Again this evening, as we have for the last few Sundays, we come to the Word of God and have the opportunity to proclaim this glorious revelation, not to the normal congregation in the church, but to a congregation spread all over the globe. Last Sunday there were people who were part of our service from eighty-five nations. Incalculable numbers of people joined us each time we’ve done this; and that would be true again tonight. And the Word of God is being translated into multiple languages, including American Sign Language, and we are receiving responses from around the world. That’s a sobering thought for the preacher to understand the responsibility that lies at his feet, to speak in a way that, perhaps, will make this particular message exactly the clear truth that could capture the hearts of some who don’t know the Savior.
As a society globally we are living through a kind of dangerous threat that has come upon us with a virus. Our society is very aware of that danger and many, many other dangers that pervade our lives. We are not forgetful of all kinds of diseases, all kinds of potential corruptions, pollutions, toxins. We are not forgetful of terrorists, criminals that could do damage to us, and regularly do across the world. We worry about all kinds of things because death can come in so many ways. We actually feel overexposed to things that we can see and things that we can’t see that can take away our lives. We worry about life to the point that we’re circumspect about what we eat and concerned about supplements and nutritious aspects of food that can maybe lengthen our life and add greater physical endurance because we basically have a fear of death. And that’s normal, because life if full and rich with meaningful relationships for most of us, and we want to hang on. It’s also true because we’re not sure, in many cases, what lies ahead.
So I want to be very honest with you, speak to you from the Word of God, as a messenger from the Lord, and I want to pose a question: “What do you fear most? What do you fear most?” And I want to add another question: “What should you fear most?” Or to put it another way, “What is the greatest threat to your life? At what point should you do whatever can be done to secure yourself from that greatest of all threats? What is your greatest threat?” Or to put it another way, “Who is your greatest enemy?”
Who is the most dangerous person you will ever encounter? Now the greatest enemy you will ever encounter is not human. That narrows the choice. And some of you, no doubt, are thinking, “Well, he must be talking about the devil, must be talking about Satan.” No. Satan is not your greatest enemy, not at all. Are you surprised to hear that? It’s true. Your greatest enemy, deadliest enemy, most destructive enemy is actually God. The demons know that, Satan knows that, that’s why they said to the Lord Jesus, “Have You come to destroy us?” Even the demons know that God is the final Judge and Executioner.
With regard to us, Matthew 10:28 records the words of Jesus. Listen to His words: “Do not fear those who kill the body but are not able to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” Fear the One who can send you to hell, and that is God Himself. That is God Himself. God is the greatest threat to your life, to the life of any human being.
You shouldn’t fear anything in an ultimate sense that is limited to physical harm or even physical death, because those things that can harm your body are not the things that bring about final destruction of your soul. Be terrified of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. And that is not Satan. Satan is not the sovereign of hell, he is among those in the lake of fire himself being eternally punished by the Sovereign over hell who is God Himself.
Honestly, in our country we believe that God is our friend, not our enemy. We constantly call on God and we say very frequently, “God bless this country. God bless America.” That is not new. Back in 1918, there was a conflagration of nations that was identified as World War I, and in that same year 1918 we also had the Spanish Flu which killed as many as 100 million people. It was during that year, I suppose under the stresses of those disastrous realities, that songwriter by the name of Irving Berlin wrote a song called “God Bless America.” He called on God to bless our country.
We still sing that song. It’s been revised a few times through the decades, but we still sing that song, and we sort of think we deserve it. We think God likes America. We think we’re worthy of blessing because we love freedom, we love justice. There’s a certain sort of collective goodness, philanthropy, charity, care, compassion that marks our people. There is a desire for equality. We’re concerned about welfare. We’re concerned about protecting people from harm, not only our own people, but through the years we’ve sent our troops all over the world to protect other people. We’re careful to be at the leading edge as much as we can of all scientific advancement that can make life better, medical advancement. We spend our wealth on the people who need it here and all around the world. And so we think that with all this goodness, surely we could call on God to bless us.
