7. The Work of Christ
The Christ of the Cross
Galatians 6:14 “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” (NIV)
In the above passage in Galatians, Paul was opposing false teachers who had perverted the gospel by leaving out the essential message of the Cross and substituting a return to the Jewish ceremonial laws. They gloried in the flesh, in man’s religion, and not in the faith of the Scriptures, not in the Cross of Christ. Paul says they did it out of love for the world and out of the fear of men.
So today, the false teachers of the new heresies have ignored, denied, diverted and perverted the message of the Cross, and have done so for the same reasons. A crucified Savior, dying for the real sins of real people is not popular. He makes us face our sin, and admit to its ugliness. He brings us face-to-face with our spiritual inability, and with the depth of the darkness of our souls. He requires of us to take up our own cross, to deny our selfish desires and live for Him as He died for us. This is not the gospel of ease and enjoyment that people seek to soothe their bruised egos. For believers today, we must glory in the Cross--in the true, biblical act, fact, doctrine, and way of life that emanates from the Cross, and we must live with reference to the world in the way that Paul describes here--the world is crucified to us, and we to the world. We must ask a series of provocative, searching questions about our faith:
- What is the essential Act, Fact, Message, Meaning and Power of the Christian faith?
- What is far more important than therapy, miracles, health, wealth, good self-esteem, or correct politics?
- What event is the one fulcrum, the single pivot point of the history of the universe?
- What event was the most important battle ever fought and won in the entire history of time?
- What deed far surpasses all the deeds ever done, even creation itself?
- What glorious act demonstrates the wrath, justice, sovereignty, truth, love, mercy, and power of God all at once?
- What supreme, mysterious, glorious, awesome, Act of God is the only reason His people stand today, whole, saved, and testifying of God’s greatness?
This act, fact, message, meaning and power of our faith is this (and we must personalize these statements to give them the full impact of their Biblical basis):
- The Almighty Creator, Jehovah God Himself, God the Son, became flesh for me.
- This God-Man lived a perfect life for me.
- This Perfect Lamb of God demonstrated His own power over nature, sin, Satan, disease, and death for me.
- This Ruler of the Universe Incarnate was arrested, beaten, tortured, convicted in a kangaroo court, and hung on a cross for me.
- This Sinless Substitute took my sin upon Himself, suffered the equivalent of eternal Hell, and laid down His own life for me.
- This Fountain of Life arose from the dead for me.
- This is the message of the Work of our Saviour on the Cross--THE ESSENCE OF CHRISTIANITY IS THE CROSS OF CHRIST.
Our text in Galatians says, “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of Christ.” Before we can plunge into the beauty of the divine sacrifice for us, we have to ask--”Why?” What made the Cross necessary? The answer is, “our sins made it necessary.” In this feel-good age of “psycho-babble” with its avoidance of blame, guilt, and personal responsibility, when the usual response to any investigation is the limp “Mistakes were made,” Sin is not a popular concept. In fact, even in many church circles, the Sinfulness of mankind is one of the great neglected truths. We need “healing,” we need “counseling,” we need all kinds of therapeutic remedies, but far too many preachers and teachers avoid the first thing we need to do--face up to the fact of our sinfulness. The Bible is plain about the universal nature of sin’s effect on the human race, as per these examples:
Romans 3:10-11, 23 there is none righteous, no, not one . . .there is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. . . . All have sinned, and fallen short of the glory of God. (KJV)
Romans 3:19 Now we know that whatsoever things the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. (KJV)
And, it was this sinfulness that made the Cross necessary. Our first parents were created holy and sinless, but with an ability to choose. In the Garden of Eden, our first parents chose to rebel against God’s rules. The Bible teaches that Adam, as the representative head of that first family, passed two things on to us, his children.
- First, we have an inherited sin nature. We begin sinning as soon as we are born (Psa 58:3)--any parent can tell you that you do not have to teach a child to sin, they come by it naturally.
