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“Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken and by wicked hands have crucified and slain.”

Acts 2:23

In this season of Lent, when the church perhaps more than at any other time centers her attention on the suffering and death of her Saviour as it culminates in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, we should understand clearly that Christ’s death on the cross was not accidental.

Though it is true that the enemies: of Christ had not planned that Christ. should be done away with in such an open manner—for they had in mind to kill Him secretly—it must not be concluded that because things got out of hand, and by dint of circumstances Christ accidentally was brought to the cross. Such a conclusion would be farthest from the truth.

What is true is the fact that God overruled the thoughts and actions of wicked men to realize His purpose. That purpose was that the Saviour of His people must die the accursed death of the cross in their stead. So must we understand that the cross of Christ was foreordained.

Peter, in his Pentecostal sermon, makes this truth plain to his audience. After he had shown clearly that the events occurring on the day of Pentecost were the fulfillment of the prophetic Scriptures, he turns to charge his audience with the dastardly deed of doing away with Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among them by mighty works, wonders, and signs, which God did by Him in their midst, as they well knew. Moreover, he lays to their charge the murder of Christ, Who by wicked hands was crucified and slain. Further, he shows unto them that Christ was not only delivered over to their will by Pontius Pilate and their rulers, but that the crucifixion of Christ was according to God’s sovereign and eternal foreknowledge.

The counsel and foreknowledge of God was the determining factor in the crucifixion of Christ.

This in no way mitigates the crime committed by the wicked hands that were instrumental in nailing Christ to the cross.

Ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain,—such is the charge the apostle makes.

Here is a plain case of God’s sovereign, unchangeable counsel overruling the acts of ethical, moral, responsible creatures to accomplish His own determinate purpose.

Though we may not be able to answer all the questions that enter into the working out of this relation, it is nevertheless abundantly clear from the text that such a relation exists. It should also be clearly understood that in this relation man never stands independently free, though he does what he desires willingly. The relation between God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility is not a coordinate relation. God remains supreme, and the first cause, while man remains subordinate to and dependent on Him. This in no way makes God the author of sin, the very thought of which is blasphemy. When man sins he does not do so because God makes him sin; rather, he sins because he wills to. And God uses his sinful acts to accomplish His eternal purpose. Man is responsible because he always remains the conscious and willing subject of his deeds. Not for a moment does he feel compelled by an outward force that urges him to act against his will. Never is there a conflict between the choice of his will and, the act which he performs. He is the author of his sinful acts. And just because this is true, he is also subject to the righteous judgment of God for all his crimes.

This certainly is implied in the charge which the apostle makes, when he informs his audience that they had taken and by wicked hands had crucified and slain the Son of God in the flesh.

Through the hand of lawless men Christ was made fast to the cross and slain. Pontius Pilate, while he was convinced that Jesus was innocent, nevertheless willingly sentenced Him to death. And the Roman soldiers, who had no moral scruples, pounded the nails into His blessed hands and feet, thus carrying out the decree of Pilate. And the men of Israel, who cried for His death, and would not suffer Pilate to release Him, made themselves guilty of the murder of Christ. They, who knew the law but took it into their own hands to do away with the Just and Good One, made themselves guilty of blatant murder. When Pilate hypocritically said: “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” the Jews said, “His blood be upon us and our children.” None of those in Peter’s audience could disavow or deny that the crucifixion was their act. And until they would confess this sin, the apostle would uphold the charge: “Him ye have delivered up, and, having affixed to the cross, slain.”

Indeed, the perpetrators of this deed could draw no other conclusion than that they were guilty as charged!

They had no conception of the promised Messiah than that which was earthly. They had no other thought in their souls than that Christ was a malefactor for whom was no room on the earth.

Not at all did they know that God had abandoned His Christ into their hands. It was, indeed, now the hour of the Son of Man! Often during His earthly ministry the enemies sought to kill Him, but could not; for His hour was not yet come. But now that hour decreed by the Almighty and All-wise God had struck.

So the cross was not an accident, but the result of an overruling counsel and efficacious providence of God.

