6. The Glory of God in the Passion of Jesus Christ
A very audible “crack” echoed down the school hallway. Shortly thereafter, I heard one student yell to another, “They got Baldwin!” Actually, it wasn’t “they,” who got Baldwin; it was me. The “crack” was the sound of my paddle, which I had tucked away in my closet except for a few occasions like this one. I was a sixth grade teacher in those days, and I was known for using a paddle when needed. “Baldwin” wasn’t even one of my students. He was a fifth grade student, and perhaps more significantly, he was the son of the school principal. I honestly don’t remember the offense, but it took place on my watch, probably on the playground or around the buses at the close of school.
What made it even more interesting was the conversation I had with the lad’s father, just before corporal punishment was meted out in the hallway. I usually allowed the wayward student to ponder his punishment for a few minutes, before I carried it out. During this period of contemplation, word of this boy’s impending paddling reached his father, my principal. He did not forbid me to carry out the punishment, though it was clear that this was not his way of dealing with such matters. To add further weight to his counsel, he reminded me that the boy had a glass eye. I assured his father that I would be dealing with another part of his anatomy. And so, a few moments later, punishment was meted out. It was then that the students all knew that even the principal’s son was not exempt from the rules or the consequences for violating them. (And, to be honest, I think the boy actually gained status – something like successfully completing an initiation rite.)
This incident in my life reminds me of the passion of our Lord, but with some very significant differences. In my teaching days years ago, it was the father who tried to prevent the suffering of his son; at Calvary, it was the Father who brought suffering upon His Son. It was the Father who punished His innocent, sinless, Son, so that we who are guilty sinners might be saved:
3 He was despised and rejected by people,
one who experienced pain and was acquainted with illness;
people hid their faces from him;
he was despised, and we considered him insignificant.
4 But he lifted up our illnesses, he carried our pain;
even though we thought he was being punished,
attacked by God, and afflicted for something he had done.
5 He was wounded because of our rebellious deeds,
crushed because of our sins;
he endured punishment that made us well;
because of his wounds we have been healed.
6 All of us had wandered off like sheep;
each of us had strayed off on his own path,
but the Lord caused the sin of all of us to attack him.
7 He was treated harshly and afflicted,
but he did not even open his mouth.
Like a lamb led to the slaughtering block,
like a sheep silent before her shearers,
he did not even open his mouth.
8 He was led away after an unjust trial—
but who even cared?
Indeed, he was cut off from the land of the living;
because of the rebellion of his own people he was wounded.
9 They intended to bury him with criminals,
but he ended up in a rich man’s tomb,
because he had committed no violent deeds,
nor had he spoken deceitfully (Isaiah 53:3-9).53
Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him;
he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring;
he shall prolong his days;
the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand (Isaiah 53:10, ESV).
This past week, Mel Gibson’s film, “The Passion of the Christ,” began showing in theaters across the country. Millions will view this dramatic portrayal of the final 12 hours of the life of our Lord Jesus Christ. In a strange and unexpected way (for men), it would seem that the words of this prophecy have come to life:
And again another scripture says, “They will look on the one whom they have pierced” (John 19:37; see Zechariah 12:10).
Having viewed the film, having heard the comments of believers about the cross for many years, and recently having read some of the commentary of fine evangelical scholars on the passion of our Lord, I have a concern. My concern is that there is too little emphasis on the glory of God in reference to the passion of our Lord.
You should know that in the midst of a series on the church, my attention was drawn to what the Bible indicates is the principle mission of the church: to pursue and to promote the glory of God. We have considered the glory of God in a number of contexts, and we shall continue to pursue this theme. But since the movie, “The Passion of the Christ,” came into being, I have been watching for references to the glory of God.
I fear that with so much emphasis on the agony and humiliation of our Lord,54 men may not recognize and appreciate the glory of God in our Lord’s monumental sacrifice. Even evangelical writings which seek to explain the passion of Christ have not emphasized the glory of God in the cross of Christ.
Some have reacted to the Gibson film on the passion of our Lord because they believe it is anti-Semitic, or at least they fear that it may provoke yet another iteration of persecution of the Jews. I agree with John Piper when he writes that we should not focus too much attention on the cause of the passion, but rather we should focus on the purpose of the passion.55
This sermon will attempt to make two main points:
1. The passion of the Lord Jesus Christ is the most dramatic demonstration of man’s sin in all of human history.
2. The passion of the Lord Jesus Christ is the most dramatic demonstration of the glory of God in all of human history.
Let us consider the passion of our Lord, then, and find in it a marvelous manifestation of God’s glory.
The magnitude of man’s sin at the cross of Calvary can only be understood in the light of who it was that men rejected, mocked, and brutally crucified. I have never heard anyone protest the execution of the two men who were crucified beside our Lord. One of the two men even admitted that he deserved his punishment:
39 One of the criminals who was hanging there railed at him, saying, “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Don’t you fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we rightly so, for we are getting what we deserve for what we did, but this man has done nothing wrong” (Luke 23:39-41).
