Faith Reaching for Calvary
[NOTE: The following sermon was preached in Montgomery, AL in October 2019 by A.P. board member Frank Chesser.]
Sin is man’s worst enemy. It crouches at the door of the mind, eager to pollute the source of every human activity. It maintains constant surveillance over the mind, knowing that its capture means the ruin of a man. Sin enters the mind by invitation and supplants its light with darkness. An appalling enumeration of sins that characterized the Gentle world begins with the depiction, “their foolish heart was darkened” (Romans 1:21). John asserts that a man who hates his brother “is in darkness, and walks in darkness, and knows not where he goes, because that darkness has blinded his eyes” (1 John 2:11).
Only Christ and the Gospel can replace darkness with light. Jesus is the “light of the world” (John 8:12). The light of Christ is manifested through the Gospel and its appeal is to the mind, “for out of it are the issues of life” (Proverbs 4:23). The sounds of physical conflict are heard in communities, states, and nations around the world. Entire countries are enmeshed in combat. Implements of war interrupt the routine of life, and peace and serenity are supplanted by chaos, suffering, and death.
But the battlefield of the ages is the mind of man. Satan knows that the Gospel is man’s only hope, and the Gospel addresses the mind. Satan exerts strenuous, incessant effort to keep man’s mind under the dark canopy of sin and error “lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them” (2 Corinthians 4:4). The transition from darkness to light occurs when man obeys the Gospel.
The cross is the pivotal point of all human history. The past, present, and future have as their center, the cross of Christ. The Gospel is God’s power to save, but without the cross, there is no Gospel. Remove the cross and all joy in birth, purpose in life, and hope in death have been destroyed. Erase the cross and every day of life is one unending tragedy. With the cross, everything matters; without the cross, nothing matters.
What is man’s greatest need? Man’s greatest need is not sensational preaching; it is cross-centered preaching. It is not human philosophy; it is Jesus Christ crucified. It is not physical adornment; it is a spirit dipped in blood. It is not a social Gospel; it is the Gospel of the cross. It is not Moses and Sinai; it is Christ and Calvary. “And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:1-2).
From eternity, God knew the cross would be the price that would have to be paid for sin. Sin cannot correct itself. It cannot provide for its own cure. It cannot solve the problems it creates, heal the pain it causes, remove the barriers it constructs, restore the families it destroys, eliminate the suffering it produces, or stop the endless flow of unprepared souls into the world of eternal perdition. Man is powerless in the face of sin. The righteousness of all the righteous of all the ages cannot erase a single sin of a single sinner. The entire angelic host stood helplessly at the reality of Genesis 3:6. It took the perfect life of God’s Son in the flesh to qualify Him to conquer sin in the cross. The sinless life of Christ and His death on the cross enabled God to maintain His holiness, righteousness, and justice, and extend the blessing of reconciliation to all who would embrace the Gospel in the obedience of faith (Romans 3:23-26).
God foreknew the choice that man would make in Eden. How could this be? Because God is omniscient. God confidently asserted to ancient Israel, “I know the things that come into your mind” (Ezekiel 11:5). God knows the number of hairs on every head, and not even a small sparrow can fall from the heavens apart from His knowledge (Matthew 10:29-30). God’s foreknowledge did not negate Adam’s and Eve’s free will. God simply knew the course that man’s free will would take.
Divine foreknowledge of man’s choice in Eden was accompanied by foreknowledge of its only possible cure. Peter announced this truth on Pentecost when he said that Jesus was “delivered by the determined counsel and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23). When a man chooses God by submitting to His will, God chooses him in Christ according to the divine principles intrinsic to the scheme of redemption ordained “before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4). God’s intent to save man by grace through the Gospel “was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began” (2 Timothy 1:9). God’s remedy for sin in the cross “was foreordained before the foundation of the world” (1 Peter 1:20). Jesus was God’s “Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8). God’s plan to reconcile both Jews and Gentiles unto Himself “in one body through the cross” (Ephesians 2:16) was according to the “eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Ephesians 3:11).
Appropriating to one’s soul the sin cleansing power of the cross is accomplished “through faith in his blood” (Romans 3:25). The faith of the Gospel system that enables one to enjoy the forgiveness of sins by grace through blood is the faith that obeys God. It is the “work of faith” (1 Thessalonians 1:3). It is the “faith working through love” (Galatians 5:6). The greatest treatise ever written on the scheme of redemption opens with the phrase, “obedience of faith” (Romans 1:5), and it closes with the phrase “obedience of faith” (Romans 16:26). Between these two massive spiritual pillars is a divine commentary on the Gospel system and the faith that permits man to participate in its provisions.
