Master Sermon List
The Greatness of the Cross
by T. Austin-Sparks
Reading: 1 Chronicles 29:22; 1 Kings 8:62-63; 2 Chronicles 4:1; 7:1, 4-5, 9; Ephesians 1:6-8; 3:17-19; 5:27.
In those chapters of the book of Chronicles we have already seen Solomon so lavishly and oveflowingly dealt with by God because He had in view One greater than Solomon whom He was seeking to interpret to men by way of illustration; so also in the different records of Solomon's reign we find the intimation of the greatness of the Cross given by God by the same means of illustration. The great altar, pointing to the Cross, is brought into view, and then in the double connection, the exaltation of the king and the consecration of the house of God, the greatness of the significance of that altar is intimated by the immensity of the sacrifice.
We but glance, in passing, at that double connection of the Cross. Its greatness is seen firstly related to the enthronement of the king. There is a good deal about that in the New Testament, that enthronement, that exaltation being because of that immense work which was accomplished in the Cross.
"...obedient unto death, yea, the death of the cross. Wherefore also God highly exalted him, and gave unto him the name which is above every name; that in the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven and things on earth and things under the earth" (Phil 2:8-10).
Then secondly we see how the house of God is established upon the greatness of the Cross, and how the Church takes its significance from the Cross. We have read something about that in the Ephesian letter, which has more to do with the Church than any other letter or any other part of the Bible. You find that the very foundations of the Church are in the Cross of the Lord Jesus.
We leave that for the moment, and seek to speak for this time solely about the greatness of the Cross.
MYRIADS OF SACRIFICES UNAVAILING
We are impressed when we read of this sacrifice which was made by Solomon. It is almost bewildering to think of it, battalions upon battalions of oxen! The highways must have been thronged with cattle and with sheep during those days, for there were thousands upon thousands! It does not do to let our imagination dwell upon that! And there must have been literally rivers of blood. It is a terrible picture, and but for the moral support which was found in the meaning and spiritual value of it, I am quite sure the priests, during those days, must have been overwhelmed by the ghastliness of it. They could only have gone through the slaying of those thousands and thousands of oxen, sheep and lambs, with the support given by the realization of what it meant.
All that which is beyond our imagination, and we do not want to dwell upon it too much, is indicative in the type of how great is the Cross of the Lord Jesus. It should lead us to think again. If that is a type of the Cross, a type of Christ the Offering for sin, and if it is true that types are always far less than that which they typify, how great must the Cross be! By mere logical deduction, the Cross in the Divine mind must be immense. And yet we are distinctly and definitely told that all that offering in Solomon's day, both at his enthronement and at the dedication of the temple, and all that had led up to it through many generations from the first recorded sacrifice (the offering of Abel), and every subsequent sacrifice, aggregating millions in number, was unavailing in any sense of finality.
It was unavailing in two ways. First, because it never reached a final end; it had to be repeated again and again. There was no end to this thing. Yes, this morning the sacrifice has been offered, and perhaps for the moment it has secured a kind of ceremonial adjustment to God, an acknowledgment of God which is taken account of by Him; but it has to be repeated this evening, and again tomorrow, and every morning and evening throughout all life; and when life at its longest is finished the thing is not concluded; the next generation must take it up and go on, and then the next.
And in this second and included sense, it was unavailing, in that it never really dealt with conscience; that is, it never rolled the burden of sin from the conscience. It was merely external and ceremonial; it was religion, which, though very thorough going, had really no relatedness to the inner life. "... gifts and sacrifices that cannot, as touching the conscience, make the worshipper perfect" (Heb 9:9). Positively and definitely it was unavailing.
