Alfred Place Baptist Church

The Death of Christ- Why Plead it

Luke 24:26 “Did not Christ have to suffer these things, and then enter into his glory?”

In this chapter of Luke we are introduced to two disciples of Jesus, a man named Cleopas and his anonymous companion, maybe it was his wife. They are overwhelmed with sadness. They are entering a deep depression because their friend and teacher and Saviour has been crucified at the orders of their chief priests. They are walking away from Golgotha going home, utterly stunned, uncomprehending and quite shell-shocked at all the horrors they have witnessed in the past few days.

It was then that the risen Christ comes along and attaches himself to them interrogating them about their distress and addressing their grief. The events that have taken place in Jerusalem have thrown them. They had their own ideas as to what the Messiah would do and what his works of redemption would mean. They did believe that Jesus was the promised Messiah, but what they had seen in Jerusalem, where Jesus had been killed as some murderer, spelt the death of all their hopes. So now there is nowhere to go but home yet knowing that there’ll be no answers there, and then, as I said, Christ himself draws alongside them and he handles their situation as no one else could.

He gradually and surely uncovers the root of their despair. He finds it in this – that they are ignorant of the Bible. It’s not what modern counselors would do. It’s not what most doctors would say to people coming to them for a bottle of anti-depressants tablets: “The reason you are depressed is because you don’t know the Bible.” But I wonder whether that’s what modern counselors should be saying to men and women? I think if men did know their Bibles they would have a reason to lift up their hearts on the way. The answer to the problem facing these men on the road to Emmaus was just this fact that neither of them knew their Bibles as they ought to have. Had they known the Scriptures they’d have realised that it was absolutely necessary for the events that had just taken place in the life and death of Jesus Christ and in the history of Jerusalem to have occurred exactly as they did – including all the horrors of the sufferings of Christ. Our Lord did have to endure all those things. The Cross of Calvary was necessary; there could be no salvation apart from Golgotha. Apart from that Cross work, and apart from the Cross words there could be no redemption. At the heart of the message of the gospel, at the very centre of the Bible, stands one cross and one unique figure upon it. It tells us what he is doing on that Cross at that time, in that place, at that stage of human history, and that it was absolutely indispensable for our salvation. Christ had to suffer those things.

1. THE CROSS OF CHRIST ORIGINATED IN THE IMMEASURABLE LOVE OF GOD.

The cross of Christ did not occur because of mindless fate – ‘whatever will be will be.’ No. There was not some philosophical or mechanical principle of determinism that said that it had to happen and so it happened. We know why it happened because the simplest and most well known verse in the Bible tells us that God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son. Because of his love God freely provided his Son to be our Saviour. The origin of Golgotha was the divine love. In other words, it wasn’t that Christ died on Calvary and then God could love us. The Cross didn’t make God love us. What Jesus did on the Cross was not to secure the love of God for us. Rather, what happened on Calvary was the most extraordinary display of the immeasurable love that God had for us. Do you understand what I am repeating? It wasn’t that Christ died and that that made God love us. God loved his people from before the foundation of the world. He loved them with an everlasting love. He’d been eternally in love with them, and it was that love that constrained him to give his Son for them. It was God’s donation to this world.

The world is a cold place where mothers kill their children, and men blaspheme and gamble and crucify other men, and yet God has loved this world, in fact he has made an incredible donation to warm this world, his own Son has been sent to it. His free grace was responsible; the Son of God was freely given by the Father. The people knew that a Messiah had been promised, the Seed of the Woman, the suffering Servant, but wonder of wonders, this Messiah turned out to be the Son of the living God, equal to the Father in power and glory – “I and my Father are one.”

