This week is a really huge week. I look at it as Superbowl for Christians, it's Easter week. And it's the best time of the year. I love this time of the year, I love what Easter represents and what we celebrate. And it begins really for us today as we consider the cross.
Let's have a word of prayer together. Lord, we are grateful for the cross because it means to us forgiveness. From a human perspective it's the worst thing that ever happened. From a divine perspective it's the best thing that ever happened. And thank you Lord that we participate in that redemption, that we are your children, that we are bought with that price and you own us, all that comes with it we celebrate. And we worship you today, and part of our worship is being attentive to your word as it's being taught. We show you our worship by our attention to your voice and your word. Thank you. In Jesus' name. Amen.
It seems that every religious system has a visual representation of its belief, some image, some icon, some visual representation or symbol. For example, the lotus blossom was a symbol of ancient China and India and Egypt. But over time it became associated with Buddhism, the Buddhists adopted the lotus flower and they typically have a depiction of Buddha enthroned in the open lotus flower, a symbol of the cycle of birth and death, that erroneous system of reincarnation. That's become the symbol. Judaism typically had no symbols because of the second commandment which forbade them to make any image to be used of representing God, or in their worship they didn't make anything. But over time this Star of David, two equilateral triangles superimposed at opposite to each other came to represent Judaism. When you see the Star of David you think of Judaism. Another symbol that is recognizable is the crescent moon and the star, the symbol of Islam. It was not originally their symbol, it was originally of the city of Byzantium, which was known as Constantinople and today is Istanbul. That was the symbol of the city but when the Muslims took over that city, they adopted that symbol and that has become the widely-recognized symbol of Islam.
Now we come to Christianity and we think, "Well the symbol of Christianity is the cross." But originally it was not. Originally the cross was never a symbol that people would put up in their assembly simply because the cross was the ultimate symbol of shame and degradation. The worst of criminals were put on a cross, it was an enigmanimous symbol. And for Christians to put up a cross was like us putting up an electric chair, or a hangman's noose, or a guillotine; it was just shameful. Now today it is the symbol of Christianity, worldwide. But the early believers had other signs and symbols for their faith and you might know of them. For example, the peacock. The peacock was thought to be a symbol of immortality. And so you will often find this motif in the catacombs in Rome where Christians would meet regularly. Not only the peacock but the dove was an early Christian symbol. The dove spoke of peace and reconciliation. Also, a palm branch. There's a text in Revelation 7 that shows the redeemed wearing white robes and holding palm branches, thus the early Christians used this symbol to identify their faith. Another symbol was the anchor, also found in catacombs. The anchor because of the text in Hebrews that says that our belief in Christ and God is the anchor of our souls. But perhaps the most famous ancient Christian symbol is the fish, called the ichthus in Greek. And the ichthus is simply the Greek name for a fish, but the letters of the word became an acronym for early Christian's faith because they spelled a sentence with the Greek letters that spelled ichthus. And the sentence was Jesus Cristas theo Julius soter, which translated is: Jesus Christ, the Son of God, Savior. So by simply putting up as fish during times of persecution without spelling out that sentence, just spelling out the ichthus, the fish; gave other believers the idea that Christians meet here or Christians live here. It became a symbol of identification. In fact, it was not until the sixth century AD that the cross became regarded as a Christian symbol.
Today however, it is the universal symbol of Christianity. Wherever you go and you see a cross, you think of Christianity. It's atop churches, thousands of crosses, millions of crosses worldwide, it's on the graves of believers who are buried. It's the sign of Christianity, it's a Christian symbol nowadays and for the past 15-, 1600 years.
It's a strange symbol to the world, because of what it represents. And Paul put it this way, "The cross is a stumbling block to the Jews and it is foolishness to the Gentiles. Someone put it this way, "No other religion has at its heart the humiliation of its God. It is the symbol of humiliation. But today we consider that, we consider the cross because the cross is the focal point of God throughout all of history.
