Unpacking the Gospel ~ Part 2 “God’s Work at the Cross”

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Unpacking the Gospel, Part 2

God’s Work at the Cross

Bruce A. Hess

As we get ready to do part number two in this series, I want to mention a notable event that occurred on May 28th, in Davenport, Iowa. Maybe you heard about it, but on May the 28th, there was a six-story apartment building—interestingly , enough called The Davenport—that partially collapsed. What happened is the center portion of the building imploded and several people were rescued from that, and there were a couple of people who were unaccounted for in that. The rescuers faced a dilemma, and the dilemma was that they couldn’t really go in and try to get people out who might be buried in the rubble because there was a risk of further collapse. The rescuers said: we were in a no-win situation; we didn’t really know what to do.

Now, here is what I want you to do for a moment. Put on your imagination cap and imagine that you are buried under the rubble. You are still alive; you are unable to extricate yourself from the rubble. What do you need? What do you need? You need a rescuer, right? That is what you need.

That is very much like this study we are going through in this series, Unpacking the Gospel. We, last time, talked about in detail Our Need for the Cross. We talked about how we are unable to extricate ourselves from the spiritual dilemma that we face; that we are helpless; and that we are hopeless without having a rescuer.

Today we are going to look at the fact that God sent to us a Rescuer. In fact, in 1 John, chapter 4, and verse 9, it says this, “God sent His one and only Son into the world so that we might live through Him.” 

As I said, we are doing this four-part series, a series I have been praying about and planning and getting excited about for several months. We are going to spend time Unpacking the Gospel. As I shared last time in part number one, I have Two Primary Motivations for doing this. Motivation number one is this: to clarify the most important truth in the universe. We want to spend some time clarifying the most important truth in the universe. At Wildwood, and beyond Wildwood, we want every man, every woman, every student, every child, to clearly grasp what Jesus Christ has done. We want everyone to understand that. Everyone needs to hear and understand and respond to the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ.

I said we had Two Primary Motivations. Number one is to clarify the most important truth in the universe. Number two is to challenge those who have embraced the Gospel. That would be like many of us here. Sometimes we forget that every time we hear the Gospel delineated it is a fresh opportunity to worship God. It is a fresh opportunity to be reminded of the implications of the Gospel in our life. So, what I am saying to all of us is: don’t miss the opportunity as we spend four Sundays around this subject matter.

We pointed out last time that regular gratitude for the deep grace of the gospel is what Catalyzes a deep attitude of worship. You want to have a daily attitude of worship? Well, regular gratitude for the gospel is what will catalyze that. It is what Energizes our drive to serve God. When we have regular gratitude for the deep grace of the gospel it is what Stimulates our desire to share the Gospel with others. So, it is worthy of our time to develop a fresh, deep gratitude for the grace of the Gospel.

At the core of the gospel is the cross of Christ. Last time we looked at Our Need for the Cross. If you were not here, I would encourage you strongly to go back; go to our webpage, listen to the message, go to our YouTube page, you can watch the message there. But catch that, because we laid a very strong foundation for Our Need for the Cross. We pointed out that while we were created to have a relationship with God, we have a problem, and the problem is that we have all sinned, we have all sinned.

We pointed out last time, there are Two Significant Complications to the fact that we have all sinned. Complication number one is that Sin has a Severe Penalty, a slow death in this life, and an eternal death in the next life and separation from God for eternity. That is a severe penalty!

The second Significant Complication to the fact that we have sinned is, We Cannot Compensate for our Sin Problem. Romans, chapter 3, verse 20, “No one can ever be made right in God’s sight by doing what His law demands.”

So, last week we developed all of that. We started off with bad news. But, the word, ‘gospel’ literally means ‘Good News.’ We see that God provides the solution; God provides the rescuer that we need. That is what we are going to look at today, God’s Work at the Cross. I don’t know about you, but I am really excited about this. God provides the solution, it is exciting! So very exciting!

