THE CROSS RECONSIDERED
P. M. Joseph
As the haunting memories of the Passion Week and its trauma recede, a sigh of relief is manifest in most Christians and the spirited Easter celebrations across the world endorses it. The court trial of the Lord Jesus Christ and the subsequent execution was the most hideous incident in human history because on that day was nailed to the cross the most impeccable Man that ever walked on our planet. His death on a Roman cross could not be without dire ramifications. The cross of the Roman times, as Tozer maintains, "was ruthless and would make no compromise; it never made concessions and won all its arguments by killing its opponent and silencing him for good.” He continues, "it spared not Christ, but slew Him same as the rest. He was alive when they hung Him on that cross and completely dead when they took Him down six hours later." That was the cross of the Lord Jesus, quite unlike the respectable ones that evolved over the years. The Roman cross served, laterally, as a commentary on human depravity and its preference for malevolence. In its immediate context, the cross made the immaculate Roman judicial system a plain travesty and rendered their much touted political structure, bankrupt. Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Palestine, demonstrated his governmental cowardice, political dichotomy and moral disdain by abandoning a righteous Man to be executed. On the home turf, the event demonstrated Jewish malice, their religious pretence and ingratitude, betraying their rich religious heritage and perception. In general, the event haunts human race to the extent of being perpetually apologetic.
However, the event had an invisible godly purpose, which the spiritually vigilant alone discovers and the others overlook. The ordinary minds rarely probe the purpose of the cross beyond its immediate physical details and normally conclude that the event is not any different from contemporary tragedies. So, the utmost they could do was to sympathise with the victim. Biblically, the cross is the irreplaceable substance of God's redemptive programmes with a host of related purposes to accomplish. Therefore, it deserves a better response than the ones rendered presently. We will analyse the cross briefly to discover its objective and annotate its purposes.
A Window On God's Nature
Commonly, the cross is portrayed as a monumental disaster and an instance of biased judgement in which the Lord Jesus Christ was the hapless victim. The portrayal appears sensible when viewed purely from a human standpoint. However, the approach is not entirely without flaw as this obscures neatly the divine position on the cross which generally remains concealed except to those who dare to engage its purpose. While this common approach engenders a sense of sympathy for the victim, it yields nothing substantial by way of spiritual returns. However, a serious approach to the cross affords rich spiritual dividend with a window opened into God's very nature. While observing the cross closely, it is His holiness that comes into our purview first as His basic nature, and to the holiness of God sin is absolutely repulsive. Therefore, it does not tolerate sin and its variants in any form. Further, holiness demands that all sin is resolved before any rapport or relationship with God. In fact, it is against the holiness of God that we can comprehend the monstrosity of sin having dawned with the cross. Then, the cross informs us that God is righteous and His sense of righteousness demands a full measure of morality and virtue from His people (Hab.2:4). The cross demonstrates that this demand is met in the person of Christ on human behalf (2Cor.5:21). Next, it is the justice of God that is the next major reminder from the cross (Mic.6:8). It states categorically that the sinner has to pay the price for his sin which is death (Rom.6:23) and the demand blankets the entire human race without exception (Rom.3:10,23). Finally, the cross is a patulous expression of God's love. On being sympathetically aware of man's plight, and his inability to free himself from the tyranny of sin and measure up to God's holy demands, God Himself provided a substitute in the person of His Son. Putting Him upon a cross, God manifested His attribute of love panoramically (Rom.5:8-10). Unquestionably, the cross of Christ Jesus is an elaborate portrait of God's awesome nature displayed to inquisitive eyes which demands response from all.
A Commentary On Sin's Awfulness
Historically, the cross of our Lord has been God's tool in conveying numerous essential truths; one among them relates to the pervasive presence of sin, its atrocity and its devastating influence on humankind. Sin that entered the human history through disobedience in the Garden of Eden has, hence, been endemic to human race, wreaking havoc of every kind. Human history is a shocking commentary on its devastating capabilities. In essence, sin is man's revolt against God's holiness and His revealed will, continuing both as the condition of the human heart and the practical outworking of that condition in thought, words and deeds to offend God.
As Spurgeon observed years ago, "Sin which entered Eden through Adam's self-indulgences, having preferred the devil rather than the word of God, has been a nagging predicament to the human race since, and every individual act of sin committed is a repetition of it." He continues, "Sin does despite to the sovereignty of God, it denies Him to be supreme, and it refuses Him obedience, being an insult to the majesty of God."