Now what I want you to know this morning and we'll look at it here in our text is that the cross was not Plan B. It was not an alternative plan for God, it was not a divine oops. It was always the plan from the beginning. Revelation chapter 13 is a chapter about the coming world ruler, the son of perdition, the man of sin, the beast, the Antichrist. And in verse 8 we're told "all who dwell on the earth will worship him (this is in the future, tribulation) whose names have not been written in the book of life." Notice this: "Of the lamb slain from the foundation of the world." In one verse the followers of the beast, the Antichrist are contrasted with the followers of Jesus Christ. And the followers of Jesus Christ are those who are truly saved, they have been chosen by God and they have been sealed by the blood of the Son of God on the cross.
Back in the 1870s there was a painter named Holman Hunt. Holman Hunt made a very famous picture, it was called "The Shadow of Death," and we'll put a picture of it up for you. It's a depiction of Christ. The painting shows Jesus in the carpenter's shop at Nazareth. He has put his saw down in front of him. His eyes are lifted up toward heaven, he stretches out his hands heavenward on either side of him. There is a sunlight coming from a window in front of him and the evening sun casts a shadow behind him on the wall. And where the shadow is hitting on the wall is a tool rack with hammers and nails. And the implements that are behind him on the wall along with the shadow of the hands form a cross. It's the shadow of the cross falling upon the carpenter's shop in Nazareth. In the picture, in the forefront on the left is a woman. You don't see her face but we know it's Mary. Mary is looking up at the shadow as if stunned by it. We know it's her because her other hand is on a wooden chest with the implements given by the magi: the gold and the frankincense and the myrrh. It's a moving picture and it is merely an artist's depiction but it happens to be theologically true. The shadow of the cross fell throughout the life of Jesus Christ, in fact the shadow of the cross goes back before Jesus' life and before Jesus' birth, all the way back to the beginning of time.
This morning I want to show you that. This morning what I'd like to do is consider five different points of time, as if we're drawing a timeline. And we place one point and look at it and then we'll go back with each point further than the time before, to show how far back the shadow of the cross falls. And we answer the question: What's the cross really all about it? What was that? Ws this just a cruel murder that took place? An unfortunate accident? Or was this always the plan? And why?
Well the first time point is the life of Christ. We discover that Jesus himself predicted his death. He knew about it, he was okay with it, he knew what it meant and he predicted it. Now go back with me to Matthew chapter 16. This is where we were last Sunday morning when we were considering the church. And we were in Caesarea Philippi when Jesus aid, "Who do men say that I am? Who do you say that I am?" The same chapter, immediately after that paragraph, look at verse 21, "From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and the chief priest and the scribes and be killed and be raised the third day. Then Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him saying, "Farbeit from you Lord, this shall not happen to you." Now here's Peter again with Jesus, in the previous paragraph Peter got the A on the test, remember? Peter said, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." "Blessed are you Simon son of Jonah." Here's Peter again getting an F on his test. And maybe that's what Peter thought. He thought, "Okay, this is sort of like a trick question, right? Or a trick statement. He's testing me. So I'm going to quickly step in and go, ‘Don't worry Lord, you can't go there, we're going to protect you from this whole idea." Peter was not ready for what Jesus said and he's certainly not ready for what Jesus says now. Verse 23, "But he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me Satan. (Well that's a far cry from, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah.") You are an offense to me for you are not mindful of the things of God but of the things of men.'"
