THE CROSS OF CHRIST – Part 2
Like the Lord Jesus himself, his followers will be raised from the dead. Do not miss the fact that the passage quoted also tells us that the resurrection of Christ’s followers will take place when he comes again. This is not the whole story.
After his resurrection, the Lord Jesus proclaimed triumphantly: “I am he that liveth, and was dead . . . ” (Rev. 1:18). But he did not stop there. He continued: ” . . . and, behold, I am alive for evermore.” He was therefore making a double claim:
- That he had been raised from the dead; and
- That he would never die again.
And so it will be with those “that are Christ’s”. Not only will those who have died be raised from the dead when their Lord returns: they will also receive eternal life, “the gift of God”.
The blessings of resurrection and immortality are therefore promised to the Lord’s followers because he himself surrendered to God’s will and died upon a cross. The facts are clear, though the reason for them involves much that is deep and wonderful.
The Followers of Adam
Think now of Adam as the leader of a great procession. The whole human race is following him along the broad way of disobedience and sin. Many people stride eagerly along this attractive road, and a few tread reluctantly. Most people, however, would neither think of themselves as eager or reluctant followers of Adam. They never release that they are following him at all. They simply do as they please. But pleasing self instead of pleasing God is sinning: so, all unknown to themselves, they are a part of the Adamic procession.
There comes a point when some of Adam’s followers begin to see the unwelcome destination towards which they have been moving. When death looms large before them they start dragging their feet, but all to no avail. Although they are not willing to die, death claims them.
The Lord Jesus was different. He always resisted sin, and he accepted death. Thus he declared by his life and his death that Adam was wrong and God was right.
To accept death as the just reward of one’s sins is exceptional. But to accept death without ever having sinned marks out the Lord Jesus as a unique person.
“The man, Christ Jesus”
If Jesus had an altogether superior nature to the rest of us, the lesson would not have been so impressive. But the Scriptures assure us that he possessed a nature just like ours. It is easy to be misunderstood, so let us spell out the facts in simple language.
The Lord Jesus had no human father. He is called the Son of God because God was truly his Father. The power of God, called the Holy Spirit, caused his mother, a member of the human race, to conceive and give birth to a son-the Son of God:
“And the angel answered and said unto her (Mary), The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35).
“Like unto his brethren”
The Son of God is now immortal (he partook of “the divine nature” after his resurrection), but in the first phase of his existence he shared our human nature:
“Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, this is, the devil . . . For verily he took not on him the nature of angels; but he took on him the seed of Abraham. Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people. For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted” (Heb. 2:14-18).
“For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15).
The fact that the Scriptures lay so much emphasis upon this truth is the measure of its importance. It is strange that so many people indignantly reject the Bible teaching that, in “the days of his flesh”, our Lord had a nature like ours. His temptation in the wilderness was not play-acting: it was real. The suggestions were attractive. He had to struggle to resist them; and it was likewise a struggle to accept death.
Yet, by resisting sin and accepting death, the Lord Jesus repudiated Adam and came down decisively on God’s side in the great controversy.
Christ’s Conquest over Sin
In his life and in his death, the Lord Jesus had honored his Father and declared Him (not Adam) to be righteous. Thus in character he was perfectly in accord with the will of his Father. He honored God like a true Son. And God honored him, raising him from the dead and making him immortal.
Think now of the Lord Jesus as the leader of another procession-a much smaller one. To his disciples he said:
“If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me” (Matt. 16:24).
Do you see the picture? In the lead is Jesus himself-going to the place of crucifixion. Following him is a procession of people who have opted out of the Adamic procession. Each is bent under the burden of a cross; each is a volunteer for crucifixion. These have also decided, like their Leader, that God is right. They are going to die with Christ that they might live with him.
Baptism – A Burial with Christ
It is by baptism that people demonstrate that they have decided to become followers of the Lord Jesus Christ. This is stated in Romans 6:
“What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin” (Rom. 6:1-6).
See how the baptism of a believer unites him with the Lord Jesus Christ. He dies with him. In the figurative language of the chapter, he is crucified with him. He is crucified to sin-he renounces his former way of life-and the life that he lives after baptism is a new life, like that of the resurrected Christ.
To recall a conclusion that was presented earlier: all who belong to the world belong to the people who crucified Christ. We have just seen that baptized believers are crucified with Christ. They must therefore have changed sides. The crucifiers now become the crucified; the persecutors are persecuted.
This change happened dramatically to the man they called Saul of Tarsus. There was a time when he was “breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord” (Acts 9:1). So intimately did the Lord Jesus identify himself with his disciples that he intervened and rebuked Saul, saying: “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?” In response to Saul’s enquiry, the Lord said: “I am Jesus whom thou persecutest” (Acts 9:4,5).
