God the Father has unmeasured love for His people. The supreme manifestation of this love is displayed at the cross of Christ. In that provision, teaches Alistair Begg, the Father arranged for our atonement, and the Son willingly laid down His life. And still today, the Spirit opens the eyes of our hearts to the salvation that was procured—a salvation that is for all rebels who turn from their sinful ways and trust Christ.
Topics: Atonement The Cross Death of Christ Easter
Sermon Transcript: Print
“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
We pray together:
Father, we thank you for these wonderful words that we’ve been able to read. We thank you for the rightful confession that we’ve been able to make. Because quite honestly, on our best day we are unprofitable servants. We thank you for the songs that we have been able to sing together, turning our gaze to Christ and making us ponder the wonder of redemption that is provided in him. And now we pray that as we prepare to celebrate in the way that Jesus asked for us to do—to remember him, to remember him in his death, to remember him in his shedding blood for the salvation of sinful men and women—we pray that the Word of God may find a resting place in each of our hearts and prepare us rightly for all that we will do. And we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Please be seated.
Well, I have just one text, and we began with it. We read more than the text, but it’s Romans 5:8, where Paul says, “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
I don’t know what you’ve been thinking about this week. I’m sure if you’ve had your mind at all on the things that bring us to a night like this, and certainly to Sunday morning, you will have tracked down the familiar avenues of the story of Easter and all that leads up to it. You will perhaps have pondered, as I have done, the fact that really, the early parts of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John serve as a kind of prologue, really, to their great preoccupation with the final week in the life of Jesus. And in the course of all of that, my heart and mind has been stirred just by one simple thought, and it is this: the love of God. The love of God. Hence my text. Let me read it to you again: “God shows his love for us in” this: in “that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Now, I chose Romans 5:8 because it’s brief, but I might equally well have decided that we would take 1 John 4:10, which reads, “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” Or we could equally well have taken what is arguably the best-known verse in the entire Bible, which reads, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
The events that we have read from John 19, which are paralleled in the other Gospels, make it very clear to us that all that unfolded in these moments, in these hours, for the Lord Jesus did not take him by surprise. If you know your Bible, you will know that immediately on the heels of Peter’s great declaration of faith, when Jesus has asked, “Who do people say that I am?” and Peter comes up with the right answer, really—he says, “Well, we know who you are: you are the Christ, the son of the living God”—and then immediately on the heels of that, we’re told… And it’s not the only time that he does it; he does it three times in short order. And this is what it says: “From that time”—this is Matthew 16—“from that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” In speaking of his death, again in the Gospel of John, he wanted his disciples to understand this—and we must understand it too: “No one,” he says, “takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again.”
It is the love of God the Father which is the driving force, which is the impulsive power, that provides us with the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Jesus did not crucify himself. Jesus was crucified. But in the reality of that, he remains transcendent over the very things that are happening to him. And as the sun’s light faded that day, in the middle of the day; and as the darkness covered over the whole land; and as, as we’ve sung, the temple curtain was torn in two—in the midst of all of that, Jesus had cried out with a loud voice. A number of things he cried out. We read one of them: “It is finished.” But he cried out, “Father, into [your] hands I commend my spirit.” And then, having said that, “he breathed his last.”
The amazing drama that unfolded there was such that even hard-bitten soldiers realized, “There is something that has happened here, in this day, that has never happened before and doubtless will never happen again.” The centurion, we’re told, pronounces Christ’s innocence. And the crowd that have been there, milling around, watching—a variety of people, a variety of perspectives—the crowd then begin to disperse. And Luke tells us, “And they went home overcome with grief.” Actually, it says that they were “beating their breasts” as they walked away, as a signal of the reality of what had happened.
And Jesus, when he had said, you know, “I have the power to lay it down and I have the power to take it up again,” realized that the Jews would realize, because they knew that a man hanging upon a cross was cursed by God. He knew that they would be able to put the pieces together in the way that the songwriter has put them together for us now—that the curse has been borne that we who deserve and live under a curse may be freed from the curse because Christ has become a curse for us.
Now, all of that is part and parcel of the things that perhaps you’ve been reading or will read in the next few hours as we come to Easter Sunday. And I find myself, as you know I so often do, retreating or advancing to the hymn writers, for their poetry is so helpful in these things. The hymn writer says,
I sometimes think about the cross,
And [close] my eyes, and try to see
The cruel nails and crown of thorns,
And Jesus crucified for me.
