Billy Graham - The Real Meaning of the Cross
One of the television networks ran a series of five programs on the early days of Christianity. And they included the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. One of the most graphic pictures I have ever seen. And among all the emblems of the world, none is admired, glorified and worshiped as the cross. It was the instrument of Christ's suffering and death. And it's also the instrument of our salvation.
The history of the cross is very interesting. Because it goes back to India, it goes back to China, long before Christ ever came. And the victim, as you know, was fastened to the cross by cords, or his hands were nailed and he was left to die. And the heat of the sun, the pull of his body, and the torture that he'd had before he was on the cross, it took sometimes, two and three days, and sometimes a week for a person to die on a cross. The most terrible, the most awful, the most painful way to die that we can imagine.
But by the time of Constantine, in the fourth century, and he has become a Christian or a professing Christian, it was as an instrument of torture, it had been abolished. And later Christian nations started to use the cross as a symbol of Christianity. It was embossed upon their chariots, upon whatever they had. And the cross became the symbol of everything that Christianity stood for. And through such organizations as the red cross, it's become an international sign of good will and help to other people.
Hebrews, the sixth chapter, it says, "For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and were made partakers of the Holy Spirit and have tasted the good Word of God and the power of the world to come if they shall fall away to renew them again to repentance seeing that they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh and put him to open shame". Every time the Gospel is proclaimed those who hear the message and receive Christ as Savior come by the way of the cross. But if you neglect or refuse God's offer of love and mercy from the cross you help crucify Jesus Christ.
That's the reason it's wrong to say that the Jews crucified Christ as Christians said especially in the middle ages. And they used to try to make Jews converts at the end of a sword or point a gun at their head or a knife at their throat to try to make them converted because they said they were Christ killers. They did not kill Christ. You know who killed Christ? All of us. We all had a part in his death. Because his death was planned before the foundation of the world because of sin. And the Bible says, "We've all sinned and come short of the glory of God".
There are four dimensions of the cross that I think about when I talk about it. I think about the breadth of the cross. The love of Christ is manifested in the cross of Christ that includes everybody. God's love extends to Africa, to Asia, to Latin America, to Russia, to China, to America, to Canada, to the whole world. It includes you, whoever you are, whatever your religion or if you have no religion. God loves you. And he says from the cross, "I love you".
Then there's the length of the cross. It has no measure. It extends from eternity to eternity, from everlasting to everlasting. When Noah built the ark, do you know how long it was? 450 feet long. When Solomon built the temple, you know how long it was? 60 cubits. If you build a shed for garden tools you can measure the lumber with a ruler. But how can you measure the end to end of God's love in the cross? The Bible says, Paul said, that God's love surpasses knowledge. There's no way that our finite minds can even begin to understand the love of God that would give his son on the cross to die for you because you and I deserve that death. We deserved hell and judgment.
And then I think of the height of the cross. It extends to the throne of God. It doesn't matter how high heaven is. Through the cross God draws all men to him. And you have to make a decision about Jesus Christ. Scientists are looking out into space further and further and further, but they can't get away from God. The subject of astronomy and the subject of the space frontier's very exciting to me. There are scientists here tonight who know far more about the height of the universe than I can ever explain. But heaven is out there somewhere. We don't know exactly where.
You say, "Do you believe heaven is a place"? Yes, I believe it's a place. I believe I'm going to see the golden streets and walk on them. And I believe I'm gonna live in a... well, I think I'll live in a shack. Some of you will live in mansions. Yes, heaven is going to be a glorious place. And you cannot go beyond God's love even in heaven. And then the depth of God's love and the cross. You can fall to the very bottomless pit of sin and degradation and you can live like an animal. You can be a murderer. You can be a rapist. You can be anything, but you can't get beyond the love of God.
The cross covers to the very gates of hell. How deep is it? There are people today that are trying to find how deep they can go into the heart of the earth and how deep space is. They can't get away from God. Because as we study the depths of energy we're looking for unity. That's one of the reasons they're making that study in Illinois. And the Bible says, "Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God". It can draw every sinner up to the exalted height of heaven. "And if I be lifted up from the earth will draw all men unto me", said Jesus.
Think of the cross a moment and think of his suffering for you and for me. It's said that Jesus endured five basic wounds that medical science defines as, first, contusion, when they beat him on the head, and tortured him and put a crown of thorns on him for you. Laceration: they bared his back and took long leather whips with steel pellets on the end and beat him until he was bleeding from head to toe. That was the Roman way. They tortured prisoners before they took them to the cross. Then there was penetration when they crushed that crown of thorns on his brow and his head bled. There was perforation when they drove the nails through his hands and feet. There was incision when they put the spear in his side. That suffering, those nails through his hands and feet were driven by you and me and all the peoples of the world because we all had a part in the death of Christ because of our sins. Our sins put him to the cross. And you participated.
