How Could God Die For Me?
February 19th, 1989 @ 10:50 AM
HOW COULD GOD DIE FOR ME?
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2-19-89 10:50 a.m.
This is the First Baptist Church in Dallas. A congregation a hundred twenty-one years old and growing, looking to God for an increasing Pentecostal blessing and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled How Could God Die For Me?
In our preaching through the Gospel of John, we are in chapter 19, in the last week of the days of His flesh and in the trial and crucifixion of our Savior. As a background text, I read from the nineteenth chapter of John verses 16 to 22 [John 19:16-22]:
Then Pilate delivered 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, in the Hebrew, Golgotha—in Latin, “Calvary”—there they crucified Him, and two others with Him, on either side one, and Jesus in the midst.
And Pilate wrote a title, and placed 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 . . . to Pilate, Write not, The King of the Jews; but that He said, I am King of the Jews.
Pilate answered, Ho gegrapha gegrapha, What I have written I have written.
So Jesus died, a King, a Savior, a coming and reigning Lord.
Before the creation of the universe, it was in the mind of God and in the purpose of the Almighty that we be redeemed from sin. That’s an amazing conception. Before this existence, God ordained that we should be redeemed from our transgressions. For example, the [thirteenth] chapter of the Book of Revelation refers to our Lord as the Lamb slain from before the foundation of the world [Revelation 13:8]. Before this universe was created, God ordained that our Savior should be our great Intercessor and atoning sacrifice. It is hard to realize all of this in the mind of God, before matter came into existence.
In the tenth chapter of the Book of Hebrews, out of which we read God’s Word this morning, there is a dramatic scene pictured of our Lord volunteering in heaven. Before the creation of existence, He volunteered in heaven to be our Savior [Hebrews 10:5-14], our Deliverer, our Redeemer.
And when we read this Holy Word, God’s sacred Scriptures, the prophecies all lead toward that glorious Day of Atonement [Matthew 27:32-50]—from lost Eden to Calvary. And in His life, depicted in prophecy from the manger to the grave, and from the beginning of His life in the stable [Luke 2:11-16] to the tomb in which He was buried [Luke 23:50-53], all of it concerning the Day of Atonement, when Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures [1 Corinthians 15:3]. It was the edict; it was the judgment of God from the beginning that death would be the penalty and judgment of sin [Genesis 2:17]. Transgression ensues in death. And being universally sinful, we face universal death. “The soul that sins shall die” [Ezekiel 18:20]. “In the day that thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die” [Genesis 2:17].
And how can I be delivered from that awesome judgment and visitation of Almighty God? You cannot save me. You cannot deliver me for you are dying. I cannot save or deliver you because I am dying. We are helpless, hopeless, dying under the judgment and curse of the wages and penalty and judgment of our sins [Romans 6:23].
There is only One who could make atonement for us. And He alone is sinless and holy and pure [1 John 3:5]. It is God alone in heaven who could atone for our transgressions. But how could God suffer and die for us? God is so great, His immensity fills creation. God is so ethereal, He casts no shadow on the light of intelligence. The purposes of God are so vast and mighty, it takes eternity and the duration of all time and all infinite space to bring them to consummation and fruition.
God is so intense in light, in brightness and burning, that even the angels veil their faces with their wings, and stand afar off, beholding the continual glory of the Almighty [Isaiah 6:2].
How could God die for us? I am frank to tell that the whole theological world that I know of does not believe that God can suffer, that God can be touched with the feeling of our infirmities [Hebrews 4:15], that divinity can experience pain and hurt. The whole theological world believes that. And it is strange that I do not believe it. I think God in heaven, Almighty God, who flung these planets into space, I think God experiences hurt and sorrow and grief in our hurt and our sorrow and our grief [Isaiah 53:4]. In the sixth chapter of the Book of Genesis, for example, when God looked down over the earth and it was plunged into sin, the Bible says God was grieved in His heart [Genesis 6:6].
I one time read one of the most unusual things. A homiletics teacher—a professor of homiletics, professor of preaching—had his students, the young preachers, to stand up and read in Genesis the story of the Fall [Genesis 3:1-6]. And God, walking in the garden in the cool of the day and could not find the pair that He had made, Adam and Eve [Genesis 3:8]. And He called saying: “Where art thou, Adam? Where art thou?” [Genesis 3:9].
