April 18, 2014 Broadcast

It Is Finished (Good Friday)

A Message by R.C. Sproul

The Roman cross was a terrifying instrument of torture and execution. The sight of a cross must have filled all who saw it with fear. Yet for Christians, the cross has become a sign of hope. It stands as a symbol of what Jesus did for us, when He bore our sins in His body. In this Good Friday message, Dr. R.C. Sproul preaches from John 19. 

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Further Study On This Topic

  1. devotional

    The Need for Atonement

  2. devotional

    Cursed and Forsaken

  3. article

    The Wondrous Cross

The Need for Atonement

Our study of Isaiah for the past few weeks has looked closely at the Suffering Servant, His work on behalf of His people, and the results of that work in their lives. In short, we have been discussing atonement. Of course, the teaching that the Suffering Servant—the Davidic Messiah—must atone for the sins of His people fits into a broader theological and biblical context that establishes the need for an atonement, describes what it accomplishes, and explains the Lord's intent in it. To help us get a better understanding of the atonement and its context, we will now pause our study of Isaiah for a few days and look more closely at what the rest of Scripture says about the atonement. Dr. R.C. Sproul's teaching series The Cross of Christ will guide us.

Something of the necessity of the atonement can be inferred from etymology, for the Latin word we translate as "cross" is the root term behind the English words crux and crucial, both of which are used to refer to that which is essential. Clearly, Christianity is a faith grounded in the cross, for without the crucifixion and the resurrection, we have no gospel (1 Cor. 15:1–4). Today's passage indicates that the crucifixion—the Messiah's atoning death—is a non-negotiable when it comes to the Christian faith, but this idea is found throughout the Bible (Gen. 3:15; Matt. 16:21; Rev. 5). In fact, if the central message of Scripture is the kingdom of God inaugurated and consummated in Christ Jesus, then the entire Bible is concerned primarily with explaining the significance of the cross.

Despite the centrality of the cross and the atonement, the preaching of the cross is neglected in many churches today. In the wider culture, we could say that most people believe in "justification by death," the idea that all people are going to heaven unless they are really, really bad (like Adolf Hitler), and that we all get there simply by dying. But the neglect of the cross in the church and popular views of the afterlife indicate that too many lack an understanding of the absolute necessity of the atonement in God's plan. We forget that there is something intrinsic to the character of God that requires death as a payment for sin. Because of the Lord's holiness and the cosmic treason that is sin, an atonement is required for us to be reconciled to God and see Him in heaven. Our Father condemned sin in the flesh of His Son because it was the only way He could rescue us without compromising His holy justice (Rom. 3:21–26; 8:3).

Cursed and Forsaken

Because the process of crucifixion is foreign to our experience, it is easy to overlook just how terribly painful this method of death was. It could take days for the crucified person to die from a combination of asphyxiation and exposure. People were hung on a cross in a position that forced them to use their arms to lift their body weight in order to draw a breath, causing the nails driven through their wrists and feet to tear at their flesh. If Rome wanted to prolong suffering, rope was used instead of nails to attach the person to the cross.

God’s condemnation of our sin in the flesh of Jesus (Rom. 8:3) was signified by the physical pain our Lord endured on the cross. At the same time the Romans were nailing Jesus to the cross, the Father was pouring His wrath upon Christ. Yet we cannot limit Jesus’ experience of His Father’s wrath to bodily pain. Our Savior also suffered spiritually as God punished the sin of His people in His Son, as Matthew 27:46 reveals. In fact, the physical suffering of crucifixion was nothing compared to the God-forsakenness Jesus experienced. Reckoning the sin of His children to Christ on the cross (2 Cor. 5:21), the Father cursed Jesus in our place (Gal. 3:10–14). After centuries of passing over His people’s transgressions (Rom. 3:21–26), God satisfied His wrath, pouring upon Jesus His unmitigated anger over the sins of His elect. In Jesus’ offering up of Himself as a substitute, the Father lays upon Him all the curses of His covenant with Israel (Deut. 28:15–68; Isa. 53; Rom. 5:12–21). Our holy Creator would compromise His character if He forgave us without removing our sin and demanding that the curses of His covenant be fulfilled. His faithfulness to that covenant requires that we be punished for rejecting Him (Prov. 16:5), but God condemned our sin in Christ, and therefore His pardon of us does not violate His faithfulness. John Calvin writes, “In order that Christ might satisfy for us, it was necessary that he should be placed as a guilty person at the judgment seat of God.”

