For many of us a discussion about the cross is old hat. We know all about it and can recite the story frontwards, backwards and in our sleep.
I remember hearing about a congregation that was annoyed with their pastor. They wanted him to stop preaching the Gospel every Sunday—they were getting tired of hearing it! The trouble is most of the time the cross is seldom mentioned from our pulpits except when we celebrate the Lord’s Supper and then as briefly as possible so that we aren’t late for whatever we have planned for the rest of the day.
Am I being unnecessarily critical? Perhaps.
What I do know is that I know the story frontwards, backwards and I could probably recite it in my sleep. Most of the time, it ceases to move me when I hear it told, or when I think about it myself.
That’s not good. What Christ did to provide for my forgiveness is something that should always move me. As I worked on this study I struggled with how to make it move you. That’s a struggle I might have lost because if it doesn’t move me it will not move anyone I share it with. If it doesn’t move me, I probably won’t bother to share it.
If it doesn’t move you, neither will you share it.
But God is greater than me. He can move me again to understand in a fresh way what forgiving me cost God. He can move you to understand in a fresh way what it cost God to forgive you. I hope He moves all of us, despite me and despite our familiarity with the story.
But the cross and what Christ did there is the heart of forgiveness. Without this there is nothing. John Stott wrote: “...we have much more to receive, but God has no more to give than he has given in Jesus Christ.” (Life In Christ, John Stott, Tyndale House Publishers, 1991, page 20)
THE "S" WORD
Salvation is a recurrent theme throughout the Scriptures. The Bible is a book dedicated to God’s actions in restoring a fatally damaged Creation. That story, the Gospel, is the heart of all the other teachings of God’s Word. Oddly enough, it is not a story that is often repeated by us or even in our churches. The Gospel is spelled forgiveness and forgiveness presupposes that there is something to be forgiven, that there is sin that needs to be dealt with, and that there is repentance that needs to happen. The “S” word is not popular today, and neither is the “R” word. And without those, the forgiveness we receive from God is not possible and the blood of Jesus Christ which cleanses us from sin cannot be applied. Forgiveness is free, but it is not automatic.
2 Corinthians 7:10, 11 gives us the formula. Paul writes:
“Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regrets…See what this godly sorrow has produced in you; what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done.”
Paul had written a previous letter to the church in Corinth in which he had addressed some issues that needed looking after, including immorality in the church and the abuse of the Lord’s Supper. Apparently his letter caused some grief as people recognized the sins they had been guilty of. In the second letter he commended them for their attitude of sorrow and the repentance that accompanied it. Their sorrow had produced in them a heartfelt need to straighten things out with God and to correct the wrongs that had been committed.
This “Godly sorrow” needs to be our constant companion. Not that we go about with long faces and downcast eyes, burdened with the weight of our sins, but that we are sorry for the sins we commit and eager to restore the fellowship between us and God (and others) that those sins have damaged. That sorrow leads us to repentance, to forgiveness and to the restoration of the relationship. That returns to us the joy in our salvation.
David understood the meaning of this sorrow/repentance/forgiveness/restoration cycle after his confrontation with Nathan, the prophet, after David’s sin with Bathsheba. When he repented of his sin of adultery and murder, David rediscovered the joy that he had lost during the time he ignored what he had done to offend God.
He writes in Psalm 51:
“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight…Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice. Hide your face from my sins and blot out my iniquity. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me” (51:1-4, 7-12).
In this psalm is the formula that finds it embodiment in Jesus Christ,
“It is finished” John 19:30. These are the words of Jesus just before He died. In Christ, salvation is complete.
SEVEN TRUTHS ABOUT SALVATION
SUBSTITUTION: Jesus died in my place
JUSTIFICATION: Jesus made me right with God
RECONCILIATION: Jesus made peace with God possible
ADOPTION: Jesus made me part of God’s family
REDEMPTION: Jesus purchased my salvation with His blood
PROPITIATION: Jesus satisfied God’s justice
FORGIVENESS: Jesus sent my sins away from me
There is nothing left for us to do but a “David.”
James Kennedy tells this story: “I remember a story about some people who moved into a new house, and they had a good friend who was a German woodworker, a master craftsman. He was invited to see the house, and as he looked around it he noticed that there was no coffee table in the living room. He never said anything, but after he left he started to work in his workshop, and he worked for two months. He built the most magnificent coffee table imaginable, with the most gorgeous curved legs and all kinds of various designs in it. He put sixteen coats of varnish on the surface until it became a veritable mirror. Finally, he wrapped it in a soft cloth and brought it over to their house, sat it down in the living room, threw off the cloth and said, ‘Voila!’ There it was. ‘Ahhhhhh...beautiful!’ It was, without a doubt, the most beautiful table they had ever seen in their lives. Then the craftsman said, ‘You are my dearest friends, and I present this to you as a gift.’ The man of the house stepped out of the living room and came back in a moment with a piece of coarse sandpaper in his hand. He said to the craftsman, ‘Oh, thank you for your gift. And now I must do my part.’ ‘Don’t touch that!’ the craftsman said. ‘If you touch it, you’ll ruin it. It is already finished. It is complete. It is done!’” (Cross Purposes, D. James Kennedy, Multnomah Publishing, 2007, page 16-17)
We are going to talk about the cost of forgiveness as it relates to Christ. Later as we develop the forgiveness theme we will talk about the human cost, but as part of our foundation we need to think about about what it cost God to restore the relationship that we damaged through our rebellion.
