This message was preached on Easter Sunday, 16 April 2017. You can listen to the sermon being delivered here.
At the close of a worship service in Philadelphia a century ago, a man approached the preacher, Daniel Stearns, and said, “I don’t like your preaching, I do not care for the cross. I think that instead of preaching the death of Christ on the cross, it would be far better to preach Jesus, the teacher and example.”
Dr. Stearns replied, “Would you be willing to follow Him if I preach Christ as the example?” The man answered, “I would—I would follow Him.” “Then” said Dr. Stearns, “let us take the first step. Jesus did no sin. Can you take this step?”
The man looked confused. He replied, “No. I do sin and acknowledge it.”
“Well then,” said Dr. Stearns, “your first need of Christ is not as an example, but as a Savior”
My friend, all people are in need of a savior, even you! And as God’s Providence would have it, that is exactly what has been given to the world in the man named Jesus Christ. You see, in Jesus Christ, the world has gained a savior.
To appreciate this Savior, we must first go back in time to tell an old, old story. The hour was noonday, and Jesus has been hanging on the cross for many pain-filled hours. Before the cruel cross, he has endured a Roman flogging, the insult of the crown of thorns, and the jeers of the crowds. But here on the cross, suddenly, darkness falls on Calvary and “over all the land” (Matt. 27:45). By a miraculous act of Almighty God, midday becomes midnight.
“And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46, KJV).
Up to this point, the narrative of the crucifixion has focused on the physical sufferings of Jesus: but now, suddenly, after a long silence, comes this anguished cry from the depths of our Savior’s soul.
The words themselves are an Aramaic-tinged quotation from Psalm 22, and although Matthew and Mark both offer a translation for the benefit of Gentile readers, they clearly want us to hear the exact words that Jesus spoke. Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? You see, here, at his lowest ebb, his mind instinctively breathes the Psalter, and from it he borrows the words that express the anguish, not now of his body, but of his soul.
Why is our great High Priest crying in anguish like this? It is because He is entering Golgotha’s Holy of Holies without friends or comfort. The Son of God is alone on the cross, enduring what defies our imagination. Experiencing the full brunt of His Father’s wrath, Jesus cannot stay silent. He cries out: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” because this moment represents the lowest point of Jesus’ sufferings. Here Jesus descends into the essence of hell, the most extreme suffering ever experienced. It is a time so compacted, so infinite, so horrendous as to be incomprehensible and, seemingly, unsustainable.
Jesus’ cry does not in any way diminish His deity. Jesus does not cease being God before, during, or after this. Jesus’ cry does not divide His human nature from His divine person or destroy the Trinity. Nor does it detach Him from the Holy Spirit. The Son lacks the comforts of the Spirit, but He does not lose the holiness of the Spirit. And finally, it does not cause Him to disavow His mission. You see dear friends, both the Father and Son knew from all eternity that Jesus would become the Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world. And this is that moment!
But Jesus is expressing the agony of unanswered supplication (Ps. 22:1–2). Unanswered, Jesus feels forgotten of God. He is also expressing the agony of unbearable stress. It is the kind of “roaring” mentioned in Psalm 22: the roar of desperate agony without rebellion. It is the hellish cry uttered when the undiluted wrath of God overwhelms the soul. It is heart-piercing, heaven-piercing, and hell-piercing.
Jesus is expressing the agony of unmitigated sin. All the sins of the elect, and the hell that they deserve for eternity, are laid upon Him. In His hour of greatest need comes a pain unlike anything the Son has ever experienced. When Jesus most needs encouragement, no voice cries from heaven, “This is my beloved Son.” No angel is sent to strengthen Him; no “well done, thou good and faithful servant” resounds in His ears. The women who supported Him are silent. The disciples, cowardly and terrified, have fled. Feeling disowned by all, Jesus endures the way of suffering alone, deserted, and forsaken in utter darkness.
And don’t miss the significance of this moment: every detail of this horrific scene declares the heinous character of your sins, my friend!