Now go to the next chapter, chapter 17, verse 22, "While they were staying in Galilee, Jesus said to them, ‘The Son of Man is about to be betrayed into the hands of men. And they will kill him and the third day he will be raised up.' And they were exceedingly sorrowful." Several times this happened, we don't have time to look at each time it happened but it's pretty clear that Jesus lives his life in view of his death. Even to Nicodemus who came to him at night. In John chapter 3, the Lord said, "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up" (speaking of the cross). It's pretty obvious, it's pretty clear: Death was Jesus' constant companion. The shadow of the cross every day was upon his path. Can you imagine living, knowing exactly how you're going to die. And knowing exactly when you're going to die. Can you imagine living with that? We'd sure live differently, wouldn't we? And this shows up throughout the New Testament. Example: John chapter 7 verse 30, "They sought to take him but his hour had not yet come." John chapter 13, verse 1, "Jesus knew that his hour had come that he should depart from the world." John 17 verse 1, he's praying now to the Father in heaven, "Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son that your Son may also glorify you." And listen to this statement, this is Jesus talking to the twelve disciples before his time of suffering, "Now my heart is troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father save me from this hour.' No. It was for this very reason that I came to this hour." You see, the whole focus of Jesus' life was the cross. And he regarded any philosophy, anything that would distract him from the cross was satanic. That's why when he talks to Peter here, he says, "Get behind me Satan." He's not calling Peter the devil, he's simply saying, "I recognize that voice, I've heard this philosophy before, it is satanic in origin." Go back in your mind to the time Jesus was tempted in the wilderness for forty days. It says the devil came to him and the devil showed him all the kingdoms of this world, right? Remember what he said, "If you'll bow down and worship me, I'll give them to you. They're yours. Because,' said the devil, ‘they are mine and I can give them to whomsoever I will.'" You see the devil knew why Jesus had come. He had come to redeem the world back to the Father. He had come to go to the cross to accomplish that. But Satan is in effect saying, "you don't have to go the hard way of the cross. You don't have to suffer. I know why you're here. You've come to redeem the world. I'll give it to you if you just indulge me and worship me for just a moment.' And Jesus said, ‘Away with you Satan.'" And now to Peter, "Get behind me Satan." Same philosophy, to keep Jesus from the cross. It's very interesting to me that Satan knew the power of the death of Christ and the importance of the cross. Oswald Chambers put it this way, "All of heaven, all of heaven is interested in the cross of Christ. And all hell is terribly afraid of it. While men are the only beings who more or less ignore its meaning."
The cross is the ladder to heaven. Jesus knew that and Satan knew that. And so the shadow of the cross was on the path of Jesus in his life and he predicted his own death. That's number one. Number two, let's go back a little further on the timeline to another point in history. This time the baptism of Jesus, just about three years before, three and a half years before the cross. He goes before the Jordan River and the John the Baptist, the forerunner of Jesus Christ as he is called predicts the death of Jesus Christ. Now John the Baptist was Jesus' cousin, a little bit older than him, six months older than him. John believed that his cousin Jesus was the Messiah. By the way John, if you don't know, was that crazy-looking prophet who was down at the Jordan River, he ate bugs, he dressed like a hippie and his favorite word was what? Repent. I've always like John, he said it like it was, he didn't care what people thought about him, he lived to glorify and please God. But he had a little bit of an edge to him. Sometimes some would think even too much of an edge. He knew that his cousin was the Messiah, but he thought, at first at least, that he was the living judge, not the dying savior. It's not what he through the would be. His words were pretty straight up. Among his first sermons was this, "You brood of vipers. Who has warned you to flee from the wrath that is to come?" And he quotes Isaiah chapter 40, "I am the voice of one crying out in the desert, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord.'" And then listen to this, some think he's alluding to Isaiah chapter 4, "His winnowing fan is in his hand and he will thoroughly clean out the threshing floor and gather the wheat into his barn. And he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire." Get it? Wrath, fire, judgment; that's how he sees it. And all of that is true, it will be true when Jesus comes the second time. He will come as the living judge. But before that he must come as the dying savior. Now something happened to John. Follow me here. Here's John preaching this edgy message and something happens to him. Number one, Jesus shows up at the Jordan River. And John looks up and then Jesus asks for something that John was stunned by. He says, "John, baptize me." Remember John's reaction? "I can't baptize you. I recognize who you are. This is for sinful people. I'm not going to baptize you." "John, let it happen buddy boy. Allow it to be so for thus we must fulfill all righteousness." This is shocking to John, now John realizes, ‘This one is going to be identified with sinful people, not yell at them, he's going to identify with them.' So he baptizes him.
