What is it that makes Christs death the supreme sacrifice
above all other human deaths? Many martyrs have suffered horrible deaths, some in ways
that at least outwardly appear more agonizing than the death of the cross. Again, have
you ever wondered why the cross made such a tremendous impact on the disciples and the
early Christians? The disciples spent almost three years with Christ. They traveled with
Him, slept where He slept, and heard Him preach. They were taught by Christ and they
witnessed His tremendous miracles. In spite of all this, three years later, at the
Lords supper they were still a group of greedy, self-seeking men.
Then came the cross and it completely transformed them. They
gave up all self-interest. Now they were willing to be spent and to die for Jesus Christ.
Why? Look at the early church. They turned the world upside down because of what the
cross meant to them. Why did Paul say, I want to glory in nothing else but Jesus
Christ and Him crucified (Gal. 6:14). And, For I determined not to know any
thing among you, save Jesus and Him crucified (1 Cor. 9:9). What is it that made
the cross the central theme, and the central subject of New Testament preaching?
I believe that if we find the answer to that question the church
will never be the same again. The problem is that the devil knows that too and he has done
his best to enshroud the truth of the cross in darkness. He is quite happy to have our
churches, our books, our bodies, decorated by crosses. He is even quite happy for us to
spend hours discussing which day Christ died, Wednesday or Friday. Or he is even not one
bit concerned if we get involved in a discussion about whether the cross was two pieces
of wood or a stake. He doesnt even care if we preach about the cross, as long as
our eyes are not opened to the truth of the cross.
If we are to experience Pentecostal revival, we must remove the
darkness that has enshrouded the cross of Christ since the dark ages. We must look at the
cross as the disciples did, as the early Christians did, and as the New Testament writers
did. The question is, How did they look at the cross? They looked not with
Roman eyes but with Jewish spectacles. The cross meant something very different to the
Jews than to the Romans. The devil has the Gentile Christian Church looking at the cross
from the Roman perspective and, by doing that, he has robbed the cross of its true glory.
Let us put ourselves in the shoes of the disciples and look at
the cross, not as we see it today but as they saw it. This means that we have to think
like the Jews. To do that we need help because we are not naturally Jews. But first, here
are just a few facts about the Roman cross.
The cross was invented approximately 600 B.C. by the Phoenicians
who are the modern day Lebanese. The Phoenicians believed in many gods and one of their
gods was the earth. When they executed a criminal they did not want his body to touch the
earth when he died because they believed it would desecrate the earth. They invented the
cross so that the criminal would die above the earth.
Then the Egyptians borrowed the idea of crucifixion from the
Phoenicians and the Romans took it from the Egyptians. The Romans refined it and used it
to execute their runaway slaves, which were in abundance in the days of Christ. They used
it also to execute their worst criminals. It was a very slow, painful, lingering death.
As mentioned in the previous chapter, there are many historical records of the cross by
the Roman historians Cicero and Celsus.
One day, on the way to the prison ministry, I turned on the radio
and heard a sermon on the cross by a well-known theologian. He was very accurately and
graphically describing the terrible pain that results from hanging on the cross: gangrene
in the hands and feet, the body exposed to extreme temperatures, cold at night and hot in
the daytime. And he mentioned how it takes normally three to seven days for a crucified
one to die. The main problem that eventually kills the person is suffocation. You
cant breathe out or exhale without raising the body. So the body has to be heaved
up to keep exhaling, and so every time you do it terrible shocks of pain go through your
body. It was a true and terrible account of the cross this preacher was describing yet
it was no different from that of the thieves that were crucified with Christ. What then
made Christs death on the crosswhich, incidentally, lasted approximately
only six hoursthe supreme sacrifice?
Why are we making such a big issue over this matter? Because the
devil has enshrouded the truth of the cross in darkness and so the only thing we can
emphasize is the agony of the cross, which was not unique to Christ. In fact, the thieves
on the cross suffered longer than Christ, plus they had the added pain of their legs being
broken while they were still alive. During the Jewish revolt in 70 A.D., the Romans were
crucifying anywhere between fifty to seventy Jews a day. So what is there about the
crucifixion of Christ that makes it unique?
