THE REDEMPTIVE MEANING OF THE CROSS
DR. W. A. Criswell
1979 SBC Pastors Conference
Homer Jr. sort of thought he might have an atomic bomb on his hands when I stood up here, so he assigned me a subject, one that is very spiritual and very, very much the heart of our gospel. Homer Lindsay said, “Would you preach on the blood of the cross?” And I said, “Nothing would delight my soul more.” So the title of the message is The Redemptive Meaning of the Cross. In Hebrews 9:22: “And without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sin.”
We live in a material and secular and humanistic world and one that denies the need for the redemptive message of Christ. And they state their case bluntly, and crudely, and rudely, and brutally. They say, “If we have tractors to move mountains, we don’t need faith. If we have penicillin, we don’t need prayer. If we have positive thinking, we don’t need salvation. If we have the state, we don’t need the church. If we have manuals on science, we don’t need the Bible. And if we have an Einstein or an Edison, we don’t need Jesus the Christ.”
They define the world in terms of materialistic and secular values. To them, humanity does not need regeneration or redemption. But to us who have found refuge in Jesus Christ, the gospel message of our Lord addresses itself to the greatest need of the human heart; that is, how can we be a new people and a new nation and a new world?
Christianity has to do with sin and how the judgment of God can be averted upon a condemned and depraved and fallen race. The preaching of the gospel message of Christ is in a world where tractors, and government, and penicillin, and all the machinations of humanized energies can in no wise reach or save.
The Christian faith is of all things first and ever redemptive. It is not an ethic, although it is ethical. It is not a theology, although it is theological. It is not reformational, although it has cultural and scientific and political overtures. The Christian message is ever and always redemptive. “Our Lord was delivered for our offenses, and He was raised for our justification” [Romans 4:25]. This is poignantly seen in the sign of the Christian message. The aegis under which the Christian marches is not a burning bush, or two tables of stone, or a seven-branched lampstand, or a halo above a submissive head. It is not even a golden crown. The sign and the aegis of the Christian faith is a cross, a rugged, crude, rude cross; a cross, in all of its hideous awesomeness as the Roman would have it; the cross in all of its philosophical, intellectual, irrationality as the Greek would have it; the cross in all of its saving power as Paul preached it [1 Corinthians 1:22-24].
Have you been to Jesus for the saving flood?
Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?
Are you fully trusting in His grace this hour?
Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?
[from “Are You Washed In The Blood?”; Elisha A. Hoffman]
Our minds cannot enter into the immeasurable distance between the height of glory from whence He came to the depth of shame to which He descended [Hebrews 10:5-14]; from heaven the Prince of all of the hosts, to the lowest of all of those made in the likeness of man [Philippians 2:6-7], a man made out of the dust of the ground. Down, and down, and down He came, become a servant, a slave, poor among the poor; and finally to be offered unto the execution of a felon’s death [Matthew 27:32-50], raised between the earth and the sky as though both refused Him; repudiated by men and rejected by God [Matthew 27:46]—cursed and abused and despised [Isaiah 53:3]. And as though to be abused was not enough, they covered Him with spittle [Matthew 27:30]. And as though spittle were not contemptuous enough, they plucked out His beard [Isaiah 50:6]. And as though to pluck out His beard was not brutal enough, they crowned Him with thorns [Matthew 27:29]. And as though the thorns were not sharp enough, they drove in great nails [Matthew 27:32-50]. And as though the nails did not pierce deep enough, they thrust an iron spear into His side and forthwith there flowed out blood and water [John 19:34]. Even the sun refused to see such pain and such suffering [Matthew 27:45].
Well might the sun in [darkness] hide,
And shuts his glories in,
When Christ, the mighty Maker, died
For man, the creature’s sin.
