One of my favorite stories of the Civil War is of a Union officer whose unit was coming under particularly heavy fire from the Confederate cannon. Someone rode up to him and said they thought they knew why they were getting so much heat: this officer had posted “Old Glory,” the American flag, in such a prominent position overhead, that it made a great target for all the Confederate artillery, and they were focused on bringing it down. They suggested to him that he move his flag to some less conspicuous position and it might lessen the fire. But the officer looked up at the flag and said: “Let it wave high; it is our glory.” In just a few moments that officer fell to Confederate fire. But he stood by his “glory” to the end.
Just as our country’s flag is the glory of the patriot; so the cross of Jesus Christ is the glory of the Christian. And just as the soldier is called to stand by his flag; so we as Christians are called to stand by the cross of Jesus Christ.
I love the picture of :25 here when it says: “Therefore the soldiers did these things. But standing by the cross of Jesus were His mother, and His mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Cleopas, and Mary Magdalene.”
These were such brave women; even though Jesus had been arrested, and was being crucified, they did not abandon Him. There they were, bravely “STANDING BY THE CROSS OF JESUS.”
One of the very remarkable things about the Bible is its emphasis on women — centuries before the cause of women’s rights was adopted by the “modern world.” The Bible has consistently lifted up examples of godly women throughout its pages. This is one of those places. All of Jesus’ disciples (except John) had scattered (Matthew 26:56 says “then all the disciples left Him and fled”); Peter had just denied Jesus three times to a slave girl!; but these women stood there by His cross. (In fact, many point to the role of women here as one of the evidences of the reliability of the New Testament accounts of Jesus’ death and resurrection. If someone were “making up” a story that they wanted people to believe, they would NEVER have made up a story which featured WOMEN as the first witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection, because women were not generally respected in that society. But the reason it says the women saw Jesus is because they DID! They were indeed the ones who first saw Him risen from the dead. And they were the ones the Bible says were there “STANDING BY THE CROSS.”
“Standing by the cross” here I believe is more than just a description of their physical location. It also pictures their commitment to the Lord: “standing by the cross.”
Now just a word about “the cross.” Most of us know what “the cross” is. It is what Jesus was nailed to, and what He died on, that day. Over time, and because of its meaning, many of us have “glamorized” the cross. We’ve made it into ornaments and pieces of jewelry. Even many LOST people wear ornaments featuring the cross. But we need to remember what it originally was: the cross was the Roman instrument of the death penalty. It was the “electric chair,” or the “hangman’s noose,” of their day. Jesus and the others were put to death on the cross, in the most gruesome and tortuous way.
But in another sense, what happened on the cross IS glorious. I Peter 2:21 says that “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross,” so that we could be forgiven and come back to God. That is the message of the gospel. That is what Christianity is all about: what happened on that cross.
But today are abandoning the message of the cross; it is not “popular” any more. But true followers of Jesus will imitate the example of these women, and stand by the cross of Jesus! Now, that does not mean that we need to literally “go” to a cross somewhere and physically “stand by it”, like they did. But I want us to think of some practical ways in which we DO need to “stand by the cross” of Jesus:
I. In Our Trust for Salvation
How are you going to get into heaven? One of the most famous questions used in evangelism is to ask a person, “If you were to stand before God, and He were to ask you, ‘Why should I let you into My heaven?,’ what would you tell Him?” I want you to think about that for a moment, right now. If you were to stand before God right now, and He were to ask you, “Why should I let you into My heaven?”, what would YOU say to Him? Think about what YOUR answer would be.
There are a whole lot of wrong answers to that question — and unfortunately some of you right now had some of those very wrong answers in your mind.
— Some of you just said, “Well I’m trying my best to be good.”
— Or “I try to treat everyone right, and live by the Golden Rule, or the 10 Commandments.”
— Or “I go to church,” or “I got baptized.”
If you said ANYTHING like that, anything that is based on what YOU are or good things that you have done; you need to listen to me right now: NONE of those things is going to to get you into God’s heaven. The Bible says in Romans 3:20 that by our own works, NO ONE will be justified before God. Nothing WE can do for God will save us.
There is only ONE way we can be saved: and that is by the cross of Jesus Christ. See, God made us to live with Him in heaven forever, but every one of us sinned, and rebelled against God, and we deserve to be punished apart from Him forever — that is what hell is. But God is merciful, and despite our sin, He made a way for us to forgiven. But as we saw last week, there was only ONE way — and that way was through the cross. If God Himself, God the Son, Jesus Christ, would become a man, and live a perfect life, and die on the cross, then God could pour out His punishment for our sins on Him, then He could forgive our sins, and we could be saved. But the cross was the only way that could happen. And the only ones who will be saved, are those who will put their trust in the cross of Jesus. It’s not the good things we do for God that saves us. It is the good thing that GOD did for US, at the cross of Christ. We’ve got to put our trust in the cross.
That’s why the Apostle Paul said in Galatians 6:14 “But may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” When he’s talking about “boasting” there, he’s talking about where your hope for salvation is. He’s saying, I’m not trusting my religious heritage as a Jew; I’m not trusting my good works in obeying God’s Laws; I’m not trusting in anything else; He’s saying my only “boast,” my only HOPE of heaven, is in the CROSS of Jesus. For his salvation, Paul was saying, I am standing by the cross!
