The Wondrous Cross.
A message delivered at the Keswick Convention on July 19, 1947.
ON the last day of our Lord's public ministry, as He talked with the people in the Temple—a mighty company, greater probably than the crowd that throngs Keswick to-day—as they listened and hung upon his words, He delivered Himself of this fateful statement: "Now is the judgment of this world; now shall the prince of this world be cast out. And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto Me. This He said, signifying what death He should die." Such unexpected words came to His hearers as something so astonishing that they could only exclaim: "We have heard out of the law that Christ abideth for ever; and how sayest Thou, 'The Son of Man must be lifted up?' " The thought that Christ the Messiah should die was foreign to all their thinking. There is, indeed, nothing to the mind of men more surprising and perplexing in the life of Christ than the fact and the manner of its end. It seems utterly incongruous and unbecoming that such a life should end as His life did. Death in any form would appear unfitting as a termination to a career of such perfection and purity. The least one would expect might possibly be a rapture into Heaven such as was vouchsafed to Enoch and Elijah. Had He ascended to glory from the Mount of Transfiguration, one would have conceived it an appropriate culmination to His blessed and holy life on earth. The descent from the Mount to the Valley of Humiliation and thence to the valley of the shadow of death, comes as something of a shock to the thoughtful mind. Death in any form is viewed by men generally as a calamity to be avoided, an inevitable termination of life's usefulness. "He was a great man, he did a great service; unfortunately it was cut short by his death," say men. "How much more might have been accomplished but for the tragedy of death." "So much to do, so little done," cried the dying Cecil Rhodes. Yet Jesus died, and that in the bloom of His early manhood. How strange it seems.
And what a death Jesus died! If His dying seems out of keeping with His character, how much more the manner of it. If He must needs be made "lower than the angels" for the suffering of death, why death in such a form? If He must become "obedient unto death," why the death of the Cross? Human reason reels before it. After a life manifesting in every smallest detail "the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth," how impossible it seems that He should pass out of the world, hanging in agony between two thieves upon a felon's gibbet. But our natural perplexity is greatly increased when we discover that so far from drawing a veil of shamed silence over so disgraceful an end to such a life, the greatest prominence and publicity are given to it, far exceeding any other event in His career. Every smallest detail is described and dwelt upon, the account of His trial and crucifixion filling some twenty-eight pages of the Gospel record, contrasted with as many words devoted to some of His most outstanding miracles. Furthermore, it is His death rather than His life that becomes the theme of His apostles in their preaching and writing. They record in their Epistles none of His miracles, and few of His words, but return again and yet again to His Cross as the all-pervading theme of their message.
Let us, then, "survey the wondrous Cross on which the Prince of Glory died." Let us fix our gaze upon the Cross uplifted on Calvary. Let us see how it is presented to us in the Holy Word of God for our contemplation. For the whole theme of all the Scriptures is just the Cross, and because of that Cross, a myriad crosses have arisen in the world. Our world is filled with crosses in memory of that Cross, for that Cross is the greatest pivotal event in all human history. It is pivotal, it is central; all time before looked forward to it, and all time since looks back upon that rugged Cross lifted up on Calvary, and it is the main purpose of the Scriptures to reveal it to us, and to say, "Look on this, O sinner! Gaze there upon that Cross, and learn its deep and wondrous mystery."
First then, we have it presented to us as the death of the Cross. For it was there that the Son of God died. He Who came into the world, the only Man over Whom death had no claim, came for the express purpose of dying, and His mission to men was not accomplished by living among them but by dying for them. You and I came into the world knowing very well that we must die, but seeking to avoid that calamity as long as we are able. We came into the world to live, and yet must die; He came into the world deathless, to die.
Not only did Christ come into the world that He might die, but that He might die upon a cross. That is to say, His death first and foremost and pre-eminently must be a judicial death. It was the death of a guilty man, nay, it was the death reserved for the most guilty of all men. There was no worse death possible, so that the guiltiest man on earth today could say, "Jesus stooped to my penalty." "He bare our sins in His Own body on the tree." It must be a penal death, otherwise there is no meaning in it at all. If it were not so, He ought never to have ended His life upon a cross; it was a tragic blunder to an otherwise flawless story which never should have happened. But so far from this being the case, it is set forth as being the necessary culmination of His life, without which the Incarnation would be meaningless. It could not be a death upon His bed, it must be a death on a cross.
Then the Scriptures dwell with special emphasis upon the shame of the Cross—"He endured the cross, despising the shame." He endured the most shameful death befitting the most shameful of sinners. For the trouble about sin is, that it is not only a guilty thing requiring a penalty, but it is a shameful thing that besmirches the character. And when God "made Him to be sin for us, Who knew no sin," He heaped upon Him all the shame of the Cross. The Cross was so shameful a death that no free Roman could ever suffer crucifixion; it was the death of the outcast and the slave. There was no greater shame possible to a man than to be hanged upon a cross, and "He hid not His face from shame and spitting."