Lets go to the Bible and see how the Jews looked at the
cross. This, in turn, will help us to realize why the death of Christ on the cross was
very different. Turning to Johns record of the crucifixion in chapter 19, we
discover that Pilate, who represented Rome, realized that as far as the Roman law was
concerned Jesus did not qualify for crucifixion. He was neither a runaway slave nor was
He a criminal.
However, to please the Jews he had Christ flogged. Then
came Jesus forth, wearing the crown of thorns (which the Roman soldiers put there out
of mockery), dressed in a purple robe. And Pilate said to the Jews, Behold
the man! (As much as to say, I think this is as much as He deserves.)
When the chief priests therefore and officers saw Him, they cried out saying:
Crucify Him, crucify Him. And Pilate responded, Take you Him
and crucify Him, for I find no fault in Him (John 19:5,6). What he was saying was
simply, As far as Roman law is concerned, this man does not deserve crucifixion.
But the Jews had to give a reason, so they responded: The Jews answered him,
We have a law, and by our law He ought to die, because He made Himself the
Son of God (John 19:7).
They were referring to the law of blasphemy. It was God who gave
them that law through Moses. If Pilate had known the law Christ may not have been crucified.
The law does not only condemn a blasphemer to death but it also stipulates how that person
should die. In the book of Leviticus we are going to look at the law as God gave it
through Moses. Remember that Jesus claimed to be the Son of God. The Jews rejected Him
as the Messiah and, therefore, when He claimed to be the Son of God, to them it was
blasphemy. This is what the law of blasphemy says: And he that blasphemeth the
name of the Lord, he shall surely be put to death, and all the congregation shall
certainly stone him (Lev 94:16, emphasis mine).
Crucifixion was not a Jewish method of execution. The Jews did
not practice crucifixion; on the contrary, they detested it. The stipulation in the book
of the law was that a blasphemer should be stoned to death by the congregation. Didnt
the Jews know that part of the law? Yes. Were they ignorant about that part? No. If they
knew, why did they insist on crucifixion? Were they afraid that Pilate would have said,
No, you can crucify Him but you cant stone Him? The answer to that
questions is also no. Because crucifixion is a far worse way of dying. It is, in fact,
the most painful, the most shameful, the most cruel death that man had ever invented and
practised. Pilate would have been happy to say, You can take Him and stone Him.
Then why did the Jews insist on crucifixion?
I want to make it very clear that the Jews knew what the law
said in regard to how a blasphemer should die. In John 10:30, Jesus makes a statement
that to the unbelieving Jews was blasphemy: I and My Father are one. Listen
to what the Jews did in verse 31: Then the Jews took up stones again to
stone Him (emphasis mine). Look at the word again. This was not the
first time they had done it. Why did they take up stones to stone Him? In their thinking,
they were obeying a law given by God. They thought that what Jesus had said was blasphemy.
Why then did they cry out to Pilate, Crucify Him. Crucify Him? Why were they
adamant about His crucifixion, especially when we realize crucifixion was not the Jewish
method of execution? There was a reason and it is important that we know that reason.
We will find the reason in Deuteronomy 21. The Jews did not want
Jesus just to die, when they insisted that he be crucified. They had something worse for
Him than simply dying on a Roman cross. And they had this passage from Deuteronomy 21:22,
23 in mind when they cried out, Crucify Him. What does this text say?
And if a man have committed a sin worthy of death, (and blasphemy is one of them)
and he is to be put to death, and thou hang him on a tree: his body shall not remain all
night upon the tree, but thou shalt in any wise bury him that day (for he that is hanged
is accursed of God).
Do you know what that meant to the Jew, that statement in
brackets? If a Jew had committed a crime worthy of death and the judge sentenced him to
death, that man still could go on his knees before he died and say, God, Jehovah,
please forgive me for what I have done. He would have forgiveness and hope. But if
the judge said, After you die you are to be hung on a tree, that meant to the
Jews the irrevocable curse of God, which to us would be the unpardonable sin or the
second death, good-bye to life forever.
Remember, the Jews did not believe in an immortal soul. That is
a Greek concept that crept into the Christian church and which unfortunately has robbed
the cross of its glory too. The reason is that, if you believe in an immortal soul, then
death only means the separation of body and soul. Thats all it is. But to the Jews
death was good-bye to life. The unpardonable sin or the curse of God was good-bye to life
forever, because in the curse God abandons you, and when God abandons you, He who is the
Source of life, the Source of hope, the Source of security is gone. That is what the curse
means, and the Jews knew it.