And I think even personally, most people think that God is friendly toward them. They think that God will, perhaps, be the source of good fortune. You’ll hear people who win the lottery even say, “Thank the Lord.” We think that there’s a sense in which our goodness brings us victory. Somebody might thank the Lord for winning a boxing match or a Super Bowl. And when something goes good in life, we think this is the blessing from God and it’s kind of deserved. And when things go well for us it kind of firms up the idea that God is our friend and He’s looking kindly on us. And by the way, this notion is aided and abetted by many Christians and many Christian preachers who say very often these days that God loves everyone and He loves everyone unconditionally, and He wants to be the friend of everyone, and sometimes it sounds like especially people in our country. After all, we have His name on our coins and in our flag salute.
Let me rain on that parade a little bit. Let me bring some truth into the sentimental imagination of such thinking. The truth is this: God is our worst enemy; our ever-present, deadly danger; our eternal Judge and Executioner, who will destroy both body and soul in hell.
So the Bible makes it very clear that wisdom begins with fearing God. Proverbs 9:10 says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” That’s where wisdom starts, with a recognition of the role that God plays in the universe, and that is the role of Judge. In the eighth chapter of Proverbs and verse 13, we read this: “The fear of the Lord is to hate evil.”
So the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. What does it mean to fear the Lord? It means to hate evil, to hate evil, because you understand not just the nature of evil, that it is destructive in a temporal sense, but the result of evil: it is destructive in an eternal sense. If you’re going to fear anything, fear God. Don’t fear what can only destroy your body, fear the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. And that’s what the Bible teaches. He’s exactly the One the world would tell you not to fear. And many preachers would tell you not to fear Him: “He’s your friend.” He is not your friend, He is your enemy. You have the most to fear from God.
Listen to what the Bible says: “For the Lord your God is a consuming fire. God is angry with the wicked every day.” God said, “I also will act in fury. My eye will not spare nor will I have pity; and though they cry in My ears with a loud voice, I will not hear them.” And then this, an amazing self-description by God in the sixty-third chapter of Isaiah: “I have trodden the winepress alone, I have trodden them in My anger and trampled them in My fury. Their blood is sprinkled upon My garments, and I have stained all My robes. For the day of vengeance is in My heart.” That’s a first-person declaration by God Himself.
Jonathan Edwards, maybe the greatest theologian in American history, preached a sermon called “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” In it he said this: “If you cry to God to pity you, He will be so far from pitying you or showing you the least favor, that instead of that He will only tread you underfoot. And though He will know that you cannot bear the weight of omnipotence treading upon you, yet He will not regard it, but will crush you under His feet without mercy. He will crush out your blood and make it fly, and it shall be sprinkled on His garments so as to stain all His clothing. He will not only hate you, but He will hold you in utmost contempt.” When Jonathan Edwards preached that sermon in early America, people cried out for mercy.
Book of Revelation comes near to the conclusion with these words, twentieth chapter: “I saw a great white throne and Him who was seated on it, earth and sky fled from His presence, and there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and the books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. They will be tormented day and night forever and ever.”
Isaiah said, “See, the Lord is coming with fire, and His chariots are like a whirlwind. He will bring down His anger with fury and His rebuke with flames of fire.” Picture there is the picture of the chariots of God approaching like an army driven furiously, kicking up dust. God will come in judgment like a whirlwind, and all His enemies will feel the fury of His wrath.
There’s a universal indictment in the book of Romans chapter 1, verse 18: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.” The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all unrighteousness and ungodliness, which is essentially the suppression of the truth. And the biblical record, the biblical history of God’s dealings with men supports that God is the greatest enemy that humanity has.
Adam and Eve disobeyed Him and were cursed; so was their son Cain. The whole world was bound up in evil and only evil continually, and God drowned the entire world in the universal flood, millions of people. The post-flood world disobeyed, and He scattered them, confounding their language, and giving birth to deadly national conflicts throughout all of human history. In Egypt He killed all the firstborn among the Egyptians. He destroyed the entire army of Egypt, drowning them in the Red Sea. He killed many Israelites who worshiped the golden calf. He consumed with fire those who displeased Him and named the place graves of the greedy. He killed with snakebites those who were disobedient. He killed 24,000 in a plague. He destroyed 70,000 in a plague. That’s all recorded in the Old Testament.
And though most of humanity, historically up to the very present, has been spared such kind of death, there have been such holocausts through history; we’re familiar with them. But most of humanity has been spared that. We all deserve to die. And occasionally we see those kinds of massive deaths as a reminder of what we all deserve; but God in mercy for most of us holds back. Even in the New Testament 70 AD the Romans came to Jerusalem and, as far as we know, hundreds of thousands were killed by the Roman sword.
