May 22, 2014 Broadcast


A Message by R.C. Sproul

The Jewish and Roman leaders probably breathed a sigh of relief after Jesus died on the cross. They were finally rid of this man who had exposed their evil and hypocrisy. Or so they thought. In this lecture, Dr. R.C.Sproul looks at the redemptive significance of the resurrection of Jesus, explaining how it is at the very core of the Christian faith.

From the series: What Did Jesus Do?: Understanding the Work of Christ

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  1. devotional

    An Object of Derision

  2. devotional

    The Crucifixion of Jesus

  3. article

    The Wondrous Cross

An Object of Derision

Like the other three evangelists, Matthew does not describe the process of crucifixion in detail, probably because the practice is well-known to his first-century audience. No Roman punishment is more painful or degrading than to be crucified; therefore, Rome normally reserves the cross for non-citizens, crucifying those with full citizenship only when the caesar himself prescribes it. The Jews under Rome’s rule regard the cross as particularly abhorrent, and the rabbis later forbid its use in self-governing Jewish communities.

In Jesus’ case, however, the religious leaders are elated to see Him disgraced on the cross. He is crucified outside Jerusalem in deference to Jewish sensibilities (Heb. 13:12), on a major thoroughfare so as to warn others not to commit acts that merit crucifixion. People are usually hung on a cross naked, but Jesus might be allowed a loincloth due to the shame His people associate with nakedness. Either way, His clothing now belongs to the soldiers guarding Him, a custom observed with every crucified victim. Yet this time prophecy is also fulfilled as lots are cast for Christ’s clothing (Matt. 27:35; see Ps. 22:18). John Calvin appropriately comments, “God determined that His own Son should be stripped of his raiment, that we, clothed with his righteousness and with abundance of all good things, may appear with boldness in company with the angels.”

As Isaiah 53:9 predicts, our Lord is also crucified alongside the wicked, two robbers who are probably on their crosses for insurrection (Matt. 27:38). Although Luke 23:39–43 tells us one of these criminals later trusts in Jesus, both of them initially join the passersby and the religious authorities to mock and curse our Savior (Matt. 27:39–44). They claim that they will believe if He uses His power to come down from the cross (v. 42), but we know the Jewish leaders would only charge Jesus with sorcery or other devilish deeds (12:24).

Behind these taunts is the false assumption that the Messiah and Son of God must conquer Rome, not be killed by the Gentiles. They do not see that Jesus stays on the cross precisely because He is God’s Son. Love keeps Him there so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21).

The Crucifixion of Jesus

Understanding the work of Christ demands that we know the events of His life as they are recorded in the four Gospels. In God's wise providence, however, He gave us not only the four Gospels but also the rest of Scripture, all of which is vital for knowing what it is that Jesus accomplished. When it comes to the climax of His work in the crucifixion, the Epistles and their clear interpretation of the cross event are particularly important.

By and large, the Gospels record what the people saw with their own eyes as Jesus hung on the cross. Certainly, there was much that the witnesses to our Lord's death could learn about the crucifixion by seeing it happen. For example, hearing Christ's agony at His forsakenness would have pointed the knowledgeable Jew to the truth that our Savior bore the curse of God's wrath on the cross (Matt. 27:46; see Gal. 3:10–14). However, it is doubtful that any witness fully understood the significance of what was happening as they saw Jesus die on the cross. Such an understanding comes through reading the inspired interpretation of such things given to us by the Apostles in the Epistles.

Today's passage explains how Jesus took on the curse for our sake. Paul's teaching harks back to the book of Deuteronomy, where God tells the nation of Israel that they will be cursed for disobeying Him (Deut. 27:26). Ultimately, this curse must be understood as separation from God's blessing and the eternal exposure to divine wrath. In this sense, it is the opposite of what was considered to be the highest blessing a Jew could receive, namely the light of our Lord's countenance. The chief priestly blessing was for the believing Jew to enjoy the gaze of God's favor, to experience His good pleasure and peace (Num. 6:22–27). To be cursed, therefore, is to be denied these privileges. It is not to be denied the presence of God entirely, for the Lord is the one who pours out the curse in hell, but it is to be denied the presence of God's blessing and grace.

Being perfectly holy, our Creator cannot tolerate sin. He cannot even look upon it, not in that He cannot see it but that He cannot see it and allow it to go unpunished (Hab. 1:13). For us to be reconciled to God, our sin had to be dealt with. The sins of men and women had to be atoned for, and this had to be done by a man, for only a human being can atone for the sins of other human beings. The Son of God—as a man—atoned for the sins of His people, bearing the punishment—the curse—we deserved in His person.

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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