Paul proceeds to portray the exceedingly sinful state of the Gentile world and its need of Gospel that centers in Christ and the cross (Romans 1:18-32). He then verified the like state of his own brethren in the flesh and depicts the whole of humanity to be “guilty before God” (Romans 3:19) because “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). He points to man’s only hope in God’s spiritual healing by grace “through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24) appropriated to one’s soul “by His blood, through faith” (Romans 3:25). He describes this divine plan as a “law of faith” (Romans 3:27) system that looks to the cross for its liberation from sin. He utilizes Abraham as an example of one who exhibited the obedience of faith that appropriates grace and the need of all men to possess the “faith of Abraham” (Romans 4:16) and not the blood of Abraham.
Consequently, every act of obedience to the will of God is faith making its appeal to the cross of Christ. Such was characteristic of those under the Old Testament, even though they did not possess all of the pieces to the spiritual puzzle of redemption. It was God’s design from eternity to unite all men in the one church by means of the cross of Christ and man’s obedience to the Gospel of Christ. The spiritual remnant from Adam to Pentecost of Acts 2 was unable to grasp the totality of this truth because of insufficient revelation (Ephesians 3:1-6). Even the prophets who prophesied of things concerning Christ and the church did not fully comprehend their own prophecies. Peter speaks of intense, studious efforts by the prophets to unravel some of the mysteries regarding their own prophetic declarations of the “sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow” (1 Peter 1:11) and of angelic desire for deeper understanding of redemptive truths (1 Peter 1:12).
Though lacking a completed revelation, they were abundantly supplied with sufficient truths to enable them to live before God with a full faith. They understood the nature of God and sin. They perceived their sinful state and their inability to lift a finger to provide for their own redemption. They knew they were wholly dependent on God’s love, grace, and mercy. They understood that God was working toward the consummation of a plan that would secure their redemption. Jesus said, “Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad” (John 8:56). Every act of obedience under the Old Testament and every drop of sacrificial blood offered by the righteous remnant was an act of faith appealing to God’s love and grace for salvation that would culminate in Christ and the cross.
If not for the cross, what value could be attached to Abel’s offering? What benefit could be assigned to Noah’s conformity to the will of God and physical salvation from the Flood, if the cross had never become a reality? Severed from the cross, what gain could one perceive in Abraham’s departure from Ur and the and the offering of his son on the designated mountain in Moriah? Without Calvary, what advantage was it for Moses to suffer four decades of abuse from a nation of ingrates?
Of what value was compliance with the priesthood and sacrifice of Levi without the priesthood and sacrifice of Christ? If Jesus had not assumed flesh, lived a sinless life, and died on the cross, would there be any point in accentuating the difference between striking and speaking to the rock? What real gain could be cited for Israel’s battles and victory over her enemies in Canaan if Christ had not fought and conquered Satan and sin? Of what worth is the submissive disposition of Samuel, “Speak, for your servant hears” (1 Samuel 3:10), if Jesus had not prayed, “Father, if it is Your will, remove this cup from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours be done”? (Luke 22:42).
Eliminate the cross and what profit could be advanced for Judah’s return to Canaan following the Babylonian captivity and restoration of the Temple? Apart from the cross, what was the point of Nebuchadnezzar’s confession of the oneness and sovereignty of God? Is not Nineveh’s penitence irrevocably connected to Calvary? Where lies the significance in the preaching of the prophets if Jesus had not traveled the lonely road to Golgotha? What blessings followed those giants of faith who “were slain with the sword” (Hebrews 11:37) if Jesus had not been slain on the cross?
A completed Gospel was preached on Pentecost of Acts 2. When the remnant complied with the conditions of the Gospel in the obedience of faith, they were added to the church (Acts 2:47). Relative to salvation, faith now assumes a backward posture. It looks back to a consummated scheme of redemption in Christ and the cross. The power of faith is not in the action of faith; it is in the object of faith. There is no power to cure sin in expressions of faith. If demonstrations of faith could remedy sin, man could solve his own sin problem by his submission to the will of God.
Every command in the New Testament and every act of obedience to that command is faith appealing to the cross for redemption. Repentance is a command of God. He “commands all men everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30). Repentance is “for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38). A genuine change of heart regarding one’s sin followed by “fruits worthy of repentance” (Matthew 3:8) is not an attempt at self-absolution. A penitent heart understands that its power source is Calvary. Repentance is faith looking to the cross for forgiveness.
Jesus Christ is fully divine. He is deity in all fullness and essence. He is the “Mighty God” (Isaiah 9:6). Thomas confessed Him as “my Lord and my God” (John 20:28). “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1); and that “Word” was Christ (John 1:14). Of His Son, God the Father affirmed, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever; A scepter of righteousness is the scepter of Your kingdom” (Hebrews 1:8). Confessing the full deity of Christ is indispensable to one’s salvation (Romans 10:9-10). Confessing Christ is an exhibition of faith, looking to the object confessed for release from sin.