Human history is the history of death. If you read the fifth chapter of Genesis you find the first genealogy in the Bible; and the genealogy of Genesis 5 reads exactly the same for every person, “and he died, and he died, and he died, and he died, and he died,” and by the time you get to the end of the fifth chapter of Genesis you know that everyone dies. And in Hebrews 9:27 the Scripture says, “It’s appointed unto men once to die, and after that the judgment.”
Now how widespread is this death sentence? We’ll all die because we’re all sinners, and the wages of sin is death, and all have sinned. We all die. The fact that we all die is the proof that we are all sinners. And that also indicates that the judgment of God is a just judgment. The Bible describes the nature of man in the third chapter of Romans, pulling together a whole lot of statements from the Old Testament.
The apostle Paul lists these statements from the Old Testament that sum up the sinful nature of all of us: “There is none righteous, not even one. There is none who understands. There is none who seeks for God. All have turned aside, together they have become useless. There is none who does good, not even one. Their throat is an open grave; with their tongues they keep deceiving. The poison of asps is under their lips; whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood. Destruction and misery are in their paths, and the path of peace they have not known.” And then this final indictment, “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” That is the essential problem with man. The beginning of wisdom is to fear the Lord: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” But there is no fear of God before the eyes of the natural man and woman.
Why am I saying all this? Because you cannot understand what Christ did on that Good Friday. You cannot understand the point of His death unless you understand why He died. The gospel is good news about the forgiveness of sin. And Jesus from the cross said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing.” And He could offer that forgiveness and provide that forgiveness because He would make he sacrifice that made that forgiveness possible.
Look, the gospel, Christianity, is not about a happier life. It’s not about a better social life. It’s not about a better marriage. It’s not about fulfilling your potential or your desires or being everything you could be and would want to be. It’s not about ending your dissatisfaction. It’s really not about getting rid of your shame and feelings of guilt. We all have a conscience, all of us. And there are times when that conscience works on us pretty hard, accusing us. It’s a God-given gift to have a conscience, just like pain in your body is a God-given gift so you don’t keep hurting yourself to the point of death. Conscience screams at you and says, “Stop behaving in that immoral way because you’re doing damage to your soul.”
But the message of the gospel and the message of Christianity isn’t to somehow overcome your guilt, silence your active conscience. It’s not about to say, “Well, you’re really not what you want to be, but Jesus wants to make you everything you can be.” No. That is not even the essence of sin. The essence of sin is not defined by my failures, my bad relationships, my bad behaviors. The definition of sin is not how it offends some other person or how it harms some other person. That is not the essence of sin. The very idea of sin is that it is an offense against Holy God. It violates His law and it disrupts a person’s relationship with Him. The gospel is not about fixing your relationship to yourself, feeling better about yourself. It’s not about fixing your relationship to some other people. It is about remedying your relationship to Holy God.
When David sinned, as we remember in the Scripture, he sinned against Bathsheba in an adulterous way. He sinned against her husband by having him killed. He sinned against everybody who was part of the complicit operation to bring it to pass. But when he poured out his heart in Psalm 51 he said this: “Against You and You only have I sinned.” He saw sin not for what it did to him, producing guilt and remorse. He saw sin not for what it did to other people, but for what it did to God.
As a result of all sin offending God, violating God’s law, we are all under divine judgment. We have to see our shortcomings, our failures, our disobedience, our iniquities, transgressions, and sins in light of the holiness of God. And if you don’t see them in light of that, you don’t see them for what they really are. Sin is not a social concept. It’s not some kind of a personal failure. Sin is an assault on God. You never know what sin is until you think of it in terms of God, and to measure it, not by human standards, but by the yardstick of God’s total holiness and His demands on your life.
So what we have to grasp is that the bad conscience that convicts you may not even be the conviction of sin; may just be a bad feeling because things didn’t work out. It’s not that you need to feel like a failure, that’s not coming to grips with your sin, or feel miserable about your misdeeds. No, you need to understand that every sin is an open act of rebellion against an infinitely holy God; and because you sin, you are under His condemnation. Jesus doesn’t come along as some kind of super psychiatrist to try to fix your relationship to yourself and the people around you, He comes to fix your relationship with Holy God.
