The Suffering of the Cross

March 9, 2008 / No. 3401

Dear radio friends,

    Our Lord Jesus Christ, according to the Word of God, deliberately, willfully, suffered the death of the cross.  He did so because only in that way could He remove the curse that lay upon His people.  Only in that way could He redeem their souls from everlasting damnation.  Only in that way could He free them from the severe judgment of God.  Only in that way could He obtain for them the favor of God, righteousness, and eternal life.

      I want to call your attention to the sufferings of the cross today as the truth to that no child of God can possess a blasé attitude.  It is a truth that is set forth throughout all of the Scriptures.  It is a truth which, as no other truth of the Bible, reveals the marvel of God’s love and the assurance of our full and complete salvation.  It is a truth that demands all our attention.  Either Christ has suffered for you, or there can be for you only a fearful looking for the judgments of God.

      The first thing that the Bible tells us about the sufferings of Jesus Christ upon the cross is that those sufferings were substitutionary.  If you are to know anything about the sufferings of Jesus, you must know, first of all, that they were substitutionary, or vicarious.  Now you ask me, “What does that mean?”  Well, that means, as the Bible tells us from cover to cover, that Jesus’ sufferings on the cross were on the behalf of others, in the stead of or in the place of or for others whom the Father had given to Him.  We read in I Peter 2:21, “because Christ also suffered for us,” literally, in behalf of us.  I Peter 4:1, “Christ hath suffered for us,” in the place of us, “in the flesh.”

      You are acquainted with the word “substitute.”  In football and in basketball a substitute enters the game in the place of another player.  But when we use the words “Christ is our substitute on the cross,” we mean it differently — not just that He stood in our place — but that what He did is accounted to us.  In basketball or in baseball, the points and the assists do not go on the record of the beginning player, but on the record of the person who is the substitute.  But as our substitute, Christ took our place before God on the cross.  We have broken God’s law, but Christ said, “Father, pour out on Me the curse that they deserve.  And the benefits of My obedience, of My righteousness and My life, Father, accredit to their account.”  So the sufferings on the cross of Jesus Christ were not for His own sins.  They were not, either, sufferings simply of a man who was being true to his convictions or being an example of being steadfast.  The sufferings of Jesus Christ were not a mere example of what God might do to you if you do not believe.  No.  The sufferings of Christ were substitutionary, vicarious, in the place of all those whom the Father gave to Jesus.

      This is the Word of God, not mine.  This is God’s Word ( John 10):   “I lay down my life,” said Jesus, “for (in behalf of) my sheep.”  He went on to say, My Father gave them to Me, and I lay down My life for the sheep.

      Turn with me in your Bible (if you have one nearby) to Isaiah 53.   What a wonderful chapter that is.  That is an amazing chapter!  Written eight hundred years before Christ was born!  Unbelieving scholars read that chapter and they scratch their heads and say, “Who is Isaiah talking about?”  But we have no problem whatsoever, by faith.  Isaiah is prophesying in that chapter of the sufferings of Christ and of the glory that should follow.  You may read that in I Peter 1:10.

      As we read through Isaiah 53, we see in verse 4 that Christ has borne our sorrows and carried our griefs.  Verse 5:  He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities.  Verse 6:  The Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all.  Verse 8:  For the transgression of My people was He stricken.  Verse 11:  For He shall bear their iniquities.  Verse 12:  He shall bear the sin of many.

      The words of Scripture are plain.  Jesus Christ, on the cross, suffered in the behalf of others by bearing what they deserved in order that they will never have to bear it.  He bore it, He carried it, it was laid upon Him, He was bruised and stricken for our iniquities, says the prophet.  And for whom did He suffer?  Well, He suffered for the transgression of My people!  And He suffered in such a way that they would receive the personal assurance that He suffered for them. 

      There is a teaching that Christ died for all men without exception.  This teaching does not expand the love of God.  This teaching denies the nature of the suffering of Jesus Christ.  If Christ suffered in the place of all, and yet many of the human race perish in hell, then His suffering did them no good.  Then His suffering was not substitutionary.  Then He did not actually bear the penalty in such a way that the penalty could not be inflicted again.  Then the suffering of Jesus Christ on the cross was not in the place of sinners.

      Christ’s suffering on the cross was this, according to Scripture:  He stood in the place of others.  He bore their iniquity.  Their transgressions were upon Him.  The stripes and the blows from the holy God that their sins deserved were laid upon Him.  He was smitten and He was afflicted in order that all those for whom He died would not be smitten, would not be judged in their sins, but live in Him.

