By Pastor Glenn Pease
Over fifteen hundred years ago, on Good Friday, Ambrose the Bishop of Milan ascended to his pulpit in the Cathedral of Milan and said to his congregation, "I find it impossible to speak to you today. The events of Good Friday are too great for human words." Centuries later the great English poet John Milton sat down to write a poem on the cross and the atonement. After 8 introductory lines he stopped, and he wrote this note which is included in his collected works: "This subject the author finding to be above the years when he wrote it, and nothing satisfied with what was begun, left it unfinished."
Here was a great preacher and a great poet who could not finish their works on the cross. Fortunately, for us and all mankind, sermons and poems and the works of men on the cross are not a necessity. What was a necessity was for Jesus to finish His work on the cross. Infinite and eternal loss would be ours if Jesus had stopped short of the cross. No words were ever more essential than the words Jesus spoke from the cross when He said, "It is finished." The cross is the greatest of all necessities. The worst that can happen if we are deprived of all other necessities is death, but because of the cross we still have eternal life. But deprive us of the cross and all is lost. The cross is no luxury. It is the greatest of necessities.
It you buy a cross at the jewelry counter, you pay a luxury tax on it. Such a cross is not The Cross. Crosses you can buy are luxuries, and they are irrelevant to life, death, sin, and salvation. The symbol of the cross often has no relationship to the cross of Christ. Some years ago controversy broke out in Russia over the new fashion of wearing a cross on a chain around the neck. Provada said that an investigation discovered that the fashion had been started by two 20 year old girls who were clerks in a store in Moscow. Neither was a religious believer, and both were members of the Young Communist League. They just found that people were eager to follow a fad, and that there was profit in it. The cross was nothing to them but a luxury completely unrelated to the necessary cross of Christ.
In the little village of Chabham near London and accountant erected a 270 dollar cross in the local pet cemetery for his Great Dane. Here again the cross was totally a luxury, and of no necessity. A man asked another why his church had a cross on it, and he replied, "Well, I don't know of a better way to decorate the top of a church. Do you?" When it costs so little to be a Christian there is a tendency to think of the cross only as a luxury and a ornament. People let the necessity of it fade from their minds, and they do not realize that they could better do without air and food than without the cross.
Whoever heard of listing the necessities of life and putting the cross at the top of the list? Yet, that is where it belongs. Without the cross there is no salvation, and without salvation life is worse than meaningless. There would be no hope, but only the guarantee that no matter how bad things are, they will be worse. We would have to face a holy God with nothing but the filthy rags of our own righteousness, and be cast into eternal darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Unfinished sermons and unfinished poems on the cross need not disturb us, but we desperately need a finished plan of salvation. We need an atonement for our sin, and so we need the cross. That is why it is such a joy to see Jesus committing Himself to finishing His work on the cross. He tells us in this passage that the cross is a necessity for 3 reasons, each of which is vital to our salvation. We want to look at these reasons. First of all the cross is a necessity for-
I. THE MAGNIFYING OF THE FATHER.
The work of Christ was to glorify the Father, and there was no way to do this but by means of the cross. No one wants to die, however, and no one wants to die at 33, and still less does anyone want to die at 33 on a cross. Jesus was no exception. If there was any way to accomplish God's will and save man without the cross, Jesus wanted to take it. John does not tell us of Jesus in Gethsemane where He prayed, "If it be possible let this cup pass from me." John, however, shows us that the agony and struggle of Gethsemane was not just momentary, but that Jesus had wrestled with this issue for days as He approached the cross.
Verse 27 says that Jesus was troubled, and the thought entered His mind of escaping the cross. Jesus was not forced to go to the cross. It was His free and voluntary decision. He was free to ask God to save Him at any time. Even on the cross 12 legions of angels were prepared to rescue Him if He requested it. If Jesus had no alternative but to go to the cross He was not free. But He did have an alternative, and He could have avoided the cross. He could have prayed for His Father to save Him from that hour, and His prayer would have been heard.
We tend to think that the cross was automatic, and that Jesus was carried by a stream of fate to the cross. This is not so. The cross was not a necessity in the sense that it could not be avoided, but rather in the sense that there was no other way for God to triumph over sin and Satan, and thereby be glorified. It was not easy for Jesus to go to the cross, and His soul was deeply troubled. He held the destiny of every human being in His decision. His Father was counting on Him, but He was repulsed by the cross and the bearing of the sin of the world. Let no one say it is a sign of a lack of faith to be troubled in a crisis. Jesus knew of the fruit of the cross, and yet He could not avoid being troubled. No one ever faced such a decision before. He could be the saved or the Savior. He could have avoided the cross and been the only man to be saved, or He could go to the cross and be the Savior of all men. Jesus had to give up His salvation or ours. Our salvation depended upon Him not being saved from the cross. It is thrilling, therefore, to read verse 28 where Jesus yields to the Father's will and says, "Father, glorify thy name."
