The Cross and Its Protection

The world’s most famous painting, the Mona Lisa, is enclosed in 1.5-inch bulletproof glass to protect it from the 10 million visitors each year. It is also kept at 68 degrees Fahrenheit to protect it from heat and cold, and 50% humidity to protect it from dryness and dampness. Why such precautions? This over-500-year-old Leonardo da Vinci masterpiece is estimated to be worth US$1 billion – and valuable items are worth protecting.

God operates on the same principle when it comes to His Son and His priceless work at the cross. In Scripture, the Spirit of God employs precise language in the New Testament to describe the Savior and His death, and He has provided accurate figures in the Old Testament as well. Both the Redeemer and His redemptive work are equally protected because they are inseparably linked. Peter appreciated this connection when he wrote, “Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God” (1Pe 3:18),1 and John wrote, “The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin” (1Jn 1:7). The righteous character of a divine person gives efficacy to His suffering and power in His blood.

Be Careful About His Person

Matthew provides a genealogy of 39 men who “begat” sons. Of the last one he says, “And Jacob begat Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ” (Mat 1:16). To ensure that no sinful nature was transmitted to God’s Son, the angel said, “That which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost” (v20). Paul writes with similar care when he explains that when “God sent forth his Son, [He was] made of a woman” (Gal 4:4).

God anticipated the coming of His Son with meticulous care in Exodus 16 in the figure of the manna. It was to be an illustration of Christ who would say, “I am the living bread which came down from heaven” (Joh 6:51). Because of its figurative significance, God carefully monitored the Israelites’ treatment of the manna. First, they had to collect new manna every morning. If they kept it overnight, “it bred worms, and stank” (Exo 16:20). The Lord wanted them to maintain fresh appreciation for the true Bread from heaven, and He still wants that today.

Approximately 38 years later, the Israelites became dissatisfied with the manna and they said, “Our soul loatheth this light bread” (Num 21:5). Not surprisingly, God responded with righteous indignation to their despising the pictures of His Son, and we read that “the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died” (v6).

Similarly, at the Passover, the Lord insisted that they select a lamb “without blemish” (Exo 12:5). Likewise, burnt offerings (Lev 1:3), peace offerings (3:1), sin offerings (4:23) and trespass offerings (5:15) were required to be “without blemish.” Each animal was pointing forward to Christ, the Lamb of God, who would be “without blemish and without spot” (1Pe 1:19). So, when the Israelites offered animals which were torn, lame and sick (Mal 1:13), God brought a curse upon them. He would hold them accountable even for suggesting in a figure that Christ was less than holy. And if the figures are deserving of reverence and care, how much more the reality of His person?

Be Careful About His Work

God’s insistence on accuracy about the work of Christ on the cross is strikingly similar. Paul wrote that the Israelites “drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ” (1Co 10:4). He was referring to the occasion when the Israelites came to Horeb and God told Moses, “Thou shalt smite the rock, and there shall come water out of it, that the people may drink” (Exo 17:6). What a beautiful picture of the spiritual refreshment that flowed from the cross when the sword of Jehovah awoke against Him and “He [God] … made him to be sin for us” (2Co 5:21).

Thus, when the Israelites later needed water, the Lord told Moses, “Speak ye unto the rock … and it shall give forth his water” (Num 20:8). However, angry over the people’s complaining, “with his rod, he smote the rock twice” (v11). Some might say, “What does it matter since ‘the water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank’” (v11)? God was not about to tolerate even the suggestion that he would have to smite Christ, our Rock, two times or on two occasions. The Lord Jesus would suffer “once for sins” (1Pe 3:18), and it would be written, “This man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God” (Heb 10:12). Therefore, suggesting in a figure that God would have to deal with sin more than once was abhorrent to God. That is why when Moses hit the rock on the second occasion, God immediately forbade him from entering the promised land.

Something similar happened when Nadab and Abihu sought to approach God. Moses wrote, “Then Nadab and Abihu … offered profane fire before the Lord” (Lev 10:1 NKJV). Fire in sacrifices in the Old Testament was to be a figure of the cross, when the Lord Jesus would be able to use the language of Jeremiah and say, “The LORD hath afflicted me in the day of his fierce anger. From above hath he sent fire into my bones, and it prevaileth against them” (Lam 1:12-13). The awful sufferings of Christ alone would be so that “he might bring us to God” (1Pe 3:18). Therefore, any fire other than from the brazen altar was equivalent to trying to approach God in a way other than through the atoning death of Christ. Thus, at the simple suggestion of a different approach, “there went out fire from the LORD, and devoured them, and they died before the LORD” (Lev 10:2).

Be Careful About Doctrine, Gospel and Worship

Peter preached that “there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Act 4:12). So, when some were requiring people to be circumcised to be fully saved rather than through Christ alone, Paul said, “Though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed” (Gal 1:8). We must zealously maintain a scripturally accurate gospel because adding something to the work of Christ will put us in danger of divine judgment (accursed).

Similarly, false teachers in Philippi appeared to be suggesting that the cross of Christ had covered them so that they could live as they pleased. As Sydney Maxwell wrote in What the Bible Teaches commentary, “Although they spoke of the cross, they were bereft of its power in their lives.” Their lips preached the efficacy of the saving work of Christ, but their lives preached that the cross had no power to change their behavior. Thus, Paul wrote, “they are the enemies of the cross of Christ” (Php 3:18).

The Lord commanded, “This do in remembrance of me” (1Co 11:24), and we are to “shew the Lord’s death till he come” (v26). So, when the Corinthians converted the Breaking of Bread into a common meal, Paul wrote, “He that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep” (vv29-30). Some Christians had fallen ill and others had died because they mistreated symbols of the person and work of Christ. May God preserve us from converting the Lord’s Supper prescribed in Scripture into a praise band performance and a sermon for us to enjoy. May we instead cherish both the person and work of Christ and the simple but sublime symbols of the bread and the wine.

We cannot be too careful in our thinking, doctrine, actions and word choices when it comes to the person of Christ and His death on the Cross. There are those who teach that Christ provided salvation only for the elect or those who believe. Others speak of the sufferings of Christ when He went to hades while His body was in the grave. Neither are biblical, and both are blasphemous. The Scriptures say that He “suffered once” (1Pe 3:18), He “gave himself a ransom for all” (1Ti 2:6), and “he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world” (1Jn 2:2). Adding baptism, confession, speaking in tongues or any other ritual to the death of Christ is anti-biblical and implies that Christ’s death is insufficient, which is a blatant insult to God’s beloved Son.

Therefore, while we should be patient with new believers, we should all strive to use the most accurate language we can find to speak of Christ and His cross when we are praying, worshiping, witnessing or preaching the gospel. For example, some speak and write of the “God-man,” the Lord’s “orphaned cry,” and that “God died on the cross.” All those expressions, though well-intended, lend themselves to misunderstandings and wrong doctrine. Instead, we should seek to express ourselves about Christ “according to the scriptures” (1Co 15:3). With scriptural language we will never go wrong, and we will never do better. May the Lord help us.

1 Bible quotations in this article are from the KJV unless otherwise noted.