The Death of Christ

The first of three Convocation messages devoted to basic Biblical doctrines. Condensed from the keynote address by

Dr. Robert E. Coleman, Professor of Evangelism, Asbury Theological Seminary
President, Christiao Outreach

As I was in the dining hall tonight, the place was crowded, and shortly after we sat down at the table, a young man was seated beside me. He looked at the Junaluska news, noticed the roster of speakers for the night, turned to me and said, “I wish Bishop Hunt was preaching tonight. I’ve heard him preach before.”

Well, I assured him that he was not the only one wishing that Bishop Hunt was giving the keynote address this evening. I’m so grateful for the singing, for Glen Draper and these wonderful Lake Junaluska Singers. When they started to spend a little time praising the Lord and getting those dry bones to moving around, I felt lifted in my spirits. Surely it characterizes Methodism to sing. It was said of those early Methodists that you could recognize them just by walking through the streets and listening to the sound of singing from their houses. They had something to sing about! They knew that victory was theirs through Jesus Christ, and this confidence always characterizes the Church. We should be by nature, incurable optimists. For whatever the circumstances in the world, we are victorious through Jesus Christ our Lord.

It’s thrilling to read through the Book of Revelation and I is ten to the shouts of victory around the throne of God. Terrible judgments afflict the earth, but whenever the action shifts to Heaven, there’s the sound of singing. Ultimately this is the only language that will endure, and we should live in this reality now.

In one of these scenes, in the 12th chapter, vs. 11 and 12, we hear a loud voice saying in Heaven, “Now is come salvation and strength, and the Kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ, for the accuser of the brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night. And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony. And they loved not their lives unto the death.”

Now while rejoicing in this victory, let us not be naive. As the passage indicates, we have a great adversary. There is a demonic conspiracy in this world, and all the hosts of evil are arrayed against the Church. This power will seek to destroy every influence for gooq. As long as we live on this planet we are engaged in a holy warfare. There are indications in the Scripture that this conflict will increase in intensity as the end of the age approaches. Jesus said that false prophets will arise, who would show great signs and wonders, so as to deceive if possible the very elect. There will be tribulation such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world. Wars and intrigue will fill the earth. Hate will bind the hearts of men. No one will be secure. And as moral integrity breaks down, apostacy in the Church will become popular. And those who do not conform to the spirit of the age will be hard pressed. Some will be martyred.

But here is the precious truth—we shall overcome! The Church will be triumphant! For as we read, Satan is a defeated foe. The great deceiver is cast down. Indeed, in the council of eternity, it is already an accomplished fact. “Now is come salvation and strength, and the Kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ.”

General Booth of the Salvation Army, in writing to his daughter once when she was discouraged, advised her to get her eyes off the waves and fix them on the tides. Indeed, we must remind ourselves of the same thing. However tempestuous the waves, the tide is coming in. And some day the battle will be over. Even now we can celebrate the victory. How it is won is seen in this Heavenly vision from Revelation. In this Scripture passage are the distinctive marks of a victorious Church.

In the first place, they overcame by the blood of the Lamb. Now here, in one concise statement, is the heart of the Gospel. “Except there be the shedding of blood, there can be no remission of sin” (Hebrews 9:22). As John Wesley was dying, he was heard to whisper, “There is no way into the presence of God except through the blood of Jesus.”

Blood is referred to in the Bible 460 times. And if all related terms were considered, there would scarcely be a page in Scripture which does not have some allusion to the concept. We are told that when ·Jesus comes again, He will be clothed in garments bathed in blood and His Name is called the Word of God. The blood is the scarlet thread which weaves the whole scope of revelation together into one harmonious whole. It is the substance of life given and received. It is the emblem of inviolable trust and the seal of the everlasting covenant. It is the means of our justification, redemption, reconciliation, sanctification and every other benefit of the Cross. For it speaks ultimately of the self-giving sacrifice of God’s eternal Son for the sins of the world.

For centuries God’s people had been approaching Him through the blood of the sacrificial offering. The worshipper took an appropriate animal, laid his hands on it to let it symbolize his life. Then he, or a priestly representative, slew the victim with a knife. And as the blood poured out on the altar, it typified God’s judgment upon all that was unholy. And yet, at the same time, the blood revealed God’s desire to be reconciled to the creature of His life. And when it, too, expressed the heart-cry of the worshipper, the blood conveyed the assurance of God’s pardon and peace. It bore witness to the Heaven and to the earth that there was reconciliation. That atonement—at-one-ment with God was effected.

Of course, the Old Testament sacrifices were but the promise of the perfect blood sacrifice to come. They spoke of that day when God Himself would offer His own blood on the cross. Had the sacrifices of Israel made a lasting reconciliation, they would have ceased to be offered.