You may be watching by television somewhere. And you would like to come to the cross tonight and find God's love and God's forgiveness and God's touch on your life. You'll see on the screen there a number (1-877-772-4559). You can call it. And there are counselors standing by ready to talk with you. You might have to call several times. But keep calling, you'll get somebody. They'll be there all evening. And they'll help you, and send you some literature to help you understand and to help you live the Christian life. And I'm going to ask people here after while to come to Christ.
And then I want us to look at the cross from another point of view. I want us to look at the sayings of Christ from the cross. We usually hear a sermon like this on Good Friday and that's about it. But most of us don't go to church on Good Friday. So we never hear it. There are 28 prophecies in the Old Testament about the cross, whole chapters. There's Genesis 22 and Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53 and Leviticus 16 that especially deal with the suffering of Christ on the cross, hundreds and thousands of years before he ever went to the cross. They were under inspiration of the Holy Spirit: the writers of the Old Testament.
And the first one comes from Psalm 22, Jesus was quoting scripture when he said, "My God, my God why hast thou forsaken me"? That's a quote from Psalm 22. But then you go on a little bit further and you'll see why he said it. Because the scripture says, "Thou art holy". You'll never understand the Old Testament with all of its blood sacrifices, you'll never understand the Bible, you'll never understand the death of Christ on the cross till you understand that God is a holy and righteous and pure God and he cannot even look upon evil.
So in that terrible moment of the agony of the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross, he was lonely, forsaken by his friends, and then a shadow comes for the first time since eternity began between God the Father and God the Son. Because God cannot look upon sin, because in that moment he was laying your sins and mine on Christ. And Christ was suffering for us. And in that mysterious moment "He was made to be sin for us who knew no sin".
Do you know what that means? Made to be sin. Had never known sin. Never told a lie. Never had an evil thought. Never had any greed or lust. All of a sudden, all of that filth and dirt from your life and my life descended on him. And none of us will ever understand the mystery of that moment. No theologian can explain it to my satisfaction at least. It was God's great love for you that allowed his Son to take that suffering.
And then the second thing from the cross that we hear is when he said, "I thirst". And that's a fulfillment of Psalm 69:21. And when he said, "I thirst", they gave him vinegar and drink mingled with gall and when he had tasted thereof, he would not drink it. He'd taste it, as we read later in John, in another one of the Gospels, but he didn't drink it. Why? Because it would have been a sedative. It would have take away some of the suffering. And he was there to do, to take all the suffering in absolute consciousness for you and for me. He wouldn't take it. He must suffer the terrible agony and carry our sins on the cross in full consciousness for you. And if you had been the only person in the whole world he would have died for you.
And then in Luke 23:34 is another thing that he said from the cross. He said, "Father, forgive them. They don't know what they do". Now if he's talking about those soldiers that were nailing him, the crowed that was out there yelling and screaming at him. 72,000 angels pulled their swords ready to come and rescue him. And he said, "No, I'm doing it because I love them". You see, you and I had sinned against God. We had broken his laws. And he said, "In the day that you break my law you will suffer and die". He said that to Adam and Eve. They broke his law, they sinned, that's what sin is.
You see, God never meant that anybody would ever die. And God did not create hell for us. But we deliberately rebelled against God and God would not be God, he wouldn't be just and righteous and holy if he came along and patted us on the back and said, "You're forgiven". We had to die for our own sins or somebody who was qualified had to die for us. And that person that was qualified was Jesus Christ. And he volunteered to do it. He died in our place.
I heard about a woman writing to a columnist and said that her cure for guilt was to go to the back garden, dig a hole in the earth, lie down on her stomach, speak all of her guilt and confess all of her wrongs, into that place that she'd dug and then cover it up. And people will do almost anything to get rid of their guilt. The place to get rid of guilt is at the cross. For centuries people have done desperate things to bury their guilt.
James Nelson, that we have read about last year, as a boy in an alcohol soaked scene beat his mother to death with a brick. He served nine years in prison. And during that time he met Christ at the cross. And the deep repentance and confession of Christ as his Savior and his Lord. He began to study the Bible. He began to be a lay preacher. And last year he was ordained in the church of Scotland as a Presbyterian minister. The forgiveness of God! The love of God! The power of the cross! To change and forgive, how wonderful and thrilling.
And then another thing that he did at the cross, that is one of the most touching things to me in all the world. "Now there stood by the cross, his mother". And he looked to John, one of his disciples, and he said, "John, behold this woman". And he said to Mary, his mother, he called her woman, just like he did at Canaan of Galilee, called her twice woman. He said, "Woman, behold thy son". And from that hour on, John, his friend and his disciple, took care of his mother. There's a rock group in England called "The Cure". Jesus Christ on the cross was the cure for all our human severed and ailing relationships, all the social problems, the oppressed peoples of the world feel the impact of his death on the cross.
