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Lowell Brueckner

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Chapter for new book (draft)

Him Crucified

“For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” 1 Cor. 2:2

I remember driving into Romania one time during the heat of a political campaign. Along the roads in the countryside, political parties displayed newly-hung advertisements on the billboards. Posters were stuck to many light posts in the towns and banners streamed across the streets. On them all were the faces of candidates for various local, provincial and federal offices. They looked their very best, wearing the most pleasant expressions, and bedecked with fine suits and ties. Every effort was taken to give the impression that these men and women were intelligent, friendly and compassionate human beings, worthy of the votes of the populace. “This is our candidate,” the parties declared, “Vote for this person!”

My mind went back to the Gospels and the central event of all human history. It took place outside the capital city of the little country of Israel. Between heaven and earth a body was hung for public display on a Roman cross. His face was swollen beyond recognition, disfigured from the multiple blows of fists and palms, and from a rod, with which He was beaten over the head. Blood flowed from the wounds of thorns pressed into his forehead and from gaping holes in his hands and feet, where soldiers had driven nails. On the beam just above His head, the Roman governor had commanded that a sign in Latin, Greek and Hebrew, should present the charge, for which He was executed. It read: “This is Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews”. God Almighty looked down upon the scene from His throne room in Heaven and declared, “This is My Candidate! Vote for Him!”

Since that day, the writing has been translated into hundreds of other languages throughout the world. The cross gives us a startling revelation of God’s way of publicity. Make no mistake about it, God’s way is always the right and wise way. Ever since the fall, man’s ways are perverted and twisted 180% away from the divine perception that he was given in creation. His general means of publicity is nothing less than a deception. But Jesus said, “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself” (Jn. 12:32). He was speaking of His crucifixion as an attraction, through which, and only through which, people would be drawn to Him. All humanistic religion aside, no one comes to Christ except through the cross.

Besides seeing this principle of attraction, which befuddles the human mind, there are two other vital attributes of God, graphically depicted by the cross. Let me first ask a question. What primordial quality of God’s personality would you think should immediately be impressed upon your mind as you view the scene of Christ upon the cross? Did you answer love? If so, I am obligated to correct you, because the right answer to this question is essential. The cross intends to weigh heavily upon the human soul the perfect righteousness of a holy God.

The world has a major controversy with the sacrificial death of Christ and His shed blood. “Why this bloody religion?” they ask, “What kind of a bloodthirsty God would demand such torture and suffering from His Son? If God is love, why does He deal with our sins in so violent a manner? Why can’t he simply say, ‘I love you and I forgive you? We will just forget about what you have done and start over.’”

Ah, but the love of God is subject to His righteousness and cannot be put in force until something is done about those sins. It must be so. God is just and must remain just, if He is to forgive our sins, and His kingdom must stand eternally as a kingdom of perfect righteousness. The truth is that God never overlooks the smallest offenses; He never has and never will forgive unconditionally. Each offender will be brought to justice along with each offense.

Every civilized country has a department of justice and the better the judicial system, the more peaceful and safe are its people. Police officials, who do not arrest criminals, and judges, who do not strictly deal out punishment to lawbreakers, are a bane to society. People look to them for safety and for an existence without fear. Of course, in this world we know nothing of perfect righteousness. A small percentage of crimes and misdemeanors are actually punished. But the Kingdom of God is one of perfect safety and peace, because it is a kingdom of perfect righteousness. Nothing will enter His domain, which will in any way contaminate, and thereby, God secures it eternally.

That is why Jesus was on that cross! Nothing happened there, which was not absolutely necessary. In order to begin to understand the severity of the penalty, we must again allow our thinking to run crosscurrent against that of the world’s people, who have adopted the philosophy of humanism. Humanism maintains that everything that happens must be done for the benefit of mankind. Touched as we are by its permeating influence, we may find this morsel difficult to digest: The Bible teaches us that man was not the sole beneficiary of the work of the cross; as a matter of fact, he was not even the chief beneficiary.

