THE SHADOW OF THE CROSS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1-8-89 8:15 a.m.
Let us pray God will bless dynamically the message that is brought from our Holy Bible, from the heart of our Savior. Once again we welcome the throngs of you who share this hour on radio. You are now a part of our wonderful First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing a message as full of the grace and love of God as it would be possible to frame, speaking of The Shadow of the Cross.
In our preaching through the Fourth Gospel, the Gospel of John, we have finished our exposition of the high priestly prayer in John 17 [John 17:1-26]. And we have now come to the last days of His earthly ministry—the time appointed for His sufferings, the expiation for our sins, the atonement for our souls.
And in this eighteenth chapter of the Gospel of John, when they come to arrest our Lord [John 18:1-9], Simon Peter takes a sword, and in seeking to defend our Lord cuts off the ear of Malchus, the high priest’s servant [John 18:10]. Now verse 11, “Then said Jesus unto Peter, Put up thy sword into the sheath: the cup which My Father hath given Me, shall I not drink it?” [John 18:11].
There is a very famous painting, and I know many of you have seen it. It is a depiction of our Lord; oh, He looks to be eighteen or nineteen years of age. He is standing in a carpenter shop, evidently in Nazareth, where He was brought up with His father in the carpenter business [Matthew 13:55]. And the young Man stands there in that carpenter shop with a beam of wood in His arms. And from the way that He stands, back of Him, against the wall of the shop, there is the shadow of a cross—so full of meaning in the depiction of the entire ministry of our Savior, both in heaven and in earth; He lived and worked and ministered under the shadow of that cross.
In heaven: Revelation 13 says, “He is the Lamb of God, slain from the foundation of the earth” [Revelation 13:8]. In heaven, before the earth was created, He lived in the shadow of that cross. The tenth chapter of the Book of Hebrews speaks of that:
Wherefore when He cometh into the world, He saith, Sacrifice and offering Thou wouldst not, but a body hast Thou prepared for Me:
Then said I, Lo, I come (in the roll of the book it is written of Me) to do Thy will, O God.
[Hebrews 10:5, 7]
In heaven He voluntarily laid down His life for us and came into this world to do the Father’s will, to pay the penalty for our sins [Hebrews 10:5-14].
When the Book opens, it opens like that. He is the antitype of all the sacrifices that were ever offered unto God. They all prefigured out Savior; the lamb that was offered by Abel [Genesis 4:4], the ram caught in a thicket, offered instead of Abraham’s son, Isaac [Genesis 22:9-13]. In the Mosaic legislation, those offerings and sacrifices all prefigured Him [Colossians 2:17]. And He is the great subject of prophecy. “He was wounded for our transgressions,” says Isaiah, “He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon Him; and with His stripes we are healed” [Isaiah 53:5]. The subject of prophecy is the suffering, the atoning grace of our Lord.
And when the Book opens in the New Covenant, the New Testament, in the first chapter of Matthew, before He is born, an angel messenger from heaven says, “You are to call His name Iesous, Jesus, Savior: for He shall save His people from their sins” [Matthew 1:20-21]. “And without the shedding of blood, there is no remission of sins” [Hebrews 9:22].
In the second chapter of Luke, Simeon, in the temple, picks up the Babe and holding it in his arms says, “This Child is a sign from God that shall be spoken against” [Luke 2:34]. Then turning to Mary the mother he says, “Yea, and a sword shall pierce through thine own soul also” [Luke 2:35]. I’ve often wondered, Mary pondered those things in her heart [Luke 2:51], “What did he mean? A sword shall pierce through my soul?” [Luke 2:35]. And when she stood by the cross and saw her Son nailed to the tree [John 19:25-26], she understood; living in the shadow of the cross.
When John the Baptist introduced Him to the world, it was in that word, “Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the world” [John 1:29]. In His first public ministry in Jerusalem, there came to see Him a Pharisee, a Sanhedrist, by the name of Nicodemus. And in speaking to him by night [John 3:1-2], Jesus said, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness [Numbers 21:8-9], even so must the Son of Man be lifted up” [John 3:14]; the shadow of the cross.