In practice, sin manifests itself subtly in a myriad of ways and the unwary never takes it seriously to his own peril. Aggression of all kinds, human rights violations, hostility, violence, bloodshed, ethnic bias, racial prejudice, religious discriminations, nepotism, economic disparities so on and so forth are a few to name as sin's natural consequences. Humankind has been subject to it since its entry. In short, sin repudiates all of God's claims and seeks to dislodge Him from His own world, freeing human kind from God's authority to a state of autonomous and arbitrary existence. Man-ward, sin has never been generous as it wreaked havoc of every kind, making existence perpetually awful. If human life were to attain a better sphere, it first had to settle sin permanently on God's terms and conditions as Ezekiel prophesied, "…the soul that sins shall die" (Ez.18:4). So, death of a sinner alone could satisfy God's righteous demand and free him. When this demand is satisfied, a new state of existence as a new creation emerges, resulting in a new approach to all relationships that keep fellow human beings and their interest on an even plain sans violation or crime, discriminations and bias, prejudice or disparities. In short, sin is the root of all evils on earth and a macabre reality. Therefore, it has to be dealt with and it was dealt with on the cross vicariously in the person of Christ, leaving a plain message that sin cannot be disregarded except at pains of death and therefore, it must be settled urgently before it demolishes individuals and their prospects. History is replete with the ravages of sin that left an entire civilization wiped out. They bear the indelible stamp of divine disapproval of sin, and the cross is a perpetual reminder about the presence and power of sin.
A Portrayal Of Man's Debility
The cross of the Lord Jesus Christ is a grim reminder that man, as a spiritual being, is awfully incompetent to stand upright and prove himself as spiritual before God's holy demands because of his sin. Theologians identify the state as 'total depravity' which is logically true. Consequently, man is left far below God's standard and expected values. Nothing of his religious involvements can measure up to God's holy expectations or improve his state of bankruptcy. All religious ceremonies and elaborate rituals proficient in contemporary religions speak volumes about this bankruptcy. Bankruptcy condemns man to the state which says, "there is none righteous no not one" and, "all have sinned and come short of the glory of God." The Bible says, "there is none that seek God.” All these statements connote that man is, spiritually, in a state of dreadful deficiency, totally incapable of seeking God or godliness. In short, he is wholly degenerate and utterly dissolute with an eternal propensity to discount sin and flirt with it instead of renouncing it. The cross of our Lord Jesus Christ is both a portrayal of man's spiritual inability as 'He became sin for him' and God's answer reminding all that He is sympathetic to human plight though He cannot overlook its capriciousness or disregard it. The Bible says, "He bore our iniquities and became sin for us so that man may have the right of access to God with no confidence in self."
The Temperament Of His People
Very often, the focus of the cross is on its perpetrators, the Roman authorities, the Jewish leadership and the popular mass in Jerusalem and their inept handling of the event. Definitely, they were at guilt as they were morally responsible for their act of dereliction. Rightly, they deserve denouncement of the highest order. However, with regard to the event, finding fault with them alone may be unfair as even the faithful too had conducted in an uncharacteristic way. For over three years, the Lord Jesus Christ had been scrupulously tutoring His disciples on lofty principles and life patterns inviting a response to model their lives after His own life and teachings. Bombarding them with God's kingdom perceptions, He tried to train and equip them on godly temperament to conduct characteristically on all occasions, realigning their lives and perceptions to the kingdom values. Evidently, it was a rare, exclusive opportunity allowed to those co-opted few. However, their demeanour was not, altogether, laudatory as they often botched up their mandate and floundered with it, slighting their privilege. Their loyalty to Christ Jesus as a Master Teacher was not altogether foolproof or incontestable as was evident at times. Patently, each disciple nurtured a private agenda to promote his personal prospects while staying physically close to their Lord, although slyly. More, their physical proximity did not augment spiritual radicalisation or augur the intended renewal as they were caught in a web of their own personal pursuits. So, it did not trouble them unbarring their personal agenda or priorities when appropriate opportunity dawned. Peter brazenly asked the Lord what they would get in return for following Him, having abandoned all. James and John were keen to occupy prominent seats, left and right! Judas Iscariot colluded with Jewish leaders for His arrest, securing a few coins in return. Sliding further down the line, when the Lord was arrested in Gethsemane, the disciples en masse chose to desert Him leaving Him to His fate! Now, their Master did not matter to them more than their own survival with their tall claims besides. Could His disciples then have claimed to be any different from His opponents and stake a judgmental position having shared their values than His? Don't we share their experience of prioritising our precedence in the same order, in identical temperamental approach? Much to our chagrin, an honest introspection will confirm it. In brief, the cross was an exposé on the disciples' inner climate and temperaments and a clear portrayal of their real motives. At crucifixion, none of His own people was there as He lay nailed to the cross, abandoned by all except a few women who could only sympathise with His fate. Wasn't the cross an evidence of their inner bankruptcy, more than the cruelty of His adversaries?
May God help us to view the full implications of the cross correctly.