When they cried out Crucify Him, they were not only
asking for Christ to be killed; more than that, they were asking God to bring His curse
down upon Him. Maybe they were thinking of a text in Isaiah 53:4. This, of course, is
the chapter on the cross in the Old Testament: Surely He hath borne our griefs,
and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem Him stricken, smitten of God, and
afflicted (emphasis mine).
Yes, God afflicted Christ on the cross. Look again at verse ten
of Isaiah 53: Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him. This has nothing to do
with what the Romans did, nor has it anything to do with what the Jews did. It has
nothing to do with even what the devil did. We saw how the cross exposed Satan as a
murderer. It exposed that sin, at its very core, is crucifying Christ. Now look at the
cross from a different angle; turn to Romans 5:23: While we were yet sinners God
demonstrated His love toward us, that Christ died for us.
There are many texts in the Bible giving us examples of the curse
of God mentioned in Deuteronomy 21. A good example is Joshua 10. Read the whole chapter
to get the full picture. However, this chapter must be read in the context of Genesis
15:13-16, because it is in this context that we see the real reason why God commended
the destruction of the Canaanites. If you dont have that context you get the idea
of God being a very revengeful and merciless God.
God called Abraham out of Ur of the Chaldeans and said to Abraham,
I want you to leave your country. I want you to leave your people and I want you to
go to the land I give you for your own and for your family, your children. That
land we know was Canaan, modern day Israel.
But we must not forget that Canaan was already occupied by what
we call the Canaanites. The people in those days called themselves Amorites. The word
Amorites is just an ancient word for Canaanites. What was God going to do
with the Amorites? Was He going to destroy them so that He could give the land to the
Jews? No. That was not Gods plan. Gods plan was for Abraham to witness to
the Amorites that they, too, may be part of Gods kingdom.
God said to Abraham in Genesis 15: Abraham, Im going
to take your children out of Canaan after you have witnessed Me, the true God and creator
of all the earth, to the Amorites and Im going to take your children to Egypt where
they will be slaves. Im going to give the Amorites four hundred years of probation.
In that period they will have time to accept or reject me.
We read in Gen. 15:16: But in the fourth generation (at the
end of the four hundred years) they (your children) shall come hither again (back to
Canaan): for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full. In other words,
When you come back and all of the Canaanite tribes still deliberately, or
willfully, reject Me, then probation has closed for them. They have reached the point of
When the Jews returned under Joshua (Moses died before they
entered the promised land), any tribe of the Amorites who attacked Israel, fighting in
the name of their god, were saying, We reject your God. Remember that the
greatest nation at that time was Egypt. God had liberated the Jews from Egypt. His
victory over Pharaoh and his army was the greatest evidence He gave to the other nations
that He was greater than the gods of any other nation.
In Joshua 10 we are told that when Israel entered the promised
land the king of the Gibeons agreed that the God of Israel is the true God and they joined
hands with Joshua and the Jews. Five other kings refused and said among themselves,
If we join hands together we are stronger than those two nations, the Gibeonites
and Israelites. So they attacked Joshua and Gibeon. Naturally, the Jews won the war
because God was on their side.
Notice what Joshua did to the five kings that were captured. He
took them and presented them first before the congregation, both the Jews and the
Gibeonites. He made this statement to them. Notice that it is in harmony with what God
had told Abraham, that the probation of the Amorites would be closed when his descendants
returned. These five kings had reached the point of no return. They had willfully turned
their backs to God. And Joshua said to the congregation: Fear not, nor be dismayed,
be strong and of good courage: for thus shall the Lord do to all your enemies against
whom ye fight (Joshua 10:25,26). Those who were attacking Israel were fighting
against Jehovah. This is what God will do to them.
And afterward Joshua smote them, and slew them, and hanged
them on five trees: and they were hanging upon the trees until the evening
(Joshua 10:26). This was what the law in Deuteronomy 21:23 said would symbolize the
irrevocable curse of God.
What was Joshua telling the people? Anyone who attacks
Israel now has deliberately and ultimately rejected the God of heaven, and therefore
willfully reached the point of no return. The curse of God is upon such a person.
