It was the 2008 Together for the Gospel Conference in Louisville, Kentucky. This was the early days of this movement called The New Calvinism and this conference was meant to introduce all of these enthusiastic young Calvinists to the old guard, to those few men who had been faithfully preaching these truths for many, many years. It was only right that R.C. Sproul was there, it was only fitting that he was asked to preach. And did he ever! His sermon is the subject of the next entry in the Great Sermon Series.
This video is brought to you in part by the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. You can download a free book from Southern, and learn more about training for preachers at sbts.edu/challies.
Tim: It was the 2008 Together for the Gospel Conference in Louisville, Kentucky. This was the early days of this movement called The New Calvinism or The Young Restless Reformed and this conference was meant to introduce all of these enthusiastic young Calvinists to the old guard, to those few men who had been faithfully preaching these truths for many, many years. It was only right that R.C. Sproul was there, it was only fitting that he was asked to preach, and did he ever. His sermon didn’t have the catchiest title of all time, it was called “The curse motif of the atonement”. But don’t be fooled by that simple title, this was not a cold or detached theological musing, this was an unforgettable proclamation of truth. It had some spine-chilling moments like this one.
R.C.Sproul: May the Lord curse you and abandon you. May the Lord keep you in darkness and give you only judgment without grace.
Tim: See, this sermon was far from a dry lecture, this was signature Sproul. This was a passionate plea to consider the horrors of the cross and thus the splendor of God’s grace. In this sermon, we see exactly what made Sproul’s teaching ministry so powerful for so many years. He reminded us of who we are. Even more importantly he reminded us of who God is. Let’s give it a closer look.
This video is brought to you in part by the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. You can download a free book from Southern and learn more about training for preachers at sbts.edu/challies.
In the history of the church, there are momentary sparks and there are enduring flames. Momentary sparks, they’re like the one hit wonders of the music world. They appear overnight in a flash of viral sensation, but after a few short months, they disappear just as quickly as they showed up in the first place. But the enduring flames, they stick around. And as time passes, their influence only ever grows, and yet, it’s so hard to pin them down to one memory, to one sermon, to one flashy moment. They’re enduring flames because their entire ministry was marked by consistently showing up, by relentlessly fighting for the truth, by standing firmly on the Word of God. Since R.C.Sproul passed away it has become ever more clear that he was, in the words of his friend Al Mohler, a bright and burning flame. And he was brilliant, not because he introduced anything new to Christian theology, actually quite the opposite. Over the course of more than 50 years of ministry, he challenged trendy, novel theology to instead bring us back to, time and time again, to the unchanging truths of scripture. Every time Sproul spoke, every time he wrote, he was strong, he was steadfast, he was scriptural. And that’s why it’s so hard to pin him down to just one sermon or to one viral clip, but let’s try anyways. It’s fair to ask why of all the topics Sproul could have addressed at this conference, he chose to speak on the curse motif from Galatians chapter 4. We don’t have to wonder though because he actually told us.
R.C.Sproul: But there is one image, one aspect of the atonement that has receded in our day almost into total obscurity. We heard earlier of those attempts to preach a more gentle and kind Gospel and in our efforts to communicate the work of Christ more kindly, we flee from any mention of a curse inflicted by God upon his own Son.
Tim: The reason Sproul is preaching on the rare topic of the curse motif is actually because we’re the ones who’ve made it a rare topic. In our attempts to soften the brutality of the cross, we’ve strayed away from one of the harshest images of the atonement, that on the cross, God the Father cursed the Son. In fact, Sproul says that this disregard for the curse motif of the atonement, it actually betrays a serious misunderstanding of God himself. Our manmade God who loves all people and blesses all people, he’s incapable of cursing anyone, much less his own Son.
R.C.Sproul: We believe in a God who is infinitely capable of blessing people, but is utterly incapable of cursing them.
