Tuesday, May 17, 2011

When I Survey the Wondrous Cross

Preached at Northwest Christian Church
David P. Kautt
Sunday Morning, May 15, 2011

Philippians 2:1-11, “Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bond-servant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

What do you see when you look at the cross of Jesus? For centuries the cross has been the symbol of the Christian faith, displayed in many different ways, some ornate, some ordinary, the world over. Yet, this representation of what really is at the heart of Christianity, though millions, maybe billions have seen it, I dare say that nearly that many have misunderstood it and not grasped what it means.

What do you see when you look at the cross of Christ? An ornate piece of church furniture? An odd arrangement of ordinary wood, upright and crossbeam? A good-luck charm to be carried in one’s pocket? A piece of jewelry to be hung around one’s neck? A crucifix, with Jesus still hanging there, perhaps indicating that somehow His work is not yet finished there? The cross of Jesus, what do you see?

The song writer, Isaac Watts, penned these immortal words, as his answer to that question, you remember them, I’m sure:

“When I survey the wondrous cross
on which the Prince of glory died,
my richest gain I count but loss,
and pour contempt on all my pride.

See, from His head, His hands, His feet,
sorrow and love flow mingled down;
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
or thorns compose so rich a crown?”

What do you see when you survey the cross of Jesus?

For the Christian – I’m not talking about the ‘bench warmer’, the ‘pew filler’, the ‘religious’ man or woman or young person, no – but for the Christian, born of God, born again, New Creation in Christ person, there is insight into what that piece of church furniture stands for. In this powerful passage of Scripture, God’s Holy Spirit not only directed the apostle Paul to describe in very moving terms the INCARNATION of Jesus, how God the Son, Who was in the very form and essence of God the Father, made Himself of no reputation, took upon the form of a servant and was made in the likeness of men.

In Philippians 2:5ff, Paul not only graphically describes the INCARNATION of God the Son, and points forward to the other side of the cross, the EXALTATION of God the Son to the right hand of God the Father as He, Jesus Christ, received from His Father the name that is above every name… Notice what he does, what God’s Spirit directed Paul to insert and include right there in the middle. Philippians 2:8 – The incarnated Son of God, the soon-to-be-exalted Son of God, Paul says that in between those two monumental events stands one event that makes the other two what they are: “[Jesus Christ, God the Son] humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross…”
What do you see when you look at the cross of Christ? What insight into that unusual configuration of wood do you gain from what Paul says here?

Let me suggest two things for you to consider: first of all, for the Christian, for all who trust in Jesus Christ as Savior, and who bow to Him as Lord, there is atoning significance to the cross of Christ…

I trust that for all who are within the sound of my voice right now, there is a recognition of, an acknowledgment of sin in their lives. An admission something along these lines: “I am a great sinner…” But, this is where most people’s biggest problem lies. They recognize that something’s not quite right with them, maybe even use the labels “sin” and “sinner” to describe that problem. But what to do about it? That’s where the trouble is. What to do about my sin?

My friends, do you know what to do about your sin? I have a friend who thinks that if she pray and practice the rosary often enough – somehow, some way – that will take care of her sin. What to do about your sin? Is that the thing to do about it? I have another friend, struggling with some deep-rooted sin-issues in her life, seeking to find a way to deal with those issues, she told me, “I’m trying to figure out who or what my ‘Higher Power’ is so that I can overcome these things…”

What to do about our sin? Is that the thing to do about it?

I know people, and likely you do, too, who think that what they must do about their sin, what they have done about their sin, is pray a prayer, say a few special words, get dunked in a baptistery, give a big check to the church, serve as an Elder or Deacon or Sunday School Teacher, perhaps even go into the ministry or head to the mission field, and that somehow, some way, those things will compensate for their sin and make things right for them with God.

But listen, what does the Word of God say? In this one simple verse, Philippians 2:8 - this verse that summarizes all of what Matthew, Mark, Luke and John describes for us in greater detail about the suffering, the agony, the death of Christ – what do we read? Well, for starters, let me remind you of what we don’t read here. You and I DON’T read anywhere in that verse, our names, so as to inform us that, when it comes to ATONING for our sins, paying the penalty for them so that we could be right with God, we had nothing to do with it! WE had nothing to do with the atoning of our sins before our Maker and Judge. So, who did? Has our penalty been paid? Have our sins been atoned for?

