The Long Road To Jerusalem—Part 2Erwin W. Lutzer | March 29, 2015
Selected highlights from this sermon
After Peter’s shocking proclamation that Jesus was the Son of the Living God, Jesus began to explain to the disciples that He had to go to Jerusalem—to die. The eternal purposes of God culminated as Christ was crucified, and God’s very nature was put on full display. God made known His love, righteousness, power, and wisdom.
Last time I spoke on the subject of The Long Road to Jerusalem and I gave you a bit of history of Jerusalem, and also its future as predicted in the Bible. Today I am looking at this long road to Jerusalem in an entirely different way. I’m going to be speaking about Jesus Christ and His long road to Jerusalem. And I believe that this message could really be transforming.
This past week as I’ve been meditating on this, thinking about it and thinking about preaching this message, I have to say that my heart rejoiced. And I want you to enjoy this message as well. We have some background to cover before we get to it, but hopefully as the message progresses, we will understand the eternal purposes of God much better. I am so glad that you are here. Thank you to the many who are listening by other means, whether it’s on the Internet or by means of radio, or what have you! Today’s message must be listened to carefully and I believe you will be greatly blessed.
The text I ask you to turn to is Matthew 16. Jesus is in the area of Caesarea Philippi, and this is the background we must cover before we get to the message. He asks the disciples a question: “Who do men say that the Son of Man is?” I’m in verse 13 of Matthew 16. They say, “Well, some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” “But who do you say that I am?” And Simon Peter, to his everlasting credit, says, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Wow!
Did Peter come up with this on his own? He put two and two together and got four, and decided that indeed, this is the Son of the Living God? Well, yes, but with help from the Father. “Peter, flesh and blood did not reveal this to you. You didn’t put this together on your own, but My Father, who is in heaven,” Jesus said because of the fact that you and I do not grasp spiritual truth on our own. If you are here today as a believer in Christ, it is because you saw the beauty of Jesus and your need of Him, and you did it by the help and guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Now, Jesus goes on to say, “You are Simon Bar Jonah. Flesh and blood didn’t reveal this. And I tell you that you are Peter – Petras, which means rock. You are Peter, the rock, and upon this rock I will build my church.” Well, you know that this is a very controversial passage of Scripture, and many people think that it means that this justifies the papacy. But it’s clear that Peter can’t be the rock because in a few moments we’ll find out why he’d have made a very bad rock for the church.
Jesus said, “You are Peter, and upon this rock…” Different word! “Thou art Petras and upon this Petra I will build my church (on this slab of rock),” almost certainly referring to Himself. But without going into detail about that I want you to understand that Jesus said this: “You are going to understand that I will build my church.” He is the one who is going to choose the people. He’s going to put them into the church, and he’s going to be the builder. And he’s the only one qualified in the entire world who can actually build a community of faithful people who belong to God forever. Jesus alone can do that.
And then Jesus goes on to say that He will build His church, and you’ll notice it says (and I am in verse 21 now), “From that time Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must (that’s going to be the key word today)go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the chief elders and scribes and be killed and on the third day be raised.” Now you must understand that in Islam the belief is that Jesus wasn’t crucified. [If you look at Surah 4 it says that they thought that they crucified him but they crucified him not. And some of our friends in the Islamic community say that we honor Jesus more than you do because we say that He was so special God would have never let Him die. Whether or not that is true will become the focus of the message as it proceeds. I think we’ll discover that nobody honors Jesus as much as we do, but let’s just let that thought hang for a moment.
Peter has the very same idea. The idea of a dead Messiah, of a weak Messiah, nailed to a cross is unthinkable. If you want to follow somebody, follow somebody who is strong and powerful and victorious and not somebody who is going to be subject to the curse of the cross. But Jesus doesn’t take lightly to his idea. Notice what Jesus has to say: “He turned (verse 23) and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan.’” I’m so glad He didn’t say, “Get behind me, Peter.” But He did say, “Get behind me, Satan,” because you are a hindrance to me for you are not setting your mind on the things of God but on the things of men.” Jesus recognized this as coming from Satan, and the reason He recognized that is because Satan had thrown the same idea to Him in chapter 4 of Matthew where he says, “Just worship me and I’ll give you the kingdoms of the world. You don’t have to go to the cross to get the crown.” Jesus knew that that was a satanic idea.
