Back to the Cross – Part 2

René Malgo and Samuel Rindlisbacher

The gospel was witnessed to by the law and the prophets (Romans 3:21). It was predicted in the Jewish Bible, the Old Testament. The Jews could have recognized Him if they had read and believed. Isaiah prophesied in detail 700 years before Christ, of His path of suffering and the reason for this suffering (Isaiah 53:3-12). This means that it was no coincidence or mistake when God’s Son was nailed to the cross. He was betrayed by man, but God sent His own Son to the cross to die for man.

This very cross reveals God’s righteousness (Romans 3:21), for there guilty people can become “justified” and declared free. This is because the justified has seen and believed that another, namely God Himself in Jesus Christ, stood in the dock for him. This fact causes Paul to rejoice, “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).

We should now be clear about this: God did not merely ignore it. He did not say, close your eyes and press on; just forget it or, don’t take it too literally. No, when God justifies the sinner, it is for only one reason, as Paul emphasizes, “whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood” (Romans 3:25). The only way that God can justify the sinner is via Calvary’s cross. This is only possible because Jesus Christ shed His blood on the cross and died, taking the sins of the world upon Himself, and thereby satisfying the demands of a holy God. We receive our justification and pardon only when we claim this event for ourselves. We hide ourselves in Jesus Christ, like a child who takes shelter from the storm under his father’s raincoat. Only when I hide myself in Christ, take refuge in what He did for me on the cross, does God give me protection from His holy wrath over lost sinners.

The gospel is in this sense a legal matter. Christ takes all the sins of the believing sinner upon Himself. In exchange, He places His perfect righteousness on the sinner. Now God sees the sinner through His sinless Son. Substitutionally for the sinner, the righteous Son bore the punishment and conquered death through His resurrection. For this reason, the sinner is reconciled with God, is just before Him and has eternal life. This is the power of God in the gospel.

On the cross, Jesus Christ bore the punishment that we deserve. We cannot understand what that means and must have cost Him. It was so awful that Jesus Christ cried out on the cross, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). But Christ drank the cup to the last bitter drops, until He could proclaim, “It is finished” (John 19:30). With the resurrection of Jesus, God proclaimed and confirmed that this substitutionary, atoning sacrifice of His Son was sufficient and that Christ paid for the sins of all people who believe it.

God would be unfair if He did not pronounce all those just who believe in Christ. It would be a blasphemy of His name, His character and His own righteousness. This is the question we humans have: How can God forgive sin and remain completely just Himself? How can God, the absolute moral authority, call sinners just? How can He accept sinners, without departing from His own standard of righteousness and holiness?

We find the answer, as we have seen, in Jesus on the cross at Calvary. “To declare, I say, at this time His righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus” (Romans 3:26). Yes, on Calvary’s cross God’s truth about sin was revealed (how terrible and repulsive it really is!), and also the righteousness and holiness of God was satisfied. By becoming man and taking the sins of the world upon Himself, the perfect way out for sinners was created.

Many Christians have not really grasped how good the good news really is, how sure our salvation is. God did not put the law aside on the cross, but fulfilled it completely. Christ bore the curse of the law on the cross so that we can have His righteousness (Galatians 3:10-13; 2 Corinthians 5:21).

Luther called this a joyful exchange; God’s righteousness for our unrighteousness. Thus, the grace of God is not dependent on us, and therefore we will never lose it if we believe in Jesus Christ. This is what we should remind ourselves of and cling to anew in the year of the Reformation. No story of suffering should move our hearts as the cross of Christ, as Luther once emphasized. We should cling to Christ and His cross and not rely on our own righteousness, our own cleverness, or our own growth in holiness. All our sins have been forgiven.

Christ is our one and all, and the cross is our anchor. This is what we want to cling to. When the crucified and risen Lord is at the center of our lives, we are on the secure side. The only thing that makes us just before God is faith in Jesus Christ. That is why Paul says, “For I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2); for we are “justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24).

Normally, every believing Christian agrees that we are not justified on the grounds of anything we have done. Maybe you are saying that you have known this for a long time. There is something else we should bear in mind, though, and not forget. We are not called just based on the standard of holiness we have reached. In other words, we are also not justified on the grounds of what Christ has done in our hearts.

The Holy Spirit works as proof and deposit of our salvation, but we will not go to heaven on account of this. Many Christians tend to think they will go to heaven on account of what Jesus has done in their hearts. This is not true. Then questions arise in our hearts such as, “Do I do enough? Do I pray enough? Do I live in the Holy Spirit enough? Do I love enough? Do I hate sin enough? Do I have the right theological convictions?” In other words, “Has Christ done enough in my heart so that I can go to heaven? Was my heart changed enough so that I can go to heaven?”

One of the criminals who hung beside the Lord Jesus went to paradise because he believed. He did not have time to let Christ or the Holy Spirit work in his heart. He had no time to deepen his love for people, make a prayer list, read the Bible more, go to the prayer meeting more punctually, develop the right doctrine, or contribute financially to the spreading of the gospel. He went to heaven because he believed.

Oh, how miserable the efforts of us humans are! In Trier, Germany, for instance, the Porta Nigra stands, a beautiful city gate from the time of the Romans. In the year 1028, during Byzantine times, a Sicilian monk walled himself in so he could devote himself to uninterrupted prayer and meditation. Is self-chastisement the right way to draw near to God? No, it is and remains faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ that saves us—not our own efforts, the keeping of rules and laws, or prayer and fasting.

It is the faith that trusts that God became man in Jesus Christ, the faith that Jesus took our guilt upon Himself and died as a punishment for our sins. Thus, we are justified through that which took place outside of us. We will go to heaven through what Jesus Christ did. We will not go to heaven on the grounds of what we do. And accordingly, we will not go to heaven on the grounds of what Christ has done in our hearts, as the Bible teacher Alistair Begg once emphasized. We will go to heaven because everything has been done for us. In God’s eyes our old man is already dead; in God’s eyes we are no longer sinners; in God’s eyes we have risen again to a new life; in God’s eyes we are already just and holy—independent of whether we have had a good or a bad day. This is all through God’s grace alone, through Jesus Christ alone.

When the Catholic monk and teacher Martin Luther saw this, his life was completely changed. He began what we now know as the Protestant Reformation. R. C. Sproul wrote, “From the moment Luther understood what Paul explained in the epistle to the Romans, he was a different person. The burden of his guilt had been taken away. The terrible torment disappeared. This meant so much to the man that he was prepared to stand up to the pope, the council, the princes and the emperor—and if necessary the whole world. He had gone through the gates of paradise, and no one could pull him out.” Whatever may have happened in your life, cling to the accomplished work of Jesus Christ and come back to the cross continually. Let no one pull you out of paradise, and confess with Luther:

“It was impossible for me on account of my innate evil and weakness to satisfy the demands of God. If I cannot believe that God for Christ’s sake offers me forgiveness this day, I am finished. I must despair. But I don’t do that. Like Judas, to hang myself on a tree, I won’t do. I hang myself on the neck or feet of Christ as the sinner. Am I worse than him or her? I will cling to my Lord. Then He says to His Father, this one must also come. He has not kept his vows and has broken all your commands. Father, he is clinging to Me though. I died for him. Let him through. This is my faith.”

Midnight Call - 06/2017

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