Dear Radio Friends,
Now, young people and children, if that is the passion of Jesus Christ, do you think we can act that? Do you think that men may attempt to act that? Do you think that they can fit an eternity of suffering on a 3-D screen? It is exactly this truth of the passion of Jesus Christ—that He bears the sins of God’s people — that offends men apart from grace. It offends us, apart from grace. For the passion of Jesus Christ is a declaration concerning us as men and women that we do deserve the eternal judgment of God for our sins. And it is the declaration to men and women that there is no escape of that punishment. There is no possibility that we can possibly blot out that punishment or take away our sins unless by grace alone God gives the substitute—His own Son.
Instead, man (and that means us—for we are no different) would rather tend to view the cross of Jesus Christ as some kind of expression that in the end everything is going to turn out OK because God will not punish sin. We would rather be moved in our hearts by the brutality of men against Christ. We would rather have the Christ become one who is able courageously and serenely to endure such brutality in order that He might gain sympathy in our hearts and so that we would all leave after this sermon resolved to live a little better and to do better. What I am saying is that we all want that cross to be brought down to the human level. We want the cross to be about man. We want it to be about man’s cruelty and man’s innocent suffering. But the cross is not about that! It is about God. It is about sin. It is about your sin. It is about the need that the eternal justice of God cries for payment.
There is only one way of payment. It is in the tender mercies of God through a substitution in Jesus Christ. This is what His passion is saying to us. It is saying to us that God takes sin seriously. That little three-letter word, sin—I have told you that the most important letter in that word is the middle one, the “i.” Sin is everything that I am and everything that I have done that is contrary to the law of my Creator. Sin is, at bottom, nothing less than my awful, stinking, and besetting pride. That pride breaks forth into my deeds and into my thoughts and into my words. Is God indifferent to sin? Is God indulgent about sin? The cross and the passion of His Son tells you, No! He takes it seriously. So seriously that, rather than that it should go unpunished, He punished it in His beloved Son.
God tells us by the cross, not only that He takes sin seriously, but that He punishes sin severely and justly. That is not popular today either. In Romans 11:22 the apostle says, “Behold the goodness and the severity of God.” Do we dare? By God’s grace we do. Do we dare proclaim publicly the word severe? And God? It seems the moment we would do so, the devil himself would attack us. God judges sin severely. I did not say excessively. I did not say wildly. I did not say evilly. I said severely. God will give to sin that which sin deserves, for He is holy.
Therefore the cross and the passion of Jesus Christ proclaim to us that there is but one hope—that is Christ and Him crucified, which is the power of God unto salvation. There is no other way. There is no work, there is no feeling, there are no tears, there is no act that can take away your sin except His own passion. Not the virgin Mary, not if you sympathize for Him, not a million good deeds. But only His laying down His life for the sheep.
Therefore the passion declares, “there is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus.”
How shall we convey the passion of Jesus Christ to the world? What is the vehicle that we must use to carry the truth of this passion to mankind? What is the way, the medium, to convey effectively and to create in the hearts of men and women Spirit-worked faith and the experience of this passion as being personally for them? In the intense words of the apostle Paul in Philippians 3:10, how shall men and women be brought to know Him and to have fellowship with His sufferings? That word suffering there means passion, “being made conformable unto his death.”
Has God thought about this? Or has He simply given the passion of His Son, the crucifixion of His Son, and then left it up to us to convey it through the media and through the means that we believe will be most effective? We may be sure that God has thought about this, that He has thought about the way in which He will effectually, that is, in an effective and efficacious way, portray the passion of His Son to our hearts. He has decided the way by which He will accomplish exactly what He intends.
What is that way? The gospel also here is abundantly plain to those who will read it. We preach Christ crucified. This will be, says the apostle, by the Word of God as it is expounded. The Holy Scriptures brought to our hearts — this is the way whereby the power of salvation shall be effectually worked.
The enthusiasm in the evangelical church over the movie The Passion of Christ a few years ago was not so much a testimony about what the church thinks about movies, as it is a testimony about what the church really believes about the Word, and about the preaching of that Word. It is a testimony that they do not believe that the preaching is an effective way of bringing the passion of Christ by the Holy Spirit to the hearts of sinners whom God calls by grace to Himself. They do not believe that the services of the church are really effectual if they consist of just preaching the gospel.
Drama is not new to our society. Paul was well aware of it. Drama had its crowning point under the Greeks and the Romans and their playwrights and in their theaters. The apostle Paul was well aware of its appeal and its power.
When he went forth to preach and to teach the gospel of Jesus Christ and bring the sufferings of the Savior, how did he go forth? Does the book of Acts tell us that he entered into every theater and contacted every actors’ guild and arranged for them to put on the last twelve hours of the passion of Jesus Christ? The media existed in the apostle’s day.
He says to us plainly, “Christ sent me forth to preach, because it is the preaching of the gospel, the expounding of the living and the abiding Word, by the power of the Spirit in the heart, that is the power to salvation.” The passage can be read in I Corinthians emphasizing to us that God has appointed the means by which the church is to bring the gospel unto the world. It is a means that the apostle says is going to be called foolish and weak. That means is that God has inspired the truth of the crucifixion in every page of His Word. You may read of it. And now He has commissioned the church to preach that Word. He has given ministers an office to preach the gospel. The apostle said there that he is well aware that the Jews of his day would rather that he bring them a sign. “The Jews require a sign.” They were a peoplewho believed that you needed to have an impressive, and a visible, and a physical display if you really want to catch and rivet people’s attention. Paul, do something like Elijah did and call fire from heaven and we will believe that this Jesus is the Christ. But you certainly cannot expect that the gospel is going to get anywhere if you just stand there and preach.
