Reading: Rom. 3:21-25; 1 Cor. 1:18,20; Col. 2:15.
Perhaps the most important thing in this consideration is to remember that the meaning and the value of the Cross is entirely bound up with the Person on the cross; that is, the cross is not some thing in itself, and it is not an incident, or a method, or a means which could be effective and of value in the same way, no matter who it was involved in it. We have to recognise that the value of the cross is that it is the Cross of the Lord Jesus Christ, and never in our thought or in our language fail to maintain that fact as a positive thing, and speak of the cross as though it were some thing in itself, or as though it were an incident (though a very important incident, with perhaps few incidents in the history of the universe as important) in the plan or course of things. We have to keep clearly in view always the fact that the Cross takes its value entirely from the Person Who was crucified.
In order to realise how important that is, you have to look more closely into the Word of God, and perhaps into one fragment of that Word which has had a very unfortunate translation, and has never been sufficiently corrected in our Version. The passage in question is 1 Corinthians 1:18: "For the word of the cross is to them that are perishing foolishness; but unto us which are being saved it is the power of God". It should be, "The Logos of the Cross"! We have only to be reminded that the word used there by the apostle, and undoubtedly used deliberately, is the word with which John opens his gospel. His gospel is summed up at the end in this way: "Many other signs therefore did Jesus in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book: but these are written, that ye may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye may have life in his name." The whole of the gospel by John is gathered up into that, in order that it might become clear to all that Jesus is the Son of God. Take that right back to the opening statement of the gospel concerning Him; "In the beginning was the Logos, and the Logos was with God, and the Logos WAS GOD"; "...and the Logos became flesh, and tabernacled among us (and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father), full of grace and truth". Paul takes that up. It is one thought, one truth: The Logos of the Cross! The Logos was God, and became flesh!
It matters supremely whose cross it was, and if you are going to admit that range of things as represented by or included in the Person on that cross, then the universe is at once bounded. It is God! Can you get outside of that? In thought, in intent, in design, in purpose, in will, in power, in wisdom, in any way you cannot get outside of God. When you have gone through all realms, at the uttermost limit you find God. Now see that brought to the Cross. The Cross is cosmic. The Cross is universal. The Cross is tremendous in its range. All things, in all realms, are gathered into that Cross, and affected by it.
The word "logos" is a word almost impossible of full interpretation, or translation. There is only one word in our language which can make it in any way understood, the word "reason", but that word is a limited word. It represents what we may call the rationale of God, the reason back of the universe, which is God's mind, God's reason for everything. God is represented in that word as the explanation of everything, the reason for everything. What is the reason for this? God! What is the meaning of this? God! Why this? God! How do you understand that? God! What is history? God! What is creation? God! That is the answer every time. Everything is traced back to a Divine mind. If things have gone wrong, are not as they should be, and you feel everything is topsy-turvy, upside down, confused, a tragedy, and you ask, "Why?" you have to answer, "God!" - not that God made it like that, but this is the result of setting God aside, disobedience to God; in that way the explanation is: God!
That is the meaning of "logos". God is the infinite meaning of all things, the reason behind everything; and that is personal, not abstract. Paul brings that in in the first chapter of the first letter to the Corinthians. Read through that chapter again, or through the two chapters on wisdom, and power, and you will see that Paul goes behind of all other powers, behind all other wisdom, and brings the Divine wisdom in the person of Christ, and says that He is made unto us from God wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, redemption. How? Christ crucified is the wisdom of God and the power of God.
The Logos of the Cross - the infinite reason, the infinite wisdom, the infinite meaning of the Cross - is foolishness to them that are perishing. In that Person on that cross there are the infinitudes of wisdom, of power, of meaning, of reason. They are all there in that. That is the way in which infinite wisdom and infinite power are operating at this moment in this universe. Perishing men see nothing but foolishness in the infinite wisdom, nothing but weakness in the infinite power, but to us who are being saved the Logos of the Cross, Christ crucified, is the wisdom of God and the power of God.
