Making the most of the cross

The second sermon I ever gave was a cracker. People told me! It was logical, engaging and humorous. I succeeded in explaining, illustrating and applying the Bible in a way that captivated the listeners. My girlfriend (now wife) even started to believe that I might have some hope of becoming a preacher! But, it’s time for public confession. I basically pinched the whole talk, idea for idea, point for point, from John Chapman.

I don’t think I was the first to do this, and I’m certain that I wasn’t the last. You see, I’d looked over the Bible passage again and again, and I couldn’t see any way to make it clearer than Chappo. So why not simply copy his talk?

Chappo’s passionate desire for people to understand the truth, and his confidence in the Bible to reveal it, came through so clearly in his preaching. He still has this same passion and confidence, and it comes across in his recent book, Making the most of the Cross. How many people are still writing books after their 80th birthdays, and dedicating them to their friends in the retirement home? Well, at least one! And I thank him for it!

This book takes us to the very core of the Christian message – the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Everything stands or falls on these events. Without them, there is no Christianity. If Jesus didn’t die, or if he died and remains dead, then there is no real hope for humanity, either in life or in death. This is no take it or leave it topic. It’s worth investigating seriously, whether we’re a child or an octogenarian. But don’t leave it until you’re 80 if you’re not already there!

There are two main sections in Making the most of the Cross. The first explores the significance of the death of the Lord Jesus. The second considers the facts and meaning of the resurrection. You could tackle the book in two parts, but the real benefits will come from going even more slowly and considering the many different aspects and implications of these events.

The death of Jesus has been described as a jewel with many facets. Each facet gives us a different window into the significance of the cross and its profound implications for us. All facets need to be seen so that we don’t underestimate or skew the meaning of the cross. For example, Chappo helps us to see that…

  1. Jesus’ death brings salvation
  2. Jesus’ death is a substitute
  3. Jesus’ death is a ransom
  4. Jesus’ death turns away God’s anger
  5. Jesus’ death brings the defeat of Satan
  6. In Jesus’ death, the just God justifies sinners freely
  7. Jesus’ death is the unifying force in the Christian community
  8. Jesus’ death brings forgiveness and cleansing

John Chapman grounds every chapter of his book in the text of the Bible. The Gospel accounts are the primary evidence for what happened to Jesus, and how Jesus understood what was happening. The rest of the New Testament supports this, giving additional insight into their meaning. Sometimes the Old Testament is quoted to assist us in understanding a particular background to Jesus’ death or resurrection. In fact, reading this book helps us to see more of how the whole Bible is focused on Jesus and only makes sense in the light of what he has done.

Given the brevity of this book, there is much more that could be said about the significance of the cross. But, this book provides a very good primer. If you are keen to take things deeper then let me recommend The Cross of Christ by John Stott, The Atonement by Leon Morris, and Where Wrath and Mercy Meet edited by David Peterson, among others.

To claim that Jesus was raised from the dead and is alive today, 2000 years later, is nothing short of extraordinary. What is more, Christianity stands or falls on the truth of this claim. It’s not an optional accessory. It’s the heart and soul of it all! Chappo outlines briefly the evidence for the resurrection, including the empty tomb, the eyewitnesses, the amazing transformation of the disciples, and their lasting impact on others (even to this day). But he doesn’t stop here. He goes on to highlight the significance of Jesus being raised, how the resurrection vindicates Jesus in his death, reveals him to be God’s appointed eternal ruler, the judge of all people, the pioneer of life beyond the grave, the pattern of resurrection to come, and the very real hope for you and me that death is not the end.

One thing that impressed and encouraged me about Making the most of the Cross is the suggested prayer, usually just a sentence or two, printed at the end of each chapter. This gives the book a personal edge that encouraged me to relate to God and not simply fill my head with ideas and information. The death and resurrection of Jesus is life-transforming. It has changed my life forever. But the truth is, I need to keep being reminded of these things. Perhaps you do too! I found these words ringing true…

Sometimes the circumstances of life may cause us to wonder if God has forgotten us. Everything seems to be going wrong. But the death of Jesus is above our circumstances. Nothing can take away the fact that Christ died for us. No matter what happens to you or to me, the death of the Lord Jesus says, “I love you”. Nothing can change that. Be in no doubt that God loves you. Jesus’ death remains as a beacon of God’s eternal love for us. (p14)

3 thoughts on “Making the most of the cross”

  1. Dave, Ive only read your summary, not Chappo’s book, so my comment may be misinformed, but I have been trying to work thru this issue and not getting very far. As evangelical christians do we focus too much on the ‘facet’ of Jesus’ death being for OUR salvation (which might lead to self focused christianity) and forget about the ‘facet’ of Jesus’ death reconciling us to God, for the purpose of us being able to glorify God (and Christ) – leading to a God centred christianity? Yes, Jesus’ death was for our salvation as a purpose in itself (amen), but isnt our salvation overarchingly for the purpose of then allowing us to be God’s people again, seeking to bring glory to God? (ie our salvation isnt the end point? Being able to glorify God, thru Christ’s death, is the end point?). There always seems to be much mention of Jesus, but not so much of God. Im very keen to understand the right ‘balance’ and feel completely clueless! What do you think?

  2. Hi Casey,
    There is always a danger that we will turn God’s grace toward us into something selfish rather than returning glory to God. We are saved by God, through the work of Jesus, so that we can offer praise and glory to God. As we realise more and more the wonder of the gospel, so we will be moved to seek God’s glory. I believe this is what has motivated Chappo in his 80s to continue writing books revealing the gospel to others.

    John Piper is one author who is careful to point everything back to the glory of God. He has written so many books, I’m not sure which to recommend!

    I am reminded too of the wonderful picture in Revelation 7…

    9 After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. 10 And they cried out in a loud voice:

    “Salvation belongs to our God,
    who sits on the throne,
    and to the Lamb.”

    11 All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying:

    Praise and glory
    and wisdom and thanks and honor
    and power and strength
    be to our God for ever and ever.

  3. Hi Dave, as I have confessed to Ray, like you, I pinched one of my first sermons from the best sermon (or at least the most life changing for me) I ever heard at Moore College from Ray Galea when he was in 4th year and I was in 1st. Mark 8:27-38. He explained that Christ wasn’tt his surname (something I was not maybe so clear on in 1st year) and as such that, surprisingly to those at the time, the Christ had to suffer.

    And Ray showed that when Peter resisted this idea, and Jesus rebuked him, that we should see that anything that gets in the way of the cross and the way of suffering, even if well meaning, was not just another version of Christianity, but in the end, Satanic, as Jesus himself said to Peter.

    This was very helpful to me at the time, weighing up the Wimber movement. The last 2 books I read before I reached Moore College were Power Evangelism and Power Healing. Wimber seemed like a well meaning Christian man. He believed the cross I am sure. But the cross and the way of suffering got sidelined in his books and his ministry, they were not enough according to him, and not the focus, which I observed first hand when he visited our shores that year.

    I ran home from chapel that morning, skipped the first lecture, wrote down all I could remember, and when asked at short notice to preach in the church I served as student minister, I regurgitated it at about 1/4 power. In very bad news for me, about a couple of months later, it was announced that Ray Galea would be the new Assistant Minister there in the following year, so I lived in fear that he would begin a series on Mark’s Gospel that next year.

    Chappo trained Ray in his 4th year of course. So thank God for Ray. Thank God for Chappo. Thank God for Mark 8. And most of all, thank God for the cross of Christ.

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