A Radical Revelation of the Cross
The Sovereignty of God and the Sacrifice of Jesus
Passion 2014 | Atlanta
Three passages of Scripture, a letter from Louie Giglio from a couple weeks ago, a conversation about the sovereignty of God in the Middle East back in November, and the murder of Ronnie Smith on December 5th — those things have been simmering in the crockpot of my mind now for some time. This message is the result of that simmering.
What God Is Doing
Let’s start with the letter from Louie two weeks ago. Louie and I generally try to communicate ahead of time, so I catch onto what God is doing in his heart and the team that moves forward with these events. I’ve been praying, and God has never failed to blend my heart and the heart of the team into something that I was very happy about. That was no exception this time. There was a sentence that riveted me from the letter. I’ll read it to you:
I am praying for a radical revelation of the cross that will obliterate our inadequacies.
That’s where I want to go. That’s very much in sync with what I was thinking, as you’ll hear as the time goes by.
Second, I spent two weeks in the Arab Peninsula. One night I was lecturing on the sovereignty of God. I was arguing from the Scriptures that the sovereignty of God is utterly pervasive. It’s utterly unstoppable. It is minute in its application. God rules the roll of the dice in Las Vegas. He rules the rolling of the galaxies at the reaches of the universe. When I was done, a man raised his hand and he said, “Now, what’s the difference between your understanding of God’s sovereignty and Islam? Because what you said just sounds like Islam.” I have thought more about that question over the last eight weeks than about any question in a long time. This message is an overflow from that reflection linked up with Louie’s question.
Third, the murder of Ronnie Smith. Ronnie was 33, husband to Anita and father to little Josiah. He was loving the students of Libya, teaching them chemistry in Benghazi. While he was jogging one morning he was shot and killed. Loving the city that he served and jogging for exercise, he’s gone. His wife lost her husband, and their son lost a father. Thousands of folks in Austin, Texas lost a friend. My prayer, since I heard it, has been that God would replace Ronnie with a thousand people. Ronnie and Anita were there because they had a radical revelation of the cross of Christ that obliterated their personal sense of inadequacy. It obliterated their sense of the obstacles to doing what others considered foolish:
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. (Romans 8:35–37)
There was a vision that they had of the cross of Christ that obliterated the obstacles — even death. Death was obliterated as an obstacle. My prayer has been that that life will not have been wasted, but that because of its reverberation here and around the world, Satan will be very sorry he did that.
Holding God’s Sovereignty and the Cross Together
This brings us now to the Scriptures. Where we’re going is to see that human inadequacies in the service of God are obliterated by the sovereignty of God for those who have lost their lives in the cross and found their lives in the cross. The sovereignty of God by itself and the cross of Christ by itself do not obliterate our inadequacies. The sovereignty of God alone won’t do it and the cross of Christ alone won’t do it. It’s the connection between the two. It’s what the cross proves, shows, causes about the sovereignty of God that together the two obliterate obstacles — together they obliterate our sense of inadequacy.
If God is not sovereign over the powers of Islam, if God is not sovereign over the murder of his children, if he’s not sovereign over the sins in your life and against you, we’re trapped. There is no obliteration of our inadequacies, no obliteration of the obstacles. We’re just trapped if God is not sovereign over the murder of his children, the powers of Islam, and the sins that we’ve committed and that have been committed against us.
“The love of God bore the wrath of God in the death of the Son of God.”
If there’s no cross, no divine substitute if there’s no work of Jesus on our behalf, if that is not true, if Christ has not borne our sins and endured that crushing curse, if he hasn’t completed our righteousness, if a ransom hasn’t been paid and atonement hasn’t been made, we are trapped no matter how sovereign God is. It wouldn’t matter. There’s no way out from under the massive obstacle of our sin, and we are powerless to overcome that inadequacy. Sovereignty of God, inadequate. Cross of Christ, inadequate. Together, that’s what this message is about. Together, there is a radical revelation of the cross in what it does concerning the sovereignty of God.
