Pastor and Christian Leadership Resources

The Cross of Christ

  • Dr. Franklin L. Kirksey Based on 1 Peter 3:18
  • Published Mar 28, 2010
The Cross of Christ

Dr. Erwin W. Lutzer, senior pastor of Moody Memorial Church in Chicago, Ill., shares in his book Why the Cross Can Do What Politics Can't, "Many pastors no longer preach about God's holiness and man's depravity, arguing that we must speak to the 'felt needs' of the day. Thus much contemporary preaching centers on relationships within the family, how to conquer depression, and how to have a better self-image. The focus is on how Christ can help a person be a better businessman or career woman rather than on our need to prepare for heaven and face the final judgment. We are told that if we want to be relevant, we must 'scratch people where they itch.'

"As a result, many churches today offer a Christ who will help people become healthy, wealthy and fulfilled."

In Basic Christianity, Dr. John R. W. Stott laments, "A great many people in the post-Christian West have fallen for [a] caricature of Christianity. They then understandably see no fundamental difference between the Christian gospel and the eastern religions…they regard all religions as systems of human merit. 'God helps those who help themselves,' they say. There is no possibility of reconciling this notion with the cross of Christ."

A significant reference to the cross of Christ is in 1 Peter 3:18, where we read, "For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit."

We will approach the cross of Christ under three headings, namely, the curse of the cross of Christ, the centrality of the cross of Christ and the challenge of the cross of Christ.

I. The Curse of the Cross of Christ
The Romans practiced several forms of execution. For example: They beheaded some, burned others at the stake and beat others to death by flogging. Why did they crucify Jesus upon a cross? According to God's plan, Jesus was to die this way for the sins of the world. Those who passed by would assume He was under God's curse. Isaiah prophesied, "Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted" (Isaiah 53:4).

Moses is credited with writing, "If a man has committed a sin deserving of death, and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain overnight on the tree, but you shall surely bury him that day, so that you do not defile the land which the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance; for he who is hanged is accursed of God" (Deuteronomy 21:22-23).

Paul said, "For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, 'Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them.' But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for ‘the just shall live by faith.' Yet the law is not of faith, but 'the man who does them shall live by them.' Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, 'Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree', that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith" (Galatians 3:10-14).

Sir Robert Anderson (1841-1918) perceptively declared, "The Cross was the manifestation of Divine love without reserve or limit; but it was also the expression of man's unutterable malignity."

On the cross we find God the Son forsaken by God the Father. We read, "Now from the sixth hour until the ninth hour there was darkness over all the land. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, 'Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?' that is, 'My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?'" (Matthew 27:45-46).

Here from the cross Jesus cites Psalms 22:1. He is fully aware that He is fulfilling Bible prophecy and experiencing the separation from the Father that is necessary to bring about the forgiveness of our sins.

II. The Centrality of the Cross of Christ
Dr. J.C. Ryle (1816-1900) said, "The cross the foundation of the Bible: If you have not yet found out that Christ crucified is the foundation of the whole volume, you have hitherto read your Bible to very little profit. Your religion is a heaven without a sun, an arch without a keystone, a compass without a needle, a clock without a spring or weights, a lamp without oil. It will not comfort you; it will not deliver your soul from hell."

Dr. Alan Redpath (1907-1989) said, "All highways of biblical truth lead to the Cross. The whole emphasis of the gospel records is upon His death and not upon His life—the latter was ever leading to the former."

Someone said, "In the Pentateuch, we have the FIGURE (or types) of the suffering of Christ. In the Psalms, we have the FEELINGS of the sufferings of Christ. In the Prophets, we have the FORECAST of the sufferings of Christ. In the Gospels, we have the FACTS of the sufferings of Christ. In the Epistles, we have the FRUITS of the sufferings of Christ."

Dr. J. Mike Minnix said, "One never can fully appreciate the Bible unless that person sees the message of the cross from beginning to end." Dr. Minnix added, "The Gospel writers majored on the cross. Matthew took up one third of his Gospel concerning the passion of Jesus. Mark took up one third, as well. Luke used a fourth of his Gospel to tell the story of the death of Jesus. John amazingly spent half of his Gospel to tell the story of about 10 days surrounding the cross of Jesus! In a biography of Daniel Webster that covered 863 pages, only five were devoted to his death. In a voluminous work on the life of Abraham Lincoln that contained 5,000 pages, only 25 were used to tell of his death. Think of it! John spent half of his writing space to talk about the days surrounding the cross! Why? Because this event is near to the heart of God. The cross is central in the plans and work of heaven."