Jesus was without sin. This is a most crucial point. Jesus was the innocent, sinless Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world (see John 1:29):
“Who among you can prove me guilty of any sin? If I am telling you the truth, why don’t you believe me?” (John 8:46)
18 You know that from your empty way of life inherited from your ancestors you were ransomed—not by perishable things like silver or gold, 19 but by precious blood like that of an unblemished and spotless lamb, namely Christ (1 Peter 1:18-19).
21 For to this you were called, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving an example for you to follow in his steps. 22 He committed no sin nor was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was maligned, he did not answer back; when he suffered, he threatened no retaliation, but committed himself to God who judges justly. 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we may cease from sinning and live for righteousness. By his wounds you were healed. 25 For you were going astray like sheep but now you have turned back to the shepherd and guardian of your souls (1 Peter 2:21-25).
God made the one who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that in him we would become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21).
Paul calls attention to the fact that God’s love for unworthy sinners was demonstrated in Christ’s death. His death was virtuous because of His innocence. That is the point Peter is making in 1 Peter 2:21-25 above (see also verses 18-20). And after our Lord’s resurrection, at Pentecost, Peter drives home the point that sinful men revealed the magnitude of their sin by crucifying the sinless Son of God:
22 “Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man clearly attested to you by God with powerful deeds, wonders, and miraculous signs that God performed among you through him, just as you yourselves know— 23 this man, who was handed over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you executed by nailing him to a cross at the hands of Gentiles” (Acts 2:22-23).
Paul’s message would be the same (see Acts 13:16-41).
Jesus was not only without sin; He was God in human flesh. And thus, as God incarnate, our Lord was the manifestation of the glory of God:
1 After God spoke long ago in various portions and in various ways to our ancestors through the prophets, 2 in these last days he has spoken to us in a son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he created the world. 3 The Son is the radiance of his glory and the representation of his essence, and he sustains all things by his powerful word, and so when he had accomplished cleansing for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high (Hebrews 1:1-3, emphasis mine).
Now the Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We saw his glory—the glory of the one and only, full of grace and truth, who came from the Father (John 1:14, emphasis mine).
Thus, when men crucified Jesus Christ, they crucified “the Lord of glory”:
6 Now we do speak wisdom among the mature, but not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are perishing. 7 Instead we speak the wisdom of God, hidden in a mystery, that God determined before the ages for our glory. 8 None of the rulers of this age understood it. If they had known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory (1 Corinthians 2:6-8).
Mankind’s sin is dramatically evident in the rejection of Jesus Christ. I would go so far as to say that it was the passion of our Lord which caused many to reject Him as the promised Messiah. Look at the reaction that word of the cross provokes in Peter:
21 From that time on Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests, and experts in the law, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22 So Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him: “God forbid, Lord! This must not happen to you!” 23 But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me, because you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but on man’s” (Matthew 16:21-23).
When Jesus began to speak of His sacrificial death (even though the implications of His words were not fully grasped), the crowd that had followed Him in Galilee left Him (John 6:35-71). I believe the crowds in Jerusalem turned against Him when His passion appeared to be inevitable. How do we explain the sudden change that took place the final week of our Lord’s life? What happened to the crowds who welcomed Jesus at the triumphal entry?
7 They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. 8 A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road. Others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 The crowds that went ahead of him and those following kept shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” 10 As he entered Jerusalem the whole city was thrown into an uproar, saying, “Who is this?” 11 And the crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth in Galilee” (Matthew 21:7-11).
As I understand the sequence of events, Jesus was popular with the people right up to the time of His arrest and trials. The Jewish religious leaders were already determined to put Jesus to death (John 11:46-53). The common people, however, loved what they heard and saw in Jesus. They were awestruck by the raising of Lazarus from the dead a few days earlier (John 12:17-18). The popularity of Jesus prevented the chief priests and other prominent leaders from openly assassinating Him:
47 Jesus was teaching daily in the temple courts. The chief priests and the experts in the law and the prominent leaders among the people were seeking to assassinate him, 48 but they could not find a way to do it, for all the people hung on his words (Luke 19:47-48).
Then the experts in the law and the chief priests wanted to arrest him that very hour, because they realized he had told this parable against them. But they were afraid of the people (Luke 20:19).
What changed, so that Jesus was publicly crucified, and yet without any strong protest from the crowds? Indeed, why did the crowds suddenly turn against Jesus? What turn of events changed the situation from that of the Jewish leaders being in opposition to the people, to this new alliance between the leaders and the people?
