The Christian Era
January 15th, 1975 @ 7:30 PM
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1-15-75w 7:30 p.m.
Nothing like the liberty of the Spirit! And doesn’t the Book say that? "Where the Spirit is, there is liberty" [2 Corinthians 3:17]. Oh, dear. I have to study hard for these Wednesday evenings, harder than I do for the sermons that are preached on Sunday, but my own soul is blessed by the preparation.
If anybody who attends learns something, sees something, goes deeper into something, you can just remember that I have learned, and seen, and gone deeper for my own soul as I prepare these lectures. You are going to notice something tonight that will be very, very evident.
As Dr. Draper said, this lecture and the next one are concluding the theme of "The Scarlet Thread Through the Bible." Tonight, the scarlet thread through the Book of Acts and the epistles, following the last Wednesday lecture on the scarlet thread through the life of Christ, but as you go with me through this lecture tonight, you are going to see that we are moving towards the theme of this spring semester in the theology of atonement. It will be very evident as we speak of the scarlet thread through the epistles.
The theology of the atonement, that is, a discussion of how does the death of Christ save us? What did God do in providing for us a way of escape in offering His Son on the cross? How does that work?
Now, to begin with, it would be an incomparable, an unfathomable mystery, but the Bible will teach us about it just the same. And when we are done with the course, even though we may not be able to plumb the depths of the mystery of God’s infinite choice in the way He saves us, yet it will bless our hearts to look at it, and we will praise and love Jesus all the more for doing it.
Now I would also like to remind us that all of these lectures are carefully taken down, and the outlines that I use are prepared, printed, so that on this side you have the little book of the outlines of each lecture, and on this side, they have those tapes, those cassettes, so that as you listen to the cassette you can follow the lecture on down.
Now the scarlet thread through the Acts and the Epistles: in the last words of our Lord before His ascension, as it is recorded in the twenty-fourth chapter of the Gospel of Luke, in verses 46 and 47, our Lord says, as He has led the disciples out, and just before His return to heaven, He says to them: "Thus it is written, and thus it behooved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name among all nations," following the scarlet thread through the Bible.
Just before His return to heaven, speaking to them of His death, that it was necessary for Christ to suffer; that’s what we’re going to look at in the theology of the atonement this spring semester. Thus it behooved Christ to suffer, and that remission of sins should be preached in His name as a result of that suffering.
Now, when I turn then to the Book of Acts, this is Luke’s account of our Lord’s word just before His ascension into heaven. As I turn to the Book of Acts and look at the Pentecostal sermon delivered by Simon Peter, this is the first one of which the Lord said, "All the nations of the earth are to hear it" [Matthew 28:19]. This is the first one.
Peter starts off, in [Acts 2] verse 23, saying that "Our Lord Jesus, You, being delivered by the determinant counsel and foreknowledge of God, you have taken and by wicked hands, have crucified and slain." So, when he starts off his message, he is preaching about Jesus, who has been crucified for us.
Then in his appeal in verse 38, Acts 2:38, in his appeal, he says, "Turn, repent, be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ because of the remission of sins." And they that gladly receive that word of atoning grace, of salvation in the death of Christ, they were baptized, and God added unto them that one day about three thousand souls [Acts 2:41].
So The Great Christian Era starts off with the preaching of the cross of Christ and the promise of the remission of sins in that death. Then as the Spirit guides and leads in these days of apostolic ministry, in the ninth chapter of the Book of Acts, we come to the marvelous conversion of Saul of Tarsus, converted, changed in soul, in mind, and in understanding; the experience of the persecuting Pharisee on the Damascus Road.
Now I want you to look at something in that miraculous conversion. In Galatians 6:14, that man says – this man, this Pharisee, this persecuting, breathing out threatening and slaughter enemy of Christ – this man says, "God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ." How could he arrive at such a supreme devotion and passion? How could he? How could he reconcile the glory of the Damascus Road vision with the shame of the crucifixion?
