“If the Cross of Christ is anything to the mind, it is surely everything – the most profound reality and the sublimest mystery”, wrote John Stott in his book The Cross of Christ. “If the cross is not central to our religion, ours is not the religion of Jesus”, he added, mindful of our propensity to construct altars to all manner of theological trivia and worship peripheral dogma – anything to distract us from awfulness of the death of the Messiah and the profound consequences for all who seek to follow him. “We resent the idea that we cannot earn – or even contribute to – our own salvation. So we stumble, as Paul put it, over the stumbling-block of the cross.”
And we continue stumbling because we yearn for the signs and wonders of liberation, yet all we get is pain and suffering and the burden of self-sacrifice. Even as we dream of driving out demons and the power to reconcile hearts and minds to the kingdom of God, we are helpless in uncertainty and lost in confusion. What kind of God dies on a cross? What kind of God forsakes His son? What kind of father would abandon his child to be whipped and tortured to death? Why the silence? Why the distance? Why the pain of betrayal and the agony of Gethsemane? Why the shame of slavery and the darkness of Golgotha?
The wages of sin is death, and all that lives must die. But Jesus didn’t sin, so whose death did he die? If he died in his humanity and not his divinity, the cross is the death of us all, the consequence of sin. His suffering is ours; he suffered in our place. The warm blood of Christ is poured out for us: the Passover Lamb was sacrificed that we might be be saved.
But still we crawl in dirt, disease and death, and we are not free from fraud, shame or violence. Our men are tortured, women raped, children starve, and our churches burn to the ground. And yet in all the terror, all the tears, all the longing and all the fears, the cross endures – it is everything, because the death of Christ has been taking place throughout eternity, and yet here it is in a moment of time. It is the light in the darkness; the visible victory in the pollution and corruption of this soiled world. Not even flames and smoke can obscure its promise and hope. For those who have eyes, the Cross of Christ is the greatest gift of the Creator, restoring relationship, reconstituting broken lives and redeeming lost souls.
And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.
And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.