The Glory of the Cross
February 25th, 1973 @ 10:50 AM
THE GLORY OF THE CROSS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2-25-73 10:50 a.m.
On the television and on the radio, you worship with us in the First Baptist Church of Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Glory of the Cross, The Sign of the Cross. In our preaching through the Book of Galatians, there are two sermons that remain: the one delivered this morning and the one to be delivered Sunday week.
This morning the text is in the sixth chapter of the Book of Galatians, and we begin reading at the eleventh verse:
You see with what large letters I write unto you with mine own hand. As many as desire to make a fair show in the flesh, they constrain you to be circumcised; only lest they should suffer persecution for the cross of Christ.
For neither they themselves who are circumcised keep the law; but they desire to have you circumcised, that they may glory in your flesh. But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.
In the text, he makes a contrast between the Galatians who glory in the flesh—kauchaomai , exult, boast, glory—they who glory in the flesh, and his own humble, committed spirit to God, of whom he prays that the Lord forbid that he should boast, glory, save in the cross of Jesus Christ [Galatians 6:14]. The Galatians and their propensity and affinity for glorying in the flesh, turning aside from the salvation provided by the love and mercy of God in Jesus [Galatians 1:6], they turned to the sophisticated human teachers and thought that in self-righteousness and self-commendation [Galatians 6:12-13], they could come before God. In the third chapter of this book, the apostle addressed them: “O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you?” [Galatians 3:1].
I think if we were to take the letter and the appeal of the apostle written in the first century and apply it today, he would have said, “O foolish modernists, O foolish liberals, O foolish secularists, who has bewitched you? You who look upon worship as a toy of skepticism; you who idolize the flower of philosophical speculation; you who would exchange the Scriptures for other words and other commandments; you who would exchange the Savior, the Galilean, for another Savior; you who would exchange the song of Moses and the Lamb for a strange song; O foolish modernists, who has bewitched you, that you should glory in the flesh, in human effort, in human speculation?”
“But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” [Galatians 6:14]: the cross with all of its naked hideousness, as the Roman would have it; the cross with all of its philosophical irrationality, as the Greek would have it; the cross with all of its shame and suffering, as the scribe would have it; but the cross, with all of its love and mercy and forgiveness, as Paul preached it.
In the cross of Christ I glory,
Towering o’er the wrecks of time;
All the light of sacred glory
Is revealed in its head sublime.
[“In the Cross of Christ I Glory,” John Bowring]
“God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” [Galatians 6:14]. It is a sign, an aegis, an emblem of the Christian faith. The whole course of history turned in 300 AD when Constantine was converted. In the midst of a battle for the throne of the Caesars, Constantine said, “At midday, I saw a sign in the sky, a cross, and underneath, these words: In hoc signo, vinces, “in this sign, conquer.”
And then and since, as before, the epitome of the gospel of the Son of God is found in that sign of the cross. The insignia of the Christian faith is not two tables of stone containing the commandments of God. The insignia of the faith is not a sword or a scimitar or a star or a galaxy. The insignia of the Christian faith is not a seven-branched lampstand or even a halo above a submissive head. But the insignia of the Christian faith is a stark, rude, crude, rugged cross.
Sometimes visiting the Roman Coliseum, I stand there and look at what, to me, is the best example of the cross that I know. For when we think of it, we think of it as a decoration on the top of a church or as an ornament to wear around our necks, made of gold or silver and studded with precious stones. But in the Coliseum, there is as rugged a crossbeam as could be ingeniously devised. And I’m told that it was placed there many years ago in honor and in memory of the early Christians who lost their lives in that terrible arena. That cross speaks a universal language. All men everywhere understand it.
Some time ago, I sat in a great throng, against the background of the mountains of Bavaria, listening to the passion play in Oberammergau. And as I looked at the thousands of people who were there, they were from every nationality, and tongue, and tribe, and family, and language under the sun.
The play is in German. There were many of us there who could not follow it in the Germanic tongue, but I had the unusual and deep persuasion that as we sat there and watched that play and the suffering and crucifixion of our Lord, that every man in his own language and in his own tongue understood it. For the cross speaks to human hearts everywhere, in every nation, in every language, in every family and clan and tribe under God’s heaven.
This cross is not some mythical, romantic idea or symbol or story. It is historical and factual. If we think of the reference to Christ in Josephus as an interpolation, there were just two early, first-century secular references to the Lord Jesus. They are found in Suetonius and Tacitus, Latin historians, and in both instances, they refer to the crucifixion of our Lord. It was occasioned by the burning of Rome, and when the people began to point their finger at Nero as having done it, in order to obviate the suspicion, he said the Christians did it. Now that necessitated the early Roman historian to describe who the Christians were, for it was a strange and unusual and undescribed sect. So both Suetonius and Tacitus say that the Christians were followers of a felon who was crucified in Judea under Pontius Pilate.
