The Sign of the Cross
February 25th, 1973 @ 8:15 AM
THE SIGN OF THE CROSS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2-25-73 8:15 a.m.
On the radio of the city of Dallas you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Sign of the Cross. In our preaching through the letter of Paul to the churches of Galatia, there are two sermons yet to be preached, the one today and the final one Sunday week.
Our text is in Galatians 6, beginning in verse 11: “You see how large a letter I have written unto you with mine own hand.” As Dr. Eddleman would say to you, it doubtless would be better to translate it according to the ancient manuscripts, which would read, “You see with what large letters I write unto you with mine own hand” [Galatians 6:11].
Paul always picked up the pen after dictating the letter through an amanuensis and signed it with some kind of a personal salutation. In the Thessalonian letters he says that is the sign that it is a genuine epistle from him, that he so writes with his own hand [2 Thessalonians 3:17]. Having therefore dictated the letter, he picks up the pen and now writes. Something must have been wrong with the eyes of the apostle, because when he writes, he writes with big block letters like a little child:
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 desire to have you circumcised, that they may glory in your flesh.
“But God forbid”—and this is the text:
But God forbid that I should glory,” kauchaomai, boast, exalt—
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.
He contrasts there in verses 13 and 14 the kauchaomai of the heretical leaders in Galatia and the true apostolic gratitude to God in the mercy and love expressed in the cross of our Lord: “…that they may glory in your flesh. But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” [Galatians 6:13-14].
The members of the churches of Galatia, glorying in the flesh [Galatians 6:13]—which is Paul’s description of their turning aside from their hope of salvation in the mercy and forgiveness of God [Galatians 5:4-5], and seeking to achieve self-righteousness by human, devious devices—turning aside from the gospel of the grace of God in Christ [Galatians 1:6], they listened to human teachers and sought salvation by their own goodnesses. In the third chapter of this same epistle, Paul addresses them, “O foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you?” [Galatians 3:1].
If we could take the same appeal out of this first century written by the apostle to the churches of Galatia and address it today, we would say it like this:
O foolish modernists! O foolish secularists! O foolish liberals, who has bewitched you that you should turn aside from the gospel of the grace of God and seek to substitute for it another gospel, which is not a gospel?
They seek to look upon worship as a ploy of skepticism. They idolize the flower of human, philosophical speculation. They seek to substitute for these Scriptures other words, they seek to supplant the Galilean with another savior, they seek salvation from sin in another way, and they seek to substitute another strange song for the song of Moses and the Lamb [Revelation 15:3-4].
But the apostle writes to them today as to them of yesterday, “God forbid that I should kauchaomai”—boast, glory—“save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” [Galatians 6:14] The cross with all of its hideous shamefulness according to the Roman, the cross with all of its philosophical irrationality according to the Greek, the cross with all of its shame and suffering according to the scribe; but the cross according to the mercy and love and forgiveness of God, according to the apostle Paul:
In the cross of Christ I glory
Towering o’er the wrecks of time;
The light of sacred story
Gathers in Thy name sublime.
[“In the Cross of Christ I Glory,” John Bowring, 1792-1872]
“God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” [Galatians 6:14]. It is an emblem, a sign of the Christian faith.
The history of the world was turned in about 300 AD when Constantine, the Roman emperor, was converted. And he said of his conversion that in the midst of battle—and he was warring then for the throne of the empire—he said that in the midst of battle, at noonday, he saw in the sky the sign of a cross and underneath these words in Latin: In hoc signo vinces, “In this sign, conquer!” Whether that’s true or not, it is true that the sign of the Christian faith is the cross of the Son of God.
The aegis, the sign, the emblem of the Christian faith is not two tables of stone bearing the commandments of God [Exodus 31:18]. It is not a sword or a scimitar. It is not a star. It is not a galaxy. The sign of the Christian faith is not a seven-branched lampstand. It is not even a halo around a submissive head. But the sign of the Christian faith is a rugged, rude, terrible instrument of execution: a cross! [John 19:16-17; Hebrews 12:2]. When we think of the cross, most of us think of it bejeweled—made out of gold and silver and beset with precious stones or high on the top of a church—as a sign that it belongs to the Christian people. I don’t think there is a more vivid presentation of what that cross actually was than you find in the Roman Coliseum. I don’t know who did it, nor how long it’s been there; ever since I visited Rome that cross was there. On one side of the Roman Coliseum is a big, heavy, rugged, wooden crossbeam. It is put there, I was told, in honor and in memory of the Christians who had lost their lives in that awesome arena. A cross—and just to look at it speaks a language that the whole world understands!
