THE PROGRESS OF THE CROSS
Preached at West End Baptist Church of Newport, Tennessee on Sunday Morning, March 18, 2012. This is the second in a series of five messages under the general title: "The Via Dolorosa - The Way of the Cross".
(Isaiah 53:10) - Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief: when thou shall make His soul an offering for sin, He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in His hand.
We are very familiar with the phrase: “check on the progress of whatever” and “things are proceeding according to plan”. Every project of every business or military endeavour has a “progress report” or “status check”.
The space program brought a simple little expression to the forefront: “Everything is AOK”; and we have adopted many such expressions: We refer to something being “on track” when it is moving “according to Hoyle”. Something is “on the button” when it is “rolling with the tide”. Something is said to be “on the high road” when it is “going great guns”.
The sign says, “Christian, it’s “game on” so “let’s get cracking”; and I have yet to have someone tell me they don’t understand. Something is said to be “making headway” when it is “making rapid strides”, “gaining leeway”, or “by the book”.
We understand when a plan is “gaining ground”, “going with the flow”, or “rising with the tide”. Something is said to be “on schedule” when it is “on course”, or even “right smack dab on the old bazoo”. When a “game plan” has to be “tweaked”, we comprehend what is meant. When a “timetable” has to be adjusted, we can “dig it”.
All of these familiar phrases are part and parcel of our dictionary; and we hear them and perceive their meaning. All these expressions are important to us because all our plans are subject to change like the “best laid plans of mice and men go oft astray”. Our plans are never “written in stone” and “alterations” are always included in the “ebb and flow”, the “wax and wane”, the “veer and yield” and we often have to “take a different tack”.
God had a plan for the Salvation of the world of every man, woman, young person, and old-enough child; and that plan is proceeding “right down the middle”. “straight to the front”. It can be seen and felt as it proceeds without one modification or resolve.
I. THE PROGRESS CAN BE OBSERVED
The Scripture plainly tells us that Christ was born “in the fullness of time”; not one second too early or late – but right on time, according to the plan.
Everything that was supposed to have happened had occurred:
A sacrificial system had been established in the Garden of Eden after the first sinner committed the first sin; and an innocent animal – actually several of them – had to die to make “long coats of skins” to cover Adam and Eve. This was a sacrificial system in which the people understood the principle of substitution – a sacrifice took the place of the guilty one and suffered the pain of his sin – in his place – the innocent one suffering for the guilty one!
They had practiced that principle day after day for hundreds of years in their homes in Egypt, in the Tabernacle in the wilderness, in the First Temple that King Solomon had built in Jerusalem, in the reconstructed Temple of Ezra on the exact same spot, and in the Second Temple that had been built by King Herod the Great, likewise on the exact same spot.
They were familiar with the first born male blood-shed sacrifice principle involving lambs, bulls, goats, rams, heifers, doves, and pigeons; with the food offering, with the garden produce “first-fruit” offering, with the drink offering.
Animosity had developed between the Israeli and the Philistines from day one of the Joshua conquest of the land; and there was always a constant power struggle between these two. That was very important because an incredibly complex and excruciating form of capital punishment was allegedly designed by these forerunners of the Gaza Strip – crucifixion!
Crucifixion was reportedly so brutal that Rome had outlawed it for any of its citizenry – no matter what their crimes. And Rome was in charge of the world.
The plan called for a Roman ruler that could be manipulated by a mob of angry Jewish leaders. The title of the ruler of the Roman Empire had evolved from “Imperiter” to “Principer” (“principle emperor”) to “The Caesar”; and the title has passed from General Pompey (63 BC) to Emperor Julius (49 BC) to Caesar Augustus (27 BC) (Luke 2:1) to Caesar Tiberius (14 AD) (Luke 3:1).
The Roman plan of governing called for its enslaved and/or captured people to fall under either a “proconsul” (if they “played ball”, paid their taxes, and did not complain) or a more strict “procurator” (for the more rebellious city states and people).
Judea was a complicated political situation and ended up being divided into different administrative districts at different times and governed by various levels of the Roman political bureaucracy. Also, political leadership was granted as a reward for being in favor with Caesar, and could be withdrawn just as quickly because of disfavor or perceived threat. As a result, various parts of God’s Land passed back and forth between supervised monarchial rule and total control under Roman procurators or governors. No one really wanted to be there; but many “strong-arms” had been assigned to rule there: Caponius (6-10), Ambivius (10-13), Annius Rufus (13-15), Valerius Gratus (15-26); and the fifth one was Pontius Pilate (26-36). Governor Pilate was under strict, unbending orders from Caesar Tiberius to bring those people in line – or else – and he was not willing to find out what “or else” meant.
But he was weak and corrupt. He made his home on the beach in Caesarea on the Mediterranean Sea; and did not wish to have any uprising from these crazy Jews. He hated these people and their “scruffy” little capital city of Jerusalem; and was incensed because he had to be there to keep the peace for Passover, when he was probably awakened by mobs of Jewish citizens screaming for him to “do something” with this “criminal” they had examined and found to be guilty of blasphemy.
The hated Roman leaders clashed with the mistrusted Jewish leaders; and the stage was set and the plan progressed hour upon hour.
Judas Iscariot was a willing conspirator who was in over his head!
Governor Pilate was a willing weak-kneed cooperator who was afraid for his job.
And finally, Jesus was willing to allow the Plan to proceed as distasteful as it was to His purity and righteousness, His piety and holiness, His sinlessness and Godliness!
II. THE PROGRESS CAN BE EVALUATED
When you see Christ going up Mount Calvary, you should be able to see all of Christ’s Believers going there: when you see Christ hurled upon His back upon the wooden cross, you should be able to see the whole company of His followers there; and when you see the nails driven through His blessed hands and feet, it is the whole body of His Church who, in Him, are being brutally fashioned to the tree.
