Summary: Only God can stand against the evil that humans beings have brought into his world. he's done this by sending Jesus to become one of us, taking our place, becoming our substitute in facing God's anger and allowing humanity to be remade in God's image.
Why the Cross
A Sermon series based on the book of the same name by Dr Leon Morris
I trust no-one here would doubt that the cross is central to the Christian faith. Without the cross Christianity becomes just another religion, emptied of its power.
The cross is central to our life together; central to our belief in Jesus as the Son of God; central to our salvation, central to our preaching of the gospel.
You can see that in the way Jesus' life is portrayed for us in the 4 gospels. There we find a sketchy history of his early life, then a brief account of various incidents in his time with his disciples over a period of 3 or so years, followed by an extended account of his death and resurrection.
You can see it in Paul's preaching - he sums it up in 1 Corinthians 1:23-24: "we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God." Today's reading from Hebrews states: "9but we see Jesus, who for a little while was made lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone."
So let's think about why the Cross is crucial to us as Christians?
Sin and Justice
Let's start from the most basic problem of humanity: i.e. sin. It's sin that separates us from God and from one another. Sin is the root cause of every human predicament. Despite what some people would have us think it's not ignorance or poverty or lack of education that's our problem. It's sin. Not that most people today would recognise that of course. Most people think we're basically good people who just need the right environment to blossom. You know the saying: "he's basically a very nice person?" What that actually means is that mostly he's not very nice.
The reality is you only have to take a fleeting glance at the world we live in to realise that sin and evil pervade our world and the level of education or wealth or civilisation makes no difference. What do we see? War, crime, selfishness, relationship breakdowns, child abuse, suicide, violence, addictions of various sorts. The list is endless. And it all comes back in the end to human beings turning their back on God.
But the consequences of sin are far more serious than the mere breakdown of society. The Bible describes God's reaction to our disobedience as anger, wrath, judgement. God is a just God who expects justice from his creation. He's the one who made us and he expects us to obey him. When he sees evil in a world that he made good, when he sees us rebelling against his just rule, he calls us to give account for what we've done.
Of course the common response to that sort of statement is to say that we can't help it, it's just how we're made: a bit like the boy who gives the excuse "the devil made me". No, when we stand before God on the last day we'll be asked to give an account for the way we've lived, for the choices we've made, for the way we've responded to God's claims on our life.
The Love of God
But the amazing thing about the Bible's account of the relationship between God and us is that God doesn't just respond as a just judge. He also responds as a loving father. He loves us because he made us. He loves us because he is Love.
We mustn't fall into the error of so many people who want to say that they like Jesus but don't like God. They think of God as judgmental while Jesus is all-loving. Yet one of the striking things about the Old testament account of God's dealings with the people of Israel is that even when they're at their most wicked, their most rebellious, he continues to love them. The sort of language that's used by the prophets is that of a loving husband who longs for his unfaithful wife to return to him. He promises to seek her out and win her back. He offers her a second and a third and a fourth chance; over and over and over again. He promises to provide a way that she can be made right with him again.
But he never overlooks her rebellion. He isn't like some lovesick fool who says "Don't worry about your unfaithfulness. I don't mind as long as you come back to me." No, her unfaithfulness needs to be dealt with, accounted for. And right from the start God points to the cross as the way sin will be dealt with once and for all. Even in Gen 3 we see God promising that Adam's offspring will crush Satan's head.