I want to study with you the central theme of the Christian religion. Before Jesus came to this world, the greatest manifestation of Gods glory and character that had ever been witnessed by fallen man was what happened with the children of Israel on Mount Sinai. Because that was the greatest revelation of God that there had ever been, that was the focal point, the central theme of the Jewish religion and it still is today.
When I was visiting the chapel at the Air Force Academy some years ago, I went in the main sanctuary. They had a church there for Protestants and below that on the lower level they had a church for Catholics and then they had a separate room where the Jewish people met. In their room they had the tablets as representations of the Ten Commandments. That is the law and that is the central point of the Jewish religion.
There was nothing the matter with that. It was supposed to be the central point because it was the greatest manifestation of Gods glory and character that had ever existed up until Jesus came.
Jesus said to them that they were not faithful to what they knew. "Did not Moses give you the law? And yet none of you keep the law. Why do you see, to kill Me?" John 7:19.
They had the law but Jesus said, None of you are keeping it. That is what I want to talk to you about today. In the Christian religion we have a central theme and yet very few Christians today know what it means. Why be a Christian if you do not even know the meaning of the central focal point of the Christian religion?
When Jesus came, God gave to the world a greater revelation of His love and character than on Mount Sinai. On Mount Sinai the law was written in stone and spoken but when Jesus came, the world got to see what the law looked like in a human being--in flesh and blood. If there was a human being that perfectly kept Gods law, what would that person be like. Jesus talked to them about that, too.
The transgression of the law is sin (See 1 John 3:4). Jesus said to the Jews "Which of you convicts Me of sin? And if I tell the truth, why do you not believe Me?" John 8:46. Jesus said, Can any of you convict Me of breaking Gods law? They could not. They had nothing to say.
At His trial there was an officer of the High Priest. The Bible says that he gave Jesus a blow on the face. Jesus said, "If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil. But if well, why did you smite me?" And that man had nothing to say. Jesus was the greatest revelation of the character of God that there had ever been. It showed us what a person would be like who kept Gods law perfectly.
Jesus taught that there were two principles at the foundation of Gods law. He said that all the law and the prophets hang on two principles (See Matthew 22:37-40). It hangs on two principles. The first principle is that you should love God with all your heart, soul and mind. The second one is that you should love your neighbor as yourself.
But today there are people that say they are Christians and in the Christian religion the focal point is not simply the life of Christ but especially the death of Christ. Everybody knows how Jesus died. He died on a cross. People take the cross and put it on a necklace and put it around their neck. I see people all over with crosses hanging from their necks.
They put the cross up on the church steeples. They put the cross on the walls in their homes and churches. They take these necklaces with the cross on them and they even hang them around the rear view mirror so that it hands down in the car. The cross is everywhere, all kinds of signs and symbols with the cross. Yet the Jews had the law and Jesus said to them that none of them kept it. There is no commandment in the Bible to worship the cross--but people worship it.
Have you seen pictures of anyone who claimed to be a Christian leader carrying a staff and on the top of the staff is a crucifix with Christ crucified on it? People all over the world believe in the cross and yet they do not know the meaning of it. I want to study several things with you this morning about the cross from the New Testament.
The first thing is how does the cross relate to marriage? Oh, somebody says, I did not know there was any relationship at all. Well, you do not know the relationship because you have not studied the New Testament. According to the New Testament, the cross is directly related to every Christian who is married.
We are living in a rebellious age and men say, The Scriptures say that my wife is supposed to obey me, she is supposed to be submissive to me but you do not know whom I am married to. She is a rebellious woman. If you are a woman, you perhaps have not heard this because the men sometimes just talk about things like that among themselves. There are many people who have said, Why does the Scripture say such an awful thing that a woman should be submissive to her husband? The Scripture writers must not have understood what an awful husband I have.
Turn in your Bibles to Ephesians 5:25, the passage of Scripture that these people are referring to. You will find that it is talking about the cross. Now verse 24 is the verse that men like to read, especially verses 22 and 24: "Wives, submit to your own husbands as to the Lord... Let the wives be subject to their own husbands in everything."