God the Father freely gave his only begotten Son, the one who had always been with him, loving him and being loved in return. There was not any external compulsion outside of God nudging him and constraining him to do this, leading one person of the Trinity to give the other person of the Trinity for the salvation of persons outside of the Trinity. The innumerable company of angels were not lobbying God to do this. The religious leaders of the world had not hatched this scheme of incarnation and redemption! There was nothing like that. There was no compulsion whatsoever outside of God that constrained him – maybe against his better judgment – to give his Son at Calvary. He was freely given. The Son of God came out of the love of God for a wicked, corrupt world. Love so amazing, so divine! Who can devise a greater expression of God’s love than this; “I will give to them my Lamb, my only begotten Son,” and you can trace this cross in all its pain back to these headwaters in the heart of God. He gave the world what the world did not deserve, and he kept from the world what it did deserve when he gave his Son and appointed his Son to die.

So before I explain why the cross was necessary, I have begun by saying that the cross was free, that on the part of God, there no obligation whatsoever to save a single one of fallen mankind, any more than the fallen angels. The exercise of mercy was always optional with God, but in his great love he opted to show mercy to trillions. Yet I am saying this, that once God did determine to show mercy then Calvary became indispensable. Then God the Son had to suffer and bleed and die the accursed death of the cross. Once God determined to save mankind lost then God the Father and Jesus the Son were facing up to the cost of Golgotha. There was no way around it; there was no way it could be avoided if the world was going to be saved.

So when we understand that God would save a company of people more than any man could number then there was agony, and then there was dereliction, then there was bloody sweat, then there were nails through hands and feet and a spear into the side of God the Son. Once God had made up his mind in love to save men and women then that was the cost and Father and Son were prepared to pay it. You understand what I have said? To show mercy to a company of people more than any man can number was not something God needed to do; he freely chose to do it because of his immense love. To save the world – though some are lost – was not an unavoidable action of God. It was something he decided to do at terrible and unthinkable cost. He did it because he loved us, but why he should love us we can never know. He is love; and behind everything that happened in the Bible, and everything that happened on Calvary, and everything we see in the life and death and resurrection of Jesus, is that great purpose of God’s love reaching into a fallen world, and out of a mass of fallen humanity plucking brands from the burning, saving sinners, making men and women what they could never be without Christ and his cross, trophies of his grace, and trophies of his righteousness simply because God determined to be gracious.

Men and women, I hope that you and I will never get over our amazement at God’s grace in saving wretches like ourselves by the sacrifice of his
blessed Son. That such grace should come into our world, and our time, and our space with a determination that he would have us as his own! And I am asking you today whether you have a sense of the greatness of the love that laid hold of you, and the glory of it all, and that it is simply amazing to you. Because this God whom we know by revelation, this majestic God, owes us nothing, and yet he has given everything to us and it is all through Jesus Christ. It is all for us and our salvation. He has given us all things because he has given us the greatest reality in heaven and earth, his most beloved Son in whom he is so well pleased. So the giving of God’s Son was absolutely free and gracious on the part of God.

2. THOUGH THE CROSS OF CHRIST WAS NECESSARY IT SHOULD NEVER HAVE HAPPENED.

I am repeating the words of Paul, that if the princes of the world had known that they were condemning God the Son to the death of the cross they’d never have crucified the Lord of Glory. Let me put it like this; ought Jesus Christ to have been sentenced to death? Was that a just punishment? The charges that they had brought again him were demonstrably false. The things they had accused him of were clearly untrue. Witnesses were bribed to lie. The reasons the judges gave for crucifying him were an absolute travesty of justice. There was no righteousness that day in Pilate’s court. There was no justice in those infamous decisions that were made, whoever the judges were whom Christ faced. Jesus should never have been crucified; this man had done nothing worthy of such a judgment. He did nothing amiss. There was nothing in his life or in his conduct worthy of death especially the death of the cross. There was no sin; there no possibility of sin. There was no trace of sin, not in anything he did, not in anything he said, not even in anything he thought. There were no sinful affections, and if you could peel all the layers of his personality and get right down to the seat of his soul you would find in Jesus nothing but that which was absolutely 100% defensible in the sight of God. He was God’s holy child Jesus, and yet he was condemned to be crucified. God the Son, holy, harmless, undefiled and separate from sinners, was sentenced to die by being nailed to a cross. It is the greatest blot on human history.

