The Message of the Cross
By Mary Kroeger
What does the cross mean to us? Is it just a symbol of a torturing and a supposedly substitutionary death for us? We see crosses adorning the inside and the outside of church buildings, worn as jewelry, featured in paintings, and placed on walls and furniture in homes.
One woman in a Hong Kong refugee camp called it the "Christian's idol" in trying to explain to me what she wanted. Why are we so proud of the cross - the instrument used to kill Jesus Christ? What is so central about the cross? What is so appealing about an instrument that is used to bring a long and torturous death to people in the most horrific way possible?
For many years I wondered why God had Jesus die such an incredibly painful death. His back was beaten bloody, His beard was pulled out, He was nailed to the cross, and a crown of thorns beaten into his head amidst the taunts of the soldiers and bystanders! He could have come down from the cross, but His oneness with the Father's will kept Him from seeking to save Himself.
His obedience proved that the power of God is greater than all the forces of evil the devil could muster up! In allowing the devil to do his best to get Jesus to sin, God gave us a revelation of His power as well as of the depth and quality of His love!
It is not difficult to love those who speak well of us, praise and honor us, and want the best for us. It takes a higher quality of love to love those who misrepresent us, spread malicious gossip about us, hurt us, reject us, and do all kinds of evil against us! And if they do it against our children, the mother bear in us rises up in all its fury to protect our children! How hard it is to forgive them and to work toward reconciliation!
Think of the tremendous ordeal Jesus faced! Then think of the depth of God's love needed to be willing to give His only begotten and beloved Son to endure such suffering and indignities to save a lost humanity - sinners such as Hitler, Stalin, you and me! What a demonstration of God's love!
Now let's look at Christ's obedience and submission to the Father's will! He was dead to self-will and self-preservation! He was dead to sin! (Rom. 6:10) Because He was dead to sin, the life of God could be fully expressed in Him! It enabled Him to embrace the Father's will as His will! He made sure that all the prophecies about Him would be fulfilled! His thought life remained in perfect harmony with the Father's will while He was being handed over to those who would crucify Him, while His back was beaten bloody, while his beard was being plucked out, while the nails were pounded into His hands and feet, while the crown of thorns was pounded into His head amidst the jeers of the bystanders! Throughout this ordeal Jesus Christ loved everyone, and prayed, "Father forgive them for they know not what they are doing."
In 2 Cor. 5:19 we read that God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their iniquities against them! Can we truly fathom that? God has forgiven the sins of the whole world, and He is not counting their sins against Him! Here we see the quality and depth of love that God has for each of us! It gives us an inkling of the quality of love God IS! We speak of having or possessing a certain degree of love, but God IS love! In the Holy Spirit who has been poured into our hearts, God has given us His love - the very essence of love that He is! This love is willing to give and to sacrifice for others! "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes on Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life." (Jn. 3:16)
The cross also brings us a revelation of Christ's love and obedience to the Father's will! He realized that overcoming death was necessary for God to make man a spiritual image of Himself - to bring forth a new creation in the very image of Himself! He also realized that victory over death could only be proven if the devil was allowed to do his utmost to get Christ to sin. Christ's obedience proved that life is stronger than death!
The scriptures tell us that the last enemy to be overcome is death! Does that fit into our theology? Do we believe that? Did Jesus really conquer death? In Gal. 2:20 Paul wrote, "I have been crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live." Since he was crucified with Christ it means he was on the cross with Christ when Christ was crucified! Was he an exception, or was all of humanity on the cross with Christ when He was crucified? Jesus said that the Son of Man would be crucified; He did not say that the Son of God would be crucified. Who is the Son of Man? He is the second corporate man. Since the Son of Man, the second corporate man was crucified, it means that Jesus took all of humanity with Him in His death and in His victory over death! While we still see death in its lifeless form, we do have the promise that it will be overcome! Life will conquer all death! All authority and rule has been given to Christ! This is the message of the cross!
When the last enemy, death, is overcome, death can no longer exist! The whole universe has to be freed from death! The message of the cross assures us of Christ's complete victory over death!
The horrible sufferings Christ had to endure reveal the depth of Christ's obedience, His love for the Father, as well as His perfect trust in the Father's plans for Him! What a perfect object lesson for us! In all the difficulties, challenges, and pain we have to endure, we can trust God, and know that His plan for our life is the best, and that it brings the greatest rewards! Our obedience in all these trials and hardships will also reveal the depth of our faith, trust, love and relationship with our Lord Jesus Christ!
The sorrows of Jesus began before He was crucified. He was a man of sorrows all the days of His ministry on earth. All the rejection He faced on a daily basis did not lessen His love for humanity! The very essence of His love CAN NEVER CHANGE! It may be hard for us to realize that a dwindling love is not the love of God!
Love can be either received or rejected. If love is not received, it affects relationship! An intimate relationship needs love and trust and expressions of love! Both parties must always want the best for the other! God has demonstrated His love for us! As we trust His love in the midst of trials and challenges, we will obey Him, and a wonderful intimate relationship will develop between God and us! This is what God desires!
This message of the cross should be a constant encouragement to us! Paul preached Jesus Christ and Him crucified, and churches were planted. He did not need a church planting committee! The early church did not celebrate a yearly Easter celebration with its mixture
of natural and spiritual thinking of Christ's death and resurrection! They received the spiritual understanding and encouragement of the cross on a daily basis! They understood that it was the Son of Man, the second corporate Man, who gave His soul as a ransom for many! They understood that a corporate man must include all of humanity! "In Adam (the first corporate man) all die, and in Christ (the second corporate man) all are made alive." (1 Corinthians 15:22)
Thus we see that the cross reveals the depth and sacrificial nature of God's love. It reveals Christ's trust in His Father and the depth of His submission and obedience to the Father's will. The cross is not merely a reminder of a historical reality, but it is a constant encouragement to let go of our self-will in joyful submission to His fantastic love! When we understand that love initiates and plans our life, strengthens and upholds us, it energizes us! The cross challenges us to triumphantly walk in the knowledge that life is stronger than death! May it encourage us to walk in the obedience of faith so the resurrection life of Christ will shine through us!