But I want you to notice Verse 25 because the context of this passage that people quote is talking about the cross. Notice what the Scripture says here in Verse 25: "Husbands, love your wives just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her." When and how did Christ give Himself for His church? He gave everything when He died on the Cross.
This text is much harder on men that on women, but people do not know that. They think it is a bad passage for women because it tells wives to be subject to their husbands. But what does it say to the men? It says, "Husbands, love your wives just like Christ loved the church and He gave Himself for her."
If you are a Christian husband this text telling you that you should love your wife enough that you would be willing to be crucified for her sake. I do not know any Scripture in the Bible that says the wife should love her husband that much, but it does say the husbands should love their wives that much, enough that they would be willing to be crucified for her sake.
That is a high standard. If you are married to somebody you think is rebellious and you go to the Lord and pray about it and say, Lord, help me to love this person so much that I would be willing to be crucified for his! her sake. If you love them that much, their behavior toward you might be a little different. In fact, it might be quite a little bit different. The cross has a lot to do with marriage. An understanding of the meaning of the cross could save many marriages.
Let us go to another test that explains the principle that it is talking about here in Ephesians 5:25. This is a general principle talking to everybody in the whole church, not just husbands this time. Turn to 2 Corinthians 5:15. Now this is the principle that it is talking about in Ephesians 5:25, where it says, Husbands love your wives just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her.
Notice, Jesus was not thinking about Himself, He was willing to give up everything for the church that He loved. 2 Corinthians 5:15, "He died for all that those who live should live no longer for themselves but for Him who died for them and rose again." Why did Jesus die? That we should no longer live for ourselves. This is a hard text, too. This is a text that you need to pray about. Say, Lord, am I living for myself or am I living for Christ? Who are you living for?
It is not good enough to have a cross around your neck or on the top of your church if you are not practicing the lesson of the cross. What the cross teaches is, I am not to live for my own benefit, self-satisfaction, pleasure or profit. I am to live for Christ. I am not to live for myself any more. This is what makes homes unhappy.
If we live for Christ and we love each other as ourselves, a transformation takes place in the home and in all human relations. Who are you living for? You do not need to talk to me about it. Go talk to the Lord about it. Say, Lord, am I really living for You? Or am I living for myself?
The Bible talks about the worldly person. The worldly person is the person that lives for himself. He is not converted. He is not born again. He may go to church, but he is still living for himself. He has never learned the lesson of the cross. A converted person that is truly a Christian does not live for himself. He does not live for his own pleasure, his own benefit, his own advantage, his own profit or his own happiness.
He lives for Christ and I want to tell you, friends, that is the secret of happiness. The most unhappy people in the world are the people whose lives are totally centered in themselves. They want pleasure, money and happiness for themselves. They want everything they can get for themselves and surely you have read about it in the papers and magazines like I have. After they get all these things, they are not happy.
I was interested in some of the news articles that I read in the various newspapers and magazines about Princess Diana after she died. Her estate one news magazine reported that they thought that the estate was worth around $63,000,000.00. From a worldly point of view she had everything. And yet it came out in the papers over and over again that she lived a very unhappy life.
You can see the same thing if you read in newspapers and magazines about many of the most wealthy, most powerful and most influential people in the world who apparently have everything, but they are not happy. You will never find the secret of happiness until you start practicing the lessons of the cross. You cannot be happy if you are just living for yourself. That is the path of destruction, death and misery.
If you want to be happy, you have to live for somebody else. Live first of all for Christ and secondly for those that are around you. Remember the lesson that Paul gave for husbands. You give yourself for somebody else. You do not try to get, you try to give.
Now we are going to go to point number two. A central theme of the New Testament is the resurrection of Christ. Christians in Rome and Alexandria as early as the second century began keeping the Pagan solar holiday, Sunday, in honor of the resurrection because it came on the same day and it resulted in less persecution for them. I want to study the resurrection with you in the light of the cross. Remember that there would have been no resurrection without a death. That should be obvious.
Turn in your Bibles to Romans 6 where the apostle Paul makes the death and resurrection of Christ very personal and practical to the Christians. "For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection. Knowing this that our old man was crucified with Him that the body of sin might be done away with that we should no longer be slaves of sin." Romans 6:5, 6.