THE CROSS, ONE OFFERING AVAILING FOR EVER
And look at the immensity of it! I say again that it is overpowering to contemplate all that tremendous offering made by Solomon. But then gather up the generations! Then come to these simple but marvelous statements: "... once at the end of the ages hath he been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself" (Heb 9:26); "... the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all" (Heb 10:10); "... when he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God" (Heb 10:12). One offering, and only one! What a work that must be if in one single act it does what all this other, in its immensity through generations, has never been able to accomplish! "By one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified" (Heb 10:14). All the other, it says, could never make the worshippers perfect; but He, by one offering, perfected for ever. What a sacrifice! What a Cross! Twenty and two thousand oxen, and all the thousands of sheep and lambs, yes; but one single offering did it once for all! There is no harm in reiteration, in dwelling upon it, that we may really register the significance of this. One single offering, just one, and all that other is swallowed up!
Why one, and once and for all? Well, surely there is present in the one thing that which was absent in all the others. What was that? Simply the full satisfaction of God in the matter of a perfect nature. Although these animal sacrifices were ceremonially perfect, typically without spot or blemish, actually that related only to the physical side. They were selected sacrifices, which were of a special breed and pedigree, and from which there were absent certain flaws of mixture, but this was merely external. If you got right into the bloodstream you would find the old creation there. Those oxen could fight as well as any others! It was there in the blood, for it was nature, the old creation. Only in a sort of ceremonial way were they perfect. But He, not ceremonially, but actually, intrinsically perfect, offered Himself, not ceremonially, but actually, without spot unto God.
In His blood there was no corruption. Somewhere, in the mystery of God, there was a clean cutting in between His inheritance from His earthly mother, and His own Divine nature; the tainted thing was cut off, and in Him there was none of the Adam corruption. "The prince of the world cometh: and he hath nothing in me" (John 14:30). It was the essential, intrinsic perfection of nature in the one offering which was not found in all the others. That was what God was looking for: a perfect being, a perfect human being, a perfect specimen of creation, one who in essential nature fully satisfied the thought of God in making man. God found that in Him; and that being offered unto God, there need be no more offering. It was once and for all and for ever. It is finished, for God is satisfied. That is the great foundation of our faith; the greatness of the Cross in the light of who it is that is on that Cross; for it is the greatness of Christ which gives the greatness to the Cross.
The greatness of the Cross in such terms is the basis of our salvation, our hope, our justification, our righteousness. Then let us once and for all cease to look for perfection anywhere else, in ourselves or in others, and keep our eyes on the object which satisfies God, the sole and final object of His satisfaction.
We have to see the Cross, then, in those Divine terms, in its four dimensions, breadth and length and height and depth, and until we have so seen it our salvation is still lacking in essential qualities, and we, as saved people, will not be the people that God means us to be.
THE RANGE OF THE CROSS
The next thing that I want to say is that the Cross of our Lord Jesus is different from all that foreshadowing and typifying in the Old Testament, and different from this immense representation in the days of Solomon, in this second respect, that it is super-historical. That sounds technical, but what I mean is that it is something bigger than time, and time is only another word for history. I wonder if you have noticed that in the earliest Christian literature, that is, the epistles of the New Testament (not the Gospels, for they were written after the epistles, bear that clearly in mind, for it will make a lot of difference!) Calvary is never once mentioned. The story of the crucifixion, of the Cross, is never referred to in the earliest Christian literature. Reference is always made to the death of Christ; not to the crucifixion, nor Calvary, but to the death. There is a vast deal of difference. One is just historical, a fact, something that took place at a certain time in a certain place in the history of this world; that is the crucifixion, and it is historical.
The death of Christ is not that. The Apostles, when they wrote their epistles, were occupied with something spiritual and not historical; universal and not local; eternal and not just in time; they dealt with the death of Christ, and it is set in an immense setting, against an immense background. The death is referred to a very great deal, and yet the story of the death is never once told in the epistles. That is not without significance, and is because in the epistles we have got away into the real realm of the meaning of the Cross. The crucifixion was less than forty years old when the epistles were written. I venture to think that if something like that had happened in our lifetime and we were writing within forty years of the event, we should tell the story, giving all the details and saying what had happened, and where, and who was present.
