Today is good Friday. It is good to remember the Cross and ask yourself the question “What does this mean”? If you do, don’t be tempted to give a trite answer. Instead I want to encourage you to spend from now until resurrection Sunday thinking, meditating and praying about the answer to that question. If by the time you read this resurrection Sunday has passed then take until the next one! It’ll do you good!
Here are some thoughts about what the cross reveals to me as I reflect on it. This subject is so vast, so incomprehensible at times that what I share will be only a small part of what the cross speaks of. But here goes!
I have 4 points for us to reflect on.
- The cross is ugly
It was devised as the most humiliating, excruciating, tortuous, public method of execution possible. Victims would be stripped naked, tied to a post and scourged and flogged with leather whips into which were woven shards of metal or glass designed to rip the skin from their bone.
The victims were then made to walk, often through the most public parts of town, carrying the cross beam of wood upon their already shredded back and shoulders. The trail of blood on the floor and on their garments would be visible, harsh warning to the general public of the consequences of rebelling against Roman rule.
The victims were then nailed to a tree by their ankles and wrists, their blooded backs leaning against the rough bark of the tree inflicting further agony upon already severe pain.
The victims would then hang usually besides the busiest roads or meeting places, screaming in agony as they hung there, only to die (usually days later) of suffocation as their necks gave way to exhaustion and blocked their windpipes.
Such was the brutality of crucifixion that it was never spoken of in civilised company. It was a punishment reserved only for thieves, slaves who ran from their masters, murders or insurgents against the empire of Rome. Jesus was crucified for 2 reasons, firstly, because He claimed to be a King and have a different Kingdom (and Rome couldn’t have that could it!) and because He claimed to be God (and the Jews couldn’t tolerate that blasphemy could they!)
The cross is ugly because it reveals the depths to which human sin as represented by religion and empire can sink, in that it is capable of the most heinous crime possible. The murder of an innocent, blameless man. The murder of Immanuel, God incarnate. At the cross all of our sin past present and future; all the sin of the world past, present and future were gathered together by Him.
Is 53: 4-6 (from the Lexham English Bible translation)
However, he was the one who lifted up our sicknesses,
and he carried our pain,
yet[g] we ourselves assumed him stricken,
struck down by God and afflicted.
5 But[h] he was pierced[i] because of our transgressions,
crushed because of our iniquities;
the chastisement for[j] our peace[k] was upon him,
and by his wounds[l] we were healed.[m]
6 All of us have wandered about like sheep;
we each have turned to his own way;
and Yahweh let fall on him
the iniquity of us all.
Amidst its ugliness, the cross is also paradoxically beautiful.
- The cross is beautiful
It is beautiful because it reveals the depths to which the grace and love of God will go to redeem unto Himself His creation and save it from the grip of Satan, sin and death.
2 Corinthians 5
18 Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, 19 that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation.
20 Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God. 21 For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
Notice that God wasn’t reconciling Himself to the world but the world to Himself. He wasn’t the one that turned His back and walked away from His creation, rather creation turned its back and walked away from its creator.
But in relentless love and indescribable grace, the work of salvation begins not on Good Friday but at Christmas, when God Himself enters our world, born of a virgin. He lived in order to establish and inaugurate the Kingdom of God.
The Crown of thorns was his crown, and the cross his throne.
God is revealed in Christ as the one who forgives and reconciles. Father forgive them, they know not what they do.
So, let me ask you this. Where is God on Good Friday? You may think He was absent or watching from afar maybe?
But Jesus said in
19 Then Jesus answered and said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner.
So where was the Father? Is the father found in Caiaphas looking for a scapegoat? Is he found in Pilate insisting on retributive justice? No, He is found in Christ, hanging on the tree and pronouncing peace and forgiveness not counting their sin against them.
Father forgive them for they know not what they are doing.
If the cross reveals mankind’s ugliness it also reveals God’s beauty that will save the world.
- The cross is for us
16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. 17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.
Jesus died for us, not for God.
We were the ones that needed to be redeemed, that needed to be saved from the grip of sin and death and from the power of the enemy. We were the ones who needed to be delivered from our addiction to sin.
He did that by making a way for us to truly know Him, spirit to Spirit. We are the object of His affection and He wanted to demolish every barrier that prevented us from being able to know Him, walk with Him and love Him (this is true eternal life)
3 And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.
1 John 5:11-13
11 And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. 12 He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. 13 These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life,[d] and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God.
Through the cross we become part of a revolution. We become part of a Kingdom that rules and reigns with Christ through reconciliation, love and forgiveness. We become partakers of the divine nature and God’s ambassadors of healing, wholeness and reconciliation. This is our work NOW, not in the age to come. We are saved NOW in order that we might be made into the image of His Son, here, now. Viva la Revolution!!!!!
- And we are for the cross
Jesus calls us to imitate Him and take up our cross. It’s a phrase that has been mis-used over and over again through the ages. Taking up the cross is not dealing with noisy neighbours or difficult in-laws.
Rather it is laying down and forsaking the way of the world, which is vengeance, retribution, judgment, offence, unforgiveness, power and control. We repent (to rethink and turn away from) from those things.
Taking up the cross is the way of co-suffering love. It is the way of forgiveness, of turning the other cheek, of forsaking the right to revenge. It is laying down the right to make our own way, instead choosing His way, even if it means being misunderstood, persecuted or maligned.
This is why the cross is our symbol. We die with Christ and are raised to newness of life in Him. We die to sin and rise to freedom in Jesus. We die to self and learn the justice of obedience.
So, to sum then.
The Cross is ugly, it is beautiful, it is for us, and we are for it.
Let us remember this at the communion table. The table is where we come to the beauty of the cross. Where the crucified Christ offers us the broken body and the shed blood as tokens of our forgiveness. The table is for sinners only where we declare “Merciful God have mercy on me a sinner”; where God responds “My body and blood broken and poured out for you, where I took upon myself your sin and didn’t count your sins against you”. Peace be unto you.