“I close my eyes and try to see.”
Arranged by the Father
Now, I want to say three things, and in very short order—because, remember, I told you I’ve been thinking about the love of God. What I want you to understand tonight is the fact that it is the love of God the Father which is the driving force, which is the impulsive power, that provides us with the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ. So my first point is this: that this event has been arranged by God the Father. “Inscribed upon the cross we see”—again, the hymn writer—“in shining letters, ‘God is love’”; so that salvation, the provision of salvation, springs from the heart of the Father.
Now, this is the thing that has been exercising me. Because I realized that even in my own preaching, even in our own consideration of these things, it is possible for us to be rightly focused on the work of the Lord Jesus—rightly focused on the work of the Lord Jesus—and actually inadvertently failing to recognize that it is the love of God the Father which is the source from which all of this springs. You say, “Well, think about it.” Please do think about it. In that passage where Jesus says, “I have the power to lay it down, I have the power to take it up again,” he says to his listeners, “This charge I have received from my Father.” “I am doing this because my Father has planned for this to take place.”
That’s why in Romans 5, it’s quite remarkable: it says, you know, “Somebody might be prepared to die for a righteous person or to die for a good person, or a righteous, good person, but who would do this? But God commends his love towards us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” The love of the Father from eternity is exercised towards sinners. He decrees from eternity that he will save those who are rebels against him. That’s his decree.
Again, the hymn writer masterfully says, “How helpless and hopeless we sinners had been if he never had loved us till cleansed from our sin.” And that, of course, is where so many people go wrong. They think that’s exactly the position: if you can clean yourself up enough, if you can do the best you can do, then perhaps you’ll put yourself in the position where God will be glad to have you. No! He is the God who from all of eternity has planned with a love—a love that is an antecedent love. In other words, he didn’t love us because we were attractive. He didn’t love us because it was prompted by anything in us. He didn’t love us because we deserved it. He loved us because he loved us.
The Father did not lay on the Son an ordeal he was unwilling to experience, nor did the Son extract from the Father a salvation he was unwilling to provide. Christ died in the sinner’s place as the supreme manifestation and expression of the love of God the Father.
It’s holy ground, isn’t it? Because if you think of the wisdom of God, if we can speak in these terms, you say, “Well, the wisdom of God, it makes us think about the vastness of his mind.” But when you think about the love of God, you’re thinking about the heart of God. God’s purpose of love for sinners was formed before the foundation of the world. And as a result of that, he determined that he would provide for sinners. And in his provision for sinners, he sent his Son to secure the salvation of sinners. “Come, let us sing of a wonderful love … out of the heart of the Father above.” The love of the Father arranged it.
Agreed to by the Son
This atonement, arranged by the Father, was agreed to by the Son. Because the Father knew that sinners would never be in a position to deal with our own predicament. So there was going to have to be a solution. And that solution, provided in the compelling love of the Father, is then expressed in the amazing love of the Lord Jesus, so that on the cross, the Lord Jesus willingly, purposefully experiences what we as sinners deserve. And it is vitally important that we recognize that in seeking to, as it were, apportion these things, we recognize the harmony that exists between the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
And when people go wrong on this, you will be able to pick it up. You will hear people speaking about these things in terminology along these lines: that somehow or another, the death of Christ constrains the love of the Father; that Jesus now has, if you like, induced the Father to love in this way. The reverse is the case: the death of the Lord Jesus Christ, to which he agreed, does not constrain the love of the Father, but the love of the Father constrains the death of his only beloved Son.
“My [God], what love is this that pays so dearly?” I’ve been thinking about this. The Father did not lay on the Son an ordeal he was unwilling to experience, nor did the Son extract from the Father a salvation he was unwilling to provide. But Christ died in the sinner’s place as the supreme—the supreme—manifestation and expression of the love of God the Father. And dying in our place, he provides reconciliation, because we’re alienated. Dying in our place, he bears the curse we deserve. Dying in our place, he provides a pardon by bearing our penalty.
Applied by the Holy Spirit
“O the love that drew salvation’s plan,” arranged by God the Father. “O the grace that brought it down to man,” agreed to by God the Son. And “O the mighty [work] that God [spanned] at Calvary,” because it is applied to us by the Holy Spirit—or, if you read old theology books, I just chose three a’s. What the Father has planned the Son has procured and the Holy Spirit applies. The intertrinitarian purpose of God is beyond our capacity to comprehend. “’Tis finished! The Messiah dies—[and all] for sins, but not his own.” This is ridiculous. “The wages of sin is death.” So how does the sinless die, unless the sinless dies for the sinful, unless the guiltless dies for the guilty?