My Loved Ones, do you realize how precious the four simple words “I am IN CHRIST” really are? My prayers, my good works, my participation in religious ceremonies, my… my… my… had nothing to do with it! What He did, what Jesus Christ did – “It is finished! Paid in full!” - at Calvary had everything to do with paying the price for my sins! “He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” is how it is put here in Philippians 2.

Peter describes it like this, what marvelous words, 1 Peter 2:24-25, “Jesus Christ Himself bore our sins [not His own sins, He was the sinless One, the Spotless Lamb who came into this world to take away our sins] in His own body on the cross…” We didn’t do it! NO! We were like sheep, going astray, everyone of us going our own way rather than the way our Creator meant for us to go - in essence that’s what sin is! We were like straying sheep, blind to our eternally, dreadful destination. But listen, the Lord of the universe, laid on His own Beloved Son the iniquities of us all, so that by His stripes, by and because of what He endured on that cross, we might be healed! Isn’t that the best news you’ve ever heard?

Beloved, there is ATONING significance to the cross of Christ! Two thousand years ago, on a configuration of wood very similar to that one there, “God made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us!” But listen, that’s not all God wants us to see and understand when we look at the cross. The Scripture text from Philippians two – did you make note of how it begins?

In this grand exposition of the Incarnation, Humiliation and Exaltation of Jesus Christ, the apostle Paul begins the passage with these poignant words: “Let this mind(set) be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus…” In powerful and penetrating terms, the Holy Spirit uses the pen of the apostle Paul to say: “Jesus Christ, God the Son, He was in the very nature God, shared the same essence and nature as His Father, yet, instead of clinging to that and the perogatives of that status and position, what did He do? Jesus made Himself of no reputation, set aside His status as the Son, He took upon the form of a servant and was made in the likeness of men…” Wonderful! He did all of that at the bidding of His Father! Wonderful! But, look, that’s not all He did at His Father’s command!

We just read about it, we just studied it a moment ago. God the Son, not only laid aside the privilege of Son-ship to become a servant! Listen, He also became obedient unto DEATH, “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me, if there’s any other way, for sin to be atoned for – please – let it be. Nevertheless! Nevertheless, not My will, but Thine be done!” Jesus Christ, God the Son, not only laid aside the privilege of Son-ship to be a servant, He also became obedient all the way to death, the excruciating death of the cross, to be our sacrifice – why? To set an example, to be a model, to point the way our heavenly Father expects US to walk! “Let this mind be in you...”

I mentioned earlier that verse 8, as it describes the atoning significance of the cross for us, has everything to do with Jesus and with what He did for us at Calvary! And nothing to do with us! So as to teach us that we CAN'T atone for our sins! And all of that is true...

But listen, it is every bit as true to say that the cross of Christ, in “Let-this-mind-be-in-you” fashion has everything to do with us! It does! Verse 8, what does it say again? It says that Jesus Christ, God the Son, became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Now look at the very next verse following the end of our Scripture text, Philippians 2:12.

Through Christ, through the obedient, atoning death of Christ, are you God's son or daughter? Then what? “Let this mind(set) be in you...” “Wherefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.”

There is – God intended for there to be EXEMPLARY significance to what Jesus did on Calvary!
1 Peter 2:24-25, “who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness—by whose stripes you were healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.”

1 Corinthians 6:18-20, “Flee sexual immorality. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.”

2 Corinthians 5:14-15, “For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died; and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again.”
This obedience, as God's children following the example of God the Son, Paul prayed for it in Philippians 1:9-11; he promoted it, through letters like this one, and most of all, by his own life of obedience, he preached it! He said, “Follow me, as I follow Christ...”

And he did so, because of what he saw when he looked at the cross:
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 His blood.

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small:
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.
What do you see, what do I see, when we look at the cross?

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