First of all, before we turn to all the verses we are going to look at, I want you to go back to the very first record we have of sacrifice in Scripture.
Genesis 4:1-5 describes the first family. Adam and Eve began to have children and we read about how they conducted the first worship services. We have to make a lot of assumptions here because the story by itself doesn’t tell us much but it is safe to assume that they had been instructed by God, or learned from their own painful experience, just what was required for them to approach God. As you read this account, what do you know about the sacrifice that the two brothers made and God’s reaction to those sacrifices?
We soon discover that something had to die, to spill its blood, in order to make the sacrifice acceptable to God. This particular story becomes even more important to us later when we look at other verses from the Scriptures.
Right from the beginning of history, the shedding of blood was a central part of any approach to God. The Lord Himself began the process by killing animals to provide the skins (Genesis 3:21) to cover Adam and Eve’s nakedness after their sin. He could have provided in some other way, but in the death and shed blood of the animals He was illustrating what needed to happen to restore the relationship, the fellowship, destroyed by sin.
Isaiah 55:6, 7 summarizes the message of the Gospel prior to the appearance of Jesus. “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon.”
We have to call on God. There seems to be a time limit to this calling on God, i.e. while he is to be found. We must forsake the sin committed. We have to turn to the Lord, or repent, so that He will forgive us. Jesus would become that ultimate sacrifice for sin, but these steps need to be taken by us before that “blood” can become the cleansing fountain that removes our sin and restores our fellowship with God.
We look first at the book of Acts to discover more on the steps we need to take. As the early church began to grow and flourish it was important for the new believers to understand the cycle. The emphasis is mine.
In Acts 3:19 we find Peter preaching to the group gathered in the temple for prayer. He said: “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord…”
Later, as Paul and Barnabas traveled through Asia Minor, they encouraged their audience with this message: “…We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made heaven and earth and sea and everything in them.”
Paul, as he explains his own journey to the Lord to King Agrippa in Acts 26:20 says this: “First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and to the Gentiles, also, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds.”
Repentance means a change of direction or heart concerning our sin (Mark 1:15). When we recognize how terrible our offenses against God are, we, like the Corinthians, should experience that “Godly sorrow” and be eager to rectify the problem that has broken the fellowship between us and God. You will notice that in Acts 26, Paul adds that this repentance really does mean a change in direction in that it results in a change of life—leaving the sins behind to pursue a new lifestyle that pleases God.
So repentance and turning back to God is an essential part of our journey of forgiveness. But let’s look at some other factors mentioned in Acts.
When Peter was preaching the Gospel in the house of Cornelius, this was part of his message: “We are witnesses of everything he [Jesus] did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name” (Acts 10:39-43).
Paul, in his message to Agrippa, explained how God had called him into the ministry of the Gospel to the Gentiles. In recounting the message that he had received from Jesus on the road to Damascus, Paul said, “…I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me” (Acts 26:17b, 18).
Again, in Acts 20:21, Paul says, “I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus.”
Often, people mistake what is meant by “believing” and “having faith.” James 2:19 tells us that even the demons believe in God, so that, in itself, is not sufficient.
John 1:12 tells us, “Yet to all who received him [Jesus], to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.”
Added to believing is receiving. Added to believing in God is believing in Jesus. It is possible to believe that God exists, that He is Who He is, and tremble (as James told us in reference to the demons), but not accept neither His forgiveness nor His Lordship. It is possible to believe in God, but not to believe in Jesus, as God and as the Saviour of mankind. It is possible to believe in Who Jesus is and in what He did on our behalf, but not to accept the salvation that He died to provide.
In Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus, the Gospel is presented in a nutshell along with the evidence of the reality of that Gospel in the life of an individual: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he had not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.”
