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Posts Tagged ‘the cross’

To state that the crucifixion of Jesus Christ is central to Christianity is to state the obvious. The Bible abounds with testimony concerning the importance of the cross. Jesus said, “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). In Matthew 16:21 we read, “From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” Peter wrote that Jesus “himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24). Jesus, pointing to his forthcoming crucifixion, said, “I lay down my life for the sheep” (John 10:15). Likewise, the apostle Paul taught that “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25).

The question, however, is often asked: Could there have been another way for God to save sinners? Did Jesus have to die?

A lot of people have a real issue with the cross. While they see Jesus’ death as a sacrifice or an act of love, they wonder not only why he himself had to die but also why anyone has to be punished for sin.

One popular blogger has stated unequivocally that Jesus did not have to die for humans to be reconciled to God. God could have done things a different way.

The logic goes something like this: God is capable of doing whatever he wants. After all, he is God. Consequently, God did not have to require the crucifixion. As a matter of fact, God did not have to allow the Fall, Adam and Eve’s sin that got humanity into its sin predicament.

Such thinking goes on to say that there is no “must” or “requirement” with God. Saying that God “must” or “is required” to do something violates the concept of God. God is totally free from any requirements. To say that his justice requires the punishment of the sinner is nonsensical. In fact, God could have simply waved off sin, pronouncing that it is forgiven and all is well.

Orthodox Christianity has said that God’s justice requires that sinners be punished for their sin, but some professing Christians return to the idea that God can do what he wants because he is sovereign. Such an idea, though, fundamentally misunderstands the nature of God.

The fundamental mistake with such a notion is understanding what it means to say that “God can do whatever he wants.” That is a true statement, but it must be rightly understood. God’s sovereignty never conflicts with his nature. While God can do anything he wants, he cannot violate his very nature. In other words, God would never want to do that which is contrary to who he is. God can do whatever he wants to do, and he always wants to do that which is according to who he is.

God is in essence holy. Isaiah saw the seraphim announcing the absolute holiness of God (Isaiah 6:1-3). That which is unholy, that which is sinful, violates the very nature of God. Sin is rebellion against God because it violates who he is. Consequently, the sovereign of the universe must punish sin because allowing it to go unpunished would be for God to contradict his very being.

Therefore, Christ had to die or else all of humanity would face the judgment of God. God cannot allow sin in his presence. To do so would violate his very nature. He cannot simply wave off sin. Again, justice would not be served. Holiness would be contradicted. Jesus said that he must go to Jerusalem to die upon the cross (Matthew 16:21).

Could there have been another way? Jesus prayed in Gethsemane, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39). Were there any other way, the inexpressible spiritual agony of the cross could have been averted. There was no other way.

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With the month of December comes the focus upon Christmas and all that goes with it. Decorations have suddenly popped up everywhere, joining those Christmas decorations that have been up for weeks! Christmas carols are heard on radio stations and in the stores. And there are, of course, the ubiquitous manger scenes.

Now, before anyone thinks that this curmudgeon is on an anti-manger crusade, think again. I like manger scenes, however unhistorical most are! The manger in the Bible was doubtlessly not a barn-like structure, the conditions were doubtlessly not pristine, the three wise men were nowhere around, and there probably were more than three anyway. Nevertheless, manger scenes do emphasize Christ and, in a culture that is becoming more and more anti-Christian, it is good to see a positive portrayal of Jesus.

The problem, though, is the sentimentalizing of the birth of Christ. A baby is born to a poor couple who are required to travel when the wife is close to giving birth to her first child. They arrive at their destination to find no lodging available other than a place where animals are kept.

The scene in popular imagination and portrayal becomes almost “Walt Disney-esque.” The animals are gazing with awe-struck wonder at the little baby. The world loves the sweet story.

But the world doesn’t love the portrayal of the biblical Christ. Why? Because the manger is not the emphasis of the Bible. Outside of Matthew and Luke, the circumstances of the birth of Christ are not explicitly discussed. While those details are important because they reveal the miracle of the virgin birth of Christ, the manger was not the destination. It was part of the process to get to the cross.

The world hates the cross because the cross reveals humanity’s sin and rebellion against God. The cross reveals the nonsense of the “I’m okay; you’re okay; let’s just all accept and affirm each other’s beliefs” attitude that is so prevalent.

The world hates the cross because there is nothing sentimental about it. A holy God unleashes his wrath against a holy and innocent victim who is suffering in the place of human sinners. There’s not a good way to sugar-coat that.

The world hates the cross because it points to the hopelessness of man. It reveals that human efforts to become accepted by God are worthless. The cross reveals human sin and hopelessness and pride. The cross reveals the necessity of humility.

Unfortunately, many professing Christians glory in the manger. They gaze upon the representations therein with child-like awe and wonder. They feel “spiritual” and especially close to God. They feel at peace. And they sin if they worship that representation of Jesus, making an idol out of a baby doll.

If we celebrate Christmas without an eye on the cross, we have missed the point of the incarnation. A better depiction for manger scenes would be to have a cross in the background, because the manger becomes little more than a Hallmark moment without the cross.

One is struck by the numerous references to the cross in the New Testament. We are sinners, and we can do nothing to become accepted by God. Even our righteous acts, as the prophet Isaiah reminds us, are as filthy rags. On the cross the Lord Jesus suffered the righteous wrath of the thrice-holy God. He suffered for our sins, for our rebellion. He suffered so that we would not suffer. He suffered so that justice would be served and we would be forgiven and counted righteous. He suffered so that God could receive us.

Little wonder that the apostle Paul could never get over the cross. Though he does not refer to the manger in his writings, the cross is always in the forefront. Not in the manger was his boast: “But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Galatians 6:14a).

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