Some years ago, I went to Oberammergau to see the Passion play. As I looked over the vast throng assembled there against those Bavarian mountains—against which the play is presented—as I looked at the throng, I saw people there from every nationality, and family, and tribe, and race, and nation under the sun. I am sure that not all of them could understand German, in which the Oberammergau play is presented, but as I sat there in the midst of the throng, I had the distinct feeling and persuasion that whatever our language, whatever our nationality, all of us understood the language of the cross. It is a universal sign of the Christian faith. It is not a piece of mythological romanticism. It was an actual cross!
Outside of maybe Josephus, which the critics say in an interpolation, there are two ancient references in the first Christian century to the death of Christ, and both of them, both comments refer to His death on the cross. One is by Suetonius and the other is by Tacitus. How come them to speak of it; they were describing Nero and the burning of Rome. And in describing what Nero did in laying the blame upon the Christians, the two historians, Suetonius and Tacitus, were thereby obligated to tell who the unknown sect was. And they said that the Christians, which was a new name to the Roman world, the Christians were followers of a man, a felon, who was crucified under Pontius Pilate. It was a real, historical instrument, and the cross was a real instrument of death. It was the cruelest device of execution that the human mind has even invented. No Roman could be crucified—only a felon, only a criminal—but it was a thousandfold opprobrious to the Jews.
The apostle Paul, in the third chapter of the Book of Galatians, quoting Deuteronomy 21, points out what Moses wrote: “Cursed is every one that is hanged on a tree” [Galatians 3:13 Deuteronomy 21:23], and when the Lord was raised up and crucified [John 19:16-30], the Jewish leaders went to Pontius Pilate and asked that the crosses might be taken down before the evening closed because the pilgrims were assembling for the Passover [John 19:31].
However horrible the instrument was to the Jew, think of how it must have been to the pure mind and holy, saintly, godly life of the Lord Jesus who died upon it. He died in two ways. In shame, one; he was crucified naked. In the passage that you read, the Roman quaternion of soldiers gambled for the five garments, dividing each one a fourth and gambling for the fifth [John 19:23-24]. The artists are kind; they always paint the picture of our Lord with a covering, but He died naked, before the whole world. And second: He died between felons, insurrectionists, murderers [John 19:17-18]. The fifty-third chapter of Isaiah says, “…He was numbered with the transgressors” [Isaiah 53:12]. And history and prophecy met in the agonizing death of the Son of God.
For a Jew to die on a cross was nothing unique or unusual. The historian tells us that between Pontius Pilate and Titus—the Roman emperor who destroyed Jerusalem—there were more than thirty thousand Jews who were crucified. When Jesus was about eighteen years of age, there was a little village beyond Him, nearby, near Nazareth, and they were accused by the Roman emperor of harboring Zealots, insurrectionists against the Roman government. And the Roman legionnaires went to that little town and burned it to the ground and crucified every citizen in it, everyone in it. And Jesus, being nearby, must have seen that awesome series of crosses, as each one of those Jewish villagers died. But however it was a commonplace sight in Palestine in that ancient day, the crucifixion was no ordinary death. The centurion stood watching Him expire said, “Truly this Man was the Son of God!” [Matthew 27:54].
Well might the sun in darkness hide,
and shut His glories in,
When Christ, the Mighty Maker died,
for man the creature’s sin.
