What is the Gospel? How can God be just and the justifier of men? Why did Jesus have to die? Why did Christ have to pay for sin? What happened to Christ that paid for our sin? Are those questions truly answered today? No, because we have reduced the gospel of Jesus Christ down to 4 Spiritual laws or some things God wants you to know. It's become a creed robbed of power. What is the Gospel message? To best define it, you have to look to Romans 3. It's the essential element of the gospel. Apart from it, you can't teach correctly the gospel of Christ. We live in a day when the gospel is not very clear. A great sin of our age is reducing the gospel to an intellectual ascent. We've taken the glorious gospel and reduced it to 4 spiritual laws or 5 things God wants you to know. If someone says yes to all the right questions, they are popishly declared saved after a prayer. Many a preacher count 1000s saved but they can't be found on Sunday. It's an age of superficiality; an age of making lots of noise but what's being accomplished?
Our greatest need is to rediscover the gospel of Jesus Christ and to proclaim it. We need men and women who believe that this task is so great that not one strategy in the world can make one soul converted. The power of salvation is only the gospel of Jesus Christ. But this just isn't for the lost. The greatest motivation, the only true motivation is what God has done for us in the person and work of Jesus Christ. It's a strong medicine to keep people when all they can do for themselves is walk away during those times we all have throughout life. It's His revelation and glory of the face of Jesus Christ to keep us. It's our only motivation; He who shed His blood for my soul. The Christian lives between two days; the day when Christ hung on that cross before men and the day when all men will kneel before Christ. That's our motivation. Now let's look at this little gospel of ours and see if we understand it as much as we do. Romans 3:23 is one of the first parts of Scripture we come to know. When you hear something over and over it becomes common, and when it becomes common, it loses its power. This is not the fault of the text, it's the fault of our own, but it happens nonetheless.
"ALL HAVE SINNED..."
One of the greatest problems with gospel teaching today is that we are not wounding men. Why do men not seek a savior? Because in much teaching men are pretty much ok; they just need to be tweaked here and there. They got everything they need but that last area which is filled with Jesus. They don't understand all men are born in sin, wretched and defiled and God-hating with a dark and dead heart. No man seeks Him. We must tell men, convince men, and use the scripture with all our might to scream this out. So much of the gospel taught today has so little power. The problem toady isn't to get men saved; it's to get them lost. Look at the first 3 chapters of Romans where Paul does his best to shut men off from every fleshly hope, to lock them up in a closet, to offer no relief in the flesh. Why? So they will cry out to God for mercy. Think about that. Do you know why people no longer tremble about sin? The heinous nature of sin, the revelation of it is the work of the Holy Spirit. When we teach we are to be kind, gentle, and loving, but we are to make much of sin. How much sin work is done witnessing? How much Scriptures is laid out before men? How much convincing is done?
I know the popular thing to do is ask the person, 'Do you know you are a sinner?' If they say yes we go onto the next question. If a person says, 'Yes, I know I am a sinner', it means absolutely nothing. The question is not do you know that you're a sinner; the devil knows he's a sinner, and a mighty fine one at that. It's not do you recognize you're a sinner, the question is, 'Upon hearing the gospel, has God so moved in your heart that the sin you once loved you now hate, that the sin you once boasted of, you are now ashamed, that the sin you once clinged to, you now desire with all your heart to be separated from it? ALL HAVE SINNED..." and fall short of the glory of God. Modern day interpretations go something like this, 'It's all about man.' 'God has a wonderful plan for your life, but you didn't meet that purpose.' That's really not the emphasis in the text here. You have to look at this in its proper context, and that's chapter 1.
When it says all have fallen short of the glory of God, it means although they knew God they did not honor him as God nor give thanks. Man's greatest problem today is he's all about himself. There's an infinite hole in his heart and it cannot be filled up with all of his own self or all the world it requires, infinite, and that's God. As an example look no further than our Christian bookstores today. We are the most protected, most safe, most wealthy Christians who ever walked upon the face of the earth. Yet you walk into any Christian bookstore today and you find 75% of the books deal with how empty we are. Why are we so empty? For the same reason Jesus Christ never was; He said 'I have food to eat you know not of and my food is to do the will of the Him who sent Me.' It's all about self; men are full of self. Men don't need more self esteem.
