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Experiencing the CROSS
By HENRY BLACKABY
Multnomah PublishersCopyright © 2005 Henry T. Blackaby
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTHE DIVINE NECESSITY OF THE CROSS
Was There No Other Way?
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It is the gift of God. Ephesians 2:8
When we recall the horror and frightful injustice of God's pure and blameless Son being crucified, the question often comes: Why? We want to know: Could there not have been some other way? Was there no other way to save us from sin?
If you haven't yet done so, I urge you to stand in the presence of God and ask Him, "Why did Jesus have to die?" Then linger in prayer until He gives you His answer.
Throughout the Scriptures, God makes clear the divine necessity of the cross. It had to happen; it was God's purpose, and there was no other way. If there had been, we can be absolutely certain that God would have provided it.
That's why, in this world of so many religions, a Christian declares unashamedly that Jesus Christ alone is the way and the truth and the life, and that no one can come to the Father and to eternal salvation except through Him. If the cross was God's only way of providing human redemption, then Jesus Christ is surely the only Savior there is for all mankind.
Eternity as God Views It
The reason we often fail to grasp the divine necessity of the cross is that we don't view eternity asGod views it. What does God know about eternity that you and I often fail to realize?
Recall in your mind the familiar words of John 3:16. If you could choose one word that represents the core-the very heartbeat-of what God is saying here, which word would it be? "Loved"? "Gave"? Perhaps "everlasting life"?
Actually, it's the word perish.
Think about that: "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life." Death is at the very foundation of that statement-eternal death-a destiny that's inescapable by our own efforts.
In Ephesians 2:12, Paul tells us to remember something we often forget: "You were without Christ ... having no hope and without God in the world." Humanly speaking, none of us has any eternal hope of anything ... except to perish.
Yet this inescapable fact brought a response from God's heart, one that causes us to bow in wonder and awe as we truly consider it: He so loved the world that He gave His only Son ... so we would not perish!
Something about that word perish made the cross eternally necessary, requiring God to give up His Son, with no other effective strategy being possible. That word perish says something about eternity that we don't usually take in.
And the reason we fall short of seeing eternity as God sees it is that we fail to view sin as God views it.
The Proof of Sin's Magnitude
How serious is sin?
Serious enough that to provide a way to deal with it, God the Father ordained the death of His own beloved Son, a death far more profound than physical death, as we'll study later. His Son was "holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners" (Hebrews 7:26, HCSB); His Son was "a lamb without blemish and without spot" (1 Peter 1:19); "In Him was life, and the life was the light of men" (John 1:4). But sin-your sin and mine-necessitated this One's death.
Have you realized, therefore, how the cross reveals more of the magnitude of sin than all the wars and atrocities and human cruelties throughout recorded history?
God understands the seriousness of sin because all sin-every sin-is a personal offense against our God and our Creator. In that sense, there are no "little sins"; any and every sin a person commits places that person in enmity with the Father.
Not many people seriously think of themselves as God's enemy. Even believers often resist this way of thinking. They'll say with all sincerity about their past, "Well, I wasn't really going against God; I just wasn't going with Him." But they're sincerely wrong. God's perspective is all that matters, and He says in His Word that we were His enemies (Colossians 1:21). Or as Jesus put it, "He who is not with Me is against Me" (Matthew 12:30).
For the Sake of His Great Name
In Ezekiel 36, God is ready to announce to His people the new covenant which will initiate our spiritual rebirth and renewal. Speaking through the prophet, the Lord will tell the people of God, "I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols." He will promise them, "I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you.... I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes" (Ezekiel 36:25-27)
But first He tells His people something else. He lets them know that what He's about to do, He is doing not for their sake, "but for My holy name's sake, which you have profaned among the nations wherever you went. And I will sanctify My great name, which has been profaned among the nations" (vv. 22-23).
And how did God sanctify His great name among the people of Israel? He sent them into captivity in Babylon and destroyed Jerusalem and the temple. He did this to restore the holiness of His name, because His people in their sin had profaned His name among the nations. God severely chastened His covenant people in full view of the nations. All the nations could see what God did to His chosen ones, and all could see and begin to understand that the God of Israel is a holy God.
That's how serious Israel's sin was in God's eyes.