The intense agony that is seen there should be seen as the intense suffering of those of us who follow Him into the Church; and when Christ bows His Head, breathes His last, and dies; you should be able to look upon that death as not being for Him, but for His being the scape-goat and the substitute for every man, woman, youth, and child.
It is true, Christ died really IN Himself; but it is equally true that He did not die FOR himself; but He died as the substitute, in the room, place, and stead of all Believers who did then, and have since, and ever will believe in Him and accept His as their Savior.
When you die you will die for yourselves; but when Christ died, He died for you, if you are a Believer in Him. Whether you are a Believer or not, when you pass through the gates of the grave; you represent yourself, and are not the representative of anyone else. While Christians who die are accompanied by an innumerable company of angels, we will pass through the gates of death as an individual; but, remember, when Christ went through the sufferings of death, He was the representative Head of all His people.
Understand, then, the sense in which Christ was made a sacrifice for sin. It was as a substitute for sin that He did actually and literally suffer punishment for the sin of all His believers. Man for his sin was condemned to eternal fire; when God took Christ to be the substitute, it is true, He did not send Christ into eternal fire, but He poured upon Him grief so desperate, that it was a valid payment for even an eternity of fire.
Man was condemned to live forever in hell. God did not send Christ forever into hell; but He put on Christ, punishment that was equivalent for that. Although He did not give Christ to drink the actual hells of believers, yet He gave Him a quid pro quo - something that was equivalent thereunto. He took the cup of Christ's agony, and He put in suffering, misery, and anguish such as only God can imagine or dream of, that was the exact equivalent for all the suffering, all the woe, and all the eternal tortures of every one that shall at last stand in heaven, bought with the blood of Christ. And you might be thinking, “Did Christ drink it all?” Did He suffer it all? Yes, He took the cup, and drained it dry to the last ounce of damnation.
He suffered all the horror of hell: in one huge storm of wrath it fell upon Him, with hail-stones as big as those that will fall during the Tribulation Period; and He hung there on that cross until that foreboding spiritual storm cloud had emptied itself completely. There was our sin debt, huge and immense, falling full upon Him; and He paid it off in full; and now there is not so much as a penny due to the justice of God in the way of punishment from any believer. Although we do owe God a huge debt for His Love to us; we owe Him nothing to His justice; for Christ in that hour took all our sins, past, present, and to come, and was punished for them all there and then, that we might never be punished, because He suffered in our stead.
Do you see, then, how it was that God the Father bruised him? Unless He had so done, the agonies of Christ could not have been an equivalent for our sufferings; for hell consists in the hiding of God's face from sinners, and if God had not hidden His face from Christ, I do not see his Christ could have endured any suffering that could have been accepted as an equivalent for the woes and agonies of His people.
Someone might be thinking, “Are you sure that Christ’s death was for ME?” Are you a sinner? Do you feel convicted and condemned? Has God, the Holy Spirit, made you feel that you are a lost sinner? Do you want salvation? If you do not want to be saved; that does not take away the fact that He wants YOU to be saved; but if you really feel that you want it, you can receive your salvation by receiving Him as your Savior. If you have a desire to be saved, a desire given you by the Holy Spirit, that is a good thing! If you have begun believingly to confess your sins and accept His Salvation; you have sure and certain evidence that He can be your Savior. It is a sure and certain thing; that Christ was punished for you.
It might manifest itself as a desire, a need to come clean with Him, a thirst after righteousness; and “want to” to be a Christian – whatever – but it always works that way – every time, never changes; sure and stable, secure bad constant, uniform and unvarying. Everybody who has ever been saved from the crucifixion until now; and everyone who will be saved from now until the King comes to establish His Kingdom – has been, is now, and will be saved exactly the same way – whether it was in a church, Sunday school, Bible school, revival meeting, or a country music concert! It is always through Jesus Christ’s shed blood; solely through Jesus Christ’s shed blood; uniquely through Christ’s shed blood; exclusively thorough Christ’s shed blood!
What are the effects of the Cross?
A. "He shall see His seed."
Humans have offspring by life; Christ has offspring by death. Humans die and leave their children, and might not see their families past possibly five generations; but Christ is still alive forevermore, and every day sees His seed brought into the unity of the faith.
The salvation of multitudes is the first effect of Christ's death; and this was not, is not, and never will be an accident or “happenstance of circumstance”. There was not so much as one atom of chance work in the Savior’s death. Christ knew what He bought when He died; and everyone who has progressed to accept that death as his substitutionary sacrifice shall one day meet around the throne,
B: “He shall prolong His days”.
Simply spoken, when He died, His Life and Ministry did not end. Oh, for an instant in the eternal scheme of things, Jesus died; but the third morning came, and the conqueror, rose from among the dead ones , and came forth from His prison house, no more to die. He ministered for forty days and “ascended up on high”.
In His death, you died; in His life, you live; and will ever live, no more to die!
C. “The pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in His hand”.
By Christ's death the Father's good pleasure was effected and prospered. God's good pleasure is, “that as many as received Him to them gave He the power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His Name”. Christ's death has made that possible.
The hour is coming when the capitals of the world shall shake with the sound of Christ’s footsteps; when all the gods of the heathens shall lose their thrones and be cast out on the garbage heaps of this world; and then, from pole to pole, from the east to the west, Christ shall be honored, the Lord shall be paramount of earth, when from land to land, from the river even to the ends of the earth, one King shall reign, one shout shall be raised, "Hallelujah, hallelujah, the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth."
Then, we shall see the progress of the Cross of Christ. It shall be evident what Christ's death has accomplished – in the world; but what about in you?
Has His death made any difference in you?