For the past couple of weeks we have been doing a series of messages on the theology of one of the most beloved hymns of all time, How Great Thou Art
In the first verse we saw how the cosmos is a constant reminder of how great God is and in the second verse we saw how nature is a constant reminder to us of God’s love and care
And that brings us to the third, and in my opinion, most exciting, verse in this hymn
Let’s look at the lyrics of the third verse,
And when I think, that God, His Son not sparing; Sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in; That on the cross, my burden gladly bearing, He bled and died to take away my sin.
Now you have to understand that as a preacher I strive every week to make my messages relevant and fresh
But that is sometimes hard to do, especially considering that some of you have literally heard thousands of sermons
For as the great wise man Solomon said,
What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.
And so as I began to study and pray and prepare for this message I was asking God for a fresh word, a different perspective of Calvary
When God spoke into my spirit a truth that I needed to hear, a truth that that I want to share with you this morning in the same manner that God used to explain it to me and hopefully you’ll understand
Over the past several months I have developed a new love for steak
Don’t get me wrong I have always liked steak but now I have this new respect and desire for it
I’ve learned new ways to prep it and to cook it and I am enjoying it that much more than I ever have before
Now I don’t have steak for dinner every night but I would say over the past couple of months I do steak once or twice a week
What does that have to do with preaching or the cross?
I’m glad you asked
I’ve always considered preaching to be like feeding the congregation, offering up a dish that nourishes your soul and feeds you spiritually and thus I try to keep the menu varied and fresh
But just like I eat a variety of things at home, except onions, onions were part of the fall!, my go to, my staple dish, my meat and potatoes if you will, is steak
It is the cornerstone of my cooking, the base that is always there and that I can always turn to
I never tire of it and it doesn’t matter really how it is prepared and garnished (except for onions, onions are of the devil!) it always feeds me and nourishes me and I always want to come back for more
The cross is the steak of theology, the staple of preaching and teaching
We can preach on the end times, or on money, or on wisdom (a series I’m currently working on for the fall) but it is always good to come back to the steak, to the meat of God’s Word as it were
Paul said that the crucifixion was the sum of his preaching
but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles,
And later in that same letter he said it was the sole focus of his ministry
And so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.
And so with that in mind this morning I am not going to try and reinvent the message or come up with a new and dazzling method with which to present it, I just want to give you the “steak” the core issue, the central theme that one thing that Christianity could not be Christianity without, the cross
More specifically I want to give you 3 reasons “WHY” this is the steak that we always need to come back to time and again
The first of the 3 reasons is, just as the hymn says, because of God’s love
We all know what the most famous verse in the book says,
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
But what does that mean?
How is it that the cross has anything to do with the love of God?
If love is to be the central theme of any Christian’s life, and I believe that it is, than the cross absolutely must be our central focus because it is the symbol of God’s love
Well once again I believe that there are 3 ways in which the cross is a physical representation of the love that God has for us
The first of those three is that the cross is a confirmation of God’s love,
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
God could go on and on for centuries proclaiming His love for us but the cross is God’s love in action
It is, as the old saying goes, putting your money where your mouth is
Secondly the cross is the culmination of God’s love,
Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.
1 John 4:7-10
If a new home and family through the bonds of marriage is the culmination of the love of two people, than it can clearly be seen that the cross is the culmination of all God’s love and all that He had done for us in the past
Thirdly, the cross is the cost of God’s love
He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?
When it came time for the sacrifice, God did not send a prophet, or even an angel, God held nothing back but gave us His everything when He chose not to spare His Son
He could have, He had every right to, but His love demanded that the ultimate price be paid and the reason is also the second reason why the cross should be our core issue, because of our sin
Apart from the cross of Calvary every single one of us suffers from the very same condition, sin…which had made us dead
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath.
I hope that sinks in, before the cross we were “DEAD” that was our condition! Not sick with sin, not overcome with sin, we were dead in our sin
But Hallelujah because of the cross this passage doesn’t end there but continues on to say
But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.
And because sin was our condition, sin was also our condemnation,
Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned—
Because of our sinful condition we stood condemned before God the righteous judge, and the sentence was eternal damnation, Hell!
I’m sorry we’re not supposed to use those terms any more, they’ve been deemed offensive
You better believe that they’re offensive, Jesus describes it eternal suffering, whaling and gnashing of teeth, of fire and brimstone, where the torture never ends
But because of the cross,
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh,
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.