It’s a mystery how the Spirit of God brings it home to us, but he does. It’s important that we understand that the Holy Spirit is not a spectator in these events. He’s not a bystander. You know this, because you’ve done Hebrews. And in Hebrews 9:14—some of you will have noted it in your Bible—“How much more…” He’s talking about the blood of bulls and goats, remember? If the blood of bulls and goats was providing this external purification, “how much more will the blood of Christ”—notice the phraseology—“who through the eternal Spirit offer[s] himself without blemish to … purify our conscience[s].” In other words, the Holy Spirit was at work both aiding and empowering Christ as he fulfills the privilege of being both the Priest and the Sacrifice and thereby securing an eternal redemption.
It’s also the work of the Holy Spirit, incidentally, to open the eyes of our hearts, causing us to find in Jesus not an idea, not an example, not a guru, but a Savior. You see, when the Holy Spirit fulfills the application of the wonder of the love of the Father and the work of the Son to a life, you don’t talk about it in third-party terminology. No! You find yourself saying with Saul, “The Son of God loved me—and gave himself for me?” He didn’t just deal with sin in a great generic mass. He dealt with your sin. He dealt with my sin. He dealt with everything that represented my disinterest in God, my rebellion against God. He took all of that in himself.
How do I know that? Because the Holy Spirit applied it to my heart. When? In a Sunday school. “A Sunday school? You mean like a child?” Yes, like a child! Thank God for our Sunday school teachers, making clear to children, “This is the love of the Father. This is the work of the Son. This is how the Holy Spirit brings it home to you. And all of a sudden your eyes will be open, and you’ll say, ‘Oh, and I love Jesus too.’” ‘Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.’ The ‘little ones to him belong,’ and we’re the weak, and he is strong.”
Oh, I just—and with this I’ll stop—but I just came across a quote, a wonderful quote, by Spurgeon in this regard the other day, talking about “How in the world is it that we move beyond a simple head knowledge of things like this to where we are brought to close with this, to receive this, to be united with the Lord Jesus Christ?” This is what he says: “The mysterious hand of the divine Spirit dropped the living seed into a heart that He had Himself prepared [to receive it].” How good is that? It’s got to be that! It’s got to be that! Because the people all hear the same talk. The people are all able to think, by and large. The people can follow the progression of some kind of semicogent argument. But who believes? “Who ha[s] believed our report? and to whom [has] the arm of the Lord [been] revealed?” Who has?
I know not how the Spirit moves,
Convincing men of sin,
Revealing Jesus through the Word,
Creating faith in him.
But when he does, the people say, “And I know whom I have believed.”
I wonder: Have you been thinking along these lines too? I wonder: Will you go home tonight and say, “Father, what a love! Lord Jesus Christ, what a Savior! Holy Spirit, what a Friend and Counselor!”
Well, just let’s have a moment of silence.
“God shows his love toward us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
 John 3:16 (ESV).
 Matthew 16:13, 16; Mark 8:27, 29; Luke 9:18, 20 (paraphrased).
 Matthew 16:21 (ESV).
 John 10:18 (ESV).
 John 19:30 (ESV).
 Luke 23:46 (KJV).
 Luke 23:46 (ESV).
 See Matthew 27:54.
 Luke 23:48 (paraphrased).
 Luke 23:48 (ESV).
 William Walsham How, “It Is a Thing Most Wonderful” (1872).
 Thomas Kelly, “We Sing the Praise of Him Who Died” (1815).
 John 10:18 (ESV).
 Arthur Tappan Pierson, “With Harps and with Viols.”
 Robert Walmsley, “Come, Let Us Sing of a Wonderful Love.”
 Graham Kendrick, “Amazing Love (My Lord, What Love Is This)” (1989).
 William R. Newell, “At Calvary” (1895).
 Charles Wesley, “’Tis Finished! The Messiah Dies” (1762).
 Romans 6:23 (ESV).
 Galatians 2:20 (paraphrased).
 Anna B. Warner, “Jesus Loves Me” (1860).
 Charles H. Spurgeon, Morning and Evening, revised and updated by Alistair Begg (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2003), August 13 morning reading.
 Isaiah 53:1 (KJV).
 Daniel W. Whittle, “I Know Whom I Have Believed” (1883).
Copyright © 2022, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
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