Dr. John R. W. Stott explains, "So from the early chapters of Genesis to the final chapters of the Revelation we can trace what some writers have called a scarlet thread. It is, in fact, like the thread of Theseus which enables us to find our way through the labyrinth of Scripture."

Dr. W.A. Criswell (1909-2002) preached a message titled "The Scarlet Thread of Redemption." In this great sermon, Dr. W.A. Criswell said, "This is the scarlet thread of redemption that began with the blood of covering in the Garden of Eden and finds its ultimate and final consummation in the blood-washed throng before the throne of God in glory."

Dr. Alexander MacLaren (1826-1910) declared, "We believe that the history of the world is but the history of His influence and that the center of the whole universe is the cross of Calvary."

Dr. Horatius Bonar (1808-1889) offers the following observations in The Errors of the Age, "Transfer the divine element to creation at large, you have pantheism; to images of brass or stone, you have idolatry; to the priest or the church, you have Romanism; to forms, and rites, and sacraments, you have Ritualism; to the visible things of the senses, you have materialism; to the invisibilities of disembodied spirits, you have spiritualism; to the intellect, you have rationalism; to the fancy, you have religious pictorialism; to the feelings, you have religious sentimentalism; transfer it to man, simply as man, you have the last form of Antichrist—the de-thronization of the divine, the enthronization of the human, the rejection of the God-Man, and the exaltation of a man into His place as the only Messiah of the race, the world's only Redeemer and King.

"Most subtle is the error that would have us deal with religious truth as a mere bundle of abstractions, ideas or speculations, of which every man is at liberty to form his own opinion. The essence of the Bible, the Alpha and Omega of revelation, is not truth alone, nor religion alone, but Christianity, a Christianity which is not presented to us merely as the communication of doctrines, but as the settlement of the great personal question between the sinner and God, the solution of the difficulty which law and conscience necessarily raise as to righteousness and grace.

"What is Christianity? Not metaphysics, not mysticism, not a compilation of guesses at truth. It is the history of the seed of the woman—that seed the Word made flesh—the Word made flesh the revelation of the invisible Jehovah, the representative of the eternal God, the medium of communication between the Creator and the creature, between earth and heaven.

"Of this Christianity, what is the essential characteristic, the indispensable feature from first to last? Is it incarnation or bloodshedding? Is it the cradle or the cross? Is it the scene at Bethlehem or at Golgotha? Assuredly the latter! Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani is no mere outcry of suffering nature; the cross is no mere scene of human martyrdom, and the great sepulcher is no mere Hebrew tomb. It is only through bloodshedding that conscience is purged; it is only at the cross that the sinner can meet with God; it is the cross that knits heaven and earth together; it is the cross that bears up the collapsing universe; it is the pierced hand that holds the golden sceptre; it is at Calvary that we find the open gate of Paradise regained, and the Gospel is good news to the sinner, of liberty to enter in.

"Let men, with the newly sharpened axes of rationalism, do their utmost to hew down that cross; it will stand in spite of them. Let them apply their ecclesiastical paint-brush, and daub it all over with the most approved of mediaeval pigments to cover its nakedness, its glory will shine through all. Let them scoff at the legal transference of the sinner's guilt to a divine substitute, and of that Surety's righteousness to the sinner, as a Lutheran delusion, or a Puritan fiction, that mutual transference, that wondrous exchange, will be found to be wrapped up with Christianity itself. Let those who, like Cain of old, shrink from the touch of sacrificial blood, and mock the 'religion of the shambles,' purge their consciences with the idea of God's universal Fatherhood, and try to wash their robes and make them white in something else than the blood of the Lamb; to us, as to the saints of other days, there is but one purging of the conscience, one security for pardon, one way of access, one bond of reconciliation, one healing of our wounds, the death of Him on whom the chastisement of our peace was laid, and one everlasting song, 'unto Him who loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood.'