I said there were three texts. I’m going to take them one at a time and reveal this radical revelation from this precious Bible that you have in your hands in one form or another. I invite you to turn to these with me when we get to them. This is my outline.
The cross secures the truth that the sovereignty of God is always and without fail demonstrably righteous.
The cross reveals that the sovereignty of God is omnipotently merciful. Righteous and merciful, meaning it secures the truth that the sovereignty of God always, without fail, treats you better that you deserve if you have lost your life in the cross and found it in the cross.
The cross of Christ shows, concerning the sovereignty of God, that it is absolutely all-embracing, like the murder of Ronnie Smith.
That’s where we’re going — those three massive revelations of the cross concerning the sovereignty of God. Our three texts are Romans 3:25, Romans 8:32, and Acts 4:27–28.
1. Righteous in Sovereignty
Here we are in Romans 3:25 and my aim is to show you where I got the truth and what it means that the cross makes the sovereignty of God demonstrably righteous.
God put [Christ] forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. (Romans 3:25)
That’s probably the most important verse in the Bible, but I wouldn’t die for that. Though if I had to choose, I’d take the bullet for yes rather than no. Notice that God put forward, sent, Christ, his Son, to make propitiation by his blood. This is the cross. That’s what I’m trying to do — to find out the relationship between the cross of God and the sovereignty of God. We got the cross really clearly in view in verse 25, and there’s a purpose for it. God’s purpose in the shedding of the blood of Jesus is to make a propitiation. God put Christ forward to make a propitiation by his blood.
The Wrath of God Is Satisfied
What’s a propitiation? To propitiate is to satisfy someone’s anger or wrath or hostility and make peace. We heard last night, as clearly as I think it could be made, that God has a massive curse hanging over us because we’ve broken his law and it’s going to crush every one of us to smithereens unless something happens. We know from the first three chapters of Romans that we’re all sinners (Romans 3:23). We know that the mouth of the world has been stopped. We know that every human being is accountable to God. We know from Romans 2:8 that the wrath and the fury of God are against sinners. We know that those who have sinned without the law will perish without the law — those who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. We know that the wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of man. We know, at the end of chapter three, we’re in big trouble. The wrath of God and the fury of God and the weight of God’s curse are against us, which means that Romans 3:25 is absolutely spectacular news.
God, whose wrath is on us, undertakes to put Christ forward as a wrath remover, a wrath absorber, an anger placater. How? By Christ’s blood. God sends his Son to bear his wrath. God sends his Son to bear his fury. God sends his son to bear his own judgment. The cross is God’s propitiating God. The love of God bore the wrath of God in the death of the Son of God. That’s the gospel at its most essential core. Our biggest problem in the world is the wrath of God. If an omnipotent God exists, if he’s angry with humanity because of our rebellion, that causes every problem to pale in comparison. This verse is the answer. This verse is the solution. God put Christ forward to shield us from that. That’s what propitiation is.
Notice the next phrase to see if you’re included. “God put Christ forward as a propitiation by his blood to be received by faith” — not works, faith. Propitiation does not count for everybody. We’re not Universalists. There is a hell. There is a judgment coming. Who will be there? People who skip over this phrase, “to be received by faith.” What does that mean? It was beautiful to watch some of you walk into the light last night, to be given new eyes to the heart.
What happened? How would you describe it? What happened when you were six or 16 or 26? What was it? What is this, “to be received by faith?” Here’s what happened. One day, or night, you were listening or reading, you were hearing the gospel news about the work of Jesus for sinners, and unlike all the times before, something happened. Eyes were given to you. You saw the blood-shedding of the Son of God put forward by God for sinners. You saw yourself there.
You said something like, “I deserve that.” You look at the cross and you say, “I deserve that. I should be hanging there.” Then it hits you, “I am hanging there.” This is conversion. “I am hanging there. My sin is being punished there. My guilt is being crushed there. The curse against me is being borne there. I’m dying.” That happened to you. “I am crucified with Christ. What’s this? I’m not dead.” This is the new creation. This is the believing you, not the scorning you, not the skeptical you, not the proud you. This is the broken you. This is the new thing because the other one is dead. That’s what happened when you got saved. You died there. You looked at him and you saw, “I’m dead. Look, I died, and yet I’m alive.”
