The Truth of the Crucifixion
© C. O. Bishop 12/5/14 THCF 12/7/14
“O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you?”
Paul is gently berating the Galatian believers: he states that they clearly had known the truth—that Jesus had been clearly displayed among them as having been crucified— and that there was a “truth” involved to which they had been “obedient”, but now were being persuaded to disobey.
So, perhaps we need to look a little more closely, to find out what the truth was, and how they had obeyed it, and why Paul says they are now disobeying it, so that we can gain understanding for our own lives, and avoid the trap to which they had fallen prey.
How does one obey or disobey a “truth?”
When Moses lifted up the bronze serpent in the wilderness (Numbers 21), the people were under a judgment from God, because of sin. The judgment involved thousands of venomous snakes migrating through the path of the children of Israel: many people were bitten, and many died. When the bronze serpent was hung up on the pole, the command was to “look and live!” They did not magically get rid of the venom—they did not immediately have the fang-marks in their bodies healed: they simply did not die. Had they not believed God’s promise through Moses enough to look to the serpent on the pole they would have died, regardless of their best efforts.
Consider: when we hear the truth of the Gospel, we can either believe it, to the extent of personally placing our trust in the completed work of Jesus at the Cross, or not believe it…and place our trust in something else. If we choose to trust in something else, we will eventually die in our sins regardless of our best efforts.
So, what if they had looked, believing, but the pain of the snake-bite and the earnest voices of their friends persuaded them to try some home-remedies anyway, perhaps just to lessen the pain? Did God rescind His promise and see to it that they died? No—the promise was sure—but the best their own efforts could do was to alleviate symptoms. Without that initial faith, to look to God’s solution for sin, they would have died.
In our own lives, we may have at one time trusted God to save us from our sins…but later have fallen prey to some persuasive philosophy, or our own unbelief, and have come to believe that if we do not hold our hands right when we pray, God will not hear us—or that if we do not perform some other ritual correctly, or avoid certain behaviors, etc., then God will reject us after all, and that the blood of Jesus at the Cross was, in fact, ineffective. At that point, we are disobeying the truth, because we are no longer dependent upon the Grace of the living God, and the effect of His Grace is lessened in our lives, simply because we are no longer receptive to Him…we are depending on our own works, and trying to earn His favor. Human religion can alleviate symptoms, but cannot deal with the curse of Sin. Jesus deals with the curse first, and then proceeds to deal with symptoms throughout our lives.
The Truth of the Gospel
So what is the “Truth” of the Gospel, and how do we “obey it” initially…and, more to the point, how do we obey it on an ongoing lifelong basis?
Paul recites the facts of the Gospel in 1st Corinthians 15:3, 4, where he says that he had delivered to the Corinthians what had been delivered to Him—the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. In Romans 1:16 he states that this Gospel, being believed in, is the power of God to save those who believe—whether Jews or non-Jews. Here in Galatians he only alludes to it because they already know the facts—and have already believed them. He says that Jesus and His crucifixion had been clearly presented among them…and that they had understood it.
The truth of the Gospel involves two or three main concepts, depending on how one wants to outline the facts:
- Man is lost, and cannot save Himself (which is bad news), and
- God is Gracious, and has provided for salvation through the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. (That’s the Good News!)
- All God has asked Man to do is to place his trust in that Gracious gift.
Every one of us here has heard that truth, regarding the Crucifixion, and has placed his/her trust in that gift. But the question is: can we, like the people of Israel, be guilty of turning our eyes away from the Grace of God and return to our own works? The answer, of course, is yes, we can.
So, let’s look at five aspects of the Crucifixion, and see how we can be “obedient to the truth”.
The Crucifixion was Personal
One thing I have run into periodically when attempting to share the Gospel, is the response that “Yes, I know Jesus died for our sins!” or “Well, of course, he died for the whole world!”, but when I try to pin it down, as to whether His blood was the payment for the sins of that particular individual, he or she hedges and reverts to “ …he died for the world”, or something similar.
That is a little like saying “everyone at work today signed a petition to recall the dog-catcher (or whatever)”…then someone asks “did you sign it?” and all they can get for an answer is “everyone signed it!” I am left to think that, either they did not sign the petition, or they are ashamed of having done so.
Did Jesus die for you personally? Are your sins what put him on that cross? If they are not, then you are missing the point of the Crucifixion. When the nation of Israel initially celebrated Passover, the requirement was that every single person should eat of that Passover lamb. It was not enough to just be part of Israel, or even to just be part of a household that had the blood on the lintel and doorposts: Everyone was to eat of it…personally. I must personally place my trust in Jesus’ blood payment for my personal sins.
The Crucifixion was Vicarious
When we watch adventure movies, or read adventure novels, the idea is that we can experience the wild or dangerous or creepy thing that is in the book or movie without any personal risk. I may enjoy watching some athlete pole-vault over an 18-foot bar, or shoot through some terrible rapids in a kayak, but I am never going to try it myself. I experience his victory vicariously by watching. This is called a vicarious thrill, but it is a weak example:
Webster defines “vicarious” as
1: a: serving instead of someone or something else, b: that which has been delegated <vicarious authority>
2: that which is performed or suffered by one person as a substitute for another or to the benefit or advantage of another: substitutionary <a vicarious sacrifice>
3: that which is experienced or realized through imaginative or sympathetic participation in the experience of another <a vicarious thrill>
The first two definitions are the ones we want, here: Jesus died in my place (2nd definition) because he had the delegated authority from God to do so (1st definition), therefore I died through him when I confirmed that delegation of authority, by faith. I did not have to personally be crucified, or have the full Wrath of God poured out upon me…I experienced it through Christ—he did it as my designated substitute.