That's number one. Number two, when Jesus comes out of the water, the heavens open and the Holy Spirit comes in the form of a what? A dove. Now strip away all of the Christian stuff we have attached to the dove, think of the dove in terms of a 2000-year-old Jewish person. When they saw a dove they thought of one thing: sacrifice, because you se you would bring a lamb for sacrifice in the temple, unless you were poor like the people who were around the Jordan, and the poor people brought a dove for their sacrifice. I think that was a tipoff for John, a hint, here's somebody identifying with sinners, here's this bird of sacrifice appearing in the sky. Then Jesus leaves for six weeks and goes to the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. Then he comes back to the Jordan six weeks later and that's recorded in the gospel of John chapter 1. Goes back again. This time John looks up and sees Jesus and he says, "Behold the Lamb of God which takes away the sin of the world." A very different message, a very different realization. No more strong denunciations of judgment as much as recognizing the one who will take the punishment and judgment upon himself and that is the Messiah. Now I can't prove it but I think that for those six weeks while Jesus was in the desert, maybe John was going through that scroll of Isaiah again. And he kept reading and he found Isaiah 53 which ways he was led as a lamb to the slaughter and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. You see, John at one time only saw Jesus through the ultimate act of judging people for their sin. But now he sees Jesus through the intermediate act of dying for the sin of people. A very, very different view. Here he's denouncing people, "You're a bunch of lawbreakers." Now he is rejoicing in the savior who will bear the sin that caused our shame and alienation. If you've never read Pilgrim's Progress please read it at least once in your life. Spurgeon read it twice a year, just to stay fresh with it. It's an allegory, it's a story of a person called Christian who leaves his town called the City of Destruction and he's on his way to the Celestial City, he's on his way to heaven. He has to go through a narrow gate, he's on his path. And he's carrying a backpack, a pack of his sins and the broken laws that he can never seem to fix. He's just burdened by his own incapacity to please God. And there's a part in the story that John Bunyan writes, "I saw in my dream that just as Christian came to the cross that his burden loosed from off of his shoulders and fell from his back and began to tumble until it came to the mouth of the sepulchre or the tomb, where it fell in and I saw it no more." It's beautiful. "I'm walking around carrying the broken law and I'm burdened by my own sin." Now John sees the shadow of the cross, here is the Lamb of God who will take away the sin of the world. So Jesus predicted his death. And John the Baptist, the forerunner, predicted his death.
Now let's go back a little bit further in our timeline, to the birth of Jesus. We discover that the visitors at Jesus' birth also predicted his death. Now Jesus had a unique birth, in fact the most unique birth, wouldn't you agree? When he was born, a star lit up the sky, angels attested to his coming, magi from the East followed through later on. That didn't' happen when you were born. It didn't happen when I was born. There were no angels in that room. My mom thought I was an angel, she was the only one. In fact I looked up on Google what happened the day I was born, about all that really happened is President Eisenhower (now some of you are going, there was a guy named Eisenhower who was a President? Yeah.) President Eisenhower signed into law minimum wage going up to one dollar, that was a long time ago. On the day I was born, the Brooklyn Dodgers (that was a long time ago) the Brooklyn Dodgers beat the New York Yankees in the World Series. That's it. But when Jesus was born, the shadow of the cross fell across that birth. Even the angel that gave Joseph the message that Mary was pregnant said, "Joseph, you will call his name Jesus because he will save his people from their sins." That's the shadow of the cross. He has come to save people from their sins, speaking of the cross.
