The Centrality of the Cross

Sermon by James Baird on March 5, 1989

Galatians 6:7-18

March 5, 1989

Galatians 6:7-18
The Centrality of the Cross

Dr. James M.
Baird

Let us continue our worship of that God who is the true God
and the God that we give our worship and love to, as we turn in His Bible to the
book of Galatians, chapter 6 of the book of Galatians. I remember the time a
young man invited me out for lunch. At the conclusion of the lunch (he was a
young businessman, married, had some new children in his family) and he turned
to me and he asked, he said, “What is the very center of Christianity? I grew
up in the church; somehow I missed it. I have fallen away. I know something of
the Bible, yet somehow it never clicked.” He said, “In my business, I’m very
direct,” he said. “Give me the bottom line. What is Christianity all about?
Where is the secret?” How would you have answered?

Suppose, suppose a stranger
visited Jackson, Mississippi and entered into the worship service and he knew
absolutely nothing about Christianity. He’s come from another place, perhaps
from another religion, and he knows absolutely nothing. What would he learn
from this worship service as the secret, the center, the core, the essential of
Christianity? Can you see that man walk up the sidewalk, look at the
architecture of this church–his eye would be drawn to that majestic steeple and
then on the top would be a symbol. He would walk in the door and he would be
met by ushers. They would have a beautiful badge over their hearts, a red
badge, and there would be a yellow symbol. He would walk into the sanctuary,
and I would trust that he would notice that the architecture of the sanctuary is
laid out in that same symbol. He would hear the confession of the faith of the
church for 1600 years, and at the center of it would be the suffering of Jesus
Christ, and then he would hear us sing about clinging to the cross. And he
would assume that somehow at the center of Christianity is the cross of Jesus
Christ. Would he not be right?

Yet, always the church has asked
that question, What is the secret? What is the center? In the day of the
Apostle Paul, in the Galatian churches, a group of churches in what is called
Turkey today, the question would be raised then, “What is the center, the core,
the bottom line of Christianity?” There were those itinerant preachers that
were coming through in that day as they do in our day, and there were some in
and around the churches of Galatia, and they were teaching that if you want to
have the approval of God, it is alright to have all these things of
Christianity, but the secret is found in a church ritual, and you must do this
to be a Christian. And the Apostle Paul disagrees, and answers that suggestion
that the centrality is taken away from the very heart of Christianity and it is
put on something else. And can it be that there is somebody here today or
listening to my voice who has missed the very heart and has wondered why things
have not clicked? May God use this Scripture reading and this message, and all
of this month may it be a specific and a great month in the life of this
church. Now hear the word of God. The Apostle Paul points his finger at the
very place of the secret of Christianity. The book of Galatians, the last
chapter, chapter 6, and I begin to read in verse 7:

Galatians 6:7-18:

7 Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that
shall he also reap. 8 For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh
reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life
everlasting. 9 And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season
we shall reap, if we faint not. 10 As we have therefore opportunity, let
us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of
faith. 11 Ye see how large a letter I have written unto you with mine own
hand. [This was when Paul did not dictate and he was writing in large letters]
12 As many as desire to make a fair shew in the flesh, they constrain you
to be circumcised; only lest they should suffer persecution for the cross of
Christ. 13 For neither they themselves who are circumcised keep the law;
but desire to have you circumcised, that they may glory in your flesh. 14
But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ,
by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world. 15 For in
Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a
new creature. 16 And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be
on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God. 17 From henceforth let no
man trouble me: for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus. 18
Brethren, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen.

Let me read to you our key verse, verse 14, “But God forbid
that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the
world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.” God give us insight.

You know, every religion that is
a monotheistic religion has a symbol. For instance, the symbol of Judaism is
the Star of David. The symbol of Islam is the crescent. Even in our day, in
the secular world, in this century, the hammer and the sickle have represented a
certain kind of a nationalism. Nazis chose the swastika. The Church of the
Lord Jesus Christ has had its symbol all these years and centuries, the cross.
Who chose it? Who chose the cross? May I suggest to you that it was God, no
man and no group but God? And may I suggest to you that the symbol is found in
this book, in His own words. For from the very beginning, from the book of the
Revelation all the way back to the book of Genesis, beginning to end, there is a
thread that draws it all together and that thread is the cross of the Lord Jesus
Christ.