4 Then Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, “I find no basis for an accusation against this man.” 5 But they persisted in saying, “He incites the people by teaching throughout all Judea. It started in Galilee and ended up here!” (Luke 23:4-5, emphasis mine)
13 Then Pilate called together the chief priests, the rulers, and the people, 14 and said to them, “You brought me this man as one who was misleading the people. When I examined him before you, I did not find this man guilty of anything you accused him of doing. 15 Neither did Herod, for he sent him back to us. Look, he has done nothing deserving death. 16 I will therefore have him flogged and release him.” 18 But they all shouted out together, “Take this man away! Release Barabbas for us!” 19 (This was a man who had been thrown into prison for an insurrection started in the city, and for murder.) 20 Pilate addressed them once again because he wanted to release Jesus. 21 But they kept on shouting, “Crucify, crucify him!” 22 A third time he said to them, “Why? What wrong has he done? I have found him guilty of no crime deserving death. I will therefore flog him and release him.” 23 But they were insistent, demanding with loud shouts that he be crucified. And their shouts prevailed. 24 So Pilate decided that their demand should be granted (Luke 23:13-24, emphasis mine).
I can think of only one reason why the people suddenly turned against Jesus, demanding His death and the release of Barabbas. I believe it was for the same reason that Peter denied his Lord. When the people saw Jesus under arrest, seemingly unable or unwilling to resist the authorities (Jewish and Roman), they recognized that He was going to die. It was the passion of Jesus that turned the people against Him. Their taunting words at the foot of the cross seem to indicate that their rejection was related to His failure to resist and to overcome His enemies:
39 Those who passed by defamed him, shaking their heads 40 and saying, “You who can destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are God’s Son, come down from the cross!” 41 In the same way even the chief priests—together with the experts in the law and elders—were mocking him: 42 “He saved others, but he cannot save himself! He is the king of Israel! If he comes down now from the cross, we will believe in him! 43 He trusts in God—let God, if he wants to, deliver him now because he said, ‘I am God’s Son’!” 44 The robbers who were crucified with him also spoke abusively to him (Matthew 27:39-44).
That was a terrible day for mankind. Man’s sin never looked worse than it did at the passion of our Lord. Men rejected the Son of God, the One who was God incarnate, the perfect representation of the glory of God. And they chose in His place the worst of the worse – Barabbas. The passion of our Lord reveals what we would have done if we had been there on that passion day. Listen to these powerful words from the pen of A.W. Tozer:
Who Put Jesus on the Cross?56
There is a strange conspiracy of silence in the world today – even in religious circles – about man’s responsibility for sin, the reality of judgment and about an outraged God and the necessity for a crucified Savior.
On the other hand, there is an open and powerful movement swirling throughout the world designed to give people peace of mind in relieving them of any historical responsibility for the trial and crucifixion of Jesus Christ. The problem with modern decrees and pronouncements in the name of brotherhood and tolerance is their basic misconception of Christian theology.
A great shadow lies upon every man and every woman – the fact that our Lord was bruised and wounded and crucified for the entire human race. This is the basic human responsibility that men are trying to push off and evade.
Let us not eloquently blame Judas nor Pilate. Let us not curl our lips at Judas and accuse, “He sold Him for money!”
Let us pity Pilate, the weak-willed, because he did not have courage enough to stand for the innocence of the man whom he declared had done no wrong.
Let us not curse the Jews for delivering Jesus to be crucified. Let us not single out the Romans in blaming them for putting Jesus on the cross.
Oh, they were guilty, certainly! But they were our accomplices in crime. They and we put Him on the cross, not they alone. That rising malice and anger that burns so hotly in your being today put Him there. That basic dishonesty that comes to light in your being when you knowingly cheat and chisel on your income tax return – that put Him on the cross. The evil, the hatred, the suspicion, the jealousy, the lying tongue, the carnality, the fleshly love of pleasure – all of these in natural man joined in putting Him on the cross.
We Put Him There.
We may as well admit it. Every one of us in Adam’s race had a share in putting Him on the cross!
I have often wondered how any professing Christian man or woman could approach the communion table and participate in the memorial of our Lord’s death without feeling and sensing the pain and the shame of the inward confession: “I, too, am among those who helped put Him on the cross!”
The passion of our Lord – His suffering and death on the cross of Calvary – is the measure of man’s sin. And remember this: at the very time when our sin was never more apparent to God, our Lord chose to remain on that cross, to provide an atonement (payment of the penalty) for our sins. That leads to my second point: The Passion of Jesus Christ is the Fullest Measure of God’s Glory.
I would contend that our Lord actively pursued the cross because of His passionate desire and commitment to glorify the Father. This is a particularly prominent theme in the Gospel of John. Over and over again, Jesus made it clear that His purpose was to do the will of the Father:
Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of the one who sent me and to complete his work” (John 4:34).
“I can do nothing on my own initiative. Just as I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I do not seek my own will, but the will of the one who sent me” (John 5:30).
38 “For I have come down from heaven not to do my own will but the will of the one who sent me. 39 Now this is the will of the one who sent me—that I should not lose one person of every one he has given me, but raise them all up at the last day. 40 For this is the will of my Father—for everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him to have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:38-40).
Jesus is specific about what He has purposed to do; He has purposed to undergo the passion. He exercises His will to accomplish the Father’s will:
17 This is why the Father loves me—because I lay down my life, so that I may take it back again. 18 No one takes it away from me, but I lay it down of my own free will. I have the authority to lay it down, and I have the authority to take it back again. This commandment I received from my Father” (John 10:17-18).
