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The Offence of the Cross
Isaiah 53:3 Galatians 5:11
Around the Cross a certain romantic interest has gathered, but what the Cross really stands for is an offence, a stumbling-block and a scandal to men. The Prophet Isaiah, with his piercing vision, saw the truth. In his prophecy of Christ he tells us that men shall see no beauty in Him that they should desire Him. The offence of the Cross has not yet ceased. Why?
I. The Cross of Christ is the condemnation of the world. It was the condemnation of the world of Christ's own time. As that Cross has come down through all the centuries it has passed its unfaltering judgment upon the vanities and prides, and hates and greeds, the self-indulgent pleasures and the lusts of men. Today the Cross visits our worldliness with the same condemnation.
II. The Cross of Christ is an offence because it sets forth an imperative ideal of life. Christ's ideal of life was concentrated into the one act of His dying. Christ hung upon His cross from His cradle to His grave. That life of self-denial and self-crucifiction, in which He pleased not Himself whenever He endangered His pleasing of God, is the imperative ideal of life He lays upon men.
Are we not all conscious of our deeply seated offence at this imperative of the Cross? Are we not all pagans at heart? We all chafe at the restraint of a life like Christ's. We refuse to give up what we know His Cross condemns.
III. The Cross of Christ is an offence because it claims to be the power of God unto salvation. It makes this claim without an alternative. It throws up our sinful state in clear relief, and demands from every man, as his first duty, to get right with God. From its sacrifice there comes the stem word that nothing else in life is to be put before this getting right with God, and that this reconciliation is to be attained only through the Cross.
What is it which sin has done and always will do?
1. The first effect of sin is an altered universe. The reaction against your sin is not only in your conscience and in your body. It is in the world which environs you. You know that in the moment of your sin you spoiled all. There is that sobering and chilling experience of 'the moment after'. The story in the third chapter of Genesis sets that law of sin in a clear light. Adam and Eve found themselves in an altered world. But Christ's Cross has redeemed the world. It will become God's perfect poem again.
2. The second effect of sin is death. Whenever we sin something dies within us. The connexion of sin and death is constant, immediate, inescapable. But what is death? The Bible says, and, says always, from Genesis to Revelation, that had there been no sin there would have been no death. It has made death a tragedy, awful, terrifying, unbearable. But the Cross has annulled this penalty of death. 'He died for us.'
3. A third effect of sin is an estranged God. I have set this down as third in order although it is really first in fact Yet the sense of the estrangement of the real and living God is the last of which we are conscious. It is not until we know and bewail the estrangement of God that we see and lament the effect of sin.
IV. When does the offence of the Cross cease? It ceases only when the soul is visited not merely by remorse but by repentance toward God, followed by a meek confession of one's sin, issuing into a faith in Christ Jesus Who died to reconcile us to God, to give us a new life in our soul, and to make this world a possible Eden again.
W. M. Clow, The Cross in Christian Experience, p. 115.
References. LIII. 3. Archbishop Lang, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lv. 1899, p. 394. S. Parkes Cadman, ibid. vol. lx. 1901, p. 180. R. J. Campbell, ibid. vol. lxxi. 1907, p. 145. J. J. Tayler, Christian Aspects of Faith and Duty, p. 202. J. A. Alexander, The Gospel of Jesus Christ, p. 446. "Plain Sermons" by contributors to the Tracts for the Times, vol. ii. p. 58. W. Brock, Penny Pulpit, vol. xii. No. 693, p. 213. W. J. Knox-Little, The Mystery of the Passion, p. 15. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xix. No. 1099; vol. liii. No. 3033. J. Keble, Sermons for the Holy Week, p. 102. LIII. 4. Archbishop Lang, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lix. 1901, p. 402. J. Baldwin Brown, The Divine Treatment of Sin, p. 51. F. D. Maurice, Christmas Day and Other Sermons, p. 266. George Tyrrell, Oil and Wine, p. 116. W. J. Knox-Little, Labour and Sorrow, p. 269. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Isaiah XLIX.-LXVI. p. 97. LIII. 5. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xiv. No. 834; vol. xviii. No. 1068; vol. xxxiii. No. 2000; vol. xliii. No. 2499; vol. 1. No. 2887. H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, Sunday Lessons for Daily Life, pp. 97, 305. F. B. Cowl, Straight Tracks, p. 100. F. E. Paget, Faculties and Difficulties for Belief and Unbelief, p. 172. C. G. Clark-Hunt, The Refuge of the Sacred Wounds, p. 17.
