THE GLORY OF THE CROSS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
10-21-56 7:30 p.m.
Let us turn to the sixth chapter of the Book of Galatians. We will read our text for the morning and then the text for the evening. Last Sunday night we left off reading at the fifth verse, the sixth chapter of Galatians. Tonight let us begin at the sixth verse; we left off reading at the fifth verse last Sunday night. Let us begin at the sixth verse and read to the end of the chapter. Galatians, the sixth chapter, the text is going to be the fourteenth verse: one of the great, great verses of the Bible. Never preached on it in my life; never felt equal to it, I don’t now. But in our preaching through the Bible, we have come to that magnificent sentence; and prayerfully asking God, going to preach on it tonight. All right, let us begin at the sixth verse. We have it? Galatians 6:6, together:
Let him that is taught in the word communicate unto him that teacheth in all good things.
Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.
that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth
to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.
And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.
As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.
Ye see how large a letter I have written unto you with mine own hand.
As many as desire to make a fair show in the flesh, they constrain you to be circumcised; only lest they should suffer persecution for the cross of Christ.
For neither they themselves who are circumcised keep the law; but desire to have you circumcised, that they may glory in your flesh.
But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.
For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.
And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God.
From henceforth let no man trouble me: for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.
Brethren, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen.
That’s it: “But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.”
Tell me what you rejoice in, and I’ll tell you the kind of a person that you are. These Galatian Christians were rejoicing and glorying in the flesh. That’s the thirteenth verse immediately above the text: “That they may glory, that they may boast in the flesh.” What Paul was saying of them was this—and rebuking them for it—that instead of looking for their salvation and their deliverance in the grace and mercy of God, they were looking for it in their own noble works, in their own fine deeds, in rites and rituals that they supposed sealed it before God.
He began his third chapter to them like this: “O foolish, foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that you should not obey the truth?” How easy would it be today to address a letter like this to the Galatians to the modern preacher and the modern church, and say, “O foolish modernists, who has bewitched you, that you should not obey the truth?” These who worship the toy of skepticism, these who idolize the flower of philosophical speculation, these who want another scripture to take the place of the old ones, want another Savior better than the One from Galilee, want another way to be saved from sin, want, always seeking some new doctrine, some new extraneous way foreign and alien to the mind of God, wanting a new song to take the place of the old one of Moses and the Lamb. “O foolish people, in what do you glory? And in what do you boast? And in what do you seek to be proud and thankful unto God?” Paul says, “God forbid that I should glory, that I should boast, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Of how much, of how much did he have cause to boast? He could have boasted of his Jewish heritage: born of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews, in all of the ways of the law perfect, brought up in the love and admonition of the Lord. In how much did he have to boast? He could have boasted of the great sacrifices he had made for the truth, the spiritual revelations vouchsafed unto him, his many sufferings for the Lord, his spiritual intuition, his intellectual acumen, his power of pen and word. In how many things could this man Saul of Tarsus have boasted! But he says, “God forbid that I should glory, that I should boast, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
This cross that he mentions here, this is a historical cross: it’s not something imaginative, it’s not something conjured up, it’s not something fictitious, not something a man just writes about; it was a cruel, rugged, actual instrument of execution. “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross.” It was in time, it was in fact, it was in history, it is a historical cross.
It has been estimated that between the time of Pontius Pilate and the time of Titus, who later became emperor of the empire, in that forty years period of time the historians have estimated that there were at least thirty thousand Jews who were crucified. Jesus was just one among the thousands and the thousands. Then why pick out this one as being exceptional? Why boast in that cross? Instruments of execution for thousands of other Jews. The reason for it was because of the character and the person of the One who is nailed to the tree. Paul seems here to point out the excellency, the majesty, the glory of that One who is nailed to the tree. “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of”—not Jesus, not Jesus Christ, not the Lord Jesus Christ—but look at him: “in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The majesty of His person, the beauty of His character; our Lord, the Lord Christ, the Lord Jesus Christ. He seems to make a distinction there, and a vivid one, between the sufferings of execution and the glory and majesty of the One who is nailed to the tree.