Jesus purposes to suffer and die on the cross of Calvary in order to glorify the Father’s name:
27 “Now my soul is greatly distressed. And what should I say? ‘Father, deliver me from this hour’? No, but for this very reason I have come to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again” (John 12:27-28).
31 When Judas had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man is glorified, and God is glorified in him. 32 If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and he will glorify him right away (John 13:31-32).
Now when the days drew near for him to be taken up, Jesus set out resolutely to go to Jerusalem (Luke 9:51).
It is important to underscore the fact that when Jesus “set His face toward Jerusalem” (to use the words of the King James Version); He did so knowing exactly what He would undergo in His passion. Jesus not only knew that He was to die in Jerusalem; He knew how He was to die:
14 Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up (John 3:14).
32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33 (Now he said this to indicate clearly what kind of death he was going to die.) (John 12:32-33)
18 “Look, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the experts in the law. They will condemn him to death, 19 and will turn him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged severely and crucified. Yet on the third day, he will be raised” (Matthew 20:18-19).
The agony of our Lord in the Garden of Gethsemane reveals the degree to which our Lord understood the suffering that lay ahead at the cross:
36 Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to the disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” 37 He took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and became anguished and distressed. 38 Then he said to them, “My soul is deeply grieved, even to the point of death. Remain here and stay awake with me.” 39 Going a little farther, he threw himself down with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if possible, let this cup pass from me! Yet not what I will, but what you will” (Matthew 26:36-39).
It occurred to me in the course of my study that although the Gospels do not sensationalize or even emphasize the degree to which our Lord suffered in His passion, the Old Testament prophecies are much more graphic. Why would the Old Testament prophecies pertaining to our Lord’s passion be more graphic than the New Testament accounts of His death?
I think there are several possible answers. I would contend that these Scriptures would make it very clear to our Lord what lay ahead for Him at Calvary. I know that our Lord was omniscient, but we also read,
And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and with people (Luke 2:52).
When Jesus responded to Satan’s temptations in the wilderness, each time He responded with Scripture. I would contend that while the apostles (and even the prophets who wrote the Old Testament Scriptures – see 1 Peter 1:10-12) did not understand what many of these prophecies meant before our Lord’s passion, our Lord did understand them. He fully grasped the agony that lay ahead for Him in His passion:
7 All who see me taunt me;
they mock me and shake their heads.
8 They say, “Commit yourself to the Lord!
Let the Lord rescue him!
Let the Lord deliver him, for he delights in him.” …
12 Many bulls surround me;
powerful bulls of Bashan hem me in.
13 They get ready to devour me
like a roaring lion that rips its prey.
14 My strength drains away like water;
all my bones are dislocated;
my courage is like wax;
it melts away inside me.
15 The roof of my mouth is as dry as a piece of pottery;
my tongue sticks to my gums.
You are making me descend into the grave.
16 Yes, wild dogs surround me—
a gang of evil men crowd around me;
like a lion they pin my hands and feet to the ground.
17 I can count all my bones;
my enemies are gloating over me in triumph.
18 They are dividing up my clothes among themselves;
they are rolling dice for my garments (Psalm 22:7-8, 12-18; see also 69:20-21).
14 Just as many were horrified by the sight of you—
he was so disfigured he no longer looked like a man;
15 his form was so marred he no longer looked human—
so now he will startle many nations.
Kings will be shocked by his exaltation,
for they will witness something unannounced to them,
and they will understand something they had not heard about (Isaiah 52:14-15).
The second purpose I see in these graphic Old Testament prophecies is striking evidence that everything that took place in our Lord’s passion was the predetermined will of God:
22 “Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man clearly attested to you by God with powerful deeds, wonders, and miraculous signs that God performed among you through him, just as you yourselves know— 23 this man, who was handed over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you executed by nailing him to a cross at the hands of Gentiles. 24 But God raised him up, having released him from the pains of death, because it was not possible for him to be held in its power” (Acts 2:22-24).
Peter’s sermon at Pentecost (as recorded in Acts 2) is buttressed with many Old Testament texts to demonstrate that what happened at Calvary was the predetermined will of God.
I am constantly impressed as I read the Gospels that Jesus was in charge of His death. It was not something that came upon Him unexpectedly, but rather something He pursued – to the glory of God. While the Jews sought to kill Him by pushing Him over a cliff (Luke 4:29) and by stoning Him (John 8:59; 10:31, etc.), Jesus spoke of His crucifixion (see texts above) and brought that about so as to fulfill all the prophecies pertaining to His death:
After this Jesus, realizing that by this time everything was completed, said (in order to fulfill the scripture), “I am thirsty!” (John 19:28)
Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled” (Luke 24:44).