Now this man that we’re talking about, this Pharisee, this arch-persecutor of the church, so indelibly impressed upon his mind was the enormity of that sin and wrong that he had persecuted the church of God, that he says, "I am the least of the apostles, but am not meet to be called an apostle, because I have persecuted the church of Christ. I was before a blasphemer and a persecutor" [1 Corinthians 15:9].
Now this man is the same one who is saying – it’s not another one; it’s that one – he is saying, "God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ." How did he ever come to such a persuasion like that? Because this is the man who is a Jew of the Jews; he says so – a Hebrew of the Hebrews, a Pharisee of the most zealous and devoted conviction.
Now he’d been taught in the law, knew every word of it, sat at the feet of Gamaliel, and in Deuteronomy 21:23, it says, "Cursed is everyone that is hanged on a tree." He quotes that in that same Book of Galatians in chapter 3, verse 13 – how could a man like that who had been taught of the horror of hanging?
You know, to us, the cross is so glorified in jewelry, in symbols, in poetry, in drama, in ecclesiastical, homiletical peroration, that it has lost its real crude and rude and bloody meaning. I’d like to substitute the word "electric chair" or "gallows" if I could, but it doesn’t quite work. It’s still the cross in the Bible. But the same kind of antipathy, horror that we would have about an electric chair or a gallows or a gas chamber is the same kind of an attitude that the ancient Roman world had toward crucifixion. It was reserved for felons, for murderers, for seditionists, for traitors, and for runaway slaves.
To be crucified was of all things most disgraceful and dishonorable and dastardly. It was indescribably sorrowful, crucifixion. Now this man is glorying in the electric chair. He is glorying in the gallows. He’s glorying in the noose, the hangman’s noose. He’s glorying in the gas chamber.
How does he reconcile that with the marvelous vision that he saw on the road to Damascus? Well, I think the beginning of it lay in what Jesus said when Saul, falling at His feet, "Who art Thou, Lord," and the Lord did not reply, "I am the blazing Son of God," or "I am the promised Messiah of Israel," or "I am the coming and triumphant King," or "I am the Lord of the hosts of the angels in heaven." What He said was, "I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom thou persecuteth" [Acts 9:5; 22:5]. This glorious figure above the iridescent sun, above the Syrian noonday meridian glory, is Jesus of Nazareth. And I think that revelation came to the apostle Paul of what that meant when this Jesus of Nazareth, that glorious Person who stands before him, blocking the road to the Christians whom he is on the way to Damascus to hail into prison and to death, that glorious Person is Jesus who was crucified on a hill called Golgotha in Jerusalem.
And I think, in the three years that he was in Arabia, the gospel of the atoning grace of the Son of God was revealed to him. I don’t think a man could learn it by himself. I don’t think human genius or intellectual capacity could produce a gospel like this. I don’t think man could think of it. I don’t think he could.
Just like these blessed Gospels: could a human mind create Jesus? Could he? A thousand times no, for the man that could create Jesus would be Jesus Himself! Shakespeare, myriad-minded Shakespeare could not begin to create a character like Jesus. He could create a Hamlet, create an Othello, create a King Lear. Look through all of the dramatic figures in novel, in fiction, in drama that have ever been created. Is there one of them that even begins to compare with the glory of the life and person and stature of Jesus Christ? When a man comes by and says "Why, this miracle in the life of our Lord, that’s fiction," you know, no man that lives could ever say with certainty what could happen or could not happen in the presence of the personality of the Son of God. He couldn’t do it. He couldn’t do it.
So, with the glorious message of salvation and atonement preached by the apostle Paul, he says in the first chapter of Galatians that:
I never got it from flesh and blood. I was not taught it by men. I did not even go up to visit with the apostles. I saw for a moment Peter and James the pastor of the church. But I learned it directly from Jesus Himself.