You remember the words of Bunyan in "Pilgrim's Progress," as he makes his pilgrim gaze upon the Cross:
"Blest Cross! Blest Sepulchre! Blest rather be
The Man that there was put to shame for me."
Again, the Scriptures tell us of the curse of the Cross. For "Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us; for it is written, Cursed is everyone that hangeth on a tree." The law blesses those who keep it, and the law curses those who break it, and the only perfect law-keeper bare the curse of a world of law-breakers.
Are you a sinner? You reply: Yes, we are all sinners. Well, pause and think what that involves----it means that you are under a curse: "Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them." We will all of us admit that we have not continued in all things to do God's law. Many have tried, but in many things we all offend. Then it inevitably follows that we are under the curse. Sin not only brings guilt and shame, but sin brings the sinner under a curse. It is a dreadful curse, it is an active curse; we see it to-day in terrible operation everywhere. The cursed ground brings forth thorns and briars, and the cursed sinner brings forth sin. The curse pursues him even to the third and fourth generation. Christ died that He might bear away the curse, being made a curse for us, that He might put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.
This brings us to the marvellous words, "the Blood of His Cross." It is not the Cross, but the blood that was shed upon it that makes atonement for the soul. "He made peace by the blood of His Cross." It is the blood of Jesus Christ that cleanseth us from all sin, so that we can sing "Unto Him that . . . washed us from our sins in His Own blood, to Him be glory." It is the blood of the Cross that removes for ever the guilt and the shame and the curse of sin.
The Apostle John was vouchsafed a glimpse into Heaven; it is as if God removed the curtain for a moment and let him see Heaven as it will be. As he gazed in wonder, he saw before the Throne, a multitude that no man could number, from all nations and kindred and people and tongues, and he saw that they were clad in white garments. I wonder how many nations are represented here this Sunday evening? On that day, there will be people from every nation, and they will all have this in common—they will all be clad in white robes. And the explanation given to John was this: "These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore are they before the throne of God." Therefore—on no other conceivable ground could they stand there.
Mine is the sin, but Thine the righteousness;
Mine is the guilt, but Thine the cleansing Blood.
Here is my robe, my refuge, and my peace:
Thy Blood, Thy righteousness, O Lord my God.
And it is "the preaching of the Cross," and nothing else, that has proved to be the mighty power of God unto salvation, from the Day of Pentecost to this twentieth century in which we live. Paul preached Christ crucified; he preached nothing else: "I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified." This was his Gospel----Jesus Christ and Him crucified. It was a stumbling block to the very people that he would have died to win, yet he preached it. It was utter foolishness to the intelligentsia of his day, yet he preached it, for it was "the power of God unto salvation," and "there is none other name given under Heaven . . . whereby we must be saved." Nothing else will meet the case of a guilty sinner. Modern religion is a hopeless failure for want of the Cross; it is anemic because it is a bloodless Gospel, and it has never saved anyone. So Paul preached the Cross, and he gloried in the Cross. "God forbid that I should glory, save in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ." Not only was he not ashamed of it, but he gloried in it. It was the only thing he gloried in; all the things he had gloried in before, he had gladly renounced for the Cross. How he had gloried in his position, in being a Pharisee of the Pharisees! How he had gloried in his character "as touching the law blameless." It may be there are some here to-night privately glorying in the fact that they are not as other men; that they are not loose-living people, they are not immoral people, they have noble ideals and high aspirations. Are you glorying in that? Well, the sooner you stop, my brother or sister, the better for you. All these glories Paul cast on one side, and he had just one glory: "God forbid that I should glory save in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ." Like his Lord, he despised the shame, and he positively gloried in the Cross. It was his pride and constant joy to preach it, as it is of many lesser men, including the present preacher. I want nothing else in life than to be allowed to preach the Cross of Christ. He never was so happy as when he was engaged in spreading the good news of the Cross to all who needed it; he gloried in it because it is "the glorious Gospel of the Blessed God."
We have a very mixed audience here. I suppose the vast majority know and love the preaching of the Cross, but Spurgeon's advice to his students was this: "Whenever you preach, preach the Gospel; the sinners need it, and the saints love it."
But the Scriptures tell of the offence of the Cross. That which is the believer's glory is the world's offence. Why is it offensive to the world? Because it is the greatest blow ever levelled at the pride of man; it leaves him no room to boast, and man is by nature a boaster. "There is a peacock," said someone, "in every bosom." Pride and vainglory and boasting come naturally to the human species more than to any other creature God ever made. But the Gospel allows man no grain of merit to which to cling; it tells him that he is nothing more than a guilty, hell-deserving sinner.