He refers to the old man. That is my carnal, sinful and fallen human nature that wants my own way, pleasure and profit. In other words, my selfish human nature. Paul said that selfish human nature is to be crucified.
He who has died hath been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing the Christ having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin once and for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Therefore, do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace." Romans 6:7-14.
Paul says, your sinful, selfish nature is to be crucified. You understand what kind of death crucifixion is? When you are crucified, you are as good as dead because your hands and feet are immobilized and you cannot give yourself a drink of water or take a bite of food or do anything else. You cannot rub a fly off your forehead either. But you are still alive. It is a living death.
The devil knew that and that is why the devil inspired the priests and rulers to say to Jesus, Come down from the cross! And Jesus could have come down from the cross. That was a terrible temptation. But if He had, you and I could not be saved. There are Christians today that say, Oh, I can do anything I want to. Yes, you can do anything you want to but you cannot do anything you want to and be saved.
The old, selfish, fallen sinful nature is to be crucified and you are to arise and walk in newness of life, so that your body is no longer living in sin. Your mind and your spirit are no longer living in sin. The old man is to be crucified. The sinful nature is to be crucified. That is what Paul says over and over in these texts that we read, Romans 6:5-14.
But it is not enough just to stop doing the bad things. There has to be a resurrection. The cross never would have changed the world if there had not been a resurrection. You could not have a resurrection without the cross, and you cannot live the Christian life unless your old man has been crucified. That is one of the biggest problems in Christendom today, people want to be Christians and still let the old man live and not be crucified and be dead to sin.
You cannot have a resurrection and walk in newness of life that Paul talks about in Romans 6 until the old nature is crucified. The old man must die; my selfish nature that wants my own way. I want my own pleasure, my own profit, and my own happiness. I want everybody else to give me what I want. That attitude is the old man, that is the root of sin, the selfishness in the human heart.
That has to be crucified and unless that dies you cannot live the Christian life. That is why so many people think that it is so hard to be a Christian because the old man has never died. The old man is still struggling; he has never been put to death.
When the Bible talks about loving your neighbors as yourself, they cannot understand that because they love themselves more than anything else does. The Bible says that this will be a special problem in the world in the last days. Paul said in 2 Timothy 3 that people would have a form of godliness but they would deny the power and be selfish, living for themselves.
It is not enough to have a cross around your neck or on your church or on the rear-view mirror of your car or on the wall of your home or anywhere else, if you are not living according to the principle of the cross. Just like the Jews; they had the law and they were not keeping it. It is not enough to have the cross if you are not living in harmony with the principle of the cross.
Point number three is the Second Coming of Christ in the clouds of heaven and point number four is the church. We are going to cover these two points together. Turn in your Bible to John 11. This is the time when the Jews are plotting and planning to crucify Christ.
So it says in John 11:49-52, "One of them, Caiaphas, being high priest that year, said to them, 'You know nothing at all, nor do you consider that it is expedient for us that one man should die for the people, and not that the whole nation should perish." Now this He did not say on his own authority; but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for that nation only, but also that He would gather together in one the children of God who were scattered abroad."
The reason that Jesus died was not just for the Jews, not just to pay the price for their sin, but it was for all the children of God all over the world. Gods children are scattered all over the world. Many of them are meeting in homes; some of them are meeting in forests, some in barns, some in kitchens, some in rented rooms and some in high-rise apartment buildings.
Some of Gods children today are meeting and worshipping Him in prison. But Jesus was crucified all His people might be gathered together in one. The cross would not really mean anything if Jesus did not come again to gather His children all in one. That is the reason, John said, that He was crucified.
There could be no Second Coming without the first coming. In Ephesians 1 Paul talks about the mystery of Gods will and how we have redemption through His blood and the forgiveness of sins according to the riches of His grace (See verse 7). Notice what he says in verses 9 and 10. "Having made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself, that in the dispensation of the fullness of times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth--in Him."
