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Preaching of the Cross (Part 1 of 2)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg
The Truth Network Radio
October 25, 2022 4:00 am

Preaching of the Cross (Part 1 of 2)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg

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October 25, 2022 4:00 am

Many trivialize the significance of the cross because it confronts us with our sin. But listen to Truth For Life as Alistair Begg explains why the cross is actually central to Christian faith and preaching, even when we’re studying Old Testament passages.


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Exploring and examining the cross of Christ can make us uncomfortable. It confronts us with our sin, and as a result, many people try to trivialize the cross's significance, even within the church. Today on Truth for Life, Alistair Begg explains why Jesus and the cross are central to the Christian faith, and why they need to be central to our preaching. James Denny, the Scottish theologian, in what has been one of the classic books of the late 20th century on the death of Christ, writes as follows. The death of Jesus is in some sense the center and consummation of his work. It is because of it that his risen life is the hope which it is to sinful men. And it needs no apology, therefore, if one who thinks that it has less than its proper place in preaching and theology endeavors to bring out, as simply as possible, its place and meaning in the New Testament.

I determine that we'll ask of our subject this evening three straightforward questions. The first question, why is it necessary to address the issue of the centrality of the cross? The second question, what is the plain and obvious emphasis of Scripture on this matter? And the third question, to which we will probably give a very small amount of time, how then should we live in light of the centrality of the cross? First of all, then, why is it necessary to address the issue of the centrality of the cross? Can we not simply assume its central place and move quickly on to the matter of its meaning?

To that we have to answer, sadly and emphatically, no. When Denny wrote, he was addressing the issue of the cross and identifying the fact that then it had less than its proper place in preaching and theology. And if that was true in 1950 in Scotland, loved ones, it is certainly true in a continental United States.

Why is that? Well, we could spend a long time suggesting various reasons, and any attempt to give a cogent answer must inevitably be selective rather than exhaustive. Why does the cross, as it were, in the minds of people and in the proclamation of ministers and in the expressions of the faithful, find itself fighting for a central place? Well, one of the reasons is on account of the rejection of the cross by other religions. In the pluralistic and syncretistic environment in which we live, Christianity stands alone on a number of fronts, and not least of all in this most central aspect of the cross. And in our day, as various people suggest, that perhaps we have been a little too bold and forceful in some matters, and we might be more endearing to other religions if we were to soften around the edges, it is well worth recognizing that other religions are very, very clear, even if some within the realm of Christendom are tempted to theological vagueness. Secondly, it is a challenge because of the marginalization of the cross by liberal scholarship. The contemporary notions to which I refer is the idea that, for example, Jesus was the great ethicist, that the essence of Christianity is to be found in the Sermon on the Mount, or that the essential elements of Christianity have to do with liberation theology, that what we have in Christ is an emancipator, but certainly not a savior. In the kind of teaching which fails to define the incarnation by its relationship to the atonement, but speaks only of the incarnation of Christ with a kind of theology which begins and ends with peace on earth and brotherly love, but which affords absolutely no place, let alone a central place to the fact that Christ died for our sins. And many young men who are going in in these days to the discovery and study of theology find that coming out of a background in which they have been convicted of and convinced by the truth of the centrality of the cross are bombarded not simply by the pluralism of worldviews which are beyond them, but by the liberalization and marginalization of essential truths of the gospel. Now, there's a sense in which this is no surprise to us at all.

We do well not to take a great deal of time with it. So let me spend a little longer on what is the most tragic dimension of it all. And that is this, the confusion in modern evangelicalism in relationship to this issue. We're not surprised by the anti-pathetic nature of world religions. We have grown accustomed to the marginalizing of essential elements of theology from those who reject the authenticity and sufficiency of Scripture. But what we're unprepared for, and in many cases unalert to, is the fact that within the framework of conservative Christianity, we have still yet to fight for the centrality of the cross. Let me explain to you what I mean.

And you're sensible people, you need to judge for yourselves whether my observation is accurate. In other words, it is possible to be in an evangelical church and not hear the cross preached. I'm not suggesting that in not hearing it preached we don't hear it referred to. But hearing it referred to is not the same as hearing it preached. But the rehearsing of clichés that have evangelical buzzwords in them, and the sounding out of evangelical mantras, dare not be equated with giving to the cross the place that the Scriptures give it, namely a central place in life and doctrine and worship and ministry and evangelism and practice. The central emphasis of the cross declares its necessity, establishes its meaning, namely that it is substitutionary, that it is propitiatory, that it is efficacious, etc.