Sometimes I refer to Paul’s epistles as being the fifth gospel, the gospel according to Paul. It is separate and distinct and apart. He was taught it directly by Jesus Christ Himself, and this is the reason that this persecuting Pharisee came to glory in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Now we must encompass this whole message in this one lecture tonight, so let’s go rapidly now, that is, until I stop and start doing something else. Let’s go as rapidly as we can. We’re looking now at the scarlet thread, the trail of blood through the epistles of Paul, the Pauline epistles.
In Romans chapter 3 is a verse all of us know, Romans 3:23: "For all have sinned, and come short of the expectation, the purpose and plan and glory of God," but, next verse: "We have been justified by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation to make us favorable, acceptable, through faith in His blood" [Romans 3:24-25]. We are justified by the blood of Christ. We are acquitted. We are accorded a right standing before God. We are justified, acquitted, given a propitious and favorable standing in the presence of our Lord. It is done on the ground of Christ’s atonement, for no other reason.
Not that we are lovely, or acceptable, or righteous, or right, or pure, or sinless. There is nothing in us to commend ourselves to God. We are justified, received, declared righteous, loved, welcomed solely on the basis of the atoning grace, the sacrifice, the blood, the death, the cross of Jesus Christ.
It is for His sake who loved us and gave Himself for us that God forgives us and welcomes us into His family and adopts us into the holy communion of God. All of it is for His sake. As they sing in heaven in the Revelation, "Unto Him who loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood, to Him be praise, dominion and glory forever and ever" [Revelation 1:5-6]. This is the gospel. It’s a whole gospel: not that I’m saved, some of me and some of Him, a part of me and a part of Him, but the gospel is, it is all of Him. He did it, and I’m accepted in Christ for His sake.
I wonder if I could poignantly illustrate that? I remember long, long, long time ago some of those stories that the pastors would preach when I was a little boy growing up. Oh, they just moved me! And they just illustrated so well what those unlearned preachers were saying.
This was one: there were two men in the war – now, this is going back to World War I. There were two men in the war, two boys. One was the son of a very wealthy man, a rich man, and the other came out of a very poor and penurious home. The two boys in the war became close and fast friends. And before a battle, before going over the top as they did in World War I, the rich boy said to the poor boy, whom he loved, he said, "I have a letter here that I’ve written, and I’m putting it in your hand, and I want you to promise me that if I don’t come back you will go to this address, knock at the door, deliver this letter to the man who lives in that house, my father. Don’t open it. It’s sealed. Just deliver it to him sealed if I don’t come back."
When they went over the top and the battle was over, that boy was slain, dead, and the poor boy had the letter in his hand. When the war was over and the troops came back, that poor boy, with the letter in his hands, went to such and such address. He was astonished at it! It was a beautiful, beautiful home like a mansion.
And when he rang the bell, a distinguished man came to the door, and the poor, bedraggled soldier placed in his hand that letter. And the letter said, "My father, this is an orphan boy, poor, but I love him. He and I have been friends and buddies through all of this terrible war. I have placed it in his hands to deliver to you if I don’t come back. And, my father, I’m asking you, if I don’t return, that you take him in my place and open the door, let him come in and let him be your boy." When the father read that letter with tears, he opened wide his arms and said to the 1poor orphan boy, "For Charlie’s sake," the name of his boy, "For Charlie’s sake, come in. Come in."
You know, I can relive – isn’t it strange how memories sometimes bless you? I can remember how I felt as a boy in listening to an unlearned pastor tell that story, illustrating the atonement, better illustrated, better understood than any theological professor I ever studied under. That is the way we are justified. That is the way we are forgiven, and saved, and accepted, and adopted: for nothing of us – orphaned, poor, sinful, lost, dying, undone, wretched, miserable, food for the worms, pawns of Satan, sold out in the flesh, lost in the spirit – but He died for us. And God so values the blood of His Son and His suffering on the cross that God says, "For His sake, for Jesus’ sake, you are welcome, justified, cleansed, forgiven, accepted, adopted, welcomed into the kingdom." That is the gospel.