The very story of the death, of the execution of Christ is like that. The way the story is told, unconsciously, it sets forth the beauty of the Person who is dying, who is being executed. Pilate said, “I find no fault in Him at all” [John 18:38]. Judas said, “I have betrayed innocent blood” [Matthew 27:4]. The soldier, the centurion who presided over the execution, said, “This Man truly was the Son of God” [Mark 15:39]. It was a historical cross, in time and history, in an actual place; and the One nailed on it was the Son of God!
It was a theological cross. Christ died: that’s history, a historical cross. Christ died for our sins: that is a theological cross. That is, it has a divine meaning. That One nailed to that tree was not only holy and pure and perfect, without sin and spot and blemish, but He was God incarnate; He was God’s Son. And the purpose of the cross is theological; it has a great, divine, godly meaning for you and for the world!
The cross is not nearly so much just a piece of wood. Here and there, over yonder in the Levant and in the Orient, they’ll say they have a piece of the cross; and they’ll build a church over it, and they will worship at that shrine. I don’t believe a word of it; and least of all do I think it is in character and in true to the revelation of God to bow down before a piece of wood. It doesn’t refer to that! It refers to our justification by faith in the atoning sacrifice of Him who died on the cross! The cross to the apostle Paul is the same thing as the lifting up of the serpent meant to Moses: “Look and live!” [Numbers 21:8]. It was God’s way of saving the people who were dying. And this is God’s way of saving us today. “Without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins” [Hebrews 9:22]. Without atonement there is no restitution. Without the payment of our debts, there is no reconciliation to God. The way of the cross is the gospel message of the Bible and of any true preacher of Jesus Christ.
However you may read in the Book, wherever you may take a text, however the story may turn, every one of those roads leads immediately to the cross of Jesus. I stood one time in that ancient Roman Forum that has been excavated. And a fellow said, “Right there, this part right here was where the golden milestone was erected; right there.” To the Romans that was the center of the world, and every road led to Rome, and all of the roads converged on that golden milestone; that’s what they said. We can say the same thing about Calvary, about Golgotha, about the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ: wherever you take the path, wherever you take the road, wherever you pick up the story, it immediately leads to the great central message of God’s Book: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures [1 Corinthians 15:3].
“God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” It is not only historical, it is not only theological, it is experiential. The cross: “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.” It is an experiential thing; that is, it is something in your heart, it’s something in your life, it is something to be received and accepted and borne.
That’s a strange procession, this kingdom and this King. Not on a great charger, not leading a great army, not in a panoply of power and arms, but the King of this great procession carries the cross, crowned with thorns, a Man of suffering and of sorrow. And the great company that follow Him bear a like burden. And without that cross of sorrow, you don’t follow Jesus nor do you know Him. We come home to God by the way of the cross.
When John and Peter came up to Jesus and said, “Grant to us we sit on Your right and on Your left,” Jesus said, “Can you drink the cup I drink? Can you be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with? [Matthew 20:22]. My followers, who follow Me, pay the price of discipleship.” To believe at all is to believe heroically. We confess Him when others deny Him. We follow Him when others forsake Him. We own Him and stand by Him when others in mockery scorn. It’s an experiential cross; it is a commitment of life; it is a dedication to a way that belongs to Him and to God.
May I speak of the meaning of the cross? “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The meaning of the cross: it is first of all a revelation. It is a revelation of our human hearts, of our souls that are darkened and stained with sin. If you want to see what mankind is like—and you are a member of the human family—if you want to see what you are like—and you are of mankind—look at the cross. That’s what our sins do to God! That’s what our lives issue in: the murder of God! Our sins made sharp the nails and pointed every thorn. If you want to look at yourself, what you are like, what your soul is like, what your heart is like, what life is like, what you are like, look at the cross: that’s what our sins do to God!
This week, preparing this message, I read of a man that dreams. And in his dream, he was watching the scourging of Christ, God’s Son. The great, heavy-handed, stalwart, strong Roman soldier had in his hand a heavy, thick lash; and all up and down the thongs of the lash were jagged pieces of heavy lead. And as the soldier brought down his scourge, great streams of blood flowed from the back of the Son of God. And as the dreamer watched the scourging of Jesus of Galilee, could stand it no more: and when the soldier raised his hand to strike again, he ran to the soldier to intervene. And when he did so, the soldier turned around and looked at him. And when he did, the dreamer recognized himself!