Thou Shalt Answer, Lord, for Me
'The constant and characteristic effort of our Lord's life,' says Dr. Smith in his work on Isaiah, 'was to assert and explain Himself as the Only.' His contemporaries tried to make Him the First among them, but with that He was not satisfied. He pressed on to a singularity beyond, to be realized in suffering. In suffering men feel their oneness with their kind; through suffering He became like unto men, 'but only in order to effect through suffering a timely and a singular service for them'. He did not feel as they did about pain. 'Pain never drew from Him either of those two voices of guilt or of doubt. Pain never reminded Christ of His own past and made Him question God.' Nor did He seek pain for any end in itself. To Him pain was not in itself meritorious, a thing to be gloried in or desired: He shrank from it. 'And when He submitted and was in the agony, it was not in the feeling of it, or the impression it made on others, or the manner in which it drew men's hearts to Him, or the seal it set on the truth that He found his end and satisfaction, but in something beyond it Jesus looked out of the travail of His soul and was satisfied.
I. Why is the Gospel the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth? Is it because it reveals the eternal purpose of the Divine love? Or because it refashions life by an influence exerted on man's heart? Or because it breaks the chain that holds us to our past? St. Paul's answer is: For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith that is, it unrolls the Divine righteousness and displays faith as its secret at each disclosure. God set forth Christ Jesus to be an expiatory offering through faith in His blood. This was to declare God's righteousness, that He might be seen by all His creatures as at once jealous for the law and judicially acquitting the guilty.
II. It is this judicial aspect of the Atonement which the Apostles set in the forefront as sovereign and prime. The Cross has many relations, and we are coming to understand some of them better. Others are beyond our knowledge, for to understand the whole we must be able to comprehend all the love and agony of the infinite nature. But the history of the Church shows that there is no fact which believers understand so readily, and rest upon so firmly, as the meritorious Sacrifice. Their teachers may be perplexed, but they are not. Whoever rejects the Stone, it is to them the head of the corner; 'it is still the tried Stone, the sure foundation, the Rock whereof Faith speaks, "Set me upon it, for it is higher than I"; Love's sure abiding Pillar of remembrance, whereon Love's secret is written and graven with a pen of iron for ever'. They delight in all statements, however naked and literal, that bring it into clear relief.
III. The desire to explain the Atonement may go too far. All help is welcome, but the fact itself is much more easily understood than many explanations of it. Its 'Onlyness' is the main thing. No analogy goes more than a little way. The Cross far transcends reason and experience. It is indeed inscrutable in its very nature, and must be trusted implicitly if at all. The human mind offers a dull and wearied resistance to explanations which, as it easily perceives, do not touch the central mystery. In the Epistles we have the fact set forth in a variety of phrases which have been found sufficient for the soul's needs. Such explanation as these furnish must be used to the full. For, running to another extreme, evangelical preaching sometimes misses the mark by continual, exhausting demands for faith. The cry 'Believe, believe,' mocks and irritates when it is not accompanied by a setting forth of the ground on which faith may rest how God is just and the justifier of them who believe in Jesus.
W. Robertson Nicoll, Ten Minute Sermons, p. 227.
Manifestation of Suffering
No one ignorant of the nature, power, and guilt of sin can understand this text, but to the humbled sinner it is 'good tidings of great joy,' of which Christmas and the Epiphany speak to us.
I. For the Sacrifice is for His Salvation.
a. It gives him rest from the works of the law (Romans 8:1-4 ; Galatians 3:10-13 ).
b. It brings reconciliation and communion with God (Romans 5:9-11 ).
c. It assures his heart with a triumphant confidence (Romans 8:32-34 ).
II. The Virtue of this Sacrifice is its Completeness (John 19:30 ; Hebrews 10:14 ).
a. The sinner has broken the holy law of God (Romans 3:20 ).
b. His own righteousness is of no avail (Isaiah 64:6 )
c. But Christ is a complete surety for the sinner (Hebrews 7:20-22 ); an accepted surety (2 Corinthians 5:21 ); and the sinner stands complete and accepted in Him (Ephesians 1:6 ; Colossians 2:10 ).
III. Shall we not Lay our Sin where the Lord hath Laid it on Him? (Leviticus 16:21 ).
a. Shall we dare to trifle with that sin, which cost Him such bitter suffering? (Zechariah 12:10 ; Hebrews 10:29 ).
b. Shall we allow self-righteousness to rob us of the precious hope of full redemption in Him? (Galatians 2:21 ; Galatians 3:12-13 ; Galatians 5:2-4 ).