The cross was the cruelest instrument of execution that the human mind has ever devised. No Roman citizen could be crucified. It was reserved for felons, and insurrectionists, and criminals, and murderers. It was especially apropos to the Jew. The apostle Paul in the third chapter of Galatians, quoting the twenty-first chapter of Deuteronomy, quotes Moses as saying: “Cursed is every one that is hanged on a tree” [Galatians 3:13, Deuteronomy 21:23].
And when the even was come the day the Lord was crucified, the Jews went to the procurator and asked that the crosses be taken down, for the pilgrims were coming into the city for the sacred Passover [John 19:31]. But as horrible as it was to the Romans and as terrible as it was to the mind of the Jew, think of the shame that it bore to the pure, holy, undefiled, sinless Son of God.
They crucified Him in two ways: one, they crucified Him naked—He was exposed before the whole world. The artists have been kind in drawing pictures of the Lord, always they clothe Him, but He died naked. They gambled for His garments at the foot of the cross [Matthew 27:35].
Second, He was crucified between malefactors—between insurrectionists and murderers [Matthew 27:38]. In His life, He was known as a friend of publicans and sinners [Matthew 11:19; Luke 7:34], and in His death, He was crucified with one on either side. In the Lord, history and prophecy met. For the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah said that He would be numbered with transgressors [Isaiah 53:12]. He became sin itself [2 Corinthians 5:21].
This was no ordinary crucifixion; there were thousands of Jews who had been crucified under the Roman emperors. The historians suggest that between—in the forty years between Pontius Pilate and Titus the Caesar, there were more than thirty thousand Jews who were crucified. When the Lord was eighteen years of age, in a village near Nazareth, the Romans came and because the little town had been accused of harboring zealots, insurrectionists, they burned the town to the ground, and they crucified everybody in it. And the Lord, being nearby, must have seen those crosses raised against the sky. It was a common sight in Palestine to see a Roman crucifixion.
But this one was not the same. The Roman centurion, under whose surveillance the execution was carried out, cried, saying: “This Man surely, surely was the Son of God!” [Mark 15:39].
Well might the sun in darkness hide,
And shut His glory in,
When Christ the mighty Maker died
For man, the creature’s sin.
[“At the Cross,” Isaac Watts]
The cross is a sign of the gospel of the Christian faith.
Second: it is a sign and an emblem of our universal depravity, of the sin of the human heart. If you would see what humanity is really, look at the cross: cruel and merciless, dark and sinful.
The Lord was born in Bethlehem [Matthew 1:20-21]. The gift of God in love to the world [John 3:16], came in that little town of David. When the gift was made, the angels sang [Luke 2:13-14], and the stars were lowered like golden lamps from the sky. The shepherds worshipped [Luke 2:8-16], and the wise men brought their gifts [Matthew 2:1-2, 9-11]. Just five miles away is Jerusalem, the great city; as close as this church is to White Rock Lake—just five miles away.
Thirty-three years later, human family, humankind, man, gave back the gift of God’s love in Christ Jesus [John 3:16], on the point of a Roman spear [John 19:34]. Who did that? Who crucified the Lord? Who is responsible for His shameful, indescribably ignominious death? Who did that? Whose fault is that? Well, there are many who answer. Some of them say, “It’s God’s fault. God did that!”
As the wife of Job said to her husband, “Curse God, and commit suicide” [Job 2:9]. There are others who say it’s His own fault. He did it. He should have been a better manager and a better planner, and even He should have been shrewder.
There are those who say the Jews did it, and there are those who say the rulers did it. There are those who say Judas Iscariot did it: “He sold him!” [Matthew 26:14-16]. There are those who say Pontius Pilate did it, a weak, vacillating procurator in the miscarriage of Roman justice. There are those who say the soldiers did it. They planted the crown of thorns, and they nailed Him to the tree [Matthew 27:29-32].
Who did it? Pontius Pilate washes his hands and says, “I did not do it. I am innocent of the blood of this just Man” [Matthew 27:24]. The Roman soldiers say, “We didn’t do it. We’re men under authority carrying out our instructions from our superiors.” And the Jews say, “We didn’t do it. Would you bring upon our heads and the heads of our children the blood of this righteous Man? We didn’t do it?”