Think of it. The Jews wanted to stone Jesus; Jesus prophesied and fulfilled His death by crucifixion. The Jews insisted that Jesus not be crucified during Passover (Matthew 26:5); Jesus brought about His death during Passover, because He was the Passover Lamb (John 1:29; 1 Corinthians 5:7). I believe the Jews loathed the Romans and wanted them to have nothing to do with the execution of our Lord. But our Lord’s death was at the hands of Jews and Gentiles, thus implicating all in this incredible sin.
I have claimed that the passion of our Lord was the greatest demonstration of the glory of God in all of human history. I have shown some verses from the New Testament which support this. But the greatest proof is yet to come! It begins in that marvelous passage in the Book of Exodus, which records Israel’s worship of the golden calf, and in God’s dealings with Moses and His people.
I wish to demonstrate the progression of divine revelation from Exodus chapter 20 to chapter 34. Let me begin with this text in chapter 20, where God is giving Moses the Ten Commandments:
4 You shall not make for yourself a carved image or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on earth under it, or that is in the water below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I, the Lord, your God, am a jealous God, who visits the iniquity of fathers on children, even to the third and fourth generations to those who hate me, 6 but who extends love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments (Exodus 20:4-6).
This text sets the standard for God’s blessings or judgment, based upon the Mosaic Covenant. The blessings and cursings are spelled out in much greater detail in Deuteronomy chapters 28-31. Here, suffice it to say that God promises to bless those who love Him and keep His commandments (verse 6). Conversely, God visits the iniquity on the generations of those who hate Him (verse 5). I think one can safely infer from the context that those who worship idols “hate God” and are worthy of condemnation. Now, to our next text:
31 So Moses returned to the Lord, and he said, “Alas, this people has committed a very serious sin, and they have made for themselves gods of gold. 32 But now, if you will forgive their sin…, but if not, blot me out from your book that you have written.” 33 And the Lord said to Moses, “Whoever has sinned against me—that person I will blot out of my book. 34 So now go, lead the people to the place I have spoken to you about. See, my angel will go before you. But on the day that I visit, then I will visit their sin on them.” 35 And the Lord plagued the people because they had made the calf—the one Aaron made (Exodus 32:31-35).
The people have just bowed down in their worship of the golden calf Aaron made. God has threatened to wipe out the entire nation and to make a new nation of Moses (Exodus 32:9-10). Moses interceded with God for the people, not on the basis of Israel’s goodness, but on the basis of God’s glory. He made a covenant with His people, and He must keep it to be true to His nature, and to bring glory to Himself by fulfilling His promises (32:11-14).
Still, the sin of the people must be dealt with. The standard declared in Exodus 20:4-6 must be upheld. Moses appealed to God to forgive the sins of His people. If God could not do that, then Moses seems to have offered himself as an atonement for the sins of his people (32:32).57 God refuses Moses’ offer, but promises to send His angel to lead the nation into the land. He then went on to send a plague on the people, punishing (I suppose) those most actively involved in the heathen idol worship of the golden calf.
18 And he said, “Show me your glory.” 19 And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before your face, and I will proclaim the Lord by name before you; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will show mercy to whom I will show mercy” (Exodus 33:18-19).58
While the people diminished the glory of God by their worship of the idol, Moses sought to know more of God’s glory. That was his passion, his comfort, and his strength. God promises to make His goodness to pass before Moses, but I am most interested here to note the aspect of God’s nature which reflects His glory – His sovereignty. He will be gracious to whom He will be gracious; He will show mercy to whom He will show mercy.
I believe this is in response to Moses’ petition in Exodus 32:31-35. God’s glory is seen in His sovereignty.59 Moses could intercede for the nation Israel, but there was nothing he could do to predispose the outcome of that petition. More specifically, offering himself as a kind of sacrifice could not predispose the outcome. To be sovereign means to be absolutely free from outside influence as to one’s actions. We cannot manipulate God. Idolatry seeks to reduce God to the point where we have a “god” whom we can manipulate. If Israel survives and possesses the Promised Land, it will be solely due to the glory of God. It will be solely due to His sovereign will, and to His faithfulness to His covenant. Israel’s “salvation” will not be the result of man’s works, not even those of Moses.
And so we come to this final declaration of God’s glory in Exodus 34:
6 And the Lord passed by before him and proclaimed: “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, and abounding in loyal love and faithfulness, 7 keeping loyal love for thousands, forgiving iniquity, and transgression and sin. But he by no means leaves the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and on the children’s children, to the third and fourth generation” (Exodus 34:6-7).
God’s glory is reflected in the visual splendor that Moses saw on that mountain, but I believe that God’s glory is most evident in who God is, and in what God does. That is the emphasis of Exodus 34:6-7. God has said that His glory is evident in the salvation of sinners, as He forgives their sins. God has also said that His glory is evident in His punishment of sinners. I think our tendency is to try to separate these two truths, rather than to see them as joined. I have tended to think that God chooses to forgive the sins of some men, while He chooses to punish the sins of others. It is true that God chooses to save some and to reject others (see Romans 9:6-24).