And as the young men stood up to read the passage of Scripture, one young fellow would read it, and ask that question flippantly, “Adam, where art thou?” Another one indifferently, but one young minister stood up and when he read the passage and came to that question, “Adam, where art thou?” [Genesis 3:9]. he read it with a sob in his voice. And the homiletics professor turned to him and said, “Son, someday you’ll be a great preacher.”
The hurt and the sorrow in God’s soul because of the fallen, sinful humanity in this earth! Well, I think sometimes that when it rains these are the falling tears of God. Hurt, sorrowful, full of pain and agony because of our fallen life and nature, and it was because of that, the grief in God’s heart, and the love of God for us, moved by our weaknesses and our transgressions, that God Himself made atonement for our souls [John 3:16; Romans 5:8].
And the marvelous, incomparable passage in the second chapter of the Book of Philippians describes how God did it. “He, being in the form of God,” whatever morphe form of God is, “He, being in the form of God, thought it not a thing to be grasped, to be equal with God, but poured Himself out” [Philippians 2:6-7]. He poured Himself into a vessel, a man made out of the dust of the ground. He poured Himself out, and was made in the likeness of a man. “And being found as a servant, He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” [Philippians 2:8].
God incarnate, willingly gave Himself to the tortures, and horrors, and sufferings of crucifixion—that in death He might conquer him who had the power of death [Hebrews 2:14], and deliver us from our transgressions, our iniquities, and our sins. Thus God died for me [1 Corinthians 15:3]. And the drama of that atonement is so movingly delineated in God’s Holy Word; how He made atonement for our sins.
I speak of it first in its procession, in the Via Dolorosa: as He moved through the throngs and the multitudes and the crowds, the King of sorrows being led to His throne of grief. The angels in heaven watched Him. And the spirits of just men observed Him from the windows of glory [Hebrews 12:23]. And God the Father followed His progression. And they led Him to the brow of a hill called Golgotha [John 19:17].
There are three incidents along the way. Number one: they disrobed Him of His purple garment, placed on Him in mockery and scorn. And they placed back on Him His clothes. I would think they did that in order that it might be certainly identified this man. Had He worn the purple robe to Calvary, many might not have recognized Him. They put on Him His own clothes, His own garments [Matthew 27:28-31]. This is the same Jesus of Nazareth. They took off of Him everything that He had except the crown of thorns, the diadem set with drops of blood.
Second: as He walked the way to Calvary—the Via Dolorosa, the Way of Sorrow—He fell underneath the weight of the cross. And they impressed a stranger who was coming from the country into the city, a man by the name of Simon of Cyrene, to bear the cross in His stead [Matthew 27:32].
Where was that Simon Peter, the one who said, “The whole world may deny You but I will not deny You” [Matthew 26:31-35] and “These other disciples may forsake You, but not I” [Mark 14:29-31]. Where was he? This Simon from North Africa, from Cyrene in North Africa, they impressed to carry the cross in the stead of our Lord [Matthew 27:32].
And did you know, from the fifteenth chapter of Mark [Mark 15] and from the sixteenth chapter of the Book of Romans [Romans 16], he being brought near to the Lord Jesus, and following the Lord Jesus, and bearing the cross of the Lord Jesus—became with his family beautiful Christians, followers of Christ? Mark names his sons, Rufus and Alexander [Mark 15:21]. And Paul speaks of their mother, the wife of Simon [Romans 16:13]. Isn’t that an unusual thing, how sorrow and cross-bearing so many times brings us close to God? If you carry a cross, if you know a burden of sorrow, you have great company. You’re in the company of the Lord Jesus. You’re in the company of Simon of Cyrene.
I remember one time a businessman, a successful businessman, giving his life and strength to business, money, affluence and success; suddenly stricken down, cut down. Any one of us can be any time like that, cut down. He called for me, there stricken and invalid, saying, “I’ve made the greatest mistake of my life. I’ve given the strength of my days to money and to success. And I’ve left God out of my life. Pastor,” he says, “pray for me.”
