Summary: This article was written and published Sept. ’14. This is one of my favorite articles. In it we look back at the cross as believers who have been given the Holy Spirit, and by Him can better understand the beauty and valve of the work of the cross. The cross is the only place in the entire universe and history of this world where it was possible for the righteousness of God and the love of God to come into perfect agreement and harmony concerning man’s sin. This is the main point of this article. But there are other things also found in the cross – the hatred and rebellion of man which made him an enemy of God, the evil influence of Satan and his power of death, and the perfect obedience of Man shown in the humility of Jesus Christ, the Son of Man. All these things and more are perfectly merged together in the incredible and precious work of the cross. Read on from here to get the details of this viewpoint, remembering to hover your mouse over the scriptures in light blue to open a window to read the passage in the New King James Version (NKJV). Always prayerfully ask the Holy Spirit for enlightenment concerning the word of God and the mind of Christ.
There is a foundation that is the basis for everything that God will do. All the counsels of God, all His plans, eternal as they may be, have their dependence upon the cross of Jesus Christ. All of creation, and particularly man’s history in creation, hinges upon this one event. All the work that God did after the fall of man, in a sense, had a legitimacy that flows out from the cross and the resulting fact that eventually there was Jesus Christ in the form of a Lamb slain, an offering and a sacrifice to God (Eph. 5:2). Even the new heavens and the new earth that are to come are dependent on the value and efficacy of the death and shed blood of Jesus Christ.
Any man that truly comes to God can only come to Him by way of the cross. Otherwise, it is impossible for him to stand before the holy God and remain in His presence. Man’s fallen state makes the presence of God an intolerable experience. He must come first to the cross with all his needs and in all his sins. He is a sinner by nature and his sins are what bring him there. And this honest and sincere coming of an unbeliever to God in his sins shows that by the instrumentality of the Spirit, God is, in His grace, drawing him to Christ (John 6:37, 44). The Spirit uses the word of God to awaken the unbeliever’s conscience. It is paramount that his conscience is enlightened to his true condition before God – a sinner, lost, without hope and without God in the world (Eph. 2:12). This is what he is by nature, what he is in Adam. Otherwise he will not come. And even if he does happen to hear the gospel preached or shared, it will have no effect on him (II Cor. 4:3-4). There must be this initial work of grace and the Spirit in awakening the conscience of the unbeliever. When this has taken place, the sinner will be desperate to know all that God has done to answer to his present sinful condition. He has to know what God has to say about him and what God has done for him. This work of God in grace brings the sinner to faith in Christ, faith in His death and shed blood (Rom. 3:25-26). This is what God has done for him. Now it can be said that God has justified him freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus (Rom. 3:23-24). And hopefully he comprehends in some measure, at this beginning point, that being justified freely by God, all his sins are now gone.
All Christian believers are sons of God by faith in Jesus Christ (Gal. 3:26). By the cross of Christ the veil has been torn down for believers, and we have entered in behind it (spiritually), into the presence of God (Heb. 10:19-22). Amazingly, Christians are able to stand (spiritually) in God’s presence, because now we have a perfected conscience – one that has perfect peace with God, being free from any guilt of sins (Rom. 5:1, Heb. 9:8-9, 1:3, 10:1-4, 12). Our forerunner, Jesus Christ, has gone in before us (Heb. 6:19-20, 10:19-21). It is certain that if our forerunner is already there, we will physically go there as well, into the presence of God. For the believer, for his walk with God and his spiritual growth, Jesus is no longer on the cross. Yes, as unbelievers, the only way to come to God was by the cross. But now, by accomplished redemption, we are in Christ and sons of God. For the believer now, Christ’s current ministry is in glory and at the right hand of God – the point being, all the believer’s relationships, blessings, hopes, privileges, even the forming of the assembly by the Holy Spirit sent down, are dependent on where the glorified Son of Man is today. Everything He is doing now in ministry is entirely on behalf of the Christian believer/church. Simply, He did not stay on the cross. And this becomes important for all Christian doctrine. For example: It is a Christ in glory whose image we look at in the mirror, so as to change to be more and more like Him (II Cor. 3:18).
Being in the presence of God is the believer’s privileged state. It is the result of our new relationship with God through Christ. If Jesus is in the presence of God, and we are in Christ, then we are spiritually, and will be physically, in the presence of God. However, being within the veil does not mean we cannot look back on the cross and as believers contemplate its perfection and value. Having been sealed by the Holy Spirit gives the believer a tremendous advantage. We possess the Comforter as the Spirit of truth, who is willing to teach us all the things that belong to Christ (John 16:13-15). By the Holy Spirit we have the mind of Christ and can know all the things of God (II Cor. 2:9-16). We are privileged to view the work of the cross with a divine understanding. We may see it as God sees it, at least in a measure, and comprehend the work in His thoughts. This promises to be more insightful than when we first came to the foot of the cross. At that time we were lost sinners, without the Spirit of God.
