This is the first part of a series I wrote for our “Upper Room” bible study group… so I decided to publish it online for whoever would like to use/read it… I know it’s long – but I hope it encourages you all in some way.
THE CROSS. That is the central part of any understanding of salvation. It defines how we even refer to time – BC and AD – as the central point of history. It also defines what we know about God’s love. And even how we are to live biblically. We always say – Jesus died on the cross for our sins… but do we understand what we’re saying? Do we really appreciate the full weight of what is meant by that sentence?
First we need to define a few terms:
SIN – Why is sin so important? Sin is the breaking of or the omission of a command of God – (10 commandments) – because they reflect the nature and character of God. So lying is wrong because God is truth. Murder is wrong because God is life. SIN separates us from God because God is perfect and cannot stand sin in His presence. Sin has an associated penalty also – death. When sin entered – we died… both spiritually and eventually physically – because God is life – and since sin separated us from Him – we were therefore separated from life itself.
Atonement – means taking away that sin – so that it isn’t in the way of our relationship with God. AT – ONE – Ment. AT the cross – we can be ONE – reunited with God again.
He went to the cross to pay OUR penalty. So when you see the cross – the brutal and horrible suffering of the cross – understand that IS WHAT YOUR PENALTY LOOKS LIKE!
“By the cross we know the gravity of sin and the greatness of God’s love toward us.” – John Chrysostom
That is what should be you hanging on the cross… and I believe a true appreciation, even true worship is not possible until we really start to understand what that means… So what does that look like?
Crucifixion. – so painful that a word had to be invented to describe it – excruciating – from the latin literally means pain born out of the cross. Understanding the suffering of the cross helps us to appreciate just how horrible our sin is and what it looks like in light of the cross. So what is crucifixion?
It was invented by the Persians but perfected by the Romans. They made it a gruesome art form of suffering. Naked. Taunted. Spat upon – short cross (Tau) was at eye level so people could humiliate further the victim.
Sweating Blood – The night before Jesus had Hematidrosis (sweating blood). This is a medical condition brought on by extreme emotional and psychological stress. His mind and emotions would have been racked. I don’t know about you – but I’ve never been so emotionally distressed that I sweat blood – so I’m gonna say that he was going through some serious stuff that night… Also, the condition leaves the skin extremely super sensitive to the touch as the blood capillaries and vessels burst into the sweat glands – patients who suffer from it often find it painful to even have clothing in contact with their skin. This was the condition of Christ BEFORE He even started His suffering of the cross.
Flogging/scourging – by his stripes we are healed – done with a cat-o-nine tails whip. It had metal balls, sharpened sheeps bone and hooks woven into the leather straps. Sometimes ribs would be pulled out by the beating. The lictors – it was their fulltime job – so they were very good at inflicting pain. The whip would be struck against the bare back and body of the victim – the bone hooks would dig into the flesh and be ripped from it as the whip was withdrawn leaving deep lacerations. The metal balls would hit and cause contusions, think of it like a meat tenderizer – they would bruise and tenderize the surface of the skin (which already was super sensitive from the Hematidrosis) as the sharp bones and hooks tore into the flesh exposing ribbons of quivering muscle and tissue and bones. The beating would be so horrible that he would not have been recognizable.Isaiah – 52:14 says – “But many were amazed when they saw him. His face was so disfigured he seemed hardly human, and from his appearance, one would scarcely know he was a man.”
This was after a sleepless night of false trials which he would have had to walk over 4km to and from. He would have been utterly exhausted by the time he was to carry his cross to be crucified.
Crown of thorns – long thorns digging into the flesh to the bone and as mocking.
He had to carry his own cross (the cross bar could weigh about 125lbs) – a third of a mile parts uphill – which was on his open wounded back and shoulders. The rough splintered coarse wood of the cross would rub against his raw exposed flesh (as he would most likely been naked during this to provide for the most amount of shame). All the way – people would mock and jeer him, spit on him and revile him… and don’t for a second forget – those people were us at one point.
Nails – he was pierced for our transgressions – 9 inches driven through the most sensitive nerve centers of his body. In his hands – they would pierce the median nerve which is one of the most densely packed never centres of the body – it takes all the nerve endings from the fingers and hand up through the arm to the spinal chord and brain. The stimulated nerve would produce excruciating bolts of fiery pain in both arms. Although the severed median nerve would result in paralysis of a portion of the hand and a claw like grasp. To get a slight understanding of the pain – the nerve we call the funny bone in the elbow is only a fraction of the size – and when we hit or bruise it we feel shocks of pain all up and down our arm… this is a taste of the kind of pain that would happen in severing the median nerve and would repeat everytime weight or pressure was put on the nerve as the weight of the body was put on it. (Also similarly for the nail through the feet going through a similar nerve in the foot)
Bloodloss – would have been substantial – especially during the scouring – it could lead to hypovolemic shock – as the heart beats faster to pump less blood around. Since there is less volume of blood to pump around – there would be a lack of oxygenation in the muscles, tissues and brain. Because of the severe fatigue of the trauma – lactic acid would build up in the body as not enough oxygen would be available to break it down – which would cause the acidity levels of the body to go up… this would cause severe burning, cramps and pain in the muscles. If you’ve ever pushed yourself physically in a marathon or something similar you know how this feels as your muscles burn from fatigue – that is the lactic acid in your system. Your body breathes in deeply to try to process and break down the excess acid – however on the cross – the very process of breathing is painful and difficult – requiring further strain to take a breath as you lift yourself by your pierced hands.