To be convinced of sin and convicted of sin means to measure your life by the very holy law of God and realize you have basically rebelled against His authority, you have offended Him, you have defied Him, you’ve even blasphemed Him; we all have. The sinner needs to be terrified. I don’t see a lot of that today. Sinner needs to be terrified, not made to feel that God is a friend, when the fact is God is the most deadly, dangerous enemy a sinner has. For a sinner to be brought to God should be a terrifying reality.
So that’s the condition of all of us. What do we do about that? We can’t do anything about it, “because by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified before God.” We can’t be reconciled by being good because we can’t be good enough. Jesus said, “Be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect.” Short of that, you can’t attain salvation on your own.
So what’s the answer? How can we be reconciled to the God we constantly offend? The answer to that comes in the work of Jesus Christ. And we know from what He said on the cross, “Father, forgive them,” that that is essentially why He came and why He was dying to provide forgiveness of sins. But just exactly what do we need to understand? Let’s go back over what we said.
The beginning of wisdom is to fear God. But Romans 3 says people don’t fear God. They fear just about everything else but God. They fear the things that destroy the body, but not the One who destroys both soul and body in eternal hell. So we cry for God to bless us and we ignore the truth of, say, Psalm 115:13, in which the psalmist says, “The Lord will bless those who fear Him. The Lord will bless those who fear Him.” We have to change our perspective. The path to blessing starts with holy dread, holy terror, holy fear of God, the One who casts sinners into eternal punishment. Let me sum up why we must see God as our enemy and fear what He can and will do to us.
First of all, He’s the sovereign Ruler of all who live. He possesses in Himself complete and universal authority and has established absolute moral law, reflecting His holy perfection to which He requires flawless obedience; and if you don’t obey, you are under His judgment. Sin is any and every violation of His holy law, rendering all of us guilty; and the punishment is just. So God is the Lawgiver, sovereign Lawgiver.
Secondly, He is the warden, He’s the prison-keeper who has prepared an inescapable prison of suffering, a lake of fire, the Bible says, a place of sorrow and wretchedness forever to be occupied by the guilty. Here is the place where He the warden keeps the violators forever. God then, thirdly, is the executioner. He brings the just judgment of both body and soul. He is the dangerous one; be afraid of Him. All that is critical, essential, to understanding the meaning of the death of Christ.
Not until you grasp what I’ve said to you up to this point can you capture the value of Christ’s death for us. I want you to look at 1 Peter 3:18 if you have a Bible. If not, just listen. Listen to what 1 Peter 3:18 says, just this one verse: “For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit.” That is so profound, so far-reaching that there’s at least a ten-week sermon series in that one verse. But let’s break it down. This is profound revelation.
First, Christ also died for sins. Christ died for sins. That’s the greatest, most hopeful, most wonderful good news that could ever be given to a world of sinners. He died for sins. Whose sins? Weren’t His own. He was holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners. He was the Holy One of God. What sins? The sins of all who would believe in Him.
Look at His suffering, it was ultimate: He died. Some people might suffer some pain to benefit someone else, but not necessarily give up their life. Some people might volunteer some deprivation to meet someone else’s need, but not necessarily give up their life. “Greater love hath no man than this, than that a man lay down his life for his friends.” So it was an ultimate sacrifice. It was related to sins; He died for sins, not His own, He had none. Look back at chapter 2, verse 22 where it says concerning Christ, “who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth.”
So verse 24 says, “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross.” He died for sins, He had none of His own. He died for our sins. So it was the ultimate sacrifice. It was targeted to deal with sins.
Thirdly, it was unique. Christ also died for sins once, hapax, one time only with perpetual validity, stretching across history never needing to be repeated: once. That is very different than the Old Testament sacrificial system where animals were slaughtered every morning and every evening every day for centuries, and no animal sacrifice could take away sin. One death, He by the one offering of Himself sanctified His people forever, one offering. That exposes, by the way, the error of the Mass, which is some kind of symbolic recrucifixion of Jesus.
So, His dying was the ultimate sacrifice, it was targeted to sins, it was unique in that it was once, and it was comprehensive. He died once for all. He died once for all. All who would ever enter heaven were basically gathered together in that one death.
