The Saving Sacrifice
TOPIC:“The Saving Sacrifice”
by Rev. Dr. Reg Dunlap
TEXT:I Peter 2:24
“Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree”
When William Carey, the great missionary to India, lay dying during those last days of his earthly life, he said to a close friend: “I have no other hope of salvation than through the death of my Lord and Savior.” To him the death of Christ was INDISPENSABLE. There was no real, genuine, life-redeeming hope without it.
It was in the same peaceful spirit that Charles Hadden Spurgeon, the prominent English preacher of past years, faced the demands of death. He said upon his death-bed: “My theology now is in four little words: “Jesus died for me.” I do not say that this is enough to preach were I to live, but it certainly is enough to die upon.” To him the death of Christ was IMPERATIVE. There was not future life without it.
And yet, if we are to have an intelligent view of the sacrifice of Christ on the cross, we must realize that His death was INEVITABLE. There was no way around it. It was sure to happen. God PREDESTINATED it. The cross of Christ was no accident, no unfortunate incident, no afterthought in the mind of God. On the contrary! The plan of Christ's death was prepared and the date was determined. God had decided in His eternal counsel that Christ would die. The Apostle Peter boldly declared: “Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23). Or as we read in Revelation 13:8 these words: “The Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.”
But not only did God predestinate it, the prophets PREDICTED it. Isaiah, who lived several centuries before Christ, wrote with such vivid expression: “He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities” (Isaiah 53:5). And Christ Himself PROMISED it. He declared: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up…But he spoke of the temple of his body” (John 2: 19, 21).
There you have it: The coming of Christ in bodily fashion to be crucified upon a cross. Such was foreknown by God before the flaming stars were cast into limitless space. Such was foretold by the prophets before the suffering Servant went for to die. Such was foreseen by Christ before it actually happened. Without doubt the death of the spotless and sinless Son Of God is the core and center of the Christian gospel. So declared the Apostle Paul to the Corinthians: “For I determined not to know anything among you save Jesus Christ, and him crucified” (I Corinthians 2:2).
The words of our text suggest four basic characteristics about the death of Christ upon the cross. Let me bring them to your attention.
For one thing, the death of Christ upon the cross was VOLUNTARY. The words of the test are plain at this point: “Who his own self” (I Peter 2:24). In other words, it was Christ Himself who gave up the comfort of Heaven and chose the road which was certain to lead to sin, shame, and sorrow.
Let's admit it: Christ was not forced into giving up His life. He was not dragged to the cruel cross. He was not pushed down the road to a certain death. No one had to put a chain around His neck and pull Him along. Christ might have been ASHAMED to die, but He was not AFRAID to die. Do you think for one moment that Christ was any less heroic than thousands of Christians who without whining or whimpering have been cast into prison, beaten with rods, and thrown to the lions? I should say not!
Though Christ fully predicted what would happen to Him once He reached Jerusalem - the broken body, the torturing cross, the shed-blood - never once did He hesitate. Never once did He falter as the cross took its ugly shape before Him. There was no dodging, no evasion, no compromise whatsoever on His part. But with towering courage Christ traveled unflinchingly and unshrinkingly to His awful death. He knew the high cost, the price of blood, to save lost mankind, but we still hear Him proclaim: “I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd gives his life for the sheep…I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man takes it from me, but I lay it down of myself” (John 10:1, 17, 18).
Here was a man so committed to the duty of rescuing men from sin and so constrained to the task of reconciling men to God, that neither the hate and horror of the crowd nor the madness and mockery of the mob, could change His inward passion - that of dying for the sins of the world. And even at the last moment when the crowd put the challenge to Him: “If thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross” Christ voluntarily bowed His head in heart submission to God and gave up the ghost. But get this: He could have acted differently. One word from those silent and speechless lips would have brought twelve legions of angels to His rescue.
I submit to you, my friend, that we could never find a better example of sacrificial love than that which we have in Christ. He gloriously and graciously laid down His life for us at Mount Calvary. Here Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world, went to the limit in self-denial, self-surrender, and self-sacrifice. And let me remind you that the action of God giving and Christ dying was motivated by love. To put it in the words of St. Paul who said: “But God commended his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
Come now to our second point. The text suggests that the death of Christ on the cross was VICARIOUS. We read again in I Peter 2:24 these words: “Who his own self bare our sins.” The word “vicarious” means “to suffer in the place of another.” That is precisely what Christ did for us. He died as our Substitute. He suffered in our place. He became our sin-bearer on that brutal and barbarous cross.
