Charles Stanley - Why The Cross?
Well, I see them hanging in automobiles in front of the windshield. Then I see them oftentimes on the wall. Sometimes I see them around people's necks. And then I oftentimes see it in a hymnbook. Sometimes people have them on their rings. Sometimes they have something in their pocket. They think it's a good luck charm. I'm talking about the cross. The cross is not a good luck charm. It is an object that has the most profound message the world will ever hear. And that's what I want to talk about in this message, "Why the Cross"? And as we begin the message, you'll understand rather quickly why I question the idea of why a cross.
And the apostle Paul made a statement in Galatians that is an astounding statement when you think about who he was and all the things that had gone on in his life, things he accomplished in life. And he made an awesome statement in the sixth chapter of Galatians. And so, I want you to turn there, if you will, for a moment, and I'll just read one verse. He'd been talking and writing to the Galatians about their dependence upon the law and so forth and the freedom that you and I have as a result of a personal relationship with Christ. And so, then he says in the fourteenth verse, "May it never be, may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world".
Now, it might be interesting for you to know that the whole idea of the Christians and the use of the cross did not begin when Jesus was crucified. That was not when it all began. So, I want you to think about it for a moment because the origin of the cross started with the Barbarians who were on the sort the edge of the world at that time, uncouth race of people. And they invented the idea of persecuting or executing somebody by the cross. And it was invented in such a way that the person who was crucified would suffer the longest amount of time in order to cause them to suffer to the greatest extreme.
In fact, there is no instrument today to equal the pain of the cross. Crucifixion was such a horrible thing. In the catacombs or outside of Rome where the Christians were oftentimes found as a result of being persecuted by Rome, or desiring to worship secretly, they etched on the walls and the ceilings of the catacombs such pictures as a fish, for example, or a dove. And you and I could sort of see how that would be true. But sometimes it was Noah's ark, sometimes Daniel in the lion's den, or a cross. Finally, after many, many, many, many years, the symbol of Christianity became a cross. So, it is the simplicity of the cross that we look at and think in terms of the cross being a sign of the Christian faith or a symbol of the Christian faith. And if you'll think about how surprising that is because with the fact that the purpose of it was shame, suffering, and death. That's what it was all about.
And why would Christians adopt a symbol as their symbol that was the worst, horrible form of death? It didn't make any sense. But it didn't stop the apostle Paul from preaching. And he kept preaching it. And so finally, it became the universal symbol of Christianity. Now, when you think about it. When you see them pull out something that's got a cross on it or you hear them talking about it, I wonder how many people recognize what that's all about. And I want you to listen carefully because this is really the heart of the whole Christian message. You can take this Bible from cover to cover. The central theme all the way through the Bible from Genesis to Revelation is the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The crucifixion, His death, what the purpose of it was all about. Because the resurrection is God's way of doing what? God the Father accepted His crucifixion as full atonement for our sins. If Jesus had died and just died and was buried and that's the end of it as all other prophets, then we'd say, "Well, you know, He was just one of them". No. Rising from the dead settled that whole issue. Now, when Paul spoke of it as the one thing in life and only one thing that he would boast of, there's a reason for that. Because when Paul looked at the cross, he looked at his past life, recognized where he was, looked at what happened at the cross. And you remember when he was converted on the Damascus road? He spent some time in Arabia doing what? Listening to the Spirit of God help him to understand what really and truly happened.
And this is why, when he spoke to the Corinthians, for example, in first Corinthians. He said in this first chapter, and we wonder why he may have said it, but in light of all I've said already, this is the reason. He said, for example, in the eighteenth verse of chapter one, "For the word of the cross is foolishness, the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God". Now, in the light of the way they looked at the cross, it would be, they'd think you've lost your mind. What are you talking about believing in somebody who died on a cross, the most despicable way to die?
Now, Paul understood better, I think, than anyone else in the scripture probably. Even up to the apostle Peter. He had the clearest explanation of why the cross. And if I should ask you why didn't God do it some other way? Couldn't God done of... have done this some other way? We say that His sovereignty rules over all and He has all power. Why couldn't God do it some other way? There had to be some other way. I mean, this bloody, cruel way of sending His only begotten Son into the world to die in the worst form of death. It doesn't make sense, humanly speaking. But that brings us to the other attitude about the cross. Whereas the first is it is a symbol of shame, suffering, and death. The divine viewpoint, it is a symbol of salvation and life eternal.
Now, think about this for a moment, so if someone should ask you: What's that you got hanging around your neck? Well, it's a cross. Well, why you hang a cross around your neck? Well, you have to say one of several things. Well, it's because it's gold and my husband gave it to me. Or it's silver and my husband gave it to me. Or I like it, that's beautiful. Or you could say, well, it's a good charm for me. Or you could say because of what it represents. It represents the death of my Savior who brought about my salvation, if you understand why that happened.