Who did it? Who slew the Son of glory? Who nailed Him to the cross? It must have been that we all had a part. We all did it! Our sins nailed Him to the tree, and our sins pressed upon His brow the crown of thorns. We all did it!
A man one time said in a dream, “I saw the Savior, and His back was bare. And there was a soldier lifting up his hand and bringing down on His back that awful scorpion-of-nine-tails, that awful lash of the Roman soldier.” And he said, “In the dream, as I watched the back of the Savior beat and the blood flowed down,” he said, “when the soldier raised his hand to bring down on His back once again that awful cat- o`-nine-tails with its leather thongs and its pieces of iron woven into the leather, when he drew back his arm to bring down the lash again,” he said in the dream, “I rose and I grabbed his arm to hold it back. When I did, the soldier turned around in astonishment to look at me. And when I looked at him, I recognized myself.”
Who slew the Son of glory? Whose fault is it that He died? Who nailed Him to the cross? We all did it! Our sins crucified the Prince of heaven. The cross is a sign universal of human depravity and human sin.
It is, third, a sign and an emblem of our atonement and our salvation and our hope of glory. Christ died. How did He die? Why did He die? Did He die like Socrates, drinking the hemlock, a martyr to philosophical truth? Did He die like Julius Caesar, a hero in the senate, before the cruel daggers of Brutus and Cassius? Did He die like the Agamemnon in Aeschylus, carrying out the heroic assignments of the Greek nation against the Trojans? Did He die like Shakespeare’s tragedy of King Lear? Did He die like Abraham Lincoln under the assassin’s bullet in Ford’s Theater in Washington? How did He die?
There is a divine meaning in the death of Christ. This is God’s plan for our salvation. There is no pardon and peace apart from atonement. There’s no remission of sins apart from the shedding of blood [Hebrews 9:22]. And there’s no reconciliation without the payment of debt. This is our atonement, our propitiation, our sacrifice for sin [Romans 5:11; Hebrews 2:17; 1 John 2:1-2]. This is our means of reconciliation to God [Romans 5:10].
The cross to the apostle Paul and to us is the same thing as the brazen serpent raised in the wilderness was to Moses and the children of Israel [Numbers 21:7-9]; it is a sign of universal love, and mercy, and forgiveness, and healing from the hands of God. Look and live, my brother, live! Look to Jesus Christ and live. “’Tis recorded in His Word, hallelujah. It is only that you look and live” [“Look and Live,” William Ogden].
It is a sign of our atonement. It is a sign of our forgiveness. It is a sign of God’s inviting love, His invitation to pardon and forgiveness and life. The cross has an upright, and it’s raised toward the sky, and it points toward God in heaven. It has a lower part that touches the earth; how God, reaching out His loving hand, extends it even to us. It has crossbeams, crossarms, and they go in either direction. As far as the east goes east and as far as the west goes west, the arms of the cross are extended. And it is the wide-open invitation to all men everywhere to find life, and liberty, and forgiveness, and mercy, and salvation in the atoning love, sobs, tears, sufferings, death of the Son of God. We all are welcome.
The arms of the cross extend to all mankind, to the Greek and the barbarian, to the Roman and the provincial, to the Jew and to the Greek, to the Jew and to the Gentile, to the bond and to the free, to the lettered and to the unlearned, to the rich and to the poor, to the wise and to the unwise, to the old and to the young, to the near and those that are far off, to the good and the not-so-good. To all of us does God extend wide, wide His invitation in the cross: love and mercy and forgiveness [Ephesians 1:7]. The world could never be the same again because our Lord died in it, and it was this planet upon which He spilled His sacred blood [1 Timothy 1:15].
That cross is a sign of our hope of glory. If there is any tomorrow, if there is any heaven, if there is any God and life yet to be, that cross is a sign of that hope.
If in Flanders’ Fields
The poppies grow,
It will be between the crosses,
Row on row.
[“In Flanders Fields”; Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae]
Last week I passed by a large cemetery near Athens. It was filled with white crosses, just thousands of them. And as I looked at it, I thought of the cemeteries, and especially American military cemeteries, that I have seen around the world, as at Arlington, near Washington, in Virginia; as in the Apennines, as in the Philippines; as in the Hawaiian islands; as in France. Everywhere above that American boy who has fallen in battle, our people have erected a cross. Why? Because it is a hope! It is a prayer. It is a vision. It is a dream. It’s an expectation. It’s a promise. It’s an assurance that God hath prepared some better thing for us than what we know in the sorrow and tears of this life. And if we have any hope, any forgiveness, any tomorrow, it lies in the promise of the death of the Son of God [John 3:16].