And if you are going to be saved, that has to become your trust too. Your answer to that question, “Why should God let you into heaven?” Has to be “I DON’T deserve to be there! The only way I will get in, is by the CROSS of Jesus, and what HE did for me.”
I’ve mentioned several times in my sermons the name of Charles Spurgeon, widely regarded as the greatest preacher in all history, who preached in England in the second half of the 1800’s. I have read many of his messages, and they are amazing. The language he uses just lifts you up to heaven. But I’ve noticed as I’ve read his sermons that there is one line of a hymn that he quotes over and over in his sermons — it seems like in almost every sermon he quotes it — and I know why he does, because it is so important, and captures the essential attitude that it takes to be saved. Many of you know this; it’s from the old hymn, “Rock of Ages.” The line says, “NOTHING IN MY HAND I BRING, SIMPLY TO THY CROSS I CLING.” That line conveys exactly the attitude that it takes for us to be saved. It says: “Nothing in my hand I bring,” — in other words, “I’m not bringing my good works or deeds in my hands, to show God why I should get into heaven; I haven’t earned it; I haven’t deserved it; I have nothing good to show God as to why I should be saved.” No “simply to Thy cross I cling” — the only thing I am holding onto is the CROSS of Jesus Christ. That is the only thing that can save me.” “Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to Thy cross I cling.” THAT is what will save you!
Listen: if you need to be saved today, or if you are struggling with doubts about your salvation, pray that line of that song to God today and mean it with all your heart. Pray it right now: “Lord, NOTHING IN MY HAND I BRING, SIMPLY TO THY CROSS I CLING.”
That’s the only thing that will get ANY of us into heaven. Cling to the cross. Stand by the cross, in your trust for your salvation.
II. In Our Preaching and Ministry
Because the cross of Jesus is the only thing that can save us, we must stand by the cross in our preaching, teaching, and other ministries.
I say this because it not “fashionable” these days to preach about things like “sin,” and “the cross.” I say it is not fashionable “these days.” The truth is, it has NEVER been “fashionable” by worldly standards to preach and teach the cross. In fact, the first image or “art” that we have of Jesus Christ was basically a “grafitti” left in the early Roman Empire. It showed a man with the head of a donkey, hanging on a cross, and under it was written, “Archippus worships his God!” That’s just an example of how many of the Romans thought that the cross of Jesus was foolish.
And that’s exactly what Paul said in I Corinthians 1:17-18 “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech, so that the cross of Christ would not be made void. For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” He said this gospel featuring the cross is foolishness to the world — but as we have seen, it is the only thing that God has ordained to save us. So we must NOT abandon the message of the cross. It must always be the center of our ministry.
It was for Paul. He wrote: “And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:1-2). Paul was saying to the Corinthians, if you remember when I came, THIS was my ministry among you: I preached Christ crucified — the message of the cross. He said, in fact, I preached it so much, that you might have thought I didn’t know anything else BUT Christ crucified! The cross was SO much Paul’s message and his focus.
And the cross must be OUR message and focus too. Everything we do in ministry needs to point people to the cross of Jesus.
I think people are going to LOVE our new Christmas program, “A Christmas Story.” It’s funny; it’s inspiring; and I believe people are going to love it. Every year as I watch the program I think of people that I wish I had invited but didn’t. Don’t let that happen to you. Take some invitation cards home with you today to give out, or order some of the last tickets online, and invite some people this week, to come this weekend. It’s going to be great.
But listen: the highlight of our program is NOT the Red Ryder BB gun; or the “leg lamp” (we’ve got a “Baptist leg lamp” in there — you’re gonna love that!) But that’s not why we are doing this program. We’re doing this whole thing, so that at the end, we can point people to Jesus Christ crucified. THAT IS WHY WE DO THIS PROGRAM.
And that is why we should do everything else that we do in ministry too: we are here to point people to the cross. We must “stand by” the cross. Any ministry that does not “stand by the cross” and point people to the cross of Jesus Christ is a FAILED ministry, no matter how many people they may attract or how big a building they build.
Charles Spurgeon said in one of his messages: “We are not responsible to God for the souls that are saved, but we are responsible for the gospel that is preached.” I love that. We can’t control who gets saved. We can’t direct God’s Spirit. We can’t make someone’s decision for them. But what what we ARE responsible for, is the MESSAGE we share in our ministry.
And whatever ministry you are in, you need to make sure that the central message of that ministry is the message of the cross.
— Our worship services need to point people to the cross.
— Our preaching needs to point people to the cross — I try to include in every message I preach, no matter what the topic, at least a brief presentation of the gospel that says that Jesus died on the cross for our sins.
— Our discipleship and Sunday School classes need to point people to the cross.
— Our Christmas program needs to point people to the cross.
Everything we do as a church in ministry, needs to point people to the cross. We need to make sure as a church that we never back away from it, but that in all of our ministries, we are standing by the cross of Christ.