And then for the third time in the life of Christ God speaks from heaven and says that He has glorified it and will glorify it again. God had already glorified His name in the miracles and works of Jesus, and in His victory over Satan in temptation. He did it also in the casting out of demons, and now He is about to glorify it again in the victory of the cross. God only spoke three times directly in the life of Christ. It was at His baptism, which symbolized His humanity and death; then at His transfiguration symbolic of His deity and resurrection, and now here as He came to the point where death and resurrection are no longer to be in realm of the symbolic, but are to become historical facts. No event in history could match the cross in bringing glory to God.
John Milton said, "The cross is the key that unlocks the gate of glory." The heavens still declare the glory of God as they did to the Old Testament saints, but the cross speaks louder than the heavens. The heavens in all their wonder glorify God by telling us of His power, wisdom, and love of order and beauty, but only the cross tells of us His love for us as sinners. The cross was as necessary as God's love. Let us never get confused and think that the cross is a basis for God's love. God does not love us because Jesus died for us, but Jesus died for us because God loves us. God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son. The cross did not purchase God's love, but it was an expression of His love. Had God not loved us before the cross there would never have been a cross.
'Twas not to make Jehovah's love toward His people flame,
That Jesus from the throne above a suffering man became.
'Twas not the death which He endured nor all the pangs he bore,
That God's eternal love procured for God was love before. Author Unknown.
The cross magnified the Father and glorified Him in revealing His great love for man. A Mohammedan tradition pictures God at creation taking a piece of clay from which He intended to create man. He broke it in two and tossed one piece upward and said, "These to heaven and I care not." Then throwing the other piece downward He added, "These to hell, and I care not." Such is not the God of Scripture, for the cross glorifies God and exalts Him as a God who cares for all men. He had provided a way to heaven for all men. To glory in the cross with the Apostle Paul is to glorify God and magnify His love, for the glory of God is the glory of the cross. Studdert-Kennedy wrote,
God, the God I love and worship, reigns in sorrow on the Tree,
Broken, bleeding, but unconquered, very God of God to me.
All that showy pomp of splendor, all that sheen of angel wings,
Was not borrowed from the baubles that surround our earthly kings-
For thy glory is the glory of Love's loss,
And thou hast no other splendor but the splendor of the Cross.
The cross was a necessity for the magnifying of the Father, and secondly it was a necessity for-
II. THE MASTERING OF THE DEVIL.
In verse 31 Jesus says, "Now is the judgment of this world, and now shall the prince of this world be cast out." The greatest revolution in history was about to take place. The most powerful person to ever rule over man was about to be overthrown, and His rule of oppression was about to give way to freedom. His process of decay and death was to be reversed, and a process of life and growth was to be restored. Men were to be called back from their revolt against God to fellowship with God. Such a revolution and change of power could only be accomplished by the ultimate weapon, and that weapon was the cross.
The cross was the only battering ram that could smash through the gates of hell and liberate those in bondage. The cross was the only weapon that could sweep the devil from his throne. The cross was Satan's Waterloo. It meant the end of his universal sway over men. The cross penetrated the kingdom of darkness and left a gaping hole through which men could escape into the kingdom of life. It was not Jesus who was the outcast on the cross. Jesus was the out-caster, and on the cross He gained the mastery over the prince of this world. In Heb. 2:14-15 we read of Jesus, "...he likewise partook of the same nature, that through death he might destroy him who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to life long bondage."
Note that it was through death that Jesus conquered death and liberated those in bondage. Paul also says that the cross was the means whereby Jesus gained the mastery over the whole of the armies of evil. In Col. 2:14-15 he writes of Christ: "Having canceled the bond which stood against us with its legal demands; this he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the principalities and powers and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it." The greatest advantage the devil and his forces had over men was man's bondage to sin. Man was under an un-payable debt to God. It was un-payable by sinful men, for the wages of sin is death, and so all men faced the judgment of death. We tend to think that judgment is always in the future. But Jesus said the hour of the cross was the hour of the world's judgment. There will be future judgment, but when it comes it will only be a completion of the judgment begun at the cross.
