Is there anything different about you that might cause a friend or a coworker or even a stranger to suspect that you are a Christian? When the wonder and majesty of the cross truly grips your life, what kind of difference should that make in how you think and how you behave? Alistair Begg makes that our focus today on Truth for Life as he explores the practical application of living out a cross-focused life. Now when we go through the Gospels, 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. When you go into the Acts of the Apostles, what do you find? The Apostles hit the streets, and what are they talking about? You crucified this Jesus, and God has raised him from the dead. And as you go through the Acts of the Apostles, there are some 14 occasions that I managed to count where the cross is directly and expressly preached. Indeed, it is impossible to understand the unfolding and developing theology and expressions of it by these men on the streets of the developing world, except for their emphasis on the centrality of the cross. We preach Christ crucified, Paul says to the Corinthians.
When he writes to the Galatians, he reminds them of what happened in the founding of the church in the Galatian Valley. Before your very eyes, he says, Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. And the word which is used there is the word for placarded. It is placarded, he says, in the same way as you drive from O'Hare Airport and into the center of the city, and you're confronted by these huge signs calling out all kinds of things to do and places to go and things to purchase.
It is all placarded there that all might see. That's the very word which Paul uses. He says, now, when I came to Galatia, I placarded the message of the crucified Christ for all to see.
The tense, incidentally, is a perfect, passive participle, which speaks to the abiding significance of a once for all sacrifice. It was central in the planting of the church in Galatia. It was absolutely crucial for these wandering Galatian folks to be brought again to the central emphasis. And it remains the abidingly significant factor at the heart of all genuine biblical Christianity. When you come to the epistles, the cross is central. First Peter, he mentions it all the time. When you get to the book of Hebrews, what is it about?
You can't understand Hebrews apart from the central place of the cross. The most Old Testament of the New Testament books, Hebrews 9, I think it is, 26 without turning it up, but now he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. Why has he appeared? Why has he appeared in time?
Not just to show us what love is, not simply to be a good man and live as an example, not simply to encourage our interest in egalitarian concerns. He has appeared, incarnation, once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. And when you get to the book of the Revelation, what do you find? It is by the blood of the Lamb that the great multitude is saved. Revelation 7 and verse 10, salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne and to the Lamb. We're gonna spend eternity glorifying the Lamb who was slain. So I for one am very glad to be given the opportunity to rehearse familiar truth, lest we would be in any doubt.
Now let me just say a word before I come to my last question. Interestingly, at least to me, everywhere in the New Testament the cross is at the heart of Christian faith. And indeed, beyond that, when you think in terms of the cross, it speaks to the unity of the totality of the Bible itself. In some ways you can think of your Bible as a book with the answers at the back. Every so often you get a book and you say, well, what does that mean?
And then you turn to the back and it has an explanation. It's quite a good idea, but not a very good idea because it gives the idea somehow or another that the New Testament is simply a key to unlock things, and that is less than true. Or you might like to think of your Bible like a detective novel.
If you read detective novel stories, then you know that there are statements made and little sentences and fragments in the early part of the book that you know probably mean something, but you're not just exactly sure what they mean until that final great denouement where it all becomes clear and all the threads come together. But even that isn't a brilliant way to think about the Bible because it doesn't do it adequately. I can't remember who it was, but someone, a good theologian, classically described it in terms of a two-act drama. Act one can stand alone insofar as it contains information that is understandable within the context of the first act.
Act two can stand alone in the same way, but in point of fact they need one another desperately, and that's why when the fellow said he would meet his wife at seven o'clock and he never showed up until twenty past eight and he finally came into the play under cover of darkness and he sat down beside her and they were already in the second half of the play, he annoyed his wife intensely by constantly saying, what is this about? And she says, if you had only been here for the first act you would understand what was going on. Now you see, loved ones, when you read your Bible and you read of the Passover and when you read of the sacrificial system and you read of the suffering servant and you read of the Calvary Psalms and you read right up to Malachi, you come to the book of Malachi and you're looking down through the corridors of time and you're saying, where does this go? Who is this prophet, priest and king? Who is this suffering servant?
Where is this Pascal lamb? And then you read in the New Testament that it all unfolds in the cross of Christ. We lose our way around our Bibles when we take our eyes off Christ and we lose our way around the Bible when we take our eyes off the cross. Did you ever, were you ever taught this by your Sunday school teacher? If not, you can write it down now.
