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This is a great day in the life of every Christian – every person. It is Easter – a day we celebrate the greatest triumph ever recorded. It is a day that we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus who is the Christ. For some, the cross is a nicely polished piece of jewelry that is worn around the neck. For others, the cross is what is displayed in the church building.
I think many of us may gloss over the events leading up to this event and why it is the most important event in history. Perhaps it’s too personal; after all it was your sin and my sin that drove God to send Jesus to die for us. Maybe it’s the unfathomable pain He endured, maybe it’s the blood that poured out of His body in order to pay the penalty of sin for you and me. Maybe you don’t really understand the importance of that wondrous cross. I pray this morning you’ll understand it and have a deeper appreciation for our Messiah. Before we get to the cross, we need to look at the early days of Jesus’ public life.
In order to understand the message of the wondrous cross, we need to go back in time. Very little is recorded about the life of Jesus prior to coming on the scene around the year 30. We know that He was born of a virgin and lived in Nazareth. We know He grew and became strong. He increased in wisdom and grace. We know His parents brought Him to Jerusalem every year for Passover and when He was 12, His parents left Jerusalem without Him. After three days, they found Him in the temple where He was listening and asking questions in the middle of the teachers. The people were amazed at His answers. For the next 18 years of Jesus’ life, the Gospels are silent. Jesus comes back into the public eye from relative obscurity when He walked up to John at the Jordan River. The baptism of Christ is recorded in Matt. 3, Mark 1, and Luke 3. Following His baptism, Jesus is tempted by the devil and after John is taken into custody, Jesus leaves Nazareth and settles into Capernaum and begins His public ministry. Matt. 4:17 says, “From that time Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” This is the message that He preached. Of course there are other great doctrines and principles Jesus taught. But the primary theme of Christ is repentance. Luke 5:1-11 tells us the story of Jesus calling Peter, James, and John to follow Him. These men willingly chose to abandon their jobs; they chose to follow a man they did not even know. But this was no ordinary man. This man was the One that John called the Word. This man was the One that when John saw Him coming to the Jordan River, he said, “Behold, the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29)
Over the next three years, Jesus was on a mission throughout Galilee. News about Him spread and large crowds gathered wherever He went. Jesus went on to choose 8 other men that would willingly follow Him. They witnessed firsthand the miracles Jesus performed. They saw people fed, they saw people healed, they saw demons cast out, they saw cripples walk, they saw people’s lives transformed by the Man they loved, by the Man that loved them. What Jesus taught was radical. It was controversial. It upset the religious leaders of the day. Why? The message Jesus brought focused not on what you do to reach God, but what God did to reach you. Fast forward to Mark 14:1 that says, “Now the Passover and Unleavened Bread were two days away; and the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to seize Him by stealth and kill Him.” The religious leaders wanted to secretly seize Jesus and kill Him and so the stage is set for the most incredible event in human history.
First things first. Why did Christ have to come to earth? Too often we put the cart before the horse in our explanation of salvation. We talk about the depravity or sinfulness of man, but the beginning of salvation rests in the righteousness of God. In the introduction of Paul’s letter to the Romans, he wrote that, “The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.” (Rom. 1:18-21) Gentiles failed to understand their inherent knowledge of God. Jews failed to live up to their covenant relationship with God. Rom. 3:19 tells us that all are, “accountable to God.” This teaching was problematic for the religious leaders because it revealed that their way did not effectively deal with the fundamental problem of sin. Rom. 1:17 says, “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “But the righteous man shall live by faith.” Righteousness is not found in maintaining or following a set of rules found in the Law. “The righteousness of God is revealed.” But the religious leaders were lacking in this area of righteousness. So what’s the answer?