Now the writers of the Bible are in mutual agreement regarding the vicarious death of Christ. In Matthew 20:28 we read: “The Son of man came to give his life a ransom for many.” In John 1:29 we read: “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the son of the world.” In Romans 8:32 we read: “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all.” In I Corinthians 15:3 we read: “Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures.” In Galatians 3:13 we read: “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law.” In Hebrews 2:9 we read: “That he by the grace of God should taste death for every man.” In I John 3:16 we read: “Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us.” In Revelation 1:5 we read: “He that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood.” And in Isaiah chapter 53 the vicarious death of Christ is referred to fourteen different times. Listen to a few of the verses: “Surely he hath born our griefs, and carried our sorrows;…he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities” (Isaiah 53:4, 5).
Some years ago, I came across the poem entitled, “The Cross Was His Own,” which out of necessity, I believe needs to be corrected. The first stanza goes like this:
“They borrowed a bed to lay His head
When Christ the Lord came down;
They borrowed the ass in the mountain pass
For Him to ride to town;
But the crown that He wore and the cross that He bore
Were His own - The Cross was His own.”
These are inspiring words, but infinitely wrong. The cross that Christ carried was not His own. It was our cross not His. It was our sin not His. It was our suffering not His. It was our pain not His. It was our death not His. There was absolutely nothing in the character or life of Christ to deserve death. He knew no sin, He did no sin, and in Him there was no sin. Never once did He deviate from His Father's will. His was a sinless and spotless life. It was Judas who declared: “I have betrayed innocent blood” (Matthew 27:4). It was Pilate who declared: “I find in him no fault at all” (John 18:38). It was the writer of Hebrews who declared: “He was tempted like as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). It was Peter who wrote of Christ: “Who did no sin” (I Peter 2:22).
And yet, compelled by a heart of love and constrained by a passion for the lost, Christ was willing to make the cross His very own. In some amazing and astonishing way, He gathered up all our sin, removed all our scum, and made forgiveness possible to all men everywhere regardless of distance and without discrimination. Without question, the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ is the most wonderful thing that has ever happened in the universe.
Think of it: The guiltless One in the place of the guilty one. The sinless One in the place of the sinful one. The innocent One in the place of the indecent one. The best in the place of the worst. He became what we are that we might become like He is.
Such a mystery as this can never be fathomed by the human mind. But as someone has put it:
“We may not know, we cannot tell,
What pains He had to bear
But we believe it was for us
He hung and suffered there.”
Ah, yes, Christ died for the ungodly. Christ died for us. Christ died for you. It was a vicarious death. Will you believe that and accept it as a fact?
Let me say, in the next place, the death of Jesus Christ upon the cross was VICIOUS. Notice again the three little words that Peter uses in the text to describe the type of death that Christ suffered: “on a tree” (I Peter 2:24).
Nothing was more disgusting, more depraved, more despicable, and more devastating, than dying like a common criminal upon a vile and vicious cross. And yet, it was to this that our Lord was destined. Somewhere outside the walls of Jerusalem, beneath a lowering April sky, hanging between two thieves, the King of Glory was criminally put to death.
Surely we are not capable of understanding all of the dreadful things which happened to Christ during those last days upon the earth. What was known to Him - the bloody sweat, the torn body, the crown of thorns, the pain-drenched cross, the piercing nails, the blistering sun, the deserting disciples - can never be ours to experience. But it is within our duty to know and appreciate exactly what He went through for us by putting ourselves within reach of what actually happened at Calvary.
After Judas had committed one of the vilest acts of treachery in human history, in betraying his Lord, Jesus was led out from Caiapha's hall to face the howling, cursing, scourging, blood-thirsty mob. The scoffing soldiers stripped Him of His clothing, outfitted Him in a kingly robe, placed a crown of thorns on his brow, and put a reed in His hand only to mock Him as a make believe king. They spit upon Him, lashed and whipped Him, and then led Him away as a butcher might drag a steer to the slaughter house.
