The Cross

April 1, 2001 / No. 3039

Dear radio friends,

Please open your Bibles with me to Romans 3:25, 26. These verses will serve as our text for today’s meditation. We read, “Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; to declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.”

As I read those verses, you might have sensed that they are very tightly constructed and profound. We must be careful that we do not skip over such portions of God’s Word. It is very easy to catch ourselves thinking, “Well, I know the general gist of the gospel and of God’s love and forgiveness, and verses like that are just too complex, and I will not bother myself with unraveling them.” We would then deprive ourselves of the great personal, spiritual good and peace that comes from tracing out the truths of God Word. Worse, we would show a lack of appreciation to God and we would show that we are unconcerned for the things which show forth His glory and His character.

The verses that I read are looking at the cross of Jesus Christ, but looking at that cross from God’s point of view. The verses are explaining to us why the cross of Jesus Christ was necessary from God’s point of view. Normally we look at the cross from the viewpoint of what it means for us. The Scriptures are filled with that. We read in Galatians 2:20, “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.” In Romans 3:24, we read: “Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”

But our text, Romans 3:25, 26, takes the viewpoint of God and teaches us that the cross shows how God might be just and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus, that is, how He may be both at the same time. Or, put it this way, how God, without denying His own holiness and righteousness against sin, can at the same time pardon those who believe in Jesus Christ. Or, how God, without compromising His own virtue of righteousness and justice, could at the same time forgive our sins.

You see, as believers, our great desire is that God be God. We do not want a cheap forgiveness which comes at God’s laying aside His own essential justice concerning sin. We do not want a cheap gospel which simply says that God declares that He will forgive at the expense of His own holiness. No, for the forgiveness of sins to be a real thing, to be ours, it can only be in the way of God fulfilling all of His own divine requirements, His own justice with respect to sin. That is the cross.

Now you might notice, if you still have your Bible open, that verses 25 and 26 of Romans 3 are really a continuation of verse 24. We read in verse 24 that we are justified freely by God’s grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. In other words, the apostle is saying to us that the way of salvation does not depend upon our keeping the law, but God has freely ransomed us in Jesus Christ. In that ransom that Christ has made, God has graciously pardoned us. But the apostle does not stop there. He looks deeper into it and he says that there is something more. He is saying that Christ was set forth of God to be a propitiation for our sins in order that God could declare His righteousness and declare that He is just and the justifier of those who believe in Jesus Christ. In other words, the apostle goes on to show us that there was a divine reason for the cross. God saved the way He did because it was the only way whereby He could maintain His righteousness and holiness and at the same time provide a full forgiveness for us.

The idea that God can forgive sin without first punishing that sin, and that God is willing simply to forget about sin if a person believes, and will therefore ignore their sins without requiring a satisfaction of His righteousness for that sin, that idea is utterly demolished in these verses of Romans 3. There is no refuge for your soul in such a gospel.

We are taught, first of all, that the death of Jesus Christ on the cross was God’s work. “Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood.” God set Him forth. That word means “made plain.” God put Christ upon the cross. He did so in order that Christ might be a propitiation (the word means covering) in His blood – to cover our sins with His blood. For that reason God put His Son on the cross.

We know that the cross is very often sentimentalized away. We hear the words, “Ah, Christ was too good for the world. He was ahead of His times. They didn’t understand Him. A tragic misunderstanding at the root of human prejudices. We feel sorry for Him. It ought never to have happened.”

If you look at the cross that way, you have never seen it. The cross was not an accident. The cross was something very deliberate on God’s part. God set Christ forth upon the cross that His Son might be the covering of sin in His blood. We read in Acts 2:32 that He was delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God. God set Him forth. God did something. On the stage of human history God did something very evident and plain. In the most public action that has ever taken place, God, in the sight of all, nailed His Son upon a cross. And God did so in order that His Son would be a covering for sin in His blood.

Why did God do that? What led God to do this? What was His reason? The text tells us that He did this to declare His righteousness. We read, “to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; to declare, I say, at this time his righteousness.”

Let us take that one word at a time. God set forth His Son upon the cross to declare. That word means: to make plain, to demonstrate, to prove. God set forth His Son on the cross as a covering for our sins in His blood to declare something – to make a statement. To make a statement of what? His righteousness. Now you know that that is a key word in the epistle of Romans. So far in the chapter, chapter 3, the apostle used the word “righteousness” in the sense of the righteousness that God gives to us. God also makes us righteous in His Son. But in this verse it does not mean that. In this verse it means God’s righteousness. God put His Son upon the cross to say something about Himself, to say to us that He is a righteous God, to say that He is a just God, to declare that He is righteous with regard to sin. God’s purpose in the cross is, therefore, to pronounce the truth of His own being, the truth that is this: “I am righteous and in righteousness I exact a penalty against sin.”

I say again, the cross does not say that God is permissive about sin – that He can forgive simply by choosing to do nothing about your sin if you are willing to make some kind of confession. No, the cross declares the opposite. The cross declares that God is righteous and that in His righteousness our sins must be punished. Notice how the apostle works that out. “To declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God.” God put His Son upon the cross to declare, to prove, that He was righteous with respect to the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God.