Ezekiel 36 is a passage God has powerfully used in my own heart and life, and I'm often disturbed by all that it implies. When Christians today sin consistently, they affect how the world understands God. In fact, they profane His name by their sin. What then should we expect God to do? Doesn't the world today need to see and know that God is holy? Wouldn't God be entirely right and just, therefore, to bring severe affliction upon His people today, so the nations of the world can see His holiness displayed through His discipline of His chosen ones?
Don't take this passage lightly. It devastates me to think about it, and causes me to pray, "O God, is there anything in my life, in word or deed, that misrepresents You to people who watch or listen, causing them to take lightly who You are? Are they kept from hearing You because of how I live or what I say? If that's so, I ask You, Lord, to do in me what's necessary to cause them to realize that You take sin seriously."
God's Radical Treatment of Sin
God knows full well-as we could never know-the appalling destructiveness of sin. He knows what sin has done to us; He knows how it hurts and impairs us. For every sin we've committed, He understands the full harm done to ourselves and to others, as well as the awful affront which it is to Him. In the cross, therefore, He made complete and total provision for every aspect of what sin has done or ever could do.
And as we'll see later, because of the totality of what God did in the cross, absolutely nothing can now come into our lives to make us less than what God wants us to be and to become. In Christ and in the cross, God has already abundantly provided us with everything we need to deal with everything that confronts us.
This is true because God, through the death of His Son, purposed to deal radically with sin-not just with our individual sins (plural), but with the sin nature in human beings, with the whole presence of sin (singular), which is the root cause of all our individual sins.
Reminders All Around Us of Sin's Seriousness
Failing to view sin seriously shows how little we understand about the reality that surrounds us every day of our lives. God has given us reminders of the seriousness of sin in the form of His judgments against sin in Genesis 3, judgments that continue to this day.
As a pastor for a church in Saskatchewan on the prairies in the heart of Canada, I officiated at many funerals. When those funerals occurred in the depths of winter, the graves had to be dug in ground that was frozen several feet down, hard as a rock. It made me think of the judgment the Lord God pronounced upon Adam: "Cursed is the ground because of you" (Genesis 3:17, ESV). Ever since Adam's sin, God has cursed the ground so that it's unyielding, or stays prone to yield the wrong things-"thorns and thistles" (v. 18), and requires painful toil to produce our food. If we take notice of this and think about it, we may wonder why God continues to bring such a judgment. Don't you suppose it's meant to serve as a constant reminder of how serious sin is to the mind and heart of God?
Or think of His judgment upon Eve and on every mother since then: "In pain you shall bring forth children" (v. 16). When a mother today experiences the intensity of labor pains, do we say, "Thank You, Lord God, for reminding us of the reality of the seriousness of sin"?
In the graciousness of God, every moment of experiencing His continuing judgment provides us an opportunity to remember how tragic sin is, how it turns us into His enemies, and how costly it is for God to deal with it.
That's why it's incredibly good news that "when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son" (Romans 5:10). Our sin against God, our enmity against Him, required nothing less than the cross; and that ultimate sacrifice is exactly what God provided!
Jesus Recognized This Divine Necessity
Jesus Himself knew and accepted this divine necessity of the cross. This is clear in His first mention of the cross in the Gospels, in Matthew 16:21:
From that time Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things ... and be killed, and be raised the third day.
The Savior didn't hint that these things might happen, or even predict that they would happen-but rather declared that they must happen. There could be, there would be, no other way.
Jesus again emphasized this necessity in the very significant teaching moments He had with His disciples after His death and resurrection:
He said to them, "O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?" (Luke 24:25-26, ESV)
To demonstrate this necessity to them, He went directly to Scripture, to the Old Testament:
He said to them, "These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me." And He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures. Then He said to them, "Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day." (Luke 24:44-46)
He was telling them, "All this had to take place-the Scriptures themselves say so." Thus was it written, and thus was it necessary.
Paul taught the same thing: "Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures" (1 Corinthians 15:3). The cross was inevitable-planned by the Father from the beginning, and plainly revealed to His people in His Word.
So whenever you come into God's presence and ask Him, "Why did Jesus have to die? Was there no other way?"-let Him show you from the Scriptures how the cross was necessary for the redemption of the whole world. Then let Him apply that truth to your heart. Let it sink in how it was all for you ... and exactly what you need.
Excerpted from Experiencing the CROSS by HENRY BLACKABY Copyright © 2005 by Henry T. Blackaby. Excerpted by permission.
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