By Richard W. Ebler
“But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ . . . ” (Gal. 6:14).
The cross of Christ appears on the surface to be loaded with shame. From one point of view there appears to be a condemned criminal who is suffering punishment of the most agonizing sort before the eyes of the public, as it is written, “He was numbered with the transgressors” (Isa. 53:12). Indeed two condemned criminals were dying next to Him.
However, this view springs from the carnal mind of unbelief. This would be the view of the Roman soldiers who were doing the routine job of crucifying Him. It would also be the view of the people in the crowd who were ignorant of scripture and were totally unaware of what was really happening before their very eyes. Nevertheless, we today who are familiar with the writings of the apostles and believe them with all our heart (Acts 8:37) have an altogether different point of view.
We see the innocent Son of God dying for our sins, the spotless sacrificed Lamb “without blemish” (I Pet. 1:19). We see the King of kings dying for us unworthy, rebellious, ungodly sinners (Rom. 5:8). When this truth finally got through to our hearts through the preaching of the gospel and the power of the Holy Spirit, then our hearts were broken with a view of God’s amazing grace and love for us, and then we said from our heart, “Lord, take my life and do with it what you will,” or as Paul said, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” (Acts 9:6). We began to glory in the cross.
Glory Defined. Moses asked the Lord, “Show me Thy glory” (Exodus 33:18). God replied, “I will make all My goodness pass before thee, and proclaim the name of the LORD before thee; and will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy” (Exodus 33:19). God then told Moses that His direct, unveiled glory of His face would kill any man who saw it. Therefore, He would put Moses in a cleft of the rock for his protection and would cover him with His hand and make His glory to pass by so that Moses would see His back, so to speak, and not His face. The Lord descended in a cloud and proclaimed the name of the LORD (Jehovah, the eternal self-existent One), the LORD God, “merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and upon the children’s children, unto the third and to the fourth generation” (Exodus 34:6,7).
Then Moses made haste, and bowed his head toward the earth, and worshiped. This was an excellent response! No other response would have been appropriate! From this passage we can define God’s glory as the sum total of all His attributes. We notice that mercy is at the top of the list, and that is the only one that is mentioned twice. We poor sinful mortals need to know this above all. God is merciful! We can approach Him at His mercy-seat through Christ who shed His blood for our sins!
We also notice that mercy is followed quickly by “gracious.” While mercy has respect to the fact that we don’t deserve salvation, the word “gracious” has respect to the fact that God gives it freely out of His own good nature just because He is gracious. He is also longsuffering and abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, and yet His justice is mentioned also. In Christ’s cross we find justice and mercy harmonized. God punished sin in the person of His Son. There is justice. Nevertheless, He had mercy on us through the price that was paid for us.
God’s Glory is the Main Thing. Christianity is a God-centered religion, not a man-centered religion. God will be glorified by the saved and by the lost. The saved will glorify His mercy and the lost will glorify His justice. Much of modern so-called Christianity is really very man-centered. The emphasis is on man, his needs, his presumed ability (while dead in trespasses and in sin), his importance, his duties, etc. While duty is important, unless the preaching emphasizes God and what He has done in Christ for us and apart from us, the soul will be left unfed and weak, too weak to perform duty. It is akin to being sent out to work hard in the fields with no breakfast. A steady diet of nothing but exhortation is not a balanced diet. Food is needed before going to work!
The Key. The key to seeing the glory of the cross is to focus on the Divine attributes shining through it. We see His mercy in providing a remedy against sin. We see His love in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). He was gracious in doing this freely out of His goodness to man. His justice was seen in that He did not merely sweep sin under the rug (so to speak), but punished sin in the person of His Son. He is able to righteously forgive sin. He is able to be both just and the justifier of him that believes in Jesus (Romans 3:26).
Christ’s perfect righteousness qualified Him to die for our sins. His Divinity made His sacrifice of infinite worth so that it could cover the sins of a vast multitude. God’s holy hatred for sin was seen at the cross when He had to turn His back on His Son who appeared to God as a serpent on the cross. We were the real serpents, but Christ was in our place. This caused the Son to say “My God, why hast Thou forsaken me?” This also shows God’s righteous wrath against sin and His integrity and firmness of purpose in dealing with it.
