The Crucial Nature of the Cross

Bible Book: John  20 : 1-18
Subject: Cross of Christ; Blood, The; Salvation; Substitution

A Native American Indian was sending a message of love to his girlfriend by way of smoke signals. This was at the time when the government was testing the atomic bomb out west. As he was sending his love note using smoke, one of those experimental bombs went off some miles away. He turned to watch this gigantic cloud of smoke rise in layers toward the heavens. He looked at his little smoke column and looked again at that great smoke cloud from the bomb and sighed saying, "I wish I had said that."

Surely all the expressions of love on earth, when compared to the cross of Jesus Christ, must look like a small fire made of sticks when compared to an atomic bomb. No one ever said I love you the way God did at Calvary! Today we turn our attention back to the old rugged cross.

We are going to look at The Crucial Nature of the Cross. There is a centrality of the cross in much of our outward church life. What is the symbol of the Christian church? It is a cross. It adorns the top of the steeples on our churches. The symbol of the church is not a burning bush, or a seven-pronged candlestick, or a towel and a bowl – it is the cross! It is worn as jewelry or as a silent witness. Many of our hymns recall the cross. We sing songs like: "Down at the Cross Where My Savior Died"; "Where you There When They Crucified My Lord?;" "The Old Rugged Cross"; "At the Cross, At the Cross Where I First Saw the Lord"; "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross, On Which the Prince of Glory Died"; and, many others. Our outward expressions of our love for the cross are manifold and diverse. Today, however, we need to go beyond these outward aspects of the importance of the cross. Let us today look at the crucial nature of the cross from God's point of view.

I. Crucial in Understanding the Scriptures

One can never fully appreciate the Bible unless that person sees the message of the cross from beginning to end. The cross occupies the scripture from Genesis to Revelation.

In Genesis 3 we read "…bruise his heel, but he will crush your head"

In Abraham, we see Issac and the substitute of the ram caught in the thicket.

In the Passsover we note that the blood was placed above the door from a lamb and that provided an escape from death.

In the Wilderness we see the bronze serpent on a pole, which Jesus directly referred to as a picture of His cross (John 3).

In the Sacrifices of the Temple and Tabernacle we learn of the need for a blood substitute for human sin.

In Psalm 22 we read, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" just as Jesus stated it from the cross.

In Isaiah 53 the Bible tells us that "The Lord has laid upon him the sin of us all.”

In other words, the Old Testament is one continuous message of the centrality of the cross in the heart of God.

In his birth, the angel said he would save his people from sin.

In his teaching he pointing to his death at the hands of men.

In his parables he told of the son sent and killed.

In Acts we note that the first sermon spoke of him whom they pierced.

In Paul’s writing we read, "God forbid that I should glory save in the cross."

In Peter’s writing we read that "….we were redeemed by the precious blood of the lamb."

In Revelation we are told that, "They overcame him with blood of the lamb." The New Testament is a book about the cross of Christ.

The Gospel writers majored on the cross. Matthew took up 1/3 of his Gospel concerning the passion of Jesus. Mark took up 1/3 as well. Luke consumed 1/4 of his Gospel to tell the story of the death of Jesus. John amazingly took up 1/2 his gospel to tell the story of about ten days surrounding the cross of Jesus!

In a biography of Daniel Webster, that covered 863 pages, only five pages were devoted to his death. In a volumous work on the life of Abraham Lincoln, that contained 5,000 pages, only twenty-five were used to tell of his death. Think of it! John used up 1/2 his writing space to talk about the days surrounding the cross! Why? He did so because this event is near to the heart of God. The cross is central in the plans and work of heaven.

II. Crucial to Understanding Sin

Sin may seem an unimportant thing to this generation, but if we want to see what God thinks of sin we must look back to the cross. The ugliness and costliness of sin is seen in what sin did to the Son of God on the Cross.

Jesus knew no sin, had no sin, did no sin, yet he died! Why? You know that he died in our place carrying our sins. In fact, the Bible states that he became sin for us. In the passage before us we see that Jesus was declared innocent (see John 18:38; 19:4, 6). Pilate’s wife called Jesus just (innocent). The thief on the cross said that Jesus had done nothing amiss. The Roman Centurion said, "Surely this was the Son of God". His sins were not his own, they were mine and yours.

The cross is central to our understanding of God's view of sin. If he spared not his own son, what must he think of sin in our lives!

