How Can God Die for Me?
April 20th, 1984 @ 12:00 PM
Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-20-84 12:00 p.m.
This concludes the sixty-eighth year that our church has conducted these pre-Easter noonday services. They were held in a downtown theater most of those years, but when the theaters were torn down, they were moved here to the sanctuary of our dear First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the fortieth year that I have conducted them. The theme this year is from the twentieth chapter of the Gospel of John, “My Lord And My God” [John 20:28]. And the messages have been taken from the Gospel of John. The first one, How Could God Become a Man?; and the second one, How Can God Recreate, Remake Me?; and the third one, How Could God Save Me, Keep Me Forever?; yesterday, How Can God Sympathize with Me?; and today, How Can God Die for Me? Our Scripture reading is in the nineteenth chapter of the Gospel of John. John, chapter 19, beginning at verse 16:
Then delivered [he Him] unto them to be crucified. And they took Jesus, and led Him away.
And He bearing His cross went forth into a place called the Place of a Skull, which is a translation of the Hebrew word, Golgotha:
There they crucified Him, and two others with Him, on either side one, and Jesus in the midst.
And Pilate wrote a title, and put it on the cross. And the writing was, JESUS OF NAZARETH THE KING OF THE JEWS.
This title then read many of the Jews: for the place where Jesus was crucified was nigh to the city; and it was written in Hebrew, and Greek, and Latin.
Then said the chief priests of the Jews to Pilate, Write not, The King of the Jews; but that He said, I am King of the Jews.
Pilate answered, Gegrapha, gegrapha.
A very famous word out of this ancient literature: Gegrapha, gegrapha—“What I have written I have written.” The death of our Lord, the crucifixion of Christ was the achievement of the purpose for which He came into the world. He came to die, to suffer and to die. In Matthew 20:28, He said He had come to give His life a ransom for us. Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 1:15: “He came to save sinners; of whom I am chief.” The purpose of our Lord’s coming into the world was to suffer and to die. This is seen in the volunteering of our Lord before the creation of the world.
In the tenth chapter of the Book of Hebrews is a dynamic scene in heaven before creation. And it says the Lord Christ—Son of God—answered the Lord in heaven—the Father—saying, “A body hast Thou prepared for Me: And, Lo, I come to do Thy will, O God” [Hebrews 10:5, 7]. He came incarnate for the purpose of dying for our sins [Hebrews 10:5-14]. This is seen in the substance of the great prophecies of the Old Testament:
He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities:
the chastisement of our peace is upon Him; and with His stripes we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to his own way;
and the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all.
He came into the world to die for our sins; this is seen in the enunciation, “Thou shall call His name Iēsous—Deliverer, Savior—JESUS: for He shall save His people from their sins” [Matthew 1:21]. This is seen in John the Baptist’s introduction of Him to the world: “Behold the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world” [John 1:29]. This purpose for which He came is found and illustrated in the beginning of His public ministries. He said, “Destroy this body, destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” [John 2:19]. He said to Nicodemus, who came to Him by night in that beginning ministry, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” [John 3:14-15].
He came to die for us; this is seen in His continuing great Galilean ministry. He taught His disciples that the Son of Man must suffer, be delivered into the hands of sinners, that He must die, and the third day be raised again [Luke 24:7, 46; Matthew 16:21]. And in that Galilean ministry, on the top of a high mountain He was transfigured [Matthew 17:1-2]. And there Moses and Elijah spake to Him about His exodus,” the decease, the death He should accomplish in Jerusalem [Luke 9:30-31]. He came to die [Matthew 20:28], and in the closing days of His ministry, that purpose was poignantly seen. There came visiting Greeks from afar at the feast. And they said: “Sir, we would see Jesus” [John 12:20-21]. And, when the word was brought to the Lord of the coming of the Greeks, it reminded Him, and He spake of His death for the tribes and nations and people of the world: “And I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto Me” [John 12:32]. And in those closing days He was anointed by Mary of Bethany [John 12:3], and when the disciple found fault with it [John 12:4-5], He replied, “She has anointed Me for My burial” [John 12:7].
And in those last days, He instituted the ordinance—holy, beautiful, recurring—of the Lord’s Supper, “This is My body broken for you [1 Corinthians 11:24], and this is My blood of the new covenant, poured out for the remission of sins” [Matthew 26:28]. And in dark Gethsemane, He cried with strong crying and tears unto Him [Hebrews 5:7-8], for whose purpose in atoning grace He was sent into the world [Luke 22:41-44]. And finally, came the day of the cross:
When Jesus came to Golgotha
They hanged Him on a tree,
They drove great nails through hands and feet
And made a Calvary;
They crowned Him with a crown of thorns
Red were His wounds and deep,
For those were crude and cruel days
And human flesh was cheap.
[“Indifference,” Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy]
Outside of the city He trod the winepress of the wrath and judgment of Almighty God, and rich red blood poured out [Isaiah 63:3]. This is the reason for His coming into the world—to suffer and to die for our sins [Matthew 20:28]. And this is the gospel that the first Christian martyrs and apostles and witnesses preached to the whole world. This world can never be the same again because Jesus suffered for it and died in it. In the heart of the world and in the center of time, these preachers and apostles have planted the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Their gospel was the saving and the delivering of our souls from the judgment of sin, paid in full on the cross [John 3:16-17]: Jesus died for us [1 Corinthians 15:3]. The apostle Peter preached, 1 Peter 1, “For we were redeemed not with corruptible things, but with incorruptible, with the precious blood of the Lamb of God” [1 Peter 1:18-19]. And the apostle Paul preached, as in Galatians 6: “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” [Galatians 6:14]. And, the sainted apostle John wrote of these saints who found refuge in Jesus:
These are they who have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night…
And God, God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.