It's very helpful. In the Old Testament, Christ is predicted. In the Gospels, Christ is revealed. In the Acts, Christ is preached. In the Epistles, Christ is explained. And in the book of Revelation, Christ is expected. You see, if you do not have a central place for the cross, every theological structure eventually crumbles into dust. My final question is simply this.
If then we do need to argue for the central place of the cross in light of what is going on around us and within us, and if the emphasis of the Bible is clearly to establish its centrality, how then should we live in light of the centrality of the cross? Or if you like, so what? Because some of you are probably saying that. So what?
In fact, I hope you are. Because that is the very important thing that we must always do on the basis of a doctrine delineated. For that is what Paul does in the book of Romans. He gives us eight chapters of theology. He spends nine, ten, and eleven on that kind of parenthetical treatment, and then he starts with chapter 12, and he says, some of you are thinking, so what?
Let me tell you. He does the same in the book of Ephesians, the doctrinal indicatives for three chapters, and then he starts chapter 4, and he says, okay, let's move to the moral imperatives. So lest we think that we're simply here to have a little Bible study that simply leaves us at arm's length with, yes, we're very clear now about the centrality of the cross, I don't want any of us to get away just as easy as that. So turn finally to Romans chapter 12, and to the familiar verses one and two. I beseech you, brethren, in view of God's mercy to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God, this is your spiritual act of worship.
Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. What is God's mercy? What is the apex of the mercy of God? Where has God's mercy been manifested to us at Calvary? Mercy there was great, and grace was free, and pardon there was multiplied to me.
So what? You see, in the Old Testament you had a number of sacrifices, but there were two primary elements. One was a sacrifice for the remission of sin, which was propitiatory, and then there was another sacrifice which was offered in thanksgiving for the acceptance of the propitiatory sacrifice, and that second sacrifice was a dedicatory sacrifice. And Paul uses that very framework here in this opening verse of Romans 12. He says, therefore, in view of God's mercy, whereby in his atoning death he has provided propitiation for our sins, I want you, he says, better than that, God demands of us that our very lives would be sacrifices that are dedicatory sacrifices. In other words, the information is provided not simply that we might be better informed, but that we might be made radically different. And it is only when our doctrine is seen in our deeds, when our belief transforms our behavior, when the dimension of this kind of truth stirs a heart, moves a mind, changes a life, redirects a career, transforms the morality of a single guy, changes the way a man does business, revolutionizes a family, that the world outside will begin to look and listen. So here are, I think, four little practical P.S.s.
One. When the cross, when the wonder of the cross of Jesus Christ grips a life, it rules out all my snobbery. There is nothing as horrible as a Christian snob, and there is a lot of snobbery in evangelicalism. And of that, I, we, need to repent. I'm not gonna unpack it all.
Why don't you just hang your hat on the one that most hurts, intellectual snobbery? We'd have a hard time inviting Amos to some of our conferences, wouldn't we? Amos, could you stand up and give us a little bit of your background? Well, yeah, my name's Amos, and I, for some time, I've been looking after fig trees. Anything else?
No, not really. I've done a little bit of shepherding. Amos, I don't think you understand. We're trying to put a brochure together, son. We're trying to, we're trying to draw a crowd here.
Okay, you get the point. There is a great need for sanctified scholarship, so don't misunderstand me. I'm thankful that these guys are smart enough to write the books so that I can read them and then try and make them understandable to you. Intellectual snobbery, social snobbery, theological snobbery, racial snobbery, financial snobbery, evangelical Christianity in America is so horribly bourgeois. Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast. Save in the death of Christ my God, all the vain things that charm me most. I sacrifice them to your blood.
Not have I gotten, but what I received. Grace hath bestowed it, ere I have believed, boasting excluded, and pride I abase, because I'm only a sinner, saved by grace. You see, when the centrality of the cross grips a life, it boots paid to this dreadful snobbery. Secondly, when the cross of Christ grips a life and stirs a heart, the only thing we can do is give ourselves away.
C.T. Studd played cricket for England. His father was a very wealthy man.
