7 Therefore the people came to Moses, and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you; pray to the Lord that He take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. 8 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and it shall be that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, shall live.” 9 So Moses made a bronze serpent, and put it on a pole; and so it was, if a serpent had bitten anyone, when he looked at the bronze serpent, he lived.” (Numbers 21:7–9, NKJV)
This event in Israel’s history aptly illustrates salvation from sin and death (Rom. 6:23). They grumbled against God and Moses, which brought death into the camp. They confessed their sin and were told if a serpent bit them to look at the bronze serpent Moses made, and they would live. Their salvation from death becomes a figure of the Son of Man being lifted up on the cross to save humanity from sin (John 3:14-17). Israelites received God’s mercy and lived when they trusted and obeyed God’s command to look at the bronze serpent. Even so, sinners “look” at Jesus in faith by repenting and being baptized “for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:37-38, 41). By doing so, the sinner receives God’s redemptive mercy and is saved. Israel did not earn their deliverance from the deadly serpents; they trusted God and obeyed Him. The same is true for every sinner Christ saves (Heb. 5:9).
14 But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 15 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation. (Galatians 6:14–15, NKJV)
In contrast to the false teachers whose agenda included boasting in converted Gentiles who were circumcised (according to the Law of Moses, Acts 15:1, 5), Paul refused to boast in anything except the cross of Christ. Christ had crucified the world’s lustful allurements in his life through the power of the gospel (which included selfish, arrogant boastings). He had been crucified to the world, no longer driven to fulfill its enticements. Paul’s declarative statement in Galatians 2:20 stands as a rebuke and a call to repentance to the false teachers who sought personal advantages over others: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” The new creation is undoubtedly the new person converted to Christ, “created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph. 4:23-24; 2 Cor. 5:17). With similar language, Paul had previously said spiritual profit in Christ is “faith working through love” (not in circumcision and keeping the Law of Moses, Gal. 5:6, 1-5). Living by faith actively obeys Christ. Glorying in position, power, preeminence, and prestige over others is not like Christ. If these things matter to us, we must put off the old person “with his deeds” of sin and put on the new person created in the image of Christ (Col. 3:9-10).
32 There were also two others, criminals, led with Him to be put to death. 33 And when they had come to the place called Calvary, there they crucified Him, and the criminals, one on the right hand and the other on the left. 34 Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” And they divided His garments and cast lots. (Luke 23:32–34, NKJV)
We learn the depth of God’s willingness to forgive as we meditate on Christ’s words while He hung on the cross. God is ready to forgive sinners who answer His gospel call to repent (Lk. 5:32; Matt. 11:28-30). We should also understand what did not happen when Jesus prayed for His enemies. He was not tolerating their sins. His murderers were not forgiven immediately (like the repentance criminal, Lk. 23:39-43). We must not confuse Christ’s prayer as accepting them as they were. They would have to believe the gospel, repent, and be baptized in His name for their sins to actually be forgiven (Acts 2:36-38). Some believe sins of ignorance will not condemn a person. That is false (Acts 3:17-19). Some believe God accepts people regardless of their moral condition. That is also false. Sin separates us from God (Isa. 59:1-2). Jesus died so sinners can approach God’s presence and obtain merciful forgiveness (Heb. 10:19-20). We pray for sinners to be forgiven, and we teach them the gospel so they can believe, obey, and be saved (Mk. 16:15-16). Jesus died to save sinners, not so that God will accept us even as we continue practicing sin (Rom. 6:1-2; 2 John 9).
18 For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: 19 whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame—who set their mind on earthly things. (Philippians 3:18–19, NKJV)
Paul affirms what Jesus also taught. Many will walk in a way they think leads to heaven, but which in fact leads to destruction. Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). Not doing the Father’s will is undoubtedly the “broad way” He warns us of in Matthew 7:13. The broad way is where we find the enemies of the cross of Christ. We must be diligent not to be counted among that number! To avoid being an enemy of Christ we must (1) Do the will of the Father by following the word of Christ and the apostolic examples (John 12:48; Philippians 3:17), (2) Serve the desires of God and not the desires of the flesh (Romans 8:5-8), and (3) Set our minds on heavenly things (Colossians 3:2). When we follow the commands of Christ we are His friends (John 15:14). If we do not, we are His enemies. There is no third option.
38 And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. 39 He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it. (Matthew 10:38–39, NKJV)
Jesus had just explained that following Him will bring conflict into your life (Matthew 10:34-36). Even family members will oppose you when you follow Jesus. Yet, we must still love Jesus more than family. This is a cross we must bear to be worthy of Christ. Compromising His truth for the sake of peace with family makes one unworthy of being His disciple (Matthew 10:37). Indeed, whenever we put our own life (our interests, desires and pleasure) before doing the will of Christ, we will lose it. Only when we surrender all for the sake of Christ will we have life. Following Jesus first and always brings eternal life; following ourselves always bring eternal death (Proverbs 14:12). Living by faith requires that we bear whatever burden must be borne to be true to Christ. When compared to the burden of sin, this burden is light (Matthew 11:30).
Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” And they divided His garments and cast lots. (Luke 23:34, NKJV)
God “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). Question: Did God forgive the murderers of Jesus in their unbelief? No, for without faith in Jesus as the Son of God, they would die in their sins (John 8:24). Did God forgive the murderers of Jesus in their ignorance? No, they killed Jesus “in ignorance,” and their failure to know the truth prevented their salvation (Acts 3:17). You don’t have to know everything to be forgiven, but you do have to know some things. When did not forgive the murderers of Jesus? The answer is in Acts 2:36-41, where about 3,000 believed the gospel message “that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ” (v. 36). The murderers asked, “Brethren, what shall we do?” (v. 37), and were told to “Repent, and let everyone of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (v. 38). The sinners who received his word were baptized and added together to form the church (v. 41, 47). God’s desire to forgive sinners combines with repentant faith that is baptized. Then, sins are forgiven. If not, when were the murderers of Jesus forgiven?
17 And He, bearing His cross, went out to a place called the Place of a Skull, which is called in Hebrew, Golgotha, 18 where they crucified Him, and two others with Him, one on either side, and Jesus in the center. 19 Now Pilate wrote a title and put it on the cross. And the writing was: JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS. (John 19:17–19, NKJV)
Calvary is the Latinized form of the Place of a Skull, the skull-like hill where Jesus was crucified (Luke 23:33). With criminals hanging on either side, Jesus was nailed to a cross until dead. Crucifixion was execution by torture, a most horrid, gruesome event. (The word excruciating derives from the Latin excruciatus, “from, or out of the cross.”) Nails driven through the hands and feet would damage nerves and send fiery bolts of pain through his limbs. Already severely weakened from being scourged, every breath became increasingly labored and shallow. The weight of his body prevented normal breathing, while every movement caused more shots of agony to course through his body. Soon, dehydration became another factor leading to death. Sometimes legs were broken, quickening death, but in Jesus’ case (John 19:32-33). Finally, exhausted and racked with agony, the body releases its last breath and death comes mercifully (John 19:30). Jesus endured crucifixion so we can be saved. Our sin deserves the eternal agony of hell (Romans 6:23). Jesus died so we can live. No one ever cared for you like Jesus (John 15:13; Romans 5:8; 1 John 3:1). Do you care for him?
13 And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, 14 having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. (Colossians 2:13–14, NKJV)
Christ gives spiritual life to the sinner when one is “buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead” (Colossians 2:12). This spiritual life (salvation) could not be obtained by the “handwriting of requirements,” that is, the Law of Moses. The Law of Moses made nothing perfect (Hebrews 7:19; 10:1). Its offerings and sacrifices could never take away sins (Hebrews 10:4). Christ’s death on the cross accomplished what the Law could not, and so, by His death, Jesus took the Law of Moses out of the way. We do not go to Mt. Sinai for redemption; we go to Calvary. The Law of Moses identified sin, but it is by the gospel of Christ that we are forgiven of them (Romans 1:16-17). We are children of God through faith, not through the works of the law (Galatians 3:24-29). And, our eternal inheritance is dispensed according to the new covenant of Christ, not by the old covenant that has passed away (Hebrews 9:16-22; 8:7-13).
17 Brethren, join in following my example, and note those who so walk, as you have us for a pattern. 18 For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: 19 whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame—who set their mind on earthly things.” (Philippians 3:17–19, NKJV)
The examples set by the apostle Paul and the other apostles form a pattern we must follow. By way of contrast, Paul warned there are many who appear to be following the apostles, but who are in fact “enemies of the cross of Christ.” (Not everyone who says they love Jesus, does in fact, love Jesus.) When will we heed Christ’s warning about false prophets who are wolves in sheep’s clothing? “You will know them by their fruits” (Matt. 7:15-21). Likewise here, Paul describes these enemies as those who worship their own desires (“whose god is their belly”) and who set their minds on earthly things instead of things above (cf. Col. 3:1-4). Does it matter what a person believes and does? Absolutely! Their end will be destruction – eternal punishment (2 Thess. 1:8-9). We weep with Paul over the existence of such enemies of Christ. Many walk – but they do not walk in the apostolic pattern of revealed truth. Whenever we walk by our own desires and purposes, our end will be destruction, too. Let us be warned, and never become an enemy of Christ. Walk worthy of Christ by following the examples of His apostles (Eph. 4:1).
45 Now from the sixth hour until the ninth hour there was darkness over all the land. 46 And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:45–46, NKJV)
Even while enduring the excruciating agony of the cross, Jesus identified Himself with king David and his great Messianic song of faith and praise from Psalm 22. Far from a cry of despair and denial, the song expressed David’s abiding assurance that when danger descends and it appears as though God does not hear our cry, He is not far away – even in the darkest hour. David cried out, “But You, O Lord, do not be far from Me,” and with assurance added, “You have answered Me” (Psa. 22:19-21). God did not abandon David. Even so, Jesus was not abandoned on the cross, even though He had to endure those dark hours without immediate relief from the Father. When you must endure suffering for your faith, remember that God is near. He does not abandon His people. He cares. He hears. He answers.