No sacrificial ceremony could be accomplished without some offering of blood. Even individual offerings had to be repeated as the occasion demanded. God honored the sacrifices of believing Jews, but it was only by reason of the promised Savior to which they all pointed.

No sacrifice was more anticipated by the Israelites than the Passover. The offering of the lamb, on this occasion, brought to mind their ancient deliverance from bondage in Egypt, even as it also prophesied the day of complete restoration. It was during this feast, while the Paschal lambs were being offered in the Temple, that Jesus was led outside the city gate and nailed to the cross of Calvary. The cross was then lifted with its quivering load and dropped into a hole.

There for three hours hung the bleeding body of the Son of God. The blood ran down His pierced hands and feet, forming a red pool at its base. He was despised and rejected of men. Numbered with transgressors who hung on either side. We did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, afflicted. Only a few times did He speak, and then only briefly, His voice almost lost amid the jeers and cries of His tormentors. But as His breathing came harder, His body convulsing in pain, He lifted His voice and cried, “It is finished!”

As He spoke, the veil of the Temple was torn in two pieces and fell in a great heap on the marble floor. This signified that all that had been foreshadowed in the sacrifices of Israel had now been consummated. That which was in the eternal heart of God from eternity, when the Lamb (His Son) was slain in this pulsating moment of time, was now revealed. And salvation was accomplished for all men, for all time.

Brethren, we are not redeemed with corruptible things, as with silver or gold, from the vain tradition of our fathers. We are redeemed by the precious blood of Jesus Christ, as of a lamb without spot and without blemish.

It’s alright to talk about Jesus’ great ethical teaching, and even to exalt His exemplary life of obedience. But insisting upon the blood as being absolutely necessary for our salvation is an offense to the egotistical mind of man. No wonder the moralistic Jews rejected it. The cross was, to them, a stumbling block. And to the philosophic Greek, who worshipped the highest intellectual aspirations of man, it seemed foolishness. Let us not imagine that we are exempt from the same temptations to diminish the importance of the Savior’s blood.

The new doctrinal statement does not seem to affirm it very distinctly. The blood has been taken out. In striking contrast to our Articles of Religion and the standards of doctrine established by Wesley, Christ’s sacrifice is interpreted primarily as a moral influence working for our redemption. The force of the cross is directed man-ward, not God-ward. Certainly, there is this appeal of suffering love in the cross. But it is essential also to appreciate the aspects of propitiation, whereby God’s holy wrath against sin is appeased and His justice satisfied, in the death of His Son for us. Apart from this aspect of the atonement, Wesley has said, Christ died in vain.

I’m not suggesting that the new pluralistic position of our church openly denies this truth. I’m not questioning the motive. I’m only observing that the cross and the blood are muted. There is no clear affirmation of this distinctive Gospel witness.

I do not contend for any particular theory of the atonement. The Scripture simply stresses the fact that Christ died for our sins. Not just as an example, but as our substitute and ransom. He accepted in His body the judgment of our sin. He paid it all. His act of love broke the bondage of death and hell. A perfect atonement was made for the human race, and to every believing heart His blood now offers a salvation that is free and full.

At the time of the Civil War there was a band of organized outlaws called Quantrell Raiders. They operated along the frontier, where law enforcement was at a minimum. They would sweep down upon an unsuspecting village, plunder, ravage and ride away before help could be summoned. The situation became so desperate that some citizens in Kansas organized a local militia. It was determined they would seek out these desperados and upon evidence of guilt they would be executed immediately.

Not long after that some of these outlaws were captured. Their guilt was determined and the sentence read. As the firing squad was forming, some people gathered to witness the execution. Suddenly one of the spectators rushed forward, pointing to one of the condemned outlaws. “Let this man go free. He has a wife and four children. He is needed at home. Let me take his place, I am guilty.”

It was an extraordinary request. But at the insistence of this man it was finally granted. He was permitted to go and take the place of the condemned criminal. When the command to fire was given, he fell with the others into the open grave.

After the ordeal was over, the redeemed outlaw came back to this awful scene of death. He uncovered the grave, found the body of this friend, put it on the back of a mule, took it to a little village outside Kansas City where he gave his friend a proper burial. Then he erected a memorial stone which I understand can still be seen in that little cemetery. And on it was inscribed these words, “He took my place. He died for me.”

Ladies and gentlemen, in a much more profound way, that’s what happened when Jesus poured out His blood on Calvary. He took our place. We all turned to our own way. We were all under the sentence of death. And yet in God’s amazing grace, Jesus came forward and offered Himself to God as our sacrifice. That’s why we feel like Wesley, “Oh, for a thousand tongues to sing my great Redeemer’s praise. The glories of my God and King, the triumphs of His grace. He breaks the power of cancel led sin, he sets the prisoner free. His blood can make the foulest clean. His blood availed for me.”