The Greeks, on the other hand, says the apostle, want wisdom. That is, they were telling Paul, you need to learn how to put your message together in a crafty and in a skillful manner, aiming primarily at the emotions of men, trying, through your words, subtly to manipulate and control their reaction even unconsciously.
The church world today is saying the same. We require a sign. We require the wisdom of this world. They say to us, “We don’t dispute the contents of the gospel.” That is what they say! “We want the content of the gospel.” That is what they say. “But we want an effective way to get it across.” Paul says, “But we preach Christ crucified. To the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness. But to those who are called (notice, to those who are called) both Jew and Greek, Christ the power (effective) and Christ the wisdom of God.” Paul says, “We preach, we testify from the Holy Scriptures, through the office that is given to us, and through this preaching God calls.” We don’t have time to go into that beautiful truth, but that call is a personal work of the ascended, risen Jesus when He brings the Word to your heart and calls you by name to Himself. Paul says, “This is the power of God to salvation.”
Do we believe this? Are we committed to this? Are we as committed to this as we are committed to the gospel itself, to Christ our Lord, our only Savior? Are we committed also to this, that the effective tool is the preaching of Christ crucified? Is that why we are here?
The apostle Paul would say to the Thessalonian church, “for this cause also we thank God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, (now note) which effectually worketh also in you that believe.” The Word of God works powerfully in you who believe.
It is always going to come down to this, you know. Does the church believe that this is God’s Word that is the power? Or do we not?
There is convincing evidence that the means that God uses to bring the passion of Jesus Christ to our hearts is the preaching of the gospel, especially in Galatians 3:1: “O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, (now, note the words) before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you?” The apostle Paul says that the crucified Christ was set forth before their eyes. How is that so? Is it possible that some of these Galatians had been at the foot of the cross? No. The apostle says “He was crucified among you.” He was crucified right among them. In their church. He was crucified, and you saw Him in your church. How did that happen? Did the apostle Paul, then, beat Mel Gibson to the punch and stage it and act it out so that they could see it? Is that what he means? No. See verse 2: “This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?” It was through the hearing of faith. That hearing becomes eyes. The Word of God is received through faith, which becomes eyes whereby we see to the heart of the passion of Jesus Christ. And we apprehend that and lay hold of it to eternity.
God has chosen the means—the preaching of the Word. Woe to us if we depart from that, if instead we insist that we want signs and wisdom of men. Then it must be declared to us, to the Protestant church, whenever men arise to represent God’s truth in the way that we want to represent it, we destroy the truth and make an image. We bring it down to man, and the center of our message becomes man, not God, and not the glory of the incorruptible God. The apostle in Romans 1 says that that is our nature—we take the glory of the incorruptible God and make it like unto man. Can man paint God on a canvas? Can man act God on a cross? Can man express eternal wrath being borne in darkness? He can not! All he will succeed in doing is making God like unto himself.
Leave it to man. Leave it to me. Leave it to a worship committee. Leave it to a theater group—and you will not have the passion of Christ plus a few errors, or minus a little bit. No, you will not have that—you will have the lie!
But the means of God are effectual. The means of God do not return void, God has said, and of this we are sure, “My word shall not return empty to me. It shall accomplish the purpose to which I sent it.”
That, after all, is the question. We do not want to hide the passion of Jesus Christ. We do not believe that that passion is somewhere off in the corner and that it should not be displayed before this world. We want that passion displayed. And, above all things, we want that passion displayed to our own hearts as foundation and assurance of our salvation today. I need to know that. I need to know that He suffered for me.
How shall we do that? Shall we buy tickets to a movie and pass them out in the neighborhood? Shall we show a film tonight to underscore the brutality? I want to know about those sufferings. And I want to know that they were for me. How?
By the Word of God. The Scriptures are saying that the One who put Him on the cross is the One who must tell you in His Word. He must open your heart so that your ears become eyes and you see Him.
Then we will leave, by the grace of God, with those effects produced by the Holy Spirit, which are a conviction of sin and its pardon. Before the cross of Jesus Christ we will be convicted of its horror, of our sin, of its consequences, and of the fact that it cannot be removed by us.
Leaving the cross of Jesus Christ, I will not think that sin is a joke, that sin is light, and that sin is my friend. Do you leave the cross of Jesus Christ that way, thinking that sin is a joke, that the cross simply means that you have insurance, so that you can go on in your sins? Those who do not know the cross go on in their sins and do not have insurance. Woe be to us, then. For then we have not seen.
But we will leave the cross convicted of our sin, that it is no joke. We will be convicted that the guilt of our sin, which nothing could remove, has been borne away by the Lion of Judah’s tribe. Now we are righteous before God. We will, then, leave the cross in amazement at the love of God. There is nothing that is going to reveal to us the character of our God as does the cross. Even in eternity, the Bible tells us, the revelation of God will always be through His Son and through the Lamb that has been slain. Everything that has to be known of God is revealed in the cross. In the cross we see that He is unchangeably holy, inflexibly just, marvelous in grace, perfect in wisdom, immeasurable in love. For at the cross we ask the question: Why? Jesus cried out “Why?” We do too. Why? If this were His passion that He endured for me, the hell I made, Why? Why would the Son of God, who could gain nothing from it personally, why would He do that?
The answer is too big, too much for our hearts. It is because of the unconditional love of God, the infinite and unchangeable love, that He gave His Son to bear what would have made us perish, in order that we might live eternally.
Now hear the passion of Christ.
“And when the sixth hour was come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying,… My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” So that we might never be forsaken of God.
Let us pray.
Father, we pray that Thou wilt bless the preaching of Christ crucified and even now use it effectually in hearts of faith that we might know Him and the power of His suffering. Amen.