      Substitutionary suffering.  That is the cross, first of all.

      Throughout His life Christ bore the sins of His people.  All the days that He toiled, He bore, He carried on His heart, the sins of God’s people willingly.  He said to the Father, “I love Thee, Father.  For Thy glory I will bring an atonement for those whom Thou hast loved.”  And He did that upon the cross.

      Certainly this means that we must love Him.  “Greater love,” said Jesus, “hath no man than this,  that a man lay down his life for his friends.”  What wondrous love is this, that caused the Lord of bliss to bear the dreadful curse for my soul?  The principle that stands at the heart of a Christian, the principle that holds the center of his life wherever he is, is not a flippant, shallow love for Christ.  But it is a love for Christ that is all by grace.  Only of grace.  God gave His Son to bear our iniquities — the iniquities of all those whom the Father chose in eternal love, and in whose heart the Father works by a mighty Spirit to give them the knowledge of their sins and of the glory of Christ who bore their sins for them.

      The sufferings of Jesus Christ on the cross were also expiatory, or propitiatory.  Now, you say, “Pastor, why do you use those words?  They’re even hard for you to pronounce.  We don’t use them in our common parlance.”  Well, I use them because, through the history of the church, words have been carefully chosen that best express the concepts taught in Scripture.  Do not be bullied or knocked over by those in the church who say, “Well, if it’s a hard word or if it’s a word that we don’t use, then we don’t need to know it.”  Do not be so foolish.  There are certain words that very clearly express to us the meaning of the Word of God.  We look for the right word.  We even say that to our children:  “Say what you mean.  Find the right word.”

      The suffering of Jesus Christ was propitiation.  That is a word that is used in the Bible:  Romans 3:25, “Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation … in his blood.”  And in I John 2:1, 2, “If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous:  and he is the propitiation for our sins.”

      We say that His suffering was propitiation.  That word means “covering” — a covering in the sense of satisfying, of erasing.  The word propitiation does not refer to a covering like the snow in your back yard.  All the piles of dead leaves and junk that you did not get cleaned up last Fall — you do not see them any more, they are not an eyesore, they are covered.  It looks really nice.  But wait until the warm weather comes and you will see that the trash and waste are still going to be there.  It has not been removed.  Propitiation means a covering that has removed, that has purged, that has cleansed.  We read in Isaiah 43:25, “I, even I, am he that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins.”  And in Jeremiah 50:20, “In those days, and in that time, saith the Lord, the iniquity of Israel shall be sought for, and there shall be none; and the sins of Judah, and they shall not be found:  for I will pardon them whom I reserve.”  When God forgave our sins in the sufferings of Jesus Christ, He did not just cover them up, He did not push them aside, and He did not choose to ignore them for the time being.  But propitiation was made.  Those sins were removed far from us.

      Look at Isaiah 53:5:   “the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.”  What a holy imagery we have here.  His stripes heal us.  His back was opened by the lash.  He was beaten so that our back, on which the curse of sin ought to be inflicted, was healed.  Verse 10 of Isaiah 53:   “When thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin.”  Verse 11:  “By his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many.”

      The sufferings of Jesus Christ have removed the curse of sin from us and we  bear it no more.

      Did you know that there is a teaching being spread in the name of Jesus Christ that says that the sufferings of Christ on the cross did not cover all our sins?  Did you know that?  There is a teaching that says that many of our sins escaped Jesus, were not paid by Him, they are still out there, and they can curse you and cause you a lot of trouble, a lot of suffering, in purgatory perhaps.  This teaching apparently honors Jesus and flatters you and says to you, “Jesus wants you to share in the sufferings for sin.  You can do what He did and cover your own sins.  Or you can appeal to others who were very holy and they can cover your sins like Jesus did.”

      When you ask, “Well, what should I offer to God to cleanse the sins that Jesus did not pay for on the cross?” the answer is this:  “An array of all types of works — you can rub beads, repeat a monotonous prayer, talk with another human being through a dark screen from one box to another, call upon the virgin Mary.”  That is the teaching, the proud, false teaching that says that His sufferings have not washed away our sins, but more is needed.