This is the message and the song of the Church! And the way the Gospel comes to the world is mentioned as another reason for the triumph before us. They overcame by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony. You see, the victory of the cross must be proclaimed. The blood that brought us to God cries out for all to come. And to keep this message to ourselves would, in effect, repudiate its efficacy for the others. God gave His Son for the whole world, that whosoever believes might not perish, incredible as it may seem. God is pleased to use the foolishness of the spoken word to save those that believe.

Have you ever thought about it? He doesn’t work through the angels; rather, he works through the instrument of human personality, through the word of testimony, to get out the good news of salvation.

Not long ago I heard of a girl from Asbury College on her way to Cincinnati on the bus. She was reading her Bible and the man next to her commented that he had never seen anybody read the Bible before on a public bus. This gave her a wonderful opportunity to share her faith, to tell why she loved Jesus. When she finished, the man said, “I’ve never heard anybody put it like this. You know, I’ve got a buddy on this bus. He sure needs to hear just what you told me.” He suggested that perhaps they exchange seats. The girl consented gladly; it gave her another opportunity to tell of the wonderful love of Jesus. She was almost finished when an elderly man in the front turned and said, “Would you mind going over that last sentence again?”

By now a lady on the other side of the aisle was becoming interested and noticing that many were concerned, she asked if they would like for her to speak so everyone could hear. They nodded, whereupon she rose, walked to the front of the bus, turned around behind the driver, and as loud as she could lift her voice she told everyone that Jesus loved them, that she loved them. And that He was the Savior of all who would come to Him.

About this time the bus pulled into the terminal at Cincinnati. But before the driver opened the door, he turned and said, “Young lady, is there anything else you’d like to say?”

Well, bless her heart, all she could say was “Hallelujah! ”

When you have the shine on your face and the ring in your heart, this aching world will listen when you shout Hallelujah!

The relationship between the triumph of the Kingdom and the word of testimony is seen in Peter affirming his faith in Christ. You recall that at Caeserea Philippi he declared, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” This pleased Jesus, and He said to Peter, “Upon this rock I will build my Church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.”

We immediately jump to the conclusion that the orthodoxy of that statement is the foundation of the Church. And certainly, it must be there. But if Peter had kept this faith to himself it would never have been known. He had to affirm it. He had to proclaim his faith in Jesus Christ. This is the Rock. This is the foundation of the Church. This is evangelism. It is the proclamation of the Gospel. We shall overcome by the word of our testimony. And here every Christian has a task. It’s not a question of what our gifts or our callings may be, whether you are a pastor or a school teacher or a housewife. We’re all priests of God. We’re all involved in the ministry of His Body, which was given for the redemption of the whole world. Just as Jesus came to seek and save the lost, He has sent His Church. Significantly, when Jesus described the events during the last epoch of the world, He promised that this Gospel of the Kingdom would be preached in all the world for a witness—then the end would come. This Gospel will be heard eventually by every creature as can be seen in that vast throng, singing in Heaven. We are told that they come from every kindred, every tongue, every tribe, and every nation. The Great Commission of Jesus is already fulfilled.

Evangelism is the priority around which all our resources should be directed. Certainly this is the consuming position of historic Methodism. Not just to raise up a witness to historic truth, but to proclaim that truth in a fervent spirit and to evangelize the world in this generation. Certainly this is the commission which has been given to us al I. But let us note it has a cost. This is seen as the third reason for the victory of the Church. They overcame by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony, and because they did not love their life even unto death.

It can be translated, “and by not loving their own lives they were willing to die.” As one cannot bear testimony to the gospel of the blood without coming under its demands.

Interestingly, the word, “witness” can also be translated, “martyr.” It is clearly a life totally offered to God. Half-hearted commitment can never be reconciled with the sacrifice of Him who has done all for us.

Some time ago I entered a church and noticed over the door an inscription taken from the 100th Psalm, “Enter into his gates with thanksgiving and into his courts with praise.” And as I reflected upon those words I realized they were certainly appropriately given, for that is the way we should always come into His presence, with praise. Then I remembered, right before that it is said, “We are the sheep of his pasture. Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise.” There was only one reason why sheep would ever be taken out of the pasture, led through the gates of the Temple and into the courts of the holy Temple. The only reason they would ever approach God is to offer themselves as a living sacrifice on the altar.

The Bible is talking about us. We are the sheep of His pasture. And we should understand we must identify with the Lamb of God. It is only by His blood that we can come into the presence of a holy God. And yet by faith in His blood we can commit ourselves to offer all that we are on His altar. There’s a recklessness about it. As Paul put it, “If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die unto the Lord. So then whether we live or whether we die we are the Lord’s” (Romans 14:8).

What difference, then, does it make for we are His. How can you defeat such a man? He has reckoned himself already dead, the flesh with its passions and lust was crucified with Christ.

