“For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” (1 Corinthians 2:2)
“But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Galatians 6:14)
“Knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin.” (Romans 6:4)
“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.” (1 Peter 3:18)
If we are believing and preaching the same gospel that the apostle Paul believed in and preached, it stands to reason that we should have today a similar emphasis on the message of the cross of Christ. The message of the cross is so foundational and so important that Paul said he resolved to know nothing among the Corinthians except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.
There is a danger in charismatic and full gospel circles of coming to regard the message of the cross as being rather “old-hat”. There has been a tendency to look for teaching that is more novel, more tantalising, more intriguing. Many churches seem to major now on preaching lifestyle principles, and various kinds of motivational messages to inspire to achieve greater levels of “success” that the world can understand and admire. Indeed we can teach all kinds of stuff – spiritual gifts, spiritual warfare, financial prosperity and so many other things – but if these things are somehow divorced from the cross of Christ, they will inevitable contain seeds of self-destruction, whatever value they offer in the meantime. Which preachers today can say with Paul, “I resolved to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him Crucified”? The truth is, unless you know Jesus Crucified, you’ll never TRULY know Him in the power of His resurrection either. And if you don’t preach (communicate) the cross, people will not get the true message of salvation through your lips.
The message of the cross is at the heart of all true gospel preaching. One part of the message has to do with the sacrifice of an innocent Lamb. Let me illustrate:
Have you ever seen in real life a little lamb? I was surprised one day many years ago, while living in Greenacre, a suburb of Sydney, to see one out in a park one day. They are such cute and innocent creatures. They are so trusting and placid. Their white wool speaks of innocence. Little lambs do not attack other animals, they quitely eat grass. I would hate to think of driving a knife into the flesh of that cute and innocent creature.
But in the times before the coming of Christ, if a man sinned against the Lord, it was not enough to just say “Sorry” to God. No, the law stated that there had to be a sacrifice offered. There were various kinds of sacrifices, amongst which was the sacrifice of a lamb. Your sin would actually cause the death of that innocent little white lamb.
Lev 4:35 And he shall take away all the fat thereof, as the fat of the lamb is taken away from the sacrifice of the peace offerings; and the priest shall burn them upon the altar, according to the offerings made by fire unto the LORD: and the priest shall make an atonement for his sin that he hath committed, and it shall be forgiven him.
When a lamb is slaughtered, it does not put up a fight. It goes to death quietly, without complaining. As the cruel knife goes in, and the lamb’s blood is shed, it is intended to be a reminder of the horrible consequences as rebelling against God. We are living now on a rebel planet. Most people today don’t want the living God in their lives, they don’t want His laws! We need to know how God feels about it. It grieves God. At one time it grieved God so much he decided to wipe out the entire population of the earth, except for one family consisting of 8 people. It also grieves God when we sin as Christians. How can we be free from the guilt and the power of sin?
God intended for that image of the sacrifice of a little lamb to be in our minds, to show us the price of sin. Its not just that the lamb would have been worth money to you. That lamb was innocent! What did it do to deserve to die? Why should it die because of your sin? Lambs, when they are slaughtered, do not protest. Why should the sins we commit be transmitted to an innocent lamb?
Yet this is exactly what has happened for us. Jesus was the Lamb of God, slain for our sins. John the Baptist, the greatest man of God until the time of Christ, cried out concerning Jesus, “Behold the Lamb of God, that takes away the sins of the world”.
Your sins and mine caused the innocent Son of God to be cruelly slain. What did Jesus ever do to deserve that? He was kind and gracious. He lived a pure life. He lived to bless others. He did good to people. Why did He die? He died for your sin, he died for my sin. Our sins put the knife into the Son of God. Our guilt was put upon Him. He did it, because of Love.
A lot was achieved through the death of this Sacrificial Lamb. The greatest achievement of all, was the provision for our sins to be taken away. And not only our sins, but the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2).
If this is the case, why do so many Christians seem to suffer from internal pangs of guilt? It may be that we have never been sufficiently honest and transparent concerning the horrible and shameful things we have done. We shun the humiliation of confession. Could it be that we still want to hold onto sin, in spite of the desparate measures taken to destroy its power and contol over our lives? Could it be that we don’t believe the message? Or could it be that we are refusing to forgive those who wronged us, in which case God tells us that He will not forgive us either? (Matthew 6:14,15; Matthew 18:31, Mark 11:25)
Many diseases – both physical and mental, are caused by unresolved guilt and unconfessed sin eating away on the inside of Christians. Sometimes we go to the pharmacist and get drugs to try to restore a sense of well-being. But God has a better way for us, if only we knew it.
The Bible spoke about the sacrifice of Jesus hundreds of years before it ever happened, in these words of the prophet Isaiah.
“All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way; And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. Yet He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet he opened not his mouth; He was as a lamb LED to the slaughter.” (Isaiah 53:6,7).
The word ‘iniquity’ in Hebrew is ‘avon’ and it refers not only to sin and rebellion, but ALSO to the consequence of rebellion.
If we dare to believe it, all our rebellion, including our rebellious nature, and the consequences of rebellion, were borne by Jesus, the Lamb of God. It was done for us.
It is possible to write a lot about what was achieved here, and its beyond the scope of this present article. But in summary form, it could be stated as follows: “All the evil due to us because of our rebellion, as well as the nature of rebellion itself, was put on Jesus, so that all the good due to Jesus, plus His own very nature and life, could be ours”. That is the gospel. You can be blessed with what Jesus deserves, because He gave it to you through the cross and the giving of His own blood [life]. At the same time you can be freed from rebelliousness, and the consequences of rebellion, because Jesus took it for you. May God stamp the meaning of this deeply into our consciousness.
None of these blessings are appropriated automatically however. To actually receive the benefits, we need to draw near to God in faith (Hebrews 11:6; Ephesians 2:8,9; John 3:16). We also need to repent of our sins. Don’t be so foolish as to justify your sins by comparing yourselves to other Christians who have issues you can see. Don’t let their foolishness inspire folly in you! Instead, confess your sins, FORSAKE your sins, and draw near to God, so you can be what He wants you to be, AND so that you can have what he wants you to have as well (in terms of spiritual blessings especially), so that you can DO THE WILL OF GOD fully. True salvation lies in doing the will of God (Matthew 7:22). The cross makes it possible. We ought to see how close we can get to God, not how far we can stay away from Him while still holding onto some sort of assurance of salvation.
The ongoing application of the cross to our lives has to do with embracing the exchange that God has for us in terms of nature. We are to become like Christ, not by trying hard to put the rebellious nature through a process of education, but by feeding the new life while reckoning that old nature dead (see Romans 6:11). If we do that, we allow that old nature to die of starvation, scream as it may for relief! We will not respond to its screams – we will be more and more caught up in the pursuit of the Spirit of God. In due course, the peace of God will reign once again in our beings, and we will be ready for every good work.
Dealing with the theme of embracing the cross will become the subject of another article. We need to be reminded that the cross is still the key to truly knowing God. Its not going to come any other way. And God respects and appreciates those who come to know Him in this way. An experiential application of the cross to our lives is needful if we want the experiential and personal knowledge of God.