In chapter 5 of Romans, [verse 1]: "Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God." This gift of justification, of forgiveness, of salvation, of acceptance is channeled to us through our faith, through our acceptance, and through our trust. When I receive and accept, God does it for me. Something happens in my heart.
In the sixth chapter of the Book of Romans and in the seventh chapter of the Book of Romans, you are going to study in the first part of those two chapters the same thing, that the cross is the end of the old Adamic nature. We are freed in the cross from the governing principle of sin. The righteousness of Christ operates in the believer. Not only for forgiveness does the cross of Christ mediate to us the goodness and grace of God, not only in justification are we received and accepted as holy and righteous, but also, in the cross, there is mediated to us a new life principle.
In the cross, we die, Paul says. We are dead with our Lord. In chapter 6, he illustrates it by baptism. We are dead to the world, dead to sin, dead with our Lord and raised to a new life in Christ [Romans 6:3-4]. And in chapter 7, he illustrates it by marriage that is broken up by death. In chapter 7, he says, "If the husband be dead, the wife is loose from the law of her husband" [Romans 7:2]. Then in verse 3, again: "If her husband be dead, she is free from the law," absolutely free to marry whom she chooses.
Now in verse 4: "Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to Him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God" [Romans 7:4]. In the cross, we are dead to the world, dead to the enticements and allurements of sin. They don’t appeal to us. How could you take a corpse and say, "Look, look, look at this wine, look at this, just look"? Man, you could talk to the corpse forever. He’d never, never respond. So it is, Paul says, about us who are saved in the cross of Christ. The allurements of the world, the enticements of the world are lost to us. They don’t interest us anymore.
Our love and our interest is in something else. You see, in the cross, we died, and in the resurrection of Christ, we were raised, and we have a new life. We are married to somebody else. We have a new house, a new home, a new love. It’s all new.
In the Second World War, the war of 1940, the United States government, by decree, officially said that all the soldiers by or of whatever circumstance who had disappeared, who were unaccounted for, were declared legally dead and that the widows were free to remarry. If the man didn’t come back and there was no accounting for him, he was among those listed as missing, and there was no finding him, the United States government declared all of those men legally dead, officially dead, and the widow could marry whom she chose.
So, we, in this life, have been declared legally, officially dead to the world, to the claims of Satan, to the whole gamut and stride and circumference and definition and delineation of sin, and we are married to the Lord Jesus, and we share His resurrection life. This is the apostle Paul.
Now in the eighth chapter of the Book of Romans, the apostle says that the law is impotent. Verse 3: "What the law could not do, in that it was weak," he says that the law is impotent, "But through Christ, the Holy Spirit, brings us life." Verse 10: "But the Spirit of life is in us because of righteousness."
You know, Satan loves to drive us to Mt. Sinai and to the law, and there he loves to lash us, and accuse us, and oppress us, and defame us, and denounce us, and destroy us, and damn us. That’s what he loves to do: take you to Mt. Sinai, "Look, look, look," and he leaves us there helpless and lost, damned.
But the Holy Spirit loves to take us to Calvary, there to forgive us, to justify us, to cleanse us and to save us. You know, whoever it was that wrote this letter to the Hebrews said that thing the most eloquently that you could imagine in human speech, the difference between going to Mount Sinai – and the law, where we’re condemned for our sins and damned forever because of the weaknesses of our life – in contrast to the glory of coming to Mt. Calvary.
Now I’m going to read it.
For ye are not come unto the mount that might be touched, that burned with fire, nor unto blackness, and darkness, and tempest,
Nor to the sound of a trumpet, and the voice of words; which voice they that heard entreated that the word should not be spoken to them anymore:
For they could not endure that which was commanded. And if so much as a beast touch the mountain, it shall be stoned, or thrust through with a dart:
And so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, I exceedingly fear and quake.
The terror of that mountain burning with fire and the judgment of Almighty God: sin, and you die.
But ye are come unto Mount Zion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels,
To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect,
And to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood that speaketh better things than that of Abel.