Isn’t it amazing that Peter here who speaks under the inspiration of the Father and says, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God,” moments later is speaking an idea of the devil. “No, it will never happen to You,” and he takes Jesus aside and rebukes Him and says, “You’ve got this wrong.” I mean, we are captivated by the nerve that Peter has. But after all he had a new found authority. Jesus had just commended him, so he thought it was his responsibility to straighten Jesus out on this point.
Now, that’s the background to my message. Now what I’m going to do is to give you a message today that is filled with the stream of consciousness, but it’s going somewhere. I want you to pay attention and to follow it very carefully because I believe it’s going to yield blessed fruit, and you will be blessed.
Let’s ask this question. First of all, that word must is the “must of necessity,” but what kind of necessity? Logical necessity? No, there’s no logical reason why Jesus had to go to the cross. Is it the “must of weakness,” that He couldn’t help but be crucified? It certainly wasn’t that. It was the “must of divine mission.” There was something to be accomplished.
Now, let’s ask this question: When did the idea that Jesus had to go to Jerusalem and suffer and die enter into God’s plan? If you ask the average Christian, I’m sure that he or she will say, “Well, after the fall Adam messed up. God decided that it was time that we have a plan of redemption to kind of clean up the mess, and so Jesus has to come.” I can assure you that that would actually be a way to demean God to believe that.
I am going to be quoting verses today, and if you want to write the references down you can, but don’t look at them because we’re going to be going too fast. But I promise I’m not making it up. Alright? That’s the agreement.
For example, in Titus 1, Paul says in verse 1 that he is speaking to the elect. Elect is a pretty good word. Actually it’s a very good word. He is speaking to the elect in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began. To whom did He promise it? The members of the Trinity agreed together before the ages began that eternal life was part of the deal. Redemption was already in God’s heart for as long as God existed.
What about this? What about Ephesians 1:4: “God has chosen you in Christ from before the foundation of the world that you should be holy and without blame.” Before the foundation of the world you were chosen. If you are chosen, it happened in the mind of God before the foundation of the world.
I love this in Revelation 13:8 where it says this regarding Antichrist: “And all who dwell upon the face of the earth worship Him except those whose names were written in the Lamb’s Book of Life from before the foundation of the world.” We could go on and on to prove the fact that redemption was in God’s heart as long as God existed. Imagine that!
Now the question is, “Well then, why the necessity of the cross?” Let me give you three reasons. First, because of prophecy it had to be fulfilled. And you know the reason that God can predict the future with terrifying accuracy is because actually He plans the future. You see, if it were out of His control, if it were just happening out there, He might now know exactly how it’s going to happen, but He’s the one who plans the future.
Now, look at it this way. When Jesus came to Jerusalem on what we call Palm Sunday and offered Himself to the people, which is really what Palm Sunday was all about, He had to be at Jerusalem at that time. He had to stir up some controversy to get Himself killed, if I might put it that way. When Jesus was coming He was fulfilling prophecy. For example, in Isaiah 53 the Bible talks about the fact that He was wounded for our transgressions. He was bruised for our iniquities. We know that He bore our sins and our iniquities, but in that chapter there are two imbedded promises that also had to be fulfilled on the day Jesus was crucified. Number one, it says that He was laid with the rich in His death. And so what happens is they take Him down from the cross, and they put Him in the grave of Joseph of Arimathea, who was a rich man. That had to be fulfilled as the Bible predicted it.
You know, when Jesus was taken to be crucified, do you remember how they took Him and they crucified Him? The centurion who was in charge of the crucifixion decided arbitrarily, “I’ll put this man over here, and I’ll put this man over here, and I’ll put this man in the middle.” He didn’t care what order they died in. But Jesus had to be crucified between two thieves. Why? It’s because Isaiah 53 predicted that He would be numbered along with transgressors. All that had to be fulfilled.
Let me give you another one. Psalm 22: Remember it begins with “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” It’s the great crucifixion Psalm. And you get to verse 16 and it says, “And they pierced my hands and my feet.” Now hold it for a moment. If Jesus Christ’s death would be predicted in Jewish Scriptures, you’d think it would be predicted as a stoning because that’s the way in which the Jews killed people, and here clearly this is the language of crucifixion. “They pierced my hands and my feet.” Zechariah 12 says, “They shall look upon him whom they have pierced.”
And in John 19 it says: “A soldier pierced His side that it might be fulfilled which was written that ‘they pierced My side, and they shall look on Him whom they have pierced.’” The Scripture had to be fulfilled so Jesus went to Jerusalem.