I. The Old Testament and the cross

Let
us examine, first of all, the Old Testament. In the Old Testament in the fourth
chapter, the first order of worship that is given is by Abel and it is the
worship of a lamb, worship involving an animal sacrifice. When you come to
Abraham in the 15th chapter, a covenant is made with Abraham in
behalf of all the people of the world. God is going to do something and that
covenant is brought together, and it’s clenched by a sacrifice of an animal as a
symbol. When Moses comes four hundred years later on Mt. Sinai and the Ten
Commandments and the moral law is given, there is also the law of worship. How
do I worship my God? And it is through the sacrifice of a lamb in behalf of the
people for the forgiveness of sins.

Six hundred years later, the
Church of God in the Old Testament has fallen to the place where it is dead.
They are much in public worship, but on Monday and Tuesday and Wednesday there
is no correlation. They are simply in church but it is not lived out in their
lives, and the prophets are raised up to call the people back to God and to
holiness and righteousness. And where were they pointed to? They are pointed
to the sacrifice of God in the coming of the Messiah. I grew up with a boy.
His family said they believed the Old Testament. Neither one of us read the
Bible. Years later after I had been called to the ministry, I met with him
again. He was the closest thing I ever had in school days to a brother. And I
said, “I want to read you a passage; you tell me if it comes out of the Old or
the New Testament.”

“Surely he hath borne our griefs, and
carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and
afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was
bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him;
and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have
turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of
us all. Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put him to grief:
when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed,
he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in
his hand. He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be
satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he
shall bear their iniquities. Therefore will I divide him a portion with
the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured
out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare
the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.”

And my friend said, “Somewhere in the New Testament.” I
said, “No. Some 700 years before Christ came on this earth, the prophet Isaiah
in the 53 chapter gave us those promises about the cross.”

II. The New Testament and the cross

Then we come into the New Testament, Paul is the
representative of all those people who point to the cross. As God has prepared
His people in the Old Testament, when Christ is presented publicly by John the
Baptist, it is with these words, “Behold, the Lamb of God. The sacrifice of God
that taketh away the sin of the world.” When you come to the writing of the
gospels, the historical account of the life of the Lord Jesus Christ, God the
Holy Spirit chooses the cross.

There is a disproportionate
amount of space given to the time of Christ’s life that begins with His entering
into Jerusalem, the week that He shall be crucified, and then His resurrection.
He is presented to us as a man, some 33 years of age. Most of the gospels deal
with His public ministry those three years, yet here is a space that is given to
that week of suffering by Matthew. Two-fifths of all of the gospel of Matthew
is concerned with Palm Sunday. The gospel of Mark, three-fifths deal with the
cross. Luke devotes one-third of all the words to the cross and the surrounding
events. And the gospel of John: one half, one half!

When I come to the New Testament
and I look at the single man that presents to me the cross most effectively my
heart and mind goes to Peter, because it was Peter who resisted the idea of
Jesus Christ going to the cross. Peter fought Him in the 16th
chapter of Matthew when Peter confesses, ‘Thou are the Christ. You’re the
Messiah.’ Immediately Christ says, ‘Now we go to Jerusalem and there I shall be
crucified.’ Peter turns immediately, and the Bible says he rebukes Jesus
Christ. He says, ‘Far be it from Thee.’

Why? It is inconceivable to us,
the repugnancy of someone who would be crucified. To us it is a symbol, a
symbol of hope and joy and power. But the cross was the cruelest method of
torture that man has ever invented. The Romans refused to let a Roman citizen
be crucified. He may be put to death but never by the cross; that was left for
aliens. Jesus Christ suffered the most horrible kind of a death. Men usually
lived on the cross two or three days. When Christ said, ‘I go to Jerusalem to
be crucified.’ Peter said, ‘It cannot be.’ When they were in the Garden of
Gethsemane and they came to take the Lord Jesus Christ, knowing that He was on
His way to the cross, Peter pulled out a sword and was prepared to fight and
that’s when Christ said, “Put up that sword. All I have to do is call to the
heavenly Father and there are legions of angels. Put up that sword.” The Lord
Jesus Christ made His way to the cross. Peter resisted the very idea of the
cross and yet after the resurrection it is Peter who stands up. And on the
first sermon preached after the resurrection of Jesus Christ, when the
explanation is given about the meaning of the gift of the Holy Spirit, he then
launches into a sermon with these words:

Ye men of Israel, hear these
words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and
wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves
also know: Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of
God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain: Whom God hath
raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that he
should be held by it.