They need to realize that is their greatest problem and what they need is to esteem the only One who is worthy of esteem and that is God. But in order to teach this way and have a gospel this way, men must know who God is. Do you know Sunday morning is one of the greatest hours of idolatry in America? The people worship what they do not know. If I were to pass out a piece of paper and tell the people to write on it classical historical Christianity, a description of the attributes of God, along with a few texts, you realize many people today worship a god who's not a god at all? They worship a god they have made up with their own mind. One of the greatest needs in evangelism is to teach people who God is. The Gospel doesn't start with man but who God is. Because therein lies the problem, if God is not who God is, then sin would not be the problem that it is. But sin is the problem it is, because God is not only love, He is also holy and just. Again, man has sinned; he is at odds with God and God is at odds with man. If you don't believe that you don't believe historical Christianity.
But He goes on in verse 24, BEING JUSTIFIED. Being justified does not mean just-as-if-I-had-never-sinned. It does not mean once a person has a saving faith in Christ, they are made righteous before Him. If true, then they'd be absolutely perfect, never to sin again. Being justified before God is a legal or forensic declaration that God declares that person to be right with Him. How does that happen? As a gift by His grace and nothing but a gift. Look at some important things. Studying the religions today shows there's only 2 religions, that of grace and of works. If you claim of works, you don't understand two basic things; how holy and just God is and how sinfully wicked you are. Look at what it says; justified as a gift. This same word is used when it says they hated Him without a cause. Did anyone have a cause for hating the Messiah? Could anyone point to Jesus and say He did this and this and therefore I have just cause for hating you? No. Christ never sinned against God or man. Yet it says they hated Him without a cause. In the same way He justified them without a cause. They did not give Him a cause to justify them. Here is an example
In Deuteronomy when it was basically asked by Israel to God, 'Why do you love us?', He returns with, 'I've loved you because I've loved you.' It's saying He chose to love Israel; that it had nothing to do with their virtues or worth. If you are justified, it has absolutely nothing to do with you or any virtue or merit in your life. It's all to do with who God is and His saving power of the gospel. These religions we see of works point to themselves as a reason to get to heaven. A true Christian points to another for their standing. The world doesn't understand that because it doesn't make sense to them. That other is Jesus Christ. It's all about Jesus Christ. We are justified because of Him. We have been redeemed, a price paid to liberate a captive or slave. You were redeemed by the blood of God's own Son. Nothing else is needed. As an old preacher used to say:
"CHRIST WILL OFFER YOU TWO THINGS - ETERNAL LIFE AND A TREE TO DIE ON. BUT BECAUSE OF HIS BLOOD, TIS ENOUGH, TIS ENOUGH."
You need something more than acquire the fire, something more than Christian music, and even something more than a call. You need to know and grow all the days of your life in this. He shed his own blood for my soul. That is what propels the Christian. My value is not measured by success. It's measured by faithfulness. We are in terrible trouble when our accomplishments become the grounds of our confidence. Everything that has ever been done by God has been done in and for the Son. Everything is about the Son, and that's the way we should be. A man once said Christ is all we need. No, Christ is all that we have. There's nothing outside of Him And it goes on in the verse, 'whom God displayed publically'. Speaking about the cross, MARTYN LLOYD-JONES said "GOD PLAQUEREDED HIM." He put Jesus up like a sign on the road. He wanted it to be in the most visible place. God could have put sin away somewhere but He put it in the central city of the universe, outside of that city He plaquereded His Son. Why? The cross is more than just the salvation of men.
