Summary: The cross is God's love in action. Because of the cross, we can "know and rely on the love of God."
CROSS PURPOSES 1: EMBODYING GOD’S LOVE
Of all the religions of the world, the one with the strangest symbol of faith is one you are probably familiar with. The primary symbol of that religion can be troubling, scandalous, even abhorrent. In fact, in parts of the world, it is divisive and dangerous.
The symbol is the cross. It was not, at first, an ornament, like the cross some people wear on a chain, or place along a roadside to remember someone who died in an accident. The cross was like the electric chair, only worse, for it represented the most shameful death of its time. Romans used it only for non-citizens, and even then only for lower-class people. Jews considered crucifixion to be the most shameful way to die, as Deuteronomy 21:22-23 spelled out, “If someone guilty of a capital offense is put to death and their body is exposed on a pole…anyone who is hung on a pole is under God’s curse.”
So imagine a group of people, brainstorming a new religion. As they write their ideas on a marker board, would anyone suggest that the leader of their religion should be condemned to die a shameful, gruesome death? Who would think that would be a good idea?
The Apostle Paul recognized how offensive the cross was for unbelievers, but he insisted that the cross was the crux of God’s plan of salvation. In 1 Corinthians 1:18-24, he said, “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God…We preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called…Christ [is] the power of God and the wisdom of God.”
What is wise and powerful about the death of Jesus Christ on the cross? How did the death of Jesus on the cross bring salvation to all who believe in him? What does the cross mean to you personally? Those questions are not so easy to answer, even for Christians, because the meaning of the cross is deep, just as God’s wisdom and power are deep.
In this Lenten series, we will explore the purpose of the cross—the wisdom and power of the cross for our salvation. We will look at the cross from several different angles, focusing especially on the power of the cross to transform our lives. We begin today with a simple, profound truth:
THE CROSS EXPRESSES GOD’S LOVE.
Romans 5:8 says, “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Many religious or spiritual people vaguely identify God with love, as an impersonal force or principle. The love of their “god” is like a hug from the universe: a warm feeling, blessings to enjoy, or a sense of affirmation. The idea or sensation of love is their god.
Of course, the Bible says, “God is love.” God’s love, however, is more than a vague, abstract concept, or a warm feeling of comfort. God is real and personal, and his love is expressed in action. 1 John 4:8-10 says, “God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” The love of God took on flesh in the person of Jesus, and it culminated in his death on the cross.
***The difference between love as an idea and love as action is obvious. Our grandchildren live far away from us, and when they call, we tell them we love them. Last month, however, we went to visit them. We hugged them, we took care of them while their parents were away, we played with Legos and taught them card games. We did more than that, however; we awoke in the middle of the night when they had nightmares, and we disciplined them when they needed it. After a week of loving them in person, we returned home, exhausted! Love is more than a vague idea; it is action on behalf of another.**
The Old Testament is, at its core, a story of God’s love in action. God chooses Abraham, and promises to bless him and his descendants. After a couple of generations, Abraham’s descendants end up in Egypt, and God is pretty much forgotten. Yet God has not forgotten them; he remembers his covenant to love and bless, and redeems his people from slavery. His servant Moses leads them through the wilderness, and Joshua leads them into the land God promised to give them. God is committed to loving his people.
Unfortunately, God’s people don’t always trust and respond to God’s love. The book of Judges recounts a pattern: The people go their own way, and they are oppressed by the pagan people around them, until they cry to God for help, and he raises up a leader to deliver them. When the judges are replaced by kings, the pattern continues; the people and their leaders reject the love and blessing of God, seeking instead gods that promise prosperity, fertility, and good times. Even the best kings fall short of trusting God.