What was a crucifixion? Let us try to realize it, and understand its misery. The person crucified was laid on his back on a piece of timber, with a cross-piece nailed to it near one end – or on the trunk of a tree with branching arms, which answered the same purpose. His hands were spread out on the cross-piece, and nails driven through each of them, fastening them to the wood. His feet in like manner were nailed to the upright part of the cross. And then, the body having been securely fastened, the cross was raised up, and fixed firmly in the ground. And there hung the unhappy sufferer until pain and exhaustion brought him to his end – not dying suddenly, for no vital part of him was injured – but enduring the most excruciating agony from his hands and feet, and unable to move.
Such was the death of the cross. Such was the death that Jesus died for us! For six long hours He hung there before a gazing crowd, naked, and bleeding from head to foot – His head pierced with thorns – His back lacerated with scourging – His hands and feet torn with nails – and mocked and reviled by His cruel enemies to the very last.
Let us meditate frequently on these things. Let us often read over the story of Christ’s cross and passion. Let us remember, not least, that all these horrible sufferings were born without a murmur. No word of impatience crossed our Lord’s lips. In His death, no less than in His life, He was perfect. To the very last, Satan found nothing in Him. (John 14:30.)
In evangelical Christianity, trends pop up like weeds on my lawn – all the time. Included in those trends is the phrase, “Preach the gospel to yourself.” Now, I don’t especially like any trends and I do not like how most people use this phrase, however it is a good phrase and a good thing to do if you understand it properly.
To give you an idea of how this phrase is improperly used, it is like when a Christian comes to his friend and says, “Could you help me out, I am really struggling with my fight over this sin.” And the friend replies, “Don’t worry, just preach the gospel to yourself.”
Or when that same Christian comes to that same friend and says, “Could you pray for me, my wife and I are just not communicating very well, and we just need some help opening up our talking lines.” And the friend replies, “Don’t worry, just preach the gospel to yourself.”
Can you see that this phrase today is just a “catch-all” reply by the Christian, a “band-aid” for the ailing walk, a “shotgun” response to any spiritual question. But that is not what it means.
R.W. Glenn in this video explains what it means to truly “preach the gospel to yourself” and next time you use this phrase or come upon someone who uses it improperly, explain it in a way that really helps to make a difference in someone’s life and sanctification.
If you prompt most professing Christians “What is the gospel?” they will probably say “The first four books in the New Testament” or you may get Christian clichés such as “ask Jesus into your heart” or “you need a relationship with Jesus.” The problem is that those are not ‘The Gospel.’
So the big question is why do so many so-called Christians not know or have the ability to articulate the true gospel. I believe it is primarily because it is not clearly articulated on Sunday by the pastor nor is there any direct questions posed to someone in a church to make sure they understand.
We live in a culture of “Don’t ask what people know because you may make them feel bad.” The problem is with that thinking is that the person may not be saved or if they are saved, they will struggle with things like assurance, salvation, and sanctification.
What is the Gospel then? In this video, Steve Lawson, pastor of Christ Fellowship Baptist Church (and one of my favorite preachers to listen to) clearly articulates the gospel. If you love the gospel, it is worth a watch.
Weak, and feeble, and foolish as it may seem to man, the simple story of the Cross is enough for all the children of Adam in every part of the globe. The tidings of Christ’s death for sinners, and the atonement made by that death, is able to meet the hearts and satisfy the consciences of all nations, and peoples, and kindreds, and tongues.
Carried by faithful messengers, it feeds and supplies all ranks and classes. ‘The preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness, but to us who are saved it is the power of God.’ (1 Cor. 1:18.)
Five barley loaves and two small fishes seemed scanty provision for a hungry crowd. But blessed by Christ, and distributed by His disciples, they were more than sufficient.
Let us never doubt for a moment, that the preaching of Christ crucified,—the old story of His blood, and righteousness, and substitution,—is enough for all the spiritual necessities of all mankind. It is not worn out. It is not obsolete. It has not lost its power.
We want nothing new,—nothing more broad and kind,—nothing more intellectual,—nothing more efficacious. We want nothing but the true bread of life which Christ bestows, distributed faithfully among starving souls. Let men sneer or ridicule as they will.
Nothing else can do good in this sinful world. No other teaching can fill hungry consciences, and give them peace. We are all in a wilderness. We must feed on Christ crucified, and the atonement made by His death, or we shall die in our sins.
