In a world that likes to exalt man and speak of his advances and goodness, the cross doesn’t make sense.
In a world that likes to say we are all victims but no one’s guilty, the cross is a foreign and alien concept.
For many it belongs to a bygone era when humanity didn’t understand itself and needed the idea of a God and religion to help it on it’s way, but today we supposedly know better, we’ve advanced beyond these things.
Not only are there those in the world who struggle to understand the message of the cross, there are those in the church too.
The idea of penal substitution (that Christ was crucified for our sins, in our place, bearing our punishment) is sadly falling out of favour. At one time it would have been liberals, but now some evangelicals are raising their doubts more it would seem from an emotional point of view than a scriptural one.
It troubles our personal sensitivities that someone should have to die for us, and in such an awful way, and as a result it’s becoming increasingly popular to speak in terms of ‘identification with our suffering and pain,’ a ‘moral influence upon us,’ or/and a ‘victory over sin and satan’ – a death you’ll note that has no reference to God.
The pride of man likes the idea that he’s pretty good and can pull himself up by his own efforts, that he can improve on his situation, each of which the aforementioned offer. But the Bible just wont have it – all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God and totally unable to save himself or herself.
The problem is we have memory loss. We have forgotten how grievous our sin is, we have forgotten how far we have fallen and it’s consequences and power in and over our lives, and how it separates us from God. Sin has caused a huge rupture in humanities relationship to God and completely messed up his own psyche, and it’s evidence is seen all over the place no matter the amount of education or social welfare etc..
An identification with our suffering and pain though comforting is insufficient, a moral influence is good but completely inadequate to get me, you, out of this mess, and a victory over sin and satan is great but how will that moment in history help me if that is all that there is to it? I need a cross that speaks a bigger and stronger word than that, a cross that radically goes to the root of the problem and gets me out of it.
The Cross Speaks
The cross speaks of God coming and taking human flesh not simply to identify with us, or provide us with a good example, or tell us that sin and satan have been defeated, but of God’s great power to go to the heart of the issue and provide a substitute who would take our very sin and bear the judgement of a Triune God on it.
I put it that way deliberately – it was a Trinitarian affair, it was the business of Father, Son and Holy Spirit – not one over and against an unwilling other. God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself. This plan had it’s origin in the heart of the Trinity, a truly staggering plan in which the ‘chastisement or punishment of our peace was upon him’ as Isaiah says prophetically by the Spirit.
As Paul says, ‘Christ died for our sins.’
A cross that is not penal carries no great salvific message, it simply gives me a form of moralism – I nearly wrote a moralistic gospel, but such would not be good news!
“Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.” (Isaiah 53:4-6, 10)
The cross has to do with God and man.
He bore and was pierced for our transgressions.
He was crushed for our iniquities.
He bore our chastisement/punishment.
He was wounded for our healing.
He paid the price for all our sin.
He was stricken, smitten by God – it was God who put God in flesh to grief.
It was God in Flesh who made an offering for all our guilt.#
The Cross has Said it All
The cross has said it all. It is a full word, complete and sufficient in every way.
This truly is a saving gospel. It is this gospel that has been the good news to many a soul down through history, thousands upon thousands, indeed millions of them. Yes, as this gospel is preached he shall continue to see his offspring (those who believe) and be satisfied!