Furthermore, Calvin also reminds us, “nothing is more dreadful than to feel that God, whose wrath is worse than all deaths, is the Judge.” In His marvelous grace, Jesus, not we His family, bore the wrath of God for us.

The Wondrous Cross

Keith Mathison

I sometimes wonder how many Christians stop to think about how incredibly odd it is that crucifixes are used as works of art. Crucifixes adorn church architecture, classic paintings, sculpture, and even jewelry. But consider for a moment what a crucifix was originally. It was a means of execution. In fact, it was and is one of the most ghastly means of execution ever devised by man. So horrible was it that it was reserved for the lowest of the low: slaves, pirates, and rebels. Roman citizens were exempt. Cultured Romans considered it unworthy of discussion in polite company. Yet today we wear this symbol of degrading and humiliating death around our necks. The jarring nature of this is not immediately apparent to us because over time, the symbol of the cross has lost many of its original connotations. To get some idea of the oddity, imagine seeing people wearing necklaces with images of a guillotine or an electric chair.

What happened, then, to account for the change? We know Jesus was put to death on a Roman cross, but what was it about His death that transformed this symbol of horror into a symbol of hope? In the Gospel accounts of the crucifixion we read, for the most part, about what any observer on the hill that day would have seen. We do not read as much about the interpretation of what was going on until we get to the book of Acts and the Epistles. In Paul’s preaching, for example, he explained from the Old Testament that it was necessary for the Messiah to suffer and that Jesus was the Messiah (Acts 17:2–3). But where would Paul have gone in the Old Testament to prove that it was necessary for the Messiah to suffer? There are a number of texts to which he could have turned (for example, Ps. 16; 22), but one of the most significant was likely Isaiah 52:13–53:12.

Isaiah 52:13–53:12 is one of Isaiah’s “Servant Songs.” In the first Servant Song (42:1–9), Isaiah describes the Servant’s mission to establish justice and a kingdom across the earth. The second Servant Song (49:1–6) describes the Servant’s mission to restore Israel. The third Servant Song (50:4–9) reveals the obedience of the Servant and the suffering he endures as a result. The fourth and final Servant Song then reveals how the Servant will redeem his people. It reveals that his suffering will be the means by which he delivers his people from sin. It reveals that he will take their sin upon himself. Isaiah writes (53:5):

But he was wounded for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his stripes we are healed.

This is what happened on the cross as Jesus was crucified. He was God’s Servant. He was the one whom God revealed to Isaiah eight centuries before His death. On the cross, He took our sins upon Himself and bore God’s wrath. His death was the atonement for all of our sins. We who have placed our faith in Jesus have forgiveness of sins and peace with God because of what was accomplished on the cross. Is it any wonder that Paul declares to the Corinthian church: “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2).

Think on this. Let it sink in. Christ suffered and died on the cross because of sin. Your sin. My sin. Since the fall, sin has been the problem in the world. We do not think much of sin in our day and age. We are beyond such things. Sin is an “old-fashioned” and outdated concept, or so we think. 

If you want to know the true perspective on the seriousness of sin, however, look to the cross. Look at the extreme nature of the solution to this problem. If sin were “no big deal,” would God have sent His only begotten Son to die a shameful death on a cross to deal with it? And what kind of love is this? What kind of love is displayed when God sends His only begotten Son to die for the sins we commit against Him? This is love of a kind and degree that we can hardly fathom. This is what changed the cross from a symbol of fear to a symbol of faith. This is what led Isaac Watts to write:

When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.
Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
Save in the death of Christ my God!
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to His blood.
See from His head, His hands, His feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down!
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?
Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.

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