It is our sins, it is my sins, it is our sins that drive the nails, that lift up the scourge; it is our sins that thrust the spear point into His heart. That is a revelation of us before God. All humanity is condemned by the life and by the death of Christ, the crucified One.
It is a revelation, this cross of Jesus Christ, it is a revelation of the attributes of God: the judgment of God upon sin, and the mercy of God upon a repentant and believing sinner. How could judgment and justice and mercy ever be demonstrated in one act? How could it? The only place it was ever done is in the cross of Christ. God’s judgment upon sin: sin is death, sin is judged; and God is all justice, all righteousness, and every sin draws its penalty. There on the cross, God’s attribute of justice, as just as if He were not merciful; paying, pouring out upon sin all of its reward and its recompense and its compensation. On the cross God judging sin, and at the same time bountiful and plenteous in mercy. The most amazing court procedure in the earth, that which happened on Golgotha: justice and mercy on the side of the defendant, justice and mercy together pleading for the acquittal of the believing sinner.
You know why those first Christians did not feel the cross repulsive? Because they found in it an exhibition of the incomparable love and mercy of God. “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
That cross has another meaning for us: it represents for us a triumph over sin, and death, and the grave. “But preacher, I don’t need a helper or a savior or an advocate or a victor for me.” You just stand up where you are, and you just tell me and tell the angels and tell God, “O God, I’m not going to die. I’ll stand on my own merits. I’ve lived this perfect life, and death will not vanquish me. Sin has no right over me. There’s no iniquity in my life for which I am to be judged. I face eternity on my own, and death has no power on me, and no judgment that I shall ever face strikes terror in my soul.”
O God, where is the man that could stand, could arise, could avow that? Where could he be? Where could he be? A dying man, a dying people, a dying congregation. You? A dying man preaching to dying men. The penalty of sin, the wages of sin is death [Romans 6:23]; and death all-vanquishing, all-victorious, death, decay, corruption, the grave, forever and ever, undone, lost, cast out, dying, dead. “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
That, with the resurrection of our crucified Lord who now lives, that is our own triumph over sin, and over death, and over the grave. “O Death, where now is thy sting? O Grave, where now is thy victory?” [1 Corinthians 15:55]. Thanks be unto God! “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Through the veil of His flesh, He opened a way through which we can enter into glory. In the sepulcher He left a lamp; and it shines upon the way of our path that leads to God and to home. “Absent from the body, present with the Lord” [2 Corinthians 5:8]. Our sins atoned for, our iniquities forgiven, all of our unrighteousnesses covered over, paid for: the gift of eternal life in Christ Jesus.
And that becomes that final meaning of the cross: it is God’s call and God’s welcome, God’s badding, God’s bidding, God’s pleading, God’s intercession, “O be ye reconciled to God” [2 Corinthians 5:20]. The arms of the cross are outstretched on either side, wide as this world is wide, to the east, to the west, and to you. And the cross is a call for faith, it’s a call for committal, it’s a call for dedication, it’s a call for faith, it’s a call for confession, it’s a call for acceptance, and it’s God’s call to you tonight. Would you hear? Would you kneel? Would you bow? Would you accept? Would you stand with us on Calvary, looking up into His face? They that look shall live. The same meaning to us as the brazen serpent meant to Moses and the Israelites: “As he lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up,” raised between the earth and the sky, “that whosoever trusts in Him, believes in Him, commits their lives to Him, should not perish, but have everlasting life” [John 3:14-16]. Would you tonight? Would you?
While we sing this song, in the balcony around, from either side, into this aisle, down here to the front, taking the pastor by the hand, “Pastor, I give you my hand; I give my heart in faith to God.” Would you? Would you? “Not looking to myself, not looking to the waters of baptism, not looking to the bread and wine of communion, not looking to my own personal nobility of life; all of that is as nothing in God’s sight. Glorying in the flesh? Never. Not by what I could ever be or do could I ever stand before God; but I’m trusting Jesus. I’m looking to Him. My face is toward Him.” Would you? “Pastor, I give you my hand; I give my heart to God.” Would you tonight? Or into the fellowship of His church, one somebody you, a family you. As the Lord shall say the word, make the appeal, press His call, would you stand by Paul? “God forbid that I should boast, that I should glory, that I should look for hope or salvation in any place except in the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ.” Would you? Would you? On the first note of this stanza to come, while all of us stand and while we sing.