I prayed, knelt down by his side, asked God to forgive, to come into his heart. He responded beautifully and added, “And I want to be baptized. I want to be, I want to go down in the front of that congregation of yours and confess my faith. I’ve found the Lord.” Well, how do you baptize a man who is invalid? He insisted. So I called my deacons together, and I said, “We’ll carry him to the house of God. And you help me. We’ll baptize him in the name of the triune God.” Sometimes the greatest blessings that could ever come to your life are those when you bear a cross and when you’re bowed under the weight of sorrow and disappointment.
A third thing: on the way to the cross, the women, the women followed Him weeping. Sweet people, let me tell you what I have found this week. Why in the world I never saw it before in the sixty-two years I’ve been a pastor, I do not know. In the evangelists’ story of our Savior—all four of them—there is not a woman, not one, who denounces or denies or mocks or derides the Lord Jesus. Not one. Not one. The men, they curse Him. They damn Him. They mock Him [Mark 15:17]. Finally, they crucify Him! [Luke 23:26-47]. In the Bible, there’s not a woman, not one—what they did, they cried. They wept as they followed the procession to Calvary. And as they were weeping, the Lord said to them, “Do not weep for Me. You weep for yourself and for your children” [Luke 23:27-28].
Remarkable how God was sensitive to women. He had blessed them. He had asked God’s remembrance of their children. He had healed them. And in that moment of sorrow He said, “You weep for yourselves. For the day is coming when it will be said, Blessed are they that are barren, will never give birth, and blessed are they that have never nursed a child from the breast’” [Luke 23:28-29]; a prophecy of the coming destruction of the nation that came to pass beginning at 66 AD, climaxed in 70 under Titus; and those that were not slain were sold into slavery. “You weep for yourselves” [Luke 23:28]; the tenderheartedness of our Lord!
And finally they came to Calvary [Matthew 27:33; Luke 23:33], and here may I also speak of three things? Number one: He was crucified outside the city, not inside; outside [John 19:20; Hebrews 13:12]. The sin offering was burned, consumed outside the city. There was no sin offering in the sacred precincts, in the tabernacle, in the temple. On the altar, only a sweet savor offering was ever offered unto God [Leviticus 4:8-10]. But the sin offering was taken outside of the camp—outside of the city—and burned before God [Exodus 29:14; Leviticus 4:12].
As I studied that this week, I was surprised at the number of times in the Bible that sin offering is meticulously described. It’s described in Exodus 29. It’s described again meticulously in Leviticus 4, in Leviticus 8, and Leviticus 16. It’s described again, as though it were not enough, in Numbers 19. Outside the city, and Jesus, our sin offering, was crucified outside the city—not within the enclosure of the walls, and not in the enclosure of a race, or a nation. He was offered outside the city for the whole world, all mankind [John 19:20; Hebrews 13:12].
A second thing: from high noon, twelve, until three in the afternoon, there was darkness over the face of the earth [Matthew 27:45-46]. Men looked upon the agony of our Lord, but nature refused to behold it. Men undressed Him and made Him naked [Matthew 27:35], and gambled for His garments at the foot of the tree [Matthew 27:35; John 19:23-24]. An unseen hand draped our Lord with darkness, to hide His naked body [Mark 15:33]. Darkness shrouded the agony and suffering of our Savior [Matthew 27:45].
The earth says, “I cannot describe it. I didn’t see it.”
Darkness covered the cross of our Lord. God turned His face away and heaven says, “I did not see it.”
And as you know, the disciples all forsook Him, and fled [Matthew 26:56]. “We never saw it, the untold sufferings of our Savior.”
And when He died, He died in a way that you’d never think for. The high priest and the Pharisees and the scribes came, saying, “At the setting of the sun, in a few hours, the Holy Sabbath and if these criminals are there, they will pollute us” [John 19:31]. What a strange thing! They had just been guilty of the greatest crime in sacred story, and yet they are trembling before a ceremonial defilement of the Sabbath. In keeping with their request, Pilate sent the soldiers with wooden mallets to beat them, to crush their bones, to dispatch them immediately.
But when they came to the Lord Jesus, He was so manifestly already dead that they didn’t beat His bones. They didn’t crush His body. But one of the soldiers took a spear and thrust it into His heart. And when he drew it out, the iron was followed by blood and by water [John 19:31-34]. That is, Jesus died of a broken heart, a ruptured heart. And the blood caught in the pericardium, the sac in which the heart beats, separated—the blood coagulating, the lipid serum separating.
