interesting term” propitiation. Propitiation appears in Romans 3:25, 1 John 2:2, 1 John 4:10. In all of those cases, Christ is the propitiation. What does that mean? It means He propitiated God. That’s a verb that means to satisfy. God’s holiness required wrath. Jesus satisfied the wrath of God, satisfied justice. Propitiation relates to God. It is a statement that is saying, “His wrath is placated. His fury is placated. His anger is propitiated. His justice is satisfied.” God demonstrates that He is satisfied by raising Christ from the dead.
Jesus Christ is all of that to God, the sacrifice. He is a substitute. He is a satisfaction. He is in submission to God. And all of that leads to another wonderful reality. His death was a salvation for God. You say, “Wait a minute, I thought salvation was for us.” No, not really. Salvation is for God. Even your salvation is for God. Romans 1 says that, “We go out to preach for the sake of the Name.” John said the same thing in his epistles. “We go out to preach for the sake of the Name.” Why is the Lord gathering redeemed people? Why is He saving sinners? Why is He having us preach the gospel all over the world? Why is He rescuing people? Why is He saving people? So that they can come to heaven and glorify Him forever.
Oh yes, oh yes. The promises to us are amazing, God will honor us, but in the end our response to Him honoring us is to give Him glory. Salvation is a salvation to God. Acts 20 talk about us being redeemed. Acts 20 talks about us being purchased by God with His own blood. We have been purchased for God. 1 Peter 1:18-19, “We have been redeemed.” What does that mean? Bought. We’re not our own. Paul says, “We’re bought with a price. Therefore, glorify God.” Titus 2:14, “He redeemed us.” 1 Timothy 2:6, “He gave Christ as a ransom price paid to God to secure us.” God does that so that we can forever praise Him and praise Him and thank Him and honor Him and worship Him and adore Him.
No, Jesus was a sacrifice to God, a submission to God, a substitute to God. He did what He did on the cross to provide a salvation for God that God might gather into His presence, a redeemed humanity that would forever and ever serve and honor and praise and glorify Him. The great theme of the entire universe is God’s glory.
One other thing comes to mind as we think about this. We’re touching pretty lightly on some very profound realities, but one other thing comes to mind when we think about the sacrifice and submission of Christ and the salvation He provides. That is, Christ’s death then was a means of bringing sons to God, bringing sons to God. This is the emphasis in the New Testament on reconciliation. Colossians 1:20, “He reconciled us to Himself having made peace through the blood of His cross.” That same passage, “We were formerly alienated. We are now reconciled through His death.” Second Corinthians 5 says that. Romans 5 says that. All of that is bound up in the character and nature and glory of God.
Why is the good news preached across the world? Primarily so that God can bring into eternal heaven into His presence a redeemed people to add to the angels, to make a great everlasting core of true worshippers, who will forever and ever and ever worship Him. Everything Christ did was for God. We are the beneficiaries of this. The Father loves the Son. The Son loves the Father. The Spirit is in the center, of course, of that relationship. That love and that desire to express that love within the Trinity results in God’s design of redemption to bring sinners out of sin and judgment into heavenly bliss so that they can praise Him forever.
God was pleased with what Christ did, and that’s why He raised Him from the dead. In so doing, authenticating and validating the work of Christ on the cross, God provided for us justification. So when we come to this table, it isn’t just being sentimental about the fact that somebody died for us. It isn’t being superficial and emotional about the fact that Jesus was beaten or that He had nails put through His hands. This is an experience that a lot of people had.
They say 30,000 Jews were crucified around Palestine in that time in human history. A lot of people were crucified. A lot of people were flogged. We saw in the book of Acts that the apostles were flogged the way Jesus was. It isn’t that. It’s not the temporal, physical aspects of His death that mattered to us. It’s the theological realities of His death, and it all redounds to the glory of God.
Father, we thank you that we have been given in your Word, a clear picture of the significance of the cross. It is emotional for us to think about this. We’re so profoundly grateful, but it’s not an emotion that’s stirred in us in some artificial way or by some inward contemplation. It is an emotion stirred in us by a clear understanding of the reality of the cross, what it really is. Help us, Lord, never to grow weary, never to become overly familiar with these truths so that they do not lift us up in joy and rejoicing. What an amazing reality, thank You Lord for stooping to our level in Christ and in the work that He has done that satisfies You O God. And everybody said Amen, have a great thanksgiving.