When the skyline in Bethlehem lit up with the angelic hosts they said to the shepherds, "There is born to you this day in the city of David a savior who is Christ the Lord." That's the shadow of the cross falling across the manger. Later on when the magi did come to Bethlehem and they brought their gifts. They brought gold, fitting for a king. They brought frankincense, it was the spice of the priesthood, the priests would use that in the peace offering, grind up frankincense. So that fits: gold, he's going to rule one day; frankincense, he's going to be our great high priest. But the third gift was a little bit odd you have to admit, myrrh, that was an embalming fluid in ancient times. Now talk about a gift that bombs. You open up gold, "Well I can't believe it, this is amazing." And frankincense, "Wow that must have cost you a pretty penny." Then you open up embalming fluid, you go, "Hmmmm, okay, well thank you." What could all this mean? One of the things it could mean is predicting why he had come. By the way, myrrh gives off a scent only when it's crushed. Isn't that interesting? Isaiah 53 says of Christ, "He is pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities." The later they bring Jesus to the temple after his birth to be dedicated. What an exciting day for parents, they're bringing Jesus to the temple, this is the day. And there's Simeon in the temple, he's been waiting for this for a long time. Simeon takes Jesus, thanks God for it, then he turns to Joseph and Mary and says, "This child will be for the fall and rising of many in Israel as a sign that will be spoken against." Then he turns to Mary and he says, "And a sword will pierce your own heart." It was predictive of her being at the cross watching her son die. Now we don't know when it dawned on Mary and Joseph that this little baby turned child had a specific task and the task was death. But they had to come to that realization. Max Lucado wrote a book years ago in which he imagines the night Jesus was born in Bethlehem that Mary is understanding this. And it's a little chapter called "Mary's Prayer." Lucado, as if Mary writing says this, "Rest well tiny hands for though you belong to a king, you will touch no satin, you will own no gold, you will grab no pen, you will guide no brush. No, your tiny hands are reserved for works more precious. To touch a leper's open wound, to wipe a widow's weary tear, to claw the ground of Gethsemane. Your hands, so tiny, so tender, so white; clutch tonight in an infant's fist but they are not destined to hold a scepter nor to wave from a palace balcony. They are reserved instead for a roman spike that will staple them to a Roman cross. Imagine coming to the awareness that the very purpose of your child's life was his death. Now we as parents raise children and we have life planned for them. We plan life, we want them to live, maybe become a doctor, a businessperson, an influential, whatever it might be; we're planning life, we certainly don't think of the plan for that child being their death. The shadow of the cross fell upon Joseph and Mary at the birth of Christ.
Now let's go back a little bit further in our timeline, to the Old Testament, and we discover that he cross was there as well. Even the prophets themselves predicted the suffering and death of Christ. Now some of you know that the Old Testament, there are 300+ predictions of who the Messiah would be, where he'd come from, where he'd be born, what he would accomplish, how he would live his life. And some of those include his suffering and death. The Jews had always believed in a coming Messiah. Here's the typical prayer: "I believe in the coming of Messiah. And even though he tarries, yet I will wait every coming day." But what they were waiting for was not a dying suffering savior but a conquering living king. That's what John the Baptist was looking for, that's what all the disciples were looking for. They didn't think he would come and suffer, he would come and conquer, that's what they thought. Okay, but, before Jesus died, all of the events of his suffering, betrayal, beating, mocking, trial, when Matthew writes about all of them, in Matthew 26 verse 56 listen to what he says, "All of this was done that the scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled." Get that? Matthew is saying the shadow of the cross extends all the way back even into the Old Testament. Even Jesus said that. Jesus rose from the dead and he's walking one day out toward Emmaus and there's a couple of his disciples who saw Jesus get crucified and they're bummed out, their heads are hanging low, "We used to hope in him, it's over now," you know that whole song and dance. And so Jesus comes up to them, now alive, they don't recognize him and he says to them, "You find it so hard to believe all that the prophets wrote in the scriptures. Wasn't it clearly predicted by the prophets that Messiah would have to suffer all of these things before entering his time of glory?" Then Jesus quoted passages from the writings of Moses and all the prophets explaining what all of the scriptures said about himself." Every time I read that passage, I go, "Man, I wish that would have been written