- Secondly, we inherit guilt from the sin of our representative head, Adam (Rom 5:12). This alone condemns us, and we add to that guilt by our own actions as soon as we enter the world. What is more, our sin nature renders us powerless to change our own situation! Because of our innate depravity, we are spiritually blind (2 Cor. 4:3-4; 1 Cor. 2:14); we are spiritually dead (Eph. 2:1-5); we cannot come to God on His terms, (John. 6:44, 65), and we will not come--in our human nature, we want no part of God and his ways (John. 5:40).
The bottom line--because of our sin, WE ARE HOPELESSLY LOST WITHOUT CHRIST! By the standards of God’s law, only the righteous will see heaven, and we are not righteous, for God’s definition of righteous is perfection! What a helpless and hopeless state we are in without the Cross!
The Nature of the Cross
The nature of the Cross is that Christ died as a Substitute, a Satisfaction, and a Propitiation--He turns God’s wrath away from those who deserve to be consumed by that wrath. The Christ of the Cross is our Substitute. The theological term for this is Substitutionary Atonement, and it is one of the most important aspects of the doctrine of the Cross. Christ actually died in the place of sinners--He specifically took the punishment that should have been theirs (2 Cor. 5:21; Isa 53:5; 1 Pet 3:18).
How can this be possible, for the death of One to accomplish this? It is possible because He is infinite--He is God, and His blood sacrifice is of infinite worth. His hours of agony began in the garden the night before the crucifixion, and culminated in His death on the cross, when God the Father turned His back on God the Son as the Son bore our sins. His sacrifice for us as our substitute was the equivalent of all who would ever believe in Him (or who ever had believed in His promised coming ) suffering eternal punishment. He endured all that in our place. The Christ of the Cross is our Satisfaction (of the Law’s demands). The law of God demands perfect obedience to the law--Christ is the only One who ever lived who fulfilled that demand. The law demands just punishment for those who sin--He fulfilled that demand as well. The law has been upheld--it is satisfied.
Unlike the “gods” of the world’s religions, who either disregard sin or forgive it capriciously, the God of the Bible can state that all the demands of His law have been met. (Gal 3:13; Rom 3:31; Col. 2: 13-14,). The Christ of the Cross is our Propitiation. This $50 theological term is a very important word. It means that Christ turns away God’s righteous wrath against our sin and rebellion. (Rom 1:17; 3:25-6, Rom 5:6-9). Christ has done it all by His sacrifice on our behalf--as the old hymn writers have said:
What can wash away my sin?--Nothing but the blood of Jesus!
What can make me whole again?--Nothing but the blood of Jesus!
There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Emmanuel’s veins,
and sinners plunged beneath that flood, lose all their guilty stains!
And, can it be that I should gain, an interest in the Savior’s blood?
Died He for me who caused His pain, for me, who Him to death pursued?
Amazing love! How can it be, that thou, my God, shouldst die for me?
Yes, believers, as the text in Galatians 6 says, we Glory in the Cross!!! BUT THAT IS ONLY HALF OF OUR TEXT!
The other half of our text says “ . . . BY WHOM THE WORLD IS CRUCIFIED UNTO ME AND I UNTO THE WORLD.” For the apostle Paul, and for any consistent believer, the Cross of Christ is the thing that rules the life. Our feelings about the world, our relationship with it, our walk in it, and our increasing detachment from its rule are all determined by the Cross. As far as Paul was concerned, the world was dead--the praise, advancements, approval of the world were not important . For the Apostle, as for every believer, the world was not his real home--but unlike many of us, he knew it, and he lived like it. Paul proved his allegiance to the rule of the cross. He had made choices in his life; he had chosen the Gospel’s Truth over family background, tradition, and riches.
Philippians 3:3-10 “For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh. Though I might also have confidence in the flesh. If any other man thinketh that he have whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more: Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. But, what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea, doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, and be found in Him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: That I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto His death;”
As John Brown of Edinburgh said, it is that “. . . we view the world system as crucified, cursed, useless, of no influence, of no matter, of no importance to us at all. The world is not to be desired, listened to, followed, or worshipped.”
