For it is by grace you have been saved...

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Preaching the Cross at Christmas

Jon Cardwell was gracious enough to make available a pre-release draft of his upcoming book Christ and Him Crucified. I’ve only read the first couple chapters, but I’m already loving it. I love it for this one simple fact: it reminds us again of the centrality of the Cross.

For the last few weeks I’ve taken a break from preaching through Luke’s gospel and we’ve been looking at this one sentence from Paul’s letter to the Galatian churches:

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. (Gal. 4:4-5, ESV)

(BTW you can listen to those messages by following the links over on the right of the page; if you're having trouble sleeping, this is a surefire cure!)

Not only is this an appropriate “holiday” text because it refers to Christ’s coming, but I love it because it centers on the purpose of that coming. I know we like to separate our Christmas and our Easter, but the truth is it can’t truly be done. Sure you can try. You can talk only about the babe in the manger, the shepherds, the angels, the wise men and so on. But unless you talk about the cross, you’re not really talking about the real Jesus.

Here’s the way Jon put it: “The person of Jesus Christ should never be divorced from the work of Jesus Christ. What He has done flows from who He is; and who Christ is necessitates what He does. Jesus is not merely the Christ, but He is the Christ who was crucified… Christ’s atoning death can never be removed from who Jesus is, else He would not be the Christ of scripture, neither would He be the Christ of history.”

I love that. This is why Paul told the church at Corinth that he refused to know nothing among them except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. To speak of Christ at all we have to speak of His purpose as Redeemer. As B. B. Warfield once wrote:

“There is no one of the titles of Christ which is more precious to Christian hearts than ‘Redeemer.’ There are others, it is true, which are more often on the lips of Christians. The acknowledgment of our submission to Christ as our Lord, the recognition of what we owe to Him as our Saviour, - these things, naturally, are most frequently expressed in the names we call Him by.

“’Redeemer,’ however, is a title of more intimate revelation than either ‘Lord’ or ‘Saviour.’ It gives expression not merely to our sense that we have received salvation from Him, but also to our appreciation of what it cost Him to procure this salvation for us. It is the name specifically of the Christ of the cross. Whenever we pronounce it, the cross is placarded before our eyes and our hearts are filled with loving remembrance not only that Christ has given us salvation, but that He paid a mighty price for it.”

We can’t celebrate Christmas apart from a celebration of the cross. We can’t talk about Jesus’ birth with a recognition of the purpose of that birth. We can’t talk about Jesus at all without, as Warfield says, having the cross plastered before our eyes. To speak of Jesus we must speak of the cross and the purpose of it all.

Some folks may think it odd that in the four part series I’m preaching this Advent season, based on the Galatians text, that only one of those messages focuses on the Incarnation itself. The others all focus on God’s Sovereign work of Redemption and Adoption based on Christ’s work on the cross. Preaching the cross at Christmas might seem out of place, but I don’t know how else we can proclaim Christ at all if we’re not proclaiming Christ crucified.

We like to repeat the angel’s message of “good tidings and peace on earth,” but apart from the Substitutionary Atonement, the events of Christmas give no hope at all; no good news; no offer of real peace.

So as we celebrate His coming, I hope you are focused on the reason for it. I hope you see that God sending His Son was for the purpose of redemption, which suggests the need for man to be redeemed. I hope you see that in that manger, the depth of your sin is on full display. I hope your trust is not in a babe in a manger, but in the God-Man on the cross and His empty tomb. I hope you remember that to speak of Jesus Christ, you must speak of Him crucified. And in that truth may you find truly good tidings of great joy and genuine peace.

1 comment:

Trisha said...

Wonderful reminder! My son, Ink, is previewing Cardwell's book, too. And "antique hymnals"? What a preciousl thing to collect!