He had all the benefits of an Oxbridge education. He had the world at his feet. And he heard someone preaching on the cross. And he went home and he wrote in his journal, if Jesus Christ be God and died for me, then no sacrifice that I could ever make for him could ever be too great. Thirdly, when the cross of Jesus Christ gets hold of my life, it unties my tongue. It unties my tongue. Again, St. Studd, nothing seals the lips and ties the tongue like the poverty of my own spiritual experience.
Ultimately, I say nothing because I have nothing to say. But when the cross of Christ grips a life, as it gripped the life of Peter and John, they'll take the hiding, they'll take the imprisonment, they'll take the talk, they'll listen to the lecture, and they'll walk right back out the door and they will declare Jesus Christ and him crucified. And this is what they will say.
And Luke records it in Acts 4.20. We cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard. Oh, I want to go to Starbucks and just find one soul there and tell them about the cross. Do you? When is the last time that you engaged an unbeliever in a substantive, meaningful conversation concerning the atoning death of the Lord Jesus Christ?
Okay? And don't let's say we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard. When the cross grips a life, it unties the tongue. And lastly, when I bow before the wonder of the cross of Christ, when in a moment—and it often happens to me in worship, in the singing of a hymn, sometimes in the greeting of a friend, sometimes in seeing someone reach out to someone. I don't know what I—it happens in the strangest ways. But every so often, the shadow of the cross casts itself across my path. And I find myself with Peter in the boat, flat down upon my face, saying, depart from me, because I'm a sinful man. Oh, Lord. Amazing grace is all played out.
The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards finished it for everybody for all time. As soon as you take bagpipes and do that to a hymn, you've really done it a great disservice. So let me quote to you, in conclusion, words of the same hymn writer, but very unfamiliar words, somewhat archaic words.
But if you overlook the passage of time, then I think you'll get the point. Newton wrote like this, describing his own pilgrimage. In evil long I took delight, unawed by shame or fear, till a new object struck my sight and stopped my wild career. I saw one hanging on a tree in agonizing blood, who fixed his languid eyes on me as near his cross I stood.
And never to my latest breath can I forget that look. It seemed to charge me with his death, though not a word he spoke. My conscience felt and owned the guilt and plunged me in despair. I saw my sins his blood had spilled and helped to nail him there. Alas, I knew not what I did, but now my tears are vain. Where shall my trembling soul be hid, for I the Lord have slain.
A second look he gave which said, I freely all forgive. This blood is for thy ransom paid. I die that thou mayst live. Thus, while his death my sin displays in all its blackest hue, such is the mystery of grace it seals my pardon to. With pleasing grief and mournful joy my spirit now is filled, that I should such a life destroy, yet live by him I killed. And therein is the centrality of the cross. Let us bow in a moment of prayer. O make me understand it, help me to take it in, what it meant for thee, the Holy One, to bear away my sin. Amen. It is at the foot of the cross of Christ that we come face to face with our sin.
But it's also where we come face to face with our Savior and his amazing grace. You're listening to Truth for Life with Alistair Begg. Our current series, which is called The Pastor's Study, was originally presented to an audience of church leaders. If you'd like to hear all of the messages in this series, you can listen to them for free on our mobile app or on our website at truthforlife.org.
The complete study also comes on a convenient USB for just $5. You'll find that in our online store at truthforlife.org slash store. Now I think you know this is Pastor Appreciation Month and because of that we've prepared a list of recommended books, teaching series, and articles to help pastors and elders with Christ-centered preaching. All of these resources are available either for free or you can purchase them at our cost. And whether you're a pastor or you're looking for a gift to give to your pastor, visit truthforlife.org slash pastor and browse through this collection.
We think you'll be surprised at how much you can acquire for just a few dollars. You have probably heard me talk about the book we're featuring this month called The Grumbler's Guide to Giving Thanks. This is a short book that will help you seek out and respond to God's blessings in your life. This is a book that will help you understand how to be truly grateful in all circumstances, the good and the bad. There's even a 30-day gratitude challenge in the back of the book and if you start right away you can complete that challenge by Thanksgiving Day. Request your copy of The Grumbler's Guide to Giving Thanks when you give a donation today at truthforlife.org slash donate. I'm Bob Lapine. Join us tomorrow to find out why sound Bible teaching is the church's best marketing strategy. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life, where the Learning is for Living.
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