God had millions of followers in heaven and in other worlds before Jesus died on the cross. But He came to redeem the rebellious people in this world so that if they would repent and come to Him, He could gather them all. Then the church in heaven and the church on earth could all be gathered together in one. That will happen at the Second Coming.
Jesus said in Matthew 24:30, 31 that when He would come in the clouds of heaven, all the holy angels would be with Him--that is the church in heaven. Then it says that He will send His angels and they will gather His children from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. All over the world the angels will gather His children into one group. If you die before that time, it will not matter, because when Jesus comes again, He will raise all those who have died in Christ and they will go up in the air together. All those that have died and all those that are alive at that time are all the church. Jesus will gather them into one when He comes again.
That is why He was crucified. In fact, the church that is described in the New Testament could not exist without the crucifixion of Christ. "And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence." Colossians 1:18.
When did Jesus become the firstborn from the dead? That could not have happened until after the crucifixion. He died and then he rose again and He became the firstborn from the dead.
Notice what Paul says about this in relation to the church. "But you have come to Mount Zion and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the first born who are registered in heaven to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus the Mediator of the New Covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel." Hebrews 12:22-24.
What is the church of the firstborn? Who is the firstborn? We just read it in Colossians 1:18. It says in Revelation 1:5, 6 that Jesus Christ is the firstborn from the dead.
The church of the firstborn is the church of that One who is the Firstborn, the only begotten of God and the firstborn from the dead. So the church of the firstborn could not exist until the crucifixion and the resurrection.
Point Number Five is the relationship of the cross to people that are hard to get along with. Do you have anybody who is hard to get along with in your life? Most people do. I do not know how the Lord arranges this, but it seems like everybody in the world has at least one or two people in their lives that are hard to get along with. They have to get along with them for one reason or another; either because of where they work or where they go to school or because of whom they are related to or something.
Did you know that the cross has a direct relationship to your problem in this area? We will read about it in the Bible. It is amazing the names that we call the people in our lives that are hard for us to get along with. Have you ever heard someone say, Oh, that skunk!? They are not talking about a skunk at all, really. They are talking about a human being.
Unfortunately, I have heard worse names than that, because they are people that we have to get along with and they are hard to get along with. Romans 5:6, "For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly." Did Jesus die for the good people or the bad people? He died for the bad people.
Did Jesus die for the people that are easy to get along with or the people that are hard to get along with? Which was it? O.K., let us keep reading. He "died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die, yet perhaps for a good man, someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own live toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us."
Now this is something that is incomprehensible. I do not understand it. Jesus did not come to this world to die for His friends. He came to this world to die for His enemies. 1 John 2:3 says that He died for the sins of the whole world.
When you understand what the cross means, it causes you to see every single human being in a different light, no matter how awful they may seem. Whoever seems to you as the skunk in your life, Jesus died for that person. It is amazing what happens in human relationships when we look at each other, no matter how awful the other person is.
I have people writing letters to me and calling me on the phone all the time telling me about the awful thing that somebody has done. But do you realize that Jesus died for the person who did those awful things? Since Jesus died for that person, how much value does that person have? Well, you cannot compute it. Peter says that we were not redeemed with perishable things like silver and gold, but we were redeemed with the precious blood of Jesus Christ.
So, how much value does a human being have? In pagan societies people do not have very much value. You study the history of pagan societies anywhere in the world and human beings do not have very much value. But in a Christian society, people have infinite value. We will call the whole city out to dig down into a well or into an elevator or anywhere we can to try to save one person.
Would we do that? Of course, we will. Why? Because one person has an infinite value and that includes the people in your life and my life that are hard to get along wit. Those people have infinite value. We treat both people and things according to their value. Some of you have been out to my house and I have a fairly long driveway to my house and I have had dump trucks come out there and dump rock on that driveway.
After they dump it, I take a tractor or a rake or a shovel and I try to level it out. I drive over it with my car or with the tractor and I do not think anything about it because it is just gravel--rock. But there are some rocks that people do not drive over with either their cars or their tractors and they will not even walk on them.