When Saul was converted, he was required to suffer persecution. The Lord said: “I will show him how great things he must suffer for my name’s sake” (Acts 9:16). And how he suffered!
Crucified with Christ
Later Saul (whose name had been changed to Paul) wrote to the Galatians:
“I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” (2:20).
More light is shed on this subject by another passage from Galatians:
“But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world” (6:14).
Paul is involved in two crucifixions here: (1) “the world is crucified unto me; (2) ” . . . and I unto the world.” The second crucifixion is easy to understand. Paul is crucified (figuratively speaking) by the hostile world because he is a follower of Christ. But what about the first crucifixion? Paul-and other believers-are crucifiers of the world. How can this be?
The answer is that, as well as being outside of us and around us, the world is inside each one of us. Human desires are called the world (1 John 2:16). This world within us, which is also called “the flesh” has to be crucified. Thus in Galatians 5:24 Paul says:
“They that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.”
Disciples must therefore prepare for confrontation with the world on two fronts. They have to crucify, or destroy, their ungodly tendencies; and they have to suffer the hostility of a world that hates them because they hate sin. The hostility of the world shows itself in various ways. Sometimes it takes the form of physical assault; sometimes it is petty persecution; invariably there are indications that the people of the world do not appreciate the company of true Christians.
Representative – not Substitute
The fact that Christ died for our sakes is an important part of New Testament teaching. But let us get one thing clear: although Christ died for us, he did not die instead of us. As we have seen, Christ’s followers have to die with him. This is the meaning of baptism: ” . . . our old man is crucified with him” (Rom. 6:6).
When God pronounced the death sentence on mankind in Eden He was upholding His own righteous law. If He were to waive this sentence, He would, in effect, be saying that sin does not really matter after all. So the sentence of Eden stands and God requires that each of us must die.
Sooner or later death overtakes all men: but God encourages us to recognize our own degraded and hopeless condition and anticipate the death sentence. We must volunteer for crucifixion.
Now think of Christ. He is our representative, who identified himself with the human race in suffering, in temptation, in mortality. Although he never sinned, he carried the great burden of other people’s sins, with their painful and shameful consequences. Isaiah the prophet expresses it like this:
“He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth” (Isa. 53:5-7).
The question is sometimes asked: Why did Jesus have to die such a painful and shameful death? One reason is because he bore the sins of others: he bore the sins of all who identify themselves with him. The pain and the shame of the cross are the just reward for their deeds. The penitent thief recognised that he deserved crucifixion (Luke 23:40,41), and so must all true Christians. By crucifixion our Lord placarded before the world what human nature deserves.
Christ is our representative. He identified himself with human nature in life and in death. And we must identify ourselves with him. With him we must die; and with him we shall be raised to a life over which death has no power.
“It is a faithful saying: For if we be dead with him, we shall also live with him: if we suffer, we shall also reign with him: if we deny him, he also will deny us” (2 Tim. 2:11,12).
The Brazen Serpent . . . The Lamb of God
In John’s Gospel the Lord Jesus is described as a lamb:
“Behold, the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). In the same Gospel, the Lord Jesus compares himself to a brazen serpent: “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up” (John 3:14).
A greater contrast it would be impossible to imagine. Lambs are attractive, innocent and of great value. Serpents are repulsive, vicious, dangerous. If our Lord had not compared himself to the brazen serpent, we would never have dared to do so. How remarkable that both these creatures, the lamb and the serpent, should be used as symbols of the Lord Jesus in his death. This may help us to appreciate that there are truths here which need to be understood. Do not miss the fact that the comparison is with a brazen serpent-a harmless image of a creature with an immense potential for evil.
The story of the brazen serpent is told in Numbers 21. The children of Israel had brought the wrath of God upon themselves by their incessant grumbling about God’s good gifts. God sent fiery serpents amongst the people and many of them were bitten and mortally wounded. Then, in compassion, God instructed Moses to make a brazen serpent and to set it upon a pole in the midst of the stricken multitude. Those dying Israelites who deliberately turned to look at the brazen serpent were healed.
The Law of Moses Could not Save
There are important lessons in this true story. First, it demonstrates the impotence of the Law of Moses to save people from death. And there was nothing that the Law could do to meet this calamitous situation. As we should expect, the God-given Law of Moses was a just and wise code of laws. Those who kept the Law were promised rich blessings. The trouble was that man was simply not good enough to fulfil the reasonable demands of the Law:
“Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:20).
But the rituals and ordinances of the Law of Moses were very instructive. The Law in fact reflected God’s love and concern for man. It was “our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith” (Gal. 3:24). The Law prepared the discerning Israelite for–and helps us to understand–the atoning work of God in the death of His beloved Son.