down." Don't you? Wouldn't you love to have an MP3 of Jesus' sermon after the resurrection? Wouldn't you love to read what he said and what passages he took them to that were predicted? What did he tell them? No doubt he told them and showed them where the scriptures predict that he will be betrayed for thirty pieces of silver, where the scripture predicts he will be beaten and mocked, where the scripture predicts that he will die with criminals, where the scripture predicts that while he's dying he will pray for those criminals, where the scripture predicts that his garments would be gambled for, where the scripture predicts that in his death he would cry out because of thirst, and where the scripture predicts that none of his bones would be broken. No doubt he took them back to Isaiah chapter 53, no doubt he took them to Psalm 22, which incidentally opens and closes with two sayings that Jesus uttered from the cross. No doubt he took them way back even to Genesis 22 where I believe it first shows up. Remember what happened in Genesis 22? God said to Abraham, "Take now your son, your only son whom you love and sacrifice him on Mount Moriah." Now what's wrong with that passage? What's wrong with it is Abraham didn't have an only son, he had two sons. He had Ishmael, Isaac was the second son, yet God says, "Take now your son, your only son, whom you love." And why that arrests my attention is because any time the Bible first mentions a word or a concept, it's noteworthy. The very first mention in the Bible of the word love is Genesis 22 where God says, "Take now your only son whom you love." And what kind of love is it? It's the love of a father giving his son in sacrifice on Mount Moriah, which will be called a couple of thousand years later Golgotha, same mountain, same spot. And I'm sure with every turn of the prophecy, the disciples are getting wider-eyed going, "I get it. It's predicted." And they see that shadow of the cross falling upon the path. And now we come to Revelation 13 where we began, we come full circle. And this takes us further back, before the life of Christ, before the baptism of Christ, before the birth of Christ, before the prophets and before the patriarchs, and before Creation itself. We're again in verse 8, we read, "The book of life is the Lamb slain from the foundation of the earth." Before Jesus ever came to this earth, when he was in heaven, in glory, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, he knew what was coming down, he came for that purpose, Philippians said he poured himself out and went to the cross. He knew about it in advance. The cross was not Plan B, it's not like Jesus left heaven and he's on earth and now the Father says, "Oh, I forgot to tell you before you left heaven, you've got to go to the cross." He knew that in advance. I Peter chapter 1, "We're saved by the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish and spot, indeed he was foreordained before the foundation of the world." You see the same God who said, "Let us make man in our image was the same God who knew that his image would be marred in man by their sin and would require redemption, thus forgiveness.
So the cross was prepared before Creation, the shadow of the cross goes that far back. The question is, "Skip why are you making such a big issue of this?" I think I'm making a big issue of it because God made a big issue of it first. Second, because, what is that terrific passage in Ephesians chapter 1 verse 4? "You were chosen in him before what? The foundation of the world. The point is: God had you in mind before he created the world. He had you in mind and he chose you but the only way he could purchase you was with his Son. You were chosen before the foundation, thus the plan began for the cross, he was slain from the foundation of the earth. God had you in mind from the beginning.
No wonder Charles Spurgeon used to say, "I can condense all of my theology into four words: He died for me." That's the irreducible minimum, isn't it? He died for me. He died for you. And my prayer is that the shadow of the cross will fall upon you today. And maybe today you will discover that this was the day in the mind of God from eternity past that you would allow the shadow of the cross to impact your life and you would receive Jesus Christ as your savior and your Lord. Let's pray.
Our heavenly Father, we have taken a very very quick and fast-moving tour of the cross in the life of Christ. His birth, before his birth, all the way back into heaven. Before there was any Creation, before there were any galaxies, before there was any earth, your Son in your mind was crucified. And thus we were chosen. And thus we've experienced salvation, it has always been your plan. And forgiveness requires that. Lord, this could be the day for some who are going to make it personal, make it real, make it their own, for they will take the step from this being their parent's belief, or their husband or wife's belief, or child's belief or friend's belief, this becomes theirs and Jesus becomes their Savior. And they get forgiven, all of their sins get washed way, because of the sacrifice of the cross. We pray that would happen. In Jesus' name. Amen.