As He continued His ministry in Galilee, again and again and again did He speak of His coming death and crucifixion in Jerusalem. When He was transfigured, as glorious as that marvelous experience must have been, there appeared to Him Moses and Elijah, the Law and the Prophets, speaking to Him about what? About His death, which He should accomplish in Jerusalem [Luke 9:30-31]; the shadow of the cross.
In His last public ministry in Jerusalem, there came to Him Greeks seeking, saying, “Sir, we would see Jesus” [John 12:21]. And when Jesus was made aware of their journey, He said, “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto Me” [John 12:32]; the shadow of the cross.
When Mary of Bethany anointed Him, breaking the alabaster box of ointment, of spikenard, very precious, the young woman was criticized and assailed [Mark 14:3-5], but Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She hath anointed Me for My burial” [Mark 14:6, 8]; the shadow of the cross.
And when in the upper room, He sat for the last time in His earthly flesh with His apostles, He took bread and brake it and said, “This is My body given for you” [Matthew 26:26; Luke 22:19]. And He took the cup and blessed it and said, “This crushed crimson fruit of the vine is My blood, shed for the remission of sins” [Matthew 26:28]; the shadow of the cross.
And finally the day arrived, and in Gethsemane they arrested Him. And that occasioned this text in the eighteenth chapter of the Gospel of John: Simon Peter drew out his sword to defend Him and Jesus said, “Put it back. Put it back [John 18:10-11]. If I ask, My Father would send Me twelve legions of angels to defend Me” [Matthew 26:52-53]. Twelve legions; there’s six thousand soldiers in a legion. Twelve legions is seventy-two thousand angelic warriors; seventy-two thousand. My sweet people, just one angel, just one passed over the army of Sennacherib the Assyrian, and there were one hundred eighty-five thousand dead corpses counted [Isaiah 37:36]; one angel. “Seventy-two thousand would My Father send Me” [Matthew 26:53]. But thus must it be; the shadow of the cross.
And they laid upon Him that beam of wood, “And He bearing His cross went forth to a place called Golgotha” [John 19:17].
And 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.
[from “When Jesus Came to Our Town,” by G. A. Studdert-Kennedy]
The shadow of the cross; all of His ministry in earth and in heaven He lived beneath the shadow of that cross. And the shadow of the cross has fallen across this entire earth and through all of the centuries of time. This earth can never be the same again because Jesus died in it and suffered for it [Matthew 27:26-52; John 19:16-34]. He is the center of time, and He is in the heart of history.
Time is divided by Him. This side: it is BC, “before Christ.” This side: it is anno Domini; “after Christ,” “in the year of our Lord.” He is in the center of time, and He is at the very heart of this world.
One of the strangest providences of human history is this: all the nations west of the cross of our Lord read from left to right, from left to right, from left to right. And all of the nations east of the cross of Christ read from right to left, right to left. All of these, to the cross, left to right. All of these, to the cross, from right to left. He is the center of time and of history.
And beneath the shadow of that cross, the apostles and the martyrs and the witnesses have taken their stand to preach Jesus. In the passage that we read together, Galatians 6:14, “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.”
In the New Testament they have left behind every syllable and every word is inspired by His sufferings and stained by His blood. The shadow of the cross; it is a sign, a sacred symbol of the love and grace and compassionate care of God for the human race. There are no frontiers; the arms of the cross are outstretched. As far as the east goes east and as far as the west goes west, so do the arms of the cross embrace all of lost humanity. It extends even beyond and across every battlefield:
If in Flanders field the poppies grow,
It’ll be between the crosses, row on row.
[from “In Flanders Fields,” Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae]
Soon after the Second World War, in France, I came across a cemetery for the Royal Air Force; those men, those pilots from England, who had been shot down over France. And some compassionate arm of the government had gathered those fallen men, their slain bodies, and had buried them in that enclave, unkempt, the country destroyed, the people in poverty. And as I walked around, there was a cross, and a writing on it, and some wilted flowers. And I walked over and looked and stooped down to read. And there was a wife and mother who had taken a piece of paper, written it and fastened it to that cross. And it said, “Your wife and boys will never forget,” a cross, a cross. And in love and mercy and compassion, that cross falls upon every poor family, and every destitute heart, and every broken spirit in this earth; the sign, the sacred symbol of God’s love and grace. And in the shadow of that cross, all human and man-made distinctions disappear. There are no rich and no poor. There are no males and females. There are no Gentiles and Jews. There are no bond or free. In the presence of God, and under the shadow of that cross, we are all alike.