Faith, Grace . . . and the Love of God
Until people learn the humbling fact that they are sinners who deserve to die, salvation is impossible, but to those who are aware of their wretchedness these gracious words apply:
“But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” (Rom. 3:21-24)
So the incident of the brazen serpent is a dramatized parable demonstrating that there was no power in the Law of Moses to save humanity from the serpent bite of sin. That is why God provided His only begotten Son.
But why does the Lord compare himself to a serpent, of all creatures? The Son of God came in human form. In character he was perfect, yet he had inherited from Adam a “serpent” nature-a nature which could be tempted to sin. This nature was the cause of the trouble. It had to be cursed and crucified.
To hang a person on a tree, pole, or cross, was a symbolic act. It was the Hebrew way of cursing the one who was “lifted up”. In the words of Scripture: “He that is hanged is accursed of God” (Deut. 21:23). In comparing himself to the serpent on the pole, the Lord was teaching that salvation from death could only come by cursing and destroying human nature with its potential for rebellion against God’s authority. The Lord Jesus, an innocent bearer of this rebellious nature, showed what to do with it. He crucified it, and he invited others to do the same.
The “Lamb” is another symbol that takes our thoughts back to the Old Testament-to the Passover in Egypt, the beginning of the history of Israel as a nation. First came that series of plagues, culminating in the death of every firstborn in Egypt.
There was no automatic exemption for Israel. They were required to kill an unblemished male lamb, eat its flesh and sprinkle its blood upon the lintels and doorposts of their houses. Only if they did this were their firstborn children spared when the Egyptians were destroyed (see Exodus 1 2).
The ultimate outcome of this amazing demonstration of divine power-power to destroy and power to save-was the deliverance of the whole nation from Egyptian bondage. To ensure that the children of Israel never forgot this mighty deliverance, God instructed them to commemorate the Passover annually. Each family procured for itself a lamb, which was slain and eaten in circumstances that would provide a vivid reminder of the deliverance from Egypt. Generations as yet unborn would have reason to thank God for that fateful night.
In New Testament times the Jews were careful to observe this annual Passover Feast. No detail was neglected; indeed they did more than was required. Yet there was no gratitude in their hearts. At the very time that the priests and rulers were making elaborate preparation to keep this feast — a feast designed to show their gratitude for a mighty deliverance — they were plotting to put God’s only Son to death.
A Greater Deliverance
But God was making His plans too. All unknown to themselves, these plotting priests were making preparation for the offering up of the greater Passover Lamb-the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world. His death would provide deliverance from a bondage far more grievous than that of Egypt-the bondage of sin and death.
What is the lesson of the Lamb? Pure and precious, it represents the best that man can afford. The best is offered up to God. Everything that is truly good comes from God and belongs to God. Men are required to offer up to God all that is worthy in themselves, and all their treasured possessions and above all life itself. The paschal lamb was not offered instead of the offerer. It represented his best, and was a token of his own complete surrender to God. By eating the flesh of the lamb, the Israelites symbolically identified themselves with it. Its blood was, in a sense, their blood, which means that its life represented their life. By this ceremony they declared that they were not their own-they were offering themselves to God. And God recognised them as His own and delivered them.
So too with the Lamb of God. Conscious of his need for help, he sought it diligently from his Father-and received it. All his virtue and the perfection of his character had come from God and was offered up to God. We are invited to admire his perfection, to identify ourselves with him and through him to offer ourselves up to God. Like Israel of old, God will then recognize us as His redeemed people, “not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold . . . but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Peter 1:18,19).
Identification with Christ
The initial act of identification with the Lord Jesus is baptism. But God knows how foolish and forgetful human beings are, and just as He instituted for Israel the annual Passover lest they should forget, so He has provided Christians with a means of remembering that they are a redeemed people. Lest they should forget that their Saviour died for them, disciples are required to eat bread and drink wine, symbols of the body and blood of their Lord. This rite is a symbol of identification.
“He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him” (John 6:56). From the days of the Apostles, believers have celebrated this memorial feast week by week.
The brazen serpent symbolizes the destruction of what is evil, and the paschal lamb symbolizes the giving back to God of what is good. Together they sum up all that was accomplished by the death of Jesus, and all that is required of his followers.
Human nature is evil and offensive to God. It must be destroyed. This is the lesson of the brazen serpent. But life itself, and every good gift, has come from God and must be given back to him in sacrifice. This is the lesson of the paschal lamb.
Dedicating our Lives to God
People are reluctant to dedicate to God life and all that is good. Yet how can they be losers when they give back to the Creator that which is already His? The Lord Jesus urged his disciples to believe and act on the principle that “whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it” (Matt. 16:25).
In life and death Jesus upheld this principle himself and proved it to be true by his glorious resurrection. He invites us to follow him through death to everlasting life. Dare we reject so gracious an offer?
By PETER WATKINS