Summary: God’s love is supremely exhibited in the cross of Christ.
The cross of Christ – by which we mean his suffering, and death, and resurrection – is a topic packed with significance. Without the cross, there would be no Christianity. No forgiveness of sins, no eternal life, no hope for the future, no power for this present life. The cross is more than a symbol; it is the central reality of the Christian faith. It is also what makes Christianity unique. In no other major religion do you have anything like this story, of a god who became a man, was put to death and then rose from the dead. Buddhists and Confucians acknowledge the death of their founders, but make no claim that they rose again. Moslems believe that Mohammed never died, but was carried up to heaven on the back of a white horse. Only in Christianity do you have God taking upon himself full humanity, being born as an infant and living to adulthood, being executed as a criminal and buried, only to be resurrected, bodily, three days later. Who would have imagined such a thing? Who could have dreamed up such an incredible story? No one. In fact, the world finds the whole thing quite preposterous. As Paul writes in First Corinthians:
"[T]he message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. . . Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength." -- 1 Corinthians 1:18, 22-25
The cross is what defines Christianity, it is what distinguishes our faith from every other system of belief. And so my goal this morning is not to unpack the meaning of the cross in any kind of comprehensive way. That would take a lifetime. Instead, I want to focus in on just one aspect of our faith which is clearly revealed in the cross, and that is the love of God.
The Bible teaches that the cross of Christ is the supreme revelation of God’s love for his people.
"Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends." -- John 15:13
"But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." -- Romans 5:8
Now, Jesus performed many good works during his time on earth. In fact, this was his primary occupation. Acts 10:38 tells us that he "went around doing good". He healed numerous people of sickness and disease, even giving sight to the blind and raising the dead to life. As a result, his reputation as a healer grew so great that wherever he went, people crowded around him, clamoring for his attention, hoping desperately for a cure – and they usually received it. Those who were oppressed and tormented by evil spirits, he released from bondage. On more than one occasion, he provided food for thousands of hungry people. And throughout his ministry, He showed great kindness to those who were held in low esteem, people on the margins of society – children, women, tax collectors, lepers, Samaritans, prostitutes, the poor and powerless. But according to the Bible, it was not any of the things he did in life that most fully revealed his love, but what he did in his death.
Why is that? Why would the death of Christ demonstrate love more than all the good things he did during his life? I can think of three reasons. First, when you give your life for someone, it’s the greatest gift possible, because you are giving all you have. There’s nothing left. Take organ donation as an example. Occasionally you hear of someone donating a kidney to a family member. Recently, I read of someone donating a kidney to a stranger, which is even more amazing. Either way, it’s an act of selfless love, choosing to undergo the pain and risk of surgery; allowing doctors to remove a healthy, functioning part of your body and give it to someone else. Knowing that if you have kidney problems in the future, you’ll need a transplant yourself. And doing all of this for no personal benefit whatsoever, because there is really no upside to losing a kidney. The benefit is all to the recipient. However, I’ve never heard of a living donor volunteering to give their heart for a heart transplant. Why? Because the operation would kill the donor. But that’s exactly what Jesus did when he gave his life for us, he gave all that he had to save us, even his own life. He held nothing back. You’ll sometimes hear of rich people giving away large sums of money. A couple of years ago, Bill Gates and his wife set up a charitable foundation to distribute some of their wealth to various causes. In the last couple of years, the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation has donated over four billion dollars to fund things like health care, and education, and libraries. Pretty impressive. But put that in perspective. The Gates’ are worth somewhere in the neighborhood of fifty billion. So these gifts, as generous and substantial as they are, don’t even put a dent in their net worth. They still have plenty more where that came from. By contrast, when someone gives all that they possess, even their life, it signifies a far greater love. The wealthiest man on earth, lying on his deathbed, would happily give up all his riches, all his possessions, all his gold and silver and jewels, if he could purchase just one more year of life. As Satan said to God, when they were arguing over Job’s integrity, "A man will give all he has for his own life." (Job 2:4). Our life is the most precious thing we have, because when that’s gone, nothing else we own is of any use to us. Giving away our life is giving away everything we have, or hope to have, in this world.