The (True) Story of the Cross

Read Matthew 21:1-10 for the story of Palm Sunday

Only 5 days later the same crowd that shouted “Hosanna” would also shout “Crucify him!”

Read John 19:1-30 for the story of the crucifixion.

Today many have become uncomfortable with the story of the cross.

A common modern understanding of the cross:

“I could accept Jesus as a martyr, and embodiment of sacrifice! and a divine teacher. His death on the cross was a great example to the world, but that there was anything like a mysterious or miraculous virtue in it, my heart could not accept. -Gandhi, “An Autobiography”

Is this a proper understanding of what Jesus did on the cross? What did Jesus do on the cross? It has become popular to deny that Jesus’ death actually accomplished anything other than set an example of love.

But if Christ’s death does nothing more than set an example of sacrifice, then it is meaningless and wasteful. If you were walking alongside a deep river with you friend, what would you think if he threw himself in the river and drowned just to show you how much he loved you? You would be sad and think he was crazy! But if you fell in, then he jumped in, though he could not swim, and pushed you to safety then drowned himself, then you would know that he loved you, because there was a real danger that he have his life to save you from.

Why is the cross so important in the story of Christianity anyway?

The bloody reality of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross makes us uncomfortable in our modern day. It sounds like “divine child abuse” to say that God could not forgive us unless he killed his own Son in our place.

Why can’t we leave the cross out? Why did Jesus have to die?

First reason: real forgiveness is costly suffering

Why could God not just forgive us without any payment?

Whether we recognize it or not, it is impossible to “just” forgive, it always involves a cost. All wrongdoing creates a debt. If someone borrows your car then crashes it, you can’t “just” forgive him, someone must absorb the debt. This is true for all offenses, whether great or small. Either the offending party “pays” through some form of actual or relational payback, or else the offended party pays, but wrongs don’t just disappear. In order to forgive, the offended party must bear the sin of the offender. There is no other way.

And here is the amazing thing, God did not make us pay, he came Himself through the person of his Son and paid the debt that we could not pay.

This is exactly what Jesus did for us on the cross: 1 Peter 2:21-25

Second reason: real love is a personal exchange

It is not real love that does not get personally involved in the life of the one loved. It is never enough to say you love some needy person, but do nothing to meet their needs at some personal cost. We had a great need: we were condemned in our sin. God would not be loving if he had not done anything about it.

The great reversal: not only did he get involved, he actually took our place. God became man so that he could pay the price that we could not pay and fix the mess that we could not fix.

If you take away the cross, you don’t have a God of love.

On the cross Christ wins through losing, triumphs through defeat, achieves power through weakness and service, comes to wealth via giving all away.

Only the cross was able to satisfy both the mercy and justice of God. Because of our sin, it would have been just for God to condemn us all, but it would not have been merciful. Yet if God had just overlooked our sin and forgiven us anyway, it would have been merciful, but not just. Only the cross allows for God’s justice to be satisfied by the price being paid AND his mercy to be displayed by offering us forgiveness. (Philippians 2:5-11)

Yet if we think of the cross as just an amazing example of personal self-sacrifice, we will miss its life-changing power.

Ultimately the cross is not just an amazing story about something amazing and sacrificial that was done for someone else. WE are in the story of the cross. It is the story of what Jesus did for us! (Isaiah 53:6)