Oh, that is inspiration! Satan drives us, if he would, to Mt. Sinai, there to judge us and destroy us. But the Holy Spirit invites us to Calvary, there to forgive us and to save us, to join the general assembly and church of the firstborn, to join the innumerable company of angels, to belong to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to look into the face of Jesus, the Mediator of a new covenant and the blood that speaks sweet and precious things for us who are washed and made white in its cleansing flow.
Ah dear! Hastily now to the Book of Corinthians; there’s a wonderful passage in 1 Corinthians. The first sermon I preached in this pulpit before they called me as pastor of the church, I preached on this passage, 1 Corinthians, chapter 1, verses 18-24: "For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us who are saved it is the power of God. For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: But we, we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a skandalon," the Greek word is, a scandalous stumbling block; "unto the Greeks, foolishness" – the Greek word is moria, moronic idiocy – "but unto us who are saved, called, whether Jew or Greek, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God;" the atonement of Christ.
And in the fifteenth chapter of that book, Paul defined the gospel. When a man preaches the gospel, what does he preach? "Brethren," he says, "I make known unto you," translated here declare, "I make known unto you the gospel by which you are saved. For I delivered unto you," he got it directly from Christ, "for I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures; He was buried, and the third day He rose again" [1 Corinthians 15:1-4], as he says in another passage, "For our justification" [Romans 4:25]. This is the substance, circumference, definition of the gospel. When you preach the gospel, you preach that Christ died for our sins according to the Holy Scripture, that we were raised with Him according to the Holy Scriptures, "And shall reign with Him as kings and priests forever" [Revelation 5:10].
Turn now to the second Corinthian letter, chapter 4. In the beautiful passage that I so often use at a funeral service:
For God who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God, and not of us. We are troubled on every side, but not distressed. We are perplexed, but not in despair. We are cast down but not destroyed. Look, always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus.
[2 Corinthians 4:6-10]
Christ was crucified. We are identified with Him, always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus. He was crucified; we, too. He was dead; we, too. He was quickened; we, too. He was raised; we, too. He was ascended; we, too. He is sitting at the right hand of God our Father; we, too. We are forever, absolutely, utterly identified with our Lord, always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body.
This is the life of the Christian hid in the life of our Lord. Second Corinthians 5:21 is a great theological passage: "For God made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him." God is so holy, and we are so sinful, but God found a way to justify the sinner and yet remain just. That was the problem posited in Romans 3:26. How can God justify the sinner and still remain just? How can God keep His government, moral government, and at the same time, forgive us sinners? He did it by making Jesus sin; that we might be righteous in Him [2 Corinthians 5:21].
In Ephesians chapter 2, from 13 to 16, Ephesians 2, verses 13 to 16: "We who were afar off have been made nigh by the blood of Christ. For He has broken down all the walls that separate between us; having abolished them in His flesh on the cross." Did you ever think about what that meant? Annihilated, broken down, all of the walls that separate us. Look. When you went to the temple, the first thing you met there was a wall. You go to the temple area today; the first thing you’ll meet is a wall. So it’s always been. You go to the temple, and you’ll meet a wall. Go inside the temple into the court of the Gentiles, and you’ll meet a wall.
Go inside the court of the Gentiles, and you’ll meet a wall, the court of Israel. Go inside the court of Israel, and you’ll meet a wall, the court of the women. Go inside the court of the women, and you’ll meet a wall, the court of the priests. Go inside the court of the priest, and you’ll meet a wall, the temple, the naos, the sanctuary itself, the Holy Place. Go inside the Holy Place, and you’ll meet a veil – separated, separated, separated, separated, the partitions that divide us. But in Christ, in the blood of Christ, all of this has been broken down. Separate from Israel? No. We’re all one in Christ. Separate from the women? No. We’re all one in the Lord. We’re neither male nor female in Him. We’re all loved alike.