Also Jesus talked to His disciples so bluntly. He said, “The Son of Man goes (and I think this is Luke 22:22) as it has been determined for Him.” The necessity of going to Jerusalem! Scripture had to be fulfilled.
Secondly, what we discover is that redemption had to be accomplished. You know Jesus offers Himself to the nation, as I mentioned a moment ago, and then He is there in the Garden of Gethsemane. He’s about to be betrayed. And Jesus is praying to the Father and saying, “Father, if it is possible let this cup pass from me, but not My will but Thine be done.”
Now let me ask you a question. What is the cup that Jesus is referring to? The cup, if you look at the Old Testament, was always the cup of God’s fury, the cup of God’s wrath against sin. And Jesus knew that that was going to be the great trial for Him. It wasn’t going to be nailed to a cross, however horrendously painful that is. Others died that way. But here is Jesus, understanding that He is going to come in between our sin and the wrath of the Father, and that He will absorb the wrath of the Father, and He will take that in, and He will die for us and absorb what belonged to us. There will be no sin in Him, but the sin that we committed will be on Him. And He understood what that meant. And in His humanness He even backed away, but He said, “But nevertheless not as I will but as Thou wilt.” What a commitment He made!
Now let’s back up and talk about the Trinity for a moment. If you speak to members of the Islamic community, they will say that God is not a Trinity and that what you have is Allah, and there is only one person in the godhead. Christianity believes that God is one but has three centers of consciousness. That is what the Trinity is all about – three centers of consciousness. And what that means now is that God can be a redeeming God because God can make His own demands that sin be paid for, and He can pay for the very demands that He makes because, you see, in other religions, if you don’t believe in the Trinity and if God does forgive (and nobody is really sure whether or not he does), but if He does, it is just God allowing bygones to be bygones, and there is no payment for sin. That’s why in so many of the world’s religions you pay for your own sin because how do we know that God is going to allow bygones to be bygones? The biblical God will not allow bygones to be bygones. The biblical God says, “I demand blood so that people may be forgiven, and I demand a sacrifice, but I will supply the sacrifice that I demand.” The blood will be supplied by Me.”
Phil Donohue, that great interviewer of another era, once said, if I remember correctly, something like this: “Well, if God loves the world…” And by the way, God does love the world. We should not think of God as the angry one, and then the Son has to appease a wrathful Father. After all, God loves the world. The doctrine of redemption was agreed on before the worlds began, and it was understood that God would have both love and mercy, that there would be grace, and that there would also be justice. And all these attributes at the cross needed to be resolved.
But Phil Donohue said, “If God loved the world, why didn’t He come and offer Himself for a sacrifice? Why did He get His Son to do it?” Phil, slow down a little bit here. In Jesus Christ, God did come down and do it. (applause) God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself.
Now how do we answer the charge that Jesus was weak, and therefore, you know, we are believing in a very weak Messiah here because, after all, weak people get crucified? Strong people don’t!
First of all, what you and I have to understand is that Jesus was doing this voluntarily. You should never think of Jesus being a victim in the usual sense of the word. When other people die on a cross, or are put to death, it’s always because they are victims. They can’t help it. In the case of Jesus, He could have helped Himself. He could have called angels. They would have come to deliver Him. So this was a voluntary death. But furthermore what we have to understand is we have to probe more deeply. And this message is going even more deeply.
We have to probe as to what the ultimate purpose of God was in redemption and why it was so necessary that Jesus go to Jerusalem to die. What is the ultimate purpose? Well, the ultimate purpose is in Ephesians 3. Let me just read it quickly and then we’ll get to the ultimate purpose more specifically. Paul says of this gospel: “Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God's grace, which was given me by the working of his power. To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ (As best as I know how today, that’s what I’m preaching – the unsearchable riches of Christ), and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, so that through the church (that Jesus spoke about as we began this message) the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.” Whether demonic or holy, the fact is that the whole universe is going to say, “Wow! God is filled with wisdom and what a God we have.”
Let me give you five attributes (I’ll simply list them.) that we could not understand, nor could they be displayed were it not for Jesus going to the cross to redeem us, why redemption was not an afterthought. But actually, if I might say it very directly, God created in order that He might redeem. Wow!
Let me give you five attributes. First of all, the righteousness of God! Paul says in the book of Romans, “God set forth Christ to declare His righteousness.” God’s name had to be cleared. God could not allow simply sin to be wiped away without a payment.
