This past Sunday I preached a message giving 10 reasons why the Cross of Christ is the center of Christianity. My voice was hurting, and it was by God’s grace that I made it through both services.
Here is the text of the sermon below. Click here for the mp3 sermon audio and here for the PDF sermon notes. As always, your feedback is welcome!
Introduction: The Cross of Christ is the center of your faith
This week, we celebrate the week that changed the world. Starting with Jesus’ triumphant ride into Jerusalem, with the crowds praising His name, this week would be momentous in many ways.
It would contain some of Jesus’ greatest acts, including the washing of the disciple’s feet the cleansing of the temple, and the Last Supper.
It would contain some of Jesus’ greatest teachings, including that there is no way to God except through Him, that we are the branches that rely on Him as the vine for our provision, and His great High priestly prayer for His disciples. All of these took place in this great week that we are remembering, this Holy Week, leading up to Easter.
And while all of these events and teachings are great, and have had a lasting impact on human history, the greatest event of that week focuses on the death and resurrection of Jesus.
Today we are looking at the cross of Jesus, and next week we will look at the resurrection of Jesus.
The Cross is very familiar to Christians, so well known, in fact, that it can be sometimes treated casually, as if it is something that we only remember once each year. Yet the cross is central to our faith. Without the cross, there is no Christianity. Jesus death for our sins is central to Christianity, central to all that the Bible teaches.
In fact, the cross is so central to our faith, that the Apostle Paul was able to say,
For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 1 Corinthians 2:10 (see also 1 Cor 1:23)
But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. Galatians 6:14
He said that he knew nothing when He preached in Corinth, “except Jesus Christ and him crucified”, and his only boast was “in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Today we want to investigate why Paul said it was the heart of the Christian message, and why it was his only boast. We are going to look at ten reasons the Cross is the center of Christianity.
I want to start with the crucifixion account from Matthew’s gospel.
Matthew 27:33-54 (ESV) 33 And when they came to a place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull), 34 they offered him wine to drink, mixed with gall, but when he tasted it, he would not drink it. 35 And when they had crucified him, they divided his garments among them by casting lots. 36 Then they sat down and kept watch over him there. 37 And over his head they put the charge against him, which read, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.” 38 Then two robbers were crucified with him, one on the right and one on the left. 39 And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads 40 and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” 41 So also the chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked him, saying, 42 “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. 43 He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him. For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” 44 And the robbers who were crucified with him also reviled him in the same way. 45 Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. 46 And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 47 And some of the bystanders, hearing it, said, “This man is calling Elijah.” 48 And one of them at once ran and took a sponge, filled it with sour wine, and put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink. 49 But the others said, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.” 50 And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit. 51 And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. 52 The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, 53 and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many. 54 When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!”
1. The Cross is the place where God shows His love for you
Key Word: Love
The first reason that the cross is the center of the Christian faith is that the cross is the place where God shows His love for you. The key word here is love. Though you do not deserve God’s love, He gives it to you.
Romans 5:8 says,
but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8
By nature you are a sinner, someone who has rebelled against God. You are not deserving of God’s love; you are deserving of God’s wrath.
And yet instead of wrath, God shows love by sending His own Son to die for our sins.
But God does not show His love to you by cancelling His wrath, for sin still must be punished. God is loving, so He makes a way to save you, but He is also just, and He must punish sin.
2.The Cross is the place where God punishes Christ for your sins
Key Word: Substitionary Atonement – God sheds Jesus’ blood instead of yours
Key Word: Propitiation – God’s wrath is satisfied through the blood sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross
That reality leads us to the next reason why the cross is at the center of Christianity.
The Cross is the place where God punishes Christ for your sins. Let me say that again: God punishes Christ for your sins.
The key phrase here is substitutionary atonement. It means that God sheds Jesus blood instead of yours. Jesus is your substitute who pays the penalty for your sins.
Galatians 3:13 puts it this way:
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us–for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree” Galatians 3:13
As a sinner you stand accursed under the law of God, for you are a law breaker, as is every person who has ever lived. But on the cross, Jesus Christ becomes accursed for you – He becomes ‘a curse for us’, the Scripture says.
Think of how terrible and awesome this is. The perfect Son of God, who had committed no sin, received the full force of the curse of God, because of your sin, because of my sin.
It is radically unfair, yet it shows the lengths that Jesus went to save us from our sins.