Beyond this, I believe that Exodus 34:6-7 informs us that God’s glory is evident when He forgives sinners and at the same time executes punishment for their sins. How this could happen is, I believe, a mystery at this point in time. How could God possibly forgive sinners and punish their sins at the same time? The solution is our Lord Jesus Christ and His saving work at Calvary. Listen to these words from the pen of the Apostle Paul:
19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For no one is declared righteous before him by the works of the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin. 21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God (which is attested by the law and the prophets) has been disclosed— 22 namely, the righteousness of God through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. 24 But they are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. 25 God publicly displayed him at his death as the mercy seat accessible through faith. This was to demonstrate his righteousness, because God in his forbearance had passed over the sins previously committed. 26 This was also to demonstrate his righteousness in the present time, so that he would be just and the justifier of the one who lives because of Jesus’ faithfulness (Romans 3:19-26, emphasis mine).
It was at the cross of Calvary that the statement of Exodus 34:6-7 was fully and finally carried out. It was at the cross of Calvary that God poured out His righteous wrath on sinners:
God made the one who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that in him we would become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21).
In Christ, lost sinners can be saved because He has borne the punishment for their sins. In this way, Paul writes, God can be just, because He does not overlook sin. Sin is punished. The demands of justice are met. The wrath of God toward the sinner is satisfied. And as a result, guilty sinners are saved. Do you not find yourself wanting to skip ahead to Paul’s words in Romans 11?
33 Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how fathomless his ways! 11:34 For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor? 11:35 Or who has first given to God, that God needs to repay him? 36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever! Amen (Romans 11:33-36).
When Moses asked God to see His glory, God responded by declaring that He would save guilty sinners, while at the same time He would exact punishment for their sins. God’s glory is most evident when unworthy sinners are saved, and at the same time their punishment is meted out. That has only happened at the cross of Christ. It is our Lord’s passion that God’s glory is seen in its fullness.
In Exodus 33, Moses asked to see God’s glory. In Exodus 34, Moses saw God’s glory, in part, as he looked on the “backside” of God:
19 And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before your face, and I will proclaim the Lord by name before you; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will show mercy to whom I will show mercy.” 20 And he said, “You cannot see my face, for no one can see me and live.” 21 And the Lord said, “Here is a place by me; you will station yourself on a rock. 22 And when my glory passes by, then I will put you in a cleft in the rock and will cover you with my hand while I pass by. 23 Then I will take away my hand, and you will see my back, but my face must not be seen” (Exodus 33:19-23, emphasis mine).
In the New Testament, Paul declares that in Christ (in His passion) the full glory of God has been demonstrated, and that in Christ we now see the glory of God “in the face of Christ”:
5 For we do not proclaim ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said “Let light shine out of darkness,” is the one who shined in our hearts to give us the light of the glorious knowledge of God in the face of Christ (2 Corinthians 4:5-6, emphasis mine).
The passion of our Lord Jesus Christ is the fullest manifestation of the glory of God in all of human history! The passion is not a tragedy; it is a triumph. The passion of our Lord is the ultimate manifestation of man’s sin, as seen in his wrath toward God. But the passion of our Lord is also the manifestation of God’s glory because it is on the cross that God accomplished the salvation of sinners and satisfied His righteous anger toward sin, at the same time.
Is there anyone who cannot embrace this as the truth? Do you find the passion of our Lord somewhat less than glorious? Then let me ask you this question? Does God do anything that is contrary to His glory? In 1 Corinthians, Paul writes:
So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).
The standard for our conduct is that we should do everything to the glory of God. Would God do any less? If we acknowledge that it was God who put Jesus on the cross (not to exclude the guilt and participation of men – see Acts 2:22-24), then surely He acted in a way that accomplished His glory. The work of Christ in His passion is the greatest work of all time, and thus, I contend it is the greatest manifestation of God’s glory. Let us now seek to explore the implications of this glorious truth.
(1) The passion of Jesus Christ is, at one and the same time, the greatest manifestation of man’s sin and the most dramatic demonstration of the glory of God. I would suggest to you that these two truths are interrelated. The thought occurred to me that when our Lord hung on that cross, suffering the wrath of God, He did so at the very same time He suffered abuse at the hands of men. We must be careful here to distinguish between man’s wrath toward God and God’s wrath toward the Son, as the sin-bearer. In Mel Gibson’s film, there is a great deal of attention given to the physical suffering of our Lord. I don’t deny that this was the case. But I fear that too little attention was given to the three-hour period of darkness. I believe that it was at this time that God’s eternal wrath was poured out on His Son. (It is almost as though God pulled the curtains for this time of judgment.) My point is that at the very time our Lord was suffering the eternal wrath of the Father, He was suffering the greatest manifestation of man’s sin in the abuses He endured at their hands. If there ever was a time for our Lord to come down off that cross, it was then. But if He had come down, it would not have been to save men, but to destroy them for their monumental sin. What amazing grace we see in the passion of our Lord. He endured the wrath of God toward sinners at the very moment that men committed the greatest sin in human history.