The whole world was judged at the cross, for Jesus died for the sin of the whole world. All men have been judged guilty as sinners and condemned to death. This sentence was carried out at the cross where Jesus bore the condemnation of all men, and so the whole world was judged at the cross. In so doing Jesus destroyed the devil's greatest weapon against man and disarmed the devil. Now there is no condemnation to those who are in Christ. We are free from the bondage of sin and the fear of death. God will not demand double payment for sin from those who accept Jesus as their substitute on the cross. We have already been judged, and Jesus paid the penalty, and we are now free. None can be tried twice for the same crime.
All men can be free in Christ. They can now renounce the devil and trample them under their feet in the name of Christ, for his power was broken at the cross. Satan got man cast out of paradise and into bondage to his authority. Jesus reversed that at the cross. He cast Satan out and opened the gate to paradise again. Without the cross man would still be under bondage to the devil and death. The cross alone sets us free. The cross was a necessity for the magnifying of the Father, and for the mastering of the devil. The third reason for the necessity of the cross is that it was needed for-
III. THE MAGNETIZING OF THE SON.
Death terminates the work of all others. Death is a period for them, but for Jesus it was only a comma after which the most important part of the sentence continued. Jesus had a following before the cross, but it was nothing compared to the following He gained after He was lifted up. Jesus knew that the cross was to be His drawing power. He knew it would make Him the most powerful and unique magnet in history. He would not draw metal but men unto Himself. He said if He was lifted up He would draw all men to Himself. Verse 33 says that He said this to show by what death He was to die. In other words, the cross was an absolute necessity if Jesus was to become magnetized, and become one who could attract all men to Himself.
Bishop Simpson never understood the prophecy which pictures the church of Christ established on a mountain with all the nations flowing into it. How can the flowing be uphill? Then one day he went to the workshop of a friend where he saw him picking up steel filings with a magnet. As his friend passed the magnet over the top of the dust the filings were attracted upward and kissed the magnet. Then he understood how the cross on Mt. Calvary was the magnet drawing all the nations to it.
Alexander Maclaren said, "You demagnetize Christianity, as all history shows, if you strike out the death on the cross for a world's sin." Exalt Christ and Him crucified, however, and you attract men with a power that is unmatched. Let us be wise and learn where the drawing power is. We cannot bring men into the kingdom by pushing and pulling. Debate and argument will not budge most men. The magnetic and attractive power of the cross is the key power of Christianity. Point to the cross if you will see men drawn to Christ. His teachings may leave men cold, and His miracles may not persuade, but His cross will draw all men.
Listen to the testimony of Goethe in his Confessions Of A Beautiful Soul: "I leaned on a little table beside me, and I hid my tear stained face in my hands, and who could ever express even in the dimmest way the experience that came to me then? A secret influence drew my soul to the cross where Jesus once expired. It was an inward leaning-I cannot give it any other name-and inward leaning like that which draws the heart to its beloved in its absence. As my soul drew near to Him who became mine and died upon the Cross, in that moment I knew what Faith meant; and in that moment my spirit received a wholly new power of uplifting."
Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit says the Lord. Silently and inwardly the cross draws men upward to God. The Holy Spirit can use the cross to convict and convince when nothing else will be effective. Jesus knew that the cross was necessary if He were to become the magnetic pole of history. He knew that only the cross could make him the center of attraction and thereby draw men to receive the benefits which He purchased for them by His death. Way back in John 3:14-15 Jesus said to Nicodemus "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life."
The serpent in the Old Testament was lifted up on a pole so that all who looked at it lives who were bitten by the serpents attacking the people of Israel. If the sting of death was to be overcome, a look at the serpent on the pole was a necessity. Jesus says he also must be lifted up like that serpent so that all who are under the attack of that old serpent the devil may also look and live. The cross is the antidote for all the poison of sin. It is on the cross that Jesus is most attractive, for there He becomes the great physician capable of healing all diseases and forgiving all sin.
High on the Cross the Savior hung,
High in the heavens he reigns;
Here sinners, by the old serpent stung
Look and forget your pains.
Come then to this Physician,
His help he'll freely give;
He makes no hard condition,
Tis only-look and live.
Look to the cross and you will be attracted to Christ, for the Cross magnetized Him, and gave Him unsurpassed drawing power. As the beauty of the flower attracts all who have the capacity to appreciated beauty, so the cross attracts all who, by God's grace, have the capacity to appreciate the beauty of sacrificial love, and the beauty of victory over all that is evil.
Let us keep ever near the cross, for a magnet can pass on the power of attraction. If you touch a needle with a magnet it can take on the power of attraction. Christ is the master magnet, but if we keep near the cross and the Christ of the cross we too can have drawing power to bring others to Christ. May God keep us, by His Spirit, even near the cross, for it is a necessity for the magnifying of the Father; the mastering of the devil, and the magnetizing of the Son.