–J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on John, Vol. 1, p. 229-230. Commentary John 6:1-14.
Have you ever been to a church service where the preacher (or professional story-teller) asks you to “Now close your eyes and bow your heads.” He’s getting ready to pray, right?!? I mean that is exactly what we do to pray…and often times he even says “Please close your eyes and bow your heads for prayer.” But then he goes on talking to you. I can even guess the next words out of his mouth will be, “If you are here today…”
I mean if a pastor asks us to bow our heads, shouldn’t he talk to…God?!? And not me. I mean, if he really wants me to quiet down and give him my full attention (which is what I thought I was doing for the entire talk), shouldn’t he just be honest and come out and say, “I’m going to have you close your eyes, bow your heads, so I can tell you something so that you will feel really spiritual and in tune with your emotions.” But why do it anyway? Why not just talk to me with my eyes open and head up like a man? Why do I have to close my eyes and bow my head? And why is the guitar player quietly playing “Just as I am over and over again?
I can tell you exactly why the speaker does this. It is because they do not truly understand regeneration. They do not understand that it is God who does the saving and it is the preachers job to simply give the full gospel, unadulterated – both bad news and good news. The entire reason to get you with head bowed and eyes closed is to manipulate your inclinations so you can “begin your relationship with Christ.” Manipulation is not their intention (always), but it is the result.
I guarantee – listen to the preacher when this happens next time – you will never hear the word judgment or Hell or repentance or blood or payment or atonement or born again. Those are nasty words in the modern church – it has been proven by marketing experts that those words make people feel bad about themselves. You probably won’t even hear the words sin or cross unless it is spoken so fast you would have to slow down the video to hear them. However, the terms sin and cross should be the focus of a gospel presentation. It is about our sin and our accountability and the cross and Christ’s sacrifice for our sins.
I can also guarantee – at the end of this watered-down, insufficient gospel message (that is no gospel at all), the speaker will say, “If you did that, if you _________ (fill in the blank with ask Jesus into your heart, prayed a prayer, raised a hand, ie. a “do”), then congratulations, you began your journey with Christ here today.” This action by the speaker is a false assurance of salvation of someone who has not even demonstrated any fruit of keeping with repentance. The result sadly is often another false convert.
The next step – fill out a card, check a box, attend a class, another “do.” What we have turned the gospel into in the modern church is just like every other man-made religion in the world, a “do.” It’s a “do” this and you’ll get “this” from God.
I can give one last guarantee – you ask any youth group member, any attendee, any person that just signed the card, checked the box, or is now on his journey immediately thereafter whether they think they are a good person – they will say “yes.” This demonstrates they have no clue what the gospel means.
The gospel is about grace – unmerited favor from God. We are worthless, vile, wretched sinners who are accountable to the God of all Creation for our sin. We deserve Hell in eternity for our crimes against Him. But He, Jesus Christ, became a man and lived a perfect life, died a gruesome death on the cross, taking our penalty upon His righteous back, and was raised on the third day defeating death. And this actions by Him, this action of loving-kindness, propels us to respond in repentance or a full turning from our sin that we now hate and put our trust in the Savior, Jesus Christ, for salvation. It compels us to respond, “Lord, have mercy on me a sinner.” And then and only then, because we have been shown this mercy and grace and been born again do we continually turn from sin and live by faith alone giving Him the glory with our words, thoughts, and deeds through His power.
That is the gospel. And that beats any “close your eyes and bow your heads” presentation, hands-down.
The city of Rome is built upon seven hills and standing in the center of those hills forged between the remains of the Roman Forum and Circus Maximus is the Palatine Hill. In 1857, there was a significant archaeological find there when a building called domus Gelotiana was unearthed. Found inside was an inscription carved into plaster of a human figure attached to a cross with the head of a donkey. Over the right shoulder of the depiction of Jesus Christ is a Greek letter of upsilon or a tau cross and to the left is an image of a young man named Alexamenos. And the caption attached to the carving, written in crude Greek, states Αλεξαμενος ϲεβετε θεον, or Alexamenos worships his God.
Here Alexamenos, a Christian, is being mocked for worshiping Jesus and the work done on the cross while Jesus, Himself, is mocked as nothing more than a stupid animal. But here, in a 2,000 year old inscription, holds a truth that every Christian and every church should hold fast – stand firm and look to the cross.