In order to get our thinking turned right side up, we must understand simple logic, which has been rejected by a rebellious world. We must come to recognize who is the Creator and who is the creature, and which one of the two it is that exists for the other. Since the answer is too plain to deny, then we can easily see why mutinous man has accepted the theory of evolution. By doing so, he attempts to reject the fact that he has a Creator and consequently he thinks that he can live for himself.

The punishment is horribly infinite, because the sin is infinite, against a personality, who is infinitely holy and worthy of infinite obedience, service and worship. That is why the infinite sacrifice went to the cross, paying an infinite price.

Jesus died principally to appease the wrath of a holy God! There are precedents to that act in the Old Testament. When Israel made and worshiped a golden calf, Moses stood between God and the people and turned “away His wrath from destroying them” (Ps. 106:23).

In Numbers 25, the Israelite men committed fornication with Moabite women and went on from immorality to idolatry. An angry God unleashed a plague that killed 24,000 people. In the midst of all this, one of the princes of Israel brazenly brought a foreign woman into his tent in public view. A priest, Phineas, went into the tent and drove a lance through both bodies and God said, “Phineas… has turned away My wrath from the sons of Israel in that he was jealous with My jealousy among them…” (vs. 11). He did it for God’s sake.

Achan disobeyed God and took forbidden treasures after the conquest of the city of Jericho. As a result Israel lost the next battle and 26 soldiers died, endangering their reputation among the Canaanites as a God-led and empowered people. All of Israel stoned him and “the Lord turned from the fierceness of His anger” (Josh. 7:26).

However, it is in the New Testament that the beloved apostle John records, “He who does not believe the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him” (Jn. 3:36). Paul teaches that the sons of disobedience are “by nature children of wrath” (Eph. 2:3) and that believers are “saved from the wrath of God” (Rom. 5:9). The book of Revelation gives us one horrible glimpse into the fiery punishment of each idolater: “He will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb” (14:10).

The sacrifice of Christ quenched the fiery anger of God and relieved His jealousy. Prophetically, Isaiah clearly showed that it was the Father that sent Him to the cross, because the outcome would give Him pleasure: “The Lord was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief…” (53:10)

We must first face God’s righteousness, when we come before the cross. It is where the hymn writer, John Newton, began his spiritual journey. Feel his pain, as his soul stands naked before the dying Lamb, and understands that it was his sin that put Him there to fulfill the righteous judgment of God against it.

“In evil long I took delight, unawed by shame or fear;
‘Til a new object struck my sight, and stopped my wild career.
I saw one hanging on a tree in agony and blood;
He fixed His languid eyes on me, as near His cross I stood;
Sure, never till my latest breath, can I forget that look;
It seemed to charge me with His death, though not a word He spoke.
My conscience felt and owned the guilt, and plunged me in despair;
I saw my sins His blood had spilt, and helped to hang Him there;
Alas! I knew not what I did! But now my tears are vain;
Where shall my trembling soul be hid, for I the Lord have slain?”

When we begin to understand the righteousness of God, then we can also grasp the glorious truth that follows. Once God has been satisfied, because of His Son’s death, now He turns in love and pardon to the sinner. Once He is assured that perfect justice has been executed, then He seeks to justify the sinner – “He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus”. The Psalmist set it to poetry beautifully: “Lovingkindness and truth have met together; Righteousness and peace have kissed each other” (Ps. 85:10). Truth and righteousness have been upheld, so that mercy and peace can be outpoured. Read as Newton receives a second look from the cross:

“A second look He gave, which said, ‘I freely all forgive.
This blood is for your ransom paid; I died that you may live.
Thus while His death my sin displays in all its blackest hue,
Such is the mystery of grace, it seals my pardon too.
O, can it be, upon a tree the Savior died for me?
My soul is thrilled, my heart is filled, to think He died for me!”

It may be fitting for us to sing the preceding song as a prelude to his most famous hymn…
“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me,
I once was lost, but now am found,’twas blind, but now I see.”

Jesus Christ is the sole Person that Paul determined to see exalted in the church and the cross is the sole message that he determined to hear preached.


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