But God demonstrates his own love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).
(2) We should be very careful not to flatter ourselves about the primary purpose for the passion of Christ. I’ve heard it many times: “If I were the only one … He would have died for me.” That makes me the center of the passion, and that misses the point! The passion of the Lord Jesus Christ was, first and foremost, done to the glory of God. Praise God that He has purposed to accomplish His glory and our good at the same time. But let us not flatter or deceive ourselves about the primary purpose of the passion – it was to demonstrate in a most incredible way the infinite glory of God, as He saved sinners and punished sin, in the person of His own Son. Amazing grace, how sweet the sound … .
(3) If sin is “falling short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), then righteousness must be accomplishing the glory of God. What more righteous act has ever been achieved than that which our Lord performed at His passion? What a difference we see between the work of Adam and the work of Christ:
18 Consequently, just as condemnation for all people came through one transgression, so too through the one righteous act came righteousness leading to life for all people. 19 For just as through the disobedience of the one man many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of one man many will be made righteous (Romans 5:18-19).
(4) Suffering is glory. Most of us tend to think of suffering as a kind of “necessary evil,” which we endure in order to obtain glory. Such thinking is wrong-headed. It is like thinking that marriage is a necessary evil, so that one can have children. The passion of our Lord Jesus Christ demonstrates a revolutionary truth: suffering is glory. Now this is not to say that every form of suffering is glorious. The only suffering that is glorious is that which is innocent.
18 Slaves, be subject to your masters with all reverence, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are perverse. 19 For this finds God’s favor, if because of conscience toward God someone endures hardships in suffering unjustly. 20 For what credit is it if you sin and are mistreated and endure it? But if you do good and suffer and so endure, this finds favor with God. 21 For to this you were called, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving an example for you to follow in his steps. 22 He committed no sin nor was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was maligned, he did not answer back; when he suffered, he threatened no retaliation, but committed himself to God who judges justly. 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we may cease from sinning and live for righteousness. By his wounds you were healed. 25 For you were going astray like sheep but now you have turned back to the shepherd and guardian of your souls (1 Peter 2:18-25, underscoring mine).
This truth did not come easily to Peter, as we well know (see Matthew 16:21-24). It was the passion of our Lord that finally brought this truth home to Peter (as we see in his citation from the Book of Isaiah above). And once this truth was grasped, it revolutionized Peter’s thinking, and his teaching:
12 Dear friends, do not be astonished that a trial by fire is occurring among you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice in the degree that you have shared in the sufferings of Christ, so that when his glory is revealed you may also rejoice and be glad. 14 If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory, who is the Spirit of God, rests on you. 15 But let none of you suffer as a murderer or thief or criminal or as a troublemaker. 16 But if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but glorify God that you bear such a name (1 Peter 4:12-16).
(5) The passion of Christ should serve as a pattern for our proclamation of the gospel. I have maintained that the cross of Calvary manifests the sin and guilt of men, while at the same time it is the greatest display of God’s glory in all of human history. If we are to preach the gospel, we dare not exclude either aspect of the passion – man’s sin and God’s glory in saving sinners. This was the apostolic preaching of the cross that we find in the New Testament, and it should be our message as well.
(6) The passion of our Lord is both an invitation and a warning. If God’s purpose for the passion of His Son was to glorify Himself by the infinite suffering of His Son, how do you think God will respond if you reject the offer of salvation through His Son? How do you think God will respond if you were to say, “I think that there are many ways to heaven, and I would prefer to get there another way, my way”? Do you think that God would have sent His Son to suffer as He did at Calvary if there were other ways for men to be saved? Jesus is the only way to heaven. He alone has borne the penalty for your sins. Trust in Him, and be saved. And, if you reject Him, be warned of what you bring upon yourself:
16 For this is the way God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world should be saved through him. 18 The one who believes in him is not condemned. The one who does not believe has been condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the one and only Son of God. 19 Now this is the basis for judging: that the light has come into the world and people loved the darkness rather than the light, because their deeds were evil (John 3:16-19).
9 If we accept the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater, because this is the testimony of God that he has testified concerning his Son. 10 (The one who believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself; the one who does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has testified concerning his Son.) 11 And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 The one who has the Son has this eternal life; the one who does not have the Son of God does not have this eternal life (1 John 5:9-12).
(7) The passion of our Lord should be a strong incentive for Christians not to turn back to the sins for which Christ suffered:
4 For it is impossible in the case of those who have once been enlightened, tasted the heavenly gift, become partakers of the Holy Spirit, 5 tasted the good word of God and the miracles of the coming age, 6 and then have committed apostasy, to renew them again to repentance, since they are crucifying the Son of God for themselves all over again and holding him up to contempt (Hebrews 6:4-6).
I realize there are differing interpretations of this passage. But can we not agree at least to this: It is a most terrible thing to willfully sin, presuming on the passion of our Lord. Willful sin is something like putting Jesus back on the cross, like reliving the passion. How could a Christian do such a thing?
