"Even the Death of the Cross"
(Delivered Good Friday, April 13, 2001 at Bethany Bible Church. All scripture quotes, unless otherwise noted, are from the New King James Version.)
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 (Phil. 2:8).
* * * * * * * * * *
The whole theme of this evening can be summed up in this: God loves us very, very much. He loves us with a love that moved Him to reach down to us in our helplessness and sin, and save us from our lost condition. We can see how much He loves us by thinking about how far down He reached to rescue us.
This verses tells us about the depth of that reach. It tells us that His glorious Son humbled Himself and sacrificed Himself for our sins in obedience to His Father; even to the point of coming down from heaven into this world, and dying for us; even dying the dreadful, cursed death of the cross!
* * * * * * * * * *
Think with me for a moment about why the apostle Paul wrote these words. He wanted to encourage the believers in the ancient city of Philippi to be humble toward one another, and to serve one another in love. He wanted to set before them an example of perfect humility and a servant-like attitude; and then urge them to follow that example. And because he could find no greater example of true humility and service than our Savior Jesus Christ, he urged them to let the same attitude which was in Jesus also be in them. He told them, "Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus ..." (v. 5).
What was the "mind" or "attitude" that was in Jesus? First of all, it was an attitude of great humility. Paul said that even though the Son of God was worthy of all honor and glory, He didn't cling to the rights and privileges that belonged to Him as God. Instead, the Son of God "made Himself of no reputation", or "made Himself nothing" (NIV) - that is, "emptied Himself" of His rights and privileges (vv. 6-7). And so, one aspect of Jesus' attitude toward us is that He - the Son of God - humbled Himself and made Himself of "no reputation" for us.
Paul then told them about Jesus' attitude of service. He said that even though The Son had existed forever in the "form of God", He didn't come down to earth in resplendent glory and demand to be served by mankind. He certainly had a right to such service. But instead, the Son of God took "the form of a servant", and came into the world of men "in the likeness of men" (v. 7). When He was born in Bethlehem, He wasn't born into a luxurious palace as the privileged child of a royal family; but instead, He was born in a stable as the child of a poor family. He didn't come to be treated like a King. He Himself said, "For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many" (Mark 10:45). The King of heaven came to the earth to serve us and to meet our needs. That's another aspect of the attitude that was in Jesus toward us.
But the greatest aspect of Jesus' attitude toward us was that of sacrificial love. And the greatest display of that love is expressed in these words: "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" (v. 8).
To emphasize just how far down Jesus reached in love to us, Paul described the sort of death He died for us in this way: "even the death of the cross". It's as if Paul were saying, "It wasn't enough that He would go so far in His love for us as to die for us. That surely demonstrates the depth of His love for us; but His reach went much further than even that! He went so far as to even die the death of the cross for us! There could be no greater level the Son of God could go in love for us than that! This is a wonderfully deep, wonderfully far-reaching love! It's a sacrificial love beyond description! It was a love that moved Him 'even to the death of the cross' for us!"
* * * * * * * * * *
What was it about the cross that would cause Paul to emphasize it so much? Why was Jesus' death on the cross such an outstanding display of sacrificial love? Why does it show, more than anything else, how far down He has reached in love to us? For one thing, it was ...
I. BECAUSE OF THE AGONY OF THE CROSS.
There's a chilling feel to Paul's words - "even the death of the cross". Jesus didn't submit Himself to a death by lethal injection, or by a firing squad, or by an electric chair. He didn't submit Himself to a death by guillotine, or by hanging, or even by stoning. Rather, He submitted Himself to something even more gruesome and brutal than these - "even the death of the cross".
Not long ago, a friend of mine took a trip to Jerusalem; and while there, he saw the actual remains of someone who had been crucified about the time of Jesus. Such human remains testify to the unspeakably terrible level of physical pain and suffering that was involved in a death by crucifixion. They testify to the piercing of skin, bone and muscle with spikes into wood. They testify to the unmerciful cramping and fatigue of the muscles, joints and lungs. They testify to the bending and twisting of the body, bones and limbs in painful contortions. And in Jesus' case, He suffered all these things after having been scourged with whips, beaten with clubs and fists, and forced to carry His own heavy cross, until He collapsed to the ground in utter exhaustion.
The Bible teaches us that, as Jesus made His way to Jerusalem, He knew in advance the kind of death He would be dying there for us. And the horror of such a death was so great, who could doubt that He was tempted to flee from it? But even so, because He loved us, and because there was no other way for us to be saved, Jesus willingly suffered such a death for us. The Bible says that, when the time came, "He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem" (Luke 9:51).
And this is the depth of His reach in love to us! Paul wrote elsewhere that "God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom. 5:8). How did He die? "Even the death of the cross"!
* * * * * * * * * *
His death is also a demonstrates the reach of His love for us ...
II. BECAUSE OF THE SHAME OF THE CROSS.
We are fond of wearing crosses as decorations and as pieces of jewelry. We adorn them with gold and silver and precious stones. Many of us wear such crosses as symbols and reminders of our love and devotion to Jesus. Others wear them simply out of habit or tradition, without any thought about the meaning of the cross. I believe that it's good and right to wear a cross, particularly if we do so thoughtfully. But we should never forget that the ancient Romans never intended the cross to be remembered as a decorative piece of jewelry or as a religious symbol. To them, the cross was the most demeaning, most humiliating invention they could come up with for the execution of a despised criminal. To them, the cross was a symbol of shame, humiliation and wretchedness.
