Well I am down in Bristol again visiting the family and once again find myself alone in the house preparing Easter Sunday dinner while my family are at church. And it's an awesome and glorious time to consider and think and generally get excited about what this day means for us. Surely this day is the most glorious of the entire Christian calendar! Yes of course Christmas - His incarnation. Pentecost - wow! Fireworks! Good Friday? Well it had to happen for Easter Sunday to come. Jesus Christ had to go through Calvary "for the joy set before Him". I know a favourite song with my family and SGM-sort of people is "The Wonderful Cross". Odds are they will sing it today.
But there's nothing actually wonderful about the Cross is there? Did Jesus call what He was about to face "wonderful" in the Garden? Would the millions who died throughout history call it "wonderful"? Here's some cold, hard details about crucifixion:
"Crucifixion was ... usually to provide a death that was particularly slow, painful, gruesome and public ... Death could result from any combination of causes, including blood loss, hypovolemic shock, or sepsis following infection, caused by the scourging that preceded the crucifixion, or by the process of being nailed itself, or eventual dehydration.
In Roman-style crucifixion, the condemned took days to die slowly from suffocation — caused by the condemned's blood-supply slowly draining away to a quantity insufficient to supply the required oxygen to vital organs. The dead body was left up for vultures and other birds to consume. The goal of Roman crucifixion was not just to kill the criminal, but also to mutilate and dishonour the body of the condemned. In ancient tradition, an honourable death required burial; leaving a body on the cross, so as to mutilate it and prevent its burial, was a grave dishonour".
What IS wonderful is that the Son of God was willing to go through that physical ordeal (and the agony of the spiritual suffering He went through can't even be imagined - one shortfall to the "Passion of the Christ") so that His righteousness and His obedience might be imputed to me! What IS wonderful is not that He died. Because virtually everyone who hung on Cross's died (apparantly one survived according to Josephus). His human body was nailed to the Cross in the same processes that the Romans used for all. He even had a spear thrust through His side. What IS wonderful is that He ROSE AGAIN from the dead on the Third Day! Oh He definately died! But He rose again!
And 1 Corinthians 15 is so clear;
"And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins ... But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep".
Essentially if in our view Christ is still hanging on a Cross then we are still in our sins experientially. If we need actual wooden crosses at the front of our churches then surely something's a bit wrong. The true Gospel-centred life takes the whole picture. That He was indeed incarnate and came to earth and had His divinity veiled in His humanity, fully God and fully Man. Yet He chose to walk to Calvary and endure the horrors of the Cross. (Maybe that's a better title for that song; "The Awful Cross" or the "Horrid Cross"). But glory of glories! He rose again! He triumphed over death, principalities and powers and DISARMED them!
How did He disarm them? What did He actually do to emasculate the powers of darkness and take away their best weapon? Hell's best secret and best tactic?
" ... having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him".
The law was hostile to us but now it is cancelled! He has "taken it out of the way!". I am in the middle of two transcribing project sermons (Ern Baxter and Rob Rufus) and there's a remarkable parallel between the two. Once again both so remind me of the other! There are ways and means of living under law. Ern Baxter speaking on the "Brazen Altar" said this commenting on Hebrews 10:1-2;
"The whole legal dispensation was INADEQUATE. You must understand that! The whole legal dispensation was a picture of the perfect that was to come. With Christ the perfect has come! Now if one sacrifice had perfected you forever then why would you keep bringing the sacrifices? But they did and they had to".
That really got me thinking. The Old Covenant sacrifices "can ... never ... make perfect those who draw near". Never! So they continually had to be offered! But Ern Baxter goes on;
"Why put people back under something they can't handle? God never did have pleasure in the offerings of bulls and goats! That was a lesser thing! His heart was never there! His heart was always with Christ as the Lamb of God! Now if He has taken away the first (law) then we are we forever trying to re-establish the first? Look at the first and understand the first but understand that first is a picture of the second and the SECOND is the permament one! Christ has come!
The Lamb has been slain ONCE and for ALL! He is on the Throne NEVER to be removed! Ultimacy has arrived and you and I have plugged into it and we have eternal life and we shall never perish! We have been made perfect by the ONE sacrifice of the ONE Lamb FOREVER!".
So if that's the case then why are we wasting time mixing Old Covenant law with New Covenant grace? And why do we imagine that our confessing sins can somehow make God right with us when He is right with us already because of something that happened 2000 years ago? And why are we wasting time in accountability groups talking about sin - something that God declared;
"And their sins and lawless deeds ... I .... WILL ... REMEMBER ... NO .... MORE!".
Now that's a glorious Gospel message this morning! This Jesus we are remembering this morning ISN'T hanging broken on a Cross anymore! He is very much alive and pouring out His love and passion on His children - and that love is expressed how? By declaring that He will nto remember our sins and lawless deeds anymore! He's ALIVE!