The cross is a stumbling block and it is foolishness to the unsaved. It is offensive, hated, despised, disgusting, destructive, and taboo. It is a word that most churches do not use, nor even utter because it absolutely offends the unbeliever and extenuates their wretched state before God.
However, the cross is the power of God unto salvation. It is lovingkindness, grace, mercy, forgiveness, atonement, and that which needs to be rejoiced. The great churches use this word and along with Paul “determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.”
If your church does not have cross-centered preaching and rejoices in the cross, then run as fast as you can to a church that is. If you are not ready to fall on your knees and worship in the face of ridicule to the glory of the cross, then think about your sin and think about the Savior on the cross paying the price for that sin. If you enjoy listening to feel-good, motivational messages over one that proclaims the amazing God and His work on the cross, then check your motives for coming to Christ.
As Paul stated in Galatians 6:14, “But may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.”
Rejoice and worship the true Lamb of God just as Alexamenos did and be ready to take the ridicule and mockery because our Lord went through so much more to ransom us from our debt before God.
“I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” is a Christmas carol based upon a 1863 poem titled “Christmas Bells” written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The context behind the poem is that Longfellow’s wife, Frances, had recently died in a fire in 1860. And then on December 1, 1863, this man received news that his eldest son, 19-year old Charley, had been nearly paralyzed by a gunshot wound fighting for the Union in the Civil War.
It was in the midst of this tragedy that he penned this poem on Christmas day. It is a reminder that we live in a world full of sin which results in death, disease, school shootings, hate, and mocking of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ. And yet while we were yet sinners, God came and provided a way for us all to receive true peace and salvation. By His wounds we are healed and justice will, in fact, prevail for His glory alone. Take this to heart this Christmas when you hear the bells ring.
And in despair I bowed my head; “There is no peace on earth,” I said; “For hate is strong, And mocks the song Of peace on earth, good-will to men!” Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: “God is not dead, nor doth He sleep; The Wrong shall fail, The Right prevail, With peace on the earth, good-will to men.
The most amazing thing happened a little over 2,000 years ago, God Himself was born in humanity to redeem mankind. He came down to rescue us since we could not go up to Him through our works and merit. Jesus who is co-equal, co-substantial, and co-eternal with the Father became a man and surrendered only the prerogatives of deity but none of His divine essence This is called the incarnation and there are implications if this doctrine is not fully true or fully defended.
Jesus had to be fully human or else He could not have died for your sins. In order for there to be a perfect blood sacrifice which can atone for your sins, one has to be fully human and perfect as well. There must be a propitiation for sins, a sacrifice by death to turn away God’s wrath. One has to die in order to be a sacrifice and one has to live in order to die.
The consequence if this doctrine is not true and Jesus is not fully man is that we would be stuck in bondage fearing death. We would still be under God’s wrath, storing it up on a daily basis only to be poured out on us in Hell.
But Jesus was fully man and He was a satisfying propitiation of God’s wrath against sin.
Jesus had to be fully God or else He could not save us from our sins. The most he could do is help us clean ourselves up a bit on the outside. Sin is a heart issue, it is an inward contamination of our entire being. Only God can recreate you from the inside out and make you born again. If He was only a man, the best he could do is change your outside, give you moral principles to live by, and give you a few rules to make your life a little better.
However our nature needs to change and we can not change our nature. We need to be born again, a new creation, and only God can do that.
So without the truth of Jesus being fully man and fully God we would be left holding the bag to a nature that no human being, including ourselves, could hope to change. There would be no hope because there is no deed of self-sacrifice, no religious practice, no act of courage, no level of achievement, no demonstration of merit that could raise us one inch towards God.
But Jesus was fully man and fully God, therefore the incarnation was all about grace in that He does ALL the work. The good news is that He entered our world to die for your sins, to transform you from the inside out and He did it freely as a gift of His grace.
Michael Horton quotes:
There is no passable route from us to God. We cannot climb the ladder of mysticism, speculation, or merit. In pride, we try to rise to Heaven but God descends to us in humility and self-sacrificial generosity. We seek the truth within ourselves or in universal laws of morality but God surprises us, and His name is Jesus.
We prefer to climb up to God through argument, experience, and our activity. But God has climbed down to us not in meeting us in the high places we are at, but in the lowest places, in a barn, suffering our scorn, fellowshipping with sinners and hanging on a cross.