Now, I want you to listen that you don't miss this. The crucifixion did not happen to Jesus. That isn't something that happened to Him. The crucifixion is something that God planned for Jesus and executed in His life. It wasn't something that happened to Him. Oftentimes people will say, "Well, He got crucified". No, He didn't get crucified. It is something that the Father planned. So turn to Acts chapter two for a moment. And you'll recall when Peter was preaching the sermon at Pentecost. He was very careful to explain something that oftentimes we don't understand. He says, for example, in verse twenty-two. He says, "Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you," you could tell what was going on, "by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know".
Now, watch this, "This Man," speaking of Jesus, "was delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death. But God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power". Here's what I want you to remember. It didn't happen to Him. Listen to what he says, "This Man was delivered over by the predetermined," listen, "and foreknowledge of God". Before the beginning of time, it was in the mind of God. He not only knew all about it, all those sacrifices in the Old Testament were a foreshadowing of what was to come. God the Father crucified His only begotten Son. He allowed the wickedness and the unbelief of wicked, vile men to execute it. But it was God the Father who arranged the whole affair.
Now, I want to bring you to the most important passage in the New Testament, I believe, when it comes to understanding why. So I want you to turn, if you will, to Romans chapter three. Romans chapter three, and I'm going to read these verses. And I know what you're going to think. You're going to think when I read them, "Well, what in the world is all that about"? So I want you to look at this third chapter, and let's begin with the twenty-third verse. "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God".
Now, we get that. "Being justified," watch this, which means to be declared no longer guilty. To be declared righteous. "Being justified as a gift by His grace," this is something God does for us, "through the redemption," that is, the saving grace of God, "which is in Christ Jesus; Whom God displayed publicly," on the cross, "as a propitiation," or as a sacrifice, "in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness," the righteousness of God, "because in the forbearance of," patience of, "God He passed over the sins previously committed". That is, in the Old Testament, they brought sheep, goats, lambs. That was a foreshadowing of that which is to come, which God credited to them because it was faith as a result of shedding blood. "For the demonstration, I say," listen, "of His righteousness". Whose righteousness? The righteousness that is the holiness of God.
Now, watch this, he says, "Whom He demonstrated at this present time, so that," watch this, "He," God, "would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus". Now, watch this, here's the issue. How could God, who is holy, forgive, declare no longer guilty a person who is guilty of sin, who sinned over and over and over against Holy God, who does not believe in God? How could He justify a person like that and declare them no longer guilty when His law is they will suffer eternal death? How can God remain Holy God and declare us not guilty when we're so guilty? There is only one answer to that question. And here's the answer: God the Father, seeing the helpless, sinful condition of all mankind, chose, motivated by His love for us, to come into this world in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ.
That's what we call the Incarnation. He took upon Himself human flesh, grew up as a child, born of the Virgin Mary. He came into this world for the primary reason of dying. John the Baptist said, "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world". He came into this world as a lamb to die for your sin and mine. He's the only one who could do it because it had to be a sinless person. The Law of God was, in the Old Testament, for example, if you brought a lamb, a sheep, a dove, a goat, or something to be sacrificed and asking for your sins to be forgiven, it had to be spotless and without blemish. And when you turn to the scripture, God makes it so crystal clear.
For example, in first Peter chapter one, verse eighteen. Listen to what he says. He says, "Knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your fathers," listen, "but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ. For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the", for your sake. And then if you will look at the second chapter and the twenty-fourth verse. Look at this, "He Himself," Jesus, "bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed".
So what's the answer? Listen, the only answer to this question: How can God be a righteous God and remain righteous and holy and true to His Word and forgive us when we have sinned against Him? When He says, "The soul that sinneth it shall die". Only one answer: that God sent a substitute in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ who was the perfect, sinless Son of God. And upon Him He placed all the sin, all the guilt of all mankind, once and for all, in one moment in time in history, He placed upon His Son the guilt of all mankind and killed Him in the act of crucifixion. And Jesus in those moments cried out, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me"? Had the Father forsaken Him? In those moments, Jesus was experiencing what people will experience for all eternity who reject Jesus Christ as their personal Savior. He took our place.
So how can you and I be saved? Because somebody took our place. Listen, the word that best describes what happened in the atonement is the word substitution. The Father substituted His Son in the worst form of death possible. And He bled and died on the cross in your place and mine. And in His shedding of His blood, He atoned for. He paid the sin debt of the entire world in one single act. That is the only explanation to the question: How can Holy God remain holy and forgive sinful man of his sinfulness? It is the only explanation. Now, watch this, if you have to pay the penalty, watch this, what you're saying is serious business. You're saying Jesus's death was fantastic, but it wasn't enough. That's the only conclusion you can come to. It wasn't enough.