Listen to 2 Corinthians 5:14, “For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, the one died for all,” – verse 15 – “and He died for all.” He died for all His people. He died for all who would believe. One death for sin was all that was required comprehensively for all His people all over the world through all of human history. Sacrifice in the Old Testament was repeated and repeated and repeated and repeated. The sacrifice that was offered in the Old Testament when people brought their sacrifice to the temple was for a certain person, one person, or a family. No sacrifice ever was for the world.
First John 2 says, “He’s the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but for the sins of the whole world.” And, of course, the goal of the gospel and the goal of the death of Christ is to secure reconciliation for sinners with God because their sins are paid for. And that is the next thing in this verse, verse 18: “He died vicariously in the place of, the just for the unjust.” Another way to translate it: “The righteous for the unrighteous.” Better yet, “The Righteous One for the unrighteous ones, the Righteous One dying for the unrighteous ones.” God punished Him for the sins of all who would ever believe. Hebrews 9:20 puts it this way: “He suffered once to bear the sins of many.” That’s why Good Friday is good.
In His sermon in Acts 3, Peter called Jesus the Holy and Righteous One. The Perfect One, the Sinless One bore our sins in His body on the cross, took the full fury of the wrath of God, took hell for us. You say, “How could Jesus absorb all of that for all the sinners who would ever believe in Him through all of human history?” and the answer is because He’s an infinite person, He could take on an infinite amount of the fury of God, and God was satisfied. How do you know God was satisfied? Because God raised Him from the dead, validating the efficacy of His sacrifice.
The Son of God stepped from eternity into time to die in our place. He gathered up all of our sins. God made Him the target for fury, eternal wrath against those sins, and as we read in Isaiah, “The iniquity of us all fell on Him,” and so did God’s judgment. And that’s why it was dark from the sixth hour to the ninth hour as He absorbed divine fury. His suffering then was the ultimate one: He died.
It was the targeted one, it was related to sins. It was unique, only once. It was comprehensive for all. It was vicarious, the just for the unjust. And then, it was effective. Go back to verse 18, “so that He might bring us to God,” – reconciliation – “that He might bring us to God.” Here is stated the purpose of the death of Christ: to bring us to God. The verb here is to introduce or provide access for, or bring someone into a relationship. Literally you could translate it, “To introduce us to God.” Or better yet, “To give us access to God.”
Jesus is the official, divinely appointed doorkeeper who throws open the doors to the throne room by His sacrifice and sin-bearing, and brings us to God. In fact, in Hebrews 2:10 it says in His death, “He was bringing many sons to glory.” This is what was going on on the cross. Amazingly, Peter sums it up in this one verse. He concludes, “having been put to death in the flesh, by being put to death in the flesh, He died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, to bring us to God.” He suffered to bring reconciliation.
Oh, by the way, “He was put to death in the flesh,” – but the verse ends – “but made alive in the spirit.” His body was dead, His Spirit was alive, and as we all know, came out of the grave on the third day on that glorious Sunday. This is the significance of the cross. This is what makes God our friend. But apart from faith in Christ, apart from believing in Him as Lord and Savior, God is your enemy, and He is by far the worst enemy that you could ever have, because His judgment is forever.
So Jesus came, sent from God, so that Jesus, by the love of God sent, saves us from the wrath of God. “God so loved the world,” – the world that was under His wrath, He loved – “that He sent His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.” That is why this is Good Friday, the best.
Our Father, we come to You now in thanksgiving. The profound realities of our Savior’s death on the cross escape most people. Some look at it as some kind of sentimental experience by a well-intentioned good teacher. Some look at it as if Jesus was a bit misguided and got on the wrong side of the establishment and lost His life and died as a martyr. But we know that Christ died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to You. Reconcile us so that once enemies, we now become friends. And not just friends. Jesus said to His disciples, “You are My friends.” But it’s more than that: friends who become sons of God, friends who become joint heirs with Christ, friends for whom there is a place being prepared in heaven, for everlasting bliss and joy, satisfaction, and fulfillment. May this truth by the power of Your Holy Spirit move on the hearts of all who hear, and may You be glorified and honored in our response. And we’ll thank You, in the name of our Savior whom we love. Amen.
This article is also available and sold as a booklet.