[“Alas! And Did My Savior Bleed?” Isaac Watts 1707]
The cross is at the heart of the Christian faith. It is the sign of the gospel of the Son of God. Second: it is a sign of human depravity and of human sins. There is no dark day, nor is there any abysmal presentation or dramatic exposition of the depravity of the human soul and life, like the death of the Son of God. Bethlehem and Jerusalem are just side by side. They are five miles apart, the same distance as you would say from our church to White Rock Lake. In little Bethlehem God gave His Son as a gift of love to the world, as the angels sang and the shepherds worshiped [Luke 2:8-16], and the wise men brought their gifts [Matthew 2:1-2, 11]. Thirty-three years later, in the nearby city of Jerusalem, on a hill called “The Hill of the Skull” [John 19:17], the same humanity gave back the gift of God on a point of a Roman spear [John 19:34].
Who did that? Who was responsible for that? Oh, there are many answers we can return! Some can say God did it. “It’s God’s fault!” Like Job’s wife said to her husband, “Curse God, and commit suicide” [Job 2:9]. “It’s God’s fault!” Some say, “It’s His own fault. He should have been a better manager. He made His own bed; let Him lie in it!” Some would say it’s the rulers’ fault; they delivered Him [Luke 24:20]. Some would say it is Judas Iscariot’s fault; he sold Him [Matthew 26:14-16, 47-50]. Some would say it’s Pontius Pilate’s fault, the weak, vacillating governor in the miscarriage of Roman justice [Matthew 27:26]. Some would say it’s the Jews’ fault; they did it! [John 19:15-16]. We can hear Pontius Pilate reply, as he washes his hands, “It is not my fault. I did it not!” [Matthew 27:24-26]. We can hear the soldiers reply, “We were men under authority carrying out the commandments of our superiors.” We can hear the Jewish people reply, to this day, “Bring not the blood of this Man upon us and upon our children” [Matthew 27:25]. Well, who did that? Who is responsible for the crucifixion of the gift of the love and mercy and goodness of God? Who crucified the Lord? It must have been that we all had a part. Our sins pressed upon His head the crown of thorns [Matthew 27:29], and our sins drive the spear into His heart [John 19:34].
I read of a man’s dream. He said, “I dreamed that a soldier was scourging the Son of God. And as he raised his hand again—and in it that whiplash, with the jagged pieces of iron tied into those leather thongs—when he raised his arm, to bring his arm down once again upon the bare, bloody body of the Savior,” he said, “I stood up and I grabbed his arm to hold back the awful stroke.” And the man said, in his dream, “When the soldier turned around to look at me, I saw myself! It was I who was laying the stripes upon His back.” It was not a Judas; it was not the scribes; it was not the Pharisees; it was not Pontius Pilate; we all had a part! The cross is a sign of the sin and depravity of our nature.
Third: it is a sign and an emblem of atonement and salvation. Christ died. How? Why? Did He die such as Socrates drinking the hemlock? Socrates died. Did He die as Julius Caesar under the fierce, stabbing daggers of Brutus and Cassius? Did He die as Agamemnon, Aeschylus? Did He die as King Lear in Shakespeare’s play? Did He die as Abraham Lincoln, assassinated in Ford’s Theatre? Why did He die? “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures” [1 Corinthians 15:3]. His death is God’s atonement that we might find forgiveness from our sins [Romans 5:8,11]. There is no peace and pardon apart from atonement, there is no reconciliation apart from the payment of death [Romans 5:10], and there is no remission of sins apart from the shedding of blood [Matthew 26:28; Hebrews 9:22], and this is God’s atonement for us [Matthew 26:28]. He died in our stead! [2 Corinthians 5:21].
The cross of Christ is to the apostle Paul and to us exactly what the brazen serpent was to Moses and the children of Israel: a sign of the healing, the promise of God for the whole world who would look and live [John 3:14-15; Numbers 21:8-9]. It is therefore the sign and the aegis of our hope and our salvation. The cross is an upright with a crossbeam. The upright points toward God, is raised toward the sky, looks toward the heavens; and the cross-arms are extended on either side, wide as the world is wide, as far as the east goes east and as far as the west goes west, so encompassing and illimitable is the outpoured love and mercy of God that we might be saved [Titus 2:5]. And there is no difference: the Greek, the Bavarian, the Roman, the provincial, the Jew, the Gentile, the bound, the free, the lettered, the unlearned, the rich, the poor—to the whole world there is the wide open invitation: “Come, come, come!” [Matthew 11:28-29]. The invitation is for all of lost humanity [Revelation 22:17], and as such, it has become the sign and the insignia of our hope for life now and in the world to come.