Tim: Because we’ve ignored God’s ability to curse people, we’ve relegated curses to the realm of magic, to the realm of superstition, and we’re unable to grasp what it means for God to inflict a curse upon us. Sproul explains that if you want to understand God’s curse, you need to think of it as the opposite of one of God’s blessings. If you simply reverse that well-known benedictional blessing of Numbers 6, you have a horrifying picture of the curses of God.
R.C.Sproul: May the Lord turn his back upon you and remove his peace from you forever.
Tim: It’s stunning to think that a divine curse like this was put upon Jesus Christ, and yet Sproul shows this is exactly what Jesus had to endure on the cross in order to redeem us from the curse of sin.
R.C.Sproul: The Bible tells us that God is too holy to even look at sin. And he cannot bear to look at this concentrated monumental condensation of evil. And his eyes are averted from his Son. The light of his countenance is turned off. All blessedness is removed from his Son whom he loved. And in its place was the full measure of the divine curse. It was as if there was a cry from heaven, excuse my language but I can be no more accurate than to say, it was as if God, Jesus heard the words, God damn you. Because that’s what it meant to be cursed, to be damned. To be under the anathema of a Father.
Tim: There is no doubt this was one of the most earnest, one of the most solemn sermons ever heard by that audience. I was there that day, I can tell you, there was a holy hush over that room as we were all forced to consider the sheer horror of what Jesus Christ endured on our behalf. Why did Sproul dive so deeply into God’s curse put upon Christ on the cross? What was he hoping his audience would take away?
R.C.Sproul: And I know every person in this room and every person outside, in this hotel, and on the street, across the world who has not been covered by the righteousness of Christ, right this minute draws every breath under the curse of God. If you believe that, you will stop adding to the Gospel and start preaching it with clarity and with boldness because, dear friends, it is the only hope we have.
Tim: This is Sproul’s big point, and it was the big point of his entire ministry. We will only know and preach and believe the Gospel rightly when we understand who God is in all of his holiness, and when we understand who we are in all of our sin. It’s only when we understand the curse of the world that we’ll preach the true message of God’s salvation. It’s only when we look at the horrors of the cross with Jesus bearing the curse that we should have born that we’ll rightly understand the magnitude of God’s grace. When we see God for who he is and ourselves for who we are, that, that is when we’ll set our hope fully on Jesus Christ for his salvation. After this sermon, Sproul went on to have nine more fruitful years pastoring St. Andrews Chapel and working with Ligonier Ministries to spread the truth of God’s Word around the world. With each video teaching, a book and radio broadcast, he continued to bring people back to the holiness of God, back to the depravity of man, back to the greatness of the Gospel which reconciles holy God with sinful man. On December 14, 2017, Sproul’s ministry was complete and he went to be with the Lord, but he never feared that day. No, he anticipated it with great joy. In fact, in the beginning of that 2008 sermon, he was pondering that day.
R.C.Sproul: I suspect that when my eyes open in heaven, in the first five minutes of my beginning of eternity there, I will be absolutely staggered by the sudden increase of understanding that will come to me when I behold the Lamb that was slain.
Tim: What he merely suspected then, he knows now. And I suspect that he is beholding the Lamb at this very moment. Freed from the curse of sin, he’s gazing at the One who bore the full measure of the curse for him. As for us, we can best remember, we can best honor R.C.Sproul by doing exactly what he’s doing now, beholding God in all of his holiness, worshiping God for all of his grace.
If you’re passionate about preaching like I am, I want to tell you about a seminary I’ve grown to trust and appreciate because I know they care deeply about preaching the Word of God. I’d encourage you to visit Southern Seminary which has been under the leadership of Al Mohler for decades now. Southern is absolutely committed to training pastors to know and defend and exposit the precious Word of God. If you visit their site, they’ll give you a free book that can serve as a resource to help you with the kind of bold preaching that we’ve been talking about here today. Simply visit sbts.edu/challies.
More in The Great Sermons Series:
- What Made Paul Washer’s “Shocking Message” So Very Shocking?
- Why John Piper’s “Shells” Illustration Transformed a Generation
- Matt Chandler’s Radical Reminder that “God Is For God”
- How John MacArthur began (and ended) His 42 Year Journey