Phil. 2:5-8 (NKJV)
“…Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a servant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.”
Here are the two steps of Christ’s humiliation – according to the specific will and purpose of God, 1.) He takes on human flesh, and then, 2.) He is further humiliated to the death of the cross. Why was it humiliation? Because He was God and equal to God, nevertheless agreed to come into this world for the purpose of redeeming man (Heb. 10:1-12). Although there are many truths to be taught by this passage, it should be easy to see what God’s thoughts are concerning what is the essence of the work of redemption – it always is the death of His Son on the cross, the sacrifice for sin to be made that would bring pleasure to God. This is the truth to be focused on by the believer when men, in their foolish wisdom, bring in so many additions to the work of the cross.
If God would have cut off all mankind, judging him in his sin and sins, He would have been holy and righteous in doing so. David said, “And enter not into judgment with Thy servant, for in Thy sight no man living will be justified.” (Ps. 143:2) God could have destroyed man for his sin and remained perfectly righteous in doing so. Judgment of all men would have been God’s right and He would have been holy and just in it. But where would have been the love in this? Now, suppose God would have passed over all men’s sins, winking at it all so to speak without any thought of judgment? This would have been the display of His love in doing so. But where would have been righteousness in this? It could not be either way. Both would compromise the integrity of God Himself. Neither of the two scenarios would be possible.
But what we find in the value of the cross is that the righteousness of God and the love of God have been brought together in perfection. What was impossible by any other means and through any other situation, has been accomplished by the cross of Christ. The holiness and justice of God have been reconciled with the love of God. These two things could not have come together anywhere else; it was not possible except in the cross (Rom. 8:3, 5:8).
When we look at the cross we see the sin of the world, and our sins that He would bear. “Who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree…” And John said of Him, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (I Pet. 2:24, John 1:29) He was a sacrifice for sin as well as the scape goat who bore away the sins of the people. The innocent one, who knew no sin of His own, suffered for the guilty (I Pet. 3:18). But sins were not the only thing that man contributed. At the cross we find the complete enmity and hatred of man against God. When He came into the world that He created, coming in goodness and mercy, removing by His divine power in grace every kind of misery brought about by man’s sin – miricles, healings, deliverances, feeding the poor – all that man returned to Him was hatred. God’s presence in human flesh only drew out the full display of man’s enmity against Him.
John 15:22-25 (NKJV)
“If I had not come and spoken to them, they would have no sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. He who hates Me hates My Father also. If I had done among them the works which no one else did, they would have no sin; but now they have seen and also hated both Me and My Father…They hated Me without a cause.”
The coming of the Son of God as sent by His Father was the full and final testing of man’s heart. His true state is one of manifested sin and hatred towards God. Fallen mankind was proven, by this last testing, to be utterly ruined. Man’s sin and hatred in it’s absolute character against God was manifested at the cross. They crucified the Prince of life.
There is no doubt that Satan made his contributions to the cross as well. As the god of this world he showed his power over men by trumping up false charges against Christ, holding a joke of a trial in the darkness of the night, and securing the sentence of death from the civil powers. In the garden Jesus says to the mob sent by the rulers and high priest to arrest Him, “But this is your hour, and the power of darkness.” (Luke 22:53) Earlier that night Jesus said, “…for the ruler of this world is coming, and he has nothing in Me.” (John 14:30) Satan’s power is the power of death. Jesus, the Son of Man, in obedience to God’s will (Heb. 10:5-7, Phil. 2:8), would submit to go down under Satan’s power and taste death. In this way Jesus destroyed him who had the power of death, that is the devil (Heb. 2:14). The resurrection of Christ is the proof that Satan has been destroyed. The cross was the time of the judgment of the world, and the time when the prince of this world was cast out (John 12:31). Satan’s judgment has been pronounced by the cross. There is title to this judgment. The matter has been settled by the cross. It is only a matter of time before it is physically accomplished by God (Rev. 12:7-12, 20:1-3).
Satan’s power over the believer has been destroyed, even the fear of death (Heb. 2:15). What the believer looks for and expects is resurrection or change (I Cor. 15:50-54, II Cor. 5:1-5, I Thess. 4:13-18). If the Lord delays and we experience physical death, there is no fear in this, for we go to be with the Lord (Phil. 1:23). For the believer to die is gain (Phil. 1:21). In this we have confidence, not fear.