That’s how it
begins: he begins with the cross. The most beautiful words to me of all of the
implications of the cross are found in the second chapter of Peter’s first
epistle where he speaks about that “great Shepherd of our souls,” “the bishop of
our souls who goes to the tree and hangs on the cross so that He might bring our
souls to Himself.” When you come to the book of the Revelation, Jesus Christ is
represented as One who is in heaven, the Lamb that is Slain and then the King:
He is both the suffering servant and the King of all creation who is coming for
His people. When that young man asked me, “What is the center of Christianity?”
may I suggest to you that God said to him (not me), ‘The cross. It is the cross
of the Lord Jesus Christ.’ The Lord Jesus Christ Himself said in John chapter
12, “If I be raised up from this Earth,” and the next verse He says (it’s
talking about His death), “If I be raised up, I will draw all men unto Myself.”
It’s the cross.

III. The cross of Christ in history

It’s
true: wherever the cross of Jesus Christ, and the Christ of the cross, have been
raised up to people, people have been drawn to Him for life and salvation. When
the Church began, they suffered. And then came a man who would become the first
Christian emperor of the Roman Empire, his name was Constantine, and in the year
313, the night before a battle he sees in a vision the cross and the words
“Conquer in this sign.” And thereafter the Church conquers not by military
ways, but by the sufferings of Jesus Christ. But within a few short hundreds of
years the Church turns to dead formalism, and they’re just going through the
motions, just as it was in the day of Isaiah.

And then God begins to raise up
people who are going to present the cross of Jesus Christ, but not as some
ritual. In the 1300’s, John Wycliffe tanslated the Bible, and he sent out
laymen. A man in the 1400’s gets his writings in Bohemia, in the city of
Prague. His name is John Huss, and John Huss presents, ‘It’s the cross of
Christ. Look to Him,’ and Huss is burned at the stake. In the 1500’s Luther is
seeking to find God, and he is on his knees praying and working his way up
church steps when it is as though the voice of God said, ‘It is by faith in
Jesus Christ, He who died for you on the cross.’ And in the 1600’s men came to
this country from England. They called them, we called them “the Pilgrims,” and
they came with the kingdom of God, and they raised up Christ and His cross as
the secret of life. And this country entered into a way of life that has never
gone away.

In the 1700’s in Dusseldorf,
Germany, there was a young painter; his name was Sternberg. He noticed in his
city a group of gypsies entertaining. They had a ten-year-old girl and she was
delightful, and she was dancing and he asked for permission to paint. And he
brought the little girl into his studio and painted her dancing. It’s still
called “Gypsy Girl Dancing.” But the little girl began to notice the unfinished
paintings and she saw one of Christ on the cross unfinished, and asked Sternberg,
“Who is that?” “Jesus.” “Was He a bad man?” “No, He was the best of all men.
He died for all mankind.” And the little girl asked Sternberg, “Did he die for
you?” And he could never get those words out of his memory, one, two years.
And in a little service a friend took him to a worship service like this of a
group of men who were called “the Reformers,” and he heard about the gospel of
Jesus Christ and the death on the cross, and the implications of that death. He
went back and now, as a believer, he finished that painting, and he hung it in
Dusseldorf’s great museum. And shortly after it was held there came a noble
count; his name was Nicholas. Nicholas was raised in a Christian family and is
walking through the museum and he sees this picture of Christ on the cross with
Sternberg’s words underneath, “This I did for thee. What hast thou done for
Me?” And Nicholas Zinzendorf is struck and gives his life to Christ on the
spot. Within two years; he finds a group of people. You know where they came
from? They came from John Huss, almost three centuries previous. They who had
been cast out of of Prague made their way to Poland, but once again suffered and
were cast out. And Zinzendorf says, “Come,” and “Come and live in my lands.”
And they do and they set up a place. They called it “The Haven.” And within
two years, in the year 1732, they send out their first missionaries to the black
people in the western world in the island we call St. Thomas in the Caribbean.
And these Moravian brothers continue to go out in world missions with the idea
of the cross of Jesus Christ.