By the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God!

Also in the mind and purpose of God the cross of Christ was not accidental. And by that we mean that cross was not a means of last resort, an incident upon which God fell because all other possible means failed. In the eternal wisdom and foreknowledge of God the cross was central in His plan of redemption. The knowledge of God which is eternal is likewise causal. It is not an afterthought, but a preceding one; and irresistibly effective. When man knows something before it happens, his knowledge does not make that which he knows to come to pass. But with God this foreknowledge is causal. And in relation to God’s decrees it is logically first. The determinate counsel is the decree, while the foreknowledge is the how and why of the decree—all of which reflects the infinite wisdom of God whereby He knows how and utilizes the best means to accomplish His purpose.

This is the determining factor and overruling power that makes the cross of Christ necessary!

Notice how Peter further delineates this truth in the Book of Acts. “And now, brethren, I wot that through ignorance ye did it, as did also your rulers. But those things, which God before had shewed by the mouth of all His prophets, that Christ should suffer, He hath so fulfilled.” And again, “For of a truth against Thy holy child Jesus, whom Thou hast anointed, both Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together, for to do whatsoever Thy hand and Thy counsel determined before to be done.” (Acts 2:17, 18; Acts 4:27, 28).

Indeed, the Jews and all who collaborated in the crucifixion of Christ may have acted in ignorance, yet responsibly; but God acts with infinite intelligence and irresistible purpose.

No other death might the Son of God in the flesh die. Not by being cast from a precipitous precipice. Not a death by stoning. Nor may He be secretly stabbed in His back. But He must die on the cross, and again, not any cross, in any place; but on the cross of Calvary, to which He is affixed, which cross was to be planted in the midst of two other crosses, just outside of the city of Jerusalem, on the hill of the skull.

And the purpose?

It was twofold!

In the first place, that the wickedness of men might be revealed. Though this is not directly stated in the text, it is certainly implied, when the apostle lays the charge of the sin of the crucifixion at the hands of the wicked. Indeed, the cross of Christ must serve as the condemnation of the world. God purposed to show by the crucifixion of Christ how desperately depraved the world is. Verily, He was saying in that cross: I am going to show you how depraved you really are; when I give you the opportunity to get your hands on Me. This is precisely what you will do,—you will take the living God and kill Him!

O, when I think of this, how much more abominable does that doctrine “of the good that sinners do,” become!

Man not only does not want salvation from sin and death, but he is bent on destroying the very means whereby he must be saved!

And do not forget, beloved reader, Peter was preaching the gospel when he declared this truth. It belongs to the preaching of the gospel to declare this truth. The preaching of the gospel is not the presentation of some silly offers, which man may accept or reject at will. It is not the declaration that God loves all men and wants to save all men. It is the fearful pronouncement, that as far as man is concerned, he is hopelessly lost. His sin is not only that he eats of the forbidden tree because he has the desire to become as God; but his sin reaches its acme, its highest point when God gives him the opportunity to destroy the living God. O, my God, how desperately wicked I am! To this, the proper preaching of the gospel must bring me.

But thanks be unto God, there is more!

It is the purpose of God in the crucifixion of Christ to save His people from their sins!

Those wicked hands which slew innocent blood were instrumental in pouring out the very blood of atonement!

The salvation of God’s people was not only determined, but also realized in this purpose.

The cross was God’s instrument to condemn the Innocent! Only the blood of a perfectly and righteous Man could atone for our sins. Only the perfect righteousness of a wonderful Saviour, while He bore the eternal wrath of God over against our guilt, could make satisfaction for our guilt and merit righteousness for us.

This, too, is implied in the gospel Peter preached. And such is also the good news of salvation which must yet be preached.

O, my God, how infinite is Thy wisdom, and how boundless is Thy grace which Thou hast revealed when Thou didst overrule the violence of man to accomplish my salvation!

In that grace Thou hast purposed to beautify me with all Thy saints with Thy own beauty, in order that in Thy people Thou mightest see forever Thy own glory.

May Thine be the glory now and forever more!