A dear friend of mine recently visited Chile, a catholic nation in South America. Whilst there, she was so overwhelmed by the sheer number of crucifixes which populated every street that she called me to ask “Why is the symbol of your faith an event where your God is degraded, humiliated and killed, why is this worth celebrating?”. This was spoken with a sincere note of inquiry. After answering the question, I began to think how in the eyes of the world, the cross is a symbol of weakness. Paul acknowledges as much when he writes “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing (1 Corinthians 1:18). However, with spiritual eyes, we see that the cross represents the greatest day in human history. Now more than ever, there is a great need to understand the biblical intent of the cross of Christ. In celebration of Good Friday, here are three things you should know about the cross.
The Cross is substitutionary
Through Christ’s death on the cross, those who turn to Him are delivered from both the penalty and the power of sin.
1 Peter 2:24-25
Let’s take an example from the Napoleonic Wars, where young men would be enlisted into the french army via a lottery system. if your name was selected by the lottery, you had no choice but to be sent into battle. However, if you get someone to stand in your place you would become exempt, and instead, they would be sent off to war. On one famous occasion, when a young man’s name was drawn, he rejected the call on the basis that he was “killed two years ago”. The authorities questioned how this could be the case as he was standing before them alive today. He told them how when his name was selected years ago, a dear friend said to him “You have a large family, but I’m not married and nobody is dependent on me. I’ll take your name and address and go in your place”. The friend went on to later die on the battlefield. The authorities assessed his claim and the records proved his account to true. The man’s claim went all the way to Napoleon himself who ruled that France had no legal claim on the man, that he was free because another man had died in his place.
In a similar way, we are now free because 2021 years ago, another man called Jesus, died in our place. Christ took the sins we committed, onto Himself to pay the price for us. On the cross, he was our substitute. He was wounded so we may be healed. He was punished so we may be forgiven. He tasted death so we may inherit life. He was made a curse so we may receive blessing. He suffered rejection so we may be accepted as children, He was cut off that we might be joined to the Lord. Jesus bore our shame that we might share His glory. He became sin so we can be made righteous. Oh what scandalous Grace!
The Cross is trinitarian
Without a sound doctrine of the trinity on the cross, we have no Gospel. There is a popular mischaracterisation of the cross which seems to pit and a vindictive God vs an innocent son. It is a reductionist view which grossly misses the message of the Gospel. All trinitarian action begins with the Father, is accomplished through the Son, and perfected by the Spirit. What is made abundantly clear when we read the scriptures is that all three members of the Godhead are offended by sin were committed to the liberation of humankind from the curse of sin through the son’s death and resurrection. Jesus Christ was not an unwilling party. He himself, in eternity past, together with the father and the Holy spirit devised this plan of salvation (Philippians 2:6–8). It was the love that all three Persons of the Trinity share for the lost world that led Jesus to offer himself up, according to the will of the Father, through “the eternal Spirit” (Heb 9:14). Jesus willingly took our place on the cross. This is what makes the Gospel, Gospel! This is the ultimate display of the love of God, the complicity of the son who died in our stead.
The Gospel is Jesus Christ is a triune Gospel which is good news from a Triune God.
The Cross is the climax of the biblical story
“A Bible without a cross is a Bible without a climax, a Bible without an ending, a Bible without a solution”
The Bible isn’t a random collection of 66 filled with disconnected stories like in a newspaper. instead, there is a common thread with a unified story once you look at the big picture. Each book of the Bible is like individual moments of one great symphony, the symphony of the cross.
Let’s take the famous example of Tolstoy’s novel War and Peace. Most people, when asked to give an answer regarding what the book is about, often struggle. Many people would say that it is just a collection of many individual people and their stories. It isn’t until you finish the book that you see the story Tolstoy is trying to tell us. In a similar way, it can be quite easy to see the Bible as a collection of many individual stories, but it is important that we see what is God trying to say through all the individual stories and events recorded. The story of the Bible clearly presents us with one over-arching story which starts in the garden, climaxes at the life, death and resurrection of Christ and ends in a City of God, the New Jerusalem. Each of these smaller stories plays an integral role in the big story. Both understanding the individual stories as well as the larger story is an important part of helping you read the Bible. In order to understand the individual stories, you have to understand the big story, and in order to understand the big story, you have to understand the individual stories and how they all fit together.
If we look at the story of Issac, we see the one and only begotten son of the loving father Abraham, who carries a wood up a mountain to be sacrificed, but out of a thicket, a lamb takes the place of the son as the sacrifice (Genesis 22:13). The very next time we visit that same mountain in Scripture, mount Mariah, thousands of years later, we see Jesus, the Lamb of God, the one and only begotten son of the loving Father, carry a wooden Cross up a mountain to be sacrificed. Jesus was that lamb foreshadowed, who takes our place as the sacrifice. All the stories in the Bible point to the Cross of Christ.
So why do Christians celebrate the Cross? Because at the Cross, we witness God’s love, grace, mercy, plan, purpose, sovereignty, holiness, compassion and glory. 2021 years ago, Jesus Christ, the second member of the Godhead, the one and only son of God, took the punishment I deserved upon Himself. He lived a life I could not live and died a death I could not die. And on that old rugged Cross, I was redeemed, rescued, purchased and forgiven. This is the greatest story ever told.