Why would God bruise His own Son in this way (Isa. 53:10)? It is not because the Father is malicious or vindictive. The real purpose is punitive; it is the just punishment for the sin of Christ’s people.
“For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Cor. 5:21).
You see, Christ was made sin for us, dear believers. Among all the mysteries of salvation, this little word “for” …this little preposition “for”…”FOR God has made Jesus to be sin, this Jesus who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him…” This small word “for” illuminates our darkness and unites Jesus Christ with sinners. It tells us Christ was acting on behalf of His people as their representative and for their benefit.
With Jesus as our substitute, God’s wrath is satisfied and God can justify those who believe in Jesus (Rom. 3:26). Christ’s penal suffering, therefore, is vicarious — He suffered on our behalf. He did not simply share our forsakenness, but He saved us from it. He endured it for us, not with us. In Christ, you are immune to condemnation (Rom. 8:1) and to God’s anathema (Gal. 3:13) because Christ bore it for you in that outer darkness. Golgotha secured your immunity.
Any questions we might have about God's love and provision for us should began with, "If God did not spare His own son..." (Rom. 8:32). Which brings me to a brief reflection upon that marvelous Son in Colossians 1:15-23.
THE FATHER’S RECONCILING PLEASURE (vv. 15-20a)
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him [Christ], and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven.
Who is this Son? He is most supreme expression of God in this world. He is the one who is supreme over all creation. Not only is He Creator, He is the Sustainer of the Universe. He is the firstborn from the dead, in other words, the first in rank of those Resurrected. Because of this He is Head over His church.
Furthermore, Paul tells us that God the Father found pleasure in having “all his fullness dwell in him”—in Christ. Colossians 2:9 says it even more explicitly: “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form.” “Fullness” means that the totality of divine power and attributes is in Christ. In other words, “The whole fullness—the full fullness”—is there. In Jesus Christ is the “exhaustion of God.” Theologian S.D. Gordon once said, “Jesus is God spelling Himself out in language that man can understand.”
Do you understand what this means, dear friend? This means that we need look to no one except Jesus for the full revelation of God’s character. As we see him in the Gospels and hear him faithfully preached, we can know what God is like.
But not only that, but of this Son, Paul tells us that it was God’s pleasure “to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven” (v. 20a). In other words, everything in the universe will be reconciled through the Son Jesus Christ except that which rejects him.
My dear friends, if you've ever wondered what Good Friday or Easter or the gospel of Jesus Christ is all about, you find it here in the main point of this verse in Colossians: these things are ultimately about the reconciliation of sinners to God. And of course, don’t mistake God’s goodness in this gracious provision: in every reference to reconciliation between God and man in the New Testament, we note that it is God who takes the initiative. In other words, reconciliation to God is an explicitly one-sided process! He does virtually everything. All we have to do is respond.
The problem so often is that we as people do not respond. Rather, we often reject. Dear sinner, be warned this morning that if you have rejected Jesus Christ, you will bear the full weight of punishment for your sins upon the event of your death. This life, perhaps even these few moments now, are the only chance you have to be reconciled to God. Indeed, it is the Father’s will that you be saved in Jesus Christ!
THE FATHER’S RECONCILING METHOD (vv. 20b, 22a)
But how, we now ask, is this reconciliation possible. As we look to our text in Colossians, we see that the Father’s method of reconciliation is seen in two parallel clauses from verses 20 and 22: “making peace through his blood, shed on the cross”; “But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death.” Simply put (but gravely put) this morning: God’s method is the death of Christ.
It is said that years ago in a western city a husband and wife became estranged and chose to separate. They moved away and lived in different parts of the country. The husband happened to return to the city on a matter of business and went out to the cemetery to the grave of their only son. He was standing by the grave in fond reminiscence when he heard a step behind him. Turning, he saw his estranged wife. The initial impulse of both was to turn away. But they had a common-hearted interest in that grave, and instead of turning away they clasped hands over the grave of their son and were reconciled. They were reconciled by death!