We commenced by saying that just a contemplation, as far as it is possible, of the passages we mentioned will at once reveal how universal, how cosmic the Cross is because of the Person. No cross other than His could have the same meaning, the same value. It is the Person, Christ crucified; not a death as a sacrifice to God, but God in Christ satisfying Himself. It is not, then, a thing, an incident, an event, but a Person.
So we see that the Logos of the Cross is central, and abidingly central, to the whole universe; not only in the hour when Christ was crucified, but abidingly central. This universe has still at its centre the meaning of Christ crucified. Even in the coming dispensation, even when this dispensation closes, and the redeemed are in heaven, then Christ crucified in meaning and in value will be central to the universe; a Lamb in the midst of the throne. The universe as it will be will not just have a Creator at its centre, it will not just have its Creator as its Lord at the centre, it will have its Redeemer as its Lord. The eternal theme is going to be redemption; not creation, but redemption, and the Redeemer central to all things. It is "the redemption that is in Christ Jesus", as Paul says in the third chapter of the Roman letter.
Now we pass on to break this up as to its application in the various realms of the effectiveness of the Cross. It is important for us to recognise that there are words used, all of which have their own meaning and represent a different aspect of the redemptive work of the Lord Jesus, or of the Cross of Christ. Such words as atonement, reconciliation and redemption are not synonymous terms; they are parts of a whole, but they are distinctive parts; they represent different things in the whole. While we may be very simple folk, and not theologians at all to deal with technicalities of this kind, it is important for us, even as simple believers, to be able to appreciate in order to rejoice in the many-sidedness of what the Lord Jesus has done, so do not dismiss it as merely technical or theological.
We are seeking in these meditations to do two things as the Lord enables. On the one hand we are seeking to be instructive, and on the other hand we are seeking all the time spiritual uplift, occasion for rejoicing. We do not want a righteousness that is not intelligent, that is merely emotional. To note the distinction between these words is helpful. Atonement is one aspect, reconciliation is another and redemption is another.
We know immediately what the Word means by atonement; it is "to make good". We say that we have to atone for a certain thing that we have done. We have done some mischief, we have done some hurt, and to atone for it we do something to put it even, to put it right, so that the things, having been balanced properly, can be set aside; nothing more need be said. The demand of that wrong, that evil, has been fully met and satisfied, and the thing can be put out of remembrance.
The Lord Jesus in His Cross has made atonement. The mischief was taking things out of God's hands which were His right, taking things away from God by independent action, disobedience, rebellion. So that God, having as His deepest desire in creation that there will be perfect oneness in fellowship between His creation and Himself, has lost that which His heart desired; it has been removed from Him, broken off from Him and He and that which He had made for Himself by this rebellion, this independence, by this disobedience, have been set apart, and the cause is sin against God. The Lord Jesus has come in, accepted the judgement for the sin, in Himself taken the punishment (because sin cannot be unpunished), has made good in His own Person the mischief in presenting Himself to God as Man inclusively, cosmically.
That is very simple, but it is a very great and important and blessed aspect of the Cross. You see how far-reaching even atonement is. It embraces all that which was severed from God by sin, which was God's right, God's desire, God's purpose. It is all included in the Person of the Lord Jesus. The sin which led to that has been judged upon Him, and He has brought it back and made good. In Christ God has got back everything.
That is another aspect. It lays stress upon one particular thought or element in the need for universal redemption. Reconciliation immediately indicates that there was a breach, and that in that breach there was offence, not simply that things were divided but a state had arisen between the divided things which was in conflict, which was hostile. Reconciliation means first of all that the cause must be dealt with and removed, and the two parties brought together. Paul has much to say about the gospel of the reconciliation, "It is given unto us" he says.
We will speak more about that in a moment. We are reconciled to God.
While redemption is all-embracing, including everything, it has its own particular significance. If you redeem something it goes without saying that that something had gone into bondage. Redemption always brings into view the picture of the slave market, and that is what is behind the word as used here. In the slave market certain ones have been sold into bondage to another mastery. That mastery now has a certain legal right, legal ground to stand upon. Because of certain things, the taskmaster, the slave-owner, has legal rights. Those legal grounds have to be removed, and those slaves have to be redeemed. The Lord Jesus has removed the legal grounds, man having gone into bondage to the law.