The wondrous cross. For the Apostle Paul, the cross is the defining point in theology. It is the point from which everything else is drawn. To put it is simply as I can, the central theological message is summed up with two words Paul wrote in 1 Cor. 1:23: “Christ crucified.” It was at the cross that God accomplished something extraordinary. Something beyond comprehension; something that was and is the defining moment in eternity. The cross is something we have come to know as God’s demonstration of His great love for mankind. Paul refines his purpose by saying, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures.” (1 Cor. 15:3)
Let’s look at one of the greatest passages of the Bible found in Rom. 3:21-24. Martin Luther wrote in the margin of his Bible that this passage of Scripture was, “The chief point, and the very central place of the Epistle, and of the whole Bible.” Why is this passage so incredible? It begins with two great words: “But now.” It introduces the beginning of something new, a new way, a new relationship, a new covenant. “But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets.” It’s apart from the Law, apart from our doing or not doing. This righteousness was witnessed by the Law and the Prophets. This is another way to say the Old Testament. The O.T. points to something God would do in the future that would provide humanity with the solution to this fundamental sin problem. The O.T. points to the new covenant found in Jesus Christ. This is a radical plan. Humanity tends to be legalistic. We have laws in America with people elected to make new laws; we have judges to interpret the law, and courts to declare innocence or guilt. We have law enforcement agencies on the city, county, state, and federal levels. Our society is set up to follow the laws and that’s why this teaching is so radical. For God, it’s not what we do, but rather what He did. No one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by keeping the Law. Paul said, “Apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested.” If man developed a plan to get to God it most certainly would include what we must do. The salvation plan isn’t measured by what we do to attain righteousness. God’s system is different. God doesn’t need or want our help in doing what we could never do. Paul says, “Even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction.” No difference between Jew and Gentile; slave or free, church member or not. Rich or poor; black or white; good or bad. There is no difference because, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” That word “all” is an interesting word. It means the whole quantity or extent and in this context Paul is talking about humanity. Everyone of us has violated God’s moral Law. We’ve lied; we’ve hated; we’ve taken something that didn’t belong to us. We’ve been angry, bitter, jealous, and proud.
God’s standard is perfection and even just one little slip in our actions or thoughts brings us short of what God requires in us. No matter how hard we try, no matter what we do, no matter how religious we try to be, we just don’t measure up. But God made a way to give His righteousness to us through His Son Jesus Christ. “Being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.” That righteousness is offered as a free gift. It cannot be purchased or earned. If it could, it wouldn’t be a gift. This is an inherent problem for some people. It’s hard to accept righteousness as a gift. We want to do something to earn God’s favor. This sounds reasonable, right? After all, we work in order to earn wages. We go to the grocery store and buy food; we don’t expect it for free. We live in a culture where money is the motivator; it is what makes the world go around. Whoever has the most money; has the most power.
God’s system is different than the world’s system. We have been justified. That means we have been declared righteous. You might ask, “But how can this be?” This is the incredible truth of the wondrous cross! God offers this righteousness as a gift because of His great love for you. God offers this gift to you by grace – undeserved favor. It may be free to you, but it wasn’t free to God. The redemption that He offers to us for free cost Him His one and only Son.
How did it happen? Paul describes it back in Rom. 3:25-26. This act of redemption occurred for everyone to see. Jesus Christ was our propitiation. Propitiation means removal of wrath. Some would argue that God’s wrath is old fashioned, that God is a God of love and would never condemn anyone. God’s wrath is spoken of 580 times in the O.T. and nearly 200 times in the N.T. God is absolutely right in His view over sin. What kind of parents would you be if you didn’t care about your children’s wrong doing? What kind of heavenly Father would He be if He ignored our wrong doing – our sin? It is God through Paul that said, “all have sinned.” You see it’s not a matter of guilt – we are all guilty. God declared that we are guilty and the punishment is to be death, because that’s the right thing to do. That’s the complete wonder of the cross. Even though we are guilty, God made a way to restore our relationship with Him and be declared righteous at no cost to us. What God did is much more than a pardon; there’s still the conviction of the crime, but a pardon removes the punishment. What God offers is so much more. We are declared righteous; free from the accusations; free from the guilt, free from the punishment. This occurred on the cross.
So what happened on that day nearly 2000 years ago? It is recorded in Matt. 26:59-66 through Matt. 28:10. Please take the time to read the conclusion to this great story.
It was for you that Jesus died. Paul concludes back in Romans by saying, “Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.” It is faith – trust in what Jesus did. What Jesus did for you.