1 John 2:15-17 Love not the world, neither the things in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof; but he that doeth the will of God abideth forever.
The second half of the text at the head of this chapter said, “ . . . And I to the world.” What does it mean to be crucified to the world? Does it mean to hide in a desert, to leave humanity behind, or to become a recluse of some type? No, it is a matter of your state of mind and way of life as you live in human society. Again, as John Brown of Edinburgh says, “ . . .if I am following the way of the Cross, and preaching the Cross, and if the Cross of Christ and the ways of the Lord are first in my life, then I am crucified to the world. It is that they view me as accursed, dead, useless, of no influence, of no importance, etc.” It may be that not all the world will view us this way, but as they come into full awareness of what makes us tick, they will either come under the awe of the Cross and be attracted to Christ, or they will account us to be fools.
Men who preach the Cross with words, and in the way they live their daily lives will not be loved by many of the people of this world or this world’s system. Women who order their home, their own priorities, their associations, and who raise their young ones in accordance with the teachings of the Scripture will not win the praise of their worldly neighbors. Young people who live for Christ, who speak of Christ, who listen to what the Bible has to say about Truth, and who reject the worldly philosophy taught in the public schools and colleges will be thought odd, and will be rejected by the worldly arbiters of taste and “coolness.” A preacher who preaches what the Bible has to say, and who cares not for the opinion of the masses, or of civil or religious authorities, will not be hailed and toasted by the princes of this earth. A Church that is valiant for Truth and fervent in its preaching of the Gospel and ministry to the lost will not be popular with the enemies of the Cross, even if those enemies claim to be friends. People of God, Christ calls us to live for Him, if necessary to die for Him, and to follow Him in every way.
The Resurrected Christ
The prophets and founders of the world’s religions are dead--often, their tombs are shrines. The great but twisted minds that conceived the great humanistic philosophies that have dominated the 20th century are also dead. Most of the scientists and inventors who laid the foundations for our miracles of 20th century technology are dead. Death is the way of the human race, as the Bible says, “It is appointed unto men once to die . . .” All must leave this life, never to return--all, that is, except One. The joyous victory shout of the Christian church is, “Christ is risen!” The equally joyous answer to that shout of victory, “He is risen indeed!” So have believers greeted each other on Resurrection Sunday for nearly 2,000 years, and so we shall greet one another until He returns!
The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is the other side of His death on the Cross--as Paul said in Romans 4:25, “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.” Jesus Christ was crucified in our place--He bore our penalty, took our sins upon Himself, and laid down His life for us. In the resurrection, however, is the proof of God’s acceptance of His Son’s sacrifice. “ . . . and who through the Spirit of Holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Rom 1:4) As Paul makes plain in his beautiful and powerful defense of the doctrine of the resurrection in 1 Corinthians, “ . . . if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. “ (1 Cor 15:17) Without the resurrected Savior, Christianity is useless and foolish.
Have pity on those liberal theologians who either do not believe in a literal resurrection, or who use existential philosophy to say it is not important whether or not the resurrection was literal--it is a pointless exercise to have a “Christianity” without a risen Christ.
The Bible teaches that His resurrection was a literal bodily resurrection. He was not a phantom; His resurrection was not “spiritual” only; His resurrection is not an allegory in celebration of life, or any other such nonsense. He literally rose from the grave in a body that was real and physical. You could touch Him, He was recognizable to those who had known Him before the crucifixion and He still bore the scars of His torment Luke 24:36-42 tells how He appeared to two of His followers; indeed, each of the Gospels has several factual incidents about His resurrection and His appearances afterward. The resurrection is mentioned and stressed throughout the New Testament, but as we quoted above, the most important passage in understanding its meaning for us is in 1 Corinthians 15--the whole chapter. The heart of the chapter, however are verses 12-25:
1 Corinthians 15:12-25 “But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.(NIV)
Christian, you “serve a risen Savior,” as one favorite hymn says, and as another song exalts, “Because He lives,” you can live your life with confidence that His sacrifice on your behalf has been accepted, and He is always there to help you in time of need. Yes, “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!
