Always when we come together for our time of thanksgiving, we culminate the evening around the Lord’s Table, which has been commanded of us by our Lord Himself who instituted this table as a point of remembrance, as well as a focal point of thanksgiving. Of all the things that we are thankful for, that for which we are most thankful is the salvation that was provided for us in the death of Christ, who died on the cross, under the wrath of God, bearing the punishment for our sin, the sins of all who would ever believe, and providing for them eternal life. We could never have a true thanksgiving evening together if we didn’t end it at the Lord’s Table and end it at the cross. And so that’s what we have always done.
Most of us think of the cross as it relates to us; and, certainly, we should. Most of us think of salvation as it relates to us. We think of salvation and are grateful, and rightly so, for its personal benefits in this life and the life to come. We are grateful to God for His sovereign grace. We are grateful for the power that gave us life. We are grateful for the conviction that brought us to repentance. We’re grateful for the gift of faith. We are grateful for redemption, reconciliation; we’re thankful for all that it entails, both now and forever.
We tend to think of salvation from our perspective, and that is certainly, that is certainly very important. But tonight as we come to the Lord’s Table, I want you to try to think about the cross, not from your perspective, but from God’s perspective. What did it mean for Him? The reality is that salvation is not ultimately for us. It is for us, but not ultimately. Ultimately, it is for God.
In fact, ultimately, everything is for God. Everything that happens, happens for God’s glory. Listen to the benediction at the end of Romans 11: “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! 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? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.”
Now, among the “all things,” of course, is salvation. It isn’t wrong to say, “Christ died for sinners.” It is correct. But it is also correct to say, “Christ died for God. Christ died for God.”
The psalmist in Psalm 115:1 says, “Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us; but to Your name give glory, to Your name give glory.” And the doxology that I read to you at the end of Romans 11 is the capstone of an entire section on salvation, starting in Romans 1 all the way to the end of Romans 11. And the only response to all those chapters and all those truths of salvation is that God is glorified. So, yes, Christ died for sinners, Christ died for us; but Christ also died for God: for God’s honor, for God’s glory, and in a way that you might not realize.
If you want to open your Bible to the 3rd chapter of Romans, I want to just draw your attention to a few verses here: Romans, chapter 3. Salvation is the subject, as I said, starting in chapter 1 of Romans and running all the way through the 11th chapter. And in these chapters that talk about salvation, we are confronted with all of the aspects of salvation.
Salvation begins with God who has chosen us for His glory, who has justified us for His glory, who is sanctifying us for His glory, and who will one day raise us to heaven for His glory. Everything is for God’s glory, and that’s why the section ends with the doxology that says, “For of Him and from Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.”
And even the cross was for God glory, and you can look at it in many ways. But I just want to draw your attention as we come to the Lord’s Table to a very important perspective. You’re familiar with Romans 3:23 I know. You probably learned it early on in your Christian life: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.”
We understand that. We are all falling short of God’s glory. We cannot attain to a relationship with God on our own by our own efforts. We have sinned. We come short of what God demands.
We are then justified, not by works, but by a gift of grace, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus. We know that. We believe that. We celebrate that. We rejoice in that. But that is the aspect of salvation that is for us. Look at the next verse and let’s see how that salvation work that Christ did on the cross was for God.
Speaking of Christ Jesus in verse 24, verse 25 continues, “Christ Jesus, the antecedent, whom God displayed publically as a propitiation in His blood through faith.” We know that, we understand that, that God put His Son on display on the cross as a public sacrifice that satisfied divine justice and divine wrath. The word “propitiation” means satisfaction. Christ was a satisfactory sacrifice. But notice the reason. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, to demonstrate God’s righteousness. Why? “Because in the forbearance of God, He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”
Now you read that and it seems a little dense, a little thick, and maybe you can’t pull it apart, separate it enough to grasp its meaning. Let me make it simple for you. For centuries, God could be accused of being unrighteous, God could be accused of being unjust; therefore, God could be accused of being unholy. God could be accused of being like a lot of other false deities: capricious, unpredictable, inconsistent. How so? Because for centuries and for generations, God in His forbearance had passed over sins previously committed.
This looks back at the Old Testament. And if you look only at the Old Testament, you see God declaring Himself to be righteous and holy; and, yet, God passes over sin. For those who believe in Him, He forgives them. For those who believe in Him throughout Old Testament history, He promises them no judgment. For those who believe in Him, He says He will bring them to His heaven of heavens.
How can He do this and still be just? How can He do this and still be righteous? Does not justice have to be satisfied? Does not God have to be propitiated? Does not the requirement of the law have to be met, and the law requires death for sin? You literally have thousands of years in the Old Testament history, thousands of years of God passing over transgressions.
Somebody might say, “Well, wait a minute now; there were all the animal sacrifices. Weren’t those animal sacrifices kind of a part of what God was doing? And didn’t those animals in some way pay the penalty for sin?” Absolutely not. Absolutely not. No animal ever sacrificed, nor all animals collectively sacrificed could take away one sin. There was no sacrifice throughout the entire Old Testament that could literally satisfy God, take away sin, pay the penalty for sin, provide what divine justice demanded and what the law required.
So what was God doing in the Old Testament? Passing over transgressions, passing over transgressions, passing over transgressions; justifying Abraham, justifying Moses, justifying Noah; giving salvation and forgiveness to the prophets and those who heard them preach and believe the Word of God, giving salvation to all who called upon Him. He even says to the prophet Isaiah that “anyone who calls upon Me will be saved from judgment and death and sin.”