Another key word here is propitiation. Propitiation is theological term. It means that God’s wrath is satisfied through the blood sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. So God loves you enough to send Jesus, and He is just enough to fully satisfy His wrath for your sins. It is amazing grace that God would bring His love and wrath together like this at the cross. The prophet Isaiah spoke of Jesus and He spoke of you in Isaiah 53:5 when He said,
…he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; Isaiah 53:5
Jesus was crushed for our iniquities. Now listen to Romans 3:23-25
for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. Romans 3:23-25a
3. The Cross is the place where you are Identified with Christ
Key Word: Identification
These verses bring us to the third reason why the cross is the center of Christianity.
The Cross is the place where you are identified with Christ. Not only is Christ a substitute for you, but you are actually identified with Him in His death, so that His death becomes your death, and His life becomes your life.
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:20
When a person becomes a Christian, there is a transformation of identity that takes place. You are crucified with Christ. His death becomes your death. His life becomes your life.
This identification with Christ is powerfully symbolized in the waters of baptism. When you go under the waters you die with Christ, you are buried with Christ, and then you are raised to new life with Christ.
4. The Cross is the place where you are Redeemed
Key Word: Redemption
The fourth reason that the cross is the center of Christianity is that it is the place where you are redeemed. The key word here is redemption.
We have already talked about Christ’s death as our substitute, but now we focus on His death as a payment for your sins. He pays the price to buy you back for Himself, and the price is steep, it is His own blood.
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8 which he lavished upon us, Ephesians 1:7-8a
Some of the great songs of the faith are about being redeemed. One such song is Fanny J. Crosby’s hymn, “Redeemed”
Redeemed how I love to proclaim it
Redeemed by the blood of the Lamb
Redeemed through His infinite mercy
His child and forever I am
Do you sing enough about your redemption? It should produce a joy in your heart that makes you want to sing.
5. The Cross is the place where you are Reconciled to God and to one another
Key Word: Reconciliation
The fifth reason the cross is the center of Christianity is because it is the place where you are reconciled to God and to one another. The key word here is reconciliation.
For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. Colossians 1:19-20
Your sin destroys your relationship with God, but Christ’s work on the cross restores that relationship, and so you can say that you are reconciled to God through Jesus’ blood. This reconciliation with God allows us to have reconciliation with one another as well.
So many people today are seeking peace on earth without seeking peace with God. And it doesn’t work. The only way to peace on earth is to have peace with God, which is made available through Jesus’ work on the cross.
6. The Cross is the Place where you are Justified
Key Word: Justification
The sixth reason the cross is the center of Christianity is because the cross is the place where you are justified. The key word is justification.
Because Jesus has paid the penalty for your sins, because God has fully poured His wrath on Jesus, because you are identified with Christ on the cross, God can now justify you. That means that He declares you to be righteous in His sight. That is why you can be reconciled to Him, because He has declared you to be righteous. You can now have fellowship with Him, because of the righteousness of Jesus being identified with you.
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Romans 5:1
Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. Romans 5:9
We are justified by faith, by the blood of Jesus, and we are able to have peace with God.
So many people are running around today trying to justify themselves, instead of running to Jesus, who can justify a person by faith, as they trust in Him to save them from their sins. Maybe that describes you, seeking to justify yourself by your own good works, rather than trusting in Jesus to justify you by His perfect life and sacrificial death on your behalf. You can stop the running by trusting in Jesus and His work on the cross to justify you, by His shed blood.
7. The Cross is the place of your weakness and humility, but it points to your place of power and glory in Christ
Key Words: Humility and Exaltation
The next reason why the cross is the center of Christianity presents a paradox.
The cross is the place of your weakness and humility, but it points to your place of power and glory in Christ.
The cross is a picture of weakness and humility, or as a famous old hymn said, the cross is “the emblem of suffering and shame” (The Old Rugged Cross).
In a world filled with pride and self-promotion, the cross is a radical symbol, that speaks of being laid as low as low can be. Yet that is what Christ did, though He was the highest of all, He made Himself the lowest of all, that God might exalt Him again to His rightful place. Paul describes Jesus this way in Philippians 2:8-9
And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, Philippians 2:8-9
It was bad enough that the Son of God would be humiliated in death, but how much more so that He would be humiliated by death on a cross, a cruel form of capital punishment used on common criminals, and a form of punishment described in the Old Testament as a curse, with Jesus being hung on that tree.
And yet it was through that humiliation that God exalted Jesus, to sit at His right hand, to be the name exalted above every other name, the name at which every knee will bow and every tongue confess. That is why the key words are humility and exaltation.
There is a lesson here for you.
The reason many people do not come to the cross is because they would have to humble themselves, admit they are a sinner, and trust in Jesus instead of in themselves. That act of humility stands in opposition to their pride. That show of weakness stands in opposition to their personal need to show strength.