The key passage is 1 Corinthians, chapter 15, the first few verses. Paul is writing to these believers, he says, “Now I remind you brothers [of what?] the Gospel which I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand…for I delivered to you as of first importance,” [It is very important that we focus on this] what I also received: that Christ died for our sins [We want to slow down right there] in accordance with the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day, in accordance with the Scriptures.” Again, the word ‘Gospel’ means ‘Good News.’ This is good news for us!

I want to focus on those three letter words…for…our…sins….particularly the word ‘for’ and the word ‘our.’ In English, there are three letters to each word, the word ‘for’ and ‘our.’ In the original Greek language, there are four letters each, four letters each. What do they really mean?

Well, Christ died for our sins. The word ‘for,’ in the original language can mean the idea of (1) ‘on behalf of’ or ‘for the sake of.’ But it also could be translated,

(2) ‘in place of,’ the idea being substitution. It is an excellent word choice because both of those meanings are true of what Jesus Christ did on the cross in His death for you and for me. He did it on behalf of us, for the sake of us; he did in the place of us.

Then, the second little three letter word in English, is the word ‘our’ sins. He died for our sins…the idea is ‘for us.’ What does for ‘us’ mean in the original language? Well, it means > us!! It means you and me. He did this for you and me.

Then, notice, “He died for our sins (‘our’ means us!) in accordance with the Scriptures.” That means this is what the Scriptures teach. Isaiah 53: 6 would be one place. “All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us [we looked at this some last time] has turned to his own way; [here we go] but the Lord has caused the sins of us all to fall on Him.”

Here is the picture: I have my sins; they are on me [Bruce holds both hands over his head as if holding a weight]. God took the sins that were on me and put them on Jesus [Bruce moves both hands to his left as if placing a weight on someone else]. They fell onto Jesus. Your sins are on you, and God took your sins and put them on Jesus. It was our sins; your sins, my sins – past, present, and future – that were put onto Jesus.

The reason why we know is it all sins, past, present, and future, is because when this event happened 2000 years ago, I hadn’t even taken a breath yet. Every sin that I would ever commit in my life was put onto Jesus (and they were all future). The same thing is true of you also, and for all of us.

All of this was in accordance with the Scriptures. Galatians 3:13, “He became a curse [here is our same word again] for us”…on behalf of us, for the sake of us, in the place of us. This is what the Bible teaches, and it is over and over again. We could look at a number of them.

1 Timothy 2:6, “He gave Himself a ransom [here is our word again] for all,” on behalf of all, for the sake of all, in place of all. We could look at many of these.

I want to look at one more: [2 Cor. 5:14] “He died,” [what does it say?]for all.” Again, on the behalf of, for the sake of, in place of all people. 

See, men and women, this is why the Son of God came to take on human flesh. This is why He did this; this is why He became the God-Man. This is the whole reason.

Many of you don’t know a former classmate of mine in seminary, his name is Ron Rhodes. Ron Rhodes is a very prolific writer; anything that Ron publishes, I buy. He made a very helpful comment in this regard, here is part of what he said, “If Christ the redeemer had been only God he could not have died, since God by His very nature cannot die. It was only as a man that Christ could represent humanity and die as a man.” Then, he goes on to say, “As God, however, Christ’s death had infinite value sufficient to supply redemption for the sins of all mankind. Clearly then, Christ had to be both God and man to secure man’s salvation.” Make sense? It is why He had to be the God-Man.

1 Peter, chapter 3, verse 18, says this, “Christ died for our sins once for all time.  He never sinned, but He died [here’s our word again) for sinners” [on behalf of them, for the sake of them, in the place of them] “that He might bring us safely home to God.”

You see, a dead person can’t rescue anyone. A dead person can’t rescue anyone, that is why it says God raised Him from the dead; in Acts, chapter 2, verse 24, “God raised Him from the dead.” What does this mean? It means—now I don’t know about you, but this is unbelievable to me, it means—that we did the sinning and Jesus did the dying! Is that not exciting? Is that not good news that we need to hear? Do you see how God’s work at the cross is so parallel to someone being trapped under rubble and they need a rescuer? We need a rescuer and Jesus is our Rescuer!