I’m going to read a passage of Scripture, and I want you to notice when I come to the middle wall of partition. The passage will be from Ephesians chapter 2, beginning at verse 11; Ephesians 2, beginning at verse 11:
Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh . . .
That, that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world:
But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ.
For He is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us;
Having abolished in His flesh the enmity . . .
That He might reconcile us unto God in one body by the cross.
What does he mean? “He broke down the middle wall of partition” [Ephesians 2:14]. It is most evident. Had you sought the face of God when Paul wrote that, the first thing you would have come to was a high stone wall, a wall. Then had you gone through that wall into the Court of the Gentiles, the next thing you would have faced was a high stone wall separating the Gentiles from the Jews. Then had you been able to go through that wall, the next wall you would have seen separated the Israelis from the women, the Court of the Women. Then you would run into another wall, the wall that separated the priests from the people. Then had you been able to enter that wall, you would have come into the solid stone wall of the building itself, a wall of separation, another wall of separation and another and another. But in Christ Jesus, all of those walls are broken down; all of them. There is no wall separating between us and God; not one; the wall of partition, broken down in His cross [Ephesians 2:14].
May I take it one other way? When our Lord was crucified and He cried saying, “It is finished: and He bowed His head, and died” [John 19:30], at that moment the veil in the temple that separated the Holy Place of God, the veil was rent in twain; from bottom to top as though men had rent it? No! From top to bottom as though God had torn it apart [Matthew 27:51]. And the very presence of the Lord God was open to view. Anybody could see. Anybody could walk in. Anybody could approach.
The author of Hebrews writes it in another figure, comparing Mount Sinai to Mount Calvary, Mount Zion. In the twelfth chapter of the Book of Hebrews, beginning at verse 18:
For ye are not come unto the Mount Sinai that if you touched it, it burned with fire, with blackness, and darkness, and tempest,
The sound of a trumpet, the voice of words . . .
So terrible was that sight, if one touched it, he must be stoned or thrust through with a dart.
But ye are come unto Mount Calvary—
unto Mount Zion—
unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels,
To the general assembly and church of the firstborn—
to our sweet congregation here in Dallas—
whose names are written in heaven, to the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect,
And to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel.
[Hebrews 12:18-19, 21-24]
You’re not come to a mount that if you touched it you would die. But we are come to Mount Calvary. Anybody can kneel. Anybody can bow. Anybody can approach. Anybody can give his heart in love and response to the goodness of God and welcome.
I read, according to the custom of the Church of England, the Duke of Wellington, the hero of Waterloo, the great military figure of the British Empire, the Duke of Wellington came forward and knelt to receive the elements of the communion service. And by his side there happened to kneel a ragged man from the street. And the prelate of the church walked over to that ragged man from the gutter and said to him, “Move away. Move away. You’re kneeling by the side of the great Duke of Wellington. Move away.” And the great general overheard what the prelate said and answered, “Sir, leave him alone. Leave him alone. We’re all one in His presence,” and added, “The ground is level at the cross.”
There’s no great; there’s no little. There’s no “Mighty I am,” and no “I barely belong.” We’re all dear in His sight. We’re precious and we’re nigh to God. Just as you are. As two hundred fifty years ago, one of our sainted authors wrote,
Come, ye sinners, poor and needy,
Lost and ruined by the fall;
If you tarry till you’re better,
You will never come at all.
I will arise and go to Jesus.
He will embrace me in His arms;
In the arms of my dear Savior,
O there are ten thousand charms.
[from “Come, Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy,” by Joseph Hart]
Thank God. And that’s the grace of our Lord, and that’s His love extended toward us.
And in keeping with that loving compassionate remembrance of Jesus, we make appeal this morning. A family you, a couple you, a one anybody you, come and welcome. This is God’s day. This is Christ’s precious moment. This is the reason for His coming into the world. This is His love extended to you [John 3:16]. God bless you as you answer with your life [Romans 10:9-10], while we stand and while we sing.