Now the Jews wanted that same curse to come upon Christ. That is why they cried out,
Crucify Him, for crucifixion in Christs day was synonymous with
hanging on a tree, the equivalent of the second death.
The question is, did God comply? Did God fulfil their request?
Did He bring His curse upon His Son? And the answer is Yes. Romans 8:32 says,
God spared not His own Son. But God did not bring His wrath or curse upon
Christ for blasphemy but for another reason.
Here it is. In Galatians three we have recorded the New Testament
interpretation of the cross. Remember that the New Testament writers were Jews, except
for Luke. See how the Apostle Paul defines the cross, not with Roman eyes, even though
he was a Roman citizen, but from a Jewish perspective. For as many as are of the
works of the law are under the curse (Gal. 3:10). The phrase, works of the
law, in the New Testament is equivalent to our English word, legalism.
There was no Greek word equivalent to our word legalism so when you come
across the phrase works of the law it always means, keeping the law in order
to be saved, not as the evidence of salvation or the fruits of salvation but as a means
of salvation. Keep that in mind.
So Paul is saying to the Galatians, Anyone who tries to
go to heaven by keeping the law is under the curse. Why? Because the law says
this: Cursed is everyone that continueth not in all things which are written in
the book of the law to do them (Gal. 3:10). In other words, it you want to go to
heaven through the law you have to observe it in every detail and continually. You miss
on one point and you come under the curse.
But the fact is that all have sinned (Romans 3:93).
There is not a single person who has kept the law perfectlynot one, apart from
Christ. All Christians are sinners saved by grace. Why? Because Christ has redeemed
us from the curse of the law being made a curse for us (Gal 3:13).
Who made Him a curse for us? It wasnt the devil, because
the devil cant punish sin, hes a sinner himself. It wasnt the Jews,
even though they demanded God to curse Him. Who then made Him a curse for us? It was
the Father. He spared not His own Son.
Three times Jesus pleaded with the Father: Father, Father,
if it is possible remove this cup. What was the cup to which Jesus was referring?
It was certainly not the cross. He hardly felt that pain. Not because it was not there,
but because there was another pain far greater than the pain of the cross. It was the
curse of God against your sins and mine. That is what Jesus pleaded to God for. He knew
what it meant to be cursed by God.
And God said, No. I cannot remove the curse from you.
Do you know why? Because He loved us. He spared not His own Son but delivered Him
up tor us all. Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made
a curse for us: for it is written: (now he quotes Deut. 21:23) Cursed is everyone that
hangeth on a tree (Gal 3:13).
Whenever you read in the New Testament about the cross being
equated with the tree, remember: those Jews did not mean a stake. When the Jews mentioned
that he hung on a tree they were not referring as to whether it was a stake or two pieces
of wood. That was not the issue in their thinking. They had one thing in mind
Deut. 21:23. To them hanging on the cross was equivalent to hanging on a tree, which
was equivalent to the curse of God.
In Acts 5:30 the disciples were taken by the Sanhedrin. They
were punished, flogged, and told to no longer preach in the name of Christ. Notice what
Peter said in verse 29: Then Peter, and the other apostles answered and said,
We ought to obey God rather than men. Here are the disciples willing
to die for Christ. The same Peter who denied Jesus before the cross now is willing to
die for Him. That is how much the cross transformed him. Now consider verse 30:
The God of our Fathers raised up Jesus, whom you slew and hanged on a tree.
What did Peter mean by that phrase? He was thinking of
Deut. 21:23. You brought Gods curse on Him, but God raised Him up because
he did not commit blasphemy; He did experience the curse for our sins. Christ died
that He may save us from our sins. He rose that He might justify us. Romans 4:25
is a good example: Who (Jesus) was delivered for our offenses, and was raised
again for our justification.
Peter explains what he meant when he said He hung on a tree
for us in 1 Peter 2:24: Who his own self bare our sins in His own body on the
tree. Why did he use the word, tree and not the cross?
Because he was thinking about the curse of our sins and not simply the sleep death
that every one dies.
But some will argue, How could Christ die the second
death? He predicted His resurrection, and He actually rose the third day. How could
He experience it? First of all, the Bible says so. Heb. 2:9: He tasted
death for all men. It could not be the first death because believers who accept
Christ still have to die the first death. Then look at what Paul says in 2 Tim. 1:7-10.