A number of years ago I heard Stuart Briscoe speak in Toronto at The Peoples Church. My memory is fading of the event, but I seem to remember Briscoe quoting the dramatic words of Donald Grey Barnhouse, which I think he said were spoken at a Keswick Conference decades ago. Whether the details are all still correct in my memory I can’t be certain, but I do remember the essence of the quote: “The way to UP…is DOWN!” The cross is the picture of this truth, that the way to up is indeed down.
It is true for Jesus and it is true for you:
For he was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God. For we also are weak in him, but in dealing with you we will live with him by the power of God. 2 Corinthians 13:4
Your strength is most seen in your weakness. Your glory is most seen in your shame. The way to up is down.
8. The Cross is the Place of your Triumph in Christ
Key Word: Victory
This leads us to the eighth reason why the cross is the center of Christianity. The cross is the place of your triumph in Christ. The key work here is victory.
One of the best things about being a Christian is that you win. I don’t know many people who like being on the losing team (OK except for Oilers and Leaf fans), but with Christ, you win. The cross is the place of triumph.
And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. Colossians 2:13-14
That is why we sing the old hymn, Victory in Jesus (E.M. Bartlett)
Victory in Jesus
My Saviour Forever
He sought me and bought me
With His redeeming blood
He loved me ‘ere I knew Him
And all my love is due Him
He plunged me to victory
Beneath the cleansing flood.
The cross is the place of victory and it should make you want to sing!
9. The Cross is the Place of your Salvation
Key Word: Salvation
The ninth reason why the cross is the center of Christianity is because the cross is the place of your salvation. The key word here is salvation.
Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. 11 More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. Romans 5:9-11
Your salvation is in Jesus Christ – all the things we have talked about today, love, substitutionary atonement, propitiation, identification, redemption, reconciliation, justification, humility and exaltation, victory – all of these things point to your salvation.
Jesus’ death on the cross makes a way for you to be saved and live forever with Jesus in Heaven. It makes a way for you to have spiritual life here and now.
And if you are trusting in Jesus Christ as your Saviour, that is cause for great rejoicing. But if you have never trusted in Jesus, then today is your day to come to the cross, ‘the emblem of suffering and shame,’ the place where God’s love is shown for sinners, the place where Jesus can save you.
You come to the cross in humility, asking God to forgive your sins and save you. When you come to Him in faith like that, He will save you, and you will be identified with Him. He will forgive your sins and declare you righteous in His sight.
You can trust in Jesus today by praying and asking Him to save you. I am inviting you to do that today. [Note: If you are reading this on my blog, you can email me to talk more about trusting Christ, through the email tims (@) look (.) ca – (remove the brackets from my email address, I included them to avoiding the spam-bots) ]
10. The Cross is the Place of your Obedience by Faith
Key Phrase: The Cross-Centered Life
There is one more reason why the cross is the center of Christianity. The cross is the place of your obedience by faith. Perhaps some of you today are thinking that this message has been a ‘nice reminder’ about the cross.
It is far more than a nice reminder. It is your call to walk in light of the cross.
And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. Luke 9:23
Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. Luke 14:27
Sometimes I think that Christians see the cross only as a starting point for the Christian life. But it is more than a starting point, for you must continue to live in light of the cross, in light of God’s great mercy in saving you, and giving you new life in Him. God is continuing to work in us and grow us to more like Jesus, and we are able to obey through faith in Jesus who gives us the strength to live the Christian life.
Pastor C.J. Manahey has written a book called The Cross-Centered Life, and in it he challenges Christians to live with the cross in mind every day.
Let me ask you, do you think about the cross everyday?
Mahaney suggests five practical steps to help you (they are written on the back page of your sermon notes, question #3)
1. Memorize the gospel – recite some of the great verses about the cross each day (you can start with verses in today’s sermon notes!)
2. Pray the gospel – Talk to God about the gospel and thank Him for His amazing grace in saving you from your sins through Christ’s death on the cross.
3. Sing the gospel – Have music in your life that centers on the gospel and praise God through it – whether it is your own music or a great worship CD (some are better than others!)
4. Review how the gospel has changed you – Recall regularly how you once were in your sin, (like Paul does in Scripture – ‘chief of sinners’) and rejoice in what you now are, in Christ through the cross
5. Study the gospel – Read and re-read Galatians and Romans. Read good books about the gospel (such as C.J. Mahaney’s The Cross Centered Life, L.E. Maxwell’s Born Crucified (aka Embraced by the Cross) )
(Source: Mahaney, C.J., The Cross Centered Life, Multnomah, Colorado Springs, 2002, pp56-69.)
I doubt you can think about the cross enough, for the Cross of Christ is indeed the center of Christianity. This Easter, make sure you are living the cross-centered life.
© Tim Strickland, 2011 – All Rights Reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
To learn more about the ESV, please visit www.esv.org