In the original language in which the Scripture was written, the word, “believe” means:
I. to think to be true, to be persuaded of, to credit, place confidence in
A. of the thing believed
i. to credit, have confidence
B. in a moral or religious reference
i. used in the NT of the conviction and trust to which a man is impelled by a certain inner and higher prerogative and law of soul
ii. to trust in Jesus or God as able to aid either in obtaining or in doing something: saving faith
iii. mere acknowledgment of some fact or event: intellectual faith
II. to entrust a thing to one, i.e. his fidelity
A. to be entrusted with a thing
(Strong’s Concordance of the Bible)
Obviously, this “belief” is more than simply the acknowledgement of facts without an application of those facts as an integral part of one’s own personal experience.
John 5:24 says: “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.” In the latter part of the verse we see a positional change in the circumstances of the believer’s life—from death to life. In the passage in John 3:16-22 we see an attitudinal change alongside the positional—evil deeds to good deeds; darkness to light.
The result of not believing is a brutal one. John 3:36 says: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.”
THE UGLY TRUTH
This issue of “God’s wrath” is difficult for us to imagine. First of all, we are not programmed in this day and age to think of God as “wrathful.” We choose to emphasize His love and compassion, His mercy and grace. And all of these are parts of His nature and we should talk about them, experience them, delight in them. But until we understand what we escaped in coming to Christ and until we understand how God’s wrath relates to the death of Christ, we will never understand just how expensive our salvation actually was.
We can’t avoid the subject of God’s anger and His judgement on sin. There are many Scriptures that describe God’s wrath. We will only look at a few.
Directed to God’s people because of their complaining.
Numbers 11:33—“But while the meat was still between their teeth and before it could be consumed, the anger of the Lord burned against the people, and he struck them with a severe plague.”
Directed to those in spiritual leadership who were to be held responsible for the desecration of the objects of worship.
Numbers 18:5—“You are to be responsible for the care of the sanctuary and the altar, so that my wrath will not fall on the Israelites again.”
Directed to God’s people because of their worship of idols.
2 Kings 22:17—“Because they have forsaken me and burned incense to other gods and provoked me to anger by all the idols their hands have made, my anger will burn against this place and not be quenched.”
Directed at Babylon.
Isaiah 13:13—“Therefore I will make the heavens tremble; and the earth will shake from its place at the wrath of the Lord Almighty, in the day of his burning anger.”
Directed to the house of Israel on the subject of idols.
Jeremiah 10:10—“But the Lord is the true God; he is the living God, the eternal King. When he is angry, the earth trembles; the nations cannot endure his wrath.”
Directed by John the Baptist to the Pharisees.
Matthew 3:7—“You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?”
Directed by Paul to those who don’t believe.
Romans 1:18; 2:5—“The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness…you are storing up for yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed.”
Directed by Paul to the Roman church.
Romans 5:9; 9:22 (cf. Ephesians 2:3)—“Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him…What oi God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction.”
Directed by John concerning the end times.
Revelation 6:16, 17—“They called to the mountains and the rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?’”
This “wrath” is real.
In various parts of the Bible, this wrath is described as something that must be drunk. In fact, in the Garden of Gethsemane, on the night He was betrayed, Jesus referred to it as such. He said: “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). This imagery, connected to something drunk from a “cup” hooks onto verses such as the following:
“Awake, awake! Rise up, O Jerusalem, you who have drunk from the hand of the Lord the cup of his wrath, you who have drained to its dregs the goblet that makes men stagger.”
When the mother of James and John begged Jesus to give her sons places of importance in His kingdom, Matthew 20:22 records this statement: “‘You don’t know what you are asking,’ Jesus said to them, ‘Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?’”
Revelation 14:10; 15:7; 16:1; 16:19
…he, too, will drink of the wine of God’s fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath…Then one of the four living creatures gave to the seven angels seven golden bowls filled with the wrath of God, who lives for ever and ever…Then I heard a loud voice from the temple saying to the seven angels, ‘Go, pour out the seven bowls of God’s wrath on the earth’…The great city split into three parts, and the cities of the nations collapsed. God remembered Babylon the Great and gave her the cup filled with the wine of the fury of his wrath.” This is so terrible that the next verses describe it as being so bad that even creation runs from its path. “Every island fled away and the mountains could not be found. From the sky huge hailstones of about a hundred pounds each fell upon men. And they cursed God on account of the plague of hail, because the plague was so terrible” (vss. 20, 21).
We often think the Lord was referring to the pain and suffering of the crucifixion, but in fact that would have been nothing compare with bearing the weight of the wrath of God on His soul, a weight that we deserved because of our sins. We can say it, but it is impossible to conceive of just how terrible the wrath of God is.
We can't imagine how to felt for Christ to carry the sins, past, present and future, of the whole world; to endure God's anger toward all that sin. We can't imagine how God the Father must have felt to punish His own Son in such a terrible way, not for anything He had done, but because of what we had done. This was what Christ accepted on our behalf.
There are study sheets that you can use as companions to my remarks. If you are interested in those, feel free to email me at email@example.com and ask for the pdf files that are companions to them.