Summary: Four word pictures about the death of Jesus for people investigating the Christian faith.
My wife committed her life to Jesus Christ while she was a junior in high school. Shortly after she became a follower of Jesus Christ, she had a conversation with a friend who was a Jehovah’s Witness about whether or not a Christian should wear a cross. Her friend reasoned that since the cross was the way Jesus was executed, it was totally inappropriate for someone who claimed to be a follower of Jesus to wear one. If your brother was killed in a drive-by shooting, you wouldn’t wear a silver assault rifle. If one of your ancestors had been lynched you wouldn’t wear a gold noose.
In some ways, my wife’s friend had a point we often fail to miss today. You see, after 2,000 years of church history we have a difficult time understanding how scandalous the cross truly was to the people in Jesus Christ’s generation. So far as we know, death by crucifixion on a cross originated with the ancient Persians, but it was the ambitious Greek military general Alexander the Great who made it a popular form of execution. By the time the Roman Empire came to power, crucifixion on a cross was a form of capital punishment reserved for only the worst criminals. To the Jewish mind, being nailed to a cross was such a shameful way to die that they considered any who were crucified to be cursed in God’s sight. The Roman author Cicero wrote, "Let the very name of the cross be far away not only from the body of a Roman citizen, but even from his thoughts, his eyes, his ears" (cited in the Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, 1:1038). Had the early Christian church hired a Madison avenue marketing group to help them come up with a logo for the Christian faith, a cross wouldn’t even be on their list it was such a revolting, shameful and offensive symbol.
Yet the cross has endured the test of time as that which seems to capture the essence of the Christian message. In spite of the fact that the cross was a scandal to the Jewish mind and an offense to the Roman mind, the apostle Paul sums up the message of the New Testament as "the word of the cross" (1 Cor 1:18).
Galatians 6:14-- May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ... (NIV).
1 Corinthians 1:17-- For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel-- not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power (NIV).
Popular Christian author Max Lucado says "[The cross] rests on the time line of history like a compelling diamond...History has idolized and despised it, goldplated and burned it, worn it and trashed it. History has done everything but ignore it...Never has timber been regarded so sacred" (The Cross 1).
We’re in a series called WHAT DO CHRISTIANS THINK? We’ve been looking at the basic beliefs of the Christian faith, and exploring these beliefs in a way that both irreligious people and Christians can understand. So far we’ve looked at what Christians believe about God, the Bible, the world, and Jesus. Today we’re going to look at what Christians believe about the cross. Today we’re going to explore four pictures that the Bible paints about what happened on the cross.
1. A Courtroom
We’re going to start with the image of a courtroom. The Bible consistently presents God as the judge of the universe. You see, we live in a moral universe where there’s a fixed pattern of right and wrong that God has woven into the fabric of life, and none of us has lived consistently with the moral order of our universe. All of us have failed to conform our lives to what’s right, whether it’s breaking the ten commandments in word or in spirit, or whether it’s simply not living consistently with our own internal moral compass. The Bible’s word for this is the word "transgression" which means to step over a fixed line. All of us have transgressed God’s absolutes, we’ve stepped over the line separating right from wrong, and as a result of that action we stand before God guilty of breaking his law, we stand as transgressors.
Now immediately we protest, "No one’s perfect. After all, I’m not as bad as so-and-so." That of course is our reflex reaction, to justify ourselves, to point to others who’ve failed worse than we have, and if God graded on the curve we’d probably be okay. But since the standard isn’t what other people do but it’s God’s perfect character expressed in God’s absolutes, all of us fall short, we’ve all stepped over the line and become transgressors.
So God’s dilemma is how he can genuinely forgive people who’ve transgressed his law. You see, if it was just a personal injury against God, then God could just forgive and forget. In our legal system, if a person is suing me in civil court over a injury or damage, that person is free to drop the suit and forgive. But if it’s a criminal matter--a violation of the law--then the injured party can’t just choose whether or not I’ll be prosecuted, that’s up to the government not the person. Breaking a law is a public act and the state has an obligation to seek justice--even if the injured party forgives the person who broke the law. So the question is how God can show forgiveness to people like us without compromising the integrity of his justice. If God just looked the other way, he’d compromise his integrity and he’d no longer be righteous. You see, when we transgress God’s law it creates a legal debt that God can’t just pretend doesn’t exist.