[Revelation 7:14-15, 17]
This is the gospel of the cross, and it became the sign and aegis and insignia of the Christian faith with its arms outstretched. As far as the east goes east and the west goes west are the loving arms of our Lord extended in grace, in compassion, in loving invitation [Matthew 11:28-29]. Come, drink at the fountain of the water of life [John 7:37-38]. Come, eat of the fruit of the manna and live forever [John 6:50-51]. Come, and find redemption, and regeneration, and heaven in the atoning grace of our living Lord [John 10:10; Ephesians 1:7].
And may I speak of just one other? The cross to the whole world brings to us a great silence, a great pause, a great reflection, a great consideration. These, whoever they are—on any continent in which they might live, under any distress in which their life is cast—whoever they are, these are souls, they are people, they are somebody for whom Christ died [Hebrews 2:9; 1 John 2:2]. In a world of conflict and violence and war; whoever they are, they are a people and a somebody for whom Christ died [John 6:51].
I can’t describe a poignant moment that I experienced in preaching in the Baptist Church in Moscow in Russia. I had just been to Leningrad—spent a week there—and they had recounted for me the terrible siege of the city under the invading Nazi army. For years they were held in the grasp of that awful war and hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of thousands of them had died. They had taken me to a great monument on the edge of the city that marked the ultimate approach where the Nazi army was stopped.
When I came to Moscow and was preaching in the church there, that was poignantly on my heart, the days described to me of that awful siege in Leningrad and the thousands and thousands who have died, who died in that awful confrontation. And in my sermon—I just hadn’t planned—but coming to my mind, I spoke of that war and siege and death in Leningrad. And I made observations: whether it is a Russian mother, bending over her fallen boy; or whether it is a German mother, bending over her slain son; or whether it is an American mother, weeping over her lad who has been slain, the tears of all three of them are strangely alike. And the sorrow of all three of them is in a common bond of unspeakable hurt. Well, what happened was—I had not thought for such a thing—the vast group there were older people, most of them older women. And when I said that, that whole vast audience began to cry. They have white handkerchiefs; they took them out and daubed their faces. It was a sight and something that stays in my heart.
Whatever it is and however it may be that we are involved in war—and I am no pacifist, I’m just avowing that whoever we confront and however the war may rage—whether it is on that side or this side, for both sides Jesus died [Hebrews 2:9]. They are souls for which Jesus came into the world; to deliver us from the bondage of sin to heaven [Romans 6:5-6, 17-18]. I say the presence of the cross gives us pause; it silences us. We’re all the same when we approach Calvary, all of us. There are no big, there is no little, there is no rich, there is no poor, there is no famous, there is no forgotten; we are all the same.
I don’t think there’s any story I’ve heard out of England that is more true to the faith than when, in the days when England literally adored the Iron Duke of Wellington because he had delivered them from the awful prospect of defeat by Napoleon—the adoration and the adulation of the Duke of Wellington is beyond what we could think for; England adored that great, wonderful, military leader who had brought victory to their forces. According to the way that the Anglican Church would take communion, the Iron Duke came forward and knelt before the officiating minister. And as he did so, a dirty, ragged street man came and happened to kneel by his side. And the officiating Anglican clergyman said to the ragged, poor man, “You move over here. You move over here.” And when the Iron Duke heard the clergyman speak, he lifted up his face and said, “Sir, leave him alone. Let him be. We’re all the same here, all of us.” We are souls; we’re somebody for whom Christ died—all of us [1 Corinthians 15:3; Hebrews 2:9; 1 John 2:2].
I cannot conclude without saying that cross, the sign of the Christian faith, is not only a great restraining, a great considering; it is not only a great leveling, it is a great inviting. In the twelfth chapter of the Book of Hebrews, the author so eloquently says if one dared to approach Mount Sinai—with its thunder, and its lightning, and its earthquake, and its darkness [Exodus 19:16], so much so that if an animal touched it, the animal died [Hebrews 12:20] . . . so much so that Moses said, “I do exceedingly fear and tremble” [Hebrews 12:21]—he said, “We have not come to Mount Sinai [Hebrews 12:18], where just to touch it would be to die, but,” he says, “we have come to Mount Calvary, to the assembly and church of the first-born, to a great company of angels, to the spirits of just men made perfect, And to Jesus whose blood speaketh better things than that of Abel” [Hebrews 12:22-24].
Come, and welcome! Anyone—anyone can approach the cross, can kneel in His presence, look up into His face, and find life and hope and heaven everlasting. May we pray? So Lord, bless us with Thy benedictory remembrance, Thou who didst love us gave Yourself for us [Galatians 2:20; Ephesians 5:2], died in our stead [1 Corinthians 15:3], was raised for our justification [Romans 4:25], and someday is coming again for His own [John 14:3]. O Lord, that we might love Thee more and serve Thee better, in Thy dear name, amen.