Introduction: Welcome to Calvary Albuquerque. We pursue the God who is passionately pursuing a lost world; we do this with one another, through worship, by the Word, to the world.
Skip Heitzig: I was there that day. That day that that man was crucified, I was there. I've seen many an execution just like it many times before. In fact, we Romans, we have crucified thousands upon thousands of people all over. Anyone that would seem to pose a threat to the Pax Romana the Roman peace, that enforced peace that we have brought around the world, anybody who would threatened that, well, we have ways of dealing with quickly and, we would say, justly. It happens to be one of those unsavory duties of us Roman soldiers. Some actually like it; they take out their aggressions and their frustrations every time there's an execution; but not most, and not me, and certainly not this time.
First of all, it's a miserable spectacle to watch a man bleed out, sometimes lasting for several days, fighting for each breath, gasping and groaning hour after hour. But this man was different. This execution was different. I've heard many a man hanging from a cross say many things, usually words I couldn't repeat here. But this man looked up to the sky and said to someone, "Father, forgive them, they don't know what they're doing." And I thought, " 'Forgive them,' who says that while they're being killed?" Even one of our own centurions, when it was all over, said something that made me nervous. He said, "Truly this man was the Son of God." I heard him say that, "the Son of God."
He didn't say "a son of the gods"; he was very particular, he was very singular: ". . . the Son of God." It made me nervous because I thought, "If this was Son of God, where is he now, and what's coming next?" Well, you can tell by the cross up here at church today that it's a very different service from our typical weekend service. Typically what we have you do is, "Turn in your Bible to . . ." and it's very textually based. It's an expository message and rightfully so. We take the text, we engage the mind, we explore the principles, we find out what God says, and we seek to apply them to our lives. Why this service? What are we doing here today?
Well, the cross of Christ, the crucifixion of Jesus Christ was a very visual experience. It was something that you would see as well as something that you would hear. It would be a shock to see it. It would be gruesome to hear the groans of a man being killed. What we want to do is bring a little of that tension that brings emotion back into it. You can see before you a wooden cross. In a moment you're going to hear with your own ears as nails are put through this wood just to get a flavor of what that was like, and all of that to personalize it---all of that to help us relate to the fact that the Son of God died for me. He did it for me as we just sang, "He did it for me."
Dr. John Stott, John R. W. Stott who's now in heaven and pastored the All Souls Church in London, England, at one time, said, "Before we can ever begin to see the cross as something done for us, we need to see the cross as something done by us." It's only until we are aware of our sin, when we are aware of our sin, are we grateful that we have a Savior. So we have this symbol. It is a universal symbol. The cross everyone knows around the world is a symbol of the Christian faith. We're not ashamed of the cross. We're not ashamed of the gospel. But when we see it displayed like this, so overtly, so openly, so visually, we ask a question: Who is responsible for this? Who did this to Jesus?
Well, we could say the Romans did it. It was Pontius Pilate. It was those Romans soldiers. They did perfect crucifixion. It was they who actually performed the deed. We could point the blame and say, "They did it." Or we could look at the Jewish leaders, the high priest Caiaphas, the priest Annas, the Sanhedrin. They gave the ruling. They manipulated government so that that could happen. So, we could blame the Romans, we could blame the Jewish leaders, we could blame the crowd. The crowd unanimously said, "Crucify him! Give us Barabbas! Crucify him!" They chanted that. Or we could blame Judas. He was sort of the mastermind behind it all selling Jesus out to all of those authorities.
But we have to look in the mirror to get the full picture. Who's responsible for this? You're looking at him. I am. I am. We are. Jesus died---First Corinthians 15 plainly says, "He died for our sin." We put him on that cross. "Before we can ever see the cross as something done for us, we need to see it as something done by us." But we need to carry it a step further, because not only are all those, including ourselves, responsible for this, but this was the plan of God from the very beginning. Jesus said it plainly in John, chapter 10, "No one," he said, "No one takes my life from me. I lay it down of myself. I have the power to lay it down and to take it up again."
So Jesus gave himself for our sins. I'm going to read a section of Scripture to you this morning that this will then visualize. It's out of the book of Colossians in chapter 2. Let me, before I read it, just sort of set the scene and what was in Paul's mind as he wrote this letter to the church of Colossae. In this particular section he talks about two rituals: one a Jewish ritual and the other had become by this time a Christian ritual. The first was circumcision; that's the Jewish ritual. The second is baptism; that's the Christian ritual. Both of these ceremonies were visual reminders of a reality. It's as if these ceremonies acted out what they believed in.