The cross of Jesus Christ was the display of God’s perfect righteousness against man’s sin. This display was carried out by God condemning Christ to death. God makes His own Son to be sin, and then condemns sin in the flesh (II Cor. 5:21, Rom. 8:3). It was God’s will that Jesus, the Son of Man, would drink the cup of His wrath (Luke 22:41-44). By the work of the cross and the perfect obedience of the Son of Man, God was satisfied, vindicated, and honored in His judgment of sin (Heb. 10:1-7). The Son of Man had fully glorified the majesty of God by His obedience to the cross, and it would not be long before God would glorify the Son of Man (John 13:31-32). This is the display of God’s righteousness as it is found in the gospel (Rom. 1:16-17) – first, by the death of Christ for sin, a sacrifice for sin and sins (Heb. 9:26, 28) “…as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma.” (Eph. 5:2); second, by Jesus being exalted to the right hand of God (John 16:10, Heb. 10:12). Righteousness had placed Christ as a Man at the right hand of God, because as a Man He had perfectly glorified God. “…when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.” (Heb. 1:3)
His death and shed blood is the propitiation that demonstrates God’s righteousness. God was glorified by the just and righteous condemnation of sin. Because of the work of the cross God remains holy, righteous, and just. Remaining just, God now becomes the justifier of both Old and New Testament saints alike (Rom. 3:25-26). The cross is finished, redemption is complete. Now all the work God does is based on the cross as its foundation – God acting as He pleased in times past, choosing and quickening as He willed according to His own purposes (saving Old Testament saints – John 5:17-21), or His work in sovereign grace (justifying New Testament saints – John 10:26-29). God remains righteous and just in justifying us and placing us in Christ (Rom. 4:24-25). This is the righteousness of God. And God’s righteousness is fully demonstrated by the cross (Rom. 3:21-24). Where was God’s righteoussness, God’s justice, God’s holiness proved? In the place where Christ was “made sin.”
In the cross we see God’s infinite and perfect love for the sinner. God so loved the world that He gave His Son. But further than this, in sovereign grace and showing special love, God has given His Son to us. “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” (Rom. 8:32) It is to the believer the Son has been given. It is the believer who has been sealed by the Holy Spirit as a son. It is in the hearts of the sons of God where there is comprehension of such great love, poured out there by the presence of the Spirit (Rom. 5:5). And how do we understand this love? “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom. 5:8) The extended passage (Rom. 5:1-11) makes a triple impression to show God’s great love as unconditional towards us – when we were still without strength (v. 6), while we were still sinners (v. 8), and when we were enemies of God (v. 10). It shows the blessedness the believer is brought to through what God has done for us, when we were still apart and away from God. It shows what God is in love and grace for the sinner. Where was the love of God proved? In the place where Christ was “made sin.”
We cannot forget to speak of the love and obedience the Son showed for His Father, and the obedience Jesus showed as a Man before God. The Son was sent by the Father to reveal the Father (John 1:18). He always spoke the Father’s words, only performed the Father’s works (John 14:10). He never speaks His own words, and He never does His own works or will (John 7:16-18, 8:27-29, 9:4, 12:49-50). The Son perfectly revealed the Father (Matt. 11:27). Further, we see that the Son glorified the Father by being obedient unto death. In the garden His prayer was to His Father (Luke 22:42) – “…nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done.” In the title of the Son of Man, by His obedience as a Man, Jesus perfectly glorifies God concerning man’s sin (John 13:31-32). In the place where man’s hatred and sins were shown absolutely in full light before God, this Man acted in love and perfect obedience to glorify God. “But that the world may know that I love the Father, and as the Father gave Me commandment, so I do.” (John 14:31, 10:15-18, Heb. 10:5-7) Whether it was Jesus as the Son, or as the Son of Man, His “food” was to do the will of the one who sent Him, and to finish God’s work (John 4:34). “For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.” (John 6:38) Jesus glorified perfectly both God and the Father as the Son and as a Man. Where was obedience (responsibility) to God proved? In the place where Christ was “made sin.”