I want you to follow this very closely. The man is sold into bondage to the law, and has to be redeemed from under the law (that is a phrase used by Paul). But it is not left there. Paul says God's Divine law, being taken hold of by the powers of evil, that man is thrashed and beaten with the law, so that while man is in bondage to the law, ultimately there is back of the law the forces of evil.
Do you know what it is to be beaten, bruised and harassed by the enemy through the law? "Thou shalt!" "Thou shalt not!" That is not the Lord harassing you, driving you, worrying you by the law. What happened when the law was given? "Sin awoke, and I died." That is not being delivered by the law. It had to be made known, but it had no power to save. It had to be made known in order that men should know God's irreducible minimum, and then when man sees it, he is placed under an eternal obligation to labour and labour, trying to live up to it unless there is some other way. What was the other way? God provided the other way. Christ was made, under the law, to redeem them that were under the law. It is not just the intimidation of the law. Here is something that the enemy can come in on. Death worked through the law. There is another who has the hold of death, the hold of the power of death, that is, the devil. The law was given and sin awoke! "I had not known sin but for the law, but when sin awoke I died." There is no life there. Then I must be redeemed from the law in order to be redeemed from death. It is written: "Cursed is every one that continues not in all things that are written in the book of the law, to do them" (Gal. 3:10). "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us" (Gal. 3:13).
The devil can take hold of God's things and use them for your destruction, for your undoing, and to slay you. He has done that with the law. The law was holy, but there are these cosmic forces working even by this means to bring man into bondage. Redemption from the law, freedom from the law, is redemption from death and from the devil. If you stand on legal ground since Christ has died, you stand in bondage not only to the law, but to the devil. The legalists are the people who kill everything, blight everything. With the rigid legalist all the beauty and life goes out at once. The legalist is the person who is living in terror lest he should break the law as an outward observance. In Christ we do not violate the holy thoughts and desires of God. That is not redemption from the law; it is redemption from that bondage of the law which is dead. How are we redeemed? We are saved by His life. The Lord Jesus as the risen One, and the power of His risen life within us, lifts us so that the law is no longer something that is driving and harassing, "Thou shalt love the Lord...". In the power of the risen life of Christ do you need to be driven to love the Lord with all your mind, soul, and strength? In the power of Christ do you want taskmasters to make you love your neighbour as yourself? Is it necessary to be stood over with the lash of, "Thou shalt not steal", to one who is living in the power of Christ? You have a living "something" in you which means the fulfilment of the law is not irksome to you. You are delivered, but not so until Christ the living, risen One, is within.
Redemption means that we are bought out, the legal ground of the enemy has been dealt with and removed. Remember that the enemy has legal ground in those who are not in Christ, and in whom Christ is not. We have spent all this time trying to show that the enemy is endeavouring to drive us, through the law of God, to despair, to bring us under his control. He knows quite well that we by nature can never fulfil the law of God, and he does not hesitate to bring the law in front of us. Supposing you take the law out of his hand, that he can no longer bring it in front of you. That is removing his ground.
So then the Cross of the Lord Jesus goes through all realms. It goes through the realm of human weakness, inability, right through all realms of Divine requirement, right out to the cosmic forces of evil; and redemption is deliverance from everything that these things represent as an obligation, or an imposition, or a demand. It has to do with God in the first place. You see the dual attitude of God revealed in the Word.
First of all, God is offended. God is offended with man, offended because of sin. God has made that an awful offence, and that offending thing makes it impossible for God to have fellowship. Man is regarded from that standpoint as under wrath, and the attitude represented is from that standpoint, that God can have nothing to do with man and will have nothing to do with man. He is offended, and rightly so.
Yet over against that there is another line: "God so loved the world...". Firstly, God is angry, offended, having nothing to do with man. Secondly, God so loved the world. How are you going to reconcile these? Because men have seen those two things they have chosen between them, and have divided between the Gospels and Epistles, and very largely between John and Paul, and said: "These are two different Gospels". They say, "We are ready to have the teaching of Jesus as represented in the Gospels, but this later doctrine is something else!" That is what you find immediately you pick up any books of the modernist inclination on the doctrine of the Cross.
