Last week we examined the idea of being theocentric in our thinking vis-a-vs being antrhopocentric (man-centered) in our thinking. This week we want to try and apply that to the central reality of our christian faith; to wit, the Cross of Jesus Christ.
I spent the first week seeking to tease out the impact of man-centered thinking in all our thinking and doing. I noted that we are man-centered in our thinking because that self-centeredness is part of what it means to be in Adam… part of what it means to have original sin… part of what it means to be fallen. Much of the effect of the fall is that we are self-centered in our thinking and doing.
And that even bleeds over into our Christianity. Whole theological systems are labeled as Christian which are in point of fact really exercises of using Christian language to mask the anthropocentrism of our system.
We do it even with the Cross work of Jesus Christ. We end up, with all the best of intentions, making it primarily about us. This is one effect of man-centered thinking as it enters the realm of Christian theology.
One main thrust of the message this morning is that the Cross is not ultimately about us. In point of fact the Cross of Jesus Christ is only proximately about us. Before we can say anything true about the Cross in relation to us, we must first speak about the Cross and its meaning in relation to God.
At this point we are seeking to talk about what Theologian C. E. B. Cranfield in his commentary on Romans talked about as “the innermost meaning of the cross” (The Epistle to the Romans, 213).
And frankly, in all my reading and study one doesn’t stumble across very often this God-centered understanding of the Cross. In all the sermons I’ve listened to it is only been occasional the the case that the sermon was dealing with the God-centered understanding of the Cross.
What we get instead is man-centered language such as these few examples I culled from online Sermon help sites, Rev. Steve preached,
“God knew what He was doing right from the beginning of time. And He knew exactly what He was doing when He sent Jesus into the world. And His priority was the salvation of mankind through the cross of Christ!” … God’s priority was to allow Jesus to suffer on the cross for us so that we could be saved. THIS IS WHAT THE CROSS OF CHRIST IS ALL ABOUT! Without the cross of Christ, without the death of Christ,… there would be no doorway into heaven!
The Cross Of Christ
1.) God’s priority was the salvation of mankind.
2.) God’s priority was for Jesus to suffer on the cross so Man could be saved
3.) THIS IS WHAT THE CROSS OF CHRIST IS ALL ABOUT!
You see… that is a man-centered understanding of the Cross. There may be elements of it that are true but they are only half truths and half truths told alone end up being un-truths.
Here is another example by Rev. John W.
“Imagine. The punishment for all of man’s sin fell upon the shoulders of our precious Saviour as he paid the ultimate price on that cruel cross…. “
Now, what is said here is true enough but it is a truth that only comes after other truths that are primary.. If we only say these truths and don’t explore the Ultimate truths we are anthropocentric in our thinking.
One more examples from Rev. Gatts
5. God sees us as we really are: sinners. Jesus died to change that description. Now we can be the Children of God, reconciled to God! 1. Christ’s death on the cross also enables us to have peace with one another. Christ’s death on the cross enables people to be reconciled to one another in peace regardless of differences: Jew and gentile; black and white; male and female.
Again, this type of thing is a pretty common staple and true as far as it goes but it is not the theocentric meaning in the Cross. It is the anthropcentric meaning in the Cross.
Now, I want to be clear I’m not denying that the Cross has effects, consequences, and glorious implications for man. However, I am convinced that before we talk about the secondary meaning of the Cross we should talk about the primary meaning of the Cross.
Steve Camp captured something of what I am going to be driving at this morning when we talk about what it means to think theocentrically about the cross.
Camp wrote these lyrics,
Christ died for God and God was satisfied with Christ
Pure, unblemished sacrifice
Oh, Son of Grace
Christ died for God and God has made Him Lord of all
For He drank the bitter gall
The cup of wrath
Christ Died For God
There it is. The theocentric meaning of the Cross.
Christ died for God.
The deep inside meaning. The Ultimate meaning. The theology from above. The primary meaning. The theocentric meaning.
How many times have you heard this from pulpits? From your own reading? I was in the ministry for almost a decade before I stumbled across it in Jonathan Edwards and before him for John Owen.
Hear Owen for example in a catechism he used to teach.
Q. In what does the exercise of his priestly office for us chiefly consist?
A. In offering up himself an acceptable sacrifice on the cross, so satisfying the justice of God for our sins, removing his curse from our persons, and bringing us unto him. — Chapter 13.
Note that before Owen speaks about the curse being removed from our persons he notes that Christ satisfied the justice of God for our sins. There it is. Christ died for God. Theocentric thinking on the Cross.
Well, where did they get this idea that Christ died for God? They saw it in Scripture.
Romans 3:23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, 26 to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
There it is. “The Father sets forth the Son as a propitiation by His Blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness.”
Christ died for God.
The Old Testament anticipates Romans when in Isaiah we read,
“But the LORD was pleased To crush Him, putting Him to grief; If He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, And the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand.”
There it is. The theocentrism of the Cross. The Lord is pleased to crush the Son.
