THE CROSS OF CHRIST, PART 2


THE DEATH OF THE CROSS

 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death — even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:8

The death of Christ is the overriding theme of the New Testament, so much so that it is directly mentioned 175 times. But even more significant is the fact that without exception every single doctrine of the Bible, every bit of theology from Genesis to Revelation, somehow comes back to the reality of the Cross of Christ. The truth is, the Cross and the Christ are One; they cannot be separated for they are quite literally nailed together. You can’t about Jesus without eventually getting around to His Cross, and you can’t talk about the Cross without talking about the Man hanging on it. And this is the way it should be! We ought to not only appreciate the Cross of Christ, but we ought to glory in it, for the grace that was poured out on sinful man by way of the Cross has put away sin once and for all and eliminated the enmity of the human heart. It might be more proper to say that the death of the Cross wasn’t the death of the Messiah, for He did rise again. The death of the Cross was the utter annihilation of sin as the barrier between God and man, and the death of death as the wages of sin. The death of the Cross involves four points:

1. It was a shameful death

Crucifixion was the worst death possible; a death reserved for the lowest of the low. Whether it was for murder or robbery, the one condemned to this awful death was made a spectacle; stripped naked in front of everybody, nailed to a rough-hewn cross and hoisted up, where he hung for hours and sometimes days, waiting to die a very public, humiliating death. Jesus Christ, the One who never sinned, was “numbered with the transgressors,” and treated as bad or worse than the worst kind of criminal.

When they crucified him, the Roman soldiers took his clothes and divided them up four ways, to each soldier a fourth. But his robe was seamless, a single piece of weaving, so they said to each other, “Let’s not tear it up. Let’s throw dice to see who gets it.” This confirmed the Scripture that said, “They divided up my clothes among them and threw dice for my coat.” (The soldiers validated the Scriptures!) (John 19:23-24, MSG)

It’s hard to imagine an innocent human being subjected to such inhuman humiliation, and yet Jesus was, and He took it!

For he himself endured a cross and thought nothing of its shame because of the joy he knew would follow his suffering; and he is now seated at the right hand of God’s throne. (Hebrews 12:2)

To be crucified – to be strung up on a tree as Jesus was – was to be considered cursed by both Heaven and Earth. Jesus Christ bore the sin and suffered the shame; the two cannot be separated. The question we must all ask ourselves is a simple, but hard one: Are we so ashamed of our sins that we have stopped putting our Lord to shame?

…if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace. (Hebrews 6:6)

Christians do it all the time, though we seldom admit it. We sin and we embarrass our Lord because we forget that we are His ambassadors; what we do reflects on His character. Or we live like we are ashamed of Him! That might be deepest cut of all: being ashamed of the One who suffered the painful and shameful death on the Cross for us so that we might be spared the guilt of sin and the agony of eternal shame. How, in good conscience, can we ever be ashamed of Someone who would do that for us? Yet, many of us do it routinely, without even giving it a second thought.

2. It was a voluntary death

What Jesus did He did because He chose to do so; He knew His Father’s will because it was written in His heart. We sometimes forget this, but Jesus was not murdered by the Romans or the Jews or anybody else. Of course, that’s what it looked like, even the apostles acknowledged this. But we must always remember that at the Cross, Jesus was never the victim; He was always in complete charge of what was going on.

The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life —only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.” (John 10:17, 18)

Jesus Christ was no martyr, in the traditional sense. Certainly many people have given their lives for the cause of Christ, but nobody ever took back their lives! He was the only One! He was the One who was able to say with complete confidence:

“Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” (John 2:19)

This was not the statement of a prophet or a good man who was willing to suffer and die for the cause. The very fact that Jesus Christ was able to take back His life gave infinite value to His death. That’s why He was no martyr. His resurrection is what gave weight and meaning to His death. Good men die all the time for good causes, but only One man came back, just as He promised He would. Everything Jesus did, from His life to His death to His Resurrection was done because He alone chose to. Jesus Christ is the ultimate example of a free man. And yet His freedom was grounded in His obedience to His Father’s will; we must never lose sight of this. In complete freedom, Jesus did what He did for you:

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich. (2 Corinthians 8:9)

3. It was the predicted death

The death of Christ was THE predicted death. The death of the Son of God was not a contingency plan in God’s mind because Adam and Eve sinned. It was not some plan cobbled together at the last minute. 1 Peter 1:20 says in no uncertain terms that Jesus “was chosen before the creation of the world.” At the very foundation of the universe, the Son of God knew what His fate would be. His death was the very purpose of the Incarnation. Throughout the Old Testament, we read the things that Moses, David, and the prophets wrote, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, concerning the coming of Christ and of His fate. The death of Jesus was THE predicted death; it was no secret; it was obvious for those who had ears to hear. When Peter was defending himself before the religious leaders, men who knew what their own prophets had written, he made this clear:

But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Christ would suffer. (Acts 3:18)

This predicted death, which culminated in the resurrection and eventual glorification of Christ, was the singular event around which the world revolves. It is such a significant, never-to-be-repeated event, it’s strange that so many Christians take it for granted. What’s worse is that we don’t appreciate the wonderful intricacies of God’s great plan of redemption. We may excuse the young, immature believer because he’s ignorant, but surely the mature, Biblically literate believer should praise the Lord for God’s perfect plan. But even folks in Jesus’ day were taken by surprise:

He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” (Luke 24:25-26)

Let’s never grow so comfortable and used to our faith that we forget to be eternally grateful for the wonder of John 3:16!

4. It was a substitutionary death

He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. (1 Peter 2:24)

Jesus Christ gave His life in place of ours, thus setting us free from sin, the guilt of sin, and its ensuing punishment.

…who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good. (Titus 2:14)

There are dozens of verses that teach us about Christ’s substitutionary death, but none so graphically as a handful of verses in Isaiah:

Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes his life a guilt offering… (Isaiah 53:4-10, verse 10a cited)

The death of the Son of God in place of the sinner is God’s absolute, only, final, and irrevocable plan for dealing with man’s sin problem. The Old Testament sacrificial system couldn’t accomplish this. No amount of good intentions, good deeds, and positive thinking can accomplish this. The sacrifice of Christ on the Cross is the last image God sees of your sins. Jeremiah 31:34:

For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”

Your sin – your life of sin – is something so awful to behold, God cannot and will not look at you until you have dealt with that sin problem. Your conundrum is this: there is nothing you can do about it on your own! The fact is God cannot and He will not accept any other solution to your sin problem besides than His. His is the perfect solution. Only His Son, Jesus Christ, is capable of lifting your sins off of you and flinging them into an eternal pit, never to be seen again. This is the offer every man gets from God: Let me help you! The price of your soul is covered by His.

The Lord makes his life a guilt offering. (Isaiah 53:10)

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