I hope that this is getting you excited, I once was dead but now I’m alive, I once was condemned but now I am free and the third thing is that sin was our curse
In Romans chapter 6 Paul describes our predicament in this way, that we used to be “slaves to sin”
we were owned by the sin that was destroying us and had to be loyal and obedient to it, that’s the situation that Paul describes
Pretty bleak isn’t it?
But because of the cross,
For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.
And let me give you another one of my favourites
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!”
The reason that the cross is and should be the central doctrine of believers is because of God’s love, and because of our sin but there’s one more reason, because of Christ’s obedience
Now it is at this point that I’m afraid I am going to have to disagree with the lyrics of our song which says, “That on the cross, my burden gladly bearing”
“Willingly” absolutely but “gladly” I’m not so sure
Listen to Mark’s recollection of what happened after the last supper,
They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said to them. “Stay here and keep watch.” Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. “Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”
They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said to them. “Stay here and keep watch.” Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him.
Luke, who was a physician of the day tells us that Christ was in so much anguish during this that “His sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground” a rare medical condition known as hermatidrosis
Here’s how it is described on Wikipedia, “Hematidrosis is a condition in which capillary blood vessels that feed the sweat glands rupture, causing them to exude blood, occurring under conditions of extreme physical or emotional stress. Severe mental anxiety activates the sympathetic nervous system to invoke the stress-fight or flight reaction to such a degree as to cause hemorrhage of the vessels supplying the sweat glands into the ducts of the sweat glands. It has been suggested that acute fear and extreme stress can cause hematidrosis”
Let me read for you from Tricia McCary Rhodes’ devotional book, Contemplating the Cross, (Pages 22-23)
“The hour is late. Stillness settles like an eerie cloud over Jerusalem. As He enters the gate in the wall around Gethsemane, Jesus motions to Peter, James, and John to come with Him. The others sit down quietly to wait - for what they do not know - as the 3 follow into the recesses of the Garden.”
“Jesus moves slowly, perhaps stopping to lean against a gnarled tree trunk. White knuckles protrude from tightened fists and His head hangs in weariness. Peter, James, and John glance at each other, wondering what to do. Their teacher has never been like this before. They saw Him cry when His friend Lazarus died, and only a week ago as He entered Jerusalem.He sobbed out loud over the neediness there. Yet that was a strong cry - laced with sadness perhaps but not despair.”
“This is different. Overwhelming sorrow consumes the Christ. Through clenched lips, He utters: ‘My soul is deeply grieved to the point of death...’ a beleaguered bellow from the depths of His being”
In The Suffering Saviour Meditations on the Last Days of Christ author F. W. Krummacher surmises that it was not the impending physical torture that brought Christ to such despair but rather that it was during this time in the garden that Jesus was fulfilling the words that Paul would later write to the Corinthians,
2 Corinthians 5:
God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
Krummacher says that as the horror of sin and the abomination of our transgressions were divinely imputed to Him who had never known sin
He writes, “They present themselves, to His holy eyes in their naked deformity, in their unutterable abominable nature, and in their soul destroying power. In sin, He sees apostasy from the Almighty, daring rebellion against the Eternal Majesty, and base revolt against the will and law of God: and surveys, at one view, all the horrible fruits and results of sin, in the curse, death, and endless perdition. How was it possible that the pure and holy soul of Jesus, at the sight of such horrors, should not tremble and shudder, and be seized with a nameless abhorrence, of which we, who are so deeply infected with sin, have no conception?”
Yet in spite of it all, Christ was still willing to be obedient to the plan of the Father, that He might redeem all of humanity
In fact during His arrest when Peter began to put up a fight, Jesus told him to stop, because if He really didn’t want this to happen, He could call more than 12 legions of angels to put an end to it all (Matthew 26:53)
But He didn’t, He walked to the cross just like the Father asked of Him
The reason why is found in Romans 5:19,
For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.
Far too often when this hymn is song by big stars in public arenas verse number 3 is left out, because the cross is still offensive to some
But I want to tell you this morning, that if you leave out verse 3 you might as well cancel the whole song because this is the “steak” this is the one and only issue that matters, this is the thing that everything else is predicated upon, the cross
And the reasons for that is;