III. In Our Personal Witnessing
In our dealings with other people, and our personal witnessing, we need to “stand by the cross.” We need to remember that it is only the message of the cross that will save anyone. So we need to make sure that we tell people about the cross when we talk with them.
Listen: our unique personality; our cool behavior; our witty intellect, will not save anyone. We may make great friends of people, or attract a lot of admiration from others, but we will not see anyone genuinely saved unless we “stand by the cross” and share Jesus Christ crucified.
Jesus Christ crucified is the gospel. Remember, we looked at I Corinthians 15 a few weeks ago, where Paul shared about what “the gospel” is, and he said it was “Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures.” THAT is the gospel; talking about how Jesus died on the cross for us. So if we are going to be successful witnesses, we have to share the message of the cross. If we don’t share about the cross with someone, we can’t really say we have shared the gospel with them.
In Acts 8, the Lord brought Philip to the Ethiopian Treasurer, who was reading the Book of Isaiah, but didn’t understand it. And the Bible says that beginning with this scripture, Philip “preached Jesus to him.” (:35)
That’s what we need to share with people: we need to “preach Jesus to them.” We need to share that message of the cross. Sometime we do everything BUT: we share about our church, or about a 12-step program, or whatever. But we need to be sure we share the cross. The cross is the only thing God has said that can really save and change someone.
Now, don’t misunderstand me. There are a lot of good things we can do to “plant seeds” in people’s lives, and a lot of these are great things to do. When we live a godly life in front of others, or do acts of kindness, or build relationships, or whatever, we are in a very real sense “being a good witness” — and this is good — but I never really consider myself as having “witnessed” to someone, unless I have said something about Jesus dying on the cross for our sins. Because that is the gospel. That is the only message that will ever save anyone you know. We’ve got to personally “stand by the cross” and share that message with others.
We need to ask ourselves: are we really willing to “stand by the cross” of Christ, even if it costs us?
I’m sure a lot of you heard about the 26-year-old young man who was killed by natives on Sentinel Island in India last week. The natives have been shut off from the world for years, and do not trust strangers. They’ve killed a number of people who have tried to come in. This young man, who is a Christian, and who has been quite an adventurer, illegally hired a fishing boat to take him over to the island. He canoed up to the natives, who shot him with arrows the second he arrived.
Now all the details of this story aren’t clear, but some have questioned whether the young man used the best wisdom and discretion in the way he went about going to that island: illegally hiring the fishermen to take him, and so on. There’s a lot you might say he did wrong. (And that’s WHY, by the way, we can thank God for our Southern Baptist International Mission Board, which, if you feel called to missions, will train you, and prepare you, in the best ways to go about reaching people in foreign countries. That’s WHY we’re giving to the Lottie Moon offering this month!)
But still, with all this young man may have done wrong, you can say one thing for him: at least he was trying to share the gospel with those people. Which, honestly, is more than can be said for a lot of us, isn’t it?
When I went in view of a call to our church in Louisiana years ago, one of the deacons there asked me a question that has had a place in my mind ever since. He asked me: “When was the last time you shared the gospel with someone outside the four walls of the church?” That’s a good question. Not just in a sermon or Bible lesson; but outside the walls of the church, when is the last time you personally shared the gospel with someone individually. I have asked myself that question on a regular basis ever since, as a kind of “spiritual chek up.” Because if we are NOT telling people about Jesus, we are NOT “standing by the cross”, no matter what we say we believe.
I know a lot of people love the old hymn: “The Old Rugged Cross.” It’s a favorite of many, and they sing it with such feeling and emotion: “I will cling to the Old Rugged Cross;” we might even get misty-eyed about it. But we need to ask ourselves: am I really clinging to the cross of Jesus? Am I telling people about it?
See, you’re not really “clinging to the cross” just because you sing that song on Sunday. If you’re ashamed to tell somebody about it on Monday, you’re not “clinging to the old rugged cross”! You may have an emotional sentimentalism, but you’re not really “standing by the cross” if you don’t share it.
But you know what the truth is? We all fail Jesus, don’t we? But here’s the thing: Even when we let Jesus down; even when we DO fail to “stand by the cross”, and we don’t witness, or share, or stand by Him like we should — THAT IS WHAT HE WENT TO THE CROSS FOR! Because we ARE going to fail. ALL of Jesus’ disciples failed, didn’t they?! Peter (who said he’d never deny Him) wasn’t there at the cross; Thomas, who so boldly said, “Let us go too, that we may die with him,” he wasn’t standing by the cross. Neither were all the other disciples except John and those women, and they failed Him in other ways. ALL HIS DISCIPLES FAILED JESUS. And you know what the truth is? WE WILL TOO. And that is what the cross is all about: Jesus didn’t die so that all of us “good people” could be saved. He died to save SINNERS; who admit they’ve failed Him:
Peter failed Jesus; Thomas failed Jesus; and you & I have all failed Him too. But that is exactly what the cross is for: Jesus bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that all of us sinful failures could find the forgiveness we need, at the cross.
That’s why we preach about the cross. That’s why teach about the cross. That’s why God calls us, like these women in John 19, to stand by the cross.