If you’ve been around Wildwood for a while, you know that I did a series of messages called, Our Great Salvation. By the way, you can go to my webpage at brucehess.com. You can check out the whole six-part series on Our Great Salvation. It includes five different pictures of salvation that are taught in the Bible, plus the security of our salvation in that six-part series that we did. You can go to brucehess.com and find a lot of other messages I have done and I would encourage you to go there. You can stream them there; you can download the MP3, you can speed it up a little bit if you want to; you can get a transcript if you like to read, all of those things are available there. But I would encourage you to go through this series. I talked about how salvation is like a prism and you put the light of salvation into it and it breaks into these various parts. Well, we developed that in that series.

What I want to do today is, just highlight three of the five different pictures. We are going to do it much more briefly, three of the five pictures of salvation I want to highlight. The first picture of salvation is the picture of Redemption, where we see God  the Divine Emancipator. It is a picture of freeing a slave; and yes, we, as human beings, Jesus says, we’re slaves. John 8:34, Jesus says, “Everyone who commits sin,” [is what? What does it say?] “is the slave of sin.” Here is the deal, slaves can’t free themselves, slaves can’t free slaves, slaves need a redeemer. This is part of the picture of our salvation.

In fact, it says in 1 Peter 1:19, You were redeemed…[how?] “…with precious blood…the blood of Christ.” See, the God-Man’s death had infinite value. It was a sufficient ransom for all of humanity to be redeemed.

So, that is the first picture of the scope of our salvation. The second one (I just want to give you this briefly) the second one is that of Reconciliation, where we see God the Divine Restorer. He is the Divine Restorer of relationship.

Colossians, chapter 1, verses 19 and 20, “It was the Father’s good pleasure…through Him [that is Jesus] to reconcile [here we go] all things to himself” [how did he do it?] “having made peace through the blood of His cross.” This is the picture of reconciliation, God being the Divine Restorer. The idea is that sin caused a separation between us and God. It caused this estrangement and Jesus comes along and He removes the hostility. He restores the harmony.

Romans, chapter 5, verse 10, “While we were enemies,” [this will be familiar to many of us] “while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God.” [how did it happen?] “through the death of His Son.” We see this repeated over-and-over again, this theme.

Chapter 5, verse 18 of 2 Corinthians, “God reconciled us to Himself through Christ.” See, we have these various pictures of the scope of salvation.

The third one I just simply want to highlight very briefly, is Justification, where we see God the Divine Arbiter. What is an arbiter? An arbiter is someone who makes a declaration about a legal case. We see Jesus being a key in the process of justification, where God is the Divine Arbiter. We see this passage from 2 Corinthians, chapter 5, verse 21. What is really interesting about this passage–it is very intriguing to me—is the way that it is structured. In 2 Corinthians, chapter 5, verse 21, you have fifteen words in the original Greek language, and they’re simple words. In the NIV, in English, there are twenty-three words all total, twenty-one of them are single syllable words. One of them is a two-syllable word and one of them is a three-syllable word.

I mean, just look at it.  Here is the way that it goes [stated in a very choppy way]: God/made/Him/who/had/no/sin/to/ be/ sin/ for/ us/, so/that/in/Him/ we/might [here comes the two-syllable word] /become/the [here comes the three-syllable word] righteousness/of/God.” Now, that is an unusual structure. We don’t normally talk that way. “God/mad/Him/who/had/no/sin/to/be/sin/for/us/so/that/in/Him/we/might/


Spurgeon called this verse the heart of the gospel. So, we want to look at this in a couple of phases. First of all, “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us.” Jesus had no sin. He was without evil. He never violated any of God’s standards. He had no moral contamination at all.  He made Him who had no sin [ to what?] to be sin for us, to be sin for us. This is exciting to me! This gets me going. Isaiah 53:6, “The Lord laid on Him the guilt and sins of us all.”

