The Doctrine of the Cross
Sin Is Against God
Isaiah wrote of, ‘The Lord, He against Whom we have sinned’; and the truth cannot be overemphasized that all sin is against God: for the acknowledgment of this truth is essential to an understanding of God’s gracious dealings with men in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Experimental knowledge of the grace of God begins when one comes to the place where David was when he confessed: ‘Against Thee, Thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in Thy sight: that Thou mightest be justified when Thou speakest, and be clear when Thou judgest.’ When David said this, he knew that he was also guilty of sins against a number of people, but he realized that one cannot sin against men without sinning against God. We are accountable to God for all our sins (Isa 42:24; Psa. 51:4).
Sin And Death Are Inseparable
God is love; and it causes Him sorrow to see men suffering in their sins; and that not only because sin itself is evil and wholly unprofitable to men, but also because sin cannot be separated from death: here and hereafter. God has revealed this very clearly in His word: ‘… for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die … the soul that sinneth, it shall die … the wages of sin is death …’; and He has warned men of the awful judgment that awaits unrepentant sinners: ‘… when the Lord Jesus is revealed from Heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance upon those who do not know God and upon those who do not obey the Gospel of our Lord Jesus. They shall suffer the punishment of eternal destruction and exclusion from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His might.’ ‘But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the polluted, as for murderers, fornicators, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liers, their lot shall be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death’ (Gen. 2:17, Ezek. 18:4; Rom. 6:23; 2 Thess. 1:7-9, RSV: Rev. 21:8, RSC).
God’s Righteousness And Man’s Sin
God is not willing that any should perish; but because He is righteous, He demands a propitiation for sins — or all sinners must die the second death; for ‘righteousness and judgment are the habitation of His throne’ and “The Lord is righteous in all His ways, and holy in all His works.’ Sin cannot be disregarded by Him, for He loves righteousness and hates wickedness (Psa. 97:2; Psa. 145:17).
God’s Grace And Man’s Sin
Because He is gracious, God has provided the propitiation which He righteously demanded. This great purpose was in His mind when ‘Christ, as a Lamb without blemish and without spot was foreordained before the foundation of the world’; it was set forth typically by God Himself to the first man immediately after the entrance of sin — by the coats of skin wherewith He covered him; and He kept it before men in the ceremonial law until the Great Propitiation ‘was manifested in these last times for us’ (1 Pet. 1:19-20).
The terminology of the ceremonial law is used in the New Testament to teach this aspect of the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, for the ‘Propitiatory’ or ‘Mercy-seat’ was the golden cover of the ark of the covenant in the most holy place of tabernacle and temple. Upon that propitiatory was sprinkled the blood of the sin offerings when the priest of Israel went ‘…alone once every year, not without blood, which he offered for himself, and for the errors of the people; the Holy Ghost this signifying, that the way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest, while as the first tabernacle was yet standing: which was a figure for the time then present.. .’ The blood-sprinkled propitiatory became the place of communion between God and His people (Heb. 9:7-9; Exod. 25:17-22; 29:42-43; 30:6).
The most important day of each year to Israel was undoubtedly the day of atonement; and the most significant event of that day was the sprinkling of the blood of the sin offering on and before the mercy-seat in the most holy place by the priest on behalf of the people. This act foreshadowed year by year that great event of supreme import when the Son of God as the Great High Priest, after the shedding of His own blood as the Sacrifice, presented that precious blood before the throne of God once for all: the true Propitiation for the sins of the whole world. It was written of one day in history that ‘when they were come to the place, which is called Calvary, there they crucified Him…’ That day was the one true ‘day of atonement’ (Luke 23:33).
He Is The Propitiation
‘And the Lord saw it, and it displeased Him that there was no judgment. And He saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no intercessor: therefore His arm brought salvation unto Him; and His righteousness, it sustained Him.’ ‘Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins … Jesus Christ the righteous One: and He is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.’ ‘Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth a propitiation through faith in His blood.’ ‘The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin.’ These Scriptures leave no doubt as to the identity of the Propitiation which God has provided (Isa. 59:15-16; 1 John 1:7; 2:1-2; 4:10; Rom. 3:24-25).
In becoming our Propitiation the Lord Jesus Christ suffered the judgment of death on account of our sin. The Cross revealed God’s righteous attitude towards sin. There could be nothing but judgment for sin — even when that sin was borne by the Holy Son of God. God judged sin and sinners in the holy flesh of His beloved One. ‘For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us…’ God dealt with His Son as the guilty One; for upon Him was laid the iniquity of us all; but we must never forget that He Who suffered that judgment was actually He against Whom those sins had been committed and to Whom we are accountable. He Who bore the inevitable judgment of sins was the only One Who could forgive them (Rom. 8:3-4, RSV).
The sprinkled blood — whether on the altar or the propitiatory — constituted the evidence of the death of the sacrifice; so it came to pass that He Who was God manifest in flesh presented His own blood before God’s righteous throne as the evidence of His death on behalf of sinners. His entrance into the holiest by the way of the Cross opened the way for His own to enter into the presence of the Father. We are now exhorted by the Spirit to enter boldly by His precious blood (John 13:33, 14:6, 27-31; 16:28; 17:11; Heb. 9:12; 10:19-22).
The Cross proclaims Him ‘a Just God and a Saviour’; for His purpose in that Cross was ‘that He might be just and the Justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.’ Our great salvation, being wholly of God, is based upon His unassailable righteousness. It might well be asked, ‘Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? Shall God, Who has justified us? Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us. “This is the Name whereby He shall be called, The Lord our righteousness” (Isa. 45:21; Rom. 3:26; 8:33; Jer. 23:6).
Sinners can never ‘propitiate’ God. If any justification is possible for sinful men it must come from the Just One Himself, for He alone can forgive sins against Himself. The blood-sacrifices of the heathen and pagan world are the result of the corruption of the truth which was given by God in type to the first man, and that corruption is perpetuated by the evil one in order to attempt to discredit the Sacrifice of the Cross. The devil’s lie interprets such sacrifices as a means for appeasing an angry Deity; ignoring the truth that it was God Himself Who provided the one acceptable Propitiation in the blood of His Cross.