Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Cross

The cross. To the natural eye we see a condemned Jew dying slowly, impaled on two Roman beams just outside the city of peace, Jerusalem. If indeed that is all there is then it is just a duplicate of hundreds of thousands of other executions throughout Roman history. With that view there is nothing special, nothing interesting, and certainly nothing divine about a son of Judah being punished for his crimes by crucifixion.

I believe a sinner can investigate and even search for a greater truth concerning this event, but only God the Spirit can illuminate a darkened heart to see the essence of redemption showcased in that act of violent death. And when a sinner sees and believes that this crucifixion alone is the redemptive gateway to reconciliation with his Creator, well then, words can only partially convey the experience the Scriptures describe as being “born again”.

In a world of ever expanding technologies and advances, the cross is still the only remedy for the sin that separates man from His God. The engineer, the landscaper, the politician, the convicted murderer, the P.H.D., and the 8 year old little girl can and sometimes do have one thing in common, they all can be eternally changed by simple faith in Jesus Christ and His work on that same cross. This event was and is to all who hear and believe, and there are no levels of salvation contained in its redemption. It is the simplest of messages as well as the most profound. The eternal conundrum is the cross where death brings life and life triumphs through death. What is called the “penal substitutionary” view of the cross simply means that Christ took the punishment that should have been ours.

One of the aspects of the Divine Person to which the Scriptures refer is His office as Judge, to whom we must answer. Let us remove and dismiss the Calvinistic view of almost anything since that is a straw man and does not actually represent most of evangelicalism, even those of us who espouse the penal substitutionary essence of that six hour event just outside Jerusalem. God is a judge.

Now the judicial essence of the Godhead is a mystery in many ways. If God is the Creator of everything and He is all knowing and all powerful, why could He not have made everything with an embedded truth that allowed Him to redeem through divine decree? And why could God not have created Adam complete with an inherent grace that would cover the sin God knew he would commit? And why would the Author of Life demand death as His eternal appeasement?

These questions both reveal our infinite limitations of understanding and our complete reliance upon the divine revelations for our truth. The atonement of Christ had a concert of participators.The Jews, the Romans, Pilate, humanity, the Father, and Jesus Himself all in some way coalesced to bring about the greatest injustice and the greatest judicial substitution of all eternity. Make no mistake, though, the plan was God’s before creation itself. It is indeed difficult to fathom, and surely most impossible to unravel completely through the words and thoughts of man.

But our calling by the words of Jesus Himself is to spread the core message of the gospel, that the sins of the world were paid for on that cross and that purely by faith - PURELY BY FAITH - EVERY SINNER can receive eternal forgiveness and be pronounced innocent before the God of all Holiness. It is indeed a counterproductive phenomenon to see many who demand a penal understanding of the cross, simultaneously limit the expanse and redemptive power of that same cross by suggesting an offer of atonement for a diminutive handful of divine lottery winners. But as I alluded to previously, Calvinism is illogical, unbiblical, fatalistic, and does violence to the unabridged human essence of God’s offer of atonement.

The justice that was fulfilled on Golgotha was understood even by the thief on the cross who acknowledged his own just punishment but also recognized the injustice being given to this Jesus of Nazareth. “He has done nothing wrong” is one of the truest statements ever made, but upon the illumination of the Holy Spirit we understand His death was a divine revelation that WE did something wrong for which He died.

There are several perspectives of the cross which are valid however I do not see how anyone can deny a punishment aspect on some level at Calvary. We cannot reject things primarily because those who espouse it use it as a badge of doctrinal hubris rather than a humble message that should reduce us all to selfless praise. This cross is not a doctrine that should be picked up and used to meet out a doctrinal justice that kills rather than redeems.

However you understand God’s wrath, or justice, or moral demands, however you see God’s divine emotions toward man, you cannot, you must not, ignore the colossal mystery that appeasement was eternally fulfilled through the human/divine blood of the Eternal Word called Jesus. No one can understand such an archaic method of punishment being the redemptive vehicle through which we can all find life, and it will always be THE divine mystery that rescued us from eternal damnation and will always redound to the glory of God. The loving horror that is the cross is infinite in its facets and glory, and we can and should revel in every aspects grace has afforded us.


* It is penal
* It is substitutionary
* It is redemption
* It is salvation
* It is forgiveness
* It is sacrifice
* It is Passover
* It is love
* It is grace
* It is mercy
* It is eternal
* It is ransom
* It is deliverance
* It is emancipation
* It is liberation
* It is rescue
* It is life
* It is infinite
* It is the divine gift
* It is the divine expression
* It is the example
* It is our model
* It is our God
* It is our Savior
* It is finished
* It is the door
* It is the way
* It is the offering
* It is the paradox

And one day in God’s throne room we will see Him as He is, complete with the wounded history on His hands, and on that “day” we will realize that we have never even touched the hem of His garment as it pertains to that cross. And yet we argue as if the cross was our personal possession. Let us preach it as the eternal weapon of love, not a doctrinal subject that needs defending. To preach it and live it is all the glorious defense that is asked of us, and in that we are challenged beyond our earthly ability. Jesus Himself would not be consumed with defending Himself and being distracted from that cross, and so should we follow in His steps.

So instead of demanding a penal doctrinal purity that results in self righteousness and bitter division, we all should instead remove the shoes from off our spiritual feet and bow down in tearful glory and worship the One who rises infinitely above all that we can ever ask or think. Jesus died for our sins, was buried, and rose again on the third day, and that is the gospel in all its fullness, and an 8 year old little AIDs infected African girl, who will never even hear the different atonement theories, can believe that in her heart and be just as saved as Calvin, Spurgeon, or the Apostle Paul himself.

May the Lamb that was slain receive the rewards of His suffering!!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for that wonderful lesson on the Cross. I read something that John Piper said " before we can begin to see the cross as something done for us leading to faith in worship,
we need to see it as something done BY us leading to repentance.
only the man/woman who is prepared to own his share in the guilt of the cross may claim his share in it's grace" Amazing. The part you wrote about the little girl is the Gospel in all it's simplicity and purity.Amen.