Rene Lacoste, the world’s top tennis player in the late 1920s, won seven major singles titles during his career, including multiple victories at Wimbledon, the US Open, and the French Open. His friends called him “Le Crocodile,” an apt term for his tenacious play on the court.
Lacoste accepted the nickname and had a tiny crocodile embroidered on his tennis blazers. When he added it to a line of shirts he designed, the symbol caught on. While thousands of people around the world wore “alligator shirts,” the emblem always had a deeper significance for Lacoste’s friends who knew its origin and meaning.
The cross, an emblem of Christianity, holds special meaning for every friend of Christ. Whenever we see a cross, it speaks to us of Christ’s tenacious determination to do His Father’s will by dying for us on Calvary. What a privilege to know Him and be included in His words to His disciples: “No longer do I call you servants,…but I have called you friends” (Jn. 15:15).
I can picture a friend of Lacoste seeing the little alligator on someone’s shirt, and saying, “I know the story behind that emblem. Lacoste is my friend.” And I can picture a friend of Jesus seeing a cross and doing the same. – DCM Our Daily Bread, Sept.-Nov. 1997, page for October 5
The word passion now means “sex lust,” but back in the early days it meant deep, terrible suffering. That is why they call Good Friday “Passion Tide” and we talk about “the passion of Christ.” It is the suffering Jesus did as He made His priestly offering with His own blood for us.
Jesus Christ is God, and all I’ve said about God describes Christ. He is unitary. He has taken on Himself the nature of man, but God the Eternal Word, who was before man and who created man, is a unitary being and there is no dividing of His substance. And so that Holy One suffered, and His suffering in His own blood for us was three things. It was infinite, almighty and perfect.
Infinite means without bound and without limit, shoreless, bottomless, topless forever and ever, without any possible measure or limitation. And so the suffering of Jesus and the atonement He made on that cross under that darkening sky was infinite in its power.
It was not only infinite but almighty. It’s possible for good men to “almost” do something or to “almost” be something. That is the fix people get in because they are people. But Almighty God is never “almost” anything. God is always exactly what He is. He is the Almighty One. Isaac Watts said about His dying on the cross, “God the mighty Maker died for man the creature’s sin.” And when God the Almighty Maker died, all the power there is was in that atonement. You never can over-state state the efficaciousness of the atonement. You never can exaggerate the power of the cross.
And God is not only infinite and almighty but perfect. The atonement in Jesus Christ’s blood is perfect; there isn’t anything that can be added to it. It is spotless, impeccable, flawless. It is perfect as God is perfect. So Anselm’s* question, “How dost Thou spare the wicked if Thou art just?” is answered from the effect of Christ’s passion. That holy suffering there on the cross and that resurrection from the dead cancels our sins and abrogates our sentence.
Where and how did we get that sentence? We got it by the application of justice to a moral situation. No matter how nice and refined and lovely you think you are, you are a moral situation—you have been, you still are, you will be. And when God confronted you, God’s justice confronted a moral situation and found you unequal, found inequity, found iniquity.
Because He found iniquity there, God sentenced you to die. Everybody has been or is under the sentence of death. I wonder how people can be so jolly under the sentence of death. “The soul that sinneth, it shall die.” (Ezekiel 18:20). When justice confronts a moral situation in a man, woman, young person or anybody morally responsible, then either it justifies or condemns that person. That’s how we got that sentence.
Let me point out that when God in His justice sentences the sinner to die, He does not quarrel with the mercy of God; He does not quarrel with the kindness of God; He does not quarrel with His compassion or pity, for they are all attributes of a unitary God, and they cannot quarrel with each other. All the attributes of God concur in a man’s death sentence. The very angels in heaven cried out and said,
“Thou art righteous, O Lord, which art, and wast and shalt be, because thou hast judged thus.
And I heard another out of the altar say, Even so, Lord God Almighty, true and righteous
are thy judgments.” (Revelation 16:5, 7)
You’ll never find in heaven a group of holy beings finding fault with the way God conducts His foreign policy. God Almighty is conducting His world, and every moral creature says, “True and righteous are thy judgments…. Justice and judgment are the habitation of thy throne” (Revelation 16:7, Psalm 89:14). When God sends a man to die, mercy and pity and compassion and wisdom and power concur—everything that’s intelligent in God concurs in the sentence.
But oh, the mystery and wonder of the atonement! The soul that avails itself of that atonement, that throws itself out on that atonement, the moral situation has changed. God has not changed! Jesus Christ did not die to change God; Jesus Christ died to change a moral situation. When God’s justice confronts an unprotected sinner that justice sentences him to die. And all of God concurs in the sentence! But when Christ, who is God, went onto the tree and died there in infinite agony, in a plethora of suffering, this great God suffered more than they suffer in hell. He suffered all that they could suffer in hell. He suffered with the agony of God, for everything that God does, He does with all that He is. When God suffered for you, my friend, God suffered to change your moral situation.
The man who throws himself on the mercy of God has had the moral situation changed. God doesn’t say, “Well, we’ll excuse this fellow. He’s made his decision, and we’ll forgive him. He’s gone into the prayer room, so we’ll pardon him. He’s going to join the church; we’ll overlook his sin.” No! When God looks at an atoned-for sinner He doesn’t see the same moral situation that He sees when He looks at a sinner who still loves his sin. When God looks at a sinner who still loves his sin and rejects the mystery of the atonement, justice condemns him to die. When God looks at a sinner who has accepted the blood of the everlasting covenant, justice sentences him to live. And God is just in doing both things.
When God justifies a sinner everything in God is on the sinner’s side. All the attributes of God are on the sinner’s side. It isn’t that mercy is pleading for the sinner and justice is trying to beat him to death, as we preachers sometimes make it sound. All of God does all that God does. When God looks at a sinner and sees him there unatoned for (he won’t accept the atonement; he thinks it doesn’t apply to him), the moral situation is such that justice says he must die. And when God looks at the atoned-for sinner, who in faith knows he’s atoned for and has accepted it, justice says he must live! The unjust sinner can no more go to heaven than the justified sinner can go to hell. Oh friends, why are we so still? Why are we so quiet? We ought to rejoice and thank God with all our might!
I say it again: Justice is on the side of the returning sinner. First John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Justice is over on our side now because the mystery of the agony of God on the cross has changed our moral situation. So justice looks and sees equality, not inequity, and we are justified. That’s what justification means.
Do I believe in justification by faith? Oh, my brother, do I believe in it! David believed in it and wrote it into Psalm 32.
When we talk about justification, it isn’t just a text to manipulate. We ought to see who God is and see why these things are true. We’re justified by faith because the agony of God on the cross changed the moral situation. We are that moral situation. It didn’t change God at all. The idea that the cross wiped the angry scowl off the face of God and He began grudgingly to smile is a pagan concept and not Christian.
God is one. Not only is there only one God, but that one God is unitary, one with Himself, indivisible. And the mercy of God is simply God being merciful. And the justice of God is simply God being just. And the love of God is simply God loving. And the compassion of God is simply God being compassionate. It’s not something that runs out of God—it’s something God is!
*Anselm (1033-1109), a Benedictine monk, became a great philosopher and theologian of his day.
All heaven is interested in the cross of Christ, all hell is terribly afraid of it, while men are the only beings who more or less ignore its meaning. – Oswald Chambers
- The cross: God’s way of uniting suffering with love. – Georgia Harkness
- The figure of the Crucified invalidates all thought which takes success for its standard. – Dietrich Bonhoeffer
- The cross is the lightning rod of grace that short-circuits God’s wrath to Christ so that only the light of His love remains for believers.