And then there was another statement from the cross. He said, "It is finished". It is finished. What did he mean? In John 17 he had said, "I finished the work that thou hadst given me to do". God gave him a job to do and the job was to die on the cross. "To this end was I born", he said. He came to die. He's the only man ever born to die. That was why he came. We wonder why he didn't feed everybody and heal everybody. He could have done it! That would've healed some bodies and fed some people that were hungry. He did that out of compassion. But his real work was the cross. And that's why the cross is so important, because there you're dealing with eternity.
You see, the body's going to go to the grave, but your soul, your spirit, that part of you that lives forever that lives inside of your body is going to live on and on and on and on. Where is it going to spend eternity, heaven or hell? It'll be decided by the cross, what you do about the cross. Because from the cross he's asking you to repent of sin and receive him as Lord and Savior. Yes, it is finished.
And then, he said something else. In Luke 23, "And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice he said, Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit". Now I've seen a few people die, quite a number of people die. I've heard the death rattle in their throat. But there was no death rattle in the throat of Jesus. They did not take his life from him. He laid it down voluntarily. "And he said in a loud voice", notice, a loud voice, he said, "I commend my spirit. Into thy hands, oh Lord, I commend my spirit". He gave up his spirit to God the Father. And in saying this, he conferred upon every one of us the possibility of the gift of eternal life.
You can have eternal life tonight. And you that are watching by television can pick up that telephone and call that number on your screen (1-877-772-4559) and someone will be there to talk to you about receiving this Christ. We were lost, confused, without purpose and meaning in life. No assurance of a future life. And Jesus, from the cross, reached out by death and rescued us. And we say to him today, "Lord and Savior"! Are you sure he's your Lord and your Savior? Thousands of people go to church but they're not sure that they've committed their lives to Christ.
And then lastly, there was the statement that he made to a thief on the cross. The crowds down below were shouting, "If you're the Son of God come down and save yourself". Others were saying, "He saved others, himself he cannot save". They were mocking, they were jeering, they were laughing. Both of the thieves were criticizing.
You see, he was on the cross for six hours. And the first three hours, they were both criticizing him and making fun of him like the crowds down below. But one of the thieves began to look. They were both guilty. They both deserved to die according to Roman law. But one of them began to look at Jesus. And he began to see something he'd never seen anywhere else before. He saw that Jesus was different. And he began to say to himself, "He must be the Son of God. He must be Lord". And he rebuked the other thief saying, "Don't you fear God? We deserve what we're getting but he hasn't done anything wrong".
Then he turned to Jesus and he said, "Lord". And that word Lord means my very own Lord. He said, "Lord, remember me when you come to your kingdom". What an act of faith! And Jesus said, what did Jesus say? "Today you will be with me in paradise". And the angels of heaven were watching to see who would be the first one that he would take to paradise. It was a thief that deserved hell. The forgiveness and the mercy of God is so far beyond our comprehension that we can hardly talk about it. Yes, that thief is going to be in heaven and you're going to see him. Jesus took him by the death of the cross.
Two thieves: which are you? Which cross are you on? The one that's rejecting or neglecting or even making fun? Or are you the one that receives and accepts? I'm asking you to make your commitment to Christ tonight just as simply. What do you have to do? Three things.
First, you must repent of your sin. That word repent means to change. Change your way of living, change your attitude. Now you cannot do it alone, but God will help you if you're willing.
The second thing, is by faith receive Christ into your heart. By faith. You cannot come intellectually alone. Man cannot come to God just with his mind. He has to come by faith like a little child trusting his father or mother.
And then thirdly, you must be willing to follow him and serve him. It's not just receiving him, it's being a follower of his every hour of the day. You won't become perfect. But you'll change directions in your life. You're going this way and you're turned by the Spirit of God and you start a different way.
And I'm going to ask you to do something we've seen hundreds of people do here every night. I'm going to ask you to get up out of your seat and come and stand in front of this platform and say by coming, "I want to know when I leave here tonight". The Bible says, "He that hardeneth his heart being often reproved, shall suddenly be cut off and that without remedy".
You may never have a moment like this when you're so close to the Kingdom of God again. Come tonight. You may be a member of the best church in town. You may be a counselor, you may be a choir member, you may be a clergyman, but you're not sure how you stand before God and you want to come to the cross and find forgiveness of all your sins and a certainty that if you died tonight you'd go to heaven. You get up and come right now. Hundreds of you just come, straight down and stand here and make that commitment.
There are many of you that have been watching by television. We're here in Southern New England. Crusade being held in Hartford, in Connecticut. And every night we've seen hundreds of people come and make the commitment to Christ. And you see tonight, hundreds more are coming. You can make that commitment where you are: at home, you may be in a hotel room, you may be in a bar. Wherever you are, pick up the phone and call the number on the screen and there'll be somebody there to talk to you.