We see Christ’s humility in submitting to His Father’s will, having come from heaven to earth for this very purpose, to become obedient unto death, even the death of the cross (Philippians 2:5-13). What amazing condescension! What amazing love! He “loved me and gave Himself for me” (Gal 2:20).
Christ’s longsuffering is shown in all of the abuse that He patiently bore prior to and during His crucifixion. We think of the scourging, the spitting, the crown of thorns, the smiting, the illegal trial at night, the mock worship, and the piercing of His hands and His feet. We are convinced that His inner, unseen, spiritual sufferings were worse than the outer, seen, physical sufferings. Only eternity will expound these!
Divine Sovereignty. God’s sovereignty is displayed in the circumstances leading up to the cross and the cross itself. Many prophecies had to be fulfilled to show that Jesus was truly the Messiah, the Anointed One predicted by the prophets. These were Christ’s credentials. For example, He was betrayed by Judas, “his own familiar friend” (Psalm 41:9) who received “thirty pieces of silver” (Zech 11:12). He was pierced (Zech 12:10), and the soldiers gambled for His garment (Psalm 22:17,18). None of His bones were broken (Psalm 34:20 compare with John 19:36). Truly the “kings of the earth stood up, and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord, and against His Christ . . . with the Gentiles and the people of Israel . . . for to do whatsoever Thy hand and Thy counsel determined before to be done” (Acts 4:26-28).
Divine Wisdom. God’s wisdom was manifested at the cross in several ways. What looked like a defeat was really a great victory. Satan hated Christ so much that, given the opportunity, he had to kill Him. Jesus referred to this when He said to those who came to arrest him in Gethsemane, “this is your hour and the power of darkness” (Luke 22:53). We know that Satan entered into Judas (John 13:27) and moved him to betray Jesus. Satan wanted to kill Jesus, but even more than that, he wanted to get Jesus to sin. Perhaps the stress of the trial before Pilate and Herod would do it. Perhaps the scourging would do it. Perhaps the cross itself and the cruel mocking would do it. However, Jesus went through all of this and did not sin, even to His last breath. Jesus won. Satan lost.
God used death, which was Satan’s ultimate weapon (Heb. 2:14) against the old serpent himself, defeating him with his own weapon, even as David killed Goliath with the giant’s own sword. When Satan thought that he was destroying Christ, he was really destroying himself and his own kingdom. Satan’s kingdom was based on delusion and sin. This death of Christ would be preached by the apostles and others, pushing back Satan’s kingdom little by little until Christ’s kingdom would fill the whole earth (Daniel 2:35). The bruising of Christ’s heel was actually the bruising of Satan’s head (Genesis 3:15). What wisdom! Satan, shortly after the cross, would lose access to God’s throne as the “accuser of the brethren” (Revelation 12:10) and in his place would come Christ the Intercessor whose blood speaks better things than that of Abel (Hebrews 7:25; 12:24). Jesus is there right now!
We who hear the gospel (I Cor. 15:1-4), repent and believe on the Son (Acts 20:21), confess our faith (Romans 10:9,10), and are baptized into Christ (Gal 3:27), keeping the faith (II Tim 4:7) are those who have been “delivered from the power of darkness and translated into the kingdom of His dear Son” (Col 1:13). Satan loses another subject and his kingdom is diminished. All of this is done through the wisdom of God!
Conclusion. This article is not an exhaustive treatment of this subject. It is merely intended to provoke all saints to meditate along these lines and to thereby deepen their love for the Savior and to more fully appreciate the glory of the cross. The gospel is not ONLY for the world at large, although it is to be preached to all the world (Mark 16:15). The gospel is also meant to be the regular food of the church. Paul told the Corinthians that he was “determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (I Cor. 2:2). How can people preach the gospel properly, powerfully, effectually, unless first it is precious, alive, and real to them? Thank God for the Lord’s Table every week so that our vision of Christ’s death can be cleared up, the clouds of unbelief blown away from our minds, and the cross of Christ be made to glow again unto our spirits in all of its transparent glory! Let us meditate and feed on these things!