If in Flander’s Fields the poppies grow,
It will be between the crosses, row on row.
[“In Flander’s Field,” Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD (1872-1918)]
Driving outside of Athens, I saw a very large cemetery. And from one side of it to the other, there were crosses, crosses, crosses. Around the world have I seen our military cemeteries, and when I look at them, there they stand—the cross, the cross, the cross. Why the cross over the body of a fallen American soldier? It is a sign of our hope in God!
In the years gone by, there was a king in England whose lovely and beautiful queen died. They were away, and as he brought her body back to Westminster, the carriage moved slowly, and carefully, and prayerfully, and lovingly, and tenderly. And wherever her body rested for the night, there did the king build a chapel and call it a cross, such as King’s Cross, such as Charing Cross. It was a place where her body had tenderly rested for the night.
One time, when I was in London, I was standing at Charing Cross. With me was a companion in the ministry, and a godly man. He said, “Let me tell you something that comes to my mind as I stand here at Charing Cross.” He said, “There was a little girl in London who was lost, somehow wandering away, and she began to cry as a little girl would cry. She was lost. And an English bobby, seeing her crying, came to the little child and said, ‘Honey, why?’ And she replied, ‘I’m lost and I can’t find my way home.’ The bobby said to the little girl, ‘Now, honey, sit down here on the curb with me and let’s see if we can’t find where your home is.’ So they sat down, and the bobby said to the little crying girl, ‘I’m going to name for you some places, and see if you recognize them.
‘Ah!’ said the child. As she dried her tears, ‘Yes,’ she said. ‘Take me down to the cross, and I can find my way home from there’.” As I stood there and listened to that man tell me that story, I thought how that crying child represents all humanity: lost, facing such insuperable, irresolvable, unanswerable problems and questions, and weeping, but we can find our answers and our way home in the cross. “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 follow that blood-sprinkled way
The way that the Savior trod.
If I ever climb to the heights sublime
Where my soul is at home with God.
[“The Way of the Cross,” Jessie B. Pounds
“God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” [Galatians 6:14]—our hope and our salvation. This is the message of love, and invitation, and forgiveness, and mercy that we present to you today [John 3:16]. In a moment when we stand to sing our hymn of appeal, you, accepting the Lord as your Savior—the free gift of God in Christ [Ephesians 2:8]; our pardon, our peace, our atonement [Romans 5:11], our expiation [Romans 5:8], our remission of sins [Matthew 26:28], our forgiveness [Revelation 1:5]—would you come and stand by us? Would you? “In the company of God’s redeemed [1 Peter 1:18-19], I want to be numbered.” As the Spirit shall press the appeal to your heart, come today. Make it now, come now; in the balcony you, a family, a couple, or just you, come now, make it now, do it now, while we stand and while we sing.
OF THE CROSS
A. The Galatians were
seeking to glory in the flesh(Galatians 3:1-3)
Letter could have been written to modern world
B. Paul’s one glory –
the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ(Galatians
“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
of Christian faith not a sword, scimitar, star, or halo
example of a cross I have seen is in the Roman Coliseum
B. Speaks a universal
1. Passion play
in Oberammergau is in German
C. The cross is not
mythical romanticism, but historical fact
historical references to Jesus – both of the cross
invention of torture, reserved for felons
Repulsive to theJews (Galatians 3:13,
Deuteronomy 21:23, John 19:31)
A humiliation to the pure, sinless Son of God(Matthew
27:35, Luke 23:32-33, Isaiah 53:12)
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)
Our sins nailed Him to the cross
man dreamt of the scourging of Jesus – he held the whip
IV. Emblem of our atonement, salvation and
hope of glory
A. Divine meaning in
the death of Christ(Hebrews 9:22)
brazen serpent (Numbers 21:8-9)
emblem of God’s love
sign of our hope of glory
“In Flanders’ Fields”
Charing Cross in London