The Crucifixion was Substitutionary
This is a part of the definition of “vicarious”, of course, but it carries a stronger idea. We have a hard time with this idea, because it carries the meaning that, “when Jesus died as my substitute, I died!”
2nd Corinthians 5:14, 15 is a difficult passage, but critical to understanding our position in Christ: It says …”that, if one died for all, then were all dead: and that he died for all that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves but unto him who died for them, and rose again.” We can either accept this as a fact, and try to learn to believe it and live it experientially, or shrug it off as a mystery, and leave it for the theologians to fight over. That may be a tempting option, but it is really not a live option for a believer, simply because the scripture is absolutely true: if you have placed your faith in Christ then you are dead with him…the substitute completed the transaction in your name, and the transaction is complete! So now, whether you understand it or not, and whether you choose to respond well or not, you have a new position in Christ…and you are dead to sin…dead to the World, dead to the Law. You cannot “fit in” as do the unsaved folk around you—because you have been permanently separated from them through death. You no longer belong to the world community. You are an outcast with Christ, and are an ambassador for Him.
The Crucifixion was Efficacious
When Jesus uttered his final words from the Cross, it included one Greek word that is pretty important to us: the word “tetelestai”. It was translated “It is finished”, which is fine enough as far as an English translation goes, but, because English has so many variable and alternate meanings for words, I misunderstood this statement for years. I thought Jesus was simply saying “It’s all over! I’m gonna die now!” I thought it was the voice of defeat…but in fact, it was the opposite. It was the voice of victory!
He was actually confirming that the job He was sent to do was fully accomplished. Nothing was left to do. All the work was done. He had said earlier that he was sent to save sinners. John the Baptist had pointed him out, (John 1:29) saying, prophetically, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sins of the World!” So—if that was what he had come to do, and if what he shouted from the Cross was that the job was complete, then I have to believe that it is true…that there is nothing left to do, in order to secure my salvation. There is no work that can be added to his completed work at the Cross.
Further, his blood successfully paid the sin debt for the whole world…there will never be a person born for whom He did not make full payment. I will never meet someone who is not on His “list”—he desires their salvation, and He has already paid the full price for it. That means, if I am living for Him, then I should desire it too—and not just as a “back-burner” afterthought—it was foremost in his mind, and should be for me, too.
The Crucifixion was Final
One of the things pointed out in the book of Hebrews, very strongly, is that, unlike the year-by-year renewed and repeated blood-sacrifices that continually covered sin, Jesus made a one-time-only blood-sacrifice that took away sin. Hebrews 10:3, 4 clearly states that those sacrifices were repeated yearly, because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. Contrast Hebrews 10:10, 12, “…we are sanctified (made holy) through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” And “But this man (Jesus) after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God.”
There is no further work to be done to pay for my salvation—it is secure forever…but if I am going to live for him, then I need to learn to see the World and the Church and all of Life through His eyes. I need to see my own life as completely belonging to Him. Remember? “I am Crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
Conclusion: How can I obey the Truth?
I believe that Jesus died for me, personally—so that should make me aware that, when I sin (and I still do), those sins are part of what put Him on the Cross. This should not be a thing to be “taken for granted”. It is a serious issue.
I can be grateful that He acted in my place, vicariously, so that I do not have to personally experience the wrath of God.
I can daily practice the awareness by faith, that when He died as my substitute, I died—and that my life is never to be the same again. I am dead to the Law, dead to Sin, and dead to the World. That should be my daily concern, to live by faith in that fact.
I should have a genuine heart for the lost around me, knowing that Jesus paid for all their sins, and that their salvation is the primary concern of Christ for the World. We, as believers, have been given the job of being His ambassadors—his representatives—so we are to act in His behalf, and expressing His desires, pursuing His goals.
Finally; I can maintain the awareness that there is nothing to be added to the perfect and final Sacrifice of Christ except thanksgiving, worship, praise and Love. Romans 12:1-3 states that my reasonable service of worship is to offer myself a living sacrifice, so that He can live through me, and bless those around me through my life.
So: what was the issue with those believers in the province of Galatia? The problem was that though they certainly had known and believed the Gospel, they had later allowed someone to lure them away from at least some of the above five points, and were beginning to add works to Grace, and, effectively, to replace Grace with Law. Thus, all five realities of the Gospel of Grace had ceased to be a working reality in their lives. That is why Paul said in Galatians 5:4 “…ye have fallen from Grace”. Jesus was having no real effect in their lives, anymore, because they had embraced a “do-it-yourself” plan of approaching God, whereas Jesus had said “No man cometh unto the Father but by Me!” Did it affect their salvation? Of course not! But it terribly affected their peace and assurance, and their walk with God. They were trying to “remodel” God’s work with their own works.
As believers, with the full advantage of the written Word of God, let us try to keep in mind the full implications of the Cross, and not fall into the same trap as did the Galatian believers. Guard against legalism, and strive to embrace your new position in Christ, by faith. Yes, the result will be obedience; but it will be the result of Grace and faith, rather than Law.