That’s conversion. “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). How can you say that? You just died. “I am crucified.” Now you’re saying, “The life that I now live.” “Yes. That old me, it really died. Now there’s a new thing and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” That’s what happened in that phrase “to be received by faith.”
The Need for Propitiation
Now, what’s all that got to do with the sovereignty of God? Because that’s what I’m after. Here’s the question: If God is sovereign, that is, if he has the right and the power to do whatever he pleases, why doesn’t he just forgive sins without the death of Jesus?
Let me tell you, this is not an academic question. It wasn’t for Paul. It is not an academic question in Islam. If you care about Muslims, you will listen to this question. Why, if God is sovereign, doesn’t he just use his free sovereignty to forgive whom he pleases without the death of his Son? So how does our view of sovereignty distinguish us from Islam?
For Islam, the sovereignty of God does, in fact, mean God can forgive or condemn sinners as he pleases with no sacrifice — no propitiation for their sins. It is simply not needed and the reason it’s not needed is because God is sovereign for goodness’ sakes. Why would you limit God’s sovereignty that makes — forces — him to kill his Son?
That’s exactly the way you’ll hear it argued. “You Christians, you don’t have a sovereign God. He’s trapped. Our God is sovereign. He can forgive whom he pleases when he pleases or not without any reference to anything outside himself or inside himself that would constrain him to require some sacrifice.”
Romans 3:25 describes the difference with Christianity: “God put forward [Christ] as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.” Here comes the next phrase. “This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.” Why did God not simply pass over sins without the death of Jesus? Paul answers: “This death was the show God’s righteousness.” Why is it so necessary, fitting, that God’s righteousness be shown? The answer is at the end of verse 25: “because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.” He’s passing over yours right now.
“Sin is you preferring anything above the glory of God.”
Righteousness must be shown because in passing over sins, God looks unrighteous. Why? I’ll put this as simply as I can. It’s not simple. For God to be righteous, he must is do what is right. So far, simple. What is right for a God who has no book to consult? He wrote the book. He has always existed and there has never been anything outside of him constraining him as to what is right and wrong. Where do right and wrong, where do righteousness and unrighteousness originate? How can there be such a thing as righteousness in God when God has no law book, no rulebook to consult? The answer is, what God regards as, what is right in God, is what is in perfect harmony with himself, or, to be more specific, doing things, thinking things, feeling things which are in perfect harmony with the infinite value of his glory.
The most valuable thing in the universe is God’s glory. God himself is the infinite value. What is right is that actions show that, his feelings reflect that, and his words correspond with that. If God were to do anything that disparaged his glory, that diminished his glory, that acted as though his glory were not of infinite value, then that would be unrighteous. That’s how righteousness exists intrinsically in a being who has no rulebook to consult. He passes over sin, and what is sin? Sin is a belittling of the glory of God. Romans 3:23: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
Sin is you preferring anything above the glory of God, because in preferring any action, any thought, any feeling above God’s value, you are belittling God under that thing you prefer. Sin is massively preferring something more than you prefer the glory of God. And God us just passing over it. It looks like he agrees with you. That would be unrighteous. God, according to this text, cannot indefinitely go on allowing himself even to look like he is unrighteous, that is, as if he sweeps sin under the rug of the universe as though the belittling of his glory was a small thing. It’s not a small thing. It’s an infinite thing. It will either be settled on the cross or in hell.
Therefore, if he’s to save people, which he also wills to do because he’s merciful and loving, there must be something to vindicate his righteousness, to show that he has an infinite passion for his glory. He can either do that by burning people in hell forever for all the dishonor they have brought upon his glory, or he can do it by crushing his infinitely valuable Son in their place, which is what verse 25 says he does for all those who believe.