(c) Shall we not rise to the heavenly privilege of praise for this great work? (Revelation 1:5 ).
References. LIII. 6. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xii. No. 694; vol. xvi. No. 925. W. Hay M. H. Aitken, Mission Sermons (2nd Series), p. 112. W. Howell Evans, Sermons for the Church's Year, p. 93. Ambrose Shepherd, The Gospel and Social Questions, p. 49. A. Maclaren, Paul's Prayers, p. 168. LIII. 7. W. H. Hutchings, Sermon-Sketches, p. 105. G. S. Barrett, Outlines of Sermons on the Old Testament, p. 221. Rutherford Waddell, Behold the Lamb of God, p. 69. "Plain Sermons "by contributors to the Tracts for the Times, vol. v. p. 86. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Isaiah, XLIX.-LXVI. p. 103. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxvi. No. 1543. LIII. 10. Ibid. vol. iv. No. 173; vol. x. No. 561; vol. xxxvii. No. 2186; vol. li. No. 2963. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Isaiah XLIX.-LXVI. p. 108. G. W. Herbert, Notes of Sermons, p. 267. J. Martineau, Endeavours After the Christian Life, p. 54. A. Mursell, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxxvii. 1890, p. 77.
The Travail of Christ's Soul
The travail of His soul! The Prophet lays no particular emphasis upon Christ's bodily suffering, because, though most visible, it was not the main part of His atoning sufferings. He emphasizes the inward mental spiritual agony, as that in which chiefly He bore our iniquities. Mental is in itself harder to bear than bodily pain. The soul, with its larger capacities, finer sensibilities, and chief place as governor of the body, is more sensitive. Bodily pain is narrower in its range and exhausts itself sooner. What physical agony can compare with the sharp sting of inward anguish?
Let us reverently note some of those things which we may conceive constituted for our Lord 'the travail of His soul'.
We must not limit Christ's atoning mental sufferings to His actual endurance on the cross, or forget what He endured before the last scenes of His ministry on earth. His closing sufferings were more intense, but in the death-sufferings we should not lose sight of the life-sufferings; for the whole period of His public ministry was a 'temptation,' and to Him temptation was suffering, as He met and fought it. It came upon Him from friend and foe.
I. He Endured the Contradiction of Sinners against Himself. What neglects and oppositions were heaped upon Him! Ignorant but well-meaning friends tried His patience, failed to understand His character or believe in His words, and sought to thwart His aims which they could not grasp (cf. St. Matthew 16:8 seq., 16:23, 17:17; St. Luke 24:25 ). Enemies gainsaid Him, refused His counsel, despised His teaching, caricatured His doctrine, said all manner of evil against Him falsely, even calling Him Beelzebub. Such contradiction, with all the irritation, and sorrow, and pain, and heaviness it caused Him, no one has ever endured, and none can understand what a humiliation and grief it was for Him to put up with it from those whom He came to save, and over whose sinful souls, even as they blasphemed Him, His pitying heart yearned with boundless compassion.
II. The Sight and Contact of Human Sin and Misery as they lay Passive around Him must have Deeply Wounded His Soul. He was holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners. He had all sources of personal happiness within Himself, yet He went down into the depths of society, into the depths of this fallen world, where only scenes of sin and misery could meet His eye, and tear His heart, and pain His purity. How must that native purity of His sinless humanity have been repelled and shocked as He, with His exquisite susceptibilities all instinct with holiness and love, beheld the sin, and selfishness and woe of the men among whom He dwelt!
III. His Foresight of the Doom Coming on God's Chosen People caused Him Pain. His tears over Jerusalem, forsaken and doomed to utter desolation, expressed the real sorrow of His soul. He alone knew the wrath that His nation was treasuring up, and how hopeless was their position through rejecting His gracious efforts. He wept in the anguish and pity of His heart that such vengeance was in store for them, and that they themselves had made it for ever impossible for Him to avert it. Very acute such sorrow, venting itself in such tears, must have been to Him who came to 'save the lost sheep of the house of Israel'; who carried the knowledge of that doom with Him through life, and found all his efforts to rescue them vain, and had at last to confess His impotence, and give them up in sorrowful despair.