I think here I’d like to quote John Piper who says, “There is a holy curse hanging on to all of our sin. Not to punish it would be unjust. God would be demeaned. Therefore God sends His Son to absorb the wrath, to bear the curse of sin. Our substitute had to be all of God’s requirements.”
Let’s put it this way. In the book of Romans when Paul writes, he talks about the Old Testament saints. Years ago there was a tract that was written that said, “What kind of a God hangs out with the kind of people that are described in the Old Testament?” This was a tract by sarcastic atheists. They said, “Abraham lied, yet he’s a friend of God. David commits murder and adultery, and he’s a man after God’s own heart. What kind of a God puts up with people like that and calls people his friends? You see, the question was, “How does a Holy God associate with sinners, whether or not it’s Jacob or all the other sinners of the Old Testament?” He associated with them. He had fellowship with them, and their sin was not yet finally taken away because the blood of bulls and of goats cannot forgive sin. So what kind of a God is it that hangs out with people like that and calls them his friends?
The atheists had a point. The simple fact is that God said, “I put forth my Son to clear My name. To say that their sin was held in abeyance, and it was taken care of at the cross, and the reason that Jesus was declared as the Son of God is so that I might be just and the justifier of those who believe in Jesus, so that nobody could credit me and say, ‘Well, you know God just kind of slops over sin. It’s not that big a deal.’” I’ll tell you something. God is the greatest sin hater in the universe. He is the antithesis of sin. He can’t stand sin unless there is a payment for it. So God says, “I want to declare my righteousness. My hands are clean. The debt of these sinners is paid, and therefore, I can declare the fact that I am righteous and just.” That’s one of the goals to which it all comes about.
Let me give you a second attribute of God, and that is the love of God. Now hang onto this. I’ve been meditating on this all week – the love of God. It’s a difficult doctrine because there’s a sense in which we say, “Well, if He loves me, why this?” Well, let’s just think about it biblically and theologically for a moment.
Let’s just suppose that you had a son. I don’t have a son, but we have three daughters, so I can identify because the same would be true regarding daughters. But since God had a son, let’s all pretend that we have had sons. And we love this son. I mean, his concern is on our hearts and minds all the time. You mothers will identify with that. Under what condition would you like to see him nailed to a cross in order to save somebody else? He would never do that unless you loved that person who he was going to save as much as you loved your son. If you loved him less you’d say, “There’s no way I’m going to give my boy for him.” No, the only way you give your boy for him is if you believe that the people or person that he is redeeming is as much loved as he is.
Now hold your breath. John 17 bears me out. Jesus says, “Thou has loved them even as Thou has loved Me.” It had to be that way. God says, “There’s no other way for Me really to display love unless redemption happens. You know, if there were no such thing as the fall, or there were no such thing as sin, how could My love be demonstrated for sinners, of all things? (For when we were without strength, Christ in due time died for the ungodly.) How could I possibly demonstrate my love toward sinners if, in point of fact, I didn’t love them as much as I love My Son?”
And that’s why we sing, “The love of God is greater far than tongue or pen could ever tell.” To love you and me as much as Jesus, when we know that the Father is in love with Him (He’s the Son in whom He is well pleased.) leads us to the edge of unthinkability. The love of God!
Something else is demonstrated, and that is the wisdom of God because there was an eternal problem. We read about it there in Ephesians. The eternal problem was a huge problem. It was the problem of sinners approaching and having fellowship with an impeccably holy God. And only God could solve that problem. You know all those of you who think, “Well, if I do the best I can, somehow I can solve my sin problem,” I can’t think of anyone who could be more mistaken than somebody who thinks such thoughts. Sin is such a huge problem. God says, “I’m the only one who is able to solve it, and I will solve it in this way that human beings can scarcely understand, by sending My Son and this displays My wisdom in working all of this out.” And it was all worked out in eternity past. So we describe here the wisdom of God.
The immutability of God – the unchangeability of God! Now I was brought up in a one-room schoolhouse, and on two occasions I had teachers who had their own children in the schoolhouse. Remember it had all the grades from one to eight. I could tell you stories about what that was like. One teacher was as strict with her own kids as she was with us. Maybe she was even a little stricter actually. I felt sorry for Billy. He really got it. The other teacher was more lenient. She was a widow and she had a son who, when she spanked him on his hands, it wasn’t nearly as hard as any one of us would have gotten.