There is a vertical dimension of the Cross that must be spoken of before we speak of the horizontal dimension. Christ dies for God before Christ dies for man.
Before the Cross can be about our forgiveness the Cross is about the Father’s propitiation. Propitiation is the price God the Son paid in order to turn away God the Father’s just wrath against sin and sinners. The death of Christ not only takes away sin but it also pays the penalty for sin as required by the law of the Father. There could have been no forgiveness for sinners like you and I unless Christ dies for God before He dies for us.
Out of love the Father sends the Son forth to take upon Himself the Father’s just penalty for sin. Out of eternal love the Son defends the honor of the Father’s promise to give sin it’s full recompense. Christ died for God. Died for His glory. Died to give Him all honor. Died that the Father might be just and justifier of those who have faith in Jesus.
God Himself — whose justice required the price of propitiation in order to forgive sins. God Himself who rendered up the price of the just penalty required by God. We see thus that it is God who justly required the penalty, and God who paid the penalty. God who required Justice and God whose Justice when it fell, fell as mercy for us.
Christ died for God.
Donald Macleod gets at all this in his “Christ Crucified: Understanding the Atonement — p 71”
“It was no part of the work of Christ to make God love us, The very fact of his being on earth at all was proof of the divine love. The business of the atonement, therefore, was to propitiate the God who already loves us: to lay the foundation for an advocacy directed towards him specifically as Father (1 John 2: 1). God unequivocally requires such propitiation, but in the last analysis God also provides the propitiation and God even becomes the propitiation. The whole cost of our redemption is borne by the triune God. In that sense, the atonement is a transaction entirely internal to the trinity. But by virtue of the incarnation, it is also external. It takes place not in heaven, but on Calvary; not in eternity, but on Good Friday.”
This is the theocentric view of the Cross. This is the God intoxicated understanding of the Cross. Before we speak about our reconciliation, our redemption, the sacrifice for us, before we speak of ransom, expiation, propitiation for us, we have needs to speak of this theocentric idea that Christ died for God. Christ satisfies and exalts the Father’s justice before it satisfies our sin problem.
Now let us take this one step further. Why is it that we are redeemed, reconciled, and propitiated for? Is it simply in order that we might be delivered from our peril? No … a thousand times no. Our rescue isn’t about us. Our rescue is so that we can make God’s name as famous as it never ceases to be.
This was all limned out even in the Old Testament,
The Redemption of Israel from Egypt accomplished by God is God-centered. For, as Ezra will later say to the Lord, in saving Israel, “you made a name for yourself (Ezra 9:10)”
The Beauty of the King — p. 217
Why would we think it any different when that typological Redemption of Israel is fulfilled in Jesus Christ Redeeming His Church? That Redemption as accomplished by God was and remains God centered. God’s intent in saving His Church is not primarily about our rescue, or our being delivered from sin, Satan, self, and hell. No, those are only proximate purposes of God’s redeeming His people. Ultimately God’s redeeming His Church, in the sweep of Redemption centering in Christ, remains to make a name for Himself. God Redeemed His people so that His name may become as famous as it never ceases to be.
Our Redemption is not about us. Our Redemption did not find its teleological purpose and end on and in the Elect. God did not Redeem us primarily because He loves us, though indeed He does. God Redeemed us because He primarily loves Himself and His glory. God Redeemed us so that He might make a name for Himself through His Redeemed people.
We were not the center of God’s purposes in saving us. The center was and is the making known of the majesty and glory of God. The center was and is that the goodness and beauty of God might become legendary among those with eyes to see. The center was and remains that in our Redemption the Cosmos would be awe-struck that such a great God could take such a lowly rabble as the Redeemed and use them to conquer all opposition while making the glory of His name known.
When we reduce Christianity to being contained within the Church, thus allowing the public square to be just a common marketplace wherein all the gods negotiate for renown we evacuate the center of why God provided Redemption in Christ. When we reduce Christianity to being primarily fire insurance we evacuate the center of why God provided Redemption in Christ. When we reduce Christianity to sentimental and pietistic niceties we evacuate the center of why God provided Redemption in Christ. This is the sub-Reformed Christianity of R2K, of Evangelicalism, of neo-nomian and anti-nomian Pietism.
Now let us trace another God centered (theocentric) reality here. If the Father sent the Son in order to fulfill both the requirements of the law as well as the condemning work of the Law do we really want to believe that the effect of the cross was to the purpose of God’s people no longer being obligated to the law? In the Cross the condemning work of the law was fulfilled so that the legislative work of the law could operate apart from the sting of condemnation always hanging for our failure to walk in perfection to the law’s just requirement. As united to Christ we have been delivered from the power of the law to condemn and delivered to the legislative power of the law as a guide to life informing us how to glorify God…. how to make His name as famous as it never ceases to be. We cannot continue to make God’s name known unless God’s character as revealed in His Law is the standard by which we make that beautiful name known.
The purpose of Redemption was and remains to make a name for God. Are we making a name for the most exalted God of all splendor?
Oh Lord Christ, give us a burning passion to make a name for you as consistent with who you are.