"It is round the cross of God that all truth revolves; and hence all error connected either with His Person or His work must be perilous. The revelation of the cross begins at the beginning and sweeps round a vast circle. It takes up the whole question between the sinner and God and gives judgment upon every part of it. It condemns man and justifies God. It pronounces authoritatively both as to the way of life and the way of death.

"It does not accept earnestness as a substitute for truth, nor a justification or extenuation of error. It does not show man how to lay the foundation of the great settlement for eternity; it lays the foundation and presents us with everything on God's side as finished. It begins by announcing what God has done, before it says one word of what man is to do; it shows us God as the doer and the giver, man as the receiver, setting aside unsparingly every religion and every doctrine which would make man, either in whole or in part, his own Saviour; or which would make worship or service a thing of proxy and shift the personality and the responsibility of the great transaction between the soul and God to a priest, minister, church, ceremony, sacrament or creed.

"Thus it is that through the belief of God's testimony to the great propitiation, we are not only justified, but we know--we are assured--that we are. Thus it is that through the simple reception of the glad tidings, all the gladness which they contain is transferred to us. Believing, we rejoice--we are saved and have everlasting life.
The revelation of 'the Christ' embraces in it the revelation of the church in Him, as His temple, His body, His bride, His present witness on earth, and the watcher for His return in glory. This church, even on earth, is no mere association of men holding certain opinions, no mere corporation favoured with certain privileges, but a body chosen and called out of a world of darkness. Its legislation is divine, not human; its laws are not its own ideas of expediency and order, but the commandments of its head. The essence of its constitution is not socialism, nor republicanism, nor despotism, nor anarchy, but an unearthly organization, founded on entire subjection to its heavenly head; an organization working itself out in order, unity, growth, fruitfulness, love and zeal. Its ministers are not philosophers, nor lecturers, nor theorists, nor humourists, nor orators, nor priests, but messengers of God's free love, expositors of the Word, shepherds of the flock, and executors of government and discipline. Its members are not politicians, nor lovers of pleasure, nor worshippers of gold, nor men who are trying to make the best of both worlds, but men alive from the dead, through the power of the Holy Ghost; possessors of a heavenly peace, bearers of a cross, yet heirs of a kingdom; strangers upon the earth, yet citizens of the New Jerusalem, which cometh down from God out of heaven.

"It is truth that makes us free, for all error is bondage. If, then, you would be freemen, grasp the truth tenaciously, bravely, calmly; bind it round you as a girdle, treasure it in your heart of hearts. 'Buy the truth and sell it not;' that is, get it at any cost, part with it never. Error is sin, for which every man shall give an account to God; and sin is no mere mischance or misfortune that claims pity only, but not condemnation nor punishment; else what means the fiery law? What means the cross of the sin-bearer? What means the great white throne? What means the everlasting fire? 'Stand, therefore, having your loins girt about with truth,' remembering your high calling as witnesses for the truth and the True One. Let neither your words nor your lives give any uncertain sound. Every man to whom the Bible comes is responsible for believing all the truth which that revelation proclaims, and for rejecting all the error which it condemns. Cleave, then, to the Word of the living God; and sit, as teachable disciples, at the feet of Him who has said, Learn of Me."

Dr. James Montgomery Boice (1938-2000) shares the following on "The Centrality of the Cross": "If the death of Christ on the cross is the true meaning of the Incarnation, then there is no gospel without the cross. Christmas by itself is no gospel. The life of Christ is no gospel. Even the resurrection, important as it is in the total scheme of things, is no gospel by itself. For the good news is not just that God became man, nor that God has spoken to reveal a proper way of life for us, or even that death, the great enemy, is conquered. Rather, the good news is that sin has been dealt with (of which the resurrection is a proof); that Jesus has suffered its penalty for us as our representative, so that we might never have to suffer it; and that therefore all who believe in Him can look forward to heaven…Emulation of Christ's life and teaching is possible only to those who enter into a new relationship with God through faith in Jesus as their substitute. The resurrection is not merely a victory over death (though it is that), but a proof that the atonement was a satisfactory atonement in the sight of the Father (Romans 4:25); and that death, the result of sin, is abolished on that basis.