Going beyond, the priest: we’re all priests now, all of us. God has made us kings and priests. We’re all priests now and go inside of the Holy Place, and in the blood of Christ, in the tearing of His flesh, in the suffering on the cross, it [the veil] was torn asunder from the top to the bottom [Matthew 27:51]. And the sanctuary of the Lord was open wide to view; all of us can enter in. The death of Christ did that, and when we study it in Hebrews, the atonement in Hebrews, we’ll study that, that in the torn flesh of our Lord, we have entrance into the presence of the God of glory. This did He do for us, the apostle says; in His blood, He broke down, He annihilated all of those partitions [Ephesians 2:13-14].
In Philippians is possibly one of the greatest theological statements in all human speech. "Jesus," Philippians 2, beginning at verse 6:
being in the form of God, thought it not a thing to be grasped, to be equal with God, but poured Himself out and took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.
There is no cheap forgiveness. It would shame the government of God. It would corrupt men even more. But the way God chose, it was an infinite, infinite payment, punishment, penalty! God in Christ paid in suffering for all of our sins! It’s all paid for; every debt that we owe, every sin we’ve ever committed has been punished, all of it in the death of our Lord.
In the Book of Colossians, in the Book of Colossians [chapter 1], verse 19 to 22, is the ground of our reconciliation with God. In the Book of Hebrews, Hebrews begins with an avowal of the deity of our Savior: "Being the brightness of His glory, and the express image of His person, upholding all things by the word of His power" [Hebrews 1:3]. Look at verse 8: "Unto the Son He saith, Thy throne, O God," calling Jesus God, "Unto the Son He saith, Thy throne, O God, is forever and forever."
And in chapter 2, verses 14 to 18, in chapter 4, verses 15 and 16, He took our nature of flesh and blood. In Hebrews 9:26 He is our sacrifice. In Hebrews 10:19 and 21 He is our High Priest who enters into the Holy of Holies. In Hebrews 13:10 He is our altar; we have an altar, whereof they have no right to serve the tabernacle. And in Hebrews 7:24-25 He is our intercessor and mediator: "Wherefore He is able to save to the uttermost them who come unto God by Him, seeing He ever liveth to intercede for us."
For we have not a High Priest who cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities;
but was in all points tempted, tried as we are, though He without sin, wherefore come boldly, come boldly to the throne of grace, that you might find help in time of trouble
Jesus: flesh, blood, suffering, dying for us.
Now, in just a second, 1 John, chapter 1, verse 8: "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us." All of us have sin and do sin. Now God’s atoning goodness, verse 7: "And the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin." KatharizÃ³, catharsis, catharsis, that’s our English word for cleansing. KatharizÃ³, this is the present indicative active, katharizei. It’s the present linear expression, continuous action.
And the blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, continues to cleanse us. The sin when I was a boy, the blood cleanses me. The sins of my youth, the blood of Christ cleanses me. The sins of my young manhood, the blood of Christ cleanses me. The sins of my adult manhood, the blood of Christ cleanses me. The sins of my age, the blood of Christ cleanses me.
The sins of every day, the blood of Christ cleanses me. I am washed every day in the power that never runs dry. The present, continual, linear action: "and the blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanses us, cleanses us, washes us, washes us."
I came across an illustration of that in preparing this lecture. A man was talking about your eyes. The eye constantly washes itself, constantly cleanses itself. There’s a little duct here and a little duct there, and the eye constantly washes itself, and the little particles that constantly get into this eye are washed into that duct and so down and out through the drain.
The eye washes itself, cleanses itself all the day and the days and the days, and thus it is with the atoning grace of our Lord, every day all-sufficient. Tomorrow’s day full of cleansing power never ceases, never stops – the fountain of God’s loving, forgiving grace.
My sweet people, if you love Jesus and if you love what He has done for you, you will love the study of what atonement means. And out of it we can pray that I, as well as you, may come into a deeper knowledge of what Jesus has done for us and a greater love for paying such a price for our salvation.
All right, Dr. Draper. By the way, the lecture next Sunday night, next Wednesday night, is The Scarlet Thread Through the Apocalypse, through the Revelation.