[from “At the Cross”; Isaac Watts, 1707]
What is the meaning of the death of Christ? Is it a dramatic play like the Agamemnon of Aeschylus, like Shakespeare’s Macbeth or King Lear, like Eugene O’Neil’s Strange Interlude? What is the meaning of the death and suffering of Christ? Is it a dramatic scene in history, a dramatic tragedy in the story of mankind, like Socrates drinking the hemlock, or like Julius Caesar murdered at the foot of the statue of Pompey, or like Abraham Lincoln assassinated in Ford’s Theater, or like John F. Kennedy slain on the street of the city of Dallas?
What is the meaning of the death of Christ? Is His death an abysmal failure? Did He die in frustration and despair? One of the great theological tomes of modern time is Albert Schweitzer The Quest for the Historical Jesus. And the thesis of that book by Albert Schweitzer is this: that the Lord Jesus expected the kingdom of heaven to descend apocalyptically, and when it did not, that He died in frustration and in defeat and in despair.
Is that the meaning of the death of our Lord? Not according to the gospel message and the preaching of the Word of the living God. The meaning of the death of Christ is first: this is a display of the result and the fruit of our sin. If you would like to see what humanity is like, what fallen nature is like, look at Jesus Christ on the cross; given to us as a precious Babe in Bethlehem [Matthew 1:20-2:1], and offered back to God on the point of a Roman spear [John 19:34].
Who killed Jesus? Whose work is that? Who did that? Some say it was a cruel providence, as the wife of Job said to her husband, “Curse God, and die” [Job 2:9].
Some would say, “It’s His own fault. He should have been a better manager.” Some say, “Judas did it, he sold Him for thirty pieces of silver” [Matthew 26:14-16, 47-50]. Some would say, “Pilate did it, spineless Roman procurator, he did it” [John 19:16-17]. Some would say, “The Jews did it. They delivered Him to be crucified” [Matthew 27:22-25].
Others say, “The soldiers did it. Those Romans did it. They drove in His hands those nails [John 20:25], and crowned Him with those thorns [Matthew 27:29], and thrust that spear into His side” [John 19:34]. Pilate would rise from the grave, and wash his hands in water saying, “I did it not, I am innocent of the blood of this just Man” [Matthew 27:24]. The Jews have cried for two thousand years, “We didn’t do it. Would you bring the blood of that Man upon us and upon our children?”
The Roman soldier would say, “We didn’t do it. We were men under authority. We were commanded to execute Him as a criminal.” Who did it? It must have been that we all had a part. We all nailed Him to the tree.
Was it for crimes that I have done
He groaned upon the tree?
Amazing pity! grace unknown,
And love beyond degree!
[from “At the Cross,” Isaac Watts, 1707]
The death of Christ is the atonement of God for our sin [1 John 2:2]. This is the answer of God to the cry of Job, “I have sinned; what shall I do?” [Job 7:20]. This is God’s answer to the tragic queries of Macbeth, “Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood clean from my hands? No, rather this my hand will the multitudinous seas incarnadine make the green one red.” This is the answer to the Christian hymn we always love to sing:
What can wash away my sin?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus;
What can make me whole again?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
Oh! precious is the flow
That makes me white as snow;
No other fount I know,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
[from “Nothing But The Blood”; Robert Lowry, 1876]
This is the Lamb of God slain from before the foundation of the world [Revelation 13:8]. This is the blood of the Passover lamb, “When I see the blood, I will pass over you” [Exodus 12:13]. This is the suffering Servant of Isaiah by whose stripes we are healed [Isaiah 53:5]. This is the blood of the new covenant shed for the remission of sins [Matthew 26:28]. This is the great purpose of salvation God worked out through the ages. This is the great consummation of the hand of God in human history, that we might be regained, and regenerated, and reborn, and lifted up into the image of God [Romans 8:28-30]. And when He died, He bowed His head and cried, “It is finished” [John 19:30].