And also, in its seeking to do that, that does not shy away from its offense. You see, when we redefine the essence of the human predicament in terms of a lack of self-esteem, in modern psychological terms, then we will inevitably find people being offered a couch rather than brought to a cross, being introduced to a psychologist rather than being confronted by a savior. When the battle is redefined in political terms and that is made central, then what the Bible says is central becomes inevitably peripheral. And if evangelicalism has been good about one thing in the last fifty years, it has surely been good about this, namely taking what is central and making it peripheral and thereby allowing what is peripheral to take the central place. And we could discuss this well and late into the night, with many, many illustrations. The trivialization of the cross amongst those of us who ought to know better is observable in many different ways. For example, have you been in attendance upon a worship service where someone has given a talk that has essentially been an appeal to the felt needs of men and women present, has been a sort of jumbled concoction of self-help theory and well-meaning clichés, has offered to people the opportunity to fulfill their dreams, to meet head-on their aspirations, and to develop their affections. And then, either out of a sense of conscience, and just when no one is expecting it, the minister adds this little coda at the end. It goes something like, and if any of you are here tonight and have never considered the cross of Jesus Christ, you might like to check it out.

There's absolutely no connection to anything that has gone before. It's trotted out in the most trivialized and sorry way. If you talk to that individual, he'll probably tell you that he believes in the centrality of the cross. Then if he believes it, he should make it central in his preaching.

Why is it necessary to establish this at the very outset? Because of the challenge that we face out there in our contemporary culture, within the framework of those who embrace Christendom in marginalized, liberal circles. But perhaps most challenging of all, in some of our smug, self-satisfied congregations, where as long as we hear the right kind of phrases routinely trotted out, we assume that we're actually on track, and that the cross is central in all that we're doing. You see, the cross confronts sin and humbles the proud. How then can you possibly preach to a congregation and constantly tell them that they're such a wonderful group of people, and we want you to go out as happy as you possibly can, and God does not want you to leave disappointed or disgruntled? I was worshiping in Southern California in the summertime, and in the course of what was essentially the David Letterman show with a theological twist, the pastor, who's a dear soul, stood up at the end and assured all of us that God did not want any of us to go away feeling any other way at all except just fantastic. Well, you see, we're at a very difficult time bringing contemporary men and women to the foot of the cross of Jesus Christ and telling them that the most obvious response should be to grab for their car keys and go out feeling fantastic. We say, peace, peace, when there is no peace. And we seek to heal the condition of our people lightly, and all the time believe that the cross is central in our preaching and theology. Now, some of you may say, Well, I think that's a little hard.

I think it's a little off. That's okay. We can talk about that. In fact, I'm prepared to dialogue on that.

What I'm not really prepared to move on is what I'm now about to do. Because my second question is, what is the plain and obvious emphasis of the Bible in this issue? And here we can speak with absolute confidence and forcefulness. When Paul writes to the Corinthians, as we read, he determines that this is of primary importance, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures. Now, I do hope you have your Bibles, because I want you to turn up your Bibles to make sure that what I'm saying is actually in the Bible. Now, we have to be selective.

We can't be exhaustive. And let's begin in Luke chapter 24. You know the story in Luke chapter 24? It follows upon the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. The fellows are going down the road, totally disappointed and disgruntled as a result of the fact that as far as they can tell, salvation history has ended in the cul-de-sac of a Palestinian tomb. And as they're walking, alongside comes Christ himself.

They are kept from recognizing him. And in the course of discussion, we read in the 26th verse, in fact, verse 25, He said to them, How foolish you are and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory? And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. If you look forward to verse 44, He said to them now in his further appearance to the disciples, This is what I told you while I was still with you.

Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets and the psalms. Then he opened their minds so that they could understand the Scripture, and he told them, This is what is written, The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations. Now if there is one sermon that any of us might have enjoyed listening to, it surely must be this one. To have had the privilege of standing there or sitting down and listening to Christ himself expounding the theme, Christ in all the Scriptures. To have Christ himself take these disciples through the Bible and to point out the absolute essential dimensions of the cross as it appeared, through the Passover, the serpent in the wilderness, and so many different places.

Where did he go? Did he remind them of his words from the cross, that three of them came from the Psalms? Did he turn them back to Psalm 22 as he rehearsed his statement, My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Did he remind them of the 69th Psalm in the statement, I am thirsty, and unfold that for them? Did he turn them to the 31st Psalm and explain how it was and why it was that he chose to use those words to say, Into your hands I commend my spirit. And do you think that he went all the way through the prophets and didn't turn to Isaiah chapter 53? And drive home once and for all into the minds of these yet unconvinced and uninitiated dear souls, the absolute central place of his dying, of his suffering, and of his cross. He reminded them that he was simply doing again what he had done to them for them when he had been with them.