I’ll lay the setting for you. R.C. Sproul is a brand new Christian and at college and he is with a vehemently anti-Christian professor. She told him to stand up in front of the class (knowing he was a new Christian) and she grilled him by saying, “Mr. Sproul, do you believe that Jesus is the only way to God?” R.C. writes: I wanted to jump out the window or find a hole to hide in because the question put me on the horns of a dilemma. It was a terribly embarrassing situation because I knew what the New Testament said. I knew that Jesus himself had said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No man comes to the Father except by me.” And other passages in the New Testament say, “There’s no other name under heaven through which men may be saved.” I was aware of those passages of exclusivity that we find in the New Testament and that focus on the uniqueness of Jesus. This professor pressed me on it and asked if I thought Jesus was the only way. If I said yes, then obviously I would be understood by everybody in the class to be an unspeakably arrogant person. I certainly didn’t want that kind of label during my college career. But if I said no, then I would be guilty of denying that unique exclusiveness that Christ claimed for himself. So I kind of hedged a little bit and tried to whisper my answer and said, “Yes, I believe that Jesus is the only way.” Well, the wrath of that teacher came on my head, and the teacher just began to lay me out and said, “That’s the most bigoted, narrow-minded, arrogant statement I have ever heard.”
After class, R.C. went up to the teacher and said, “I know you’re not enthusiastic about Christianity, but do you allow for the possibility that people who are not arrogant and people who are not narrow-minded could for some reason or other actually be persuaded that Jesus Christ is at least one way to God?” The professor said, “Oh yes, I can certainly understand that intelligent people could believe that. But how can you believe in a God which is so narrow-minded that He would only provide One way of salvation to the world? Who is this God?”
He then went on to explain the reasonableness of the exclusivity of Christ in this statement:
I don’t know why God hasn’t given us five saviors or fifteen religious ways to satisfy Him? I don’t know the answer to that question.
But let’s just take a hypothetical situation.
Suppose there is a God. Let’s start with that supposition.
And suppose that God is altogether absolutely Holy. And suppose that God, not out of any necessity for Himself, but out of sheer love and graciousness creates a world and He inhabits this world with a vast array of animals and plants. And then when He is finished, His crowning act of creation is a creature that He shapes in His own image. And He breathes into this creature His own breath and gives this creature preeminence over all creation, dominion over all, and gives him the task or mirroring and reflecting God’s own Holy character. And God gratuitously heaps all kinds of benefits on this creature but gives one restriction to this creature and says “You are not allowed to touch or to eat of this particular fruit.” And as soon as God turns His back, suppose this creature, totally ungrateful, which owes his creator everything, turns around and grasps for equality with his creator and openly willfully defies the law of God. And God had told him, “You do this, you die.” And suppose right then that God would erase mankind from the earth. He would have been perfectly just to do it. Wouldn’t He? Yes.
But supposed God was so patient, so kind, that he said I will cover this creature’s nakedness and I will provide a way of salvation for him and I will promise to deliver this ungrateful sinner from his desperate condition. I am going to send to this people that reject everything I do for them, I am going to send my only begotten Son. And I am going to take the sins of My people and transfer them to the back of my own Son who is perfectly righteous and perfectly innocent.
And they kill the Son.
And God said that’s ok, you killed Him. But if you will just put your trust in Him and honor Him, I will forgive you of every sin that you have ever committed again Me and again Him and I will give you eternal life where there will be no more death, no more tears, no more wickedness, no more pain, no more suffering, and you will live forever in unending bliss. But My only requirement is that you honor the One you has died in your place.
Buddha didn’t die for you, Moses didn’t die for you, Mohammed didn’t die for you. And I require you that you honor and embrace my only Son. Would you dare to stand before God on the Day of Judgment and say, “God, You have not done enough.” Would you look into the face of God and say “One way of salvation is not enough?”
How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? Beloved, I don’t think that people who believe in Christ are any better than people who believe in something else. We are not talking about the superiority of the people. But I’m sure it rankles God Almighty to hear any human being even mention Buddha in the same breath as Jesus Christ. Because Christ alone is sinless. Buddha was a sinner and Buddha couldn’t save himself let alone anyone else. Mohammed was a sinner and Mohammed never saved anybody.
Only Christ is sinless. Only Christ has offered an atonement. Only Christ has provided redemption for us.