IV. The Shadow of the Cross Projecting itself over His Life cast a Burden over His Spirit as He anticipated the end of His ministry. Ever and again that burden pressed Him to speak of it, especially as time went on. But it was always with Him in daily consciousness, ever growing heavier and more distinct, and straitening Him more and more until His baptism should be accomplished. What a weight He must have carried on His soul in the knowledge of the death He was to die! How hard it must have been for Him to labour on with this prospect before Him! His humanity might well and naturally shrink from such painful anticipations. He was fitted to enjoy life perfectly and abundantly as none else; to delight in all beautiful things in nature; to appreciate all Divine and human truth; to feel the impression of all that was pure and lovely and virtuous and of good report. Yet He denied Himself, put a restraint on these holy and heavenly natural instincts of His, and bent Himself to the task of obedience, though He knew it was to be obedience unto death, even the death of the cross. Truly 'He learned obedience by the things which He suffered'.
The travail of soul during life culminated at death, assuming a distinctness and bitterness peculiarly great as that crisis arrived. All the past was intensified and concentrated, and additional elements of pain were experienced. Thus His friends forsook Him and fled. One denied Him. One betrayed Him. Did not this experience, to One who was so sympathetic and social Himself, and who then needed all the human sympathy and society which His friends could give Him, cause sorrow of soul of no ordinary kind?
a. The costliness of His redemption.
b. The evil and shamefulness of sin.
c. The reality of our Lord's sympathy for all who are in the world as He was, and follow in His footsteps.
d. The greatness of the suffering of the impenitent.
Our text speaks to us of the 'satisfaction' the Lord will experience at the result of His great atoning work. Many a man is not satisfied with the fruit of all his labour; no man is indeed in this world ever satisfied with the results of his expenditure. But Christ is satisfied at every stage with the progress made. His satisfaction keeps pace with every enlarging vision of the travail of His soul. His satisfaction shall be full when the vision is complete. When the sons and daughters are all brought home, He will desire nothing more, and regret nothing. His delight is then perfect. He shall be satisfied with His people.
I. Satisfied with their Number. There will be a multitude that no man can number; the vast majority of the race: a mighty gathering, countless as the dewdrops from the womb of the morning (Psalms 110:3 ); and as He casts His eye over the General Assembly and Church of Himself, the First-born, He will not murmur that He has not more. Sufficient reward will He deem them to be for His travail of soul.
II. With their Variety. All kindreds and nations shall be represented there; all varieties of generations, and ages, and climes, of culture, and temperament, and experience, of rank and degree in the social and the moral world, shall be brought together in perfect unity, to satisfy Him with the sight of their diversity in unity, and of the suitability of the 'common salvation'.
III. With their Character and Attainments. All shall stand perfect and complete in all the Will of God; each, in his measure and degree, according to his capacity, filled with the Spirit, conformed to the image of the 'First-born among many brethren,' and partaking of the Divine nature, and beginning an eternal progress; so that He shall see them faultless and worthy of Himself, and have no greater joy than see them walking in the truth, and desire no greater perfection in them at any stage of their eternal history.
IV. With their Prospects. They shall have fullness of joy, pleasures for evermore, new reaches of duty, new anticipations of higher felicity in His presence; and, under His guidance, enlarged and ever-enlarging capacities. There will be no drawbacks and deductions with God Himself their portion, heaven their home, His truth their study, His service their duty, His presence their light and glory. He will ask nothing more for them. He shall be satisfied with what God has given to Him for them.
V. With their Praises. They shall thank Him, cast their crowns at His feet, fill heaven with His glory, and bless Him with full hearts and unfaltering lips as they never could on earth; and as they cry, 'Worthy is the Lamb that was slain!' He shall be satisfied, and feel such adoring gratitude ample recompense for the travail of His soul. How great must be the number, variety, attainments, prospects, and thanks of Christ's redeemed to satisfy Him for His sorrow, and make Him think that that was not too sharp and sore for what it has brought!
References. LIII. 11. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Isaiah XLIX.-LXVI. p. 108. T. Binney, Sermon Preached in the King's Weigh-House Chapel, p. 1. W. P. Balfern, Glimpses of Jesus, p. 237. R. Waddy Moss, The Discipline of the Soul, p. 57. T. Monod, Outlines of Sermons on the Old Testament, p. 219. J. Keble, Sermons for the Holy Week, p. 153. LIII. 12. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. viii. No. 458; vol. xxiii. No. 1385; vol. xxxv. No. 2070. W. H. Hutchings, Sermon-Sketches (2nd Series), p. 44. J. B. Stedeford, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxvi. 1904, p. 133. R. E. Hutton, The Crown of Christ, vol. ii. p. 173. W. Alexander, Verbum Crucis, p. 19. A. Maclaren, Exposition of Holy Scripture Isaiah XLIX.-LXVI. p. 117. Jesse Butt, The Soul's Escape, p. 62. LIV. 1. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xi. No. 649.
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Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Isaiah 53". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/
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