He Died For Me
January 1st, 1978 @ 7:30 PM
HE DIED FOR ME
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1-1-78 7:30 p.m.
Beautiful choir, and Robert Adams’ sweet wife, and all of God’s precious saints who are here tonight in numbers that would surprise people who do not go to church; this is one of the most encouraging congregations I could ever have the opportunity to worship with, this first Sunday night of the new year. And the announcement has been made beginning next Sunday night and for sixteen Sunday nights thereafter, I shall be preaching the sermons that are most favorite to me. In fifty years of being a pastor, the sermons that have meant the most to me, I shall be preaching, beginning next Sunday night. All of them – to my great surprise – are evangelistic, every one of them. They are revival meeting sermons, and we are believing that God will be with us, in grace, in saving power, that it will be one of the most marvelous eras through which we have ever lived in His soul-saving name.
So if you have a friend, a family, someone to introduce to Jesus, next Sunday night and thereafter will be one of the finest, dearest times in God’s world for them to be present and to listen to the voice of God, to the expounding of the Holy Scriptures that end with an urge and an earnest appeal that we come to Christ.
When we have the Lord’s Supper, almost always – it will be a rare exception to it – almost always I prepare a sermon in keeping with the atoning sacrifice of our Lord. The message almost always will have something to do about the death of Christ and what it means to us. So tonight, the message is entitled He Died for Me, and as the address from God’s Book unfolds, you’ll see what I mean by that: He died for me.
Will you turn in your Bible to the Book of Galatians? Galatians chapter 2, and we shall begin at verse 19 and read to the end of the chapter, verse 21. Galatians chapter 2, beginning at verse 19. Now let us all read it out loud together, Galatians 2, beginning at verse 19, now together:
For I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God.
I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me.
I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.
And in that passage – and one of the most famous in the whole Scripture, verse 20 – in that passage is a little phrase that Paul loves to use. I repeat the whole verse: "I am crucified with Christ: yet I, I live; but not I, but it is Christ that liveth in me: and the life that I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me." That little phrase, "for me," is one that Paul loved. Christ died for me. Christ died for us. Christ died for all. The Greek of it is huper. When you take a Greek ‘u’ – huper – and put it in English, it becomes "hyper." Huper emou – me – Christ died huper emou, "for me." Well, before we translate that word in a way that makes it so commonly acknowledged in our lives, just for a minute let me give typical instances of how Paul loved to use it. These are just some out of a multitude that I could choose. Without turning the page, I see it again here in the next chapter of Galatians: "Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse" [Galatians 3:13], there it is again, huper emou.
When I go back to his first letter, the letter to the Book of Romans, this beautiful and famous passage: "When we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly." There it is again. "Scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died" – and there it is again – "for us" [Romans 5:6-8]. I turn in the Book of Romans. "Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom" – and there it is again – "for whom Christ died" [Romans 14:15].
In the Book of 2 Corinthians: "And that He died for all" – there it is again – "that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto Him who died for them" – there it is again, in the same verse twice – "died for them, and rose again" [2 Corinthians 5:15]. And then the end of the chapter: "For He hath made Him to be sin for us" – and there it is again – "Him, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him" [2 Corinthians 5:21].
In the Thessalonian letter, the first one, in chapter 5, he says: "God has not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us" – there it is again – "that, whether we wake or sleep" – whether we live or die – "we should live together with Him" [1 Thessalonians 5:9-10]. It is a phrase that Paul loved to use. Huper emou, "for me." Well, the word actually means "above." "Above." Huper means "above." If you have hypertension, you have blood pressure that is above what it ought to be. Hyper- anything means above. It means heightened. So it came to mean – having the meaning of above – it came to mean "instead of, or for the sake of, or in behalf of."
Now I can tell you a story that illustrates that Greek word exactly. I hesitate to tell it because it is the commonest story that I suppose I have ever heard in the Christian pulpit. I cannot remember when the story was not repeated. I heard it as a small boy far back as I can remember, and then I’ve heard it all through the years since. So when I think of a word like this, huper, above, instead of, I think, well, if the people will forgive me, I’ll briefly summarize that used and too often used story. But it is this word exactly what Christ has done for us, huper, above. He died above, in behalf of, instead of, huper.