Our personal reconciliation took nothing less than the death of God’s Son; but his death and its effects went far beyond any human death.
God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation … God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:19, 21)
Jesus bore the separation of sin so reconciliation could take place. He made “peace through his blood, shed on the cross” (v. 20). “[H]e himself is our peace” (Ephesians 2:14). As Dorothy Sayers once put it, “Whatever the answer to the problem of evil, this much is true: God took His own medicine.” The Cross is the ultimate evidence that there is no length the love of God will refuse to go in effecting reconciliation.
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? (Romans 8:32)
It is God’s pleasure to give you all things. My friends, would you respond to Him? Is God moving salvation in your soul this very moment? Will you trust your very life to Jesus Christ and nothing else today?
THE FATHER’S RECONCILING PURPOSE (vv. 21, 22)
Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation.
When a great seventeenth-century Christian woman and encourager of God’s servants, Lady Huntingdon, invited one of her friends, the Duchess of Buckingham, to hear George Whitefield preach, she received this reply:
… It is monstrous to be told, that you have a heart as sinful as the common wretches that crawl on the earth. This is highly offensive and insulting; and I cannot but wonder that your ladyship should relish any sentiments so much at variance with high rank and good breeding.
My friends, Paul’s pronouncement that we are “alienated from God … enemies … [with] evil behavior” may sound a bit harsh to us too, but it is terribly true. All it takes is a brief look at the daily news to find out what is really there in the heart of mankind.
Humanity’s condition is terrible, but God’s reconciling purpose (Paul says) is “to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation” (v. 22). While the Scriptures paint the darkest possibilities for man apart from Christ, they also give us the highest, noblest vision of man known to any religious conception anywhere! When you are reconciled to Christ, you will be presented before him as holy, without blame, and beyond reproach. You become a “co-heir” of Christ’s promises (Romans 8:17) and you will remain eternally glorious and holy. If you have been reconciled, this is your position before God right now, and it will be increasingly true in our life as we grow into his image in sanctification.
Fellow-believers, in light of our reconciliation we ought to do everything in our power to be practically blameless and holy in this life. We must become what we are in the Lord. We must submit ourselves ever more completely to the “God who works in you” (Philippians 2:13). Practical holiness should be our life’s business.
My friends, if you are in Christ, let this Easter be an invitation to renew your faith. Just as we see nature greening all around us right in the beauty of Spring, let your love for Father, Son, and Holy Spirit grow too.
Above all else, persevere and continue in your faith! The gospel will help you to persevere!
THE FATHER’S RECONCILING CONDITION (v. 23)
… if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.
It is imperative that all of us be reconciled to Christ. Without reconciliation we will remain adrift on the cold seas—alienated from God, from creation, and from others, though we may wish otherwise. God wants to reconcile us. He enjoys reconciling. His Son endured the Cross “for the joy set before him” (Hebrews 12:2). What God has in mind for us is the greatest vision ever conceived for any mortal. There is only one thing to do, and that is to say yes.
The Cross of Jesus Christ and the empty Tomb of Easter make this possible. Christ’s resurrection, which in fact we celebrate every Sunday and Lord’s Day, is the Victory-day, the V-Day of the church. Without it, the church has no reason to exist. Without it, Christianity is only an empty form and custom at best.
My dear friends, Christianity is in its essence a resurrection religion, for the resurrection is no appendix to our faith; rather, it is “THE faith” and is “OUR faith.” Jesus’ resurrection is to our faith what water is to the ocean and what blood is to our bodies. The best news the world has ever heard came from a graveyard: “He is not here, for He is risen, as He said.” Let us humble ourselves, and praise God with all our heart for the death and resurrection of His Son. After all, the Cross and the Empty Tomb, are the two hinges, as Martin Luther put it, on which the door of our salvation swings open.