The cross is for the revelation of God; that in the cross we might know who He is. It says, 'God displayed Him publically as a propitiation...'. Other than the names of God, this is the most important word in the whole Bible, propitiation. This answers a question, the greatest question, a question in which if you've been sensitive to this text, you've realized...that you've dropped open your jaw; a divine dilemma, a problem that cannot be solved. It is THE Gospel; and you have to understand this; and WHAT do you have to understand? It's this problem. It says in verse 23, 'All men have fallen short of the glory of God." And it says in verse 24, 'some of them were justified'. That is WRONG. You say, 'what's wrong?' There's a problem. Go to Proverbs 17:15 to understand this problem. Someone read this. "HE WHO JUSTIFIES THE WICKED....IS AN ABOMINATION TO THE LORD." What is abomination? The strongest word one can use. It is the most heinous, loathsome; beyond words and definition; absolute disgust. And it says, 'He who justifies the wicked...is an abomination to the LORD'. Go back to ROMANS and see it. God justifies the wicked. Ever thought about that? If God is just He cannot forgive you. If God is holy, He cannot fellowship with you. And it's not because there is some law above Him that forbids Him but His own nature. If God is just He cannot forgive the wicked and the judge of all the earth must do right. The greatest problem in all of Scripture is this: If God is just He cannot forgive the wicked. It's possible you say, 'Well I don't understand the problem' - of course not.
Look at our culture. It's not exactly a culture of justice, is it? We're not reading ancient books on law. I doubt too many are reading Rutherford's LEXREX, if any even know what that is (Law of the King). We are a people of unclean lips. We drink down iniquity like it was water. We know not our left hand from our right. But here's the problem in modern vernacular.
YOU COME HOME AND UPON ENTERING, YOU SEE ALL OF YOUR FAMILY LYING ON THE FLOOR MURDERED. YOU SEE THE MURDURER AS HE CHOKES THE LAST BREATH FROM YOUR LAST FAMILY MEMBER. YOU RUSH OVER TO TACKLE HIM, RESTRAIN HIM, CALL, AND WAIT FOR THE POLICE TO SHOW. FROM THE JAIL HE IS TAKEN BEFORE A JUDGE WITH HIS CASE. THE JUDGE LOOKS AT THE MAN AND SAYS "BECAUSE I AM A LOVING JUDGE, YOU ARE FREE TO GO."
You would scream injustice has been done. You would contact every news organization, every media outlet, every representative and senator to tell them there is a judge on the bench that is even more vile than the criminals brought before him. It is the work of a judge to do justice. We as a society cannot live under such a morally twisted strain. You demand such justice from your judges; what about your God? The greatest question in all of theology is this. How can a God be just and at the same time be justifier of the wicked? It's the greatest problem in all of Scripture.
Have you ever heard anything like that before in your life? It's the very central part of the gospel and we have lost it. And we wonder why our gospel has so little power and we've got to do so much church growth tricks to draw a new generation of people in. We are not teaching the gospel anymore. It's a truncated, creedal form that isn't the gospel. The gospel is powerful, life-giving, dangerous, and scandalous; a propitiation. It means be merciful to me; give me what I don't deserve, mercy, mercy; turn a blind eye to justice and let my sin go; asking the master to break the law so that the servant might live. Society cannot bear that strain, and neither can the kingdom of heaven. Before God can forgive wicked men and declare them right, His justice must be satisfied.
Have you ever heard a preacher say, 'God could have been just with you, but He was loving.' Do you know what he's saying? God's love was unjust. No, God is love and God is just. And in love, God satisfies His justice with a sacrifice, a propitiation; a sacrifice powerful enough to satisfy God's justice to appease God's wrath against man and make it possible for a just God to receive wicked men and declare them right with Him. What kind of sacrifice do we need? The blood of bulls and goats cannot do this. A son of Adam has sinned and a son of Adam must die. Man has sinned, man has fallen, and man deserves death in hell, under the wrath of God for all eternity. There is only one way to save a man, to satisfy justice and put away that wrath. It requires a man, but then again, it requires more than a man. The one that dies in the place of men must be a son of Adam but also a Son of God, the fullness of deity, and you say why.