Then why didn’t God step in and deliver him? He’d deliver Peter from prison, and he was a sinner. When Paul and Barnabas were in prison in Philippi God opened every door and broke every chain in the place. Why didn’t God smite the arresting soldiers in Gethsemane with blindness? Why didn’t he whisk his Son away? Why didn’t he turn the arm of the man holding the whip who was about to flog his dear Son to marble? God loved the world; God gave his only begotten Son and if we were to be saved then he must die. Here was the blessed Son; he went about doing good. He preached the Sermon on the Mount; he healed the sick and gave sight to the blind and comforted the broken hearted, and yet they tortured Jesus to death making fun of him as he died. “They sat down,” says the gospel writer, “and they watched him there.” Him – who had done no sin, there – on that execution tree. He was without guile. He had done no wrong and he hung accursed on the cross. He who absolutely free of any blemish in any aspect of his life, and personality, and relationships, yet they watched him slowly die on that tree. It ought never to have been, and yet Christ had to suffer these things if we were to be saved.

I know there are people who exaggerate the problem of the Bible’s teachings on the absolute Sovereignty of God on the one hand and the responsibility and freedom of man on the other hand. Maybe intellectually it’s a problem, that is, how you can reconcile two such positions. You have to choose one, men say, it is either God is in complete charge or man is totally free, but I want you to remember this lesson when you are faced with that problem. Always think of the Cross, because both of those truths are evident there. There were the freedoms that men exercised, Pilate, and Caiaphas, and Annas, and the Sanhedrin, and the lying witnesses, and the execution squaddies in the condemning of Jesus and his crucifixion. It was their wicked voices and their wicked hands that took him and slew him and nailed him to the tree. Yet in it all of those human choices God’s sovereign determinate counsel was also being done. God is not the author of the sin at Calvary, but he is the author of Calvary’s redemption, while those wicked men were responsible for what they did to Jesus. They too were totally dependent for their salvation on the very action that God was doing on the cross – through their wicked hands – when he gave Jesus to be the Saviour of the world. Men are all held responsible – as we know ourselves to be responsible when we hurt people. We don’t blame God, but God is in charge of our humblings and of the consequences of our sinful actions.

Let me bring this truth into sharper focus in a classic statement made by one of the Puritans; “What God sovereignly decrees in eternity, man will always demand in time.” Man’s will always chooses the very thing that God has sovereignly ordained, so that God’s purpose is fulfilled, and, yet, just as surely, man is responsible for his sinning. Let me ask you two questions;

(1) Exactly what did God Almighty eternally decree would happen to his Son? The answer is that Jesus would be the Lamb of God who would be sacrificed and he would take away the sin of the world. Exactly what did Pilate and the chief priests vehemently demand to take place? The sacrifice of Jesus. They decided that it was better that one man die than the whole nation perish. What God sovereignly decrees in eternity man will freely choose in time. Again . . .
(2) What is the only thing that will satisfy the character of a holy God? The shed blood of Jesus Christ. What was the only thing that would satisfy the hatred and passion of the crowd? The shed blood of Jesus Christ. What God sovereignly ordains in eternity, man will choose by his own free will in time. So the cross was freely provided, however, the cross should never have happened. It is a condemnation of our human race that we sinners crucified the Lord of glory. You were there when they crucified our Lord, even though we know all the time God’s purpose was being worked out in that Cross.

3. THE CROSS OF CHRIST WAS NECESSARY BECAUSE OF OUR SIN.

My sin is sin in the sight of God, the God in whom I live and move and have my being. My sin is also sin against my God. Sin both in his sight, and also sin against him, and that’s what makes the Cross of our Lord Jesus essential if I’m to be forgiven. More than my feeling truly sorry for my sin atonement needs to be made for it, and that is why Christ went to the Cross. He did not go to there because of factors outside of his control. It was not hard luck; he was not a man in the wrong place at the wrong time. Do you think that God would allow his Son to be stripped, and nailed to a cross, and lifted up to hang there and slowly die if Father and Son had not both determined that it was utterly necessary? The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men. God is not indifferent. When he hears the sobs of an abused woman God’s righteous anger is focused on the man abusing her. He blazes against him, but then he does something extraordinary. He provides a Saviour for that wicked man. God’s Son on Golgotha propitiates his wrath and the appeased God is reconciled to us.

That is why God put him on that cross, and which Jesus freely in love humbled himself to the death of the cross. God determined how long he would stay there, because by that death the Lord Jesus was going to save men and women and boys and girls who are in the grip of sin. It was to deal with the problem of our si
nfulness, that that Cross, with that Saviour hanging on it, was dropped into its socket on Golgotha, and there he hung until the price of our redemption had been paid, and there he stayed until he was dead. That was the totally effective solution to my sin. History tells us that the holy Innocent was crucified as God’s beloved Son, but the Scripture tells us that he was there for others who were not innocent. They were guilty sinners, men and women who had broken God’s law, people who were estranged from God their Creator. Before God we are nothing, and less than nothing. We are like a pack of dogs eating our own vomit. We are like a herd of swine wallowing in the mud. We are contemptuous rebels, and to be in his presence as we are is to be utterly condemned. Yet he took our condemnation in our room and stead because he loved us to the end.

Do you remember how the greatest prophet of the Old Testament responded to the revelation of the mighty Creator as it was given to him in the Temple when he saw the majesty and magnificence and glory of God. The seraphim were singing and sighing, “Holy! Holy! Holy! Isn’t he utterly holy?” And they covered their eyes from a full sight of it, and immediately Isaiah bursts out, “Woe is me! Woe is me!” Here was a man who was going to pronounce woe on the nations of the world and his own nation, but he couldn’t do that before first of all pronouncing woe on himself.

In the presence of the holy God of the Bible there is no Christian living unless he has pronounced the anathema on himself, and seen himself in the presence of this majestic God and cried out, “I am undone.” We have seen that our best gifts are stained and blemished, hopelessly inadequate when placed in the presence of this great God. Here is Isaiah, this great preacher prophet of the Old Testament. He is going to stride the stage of human history like a colossus among all the prophets. Whoever could speak like Isaiah? Yet when God comes near it is those very lips (that were his greatest natural ability, his glorious eloquence), it is those lips that make him cry out, “They are unclean. Touch them with a coal from the altar.” Our sins need forgiveness; our very talents need cleansing. We need to be de-sinned.

Do you see that the cross is necessary because it is for unclean men and women that Jesus has been freely given to the world by Almighty God? We have never seen ourselves until we have really looked at ourselves and seen ourselves as this God sees us, as those who day by day live in his presence, who are moving steadily towards a fearsome encounter with him, standing terribly exposed as his eyes are upon us. Too many here are stroking their affections, preening themselves like the Pharisee in the Temple, that they are not like other men. You know how he went one day to the Temple to pray, and Jesus was watching him. He prayed standing up so that as many as possible could see and hear him, head erect, speaking aloud, his voice carrying across the Temple courts. His act deserved an Oscar, the way he was dressed for the occasion, the manner in which he carried himself, the way he took the most suitable position, where the light fell on him and the acoustics helped his voice to sound forth, the way he held himself so religiously before his audience, and then he started his great intonation as he began his prayer. He knew that one should always begin a real prayer with words of thanksgiving. Maybe his rabbi had told him always to do that, and so he thanked God, but what did he thank him for? That he was not like other men, so sinful compared to himself. “Thank you that I am not an adulterer. Thank you that I fast. Thank you that I tithe. Thank you that I am not like this publican who is getting into my space and spoiling my performance, distracting people from focusing on me. Thank you that I am better than other people. Thank you that I can see the faults of other people.” There is no religion that is more popular than one that points out the failings of other people, and the Pharisee had it right through his prayer. And do you know what we do? Do you know? We read this incident, and we go away saying, “I thank you God that I am not like that Pharisee.” We are doing exactly the same thing. We are comparing ourselves horizontally with another pathetic religious sinner. We think of inconsistent church goers and we think that their failings excuse ours.

The cross was necessary, not because of what you are like measured by other people but because what you are like in the presence of the God of the Bible. Because measured by the God who is light, in whom is no darkness at all, you cannot stand for a moment. You are a falling man, a collapsed man, a fallen man. None of us can stand. In God’s presence we have no prayer other than the prayer of the poor man who had been thoughtless enough to distract other people from looking at the Pharisee. That man looked down to the dust and beat his breast and crying, “God . . . be merciful . . . to me . . .  a sinner.” I tell you when God freely determined to save then it was sinners whom he loved. These are the persons he made up his mind to save, but when they had cast themselves on his mercy there was no way he could save them other than dealing in strict and fair justice with Jesus to die in their place, as their substitute, to suffer what they ought to suffer, to go where they ought to go, to bear the judgment they deserve, to take the wrath that ought to be poured out on them. That is why the cross is necessary, because either we sinners will pay the wages of sin or the Redeemer will clear the debt for us, and this Messiah goes to Calvary as the Lamb of God to suffer and die in our place that we may be saved.

So here is today’s sin; it’s fresh; not the sin of my youth but sin that is bang up to date. Do I know my sin today? Do I really know what it is to stand in the presence of the immaculate God of the Bible, blemished and stained as I am and utterly undone in his presence? Do I stand there knowing that he has provided a Saviour? Do I know that it is because of my sin that the cross is necessary?

4. THE NECESSITY OF THE CROSS OF CHRIST IS TAUGHT EVERYWHERE IN THE BIBLE.

When Jesus deals with two depressed people on the road to Emmaus he makes this point to them, “Haven’t you read your Bibles?” He is saying to them, “Don’t you remember what was in Moses and what is throughout the Scriptures? Don’t you realise that all the paths of the biblical testimony lead to the cross? Don’t you realise that behind everything in the Bible that Cross stands, that great moment of atonement, when Jesus dies for sin and for sinners at Calvary. All the streams of the Bible are flowing around me now and they are all coloured by the blood of atonement. No matter where I look I can see the blood. It runs right through the Bible, this glorious theme.

It is remarkable isn’t it, this collection of 66 books, with all these different authors who have written them. Yet the theme that runs right through, from Genesis to Malachi and from Matthew to Revelation is one and the same, the death of the Lamb of God. The moment that our father Adam sinned God acted and promised that it would be the Seed of the woman who would bruise the serpent’s head though in the process he would get hurt. Then at the end of the Bible, there in the book of Revelation, who is in the midst of the throne but a Lamb who has been slain. He has all the glory in Immanuel’s land because he has redeemed all the multitudes of heaven by his precious blood, and they are singing their praises to him. He is in the very centre of heaven; he is its hub.

So the Lord Jesus met with these two men and he took them through the Scriptures asking them, “Look! Consider! Didn’t Christ have to suffer these things?” He shows them the things concerning himself, and he does the s
ame later on (v.44). Everything written about him in the law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled. The necessity of the cross and the glory of the cross is the theme of the Bible. If you haven’t seen that then you haven’t been reading your Bibles properly, and if you haven’t done that then no wonder you’re often depressed. There is no reason why you should become despondent on the way, not with this great message. When I sign an autograph book or a visitors’ book I often write down, “God is sovereign in all things, and every problem finds its solution at Calvary.” Here in the Scriptures is the voice of God from another world announcing free salvation, grace that is greater than all our sins, peace with heaven through the Lord Jesus. The one Christ, the great Redeemer, is proclaimed in every part of the Scriptures.

So the people of God in the Old Testament who were saved were saved through the necessity of the Cross, through what Jesus the promised was to do at Calvary. It is the message of the whole Bible. It is not the message of the Bible in an identical manner. The cross was proclaimed in the Old Testament through types, through a high priest and his garments, through feasts like the Passover, and particularly through the blood of goats and heifers and lambs and doves. Those sacrifices left rivers of blood flowing on Israel’s altars for centuries, but then the last great Sacrifice and the anti-type the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ died and then there were no more altars necessary, no more sacrifices necessary, no temple, no priests, no Passover. I say, the gospel was proclaimed in different ways throughout the Old Testament, but now God has spoken his last word in Jesus in the magnificence of his atonement.