To die the death of a cross was, in ancient times, to die the most humiliating death a human being could die. It was masterfully designed by the Romans as a way not only to put a man to death, but also to utterly shame him in the process. It was designed to display its victim naked and bleeding and utterly contemptible in the eyes of men as he died. It was a way of not only putting to death a man, but also of putting to death every shred of human dignity left within the man as well. It openly and publically exposed him as an object of scorn and shame and ridicule.
Jesus came to this earth as fully God; and He knew full well the kind of death that He was facing. Who could rightly even imagine the holy Prince of Heaven, the very Son of the living God, submitting Himself to any kind of death - let alone such an utterly undignified, utterly repulsive death! And being completely human as well as fully God, Jesus would naturally have recoiled from such a death.
And yet, because He loved such shameful sinners as you and I, and because He wanted to deliver from our sin and shame, and lift us up as sharers with Him in His glory, He willingly suffered such a shameful death - even the death of the cross - for us. As the Bible tells us, He is "the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame ..." (Heb. 12:2).
* * * * * * * * * *
The far-reaching love of Jesus is certainly shown in the agony He suffered for us on the cross. And it's certainly shown in the shame He endured for us on the cross. But there's an even greater way the cross demonstrates how far Jesus went in His love for us. Above all else, Jesus' death shows us the depth of His love for us ...
III. BECAUSE OF THE CURSE OF THE CROSS.
The Bible tells us that every man and woman born from Adam - every person in this room - is born under a curse. We have been born under an obligation to obey God's commandments and to keep His law as the standard of righteousness. But our human father Adam failed. He broke God's commandment in the Garden of Eden - with us being 'within him' when he broke it. The sin of our human father Adam has made guilty sinners out of all of us. The Bible puts it this way; "For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, 'Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them'" (Gal. 3:10). None of us have kept God's commandments; and so, all of us are under the curse of God's law.
But this is where the depth of Jesus love for us is seen the most. He - the righteous, sinless, holy Son of God - left His throne in heaven, took human flesh and a human nature upon Himself, and became 'accursed' in the eyes of God in our place. The Bible tells us, "Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree" (Gal. 3:13; see also Deut. 21:23). Jesus hung on a cross of wood for us, willingly bearing the curse of God for our sins on our behalf. He willingly received God's righteous judgment for our sins upon Himself.
And because Jesus did this for us, God now declares us "righteous" by faith in the sacrifice of Jesus. The Bible says, "Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, 'Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree')" (Gal. 3:10).
* * * * * * * * * *
I believe that the physical anguish Jesus suffered for us on the cross was greater than we could ever imagine. And I have a difficult time grasping the level of shame and humiliation Jesus felt on the cross for us. But I believe that the greatest of all the things Jesus suffered on the cross was the spiritual anguish He felt when He bore God's curse upon Himself for our sins. Just before He died, He cried out, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" (Mark 15:34; see also Psalm 22). For the first time in all of eternity, the Son - Who had always experienced perfect fellowship with His Father - became separated from His Father, because He had become cursed, in the eyes of His holy Father, for us.
If Jesus had not gone to the cross for us and experienced the curse of God on our behalf, then that dreadful cry He made on the cross would have been our own cry throughout a hopeless eternity - "My God, My God! My Creator! The One I now know made me for Himself! The only One that I now see could have ever truly satisfied me! The One whose love and fellowship I was made to forever enjoy and experience! The One Whose love I have rejected! Am I now to be separated forever from You because of my sins? Am I to now be forever lost from You? Am I now to be forever abandoned to eternal darkness? Why have You forsaken me?!!"
Apart from the cross of Jesus, those words justly should have - and certainly would have - been our own throughout eternity. But this shows us the depth that Jesus, in love, went to in order to reach down to you and me. He even experienced the dreadful curse of God for our sins on our behalf, so that we wouldn't have to. Can there be a greater, deeper, more further-reaching love than that?
* * * * * * * * * *
As we come to the Lord's table tonight and remember the cross of Jesus together, I hope that you'll remember it for what it truly is - the greatest expression of love God could ever have shown toward you. Personalize it to yourself tonight as you remember it. Remember that the cross of Jesus means that God is not against you, but is wonderfully for you; and that He very much loves you. Remember the cross as the place where Jesus suffered the agony you deserved for your sins, so that you would forever share in His joy. Remember the cross as the place where Jesus willingly bore the shame of your sins on Himself, so that you would forever share in His honor. And most of all, remember the cross as the place where Jesus experienced the curse of God on your behalf, so that you would forever stand in God's favor.
And as you do all this, I hope that you'll do more than merely "remember" it. I hope that you'll personally express your thanks to the Father for the far-reaching love that His Son displayed in dying for you - dying "even the death of the cross".
(copyright 2001 by Pastor Greg Allen and Bethany Bible Church. Reproduction without permission, in whole or in part, is strictly prohibited.)
Missed a message? Check the archives!