 Now, I want you to use your imagination for just a moment. Okay? I want you to imagine a sewer pool full of all the evil and all the sins that were ever going to be committed in human history. You’ve got to use your imagination a little bit. You’ve got to think about the stench of all of this. So, you have this sewer pool: it is full of all the evil and sins that are ever committed in human history. All of the selfishness, all of the theft, all of the lust, all of the lying, all of the arrogant pride, all of the broken promises, all of the hatred, all of the greed, all of the drunkenness, all of the verbal abuse, all of the violence, all of the embezzlement, all of the adultery, all of the pornography, all of the crime, all of the cursing, all of the racial prejudice. Every evil thought, word, and deed is in that sewer pool with an incredible stench to it, and all of it was emptied onto Jesus…the Holy God Himself. Our minds can’t comprehend…all of it was dumped onto Jesus!

See, it should have been me and it should have been you who was nailed up onto a cross. It should have been me;  it should have been you who had to wear a crown of thorns. It should have been me and it should have been you who was beaten where you couldn’t even recognize who they were anymore. It should have been you and me who got a spear in the side. It should have been you and me who would suffer for sin, but not just for one afternoon, but for all of eternity.

You see why this is THE most important truth in all the universe? THE most important truth in all the universe!!

I want to share with you a story that Ron Hutchcraft tells. It is a story of a new friend that he had developed, a guy by the name of Tony. As they were getting acquainted with one another, they were telling about one another’s backgrounds. And as Tony was speaking with Ron, he said, you know what, Ron? I grew up in a really, really tough neighborhood. Tony said, we had a lot of gangs and I belonged to a gang. Tony went on to describe this scenario, he said to Ron, one night a gang from across town came to our turf looking for a rumble [a gang fight] and we gave it to them.

Tony said, I didn’t see it, but a guy from another gang came at me from behind with a knife. He was just about to stab me in the back. My best friend since grade school saw it. Then Ron said, Tony stopped, trying to keep his composure. Then he said very softly, with tears in his eyes, “My friend took my knife—and my life has never been the same.”

When Jesus died on the cross, He took my knife from God. When we embrace that by faith, we can also say, my life has never been the same. When Jesus died on the cross, He took my knife from God. And when we embrace that by faith, we can also say, my life has never been the same.

In 2 Corinthians 5:21, it doesn’t end there, it said, “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us.” [he took that knife]. But it goes on to say, “so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” This is what justification is all about. This has been called ‘the great exchange’: our sin went to Jesus. Now it gets to be mind-blowing: His righteousness came back to us!

Sometimes you hear people wanting to have a way to memorize: what does justification mean? What does it mean to be justified? I’ve heard people sometimes say, well, being justified means [playing on the English word]: just- as-if- I- never- sinned. No, no, no, no, no, no, no!!

When it’s just-as-if- I-never sinned, I’m only back to neutral. This is way, way, way, way, way, way more than that. It means that we are declared to be righteous, not just back to neutral. We are credited with the very righteousness of God. God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” We are credited with the righteousness of Jesus Christ. That, men and women, is unbelievably amazing to me!

What is even more amazing is what is says in Romans 3, verse 24, “We are justified,” [declared righteous by God the Divine Arbiter] “as a gift by His grace.” It is a gift.

Then, in Romans 5:1, “Having been justified,” [declared righteous by God Himself] “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” That is the most amazing truth in all the universe!

This is why, when it comes to the religious realm, Jesus is the only solution. I don’t care what religious leader you want to pick, nobody else was the God-Man. That is why the Bible emphasizes this, that is why it says, Jesus is the only solution. Acts. 4:12, “There is salvation in no one else! There is no other name in all of heaven for people to call on to save them.” He is the only solution.

1 Timothy, chapter 2, verses 5 and 6, “There is one God, and one mediator between God and men.” [who is it?] “the man Christ Jesus.” [why is He the only one?]…“who gave Himself as a ransom for many.”

Jesus is the only solution. Jesus said that Himself in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life [Here it comes] no one comes to God, the Father, except through Me.” Why? Because He is the one who did what needed to be done. He is the one who did the work.

If you’ve been around Wildwood, you know I like to talk about, in the religious world, Do versus Done. What I mean by that is, when you look at all the various religions and then you look at Biblical Christianity, Biblical Christianity is the only one that is unique, because all the various religions spell salvation—the way that you get in good graces with God—they spell it, do, D-0.