The Returning Christ
The night was late as the seminary library closed. A stocky young man about 27 years old gathered up his notes and books, stuffed them in an old beat-up case, and trudged out the door. The young man, let’s call him Mike, was in his third year of seminary, and was completely confused for the first time in his Christian life. A required course, “Eschatology” (the study of last things, or the end times) was beating him to death. As he studied the conflicting opinions of great Bible scholars, he was completely amazed how these men who agreed on so many other things could be so different on this topic. As he slowly walked down the hallway, he spied Old John. Old John was the janitor in this building, a distinguished-looking old black man with a reputation as a very strong believer. John had rigged up a stool on his cleaning cart, and when it came time for a break, he would just park the cart wherever he was, sit in the stool, break out his coffee thermos and Bible, and read. Mike liked to talk to John, as did many of the students. With his many years of walking with the Lord, he was a great counselor about the practical problems of life. As Mike and he greeted one another, the young man saw that John was reading the book of Revelation--currently the great headache of Mike’s life. “John, I see you are reading Revelation. That book is driving me crazy! All the great Bible teachers teach so many different things on it, and it just isn’t clear to me at all. John, tell me, what in the world do you think the book is talking about.” Old John turned to the back of the book, read the last chapter aloud, then looked up and grinned at the young student. “Young preacher, the meaning of the Book of Revelation is that Jesus Wins!”
No topic is more confusing to a believer than the End Times. My friend, “Mike,” in the story above, was not alone in his confusion. In this century, possibly more ink has been spilled about the meaning of the Book of Revelation and the theology of the end times than on any other topic of the Faith. Many great Bible teachers who agree on just about everything else disagree greatly on this doctrine--many teachers speak about the end times as if there was no doubt as to the exact scenario, but their scenarios do not agree in the least. This book will not address the controversies; we will not even define the controversies, for there are plenty of books that do that. What we will do is to define the basic orthodox requirements for a beautiful and vital doctrine that gets lost in the arguments over particulars. We will define the absolute minimums of the orthodox doctrine, but no more.
Christ is Returning
The second coming of Christ is a cornerstone of Biblical doctrine. It is not possible to be considered orthodox and evangelical unless you believe Jesus is coming back. Our Lord promised it, the apostles confirmed it, and the entire book of Revelation celebrates it. Below are just a few examples of the verses that establish this fact.
John 14:1-3 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” (NIV)
Matthew 26:64 “Yes, it is as you say,” Jesus replied. “But I say to all of you: In the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” (NIV)
Luke 21:27 At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. (NIV)
The return of Christ will be visible. He will not come in secret; He will not come “mystically,” or only to those with eyes to see Him. All humanity will witness His coming, and those who do not belong to Him will be terrified.
Acts 1:11 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” (NIV)
Matthew 24:29-30 “Immediately after the distress of those days “`the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’ “At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. (NIV)
The Second Coming of Christ will be Bodily. He will not come “spiritually,” He will return in His Body. He has a body now, a glorious body, witnessed by the apostle John (Rev 1:12-16), and when He comes in clouds of glory, it will be in that glorious body.
Philippians 3:21 who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. (NIV)
Zechariah 14:3 Then the LORD will go out and fight against those nations, as he fights in the day of battle. On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem, and the Mount of Olives will be split in two from east to west, forming a great valley, with half of the mountain moving north and half moving south. (NIV)
He will come in Power and Glory--unlike His first coming, His true nature will not be concealed. He will come at the head of a heavenly army, as the conquering Sovereign that He is.
Titus 2:13 while we wait for the blessed hope-- the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, (NIV)
Matthew 24:30 They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory.
See Appendix 7 for study questions and projects for Chapter 5.