This leaves me here now with the difference with Islam. In Christianity, God’s sovereignty cannot simply forgive sins without the death of Jesus because God’s sovereignty is not untethered from his other attributes. The sovereignty of God is not out here saying, “I can do anything I please. I have the power and I have the right” because he’s God. He’s a person. He’s righteous. He’s merciful. He’s loving. He’s just. He’s true. He’s faithful.
God is infinitely glorious in the manifold perfections and they all cohere. They don’t dangle out here in separate 99 names. There is a perfect harmony in God and it is not a diminishing of God to say that all of his attributes work in perfect harmony with all the other attributes so that the whole of our God is infinitely beautiful to behold. Therefore, conclusion on text number one is that the cross is the radical revelation that God’s sovereignty is demonstrably righteous. He put Christ forward to demonstrate that he is righteous because he had passed over sins and thus made himself look unrighteous, and now the whole world knows he’s not.
Therefore, when you come to depend upon the sovereignty of God in your life, you may know it is not capricious. It’s not fickle. It’s not merely unpredictable. “I can forgive you if I want. I can not forgive you if I want.” He is totally devoted to his glory and if you live in Christ, if you trust like a little child, you magnify him with your dependence and everything in God’s sovereignty is faithful to you. It matters that his sovereignty be righteous.
2. Mercy in Omnipotence
Not only is the radical revelation of the cross of Christ that God’s sovereignty is righteous, demonstrably righteous, but that it is omnipotently merciful. The text I have in mind here is Romans 8:32: “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” The cross is in the first half of that verse, “He who did not spare his own Son.” Then comes the precious logic. If you ask a rhetorical question and you don’t answer it, which Paul doesn’t, you assume everybody knows the answer and it is obvious what the answer is. “How will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” Answer: he will.
You read it like this. “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all will most certainly, with him, graciously give us all things.” That’s the logic. He didn’t spare his own Son. He gave him up for us all. Therefore, we know with absolutely certainty he will put all of his sovereignty in the service of his omnipotent mercy and obliterate every inadequacy in the performance of his will.
Who will he do that for? Sometimes we read our Bibles and just neglect to ask, “Is this me?” Who will he do this for? He gives the answer to that in the previous verses. Romans 8:28–30:
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
He foreknew someone. He predestined someone. He called someone. He justified someone, and it is so sure, Paul can speak in the past tense, he glorified someone. Then he asked in verse 31, “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?” His answer is verse 32: If God didn’t spare his Son, he is going to put all of his omnipotent mercy at the service of keeping us whom he foreknew and predestined and called and justified, so that we will make it to the end. Those whom he foreknew, he predestined. Those whom he predestined, he called. Those whom he called, he justified. Those whom he justified, he glorified. From predestination to glorification, nobody is lost.
Every obstacle is obliterated. He bases that on the cross in verse 32. “If he didn’t spare his own Son, you may be sure that he will spare no effort and exert all of his sovereign power to mercifully keep you.” The radical revelation of the cross in verse 32 is that God’s sovereignty always serves his omnipotent mercy for the foreknown, the predestined, the called, and the justified. You will always be treated better than you deserve.
3. Absolute and All-Embracing
God is demonstrably righteous, omnipotently merciful, and now, absolutely all-embracing. These verses shake up a lot of people. We need to be shaken at this point because we tend not to believe God at this point and that his sovereignty is all-embracing with its righteousness and its mercy. We don’t believe this and I would like to help you believe it. This is describing, in the mouth of the saints who are praying, in response to the crucifixion and the resurrection of Jesus, they’re praying and Luke gives us this instruction so that we know the ways of God. Acts 4:27–28:
For truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.
What had they done? What had Herod and Pontius Pilate and the Gentile soldiers and the Jewish crowds done? Verse 26 says they “were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed.” These were people who were against Jesus. They were gathered against him. This is called sin — big time. They killed him. They murdered the Lord of glory, the Son of God. Now, in my reckoning, that’s the greatest sin possible. If there’s another one, I can’t think of it. I’m not able to imagine a greater sin than a sin against the Son of God, which means that God himself planned for the greatest sin to be committed. I think that’s just plain as day in verse 28: “to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.”