God might have said, “Well look, in light of the fact that it’s my Son that’s dying, I’m going to lessen the penalty just a little bit here. I have to take it easy on Him.” God could not do that. God says, “In the first three hours You will suffer under the hands of men, and the last three hours You will suffer under My hand, and I will compress into those three hours an eternity of hell, and there will be no mitigating circumstances because My holiness is inflexible and I am the unchangeable God.” So Jesus bears it all on our behalf.
We also see the power of God actually. We see the power of God because when you stop to think of it, we think of power only physically. We say, “Well, you know, Jesus was raised from the dead.” Well, of course, that was a miracle. Of course that displays the power of God, but (and this is very critical now) we must understand that Jesus Christ’s victory on the cross was not just physical because He was raised three days later. It was a spiritual victory. He disarmed principalities and powers, and made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it. Why? It’s because He purchased out from under Satan’s nose, so to speak, a people for Himself. And He purchased them when He died. And He showed His moral victory over all the evil, over death and over all things. And those victories that He won there on the cross are going to be realized in the future even though there still is a lot of evil now, but in the end the triumph of Jesus is absolutely secure. And He won it for you and for me forever when He was raised from the dead, proving that He is King of kings and Lord of lords. (applause)
You say, “Well, Pastor Lutzer, you know this is quite a sermon!” I hope you feel that way. I do. I’m enjoying this, by the way. I hope you are too. Here’s what you are saying. You’re saying, “Can you boil this sermon down into one single sentence?” You know all good sermons should coalesce. I mean they should come together. There should be that unity. At least that’s what the professors teach us when we are learning how to preach.
Here it is. I hope you are ready for this. It came to me yesterday while I was meditating on this during a car wash. (laughter) You know, you have to think about these things under all circumstances. A clear sentence came to me, and here it is. “The purpose of redemption is that God did not simply want worshipers who worshiped Him because He could create them; He wanted worshipers because His love could prove that He could redeem them.” That’s the reason for redemption. It’s so that we might stand in the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ, belonging to God forever as His children, and that we might recognize that He is the One who not only created us, but at great personal cost, He redeemed us. And who of us cannot love a Savior like that? Let me ask you that? No wonder redemption is so costly, and yet so beautiful, because He died for us.
In Africa there was a fire and a hut was burned and all the family members died except that in the nighttime, as the house was burning, a man who was unidentified was seen running in and snatching a little boy from the flames. He brought the little boy and gave him to some relatives, and then he disappeared. The next day there was a discussion in the tribe, and the question was this. Who gets this little boy? A man who was wise said, “He should live with me because I have wisdom.” Another man said, “Yeah, but I’ve got more money than you have. I can take better care of him. He should live with me.” And in the midst of this discussion a man appeared and said to the tribal group, “I have prior claim on this little boy. And the reason that I have prior claim is look at my hands.” And they could see the freshly burned scars on the hands that had rescued Him.
The other gods were strong; but Thou wast weak;
They rode, but Thou didst stumble to a throne;
But to our wounds only God’s wound can speak,
And not a god has wounds, except Thou alone.
Someday when we are worshiping Jesus in heaven we will look and we will see a lamb as it had been slain. And that lamb was slain for you and me and will be a reminder of the fact that we were redeemed, not just created but redeemed.
You say, “Well, Pastor Lutzer, how do I get in on this?” Well, what you need to know is there are the elect. There are those whose names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, and there are those who aren’t. But you can find out whether or not your name is there so don’t complain too much. If you want to and you’ve never done it, you receive Christ as Savior. You say, “Lord Jesus, I receive this redemption for myself because I am a sinner. I now know I can’t save myself. I have to come Your way, for Your glory and Your honor. And I now believe on You.”
Are you willing to do that? No matter who you are in this large congregation, on the radio, on the Internet, around the world, you bow your head where you are and say, “Lord Jesus, I receive You as my Savior,” and He will accept you. That’s the promise that we have. The way is narrow but the invitation is for everyone to get in on a redemption that is mind-boggling. Believe me, nobody honors Jesus more than we do. Nobody honors Him more – not only as Creator but also as Redeemer, as Savior, as one who has scars because of us.
And so the Bible says, “From this time on Jesus began to tell His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, He must suffer, He must die, He must be killed, and He must be raised again.” And He did all of that with you and me in mind.
Father, we pray that You will take this message and burn it into our hearts. May we understand the scope of Your redemption. May we see that it was in Your heart from the beginning. And we thank You for the glory that it brings to You when we see the attributes of God displayed for all to see because we have a Savior who loved us when we didn’t love Him, and redeemed us. We thank You, and we stand amazed in His blessed presence. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.