In the year 320 A.D. a vain effort was made to impede the growth of the Christian Church. The Emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire, Lisinius, decreed that all civil servants must offer sacrifice on an altar to the local gods. This order included the military as recounted in the writings of Basel of Cesarea.

One cold winter morning the order was read to the 12th legion of Rome, stationed at Sebasti in Arminia. The soldiers were called upon to demonstrate their loyalty to Caesar, with a prescribed offering. There were 40 Christians in the ranks of the Legion, men from Cappadocia, who informed the captain that they could not sacrifice on pagan altars. The commander was dismayed. Dare these men defy the Emperor? Yet knowing they had proved their bravery in the field of battle, not wanting to inflict punishment upon them, the captain ordered the Christian soldiers to be placed in confinement until they could reconsider their decision.

That night in a guarded encampment the 40 Cappadocians comforted themselves by reading the Scriptures and singing hymns of praise.

The next morning they were brought again and commanded to worship the pagan gods. Again they refused.

“We have made our choice,” they said. “We shall devote our love to God.”

At this the captain grew angry. He ordered the men bound over in custody of the jailer to await the arrival of the commanding general who would pass sentence. During the period of imprisonment the soldiers often could be heard singing hymns of praise. After a week, the general came. He informed the men that if they would not obey the decree of the Emperor they would be delivered over to torture. Undaunted, the Christians replied, “You can have our armor and our bodies as well, we prefer Christ.”

At 9 o’clock the following morning the sentence was pronounced. Their arms were to be bound, ropes placed over their necks, and they were to be led to the shore of a nearby frozen lake. And there at sundown they were to be stripped and escorted out onto the ice. But because of their high reputation for valor, the general had ordered that they be given the privilege of recanting at any time. The Roman bathhouse stood on the shore. It was readied for any of the men who were prepared to renounce their faith and to offer sacrifices on pagan altars.

Bitter wind swept over the lake surface as the soldiers were driven out shivering in the dusk. Guards were posted around the shore, among them the jailor in whose custody they had been kept during the days of confinement. And then one of the 40 Christians lifted his voice out on the lake and he began so sing, “40 good soldiers for Christ, we shall not depart from you as long as you give us life. We shall call upon Your Name whom all creation praises, on Him we had hoped and we are not ashamed.”

The men took heart at this song and together raised their voices lustily while the ice chilled the soles of their feet. But as the hour of midnight approached, the songs grew more feeble.

Finally they could scarcely be heard by those on the shore. But then a strange thing happened. One of the 40 was seen emerging from the darkness of the lake, staggering toward the shore. The guards posted there were dozing. Only the jailor was awake, his eyes peering out into the darkness, his ears straining to catch the mumbled prayers of the dying Christians. 40 – 39 good soldiers of Christ, came a thin, quivering voice from the distance. The jailer watched the man fall to his knees and then crawl to the heated bathhouse.

At that moment something happened in the heart of the jailor. What it was, only he and God would ever know. But the guards reported hearing a great shout that jerked them awake. And rubbing their eyes they saw the jailor rip off his armor, then run to the edge of the lake and there, lifting his right hand, he shouted, “There are 40 good soldiers for Christ! ” And then, as he marched out on the ice, he began to sing, “We shall not depart from You as long as You give us life. We shall call upon Your Name whom all creation praised. On You we have called and we are not ashamed.”

That’s the kind of dedication that has overcome this world, a joyous commitment to follow Christ at any cost. Whatever external sufferings it may entail, the victory is within the heart through identification with the cross. Our understanding of its claims will certainly deepen as we walk with Him. But at any time we should be willing to obey all that we do understand.

It is this daily abiding of the cross by which we know the triumph of His resurrection.

We are indeed free men! Thanks be unto Him who has given the victory. And when the battle is won on the inside, then we can face the battle raging in the world on the outside. And indeed, regardless of the circumstances, we know that we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us. Nothing can separate us from the love of Jesus. That’s why we should celebrate. For the Church is victorious and we can join the angels and the archangels and the seraphims and the cherubims and sing praise unto Him who is worthy, who was slain, who has redeemed us to God by His blood.

Now has come salvation and glory and the Kingdom of our God and the power of His Christ, now the kingdom of Satan has already been overcome. He has been cast down and we are victorious. The Church is triumphant through the blood of the Lamb and the word of our testimony and because we loved not our lives unto death.

Aren’t you glad that you belong to such a triumphant body? Oh, we need to celebrate! And this victory should characterize our life and our devotion.



Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Join Our Mailing List!

Click here to sign up to our email lists:

•Perspective Newsletter (weekly)
• Transforming Congregations Newsletter (monthly)
• Renew Newsletter (monthly)

Make a Gift

Global Methodist Church

Is God Calling You For More?


Latest Articles: