What the Cross Meant to God
The Meaning of the Cross
What the Cross Meant to God
Romans 3:24-26
 
Back in the early years of this century the music of Ray Boltz was at the top of the charts of Southern Gospel.  He had a way of writing that captured the mind and imagination and brought the lyrics to life. 
 
He recorded 16 albums during his nearly 20-year recording career. He sold close to 4.5 million copies, won 3 Dove awards and was a huge name for years in churches and the homes of Christian music fans until his retirement from the industry in the summer of 2004.
 
Then in 2008, his name was once again in the headlines as he revealed his homosexuality, saying he had been attracted to other men since he was a young man, this in spite of being married for 33 years and fathering four children. 
 
He is now again touring and singing.  His latest project His newest project "True" deals with his struggle to reconcile his faith with his sexual orientation.  In fact, two songs from this project have gained national attention.  The song "Don't Tell Me Who To Love" has been adopted as an anthem for marriage equality.  The song "Who Would Jesus Love" was named as one of the top songs in Billboard's international songwriting contest.   
 
One of his biggest hits was a song called “Watch the Lamb”.  It tells the story of Simon the Cyrene traveling to Jerusalem with a little lamb on the day of the crucifixion to offer for Passover.
As they stand looking at the cross, one of the boys says, "Daddy, daddy, what have we seen here?
There's so much that we don't understand."  So I took them in my arms and we turned and faced the Cross.  Then I said, "Dear children watch the lamb."
 
Indeed there is much we don’t understand.  And the testimony of Ray Boltz is a vivid reminder that everyone has a different perspective about the cross and what took place there and what should be the results of encountering it.
 
But there is also a reminder in that song of where we find the answers we need.  Easter comes in just five weeks. In order to prepare our hearts we are going to take the five weeks leading up to Easter to focus on the cross of Christ. I do not intend to repeat the details of what happened at the crucifixion.  Most of us know the story very well.
 
We all understand that the cross is the very heart of the Christian faith, and without the cross we have no faith at all. What happened on that bloody hill was the single most important event in all history since the very beginning of the universe. No event can be compared to it.
 
So instead of looking at what happened from an historical perspective, I want to look at what happened in a personal way. And my goal and my hope are for us to see the cross from a new perspective.  And I will tell you before I began to prepare for this series this week, I don’t know that I had ever put my thoughts about the cross together in just his way.  
 
But as I’ve just shared with you, everyone comes to the cross from a different set of circumstances and because of that, they have different responses and perspectives. 
 
So over the next five weeks we will be looking at the cross from five distinct points of view that are found in Scripture. First, what the cross meant to God. Second, what it meant to Christ. Third, what it meant to Satan. Fourth, what it means to the church and fifth, what it means to the church.
 
We begin today by asking what the cross meant to God.  What happened on the cross from God’s point of view? What did it mean to God the Father as his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, died a criminal’s death?
 
In order to answer that question we will focus on just three verses found in Romans 3.  What we find there in verses 24-26 are the very heart and soul of the Christian gospel and there we find three answers to the question, “What did the cross mean to God?”
 
1. The Turning Away of God’s Wrath
 
Verse 25
 
Now here’s where we get to apply some of the things we’ve learned over the last few weeks in our “Key Words” study.  Notice the word “propitiation”.  We defined it as “turning away wrath by the offering of a gift or sacrifice”. In this context it means that the death of Christ turns away God’s wrath.
 
I realize that God’s wrath is not a popular topic these days. Many pastors fear to preach on God’s wrath lest they incur the wrath of the congregation.
We’d all rather hear about God’s love than about his wrath. Yet both are entirely biblical because both wrath and love flow from God’s basic nature.
 
While it is true that “God is love” (1 John 4:8), it is also true that he hates the wicked and those who do violence (Psalm 11:5). Sometimes in our attempt to appear compassionate, we proclaim that God “hates the sin and loves the sinner.”
 
We need to be very careful how we use that phrase because it is only partly true and can be misleading. Does God love sinners? Yes, he does because sinners are part of the world Christ came to save (John 3:16). But as it stands, the statement seems to imply that love is God’s only response to sin.
 
Check out the book of Psalms and you will discover that God hates sinners and he abhors the wicked (Psalm 5:4-5; 37:13, 20; 101:7; 119:119). I believe that much modern gospel preaching is anemic precisely because we preach less than the whole truth to guilty sinners. If all we say to the lost is “God loves you,” we are in danger of making them think that their continued rebellion doesn’t matter to God. Instead, we must warn them to flee from the wrath to come (Luke 3:7). [1]
 
And if we must say, “God hates sin but loves the sinner,” let us at least add this phrase, “And he warns the sinner to repent before it is too late.” When Jonathan Edwards preached his famous sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” the listeners held on to the pillars of the building lest they suddenly slip down into eternal damnation. Can anyone imagine that happening today?
 
Lest I be misunderstood, let me say that I believe fervently in God’s love. But God’s love, as magnificent as it is, cannot cancel God’s holy hatred of sin. There is no conflict between love and anger. True love is often angry. Ask anyone who has ever known true love and they will understand the anger that comes when that love has disappointed them. 
 
Because God is holy, he is angry over our sin. Because he is love, he provided a means to turn away his own anger by the offering of His Son.
 
If you need an illustration of that, travel by way of the Old Testament to the Day of Atonement when the high priest would enter the Holy of Holies with the blood of a goat.
 
Leviticus 16 describes the ritual in vivid detail. It must be the high priest and him alone, and it must happen on the Day of Atonement—and on no other day. On the Day of Atonement the high priest would take off his regular clothes and put on a sacred linen tunic.
 
He would sprinkle the goat blood on the lid of the Ark of the Covenant. That lid—made of beaten gold—was called the “Mercy Seat.” Inside the Ark was a copy of the Ten Commandments—representing the Law of God. By the sprinkling of the blood, the sins of the people were “covered.” That covering by means of blood was called the “atonement.”
 
The sacrifice of blood turned away the wrath of God. Why is this important? Because God’s justice demands death as the ultimate punishment for sin.
 
And every year, for centuries, the Jews followed that same pattern as priest after priest offered lamb after lamb as atonement for sin. It had to be done because on every other day of the year, when God looked down from heaven, he saw the Ten Commandments inside the Ark.
 
The Ten Commandments stood as a testimony against the sins of the nation of Israel. But on the Day of Atonement God saw the blood of the sacrifice which covered the sin of the people of Israel.
 
The sacrificial system had one major problem. It provided temporary forgiveness because it was based on the blood of animals. We know that it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sin (Hebrews 10:4).
 
That is why every year, year after year, the high priest would go in and do it all over again. And when he died, another high priest would take his place and do the same thing each year on the Day of Atonement. The Old Testament system provided no permanent forgiveness for sin (Hebrews 7:23-28).
 
When Jesus died on the cross, the blood that he shed was like the blood on the Mercy Seat. It turned away the wrath of God and covered the sin of the entire human race.
 
How could that be? In the Old Testament it is the blood of bulls and goats, in the New Testament it is the eternal blood of Jesus Christ which has eternal value in the eyes of God. When Jesus hung on the cross, he cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34).
 
In that moment all the wrath of God was poured out on Jesus. He became sin for us, and all of your sin and all of mine and the sins of the whole world were poured out on Jesus. In that moment God turned his face away from his own Son. To call the death of Christ a “propitiation” means that God’s wounded heart is now satisfied with the death of his Son. When a sinner trusts Christ, God accepts him on the basis of the bloody sacrifice Christ made when he died on the cross.
 
 
Why did God do it this way? Because as an infinite God of infinite holiness, all sins committed against him are infinite in magnitude. Only a gift of infinite value could turn away the infinite wrath of God. And only God himself (in the Person of his Son) could make such an infinite gift.
 
That’s why our piddling efforts to turn aside God’s wrath are doomed to failure. We think that going to church or being baptized or going to Mass or saying our prayers or being good or stopping a bad habit or “trying really hard to be better” will somehow turn away the infinite wrath of God.
 
The wonder of propitiation is that the offended party (God), who has every right to be angry at sinners himself, offers the gift (the death of Christ) to turn away his own wrath, thus making it possible for guilty sinners to be forgiven.
 
Therefore, when we come to God through Christ, we come to a friendly Father and not to an angry God.  And that’s what the cross means to God.
 
When He looks at that cross and what happened there, He sees the eternal blood of Jesus Christ offered as a propitiation to appease His just and holy anger over sin. 
 
I’ll tell you what else it means to God.  According to verses 25 and 26, that propitiation was
 
2. A Demonstration of God’s Justice
 
Verses 25-26
 
Several years ago Phil Donahue (who hosted a popular TV talk show for many years) listed the various reasons why he had become disillusioned with Christianity. Among them was this: “How could an all-knowing, all-loving God allow his Son to be murdered on a cross to redeem my sins?” That’s an excellent question because it goes to the very heart of the gospel.
 
Why did Jesus have to die? Why would God put his own Son to death, especially to save people who had rebelled against him and didn’t want Him to die for them anyway?
 
In searching for the answer, it helps me to think of another question: Since God is both all-powerful and infinitely gracious, why didn’t he simply offer forgiveness to anyone who says, “I’m sorry"? Many people secretly think that’s what God should have done. Then we wouldn’t have to deal with the embarrassment of God killing his own Son.
 
 
 
The answer goes like this. From a human point of view, God had a problem. Because God is holy, he cannot allow sin to go unpunished. His justice demands that every sin be punished—no matter how small it may seem to us. If he were to forgive sin without proper punishment, he would cease to be holy and just.
 
God would no longer be God because he would have denied his own character. That could not happen. All offenses against God must be punished. That’s why sinners can’t simply say, “I’m sorry” and instantly be forgiven. Someone has to pay the price.
 
We follow this same principle in our criminal justice system. Suppose a man is found guilty of embezzling six million dollars from his employer.
 
Let’s further suppose that just before sentencing, he stands before the judge, confesses his crime, begs for mercy, and promises never to embezzle money again. How would you react if the judge accepted his apology and released him with no punishment?
 
Suppose the man had been convicted of rape and then was set free with no punishment simply because he apologized. Or what if he apologized for murdering a father and mother in front of their children—and the judge set him free?
 
Let us go further and ask about a group of terrorists who fly a plane into a building in America and kill thousands of American citizens.  Upon their capture, trial and conviction, they apologize and promise never to do anything like that again, are released on a promise of good behavior.
What would we do with the judge who set them free? We would throw that judge in jail for a long time.
 
Go a step further.  Suppose you were the one the money was embezzled from or it was your family that was murdered. What if your relatives were in the building and it was you who was personally offended or violated.  It’s amazing how our mercy and compassion ceases when we are personally involved in the situation. 
 
We all understand a price must be paid for breaking the law. When lawbreakers are set free with no punishment, respect for the law disappears. When terrorists are not punished, they are given a license to continue. 
 
The same is true in the spiritual realm. When sin is not punished, it doesn’t seem very sinful. God’s “problem” was to devise a plan of salvation whereby he would remain holy and just, and still provide a way of forgiveness for guilty sinners. Somewhere, somehow, there had to be a place where grace and wrath could meet. That place is the cross of Christ.
 
Back to Phil Donahue for a moment. He asked a second question that deserves an answer: “If God the Father is so ‘all-loving,’ why didn’t He come down and go to Calvary?” The answer is, He did. He did! God came down to this earth in the Person of his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, and died for our sins.
 
The paradox of salvation is this: God is a God of love and therefore wants to forgive sinners. But he is also a God of holiness who must not and cannot overlook sin. So how could God love sinners and yet not overlook their sin?
No one would ever have dreamed of his answer. God sent his own Son to die for sinners. In that way, the just punishment for sin was fully met in the death of Christ, and sinners who trust in Christ could be freely forgiven. Only God could have done something like that. Thus, Paul says, God is both just (in punishing sin) and the justifier of those who believe in Jesus.
 
Think of it. In the death of this One Man, all the sins of the human race are fully paid for—past, present and future. As a result, those who believe in Jesus find that their sins are gone forever.
 
This is the heart of the gospel: God’s holiness demands that sin be punished. God’s grace provides the sacrifice.
Or as we learned in our Sunday evening series of the Basics, “What God demands, He supplies”. Thus salvation is a work of God from first to last. It is conceived by God, provided by God, and applied by God. 
 
And when God looks at the Cross, it means His Justice is seen.
 
Finally, the cross means to God, 
 
3. An Outpouring of God’s Grace
 
Verse 24
 
The word “freely” literally means “without a cause.” Salvation comes “without a cause” in us. That is, God saves us despite the fact that he can’t find a reason within us to save us. Salvation is a “free gift” to the human race.
 
There is nothing in us that causes God to want to save us. No good works, no inner beauty, no great moral attainment, no intellectual merit of any kind. When God saves us, he does it despite the fact that we don’t deserve it.
 
This week I read a neat definition of grace: What you need but do not deserve. God declares us righteous when we have nothing but the sewage of sin in our veins.
 
This is the doctrine of grace. God saves people who don’t deserve it! God saves people who actually deserve condemnation! God saves people in spite of themselves and contrary to their record. It is “pure, abounding, astounding grace!”
 
Let me go a step further. When God saves people, he doesn’t do it because of any potential he sees in them. I think most of us secretly feel (though we would never say it) that there must have been something in us worth saving. Human pride dies hard.
 
But it’s not as if God saw a musician and said, “We need a good piano player in the church. I think I’ll save him.” Or “She’s got a lot of money and we could use some extra cash for world missions.” Or “Those twins would make excellent ushers. I want them on my team.” No, God doesn’t save on the basis of your potential. Apart from the grace of God, the only potential you have is the potential for eternal damnation.
 
When God saves, He saves us by free grace, wholly apart from anything in us or anything we might “bring to the table” later.
This is a shocking truth, hard to hear, but entirely biblical. And in the end, it is most comforting because it means that anyone, anywhere, at any time can come to Christ for salvation. No one has any advantage since “there is no difference” because all have sinned and come short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).
 
The story is told about an elderly country woman named Betty who trusted in Christ for salvation. One of her skeptical friends heard about it, and intending to make fun of her, asked if she had indeed become one of the saints. “Yes, I have,” she replied. “Well,” said the skeptic, “are you now an expert in theology?”
 
“I’m no Bible scholar,” Betty replied. “I’m simply positive that God loves me enough that he’d rather go to hell than have me go there, and that God loves me enough that he’d rather leave heaven and die than for me not to get to heaven to be with him.”
 
The skeptic insisted, “Is that all you know about it? Can’t you at least explain what being saved by grace means—that is one of your central doctrines, isn’t it?” Betty thought for a moment, then answered with these words: “Jesus stood in my shoes at Calvary, now I’m standing in his.” It would be hard to find a better explanation of justification by grace.
 
This is so hard for us to believe. We would prefer to work for our salvation. But God’s gift of salvation costs us nothing, even though it cost Christ everything. The Lord now says to us, “Take it by faith! It’s yours for free. I have paid the cost for you.”
 
Because of the cross, salvation is now entirely free. What then must I do to be saved? Must I be holy? Must I be good? Must I change my ways? Must I promise to clean up my act?
 
Here is God’s answer: Romans 3:24 says, “Freely by his grace.” But the human hearts cries out, “I must do something, I must make my contribution.” So we clean up, we go to church, we pay our money, we go to Mass, we enter the waters of baptism, and on and on. We think God will never forgive us until we do something to deserve it. But it is not so. God gives his justification away freely and if you try to pay for it, he will throw it in your face.
 
If I said you can be justified for $5, who would not pay? If I said you must walk a hundred miles, we’d all line up tomorrow morning. If I said God will justify you if you will endure a 20-minute beating, would we not endure the pain and count it a small cost? But if I say, “Free, free, God’s grace is free,” something in the human heart rebels against that fact. Either you take it freely or you don’t take it at all.
 
So how do we receive God’s gift of salvation? Simply by asking for it. Do you know in your heart that you want Christ in your life? You may have him today! This is the wonder of the gospel. Do not say, “I’ll do my best and come to Christ later.” That is the language of hell. You cannot be saved as long as you hold to your notions of goodness.
 
“I’ll get better,” you say. No you won’t. You can’t get better, that’s your problem. You’re as good as you can be right now—and that’s not very good.
Sin has gripped your soul and made you depraved inside and out. Here’s some shocking news. If you somehow got better, you would be worse off, because the worse you are, the better it is to come to Christ (Luke 5:32).
 
If you are unholy and you know it, come to Christ. If you are a sinner and wish to be forgiven, come to Christ. If you feel unworthy, come to Christ. If you feel like a failure, come to Christ. If you admit that your life is a mess, come to Christ.
 
I pray that you will run to the cross as your only hope of salvation. But I cannot make you believe. I do not have the power within me to change your heart. I could preach for hours but I would be preaching as to the dead unless God should give you life.
 
If you have any stirring in your heart, any sense of your need, any desire to be saved by grace, that desire has been placed in your heart by God. May that desire lead you to the cross where Jesus waits to receive you.
 
Let’s pray.
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