We should give the details that we have in the Gospels. And yet, the Apostles, when they wrote their epistles, left all that out, although they were writing on what happened. But with them it was spiritual, it was in another realm altogether, for it was inner. The Cross of the Lord Jesus was to them something infinitely greater than an historical happening on a hill outside Jerusalem. The way in which the death of Christ is introduced is simply: "Once at the end of the ages hath he been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself' (Heb 9:26). Simple, but, you see, it goes far beyond anything of time and anything local. Is it not remarkable that, in their writings, they never make it a date in the calendar? It never was a date in their calendar naturally, and yet it was the thing that had changed all calendars. To them it was not just something historical; it was spiritual and much bigger than an event to be marked upon the calendar.
GOD VINDICATED IN CHOOSING ISRAEL
Now let us get to something of the meaning of that. In the first place, in the Cross of the Lord Jesus, all history is gathered up and transcended, and we are brought into the great realm of the Divine sovereignty. Oh, I find such a tremendous uplift and release and emancipation as I contemplate more and more the sovereignty of God, especially working through grace! Here in the Cross of the Lord Jesus we have the vindication of God in His choice of Israel. The story of Israel is history, but there is something behind that. There is the choice of Israel, for they were chosen from among all the nations and separated unto God, a sovereign act for a sovereign purpose. What was the purpose? Why did God choose Israel and separate them as a people unto Himself? With one object, that by means of them He might reveal Himself to all the nations and make them a blessing to all. That was God's purpose, and in order that they might fulfill that great elect purpose they must be a separated people, cut off from the nations, and having no communication with them. They must be a holy people, separated, distinguished, completely isolated in their moral and spiritual life from the nations, a people wholly for God's possession, in order that they might bring God in revelation to all the nations.
You see how essential their separation was for that! It is a principle, a law. If you are going to be an instrument, a channel, a vessel of Divine revelation and blessing, you have to be consecrated, sanctified, wholly cut off and separated unto God. Hence, Satan's persistent and continuous effort and labor to break down that distinctiveness and to get Israel mixed up with the other peoples round about. The whole history of Israel is the history of that effort of Satan to spoil their consecration; and when Israel in decline lost the vision of their elect calling and purpose, and that great Divine intention concerning them faded from their view, then they became mixed up with the nations, they intermarried, and the wall of distinctiveness was broken down. And the prophets came in and proclaimed Israel's holy and elect calling in order to remind them of how God separated them unto Himself from the beginning, and to bring again into view the great thing which God had done in choosing them, and accordingly appealing to them to separate themselves again unto God and to destroy all this spiritual fornication, a very prominent idea in the language of the prophets, to get rid of it and again be holy.
You know that the prophets are full of that! And what did Israel do with the prophets who preached their holy vocation and appealed for their return? They persecuted and killed them; and that is how we find things at the end of the Old Testament. And then He appeared, born of the seed of David, born under the law, a Jew; so far as things here on the earth are concerned, He was a Jew, of Israel; holy, undefiled, separate from sinners. You see the wide setting. He has taken up in Himself all that which Israel was called and chosen to do and to be. He is all that, and in offering that to God, what does He do? He fulfils Israel's whole destiny and brings God and the blessing to all the world. He is Israel in fulfillment. In this One God is vindicated in the choice of Israel. In the Cross of the Lord Jesus, the Messiah, the sovereignty of God is vindicated. He has fulfilled all and God has been justified. That is why He came of the seed of Abraham, and of the seed of David, to vindicate God's choice of Israel, to bring a blessing to all the nations; and in the Cross of Christ, not only Israel but all the peoples of the earth receive the Divine blessing, which was ever God's thought for them. Nothing like that was possible in Jewish sacrifices. How great is this Cross, and how wonderful is the Divine sovereignty!