You say, "But wait a minute. God expects me to be good". God sent the Holy Spirit to live on inside of you to enable you to live a godly life. But He knew when He did it that you weren't going to be perfect. Here is the great deception in our society today. Here's the great deception. Jesus died for your sins, and now as result of that, if you have good works and you do good works, you're going to go to heaven. It's preached clearly as it can be but it's erroneous as it can be. Good works does not, watch this, good works do not add to my salvation. They may add to my reward when I get to heaven, but it has nothing to do with salvation. It's a big deception.
And I meet people often who are saved as they can be, but you know what? They are enslaved as they can be because they believe that one of these days they're going to die. And if you ask them: Are you going to heaven when you die? Well, I hope so. Hope so? You see, there's something inside of human nature that wants to help. In other words, we want to at least say, "Well, at least I did thus and so". No. We're going by grace. And I'd hate to think I came to death and was facing death and was just hoping. Let me tell you the fallacy of that, no matter what you believe. When you try to get acceptance in the eyes of God on the basis of your good works, you'll have to be very, very dishonest to say that I've weighed my good over my bad and my good's been far better than my bad. That may be true if you're comparing yourself with other people. But if you're comparing yourself with the righteousness and holiness of God, you'll never get there.
And what I want you to see is this: I wouldn't be critical of anything in the world of that except to say I hate to see people who are living in bondage. You see, if you're living in bondage, you're not going to be very excited about telling other people how to get saved. Because what you're telling them is this, you're saying, "Look, I have a hope. I believe the Bible and I believe in Jesus, and I hope I'm going to heaven, and I want you to hope too". No, no, no, no, no, that don't, that doesn't get anywhere. I want to tell you how you can be saved and how absolute, total security in that. And that is that what Jesus did at the cross was totally adequate to take us out of this life and get us to heaven. Now, there is the gospel truth. And that is the heart of the whole Bible, the substitutionary, undeserved, vicarious death of Jesus Christ on the cross. And our acceptance of that and of Him as our Savior, the only way to get there.
Now, that being true, how should I respond? Some very specific ways. Number one, to ask Him to forgive you of your sin based not on your conduct but based on your relationship, listen, to Him through the cross. Ask Him to forgive you of your sins, repenting of them. Secondly, accepting Him as your personal Savior, Lord, and Master of your life. The third, to surrender your life to Him. Because the moment you do that, the Holy Spirit comes into your life to enable you to live a godly life. And then to serve Him. When I think about the way He suffered and died, how I could ever say to Him, "I don't have time to serve God"? How could I ever say to Him, "I can't give You anything to get the gospel around the world"? How could I ever reserve anything for myself when He gave everything and denied Himself totally?
And the last response is I got to tell somebody. If you've been saved by the grace of God and you understand the work of the cross, you've got to tell somebody. So, I would simply ask you this question, in the light of the truth that you've heard today, and you've only heard the message of the gospel of the Word of God, have you ever asked Jesus Christ to forgive you of your sins? You say, well, now, watch this, if this is not what you've done, what have you done to make yourself acceptable in the eyes of God? How much did you do? Did you do enough? Have you done it long enough? Could you have done more? Was what you have done really motivated properly?
You see, there's no answer to any of that. There's only one way to be saved: asking the Lord Jesus Christ to forgive you of your sins, trusting Him as your personal Savior, surrender your life to Him, and then you'll want to tell it. And you'll want to serve Him if you walk in obedience to Him. And that is my prayer for you. You say, "Well, what do I say to Him"? Here's how simple it is if you mean it in your heart.
Father, I have sinned against You and I am undeserving of eternal life. I'm asking You to forgive me not on the basis of anything about me but what You did when You went as my substitute to the cross and died for my sins. I'm asking You to forgive me. I'm accepting You as my personal Savior. And from this moment on, by Your help, I want to live a godly life.
The moment you do that with all of your heart, and I meet people all the time who say to me, "One day I was watching, one day I was listening, you told me how to be saved, I got saved sitting right there in my bed, in my living room, in my den, driving down", radio, television, doesn't make any difference what. That's how you get saved. And if you're here today and you've never trusted Jesus Christ as your Savior, remember this one thing: you will never be able to stand before Him and say, "I never heard, I never understood". Can never tell Him that. It's my heart's desire that you understand and that you're wise enough to receive Christ as your personal Savior, and watch Him do His awesome, wondrous work in your life.
And Father, how grateful we are that we know that we can make that statement to anybody on this globe and know in our heart that You keep Your Word, You forgive sin, You save, You write names in the Lamb's Book of Life. And not only do You save us in this life, but You keep us forever and ever and ever. We want to praise You today and thank You for the crucifixion of Jesus, His resurrection. And now to be able to say with the apostle Paul, "I am crucified with Him, nevertheless I live, yet not I but Christ lives within me. And the life which I now live, I live by faith in the Son of God". And we ask that in Your name, Lord Jesus, amen.