Let's look at some reasons. Jonah in the belly of a fish said a very wise thing we have forgotten, 'Salvation is of the Lord.' (Jonah 2:9) Salvation is of the Lord. He shares that title with no one thing or creature. The One who dies on that cross must be God because 'Salvation is of the Lord.' Who else but God could withstand the wrath of God? Don't you know mountains crumble and rivers dry up in the presence of God? Who can withstand the wrath of God and rise again? Who can be dealt with so harshly and retake his life? A life had to be given; just who though has a life to give? You? Me? A man who lived perfectly? Who has a life to give that was given by another? It was borrowed from God. But Jesus said I have authority to lay down my life and take it up again. It was His alone, not giving a borrowed commodity. He was laying down his own life for the sake of His people.
Now, how can a man suffer on the cross for a few hours and save an eternal multitude of people from hell? That one man could suffer a few hours to save a multitude from hell because that one man was worth more than all of them put together. Take all that is and put it on the scale and put Christ on the other side and He outweighs them all. It is not a quantitative difference. It's a qualitative difference. That is why He had to be God and how He died for us. When theologians talk about the perfect sacrifice of Christ, it's NOT about His sinless perfection; it's about His infinite worth. He did an infinitely great thing for us.
To continue, when you see or read or hear explanations on the cross of Christ, inevitably, what's discussed? What the Jews did to Him; His physical suffering by the Romans; the items used for torture and the torture itself. If you are saved, you are not saved because of what the Romans and Jews did to Jesus, not nearly. If you are saved, you are saved because of what God did to His own Son on that cross. There is today a fascination of the physical sufferings of Christ. It's a Romantic Gospel, a catholic one to turn Him into a martyr to be pitied but not once mention the bearing of sin and the wrath of God falling down on the head of his Son. All those tracts of ours; God on one side and we on the other with a pit between us due to sin; how do you expect the breach to close? Because the Romans laid a whip on His back? He is on that tree and He becomes sin; the holy holy holy one of God becomes sin.
"Cursed is every man who does not abide by all the things written in the book of the law to perform them." (Gal 3:10)
Cursed? It means being so vile before a holy God, so loathsome before the inhabitants of glory, that the last thing that wicked man will hear taking his first step into hell is the all of creation standing to its feet applauding God because God rid the earth of him. Men don't believe that because men don't know how wicked they are. And that's the problem with their Gospel and that's why it has so little power and has to be juiced up with so many other things. All men are under a curse because all men have violated the law of God. But as Paul says in Gal 3:13, 'Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law.' And how did He do it? He became a curse for us. John Gill said, 'He stood in our law place and took upon himself our guilt.' We drink down iniquity like it was water. Does a fish know that it's wet? Not unless you take him out of the water.
Christ, sinless, takes upon himself our sin, and then cries out from that tree, 'My God My God why have You forsaken me?' God did not turn his face away because he could not bear to look at his Son due to the suffering inflicted by man. That's romantic puke and is not true. God turned away from his Son completely because he could not look upon sin. His Son had become sin and a holy God will not even look upon such a thing. Someone had to die outside of His favorable presence to close that breach. Christ the Messiah comes and goes to that tree. He takes your filth upon himself and he dies outside of the favorable presence of God. Outside of the city as a scapegoat, the one who takes the transferred sin and is slaughtered alone on that cross, away from the people's presence, away from God's presence; the literal occurrence from the symbolism of the animal sacrifice.
Psalm 22 is what he gives. With verse 1, He asks why is he forsaken, why is not His groaning heard? In verse 2, He gives a complaint, I cry by day and by night and you do not answer. In verse 4, He gives an argument, There's never been a time in the history of Your people that You have not turned away from a cry of a righteous man, but I, Your own Son, hang upon this tree, and cry out to You and You do not answer, Why? In verse 3 and 6, He gives an answer, 'You are holy and I am but a worm.'
He died under the wrath of God and separated, but let's understand what those terms mean. He's in a garden and cries out, 'Let this cup pass from me.' WHAT WAS IN THE CUP? Men say he didn't want to go to that Roman cross, didn't want those nails. He's sweating drops of blood because he didn't want that Roman whip falling across His back.