There are some rocks that they will put in a little box with velvet. Then they close the box and put it in a vault or safety deposit box. Why do they treat those rocks so much differently than I treat the rocks in my driveway? Because they have more value. Those rocks are called diamonds. A diamond is a rock, but it is not the kind of rock I have in my driveway.
It is a rock that has very great value. So we treat it completely different. We keep it in a safe place because it is of great value. That person in your life that is hard to get along with, if they have infinite value, how will you treat him or her? Will you treat them like the gravel in my driveway, or will you treat them like a diamond?
There are a lot of people around us that are diamonds in the rough. They nor not polished yet and most people cannot see the beauty or the value in them. But the cross of Christ teaches us that every human being has an infinite value. And if they have infinite value, and if we realize that, that will affect the way we treat them.
It makes a lot of different in human relationships if we realize that the person in our life that we think is incorrigible, stubborn, self-willed, is a diamond. They may be all roughed up and not polished, but Jesus died for that person and they have infinite value because of the cross of Christ. If we realize that, it will help us in all our relationships with others.
When things seem to be going awry and rough and tough and we say, What am I going to do? Remember when you are in that difficult situation, if you are dealing with another human being, you are dealing with somebody who has infinite value because Jesus died for them. If we always realized that, there are many tough human relationships that would straighten out, if we were realize the infinite value of the person we are working with.
Point Number Six is the relationship of the cross to the judgment. There are courts of justice in all countries of the world. The cross has a direct relationship to judgment. "The hour is come that the Son of Man should be glorified. Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone, but if it dies, it produces much grain. He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there my servant will be also. If anyone serve Me, him My Father will honor. Now My soul is troubled, and what shall I say? 'Father, save Me from this hour? But for this purpose 1 came to this hour. Father, glorify Your name. Then a voice came from heaven, saying, 'I have both glorified it and will glorify it again. Therefore the people who stood by and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said an angel had spoken to Him. Jesus answered and said, 'This voice did not come because of Me, but for your sake. Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out." John 12:23-31.
The ruler of this world is the devil. The Bible is very clear about that in 2 Corinthians 4 and also in Job 1. 2 Peter 2 says, "By whom a person is overcome, by the him also he is brought into bondage." And the devil deceived and overcame Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. He is called the prince of this world or the ruler of this world over and over again in Scripture.
Jesus says, Now (talking about the cross) is the judgment of this world. Now the prince of this world is going to be cast out.
The cross proves that God will punish sin. The penalty of sin must be met. Jesus died in your place so that you would not have to die. If you have not accepted that, you can die for your own sins. I used to tell the people in prison, "You can pay the price for your own sins with a ten year prison sentence. But if you want to really pay the price for your sins, the price is death and you have to die and stay dead. Jesus paid the price for your sins so that you do not have to pay the price."
Jesus said, Now is the judgment of this world. The judgment is on the basis of character. The cross of Christ proves that. Jesus said over and over again and His disciples said the same thing, and it is recorded in Revelation 20 that the judgment is on the basis of peoples works, that is their character.
The cross reveals two things. First it reveals the character of God in a way that it had never been revealed before. The whole universe saw that God loved His creatures so much that He was willing to lay down His life to save them. It revealed His infinite love and mercy.
He was willing to suffer anything to save the creatures of His hand. But it also revealed the character of the devil like nothing else had ever done before. The devil hated Gods government so much and he hated man so much that he instigated the Jews to persecute Christ. The heavenly universe saw all of that.
As you look at it and study it, you will follow one or the other. But you know that in the last judgment at the end of the millennium, the cross will be held up before mankind to convict every sinner in the world. That is all that is necessary.
If you do not understand that right yet, that just means that you do not understand the meaning of the cross. None of us understands all the meaning of the cross. It will take eternity to reveal the meaning of what we are studying this morning. But the cross reveals that there is a judgment against sin; that sin will be punished and destroyed and our characters have to be changed if we are be saved.
As we draw near the close of this earths history, the cross becomes more and more appropriate to study because just like it was at the cross, at the end of the world there will only be two classes of people. There will be the people that are persecuting and the people that are persecuted.
Every one of us will be in one of those groups. I pray that what we have studied will change your marriage your human relationships and prepare you for the judgment. The choice is up to you.