Any gospel that talks merely of the Christ-event, meaning the Incarnation without the atonement, is a false gospel. Any gospel that talks about the love of God without pointing out that His love led Him to pay the ultimate price for sin in the person of His Son on the cross is a false gospel. The only true gospel is of the One Mediator (1 Timothy 2:5-6), who gave Himself for us."

III. The Challenge of the Cross of Christ
Dr. A.W. Tozer (1897-1963) observes, "If I see aright, the cross of popular evangelicalism is not the cross of the New Testament. It is, rather, a new bright ornament on the bosom of a self-assured and carnal Christianity. The old cross slew men, the new cross entertains them. The old cross condemned; the new cross amuses. The old cross destroyed confidence in the flesh; the new cross encourages it."

In 1 Peter 2:18-25 we read, "Servants, be submissive to your masters with all fear, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the harsh. For this is commendable, if because of conscience toward God one endures grief and suffering wrongfully. For what credit is it if, when you are beaten for your faults, you take it patiently? But when you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God. For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: 'Who committed no sin, nor was deceit found in His mouth'; who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously; who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness—by whose stripes you were healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls."

Rev. William Temple (1881-1944) said, "It is not good giving me a play [such as] Hamlet or King Lear, and telling me to write a play like that. Shakespeare could do it. I can't. It is no good showing me a life [such as] the life of Jesus and telling me to live like that. Jesus could do it; I can't. [However] if the genius of Shakespeare could come and live in me, then I could write plays like that; if the Spirit of Jesus could come and live in me, then I could live a life like that. This is the secret of Christian sanctity. It is not that we should strive to life like Jesus, but that He by His Spirit should come and live in us. To have Him as our example is not enough; we need Him as our Saviour.

"It is thus through His atoning death that the penalty of our sins may be forgiven; it is through His indwelling Spirit that the power of our sins may be broken."
Dr. John R.W. Stott also said, "Not only would much in the gospels remain mysterious if Christ's death were purely an example, but our human need would remain unsatisfied. We need more than an example; we need a Saviour. An example can stir our imaginations, kindle our idealism and strengthen our resolve, but it cannot cleanse the defilement of our past sins, bring peace to our troubled conscience or reconcile us to God."

We read in Matthew 16:24-27, "Then Jesus said to His disciples, 'If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works.'"

The challenge of the cross is a call to follow in the steps of suffering in the will of God as children of God. It is not suffering to be saved; it is suffering after we are saved. This suffering may involve the loss of comforts, companions and commendations.

Oswald Chambers (1874-1917) said, "All heaven is interested in the cross of Christ, all hell terribly afraid of it, while men are the only beings who more or less ignore its meaning."

Rev. George MacDonald (1824-1905) became friends with Samuel Langhorne Clemens (1835-1910), also known as Mark Twain. It appears McDonald influenced Clemens. It has been said that MacDonald rejected the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement, a doctrine that argues that Christ has taken the place of sinners in receiving divine punishment they rightfully deserve. Regrettably, Clemens never repented of his sin and believed in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ for his salvation.

"After [Clemens] received an invitation to meet Emperor William in Germany, his daughter Jean made a very telling statement. According to James C. Hefley, she exclaimed, 'Why, Papa, if it keeps on like this, pretty soon there won't be anybody else for you to get acquainted with but God!"

Wonder what might have been in the life of Samuel Langhorne Clemens if George MacDonald had remained true to the teaching of the Bible? We must resist the tendency of following popular trends rather than biblical truth.

In 1825 Sir John Bowring (1792-1872) penned these words:
"In the cross of Christ I glory,
Tow'ring o'er the wrecks of time;
All the light of sacred story,
Gathers round its head sublime.
When the woes of life o'er take me,
Hopes deceive and fears annoy;
Never shall the cross forsake me,
Lo! It glows with peace and joy.
Bane and blessing, pain and pleasure
By the cross are sanctified;
Peace is there that knows no measure,
Joys that through all time abide."

German astronomer, Johann Hieronymus Schroeder (1745-1816), once wrote, "It has been the cross which has revealed to good men that their goodness has not been good enough."