One of our eloquent preachers:
When He cried, ‘It is finished,’ the blood drop fell on the dust of the ground crying, ‘It is finished’; and the blood drop whispered to the dust around the cross, ‘It is finished’; and the dust around the cross whispered to the grass, ‘It is finished’; and the grass whispered to the herbs, ‘It is finished’; and the herbs whispered to the trees, ‘It is finished’; and the birds in the trees spiraling upward in the sky whispered to the clouds, ‘It is finished’; and the clouds cried to the angels in heaven, ‘It is finished’; and the angels of heaven went up and down the streets of glory crying aloud, ‘It is finished, it is finished, our salvation is forever full and complete.’
And this is our message of hope and salvation to the world. It is universal. As wide as the world is wide, so wide are the arms of the cross. As far as the east goes east, or as the west goes west, so the arms of the cross are outstretched to receive all who will find refuge, and confession, and repentance, and forgiveness, and salvation in Him [Hebrews 2:9; 1 John 2:2]. That cross is the sign and the symbol of our hope in God.
If in Flanders Fields the poppies grow
It will be between the crosses, row on row.
[“In Flanders Fields,” John McCrae]
Some of the things that happen when you begin your preaching ministry make more indelible impressions upon you than things that happen today. My first funeral, in a little country church, a tenant farmer, so poor, their little baby died, and we had the service in our little country church, my first one. After the memorial, they put the little casket in a truck; poor, poor people, put the casket in a truck. I had a little car, and the young mother sat next to me and then the husband on the other side, little one seated car.
And as the truck pulled out of the country churchyard, and our following it behind, the girl, the young mother, began to sob and to cry. And the young husband put his arm around her and said, “There sweetheart, don’t cry, don’t cry. Jesus will take care of our little boy, and He will give him back to us someday. Don’t cry.”
And when we laid the little casket in the ground, covered it over with a heap, we made a little cross and placed it at the head of the grave. It’s a sign of our hope, of our heaven, of our resurrection, of our living again, that Christ will give us back these whom we have loved and lost for a while.
In the cross of Christ I glory
Towering o’er the wrecks of time
In it are hid all of the hope of glory
Every promise from this Book sublime.
[“In The Cross of Christ I Glory,” John Bowring]
And this is our message to the world. There is salvation. There is life. There is promise. There is victory. There is heaven in Jesus our Lord and in His atoning grace for us.
There is a fountain filled with blood
Drawn from Emmanuel’s veins;
And sinners plunged beneath that flood
Lose all their guilty stains.
The dying thief rejoiced to see
That fountain in his day;
And there may I, though vile as he,
Wash all my sins away.
And this stanza I read a few months ago, carved on the sarcophagus above the grave of Charles Hadden Spurgeon:
E’er since, by faith, I saw the stream
Thy flowing wounds supply,
Redeeming love has been my theme,
And shall be till I die.
[“There Is A Fountain Filled With Blood,” William Cowper]
“Unto Him who loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood. . .to Him be glory, and power, and honor forever and ever” [Revelation 1:5-6], even to Thee O blessed, blessed Jesus, amen.
THE REDEMPTIVE MEANING OF THE CROSS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1979 SBC PC
A. Modern denial for the need of such a gospel
1. Define the world in terms of materialistic and secular values
B. Message of the gospel address itself to a far deeper human need
C. Christian faith is essentially a message of redemption
1. Fundamental purpose to deliver us from the bondage of sin
2. Sign and symbol of the faith is a rugged cross
D. The descent from heaven and the sufferings of Christ
E. What is the meaning of the death of Christ?
1. A dramatic play?Historical tragedy?Abysmal failure?II. The display of the result and fruit of our sin
A. Who killed Jesus?
B. We all had a partIII. The atonement of God for our sin
A. The answer to Job’s agonizing cry (Job 7:20)
1. The answer to Macbeth’s tragic queries
2. The answer to the hymn, “Nothing But the Blood”
B. The Lamb of God slain from before the foundation of the world(Exodus 12:13, Isaiah 53:5, 11, Matthew 26:28, John 19:30)IV. The message of hope and salvation to the world
A. For all mankind – as far as the east goes east and the west goes west, so wide are the arms of the cross
B. The emblem of our hope
1. My first funeral
1. Hymn, “There is a Fountain Filled with Blood”