      This is the gospel according to the Word of God — the sufferings of Christ upon the cross were sufficient.  Propitiation was made.  Our sins, the sins of God’s people, have been washed from the sight of God.  The Son of God was hanged upon a cross, pierced with nails.  His back was laid open by the whip.  He was scourged.  A crown of thorns was pressed upon His head.  The curse that was due to us, due to the people of God, was laid upon Him.  He endured it all.  And He cried out, “It is finished.”  Not, “I am finished.”  But “It, the payment, all that is necessary to remove the sins of My people, all the sufferings that are called for under the justice of God — it is all finished.”  He did not stop until it was all covered in His blood.

      Go to Him.  Go to Him alone.  Hide yourself in the shadow of the cross.  When God makes known to you through His Word and by His Spirit your sin, and when your sin gnaws upon your soul and it eats upon your heart and the pangs of your conscience come upon you over your sin and your unworthiness — look to the cross.  Do not look to any foolish work that you can do that is going to remove that sin.  Only the work of Jesus Christ.  Do not respond simply by saying, “Well, I’ll do better next time,” and look to your own future works to bring you salvation.  Believe in this suffering Savior.  Run to His cross.  And from His cross live a holy life of thankfulness to God.  Hear the Word of His cross:  The sins of God’s people have been covered, they have been blotted out in the sight of heaven, so that we, foul sinners, come to the fountain of Calvary and there we are cleansed.

      The sufferings of Jesus Christ were substitutionary, in the place of others.  They were propitiation, the covering of our sins.  And those sufferings were liberation.  By the sufferings of the cross of Jesus Christ we are freed from the judgment of God to which we were exposed.

      What does a prisoner feel when he has been locked in a dark, stinking, wet dungeon and held in iron chains to a wall, his clothes rotting, and he hears the screams of the tortured and the moans of the hopeless?  Then a door to his cell is opened.  Light is shone.  His chains are removed.  His filthy clothes are taken from him and he is given clothes of fine, soft cotton and linen.  He is ushered into the light of a spring day, hearing sounds of children playing.  He is brought before the king in his glory.  And he looks into the eyes of the king and he sees grace.  What crushing despair and agony is lifted.  What joy floods the soul.

      You think that is a touching story?  Oh, no.  That is just a little picture of what our souls now feel when we hear that Christ has suffered for us, that He might bring us to God (I Pet. 3:18), that the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith (Gal. 3:14).   The sufferings of the cross were not in vain.  The sufferings of Jesus Christ were not sufferings simply added to the ocean of suffering.  But those sufferings freed us forever from the severe judgments of God to which we were exposed.  The snare is broken and our souls in liberty arise, we sing from the Psalter.  Did not the rocks around Calvary burst in pieces when the Son of God gave His spirit to God?  Was not the veil, the covering of the Holy Place in the temple, rent from the top to the bottom, leaving the way open into the Holy of Holies when He died?  Were not the graves of many saints opened and the dead came forth?  The sufferings of Jesus Christ free us, free us from condemnation, free us from death, and free us into eternal life, free us into a life of thankfulness.  Is this your joy?

      In the world, which knows not the gospel of Jesus Christ, there are many who make merry.  The bars and the nightclubs, the music and the dancing, all continue.  The glasses are filled.  The smoke of drugs and the lust-filled embraces.  Or, perhaps, a person is all alone at home.  The channels of the TV are clicking.  Or, perhaps, a person is in the hospital under the groans of pain.  Wherever a person may be in the world of unbelief, no matter what his situation externally may be, apart from Jesus Christ there hangs over him something dreadful.  Not terrorism.  Not the ruin of an economy.   Not bankruptcy.  Not cancer.  The severe judgment of the holy God, the holy wrath of the true and living God, the curse of the mighty God that no man can endure, the just curse of God due to the reality of your sin.

      But for those who, by the grace of God, bend their knees before the cross of Jesus Christ, a covering has been made.  Over their heads, no matter now their external circumstances — they may be in the hospital, they may have cancer, they may face economic ruin — nevertheless, over them there is no darkness, no curse.  But there is the light of the favor of the King.  And in His eyes is grace.  There are the garments of righteousness, woven by Jesus Christ.  And there are the eyes of the living God filled with the deepest shades of mercy and grace.  You may now be in the way of trial and heaviness, sorrow and struggle, loneliness and depression.  Look up.  Lift up your eyes, by faith, to Christ.  Shining over you is righteousness and everlasting life.  Why?  Because Christ has suffered for us that He might bring us to God.

      Now, believing this, how will you live this week?

      Father in heaven, bless Thy Word to our hearts.  All praise be to Thee.  In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.