There is a story of King Charles V and the merchant from Antwerp who loaned him a great sum of money. The King invited the debtor to a dinner. The debtor was certain that he King was going to have him thrown in jail and would use the great dinner to embarrass him. But, at the dinner the King openly forgave the entire debt. The debtor wept with gratitude.

Have you and I any tears of gladness and thankfulness because of the debt Jesus paid for us at Calvary? We must never forget that it was only through the blood of Jesus shed at the Cross that our sins are forgiven!

III. Central to Understanding Separation

If our separation from God were not terrible, Jesus never would have died so horrible a death to remove that separation.

If hell were not a place of torment, Jesus would not have borne such agony to provide a way for us to escape our place there.

If damnation were not so eternally irreversible, Jesus never would have suffered so deeply for us at the cross. The cross tells us how wide, deep and awful the separation was between us and God.

I know this subject is not popular these days. Yet, Jesus spoke of it often. In fact, He died the brutal death of the Cross to keep us from hell. We should never be ashamed of Him and fail to mention this truth!

We are separated from God in our sin. That is why Jesus died on the cross. He died to bring us back to God, to make us righteous in God's sight, and to remove sin from us. It is interesting to note the three men on those crosses.

One died for Sin - Jesus.

One died in Sin - the lost thief.

One died to sin - the one who believed on Jesus.

There at the cross one of the dying men received eternal life. To the saved thief Jesus said, "Today you will be with me in paradise". The other man was separated from God. Both men were thieves. Both deserved to die. Both were lost. But one of them looked to Jesus and was gloriously saved. He was no longer separated from God. It was all because of the Cross and Jesus’ willingness to die there for that thief and for us!

Have you accepted Jesus and His work at the cross for forgiveness of your sin? You can. You can do that today and you ought to do that right now. In a few moments we will give an invitation, and you can come to know God through His Son, Jesus Christ. Every person here is either the sinner who rejected Jesus at the cross or the sinner who received Him. The cross makes the difference in whether you are separated from God or united with Him in salvation.

IV. Central to Salvation

During the French revolution a young man was condemned to die. His father had the same name so he reported in the place of his son. He went to the guillotine and died in the place of his son. That is just what Jesus did for us. He died in our place.

The saved thief was outside Christ in the morning, in Christ by noontime, and with Christ by nightfall. Only the cross made that possible.

It was not Jesus' example that saved the man; he had no time to follow that example.

It was not Jesus' teachings that saved the man; he had no time to hear those teachings.

It was not good works that saved the man; he could do no good works from the cross where he was dying.

It was faith in Jesus Christ and His vicarious death that saved the dying thief. "Nothing in my hand I bring,

“Simply to the cross I cling."

Spurgeon was fond of saying, "Morality can keep you out of jail but only the blood can keep you out of hell!"

V. Central to Service

We serve in obedient ways! We serve by taking up our cross, meaning that we do the will of God regardless of the cost. It is not our goal to be happy, wealthy, or popular; it is our goal to please the Father. That is what Jesus did! You can't serve God until you are saved. Jesus said, "No man can serve two masters." Come to Jesus. He yoke is easy and his burden is light. He loves you and promises to never leave you. Trust Him now as your Savior, just like the man of the cross did. It is a decision you will never regret.


Dwight L. Moody used to tell the story of the man who went west during the gold rush days in California. He later sent for his wife and son who set sail for San Francisco. On the way the ship caught on fire and was going down. There were not enough life rafts, but the lady begged to get into one. Finally the mate in one of the boats said, "One of you may get into the lifeboat". That mother gently kissed her boy goodbye and lowered him into the lifeboat, staying herself on the ship to die.

As she let the boy down she yelled, "If you live, my son, tell you daddy I died in your place! Tell your daddy I died in your place!"

That is what Jesus did for you! He died in our place. The songwriter said,

"Twas not the church that saved my soul,

Nor yet my life so free from sin,

Twas Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God

He rescued me, He took me in.

“Twas not my works that saved my soul,

Nor yet my zeal, my prayers, my tears,

Twas Jesus Christ, the Son of God,

He bore my sins, he calmed my fears.

“Oh, hallelujah, praise His name!

Twas Jesus Christ who made me whole;

He rescued me from sin and shame,

He bled, he died, he saved my soul!” (Oswald J. Smith)