Now, they might define it differently, but there is always a list of things you must do. You must do this; you must perform this duty; you must show this amount of faithfulness, so forth and so forth and so forth. You must attend these kinds of services; you must believe these kinds of things. You need to do, do, do, do. You’ve got to DO in order to get in good with God.

Biblical Christianity is totally unique. It is the only one that comes along and says, there is nothing that you need to do, it has been DONE. It has been done for you by the person of Jesus Christ.

So, the key question for everyone is this: is Jesus’ death automatically credited to us? Does it get automatically credited to us? The answer to that is, NO. Everyone must make a life choice to embrace what Christ has done, by faith.

We are going to unpack that more next time. It is very important. But, you see, we are looking at God’s Work on the Cross and the picture is:  we are all trapped under the rubble of sin and judgment. We need a rescuer and Jesus came to extricate us from our situation.

One of the sweetest verses in the Bible is in 1 John 4:9, “God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent His one and only Son into the world,” [for what purpose?] “so that we might live through Him. It is God’s Work at the Cross.

Centuries ago, Anselm said this, “The debt was so great that while man alone owed it, only God could pay it.”

And I think of the song we’ve been talking about singing at the end of each of these messages all four weeks:

How marvelous, how wonderful, and my song shall ever be.

How marvelous, how wonderful is my Savior’s love for me.

Let’s bow in prayer together. Father, we thank You so much just for this incredible truth of the Gospel message and how amazing it is, almost unbelievable. As we zoom in on this most important truth in the universe, frankly it leaves me somewhat speechless. I don’t really know what to say. My mind goes to the words of an old hymn that says,

How could Jesus love me so?

I was lost in sin and woe.

It is wonderful to know

That my Savior loved me so.

And so it is.

We thank You in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Song: ( we sung The Norton Hall Band version…faster paced)

I stand amazed in the presence
Of Jesus the Nazarene
And wonder how He could love me
A sinner condemned, unclean

How marvelous! How wonderful!
And my song shall ever be
How marvelous! How wonderful!
Is my Savior’s love for me

He took my sins and my sorrows
He made them His very own
He bore the burden to Calvary
And suffered and died alone

How marvelous! How wonderful!
And my song shall ever be
How marvelous! How wonderful!
Is my Savior’s love for me

When with the ransomed in glory
His face I at last shall see
‘Twill be my joy through the ages
To sing of His love for me

How marvelous! How wonderful!
And my song shall ever be
How marvelous! How wonderful!
Is my Savior’s love for me

Questions for Reflection

Unpacking the Gospel

‘God’s Work at the Cross’

1. What has stood out to you in the first two messages of this series?

2. If someone asked you—Why was it necessary for Jesus to come to earth as a man? —what would you say?

3. Spurgeon called 2 Corinthians 5:21 ‘the Heart of the Gospel.’  Why did he say that?

    Bruce noted that 2 Corinthians 5:21 has been described as ‘the Great Exchange’

    What makes it so?  Elaborate.

4. What are three key New Testament passages that underscore how Jesus is the ONLY solution to our spiritual dilemma?

5. Bruce referred to a hymn from 1920, “How could Jesus love me so?”

    The verses are like this:

1  How could Jesus love me so,                          2 From the world of glory bright,              
While in sin I wandered?                                   Jesus came to save me;                                      
Careless, heedless to His call,                             In His power by His might
While His grace I squandered;                            Life eternal gave me;
Wonderful it is to know,                                                Wonderful it is to know,
That my Savior loved me so.                              That my Savior loved me so.

3 I’m unworthy of the grace                              Refrain:
He bestows each day,                                           How could Jesus love me so?
Of His tender love and care                                  This is more than I can know;
All along my way;                                                 I was lost in sin and woe,
Wonderful it is to know,                                                   How could Jesus love me so?
That my Savior loved me so.                                 How could Jesus love me so?

Read the lyrics out loud and then spend some time giving Jesus praise from the heart.

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