(8) The passion of our Lord is something He commanded us to remember weekly by celebrating the Lord’s Supper.
23 For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night in which he was betrayed took bread, 24 and after he had given thanks he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way, he also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, every time you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For every time you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes (1 Corinthians 11:23-26).
Listen to these words from the pen of A. W. Tozer:
The suffering of Jesus was corrective. He was willing to suffer in order that He might correct us and perfect us, so that His suffering might not begin and end in suffering, but that it might begin in suffering and end in healing.
Brethren, that is the glory of the cross! That is the glory of the kind of sacrifice that was for so long in the heart of God! That is the glory of the kind of atonement that allows a repentant sinner to come into peaceful and gracious fellowship with his God and Creator! It began in His suffering and it ended in our healing. It began in His wounds and ended in our purification. It began in His bruises and ended in our cleansing.
What is our repentance? I discover that repentance is mainly remorse for the share we had in the revolt that wounded Jesus Christ, our Lord. Further, I have discovered that truly repentant men never quite get over it, for repentance is not a state of mind and spirit that takes its leave as soon as God has given forgiveness and as soon as cleansing is realized.
That painful and acute conviction that accompanies repentance may well subside and a sense of peace and cleansing come, but even the holiest of justified men will think back over his part in the wounding and the chastisement of the Lamb of God. A sense of shock will still come over him. A sense of wonder will remain – wonder that the Lamb that was wounded should turn His wounds into the cleansing and forgiveness of one who wounded Him.60
Let us never forget that for all eternity we will worship Him who was slain for our salvation. Let us never forget that it is this glory that will endure for all eternity, and for which we will fall at His feet in worship and adoration:
7 Then he came and took the scroll from the right hand of the one who was seated on the throne, 8 and when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders threw themselves to the ground before the Lamb. Each of them had a harp and golden bowls full of incense (which are the prayers of the saints). 9 They were singing a new song:
“You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals because you were killed, and at the cost of your own blood you have purchased for God persons from every tribe, language, people, and nation. 10 You have appointed them as a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth” (Revelation 5:7-10).
51 Copyright 2003 by Community Bible Chapel, 418 E. Main Street, Richardson, TX 75081. This is the edited manuscript of Lesson 11 in the A Study of the Church series prepared by Robert L. Deffinbaugh on February 29, 2004.
52 One might wonder why this lesson has been included in a series on the church. During this series (see lesson 8, “The Mission of the Church”), it became evident that primary mission of the church is the pursuit of the glory of God. In the midst of this series on the church, Mel Gibson’s film, “The Passion of the Christ,” was released. This lesson is an attempt to show that the primary purpose of our Lord’s passion was to glorify God. Therefore, it was decided to leave it in this series on the church since it further explores the glory of God.
53 Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the NET Bible. The NEW ENGLISH TRANSLATION, also known as THE NET BIBLE, is a completely new translation of the Bible, not a revision or an update of a previous English version. It was completed by more than twenty biblical scholars who worked directly from the best currently available Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts. The translation project originally started as an attempt to provide an electronic version of a modern translation for electronic distribution over the Internet and on CD (compact disk). Anyone anywhere in the world with an Internet connection will be able to use and print out the NET Bible without cost for personal study. In addition, anyone who wants to share the Bible with others can print unlimited copies and give them away free to others. It is available on the Internet at: www.netbible.org.
54 I am not saying that Gibson’s film exaggerated the physical suffering and abuse of our Lord; I am suggesting that the emphasis may be somewhat disproportionate because so little emphasis was placed on the outpouring of God’s
wrath on His Son. I believe that our Lord’s suffering involved much more than physical torture and mental abuse from the hands of men.
55 “When all is said and done, the most crucial question is: Why? Why did Christ suffer and die? Not why in the sense of cause, but why in the sense of purpose.” What did Christ achieve by his passion? Why did he have to suffer so much? What great thing was happening on Calvary for the world?” John Piper, The Passion of Jesus Christ (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 2004), p. 17.
56 This is the title of A.W. Tozer’s book as well as the title of his first chapter, from which the quotation below is cited. A.W. Tozer, Who Put Jesus on the Cross? (Camp Hill, Pennsylvania: Christian Publications, 1975, 1996), pp. 1-3.
57 Do Paul’s words in Romans 9:1-3 come to mind here? Did they originate with Moses?
58 Notice that nothing is said here about the judgment of the wicked. The salvation of some will be the result of God’s sovereign choice to show mercy. Men’s condemnation, by inference (and consistent with Exodus 20:4-6), is due to their sin. I am not denying here the fact that God’s sovereignty includes the destruction of the wicked. I am, rather, saying that God did not choose to emphasize this here.
59 I believe that the connection between one’s “glory” and one’s “sovereignty” can be seen in the way God dealt with Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 4:28-37 and 5:17-24.
60 A.W. Tozer, Who Put Jesus on the Cross?, pp. 8-9.