The Gospel of Christ that centers in the cross of Christ produces the church of Christ. The Gospel that Peter preached on Pentecost of Acts 2 took the minds of the hearers and anchored them to the cross. Submission to the Gospel in the obedience of faith effectuated the church. Jesus purchased the church “with His own blood” (Acts 20:28). Jesus earnestly desires for “all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4).
God sent His Son “as Savior of the world” (1 John 4:14), but Jesus can save only those “all who obey Him” (Hebrews 5:9). Those who obey Christ are added to the church of Christ (Acts 2:47), which is the “body” of Christ” (Colossians 1:18), and Jesus is “the Savior of the body” (Ephesians 5:23). Acceptance of the exclusive church, purchased by the exclusive Savior and produced by the exclusive Gospel is not bigotry. It is the humility of faith appealing to the cross for redemption.
Man is the offspring of God, made in the image of God. When man severs himself from God and pursues a life of carnal indulgence, he is spurning the most crucial aspect of his nature. Man’s need of God and of worship is as intrinsic to his nature as is heat in fire. Worship is requisite to man’s inner peace and spiritual serenity. It equips man to resist temptation and cope with adversity. It deepens conviction. It intensifies man’s loathing for sin and error and heightens his love for God and truth.
Worship fortifies the mind, the object of satanic onslaughts. It enriches spirituality. It provides solace for the grieving, hope to the despairing, and joy to the dispirited. It grows faith. Worship is manna from heaven to the hungry soul. It is living water that streams from the Rock of our salvation. It elevates the mind from the earthly and temporal to the spiritual and eternal. It allays the burdens of life. It quickens anticipation for heaven. Worship is indispensable to one’s spiritual life and his habitation in that “city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Hebrews 11:10).
What man calls worship is often a humanly contrived, self-pleasing, emotional experience that placates the flesh and dulls the spirit. It removes God as the object and enthrones man. It is physical, theatrical, and superficial. It stimulates the pulse and idles the mind. It is dramatic and noisy. Jokes and human-interest stories issuing from the pulpit are met with laughter and clapping. The preacher is idolized and applauded, while God is minimalized and marginalized. The participants leave with a distorted sense of spirituality, unchallenged minds, diminished convictions, appeased consciences, and a comfort zone for sin and enhanced toleration for those of varying religious persuasions. “And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” (Matthew 15:9).
Acceptable worship conforms to God’s pattern. It involves the right object, right act, and right motive. “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24). One cannot come into God’s presence with an unauthorized act of worship that he likes and expect God to accept it. Nadab and Abihu attempted such presumptuousness, and God slew them. Unauthorized acts of worship insult the grace of God, nullify faith, and demonstrate irreverence for the cross of Christ.
Spirit-and-truth worship looks to the cross for its validation. The power of acceptable worship is in the power of the cross, not the act of worship. For two millenniums, “this do in remembrance of Me,” has reverberated in the minds of men in Sunday’s commemoration of the Lord’s Supper. Material gifts on the first day of each week reflect the goodness of God and His gifts to man, the pinnacle of which was the gift of His Son as the remedy for sin.
Prayers of faith on wings of grace take flight from the worship assembly and soar through the blood of Christ into the presence of God. With permission from Calvary, songs of the heart are allowed entrance into the throne room of heaven to join with the melodies of angels in praise and adoration to the majesty of God. Preaching that saves and edifies pivots around the cross and demonstrates its application to the whole of biblical instruction.
When Adam’s and Eve’s lips were soiled by the forbidden fruit, God commenced His journey toward Calvary. This redemptive voyage enjoyed its fruition in the death, burial, and resurrection of the sinless Christ. Prior to His return to the Father, Jesus decreed that the Gospel was to cover the earth. Upon hearing the Gospel, man was to believe and be baptized (Mark 16:15-16). The preponderance of humanity has never consented to the words of Christ. They declare their love for Christ while rejecting the will of Christ. They view teaching on the necessity of baptism for salvation as an affront to the grace of God and the cross of Christ. They assert that such teaching annuls faith and transforms the free gift of salvation into a meritorious system of works.
One can no more separate baptism from grace, blood, and faith than he can cleave blue from the sky. Baptism is faith complying with the teaching of grace. Baptism is the obedience of faith appropriating the provisions of grace in the cross. Baptism is a spiritual reenactment of the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ (Romans 6:3-4). The power of baptism is in the cross, not in the act of baptism. Baptism is the eye of faith riveted on the cross. It is the heart of faith beating for the cross. It is the trust of faith centered in the cross. It is the hands of faith laying hold of the cross. Baptism and all other acts of obedience to God is faith reaching for Calvary.