First of all, circumcision: the cutting away of the flesh symbolized the cutting away of the fleshly life, the fleshly desires. Second, baptism: putting a person in water, burying them, so to speak, momentarily, and bringing them back up out of the water. It speaks of the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. We identify with that, and we bring up the person so they can walk in newness of life. That's the thought of it. Those two rituals are in Paul's mind as he writes this, but then he adds something else. When Jesus Christ came, Jesus did what no religion, what no ritual could ever do. He removed guilt, all of the guilt, the burden of guilt that we walk around with that crushes so many people.
Jesus took the guilt that comes from our failure to keep God's law. And he took that guilt with him when he died and got rid of it. Let me read the text. It's out of Colossians, chapter 2, beginning in verse 11. The verses will be on the screen, because I'm reading out of the New Living Translation today. "When you came to Christ, you were 'circumcised,' but not by a physical procedure. It was a spiritual procedure---the cutting away of your sinful nature. "For you were buried with Christ when you were baptized. And with him you were raised to a new life because you trusted in the mighty power of God, who raised Christ from the dead.
"You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ. He forgave all our sins. He canceled the record that contained the charges against us. He took it and destroyed it by nailing it to Christ's cross." When Paul wrote this, he has, I believe, in his mind a practice that was done in the ancient Greek world. When somebody owed somebody a debt, there was a legal certificate of debt, legal charge of debt. It was handwritten and it was signed. So when you took out a loan or you owed somebody a lot of money, there was this note that stood in the way between the lender and the borrower.
And life wasn't quite right between you two until the debt was paid off. The debt stood in the way and it was a public declaration. Once that debt was paid a public notice was made that the debt has been paid and the debt was now canceled. There is no debt. It's gone. It's removed. And it was posted that way: "Paid in full." The point that Paul is making is that Jesus Christ came because we owed a huge debt due to our failure, due to our sin, and Jesus paid the debt. Jesus Christ paid your bill. He paid the bill and he even left a tip. He died on the cross, was buried, and he rose from the dead conquering death and promising new life to anyone who would believe that that work was enough. Finished. Done. Completed. Paid in full.
The law just pointed its finger at you. Ever read the New Testament---I'm sorry, the Old Testament, the Ten Commandments? And it says, "Thou shalt not . . . Thou shalt not . . . Thou shalt not . . ." It just says that over and over again ten times: "Don't do this. Don't do that. Don't do this. Don't do that." And when you read it, you go, "Did that. Did that. Did that. Did that. Broke them all, if not out outwardly, certainly inwardly." It points the finger at you. It says, "You owe God a debt that you can never pay." And that's what this cross is all about. C. S. Lewis once wisely wrote: "As far as we know, it costs God nothing to create nice things; but when it came to rescuing rebellious wills, it cost him a crucifixion."
As the hymn says, "Jesus paid it all, all to him I owe; sin had left its crimson stain, he washed it white as snow." It's paid in full---the cross. One of the great hymnwriters Isaac Watts talked about the cross in his song "At the Cross": "At the cross, at the cross, where I first saw the light and the burden of my heart rolled away, it was there by faith I received my sight, and now I am happy all the day!" Let's pray together. Lord God, Father, Creator of heaven and earth, the One who gave us our very breath, the One who sent his only begotten Son the Lord Jesus Christ, God in human flesh, the second person of that blessed Trinity, who sent him to this earth.
We thank you, Lord, for this plan, the plan to send a Lamb slain from the very foundations of the world into this world to deal with the disease that plagues every single human being that has ever been born, and that's called sin, transgression: things we failed to do or things that we deliberately do that are wrong. There are so many, and Jesus paid it all---all. We're thankful, Lord, that you've included us in your plan, that we have been brought to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. And those of us who are redeemed, we participate in this just like circumcision, just like baptism. We want to participate visually, audibly, in the finished work of Jesus Christ on a cross 2,000 years ago.
We enter into this Holy Week, this being Palm Sunday, and as we march toward Good Friday, and then Resurrection Sunday, I pray that our hearts, our lives would become unburdened as we bring our sins before you to the very place they were nailed to, in Jesus' name, amen.
Closing: What binds us together is devotion to worshiping our heavenly Father, dedication to studying his Word, and determination to proclaim our eternal hope in Jesus Christ.
For more teachings from Calvary Albuquerque and Skip Heitzig visit calvaryabq.org.