I was in London upon a day and standing in Charing Cross. Years and years ago, the beloved wife of the king died away and away from London. And as he brought tenderly, lovingly, her body back to the great city, wherever her body rested in the long journey, the king built a little chapel. And he called it always by some kind of a cross, as the “King’s Cross,” as “Charing Cross.”
I was standing at Charing Cross in London, and my fellow minister by my side said, “Let me tell you a story that happened here.” He said, “There was a little girl in the city who lost her way, just wandered away. And the child was in the streets of London, crying heartbrokenly, hideously. She had lost her way. And an English bobby, an English policeman, saw the child wandering, crying. He stopped her and asked her why, and the child said she was lost; and she didn’t know how to find her way home. And the bobby said to the little brokenhearted girl, ‘Don’t cry, and you sit down here by my side, and we’ll find where you live, where home is.’ So the bobby sat on the curb of the street, and the little brokenhearted girl sat by his side. And he said, ‘Now, I’m going to ask you some places in London, and you tell me if you recognize any of them:
‘No,’ said the little girl.’
‘No,’ said the child.
‘No,’ said the child.
‘Charing – Charing Cross?’
‘Ah,’ said the little girl in her tears, ‘yes, yes, yes. Take me down to the cross, and I can find my way home from there.’“ Oh, how true for all humanity, for all mankind, for our homes and our hearts and our lives. “Take me down to the cross, and I can find my way home from there.”
I must needs go home
By the way of the cross,
There’s no other way but this;
I shall ne’er get sight
Of the gates of light,
If the way of the cross I miss.
I must needs go on
In the blood-sprinkled way,
The path that our Savior trod,
If I ever climb to
The heights sublime,
Where my soul can be
at home with God.
[“The Way of the Cross,” Jessie B. Pounds, 1906]
This is God’s invitation to you: “What more can He say than to you He hath said, you who unto Jesus for refuge have fled?” [“How Firm a Foundation,” John Rippon]. This is God’s love and mercy poured out in the earth. This is God’s sweet invitation to us today; come, come, come!
In a moment we shall stand and sing our hymn of appeal, and while we sing it, in the balcony round, you, if you’re in the last seat on the last row of the top balcony, there’s time and to spare, come! On this lower floor, into the aisle, and down here to the front today: “Today, I make the decision now, I give my heart to the Lord, and I’m coming.” As the Spirit shall press the appeal and invitation to your soul, decide now, answer now. And on the first note of the first stanza, come—down one of these stairways or into the aisle and here to the front: “Here I am, pastor; I’m making it now.” A family you, a couple you, or just one somebody you; on the first note of that first stanza, into that aisle and down to the front, “Here, pastor, I give you my hand. I give my heart to the Lord. I’m putting my life in the church. I’m answering God’s call, and here I am.” Do it now. Make it now. Come now, while we stand and while we sing.
THE GLORY OF THE CROSS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
A. The Galatians were seeking to glory in the flesh(Galatians 3:1-3)
1. Letter could have been written to modern world
B. Paul’s one glory – the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ(Galatians 6:14)
1. Poem, “In the Cross of Christ I Glory”II. Emblem of the Christian faith
A. The change of the course of history in conversion of Constantine
1. Insignia of Christian faith not a sword, scimitar, star, or halo
2. Best example of a cross I have seen is in the Roman Coliseum
B. Speaks a universal language
1. Passion play in Oberammergau is in German
C. The cross is not mythical romanticism, but historical fact
1. Two historical references to Jesus – both of the cross
2. Roman invention of torture, reserved for felons
a. Repulsive to theJews (Galatians 3:13, Deuteronomy 21:23, John 19:31)
b. A humiliation to the pure, sinless Son of God(Matthew 27:35, Luke 23:32-33, Isaiah 53:12)
3. Not an unusual incident that a Jew be crucified
a. But this was no ordinary crucifixion(Mark 15:39)III. Emblem of the tragedy of our sin
A. Bethlehem five miles away from Golgotha(John 19:34)
B. Who is to blame?(Job 2:9, Matthew 27:24)
1. Our sins nailed Him to the cross
2. A man dreamt of the scourging of Jesus – he held the whipIV. Emblem of our atonement, salvation and hope of glory
A. Divine meaning in the death of Christ(Hebrews 9:22)
1. The brazen serpent (Numbers 21:8-9)
B. The emblem of God’s love
C. A sign of our hope of glory
1. Poem, “In Flanders’ Fields”
2. The Charing Cross in London