The message of the cross is far and away the most offensive message humanity will ever hear. It offends us to the very core of our being.
We want something palatable, friendly. Inoffensive.
Surely any God who would do something as awful as punish an innocent man for the crimes of another is a fabrication.
Such a God is nothing less than a moral monster, the perpetrator of divine child abuse, some claim.
And yet, this is the testimony of Scripture:
For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:23-24).
Paul calls the cross a stumbling block to those enamored with power and worldly wisdom. It is “folly to those who are perishing,” he writes, “but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Cor. 1:18).
Is it any wonder, then, that so many—even professing Christians—balk at Christ’s death on the cross?
Did it have to be this way?
The question we must answer in looking at the events of Jesus’ death is a relatively simple one:
Did it really have to be this way? Did Jesus really have to die on the cross in order for God to forgive us?
Yes, it really did have to be this way.
That’s not a popular thing to say, but it’s true. As I briefly explained in yesterday’s post, throughout history the events of Jesus’ death and resurrection were hinted at and foreshadowed.
Even if we do acknowledge that there’s something wrong with humanity, God could make things right without having to kill Jesus, or so we’d like to think. If nothing is impossible for Him, then surely He could forgive us easily enough.
And if He doesn’t, then He’s being supremely unloving, isn’t He?
But from the very beginning, God declared that “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23; cf. Gen. 2:17). From the moment Adam and Eve first disobeyed God in the garden we’ve been condemned, doing what is right in our own eyes, rather than obeying our Creator. We are what Paul calls children of wrath (Eph 2:3), chasing after the passions of our flesh—doing whatever we want regardless of the cost—and suppressing the truth in unrighteousness.
Because we deny God, we were given “up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.
They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips,slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. (Rom. 1:28-32).
We are—every one of us—without excuse, as the testimony of Scripture makes clear:
“None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”
“Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.”
“The venom of asps is under their lips.”
“Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”
“Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known.”
“There is no fear of God before their eyes.” (Romans 3:10-18)
This is a grim message, to be sure. When you begin to recognize your natural self in the same way that God does—it’s terrifying. Any illusions of subjective goodness are stripped away and we see that God is right to condemn us.
And yet, He doesn’t leave us without a means of reconciliation. God doesn’t withhold forgiveness—He isn’t some petty deity eagerly waiting to condemn sinners to an eternity in Hell.
In Jesus, He offers us forgiveness, reconciliation and escape from the wrath of God.
Love and wrath meet
Our problem is that we don’t see how something like “wrath” can fit with our understanding of God as loving. The two seem to be antithetical. They’re anything but.
One only has to look at a book like Romans (the whole point of which is to show both the reality of our sinful state and the glorious grace of God) to see this—in fact, you only need to look to that most famous of verses, John 3:16:
For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life. (HCSB, emphasis mine)
This is how God shows His love: By sending Jesus to the cross to rescue those who would put their faith in Jesus. The question of whether or not He could have done things differently is ultimately irrelevant. This is the way God chose to show His love.
The cross of Christ, ultimately, isn’t a mark of condemnation, but of rescue from the condemnation already upon us, something made clear in John 3:17-18:
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.
Who are we, then, to call God’s ultimate demonstration of love unloving?
In Christ He supremely expresses the command to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt. 5:44). In the cross, He is both “just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Rom. 3:26).
This, friends, is good news par excellence.
Did Jesus really have to die? Yes. For the wrath of God to be satisfied, Jesus had to die—and for the world to see God’s love most perfectly expressed, Jesus had to die.
And He also had to rise again.