So he says to us, “O fools and slow of heart not to believe everything in the Scriptures.” “Why are you so slow?” he says to them, and I say to some of you, “Why are you so slow? You have been listening to the message of the cross for years and still you haven’t believed. Aren’t you slow in believing it. I wish I could push you and hurry you along. It is so simple. We deserve eternal death because we are sinners, but Jesus because he loved us died instead of us. ‘He die; we no die.’ So it is my sin that makes the cross a necessity. I owe God my whole life; I owe him love with all my heart and soul, and I fail to give him that. I’m in debt to him. I owe God. The debt is enormous. He comes! Christ comes and discharges my debt in my place. He loves God and fulfils all my righteousness, and I am discharged. The slate is wiped absolutely clean. With the shedding of his blood there is full remission of sin.

Now the glory of it all is that the cross is the work of the Lord Jesus Christ. The cross is not a work of theology or dogmatics. It is an act in space and time that the loveliest and the best does freely and willingly. That is what makes the cross glorious, not that it is a cross. Considered as a cross it is as unattractive as an electric chair or a gallows, some obscene and fiendishly cruel instrument of suffering and death. But the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ is the theatre of his saving work, and it’s before us in the gospel. “Did not Christ have to suffer these things?” The Cross was his place of work and ministry. It was the Son of Man who came to give his life as a ransom for many. And it’s at Calvary he does it.  It’s to the cross that his compulsion to save the ones he loves brings him. The Son of Man must go to Jerusalem. He must be betrayed. He must suffer. He must die and be raised on the third day. He must because he is the Messiah, and at the cross he does his great doing; it is at the cross that he finally acts. It is the crescendo and climax of his entire life, and because of the cross God forbid that we should glory in anything else. Paul saw it and said, “I was determined not to know anything among you save Jesus Christ and him crucified.”

A Cross-less Christ my Saviour could not be.
A Christ-less Cross no refuge is for me.
But O Christ crucified I rest myself on Thee.

That’s all I have to preach today; not a Cross without a Saviour, or a Saviour without a Cross but this magnificent combination of the incarnate God – ‘The Deity of Christ why You Must Believe it’ – ending his life in the most objectionable place, the one who chose to suffer there in the place of trashy people, weaklings and fusspots like us. Today the good news of salvation is that my sins have been dealt with before God by his work. There was no other way. I mean I couldn’t handle them, these sins were too many, too powerful, too overwhelming, too defiling, too sad for me. Their memories are too long. So in my hands I bring to God nothing. I do not bring excuses, a case, an argument, a plea, for I have none. I do not bring good works because my best is affected by my sin. Simply to the cross I cling. I speak; I say to God so humbly, “Woe is me. God be merciful to me a sinner.” I look into his great face, giving him nothing but my sin and need, and he says, “Here is Jesus, my Son, my Lamb, for sinners to come to.”

I want to ask now if you know God as your Redeemer in Christ? You remember what the Bible tells you. You know God your Creator. The evidence of his being and majesty and Godhead are all around you. His word is speaking to you loudly so that you know God as your Creator, but do you know him as your Redeemer in Christ? Do you know this Cross to be your only place of refuge and safety? If there were to be salvation at all it was necessary for the Son of God to suffer and to enter into his glory. Today the good news of the gospel is that the Christ did suffer and now is seated at the right hand of God. The work is finished; it is done, and all you need for salvation is here in Jesus. God has nothing else to give us but Jesus. He is here as a crucified and risen Redeemer for you. Take him and his Cross. Take him in all the glory of his person and his finished work. Why won’t you take him now as your very own Saviour? Don’t be slow. Do you know him? If not why not? He is here for you. Not in the front or I would ask you to come to the front, but near you, in your ears, in your affections, in your heart, in your intellect. Coming to you and filling you now with himself to join you to him for ever and ever, he in you and you in him for eternity. The Christ of the old, old Cross now in you; in your life bright and new today, as your hope of eternal glory; greet him! Welcome him! Receive him and from now on plead his name. Plead the merits of his death. Plead his shed blood. “I the chief of sinners am, but Jesus died for me!” That is your plea.

Geoff Thomas