He says that Christ, through the cross, has abolished death. If He abolished
death why do Christians die? Because He abolished only the second death, not the first
death. Rev. 20:6 tells us that those who have part in the first resurrection, i.e.,
the believers, on such the second death has no power. Why? Because there was One who
was willing to go through it for us, to taste it.
The thing that we need to realize is what we call in theology,
the kenosis doctrine, based on Phil. 2:6-8. When Christ became a man in
the incarnation He had to give up not His divinity, but His divine prerogatives, in
other words, the independent use of His divinity. Even His God-consciousness had to be
given up. Jesus discovered He was God only by revelation. He was not God-conscious as
a baby. He had to grow up in knowledge. He had to grow up in everything because He had
given up the independent use of His divinity and was made in all things like unto us
Therefore, He was totally God-dependent all through His earthly
ministry. John 5:30 says, I can do nothing of myself. John 6:57 says,
I live by the Father. See also John 8:28 and John 14:10. All these texts
state very clearly that Christ was totally God-dependent. Then read Rom 6:4;
Acts 2:24, 32; Eph. 1:20. All of these texts clearly tell us that it was the Father who
raised Christ from the dead. Keep these two things in mind: Christ was God-dependent,
and He was dependent on the Father for the resurrection. Dont ask me what happened
to His divine consciousness when He was in the grave. Where was His divine life? I
dont know. Its a mystery. We will spend eternity studying that, but I do
know one thing, it was the Father He was depending on for the resurrection just like
Do you know what the Father did on the cross? Christ cried out:
Father, Father why have you forsaken me? What He meant is not Why are
you leaving me for three days? but, Why have You abandoned Me? Do you
know what that meant to Christ? It meant that the hope of the resurrection went with that
abandonment. When the Father forsook Him in terms of Christs feeling, then the hope
of the resurrection went with it. Jesus was now treading the winepress alone.
He could no longer look on the Father with hope and assurance as far as His feelings were
concerned. He felt the agony of God-abandonment, exactly what the wicked will feel when
mercy no longer pleads with the guilty race.
Here is a key passage from Desire of Ages, by
E.G. White, p 753: He could not see through the
portals of the tomb. Hope did not present to Him the coming forth from the grave a
conqueror or tell Him of the Fathers acceptance of the sacrifice. He feared
that sin was so offensive to God that their separation was to be eternal. Do
you realize what Christ was tempted to do on the cross as He hung there? The Father
had forsaken Him. But remember, He was still God. He could have taken hold of His
divinity independent of the Father, against the Fathers wishes, and come down
from the cross to save Himself.
That is exactly what the devil tried to get Him to do. In
Luke 23:35-39, at least three times the devil approached Christonce through the
Roman soldiers, once through the priests, and once through the thief on the left-hand
side. Then, in Matt. 27:35-46, the people also added to that temptation. The temptation
was the same, Come down from the cross and save yourself. Can you imagine
what that temptation was like? We cant. Im glad Desire of Ages makes
that clear: The temptation that Christ experienced can never be fully understood
by men.... The withdrawal of the Divine Countenance from the Savior in this hour of
supreme anguish pierced His heart with a sorrow that can never be fully understood by
Do you know why? Because there has been no human being in this
world who has really, fully, experienced the wrath of God as Christ did. He is the only
man who has experienced the fullness of God-abandonment, which is the equivalent of the
second death. Christ was tempted to come down from the cross and save Himself. Can you
understand the temptation? The issue He faced was not to screw up His will power and say,
Ill hold on for a few hours or for three days. That is no sacrifice
for a God who lives in eternity. The issue was good-bye to life forever, never
again to see His Father, never again to go back to heaven. It meant to give up His glory,
to give up His life. That was the issue. That is the curse of God.
As He hung on the cross experiencing Gods curse for our
sins, Jesus had to make a choice. He could not save Himself and the world at the same
time. And He did make the supreme choice. He chose to die eternally that you and I may
live in His place. That is what transformed the disciples. They were so shocked! They
had not understood such love before as this. It is this concept of agape that
turned the world upsidedown, that God not only came down for thirty-three years, but
Jesus their Savior was willing to say good-bye to life forever that they may
live in His place. But God demonstrated His love that while we were still sinners
Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).