The story is of the little ragged, wretched, starved, emaciated boy who goes to a country school, and they have passed the rule that any boy that is found stealing a lunch will be beat with thirty stripes on his naked back. Upon a day, a lunch is stolen, and the school finds out it is that wretched, hungry boy. So he’s brought before the class, and he is accused. And he admits that he stole the lunch. He was starved and hungry, and he stole a boy’s lunch. The class had passed the rule: on his naked back, thirty stripes. Well, when he bared his back for the teacher to hit him thirty times, little skinny fellow, emaciated and starved, the great big fellow whose lunch the boy had stolen, says to the teacher, "Teacher, let me take the punishment due the boy." They agreed that he could do it, so he bends over, he bends above, he leans over – huper, that’s it exactly. He bends over, above the poor, starved, emaciated lad, and the stripes that should have fallen upon the little boy fell upon him. That is it exactly!
Whenever that word, that preposition is used in the New Testament by the apostle Paul – "He died for me," or "He suffered for me," or "He spilled out His blood for us," or "He died for the ungodly," or "He was made a curse for us" – wherever that preposition is used, it has that exact meaning: "above us," "to shield us." "In our stead, in our place, He took our punishment. He bore the penalty of our sins. He died in our stead."
Now, I have three avowals to be made about that atoning sacrifice of our Lord. First of all, it was an actual and a real substitutionary death. It is not philosophical. It is not theological. It is not something that belongs to a spiritual or an ephemeral world. There was an actual substitution made on the cross when Christ died in our stead! It was an actual substitution.
I could not think of anyone who better could understand the substitutionary death of our Lord than Barabbas. On one side, that malefactor and traitor and murderer, and on the other side, another malefactor and traitor and murderer; but the chief one was named Barabbas, and that was his cross in the center. But because of a custom on the Jewish Passover, they allowed Barabbas to live and chose Jesus instead to die [Matthew 27:16-26]. And I repeat: there’s not anyone who ever could have had a better idea of the actual atoning sacrifice of Christ than Barabbas; "He died in my stead; He died in my place." And what Barabbas could see say, as he looks at the suffering death of our Lord, all of us can say. Our sins are under the judgment of Almighty God. The condemnation of the law, the curse of the law, falls upon us, and what we should have suffered, He suffered above us. The stripes that should fall upon us fell upon Him. He died in our stead, an actual death, in our place.
Many, many times have I read stories of a man who died in an actual substitution for somebody else. And in an old worn out book, Sermons in the Life of Billy Sunday, I came across one of those illustrations again, and I wanted to read it to you. Quoting Billy Sunday:
In the war, there was a band of guerrillas, Quentrell’s band, that had been ordered to be shot on sight. They had burned the town in Iowa
– that’s where he came from –
and they had been caught. One long ditch was dug, and they were lined up in front of it and blindfolded and tied, and just as the firing squad was ready to present arms, a young man dashed through the bushes and cried, "Stop!"
He told the commander of the firing squad that he was as guilty as any of the others, but he had escaped and had come of his own free will and pointed to one man in the line and asked to take his place. "I’m single," he said, "while he has a wife and babies." The commander of that firing squad was an usher in one of the cities in which I held meetings, and he told me how the young fellow was blindfolded and bound in his place, and the guns rang out, and he fell dead. Time went on, and one day a man came upon another in a graveyard in Missouri, weeping and shaping the grave into form.
The first man asked who was buried there, and the other said, "the best friend I ever had." Then he told how he had not gone far away, but had come back and got the body of his friend after he had been shot and buried it, so he knew where exactly the right body was buried. He had brought a withered bouquet all the way from his home to put on the grave. He was poor then and could not afford anything costly, but he had placed a slab of wood on the pliable earth with these words on it: "he died for me."
Major Whittle, who became a great evangelist, stood by the grave some time later and saw the monument. If you go there now, you will see something different. The man became rich, and today there is a beautiful monument, marble, fifteen feet high and on it this inscription: "Sacred to the memory of Willie Lee, he took my place in the line. He died for me."
This is an instance of substitution that you’ll find every once in a while, when a man takes the place of another man who faces execution, and he dies literally for him. That is what Paul meant when he said, "He died for me." He took my place; He stood in the line. He was executed that I might live, that death would have no more terrors, no fear, no dread. Death for us now is just the open door into heaven. That’s all it is for the Christian.
One of the finest men in our church I buried yesterday afternoon. Seeing him in the hospital so tragically ill, I prayed that he might be released. Why? Because as a Christian, death has no fear and no terrors. Death for us now is but exchanging this house of illness and suffering and agony for the beauty of the glory of the new life the Lord has prepared for us in heaven. That’s Christ and what He has done for us. He died for us, that we might forever be alive unto Him. It is an actual substitution; it is an actual death.
There is not anything about the death of Christ that is not real. You could have caught in the palm of your hand the blood drops from His face and His hands and His feet. You could have caught in both hands the crimson of His life that poured out of His ruptured heart when the Roman soldier thrust into it the iron spear. You could have heard Him cry those seven cries from the cross. It was an actual suffering, and it was an actual death.