And John expatiates on what he saw: “He that saw it bare record, and his record is true.” And he writes that you may believe [John 19:35]; blood and water, blood of atonement for our sins [Leviticus 17:11] and water for the cleansing of our souls [Titus 3:5].
Let the water and the blood,
From Thy wounded side which flowed,
Be of sin a double cure,
Save from wrath and make me pure.
[“Rock of Ages”, Augustus Toplady]
And a last, a threefold response: one, the criminals on either side [Luke 23:32]. It’s remarkable what a difference the cross can make in human life. Those malefactors looked just the same, formally balanced, Jesus in the center and a thief on either side. They looked exactly alike. But one of them cursed the Lord. “It is ridiculously insane to think that You who cannot save Yourself could save us and others” [Luke 23:39]. He was without conviction of sin, therefore felt no need of a Savior. Had he been liberated, he would have gone back to his old life and done the same transgressions again.
Did you read in the paper this week? There was a man haled before the court for incest, violating his own sixteen-year-old daughter in the home. He was out on bond, waiting trial. And while he was out on bond he violated that girl once again. Incest! His own sixteen-year-old daughter! That’s this man. Had he been liberated, he would have done the same thing again.
The other man, “Lord, we suffer justly. We deserve to die for our transgressions. But Master, when You come into Your kingdom, Lord, would You call my name? Would You remember me? Would You recognize me? Would You open the door for me?” And the Lord replied: “Semeron,” this day! This day! This day you will be with Me in Paradise” [Luke 23:40-43].
I was asked yesterday, “Will we know one another in heaven?” I replied, “When the Lord entered glory arm in arm with that thief, do you suppose they knew each other?” My friend, we won’t really know each other until we get to heaven.
And last. A twofold reply: in the sixth chapter of the Book of Hebrews, it says that we who refuse the grace of our Lord crucify unto ourselves the Son of God afresh, putting Him to an open shame [Hebrews 6:6]. The man who refuses the love and pardon and atonement of our Lord is guilty of crucifying Him afresh, and will stand at the judgment bar someday of Almighty God [1 Peter 4:5]. You are guilty of the death of our Lord, God’s Son.
“O Christ, I cannot understand Your abounding love, the throngs that blaspheme You, and the thieves that curse You, and the soldiers that gamble for Your garments, yet in love You die for them all” [John 3:16; 1 John 2:2]. But oh, my friend, how tragic to be guilty of the crucifixion of our Savior!
And the other side: “He bowed His head and said, It is finished, and gave up His spirit to God” [John 19:30]. There are no loose ends at the cross. This is God’s final period and exclamation point to all of the prophecies and all the purposes of God through the ages. From the beginning to the end, this is God’s atonement for our sins, how God died for me [1 Corinthians 15:3; Galatians 2:20].
No one could ever say it better than the apostle Paul who, in 2 Corinthians  and  pled the grace of Jesus in these words, “For God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed to us this gospel of reconciliation” [2 Corinthians 5:19].
We therefore, as ambassadors and servants of Christ, beseech you that you receive not the grace of God in vain.
For we have heard Him say: In the day of salvation have I succored thee; and in a time accepted have I received thee: behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.
[2 Corinthians 6:1, 2]
Now. Now. Glorious now. Down one of these stairways . . .
GOD DIE FOR ME?
A. The eternal purpose
of God to redeem us (Revelation 13:8)
volunteered before creation (Hebrews 10:7)
2. Scriptures all
lead toward the Day of Atonement
of God from the beginning that death is the penalty of sin (Ezekiel 18:20, Genesis 2:17)
One could make atonement – but how?
God is so great; His immensity fills creation
He can suffer (Genesis 6:6)
He poured Himself out (Philippians 2:6-8)
II. The Via Dolorosa
A. Removed the purple
robe, placed back on Him His clothes (Mark
of Cyrene compelled to bear His cross (Matthew
27:32, Mark 15:21, Luke 24:26, Romans 16:13)
women followed Him, weeping (Luke 23:27-28)
outside the city (Exodus 29:11-14, Leviticus
4:1-11, 8:14-19, 16:2-7, Numbers 19:5)
from noon to three o’clock
Died of a broken heart (John 19:31-35)
IV. The response
A. The criminals (Luke 23:39-43)
who refuse His grace crucify Christ afresh (Hebrews