The two trees of the garden of Eden, which were separated by man’s fall, have now been reconciled by the cross. The tree of life and the tree of human responsibility have been met in Christ. Human responsibility? He made good all the believer’s sins by bearing them away. He meets all the believer’s responsibility in the first Adam. That is settled forever. Then He gives us life (John 17:2-3, I John 5:11-12). The meaning of the cross becomes ‘grace reigning through righteousness, unto eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.’ (Rom. 5:21)
So then, the question of good and evil, which resulted in man’s departure from God in the garden, is settled by the cross. We see Jesus, hanging on the Roman cross, made sin before God at the very moment the full development of the character of sin was manifested by the world in rejecting Christ. Yet for the believer it is no longer departure from God. It is no longer falling short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23). His sacrifice brings us to God in the light. We are brought to the invisible God, to Him who dwells in unapproachable light, to Him who no man can look on and live. By the cross all this has changed. Now there is a Man exalted into the presence of God – the Son of Man. And He is there for us as the forerunner (Heb. 6:19-20, 9:24-28, 10:12-22). By the cross we have been brought back to God. “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God…” (I Pet. 3:18)
Let’s attempt to summarize these precious thoughts about the cross and the believer looking back upon it. All good and evil has been brought, in a sense, to a culmination in the cross—in that place of sin before God, that is, in Christ made sin. It is my wish all believers would fully comprehend this. We have the absolute wickedness of man and enmity against God, who Himself came in goodness; we have the complete power of Satan, as Jesus said, “your hour and the power of darkness.” We have the prince of this world leading all men, the disciples having fled; Jesus as Man in his absolute perfection, in whom that prince had nothing, but there was perfect love to the Father and perfect obedience (John 14:30-31); Man in absolute personal perfection, yet He was made sin before God, where it was necessary for God’s glory, for it was where He was made sin that the obedience was made perfect, obedient unto death. This was where God was shown absolute in righteousness against sin, yet perfect in love to the sinner. This is the finished and immutable foundation of eternal perfectness. We cannot say yet that sin is actually put away, except for the believer who by the Holy Ghost knows it (Rom. 6:14); but the work is perfectly done, the basis for which there will be a new heaven and a new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness.
Earlier in the post I mentioned that the work of the cross is the foundation and basis by which God does all His work, even the new heavens and earth that God will bring forth. This will follow the coming tribulation, millennium, and white throne judgment, in that order. The new heavens and new earth will be wherein righteousness dwells (II Pet. 3:13). It will not be where “the sin of the world” will continue to exist. Neither will death be present in that which is made new. Death was simply that which came in on the coattails of sin, when sin entered into the world by Adam’s one offence (Rom. 5:12). After the white throne judgment, “Death will be swallowed up in victory” when “the sin of the world” has been completely removed (I Cor. 15:54-56). Therefore, Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away “the sin of the world.” We learn that the second Adam and His obedience to the cross is the answer and the making good of all the misery and sin brought in by the first Adam. The Son of Man sold all that He had, in a sense, to purchase the world (Matt. 13:44). The new heavens and new earth will be the full results of the completed redemptive work of Jesus Christ.
For the believer this post has been a looking back to the value and character of the cross of Christ. It is of infinite value and brings to us, by the teaching of the Spirit, a solemn understanding of the redemptive work. But there should be this gentle warning – if I remain, as it were, constantly at the foot of the cross, God will continue to appear and seem like a Judge of me. The cross is were sin in the flesh was judged by God. I cannot always be before the blood as it were – the slain Lamb’s blood is what delivers from a God passing over in judgment. Wonderful truths to understand and cherish, but I am now past the cross and have been given a new relationship and position with God. I have been raised with Christ, and this is with the Man beyond the power of death, beyond the power of the enemy. Being risen with Christ, I am united to Him in heaven (Eph. 1:16-23, 2:4-7). The cross is behind me, having come to God by it. But I am with God now. This is the believer’s position; this is the church’s place.
Then we must be mindful of the things we concentrate on as believers. We are instructed to look in the mirror at a Christ in glory, instead of looking at a Christ in the flesh (II Cor. 3:18, 5:16). This is what our eyes should always be focused on. If they are, then we will be changed by the Spirit into His image. More and more we will be conformed into the image of a glorified Christ. But this is not a Christ on the cross. When on the cross He was in the flesh – actually, there He was made to be sin in the flesh (Rom. 8:3). On the cross He was not yet glorified. For our present sanctification we must see a Christ in glory in the mirror – this is a Man beyond death, beyond the sin which He was made, beyond the sins that He bore, beyond the power of Satan, beyond the judgment of God and the cup of wrath He drank. “What then if you should see the Son of Man ascend where He was before?” (John 6:62) This He has done. Redemption is complete, and this Man has gone into glory and sat down at the right hand of God – by which I now can know God in the perfectness of His love and know the Son of Man in the perfectness of God’s righteousness. There He is hidden in God, and He is my life, and I am hidden in God with Him (Col. 3:1-3). This Man, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down in glory at the right hand of God. He waits until it is time to deal with His enemies (Heb. 1:3, 10:12).