God planned and predestined for Herod to put a purple robe on Jesus and mock him and send him back to Pilate. God had planned and predestined for Pilate to act with fearful expediency and to hand Jesus over to be crucified. God had planned and predestined for the people to cry out, “Crucify him. Crucify him.” God had planned and predestined for the Gentile soldiers to mock him, slap him, pull on his beard, blindfold him, hit him with canes, put a crown of thorns on his head, put nails through his hands, and run a spear up in his side. God planned and predestined for that to take place.
Now, a lot of people stumble over the statement that God, in his sovereignty, governs sin. This is the most horrible and the most important sin that was ever committed. This is the sin that bought your salvation. If this sin did not happen, you wouldn’t be saved. Without this sin, there’d be no death of Jesus and no salvation and you’d perish in your sin. This was the great sin that led to the destruction of sin. This was the work of Satan that committed to suicide.
Acts 4:28 says it was planned and predestined by God. Indeed, it was 700 years before it happened, we read about it in some detail. Isaiah 53:3: “He was despised and rejected by men.” That’s the script written for Good Friday 700 years before it happened. God wrote that. “Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him. He has put him to grief” (Isaiah 53:3). It wasn’t just Pilate. It wasn’t just Herod. It wasn’t just the soldiers or the crowds. This was God. “He has put him to grief.”
The greatest of all sins was God’s plan for the final destruction of sin. God does not sin in governing the sin of sinners. God does not sin in predestining that sin happen. God does not obliterate the moral accountability of Pilate, Herod, soldiers, or the crowds, when he controls their sin. There would be no salvation without God’s control of this sin because it would have been an unplanned, fortuitous, random, meaningless murder with no saving design in it. There was saving design in it. There was a plan. There was a purpose.
God Means It for Good
Therefore, I conclude the sovereignty of God is absolutely all-embracing. My reasoning is that if God can and does govern the worst sin, then he can and does govern all sin, which means that when you contemplate the sovereignty of God in your life, you should always see a banner flying over your life. The banner has on it Genesis 50:20: “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.” Remember where that was spoken? The brothers sold Joseph into slavery. Finally, when it all came out how God was working all this horrible, wicked, evil for the salvation of his people and the preservation of the Jews, Joseph said, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.” He didn’t say God used it for good. A lot of people try to weasel at that point. God had a meaning and Satan had a meaning. They weren’t the same meaning.
“The greatest of all sins was God’s plan for the final destruction of sin.”
God’s meaning was good, and Satan’s was not good: “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.” Herod, Pilate, Gentile soldiers, angry crowds, you meant it for evil. God meant it for the salvation of the world. Benghazi terrorists, you meant the murder of Ronnie Smith for evil. God meant to raise up a thousand people. God meant to make the blood of the martyrs the seed of the church.
What sins within you or against you are filling you with a sense of inadequacy, which if you really believed God were sovereign over sin could not stop you from fulfilling his glorious purpose for your life that we’ve been hearing about in these other messages? Sexual abuse, rape, bullying because you were a Christian, the parent you wished you had and didn’t have, the mother who cared more about her career than for you, the boyfriend who did not want a Christian girl with backbone, racial slurs, the excruciating laughter at you when you forgot your part in the school play, the drunken party that left you pregnant in the morning and then the abortion? If these sins by you or against you are no worse than the murder of the infinitely valuable Son of God, then you should see flying over your life the banner, “They meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.”
The radical revelation of the cross of Christ that obliterates all our inadequacies is the revelation that, because of the cross, the sovereignty of God is demonstrably righteous, that is, he is totally committed to his glory and is therefore never fickle, never capricious, always totally reliable. The cross shows that the sovereignty of God is omnipotently merciful and therefore, he is totally committed to treating you better than you deserve every millisecond of your life and bringing you unstoppably to glory. The sovereignty of God, because of the cross, is absolutely all-embracing, including the murder of your husband or your father or your friend or yourself, because nothing will stop God from turning everything for the service omnipotently for your significance forever.