Let me ask you a question. Is the captain of our salvation of less courage and less boldness than those who followed Him? Isn't it true we have a history of possibly 50 million martyrs? Is it not true that not long after His ascension men went to the cross to be nailed, whipped, pitched with tar and set aflame singing hymns with the chest out, head up, glad to do it? Are you telling me that the captain of our salvation cowers in a garden because he's afraid of a Roman cross that millions of his followers died on joyfully? What kind of savior do men know?
WHAT WAS IN THE CUP? The wrath of almighty God was in that cup. 8 out of 10 preachers could not tell you that, let alone Christians. It was the wrath of God in that cup; anything else is heresy. I do not want to take away anything from our savior's physical punishment. He was man, and he did suffer. But that alone was not our cause for redemption and salvation. It's what God did to him that saves us. Have you never heard, 'It pleased the LORD to crush Him,' (Is 53:10)? When He was on that tree, God's perfect holy white hot justice was focused upon one target on a hill, and came crashing down with full force of the holy hatred of God against the wickedness of men. Someone had to die under the wrath of God.
Again, here's something to think about. Men not only have a problem with God, God has a problem with men. If you don't understand that you don't understand the gospel. People will say, 'I've been saved!' From what? Sin. Sin wasn't after you; sin was the cause of your problem. From what? God has saved you for Himself, by Himself, from Himself. Because a day will come when He will execute justice upon the whole of creation and there will be no place for any man to hide if he's not covered by Christ's blood. They will forever be punished by the holy perfect wrath of God in hell without end and with just cause.
You read that story of Abraham and Isaac, and he takes his son atop that mountain and ties him up, lays his hand upon the brow of Isaac's head, and with the other a knife; gives his will over to God to come down crashing upon his boy's chest, to slaughter him, his only son. And right when his will submits to God, his hand is stayed. You say yes that's a wonderful ending to the story we all know. Ending? That wasn't the ending. That was the intermission. Hundreds of years later, God lays his hand on the brow of His only begotten Son, and takes that knife out of Abraham's hand, and throw's it down upon the chest of His Son and slaughter's Him on that tree. I say it this way so you will understand the transaction on that tree. God is just. He cannot justify the wicked. Justice must be satisfied; the wrath of God appeased; the death of His only Son. Do you wonder why, maybe now, there's so little power in the teaching that's done? How can you get passionate about four spiritual laws or five things God wants you to know? Look at what we do. This reductionist gospel is given and a person walks the aisle. We counsel with them for five minutes and declare them saved by our own word.
We then take them on to discipleship to go on to greater things and we never touch the gospel with them. That's a reason why a great majority of people in church today are unconverted. I know these are hard things, but they're true. Reality bears witness to this. Christ died, crushed under the wrath of God. Let me explain it another way. Imagine yourself standing a mile away from a dam 1000 miles high and 1000 miles wide, filled with water, and all of the sudden, the dam disappears and all that water in its destructive force comes down upon your head, but right before it gets to you, a hole opens up and swallows it entirely, so has Christ saved you from the wrath of God. He did and rose for our, because of, our justification. God's resurrection of His Son is God's public declaration that our sins have been atoned for. It is paid.