In the year 1736, four years
later, they are on their way to the Americas and there is a man on that ship
also who is coming. There is a storm; the man is frightened to death though he
is a preacher. He is frightened because he believes he is going to die. These
Moravians are singing hymns of praise to the crucified Christ and he asks them
after the storm abased, “How could you do that?” And they share with him the
cross of the Lord Jesus Christ. John Wesley spends two years in Georgia then
returns to England. And on a Wednesday night in the year 1736, in a Wednesday
night service the preacher is simply reading the preface to Luther’s commentary
on the book of Romans, and a light dawns on Wesley. It is the cross of the Lord
Jesus Christ by the grace of God. And he says his heart was strangely warmed.
And Wesley goes out and he is invited by Whitefield, and they are preaching not
in the church, but they are preaching on the street corners because the church
won’t let them. Whitfield makes his way to the United States and Whitefield
greatly influences the most brilliant mind that the United States has ever
produced. His name is Jonathan Edwards and there is revival that comes all
across the United States. And within a short 20 years the United States is made
a nation, a free nation, in the midst of this tremendous religious thrust. And
after a nation, the west opens up, and they pour across the Alleghenies into
Kentucky and Alabama and they come to Mississippi by the thousands, preaching
the cross, the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ. The shadow of the cross falls on
this congregation. Jesus said, “Whenever I am lifted up, I will draw all men
unto Myself.”

In the year 1825, the governor of
Hong Kong is approaching the nearby Island of Macao. On that island he finds on
a hill, high crested hill, the remains of a great church that the Portuguese had
erected three hundred years previous. The typhoons and storms had struck the
church and the church was in ruin. All had fallen accept the front wall, and
above that front wall, on the top of this church, was a huge bronze cross. The
governor’s name was John Bowring. He goes back to Hong Kong and he writes, “In
the cross of Christ I glory, towering oer the wrecks of time, / All the light of
sacred stories, gathers round its head sublime. When the woes of life oer take
me, hopes deceive and fears annoy, / Never shall the cross forsake me, lo it
glows with peace and joy. When the sun of bliss is beaming, life and love upon
my way when everything is going right, / From the cross the radiance streaming,
adds more luster to the day. Vain and blessing, pain and pleasure, by the cross
a sanctified, / Peace is there that knows no measure, joy that through all times
abides.”

Two
years ago Jane and I were in a little village in England, at the little parish
church at Elstow, looking at the stained glass window of that church where
Bunyan had been raised up, and in that stain glass there is a picture of
Christian from Pilgrims Progress kneeling at the foot of the cross and
the burden is rolling off his back. The burden of his life and the burden of
his sin rolls away. I was with a missionary a number of years ago, a whole
series of preachers at a table at lunch and somebody had asked this missionary a
question and he spoke with a loud voice, “The foot of the cross is the only
answer. The church must come back to the foot of the cross.” I remember that.
Have you been to the foot of the cross or have you missed it? The apostle Paul
said, “God forbid that I should glory except in the cross of the Lord Jesus
Christ.” All of the burdens of life will roll of there, if you will come, if
you will come. ‘The cross of the Lord Jesus Christ,’ God says to that young man
who says, “What’s the heart? What’s the core? What’s the center of
Christianity?” It is believe on the Lord Jesus Christ who was crucified for
you. You come as we pray together.

Beloved Heavenly Father, we
thank Thee that down through the years, though the church has wandered and
struggled, yet above is the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ. We pray, Father,
that it might not be a symbol of nothingness in our life but it might be the
symbol of the fact that we have come to the Christ, the Messiah, and that we
trust Him and embrace Him. We pray Thee that in this service and in this month
that the full implication of our great Savior and what He has done would be
pressed upon us. And we pray here today, for each and every soul, may it be
dear God that we would all cling to the cross of the Christ who loved us and
gave Himself for us, that we might not perish but that we might have life, yea
life everlasting. Hear our prayers. And may Thy benediction come from Heaven
itself, and may Thy benediction rest upon the people of the cross. For it is
now unto the Lord Jesus Christ who is able to keep you from folly; it is now
under the Lord Jesus Christ He who is able at your death to present you sinless
before His throne of grace in Heaven with exceeding great joy. To the only wise
God who is our Savior, unto Him in our hearts, let there be glory, majesty; may
He have dominion and power both now and forevermore. Amen.

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