And one other thing: it provided for us and provides for us an actual atonement. God accepts it as being efficacious to cover all of our sins. You notice I said, "God accepts it." I may have a – lightsome – trivial, summary, surface idea about the blood of Christ, the atoning death of our Lord, the expiation, the taking away of sin in the suffering of Christ; I may have that attitude. My attitude about the atoning suffering of our Lord may be as shallow as the veneer on that chair, but not God.
The Lord so values the suffering and the death of our Savior that for His sake, if a man will look in faith and trust to the Lord Jesus – for His sake, for Jesus’ sake, for the blood’s sake, for His Son’s sake – the Lord will forgive us, save us, write our name in the Book of Life, stand by us in the hour of our death, be our great Mediator at the judgment bar of Almighty God, and open wide the door for us into heaven. That’s what God thinks about the suffering, about the blood, about the death of His Son.
I think of something that so poignantly illustrates that, that it is for Jesus’ sake that God forgives us, that He prizes the blood of His Son so highly that for His sake, God saves us, forgives us, welcomes us, loves us, adopts us into the family of God.
I heard about two boys who were sent away in the armed forces of our country. They were in the army. One of them came out of a very wealthy home. He lived in a mansion. He was the only son and heir to a great American fortune. The other boy in the army came from the poorest family that you could have known or got acquainted with in America – father poor, mother poor, poor all the days of his life.
Well, in the army, when you march, when you train, there’s no rich and poor; they’re all alike to that sergeant in boot camp. So those two boys, one out of a wealthy home and the other out of the poorest of homes, became fast friends in the army. In the heat of the battle on the front, across the seas, that rich boy placed in the hands of his friend, that poor boy, placed in his hands a letter. And on the letter was the name of his father and the address of his father. And that rich boy said to the poor one, "If something happens to me, will you promise me that if you live that you will go to my home and deliver into the hands of my father this letter, sealed?" And the boy said, "I promise. If you don’t make it and I do, when the war is over, I’ll go to this address, and I’ll place in the hands of this man, whose name is thereon, your father, this sealed letter."
When the battle was done and the war was over, the rich boy was killed, and the poor boy survived with that letter in his hand. When he came back across the seas and back to America, following that address to one of America’s great cities and down one of America’s boulevards, finally standing in the front of a beautiful mansion, with that letter in his hand, he rang the doorbell and a butler came to the door.
And that poor, ragged American soldier asked if this was the place where that man lived. Yes. Then he said, "Would you place in his hand this letter?" So the butler takes the letter, goes upstairs and places it in the hands of the man whose name is on that envelope. After the man reads it, the letter was this: "Dear Father, if I don’t make it, if I lose my life, and I don’t come home, I am sending to you this my friend. And I want you to accept him, and welcome him, and love him, and be to him as you are to me – a father. And let him be your son."
The father came down and opened the door and looked at that ragged, American boy. And with his arms open wide, and with the deepest love in his heart, he said to him, "For my son’s sake, for Charlie’s sake, come in. Come in. Come in."
That is what God thinks about Jesus. That’s how God prizes the suffering death of our Lord for us. We may sometimes look upon it summarily, lightly, but not God. "For Jesus’ sake," He says, "come."
All our sins are washed away, white as snow in the blood of the Lamb. All of us are welcome, however we have may been prodigal, or unrighteous, or sinful, or unthoughtful, or neglectful – whatever – God says, "For Jesus’ sake, come, and welcome." That’s the death of our Lord for us. He died for me that I might find life in Him.
And this is the pressing invitation upon your heart tonight. To accept the love and grace of our Lord in Christ Jesus, to come home to the Father’s house, to be an heir in the family of the great King, to dwell in a mansion He is preparing for us, to praise His name in love and grace and gratitude forever; this is what it is to accept the proffered love and forgiveness of our blessed Savior.
In a moment we stand to sing our hymn of appeal, and while we sing it I shall be standing there by the side of our Lord’s Supper Table. On the first note of that first stanza, come. "Pastor, I accept tonight the grace and love and forgiveness of my Lord. I’m coming. I’m bringing my family. We are all coming tonight." Or just two or just one somebody you, in the balcony round, down a stairway; in the press of people on this lower floor, down one of these aisles, "I’m coming tonight, pastor. I have decided that the grace of God shall not be in vain, but I accept it in all of His atoning love for me, I’m coming." On the first note of the first stanza, when you stand up, stand up coming down that stairway, walking down that aisle. May angels attend you in the way as you come, while we stand and while we sing.