When Christ died upon the cross He vindicated God, and when God resurrected His Son, He vindicated Him. You say, 'What do you mean vindicated God?' That's the whole argument of Paul. He was to demonstrate His righteousness. Who's? God. Why does God have to prove His righteousness? Because of this; in the forbearance of God He passed over sins previously committed. This is what it means. Imagine an accuser before God, THE Accuser before God. When he fell from heaven with the other angels, something happened there; perfect justice was distributed, it was measured out to him. There's no explanation needed. Imagine the Accuser in dealing with God on how He's dealt with men:
'GOD, ADAM? THE WAGES OF SIN DEATH? YOU'LL EAT OF THAT TREE YOU'LL DIE? ADAM? YOU SHOWED MERCY! WHERE IS YOUR JUSTICE? NOAH? HE SHOULD HAVE DIED WITH THE REST OF THEM! ABRAHAM, YOUR FRIEND? SHOULD I POINT OUT HE PUT HIS WIFE IN JEOPARDY THROUGH THINKING OF HIS OWN SELF, LYING, DID NOT BELIEVE YOU IN A FEW CASES AS I REMEMBER! OH, AND DAVID? A MAN AFTER YOUR OWN HEART? HE WAS AN ADULTURER AND HAD A MAN MURDERED! HE DID NOT OBEY THE LAWS OF THE KING! WHERE'S YOUR JUSTICE GOD? HOW CAN YOU SAVE, SPARE ADAM AT LEAST FOR A TIME? HOW CAN YOU PULL NOAH FROM A FLOOD? HOW CAN YOIU CALL ABRAHAM A FRIEND, AND DAVID A SON?
God points to that tree and He says: BECAUSE MY SON DIED FOR THEM ALL! SO ONCE AND FOR ALL THE JUSTICE OF GOD IS VINDICATED.
Let me put it this way. Sinner, do you want to know what God will do to you one day if you reject Christ? When His own Son bore sin and God crushed Him, what do you think He's going to do to you? This is not the God of contemporary Christianity. This is the God of scripture. Our God is not a tame lion. We need a ladder to reach the top, but just as importantly, we need a ladder to reach the bottom as well. Although, in our defense of Christ as deity, we have sometimes forgotten that He was a man. Yes we needed a God to stand for us but we also needed a man to stand for us too. And that man came, lived perfectly, died a perfect sacrifice under a vicious death, and He rose again. Forty days later, He ascended up. What was it like? The old guys used to say this using Psalm 24.
THE CHRIST THE MAN STANDS BEFORE THE GATES OF GLORY. HE CRIES OUT, 'LIFT UP YOUR HEAD O' GATES AND BE LIFTED UP O' ANCIENT DOORS, THAT THE KING OF GLORY MAY COME IN. AND FROM INSIDE THOSE DOORS THERE IS SUCH A SHOCK, AND YOU HEAR THIS ANSWER IN REPLY, 'WHO IS THIS KING OF GLORY?' IT'S AS THOUGH THEY ARE SAYING NO MAN HAS EVER MADE IT TO THESE DOORS. NO MAN HAS EVER DARED STRETCH FORTH HIS HAND TO TOUCH THE LATCH OF THIS GATE. WHO IS THIS KING OF GLORY? AND THEN CHRIST CRIES OUT, 'THE LORD STRONG AND MIGHTY IN BATTLE, LIFT UP YOUR HEAD O' GATES AND BE LIFTED UP O' ANCIENT DOORS THAT THE KING OF GLORY MAY COME IN.
And for the first time in all of time, the gates of heaven were opened to a man, a man for us; what was it like? All hail the power of Jesus' name. Let angels' prostrate fall. Bring forth the royal diadem and crown Him Lord of all!
Can you imagine the man, in flesh, walking up to the throne of God, and without one hesitation or doubt, taking each step with a greater measure of glory and sitting down at the right hand of His Father. And His Father with an affirmation look at Him and say, 'Son, it is finished.' 'Father, it is finished, indeed!' Christ alone is Lord and Savior by God's decree. Man can't make Him Lord. Man can't make anything but an idol. God has made this Jesus Lord and Christ. This same Jesus that ascended up will come back down in glory and power to redeem a bride for Himself and to judge the nations with a rod of iron. Do you see it now?
A message like this requires more than a simple creedal question, now would you like to ask Jesus into your heart. That is NOT the gospel call. The Gospel is stolen from men when humanistic methodology supplants it. The assurance that you've truly believed is not because some leader went to you popishly and declared now you are saved. The assurance will be the enduring work of God in your life. Fruit will come or you are not saved. The gospel is the fragrance of life to some and the smell of death to others.
"The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the Gospel."