The word “remission” means “to pass over, to overlook intentionally” – the passing over of sins that are past. The apostle is not saying that the sins of anyone’s past are forgiven in Jesus Christ. He is referring to sins which were committed at a certain time in the past, specifically to those sins which were committed before Christ was crucified. He is referring to the sins which were committed by God’s people in the Old Testament. He is saying to us that God, upon the cross, declared that He was righteous when He passed over the sins that had been committed in the Old Testament times by His children, through the forbearance of God. God restrained, God did not pour out, the wrath that those sins deserved. Why? Because God put His Son upon the cross to declare that He would be righteous, that He would satisfy for those sins. He would not overlook those sins, but He would actually punish those sins now in Jesus Christ His Son. That is what it means. That is exactly what Paul is saying in our text. The cross of Jesus Christ has great value. It has great value because it was the inflicting of the righteous penalty that our sins deserved -the sins that had been committed before the cross by the people of God in the Old Testament, but the sins also of all of God’s people known of God in a gracious election.

Therefore, in the cross God was showing that He was a God who hated sin, that He was a God who must, according to His own righteousness, punish sin, that He would pour out His wrath upon sin, and, at the same time, that He would be a God who would forgive our sins. We ask the question, How can God be both? How can God be a righteous God pouring out His wrath against sin and at the same time be a gracious God, forgiving our sins? The answer is: God, upon the cross, in a very public way, showed how He would do that. He set forth His Son to be the propitiation for our sins through faith in His blood. He placed His Son upon the cross, on the center stage of human history, and He gave His Son to be the representative of His own church and people, and therefore the One who would endure the righteous judgments of God against our sins. On Calvary God showed that He hates sin and that according to His own righteousness He would punish sin, our sin. Only not upon our own head, but upon the head of Jesus Christ, whom He has given to represent all of His own.

God’s purpose was to justify us freely in Jesus Christ while at the same time remaining the just and the holy God who can have no part of sin. The apostle tells us that this is not only so with regard to the sins of the saints of the Old Testament, but also with us. God was declaring His righteousness at this time also, we read, not only with respect to the sins that are past. We read in verse 26, “to declare, I say, at this time his righteousness” – at this time, also for our sins.

So we ask this question: “Were Abraham’s and Jacob’s and David’s sins dealt with by Jesus Christ on the cross?” The answer is: Yes. That is what Paul says, “sins that are past.” But we ask the Word of God this question, also, “What about the sins of God’s people who live today, what about mine?” The answer is, Yes, at that time Jesus Christ dealt also with those sins upon the cross, because the sufferings of the cross were once and for all, that is, it was the sacrifice which needs never be repeated, because it attained the forgiveness for all those whom the Father had entrusted of grace to Christ.

Let us hear the Word of God. Let us hear that Word which is the greatest Word that our heart can ever embrace: All our sins are forgiven in the cross alone. The cross declares that God is just and He is the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus. It says that God covered our sins, really! Really He covered them. It says that God did that, not by becoming blind, that He forgot what we did. But God remained just and righteous. He punished our sins. All our sins received what they deserved. But He punished them upon the Son that He set forth. The cross is not God’s attempt to influence the world. The cross is not God’s offer to forgive if only you now will do this or that. Then God would deny His justice and not inflict the penalty your sin deserves. That is not the truth of the cross. Such a gospel militates against the very character of God. That is a gospel that is built upon air. But the cross is forgiveness. In the way of divine righteousness, the cross is payment for sin by Christ bearing the penalty for sin – the penalty due to all those whom in He represented according to His Father’s gracious election.

The cross not only shows God’s love and mercy. But the cross shows that God is holy and just. The cross is the revelation of all of His eternal and glorious character and attributes. The character of God is involved in our salvation. The very character and truth of God is revealed at the cross.

The cross reveals that God is just – not to set aside His righteousness with respect to sin. But the cross also declares that He is the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus – that God is merciful. This is what God did upon the cross. He made a public declaration that He is righteous. He made a public declaration that as the righteous and just God He would place our sins upon His own Son so that His Son, in our place, might bear them away. Now, since His Son has endured the penalty our sins deserve, He declares that those sins are forgiven. He does not see them anymore. They are washed away in the blood of Jesus Christ. God forgives us, not because He changed His attitude or compromises about sin, not because He ignores or chooses not to deal with our sins, but because He punished our sins when He set forth His Son upon Calvary’s tree.

God delights in setting forth this Jesus Christ in the gospel. He gives us faith whereby we might embrace this Jesus Christ and, embracing Him, have life everlasting.

What a glorious truth! Then we may rest in our souls upon something that is sure, unchangeable. We rest upon a rock. Come what may, our sins are forgiven. They are pardoned in the way of God’s justice.

Then, if God says, “I forgive you; I find no fault in you; there is no condemnation in you in Christ Jesus,” if that is what God says, and He does in the gospel, then I may have perfect peace, a peace at all times. I might know that God is just, but He is the One who has justified me in the work of Jesus Christ.

To Him, and to Him alone, is all the praise and glory!

May God bless these words to our hearts.

Father in heaven, we thank Thee for Thy holy Word. We pray that the entrance of Thy Word may give light and that we may boast all the day in Thee. In Jesus’ name, Amen.