The spectators, the tourists, the local crowd, and many others gathered along the Calvary road to mock and scourge Him. His bare feet began to bleed as He painfully struggled and staggered under the weight of the massive cross. There at Golgotha, with all of sinful humanity looking on, they stretched His beaten body upon the cross and drove the penetrating spikes through His hands and feet. The crude cross was lifted and then dropped with a mighty thud into a pit they had dug for it.
Now midday with the sun blazing in full force, Christ was left to hang and to die in excruciating pain. For three hours the hot blistering sun beat down upon His naked body, and then suddenly, the sun started to drop behind the chilly clouds. A cold darkness fell upon the earth as the sins of all humanity were about to be judged by Almighty God. Now forsaken by God and deserted by His disciples, and left to die beneath the black thunder clouds of divine wrath, with His throat parched with thirst, Christ in dying breath cries out: “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46).
Certainly no man has ever suffered more than Christ. He stands unique among men at this point. No part of His body was left untouched from the punishment of the crowd and the pain of the cross. So horrible and terrible was the persecution He received on the cross that Isaiah the prophet said of Him “He was disfigured till he seemed a man no more” (Isaiah 52 14, Moffart.) I like The Living Bible here: “They shall see my Servant beaten and bloodied, so disfigured one would scarcely know it was a person standing there.”
The question is well raised: Was there any other possible way to redeem mankind? Definitely not. If there had been, Christ would have taken it. The alternatives had narrowed down - destroy man or deliver man. God could not do both. He had to do one or the other. God chose to deliver man. But in that choice, it demanded the death of His only Son, Jesus Christ.
Listen my friend, God did something for you in the death of Christ that He never did for angels. He faced the gloom that you might experience the glory. He was lacerated that you might be liberated. He was forsaken that you might be forgiven. He was smitten that you might be saved. The cross means forgiveness and cleansing for you. It is your assurance of life after death, victory over defeat, and power over passion. The truth is still:
“They crowned Him with thorns
He was beaten with strips
He was smitten and nailed to the tree.
But the pain in His heart was the hardest to bear.
The heart that was broken for me.”
Let us realize at this point that God could not save His Son and sinners at the same time. It was either one or the other. Let me explain by means of an illustration. The story is told about a keeper of a drawbridge which went across a great river. One day as the keeper heard the thunder of the oncoming train, at the exact time his little child playing by his side, accidentally rolled down the sharp hill into the mad stream below. The keeper knew that if he plunged down after his child he would not be able to close the drawbridge, and the trainload of passengers would plunge to their death. He hesitated but for a moment, and then slowly swung the great bridge out to its place. He made his choice. But in making it he was unable to save his child. Plunging into the wild waters below he pulled out his lifeless child.
That, my dear friend, is what God did when Christ died on the cross. He permitted His Son to die and made it possible for you to be eternally saved from your sin. Will you not believe and accept the Christ of Calvary? I beg of you, don't break the heart of Christ again by rejecting Him as your Savior from sin.
Finally, the death of Christ was not only voluntary, vicarious and vicious, it was also VICTORIOUS. Though Peter does not mention this in the text give ear to his words from his sermon on the day of Pentecost when he said: “Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that he should be held by it” (Acts 2:24).
Unlike other men, Christ was not left in the grave. God did not put a period after the death of His Son. Jesus was not the victim of death, but the Victor. His death did not end in a tragedy, but in a triumph. They put Him to death, but God raised Him up. They left Christ in a tomb, but God put Him on a throne. The Apostle Peter speaks of it in these words: “But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him” (Acts 2:24, NIV). The Apostle Paul speaks of it in these words: “And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures” (I Corinthians 15:4).
I can only hold you long enough to say that Christ conquered the POWER that Satan had in death, He conquered the PAIN that sin put in death, and He conquered the PANIC that some people have about death. Death met its match and was dealt a mighty blow in the resurrection of Christ. Listen to Paul as he describes this victory over death: “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (I Corinthians 15:55-57).
Say what we will, only Jesus Christ offers men a faith that enables them to acknowledge the reality of death and at the same time to face the finality of victory over it.