It is said that when the great Rowland Hill was preaching in the open air to one of the vast audiences that used to gather, a fashionable lady drove up in her barouche with her man upon the box, and she bade the coachman stop for a moment that she might hear this famous preacher. She heard Rowland Hill preach the Gospel, and she was offended and beckoned imperiously to him and said, "Mr. Preacher, do I understand that you suggest that I need to be saved as much as my coachman on the box?" He said, "Precisely, Madam, for there is no difference in the sight of God between you and him." She tossed her head and said, "Then I will never be saved at all. Drive on, John." And she drove on—to hell?
Oh, yes, there is an offence in the Cross, for it tells the sinner that the Cross was in reality his Cross; it stops every mouth, and brings in all the world guilty before God. Men will endure, and even welcome, any preaching save that of the Cross. Said a Modernist preacher recently: "I do not believe that Jesus Christ died for my sins, and I do not teach my people that He died for theirs." When Stephen declared it to the religious leaders of his day, they stopped their ears and ran upon him to his death, although his face shone like an angel's. For the offence of the Cross has also produced "enemies of the Cross," and these are not always infidels and wicked men, they are sometimes religious leaders and preachers. And what wonder? For the devil hates the Cross more than anything in the universe. It was there that he was destroyed. The only thing the devil has to fear is the Cross. He could tolerate any and every religion, for religion does not touch his realm, but the Cross shakes his throne, overthrows his rule, and sets his captives free. So he stirs up enemies to deny it and oppose it, and persecute its followers. The greatest opponents of the Gospel all down history have been religious men. The most effective opposition to the Gospel is a spurious Gospel just as the greatest danger to any currency is a false currency.
Now, lastly, the Bible speaks of a sharing of the Cross. "God forbid that I should glory," said Paul, "save in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified to me, and I unto the world." Goodbye, world. The Cross has separated me from you. "I am crucified with Christ."
Do you know that the Cross has ever been the greatest divider in history? It has been so ever since it was set up between the two thieves on Calvary. It forces men to take sides; it permits of no neutrality. The world which crucified Christ is for ever a condemned world, rapidly hastening to its doom; and he that will be a friend of the world is an enemy of God. The Cross beckons to each of us—"Let us go forth therefore unto Him without the camp, bearing His reproach." What was the reproach of Christ? It was the reproach of the Cross. The only thing the world ever gave Him was a Cross on which to die. His Cross must be my cross; His Cross must be your cross. It was in answer to Peter's repudiation of Calvary, saying "Be it far from Thee, Lord; this shall not be unto Thee" that Jesus said: "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me." His cross is the Lord's Cross with all its reproach and shame and offence. Will you take your place to-night with the crucified Christ? It is either that side, or the other side; there is no alternative—His Cross must be my cross. There is no other way but the way of the Cross. What is His Cross to you? "Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by?"
Oh, wonder to myself I am,
Thou loving, bleeding, dying Lamb,
That I can scan the mystery o'er,
And not be moved to love Thee more.
An infidel once did what a great many infidels do—he sent his child to Sunday-school. He could not have told you quite why, but he thought somehow—although, of course, he did not believe a word of what they taught—she might get something good out of it, and so he sent her there. When she came home on Sunday afternoons, he used to put the little one on his knee and let her tell him what she had learnt at Sunday-school, and he would listen to her with concealed contempt. One Sunday afternoon the little one came home looking rather subdued, and he took her on his knee and said, "Well, little one, what did they tell you this afternoon?" She began in her artless way to tell him the story of the Cross, and as she told of the capture of Jesus, the scourging and the spitting, and the crown of thorns, she turned and, looking into his face, said in her simple way, "Don't you love Him for that, father?" Then she told of the journey to Calvary, and how He fainted under the weight of the Cross, and how at last they got Him to the hill, and they stripped Him, and spread the Cross on the ground, and then drove the nails into His hands and into His feet. The little one, with eyes full of tears, said again, "Don't you love Him for that, father?" Then she went on to tell how they lifted up the Cross with its sacred burden, and set it in the place prepared for it, how He hung bleeding from his wounds on Calvary, and how He said, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." It was a moving story, and the little one, with streaming eyes, said, "Daddy, don't you love Him for that?" Then the darkness, and the awful cry, "Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani," and then the death, and the spear-thrust, and the blood and water flowing from His side. The little child could not go on any more; she flung her arms round her father's neck and cried, "Oh, daddy, daddy, don't you love Him for that?" And what all the religious arguments in the world could never have effected, the little one's artless tale, the tale of the Cross, the story of the greatest death in human history, the death of the Son of God, just broke his heart, and the poor sinner knelt at his table there, and wept his way to the Saviour who died.
My dear brother, or sister, that is the crucial question, ’What is His death to you? Do you love Him for it? Would your life have been very different if He never had died? Has He died in vain for you? Don't you love Him for that?’