In other words, the supreme sacrifice is that Jesus was willing
to accept our curse and give us His life in exchange. It was not a question of saving
Himself and the world. He could not do that. He had to make a choice between the world
and Himself. Do you know what Christ was saying on the cross? I hope you will never
forget this; He was saying that He loves us more than Himself. That is Gods
agape. When you realize that is how much God loves you, can you be the same again?
We talk of giving a little money for the needs of others. But God emptied heaven for us!
How can we hold back? Look at the early Christian Church. They did not hold on to
anything, land or houses. They gave it all to the body of Christ, the church. That is
what will happen in this church when we see Christ crucified, as the early Christians
saw it; and then we wont need any more promotional programs. I get tired of
promotional programs. I am sorry that we have to do it because if we dont promote
nothing gets done. It is terrible that we have to keep on this egocentric approach for
raising funds. Why cant the love of God constrain us? In 2 Cor. 5:14, Paul says
what the cross did to him and to the Christian church and what it should do to us.
When we reach this condition; when the church manitests the love of Christ because of
what the cross means to them, then our 20th Century world will be turned upside down,
We read in 2 Cor. 5:14, 15: For the love of Christ
constraineth us because we thus judge that if one died for all, then were all dead.
And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves,
but unto him which died for them, and rose again.
In Heb. 2:9 we read, He tasted death for every man.
The Greek doesnt say every man. It goes beyond that, it actually says
everything. Jesus tasted death for everything. When Adam sinned, not
only did the curse come on the human race but on the plants and on the animals and
everything: And unto Adam he (God) said, cursed is the ground for thy sake; in
sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; thorns also and thistles shall
it bring forth to thee (Gen. 3:17, 18).
When the Roman soldiers put that crown of thorns on Christs
head, they were doing it out of mockery. But God takes the foolish things of man and
converts them into the truth. For God said to Adam after he sinned, Cursed is the
ground. Those thorns and thistles which were placed on the head of our Savior
symbolized sins curse on this world.
And He died for all, (says Paul) that we which live (because
of the cross) should not henceforth live unto themselves but unto Him which died for them
and rose again. Back in 1961, while I was studying at Newbold, the college took the
choir to Scotland for a program. My wife-to-be, Jean, was part of that choir. The choir
sponsor was kind enough to include me on that trip, even though I did not sing. While
there, we went to visit the birthplace of David Livingstone, the greatest missionary
Africa has ever seen. The people of that area had built a chapel, constructed like an
African hut, in honor of David Livingstone. As you entered in, your eye immediately
noticed two inscriptions on the bare walls. On one side was the inscription of Paul
from 2 Cor. 5:14: The love of Christ constraineth us. On the other side was
an inscription from the diary of David Livingstone, The love of God compelled
Having caught a glimpse of Gods self-emptying love,
Livingstone could no longer hold onto his lucrative profession as a doctor in Blantyre,
Scotland. He gave that all up to be a missionary in Africa. And in those days there was
no freight allowance, no missionary outfit allowance, and there were no furloughs. He
went there as a missionary ready to die for his Savior. And he did die there. The
British government gave him a hard time when he was alive but when the British discovered
he had died they said, Well, he deserves a decent burial. We always praise
people after they die. So they decided to bury him in Westminister Abbey where the great
British people are buried.
But he died four hundred miles inland in Africa. The problem was
how could they bring his body to the coast from four hundred miles inland. There were no
planes, trains, or cars in those days. The only way was to carry him on a stretcher. They
couldnt do it themselves, so they asked the Africans Will you do it?
And the Africans said, Yes, he deserves a great burial, but you cannot have his
heart. So they cut him open, pulled out his heart and buried it in Africa where he
gave it. Then, after embalming him, they carried him on a stretcher four hundred miles,
through swamps, facing wild animals, disease, and hostile tribes. They carried him to the
coast so the British could take him by ship and give him an honorable burial in England.
That is how much appreciation they had for the greatest missionary in Africa. It is my
prayer that you and I will appreciate Jesus Christ to the point that we will give
everything for Him. Then God will use us to turn this world upside down with the glory
of the cross of Christ.