God seemed to tolerate the sins of all the people before Christ, and He passed over those sins, the sins of those who believe in Him. So His judgment seems somewhat whimsical. How could God so long tolerate sin? How could God so long pass over the sins of people just because they believed in Him and say they would not be punished? How can God do that? That is a very compelling question that every Christian needs to answer.
Back in Psalm 78, verse 34, it says about God, “When He killed them they sought Him, and returned and searched diligently for God. And they remembered that God was their rock, and the Most High God their Redeemer. But they deceived Him with their mouth and lied to Him with their tongue. For their heart was not steadfast toward Him, nor were they faithful in His covenant. But He, being compassionate, forgave their iniquity and did not destroy them; and often He restrained His anger and did not arouse all His wrath.” How can God do that? How can God, if He’s absolutely holy, hold back wrath?
The God of the Old Testament appears to be unjust. He is like a judge that doesn’t do His job, that doesn’t function to uphold the law and its penalty. And the critic might say, “Look, cheap forgiveness is a moral evil. Cheap forgiveness is a moral evil.” So there is some kind of immorality with God. There is some kind of flaw in God. Is God so desperately in need of people believing in Him that He literally sets aside His holiness, righteousness, and justice if they’ll just believe in Him? There is, honestly, throughout the Old Testament, a thick cloud over the justice of God.
And it isn’t that God forgave occasionally in the Old Testament: He did it all the time; He did it constantly. Listen to the words of the prophet Micah: “Who is a God like You, who pardons iniquity, passes over the rebellious act of the remnant of His possession? He doesn’t retain His anger forever, but He delights in unchanging love. He will again have compassion on us. He will tread our iniquities underfoot, cast all your sins into the depths of the sea.”
And while to us that sounds marvelous and wonderful and gracious, to somebody who is bound by the law and to God Himself who binds Himself by the law, this seems as if it’s a defect in His character. And, as I said, the animal sacrifices couldn’t bear sin. Hebrews 10:4, “It’s impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sin.”
For thousands of years then, the whole world seemed to literally engulfed in a scandal: a cosmic scandal, a divine scandal. Divine righteousness and divine holiness seemed indifferent. People sinned, and sinned, and sinned, and sinned; and if they believed in God, they immediately experience impunity and forgiveness and freedom from judgment, and were welcomed by God into His everlasting kingdom. How can God do this? It is this appearance of impunity and this appearance of tolerance of sin which demands a clear, solemn manifestation of the righteousness of God which takes place at the cross.
Now, with that in mind, go back to verse 25. "Christ Jesus is publically displayed as a satisfaction in His blood. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God, He passed over the sins previously committed. So there had to be a demonstration of His righteousness, and it happened at the present time in the death of Christ – ” end of verse 26 “ – so that God would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”
This is a profoundly important point at the very heart of the Christian gospel. Christ died for God. Christ died for God’s glory. Christ died to show the world that God was not capricious, that God did not whimsically forgive sin, but that every sin would be punished, and the sins of those who believed in Him would be punished in His Son. It’s wonderful to look at the cross from our perspective, but it’s doubly wonderful to look at the cross from God’s perspective.
The death of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was a revelation of God’s righteousness. It was a revelation of God’s holiness. It was a manifestation of His purity, and God’s righteous justice had to be satisfied. Yes, in the past, He overlooked sin, but with a view to the fact that in the present, as Paul puts it, Christ would bear all the punishment for that sin. Patiently, God forgave and forgave and forgave throughout the whole of redemptive history until Christ. But this was not unjust, this was not capricious, this was not unrighteous, because at the present time, Paul says, Jesus comes, pays the penalty in full for all the sins of all the people in the past and the future who will ever believe. And that is to say God is just, and at the same time can be the justifier of those who believe.
So when we look at the cross, it’s wonderful to look at the cross from our perspective, and we can see in it the grace of God toward us. We can see in it even the joy of God in our salvation. We can see in it the generosity of God as He pours out lavish blessings upon us, the riches of heaven forever and ever. But we also have to see in the cross the revelation of the righteousness of God Himself. Christ died for God. Christ died publically displayed to demonstrate to the world that God is a righteous God; and the only way He could forgive sinners is if the sin that those sinners committed was paid for in a substitute. And He selected the only one who could be that substitute: the sinless Son of heaven.
The cross exalts God’s holiness, it exalts His righteousness, it exalts His justice. It puts on display how absolutely holy He is, how absolutely righteous He is, that He will even put His own Son on the cross to satisfy divine justice. So Christ died for us, absolutely. But Christ died as well for God, to silence a critical world who might accuse God of being less than absolutely holy and righteous. God’s righteousness is established when Jesus pays in full the penalty for all whom God forgives. And so even the cross is for the glory of God. It puts God’s nature on display. Let’s bow together in prayer.
Lord, as we come to this wonderful time together around the table and we think about the death that You died for us, we need to expand our thinking beyond us and understand what a massive, singular, solitary display of divine glory the cross was. Yes, Lord, we thank You for dying for us. We thank You also for dying, not only to display grace toward us, but glory toward the Father.
The cross is endless in its wonders, in its beauties. We cherish that old rugged cross for all that it means to us. But may we even go beyond that and cherish it for all that it means to You, our great, glorious, righteous, and holy God. We are not the ultimate purpose in salvation, we are only a means to the ultimate purpose. The ultimate purpose is that You would be glorified in Your grace, and love, and compassion, and kindness, and mercy, and forgiveness; at the same time, in Your absolute holiness, righteous, and justice. All of that comes together at the cross. Work in our hearts, Lord, even in this hour we pray.