GOD VINDICATED AS CREATOR
I wonder if you are drawing comfort from that wide application of the principle that, in the sovereignty of God, all the tragedy and failure is met and overcome in Jesus Christ, and all the going wrong is accounted for in Him! The Lord has simply swallowed it up; and now, not at this moment to Israel as a nation, but to every member of that race as to other races, God says: 'The tragedy of Jew and Gentile is taken up in the Cross and by means of that Cross I am vindicated after all in ever having created man.' Men reason about this creation and say: 'Tragedy! God's defeat! God's failure God's mistake! Look at it! Why did God ever make this world, and man? Did He not know what would happen? Seeing how it has gone, He is not justified in having created this world!' But as in Israel, so in the whole race, the Cross of the Lord Jesus is the vindication of God, and that is the meaning of such words as "the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world (Rev 13:8). It means that God, in the Cross of the Lord Jesus, took the whole history of this world and swallowed it up. For now, while the world is as it is, the sovereignty of God through the Cross of the Lord Jesus would turn the tragedy to good account, the suffering to value; and then afterward He would deliver the whole creation from its present condition.
HEAVENLY POWERS OF EVIL OVERCOME
That leads us to the closing word. The Cross of the Lord Jesus is not only super-historical, it is extra-terrestrial in its range. The Word of God reveals to us that the world is not something in itself, and what is happening on this earth is not limited to the earth. What is revealed is that there is an immense struggle going on over, around and outside this world for the government, the mastery, of the universe. Intimations are given in such passages of Scripture as Ephesians 6:12: "world-rulers of this darkness ... spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenlies." There is a conflict going on. We have intimations of it in the book of Daniel, spiritual princes withstanding the archangel in relation to the Lord's interests as wrapped up in this world (Dan 10:13, 20). Over and around this world the struggle goes on for the mastery of the universe. The Cross of the Lord Jesus had its meaning in that realm. In His Cross He moved right out into those circumferences of spiritual conflict and contention when He stripped off from Himself the principalities and the powers and "made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it" (Col 2:15).
Yes, right out in that realm the Cross of the Lord Jesus had its ultimate and supreme meaning, and the issue of the lordship of this universe was settled in the Cross. So, in this letter to the Ephesians, which we are holding all the time in the background of our mind, we have it inclusively and comprehensively stated "... when he raised him from the dead, and made him to sit at his right hand in the heavenlies, far above all rule, and authority, and power, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come: and he put all things in subjection under his feet" (Eph 1:20-22). That is the triumph of the Cross! That is the range of the meaning and value of the death of Christ! He, in dying, slew death; in being delivered to Satan, He overcame him; in going to the grave, He robbed the grave of its sting for ever. Here is the sovereignty of God! How great it is super-historical, extra-terrestrial! How great is the Cross of the Lord Jesus! Who can describe it, and who can reach unto it?
But, dear friends, while we contemplate it in that way let it not remain merely as wonderful language and ideas. Oh, what this Cross says in the language of hope and of certainty for us! Have you despaired of yourself, of others, or of this world? The Cross of the Lord Jesus answers all your despair. There is nothing impossible since Jesus died and rose again. You and I are not so impossible as we may have thought. No, everything is possible since Jesus rose from the dead. In the resurrection the seal of His universal triumph was given by God. Ours is a Gospel of hope since Jesus died. "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to his great mercy begat us again unto a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, unto an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, who by the power of God are guarded through faith unto a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time" (1 Peter 1:3-5).
THE PHYSICAL CREATION REDEEMED
I have said nothing about the Cross and the redemption of this creation. Between Israel and God's vindication in relation to Israel on the one hand, and the universe, that extra-terrestrial realm, on the other hand, there comes the earth, and in the Cross the redemption of this very physical creation is secured. The vanity under which it lies, the curse and the corruption which are in it, have all been met in the Cross of the Lord Jesus and overcome, and in Him there will be an incorruptible creation, our bodies as a part thereof, but more than they, a whole creation. What a day that will be when this whole creation is delivered from the bondage of corruption, when the groan that is now in it gives place to a shout of deliverance and emancipation, when it will be glorified! He will make the place of His feet glorious (Isa 60:13), and that refers to this earth under His feet. And then later there will be "new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness" (2 Peter 3:13). That is the hope of the Cross of the Lord Jesus. It is a great Cross, and, with all our struggles to describe it, we cannot compass it. The Lord give us a new heart appreciation of how great was that one offering made once and for all!