While the few are there they are not two as opposed to one another, they are only two sides of one whole. It is true, you cannot fail to see it, the Bible clearly and fully states that God is offended and angry. Man is under wrath, separated from God, alienated and needing to be reconciled. On the other hand, God is loving, yearning, apparently beneficent, kindly disposed, showing no signs of being offended. How will you understand this dual attitude? Is it not found in the complete statement: "God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life." Two things! Then man will perish in spite of God's love if he does not believe, and God's love has declared that there can only be fruit and its effect, by giving His only begotten Son. Loving! Ah, yes! But not loving willy-nilly. Loving, yet needing, as a sheer necessity, to give His Son. Why that? God loves; why put in that about giving His only begotten Son? Cannot God love without that? Is not God all love? Why put that bit in? We know what that means. It means that Christ came, and went to the cross, and died. Why that? That is the heart of the whole thing. The very love of God sees that there can be no desired result of that love in oneness, fellowship, reconciliation, only by what is bound up with the giving of His only begotten Son. God loves! Yes, but man will perish all the same unless something is done which makes for the fruit of that love, makes possible that for which God is seeking in His love.
God is other than we are. We sometimes might take this simple attitude (and this is how the theologians have argued): If your child sinned against you, and you were very angry, and very offended, and that child said it was sorry and asked to be forgiven, would you not just receive that child right back again without any stipulations, simply because you were its parent, because you loved the child? Surely God is better than the best parent! Yes, that may be all right from a certain standpoint, but it is very superficial. You see, this is a moral universe after all. Great moral questions are involved, and sin from God's standpoint is a very terrible thing, and cannot just be overlooked like that. Sin is not just making a mistake. Sin is a horrible thing which has its rise, not in the sinner, but in the devil himself, and by sin man is in complicity, in a moral union with the devil. Sin is the link between fallen man and Satan. Sin is a terrible thing, because it involves cosmic forces of evil, and God has got to get back of the sin and destroy the thing lying behind sin, working through sin in man against God; and therefore man must know that sin is no mere defect, mere fault, but that sin is an awful thing, an ultimate thing with God, and relates to His eternal foe. Someone must enter into the realm where not only sin is dealt with, but him who is responsible for it. And you never get, in the New Testament doctrine of the Cross, sin dealt with as something in itself. It always relates to the devil. It always goes further back.
So the apostle says in the passage to which we have referred, that when by His Cross He triumphed, He stripped off principalities and powers, and made a show of them openly triumphing over them in it (His Cross). These forces of evil are bound up with the sin question. It is cosmic. It is not something incidental, but cosmic, universal. It is bound up with intelligent beings, and Christ's Cross goes deeper than just sin and man himself, in that it is not just something to apologise for and say, "I am sorry!" It is far deeper than that. God may love, but He can never have the object of His love until that has been destroyed which will ever be at enmity with God, and so He gave His only begotten Son. In His Cross He was made sin for us. He who knew no sin; and being made sin for us, He destroyed sin, He atoned for sin, but He went further than that in stripping off principalities and powers. The Son of God was manifested to destroy the works of the devil.
All this, whether you are able to grasp it or not, directs our attention to this one thing: that in the Lord Jesus, in His Person, in the Cross, we touch the whole universe of God, and we are brought into something not merely fragmentary, but a universal redemption. The redemption that is in Christ Jesus is a universal redemption, touching all ranges, and there are practical outworkings in that for this present life.
We have touched the sin matter. We are going on to touch other matters. And when we come to finally touch the matter of the principalities and powers, and see our redemption from them, and the present practical meaning of that, you will see how great a thing this redemption is. Let us in the meantime rejoice in the fact that He hath redeemed us from our sin in His own body, and in His own Blood, and that He has, in so doing, got behind our sin and dealt with the forces working through sin to hold us in bondage.
Remember that it is not just the stage of spiritual growth that is represented by being delivered from the law; it is a fundamental thing that we should recognise that we are delivered from it. If you and I are in any measure in bondage to the law, we are in bondage to the devil and to death. It is essential that we recognise deliverance from the bondage to the law. Let us put on the positive side: it is essential that we live in the power of the risen Christ, which is the deliverance from the law.