But they weren't real quick on the pickup. Turn to Mark's Gospel and to chapter 8. Jesus says, This is what I was telling you when I was still with you.

And their minds would have gone back. Mark chapter 8, verse 31. He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this.

And then look at this. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. If we might say so reverently, Christ himself could not get it through the minds of these disciples that his death was central to the whole issue. He comes back to it in chapter 9 and in verse 31 saying the same thing. He was teaching his disciples. He said to them, The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men.

They will kill him and after three days he will rise. Notice again, but they did not understand what he meant and they were afraid to even ask him about it. Chapter 10 of Mark's Gospel in verse 32. They were on their way up to Jerusalem with Jesus leading the way and the disciples were astonished while those who followed were afraid. That'll preach, won't it?

Especially two words beginning with A, you know. Oh, you preachers should write that down. Astonished disciples and afraid individuals.

It's a good start. And again, he took the twelve aside and he told them what was going to happen. Guys, I'm going to tell you this again.

It's the third time now. We're going up to Jerusalem. Yes, Lord, we got that point.

Yeah, but listen. The Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death.

We'll hand him over to the Gentiles who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him and three days later he will rise. Why was it that the disciples, even after the empty tomb, could not believe what the women were telling them? They told the ladies, you know, you're crazy on resurrection morning.

Why was this? Because Jesus always spoke about his death and his resurrection in conjunction with each other. And since they had closed their minds to the dreadful prospect of his death, there had been no place in the computer of their thinking for the reality of his resurrection, for the two things were interwoven.

They could not think about the possibility of this cruel end, and having shunned from that, they had no place for the prospect of a resurrection. Now, when we go through the Gospels, and that's as much as we'll do in this, what characterized the last month of the Lord Jesus' life was a deliberate attempt to teach his disciples about his death. And when you read the Gospels, it becomes perfectly clear that the death of Christ, the cross of Christ and its significance, is given a disproportionate amount of time in each of these Gospel records.

It is quite clear that the author in each case had no intention of simply writing a biography of the Lord Jesus. But everything in the Gospels is arranged to lead up to the climax of the cross itself, and in a moment in time, the expression of the great covenant of redemption from all of eternity when the Father and the Son and the Spirit have been determined in the framework of their mutuality and co-equality. How this amazing plan of redemption will unfold in the experience of history. And that's why when we read these Gospel records, we find ourselves again and again and again being brought to this central emphasis. And that, you see, is why all this emphasis on the incarnation, which is disengaged from the atonement, which gives to the incarnation its significance, is a serious and mistaken side street. Now, what am I doing?

I'm simply doing what I've been asked to do. What is the place of the cross? What is the central place of the cross?

Well, it's central. As we've heard today, it is vital for us to keep the cross of Christ at the center, not only of our worship and our ministry, but also of our lives and our conversations. You're listening to Truth for Life. That is Alistair Begg with a message called Preaching of the Cross.

We'll hear the conclusion tomorrow. The Bible teaches us that every good and perfect gift comes from above, and we know this is true, but the frequency with which we express our gratitude to God for his good and perfect gifts might not always reflect that. Do we live each day with genuine thankfulness in our hearts for all that God has provided? With Thanksgiving just around the corner, we want to recommend to you a book titled The Grumbler's Guide to Giving Thanks. This is not just a book for the Thanksgiving season, though.

This is a book that's perfect for every day of the year. Do you know somebody who's a grumbler? Are you a grumbler? Well, The Grumbler's Guide begins with a gratitude quiz to help you discover where you land on a scale from grateful to grumbling. You might be surprised, and if you'd like to assess yourself, we've actually posted the quiz on our website at slash quiz. Find out how to live a more thankful life.

Request your copy of the book The Grumbler's Guide to Giving Thanks when you give a donation on the app or at slash donate. And you might want to practice adjusting your attitude aboard the deeper faith 2023 Mediterranean cruise. Alistair is going to be the guest speaker on the voyage. It sails from Rome, Italy on August 26th, 2023. Find out more when you visit

You can book your cabin online as well. I'm Bob Lapine. When the wonder and the majesty of the cross truly grips your life, what kind of difference should that make in how you think and how you behave? That's our focus tomorrow. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life, where the Learning is for Living.
Whisper: medium.en / 2022-11-12 13:22:14 / 2022-11-12 13:31:06 / 9

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