Abandonment – the punishment that brought us peace was upon him – As Jesus took upon himself the full weight of our sin… as He who knew no sin ever BECAME sin… for the first time in history – God the Father turns his back on his Son… for the first time – there is a sort of separation in the eternal trinity!! For the first time ever – the Father can no longer bare to look at the Son as He becomes sin. For the first time that perfect communion is broken. Christ is left abandoned of God – so that we would never have to be… The moment is so unbearable as the Father turns away that Jesus cries out in agony – ” Eloi Eloi lama sabachthani” –
My God, My God! Why have you forsaken me!? I cannot even begin to understand the depths of the implications of this separation he experienced, and I’d reckon that it was this moment that was most dreaded by Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane as he sweat blood.
Crucifixion was death by asphyxiation – you ever been under water not being able to breath? Remember the panic? Due to how hard it made breathing – muscle cramps would also happen. In “relaxed” state – only shallow breath was possible and to breath deeply required effort to lift oneself up while putting pressure on the median nerves. It was slow suffocation with every breath being riddled with pain.
Cause of death could be multifactorial – hypovolemia, exhaustion asphyxia, dehydration, arrhythmias leading to heart failure with the rapid accumulation of pericardial and pleural effusions.
As he hung on that cross – it would have been an utterly gruesome and unbearable sight.
Take a deep long gaze on that cross… drink it in. It is a bitter gulp – but it is healthy to internalize and really grasp this… because that is how ugly our sin looks! That is how brutal the suffering our sin brings. That is how intense the punishment our sin deserves.
His response – grace – Father forgive them… reassuring the thief which had previously mocked him that he would be with him in paradise. Even in the midst of his suffering – salvation happened on the cross! He tells John to take care of his mom. And he’s abandoned by God.
So why is the cross – this brutal and savage thing – good news?
2 He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
3 He was despised and rejected by mankind,
a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.
4 Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
It is FOR us. He was wounded FOR us. He was offered up FOR us.
“Before we can begin to see the cross as something done for us, we have to see it as something done by us.”
―John R.W. Stott
It was in our place that Christ hung on that cross. It was not the nails which held him to the cross – I sometimes think to imagine that at that moment there were not legions of angels around on edge, swords drawn, waiting for the command to rescue their Devine One? Did not all of heaven yearn to jump to rescue or wince at the sight of the object of their eternal worship crucified by the hands he made? Do you not know that He had the power to lay down and take up His own life? No… what held the eternal Creator, the Word, the second person of the Trinity there was not a mere 3 roman nails… it was OUR SIN. It was us. It was out of His love for us, that he willingly bore the cross.
“Because of the joy awaiting him (which was us), he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.” – Hebrews 12:2b
We are His joy which he bore the cross for. He is my portion and I am His prize.
God’s wrath comes in 2 forms – Active and Passive.
Active – lightning strikes you. Boom – you’re stopped of your sin.
Passive – God takes away His protection and presence – he hands you over to your sin and lets you reap the consequences of sin. If God hasn’t shown up and stopped you in your sin – you’re in the passive wrath of God. Bible says that those who are unrepentant – are storing up for themselves judgment on the day of wrath (Romans 2:5)… so every time you sin – that rock goes in a pile and in the end – the mountain falls on you.
Sin defiles. Both the sinner and the sinned against. What about the victims of sin? All are defiled by sin. This is why God HATES sin. You’ll see from victims of abuse that often the first thing they do is they take a shower after – because they have been defiled. It’s their attempt at cleansing. They see themselves as damaged goods because sin defiles and corrupts utterly. This is why God HATES sin. It destroys His beloved creation, it degrades, defiles and mars the beauty he created to enjoy, it separates the relationship He longs to have with the objects of His affection.
SNOW – But this is exactly what Jesus takes away – he becomes defiled! And Jesus’ blood is what cleanses… it says though our sins be as scarlet, His blood will make us white as snow! (Isaiah 1:18) It’s that idea of a bride wearing white as sign of purity… on our own we have no right to it – but because of Jesus – we are made clean, made pure… we can wear white as we are clothed with His righteousness – the Father looks at us and sees His Son, in whom He is well pleased.
So what does the cross accomplish?
Justification – people often try to justify their actions or give reason for their actions – to give an explanation to defend your actions.
“yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.” – Gal 2:16.
Jesus – at the cross – comes between you and God’s righteous judgement – and defends you from God’s wrath… Instead of God’s wrath falling on you – it falls on Jesus… and he is beaten, bruised, crucified and dealt the full wrath of God towards sin, poured out in full – God holds nothing back – in defence of you. God is just. He must punish sin. Just as a judge must condemn a guilty person. He cannot ignore it. If he doesn’t – he’s not a good judge. Through the cross, God’s justice is satisfied – and His love is made available to us, as the sin which once separated us is now laid on Him and we are imputed the righteousness of Christ. This is the beautiful exchange of grace.
Every other religion tries to get justification by works of the law… or what YOU do. Justification in the world’s religions means you try to earn it – by your good life, works, etc… that is your defense… But how does that work out practically… if someone does something to wrong you – does their other good works, etc – justify them to you? Does it make it ok that they’ve wronged you? Only someone perfect – can truly be just.
But all our righteousness is as filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). Coming before God with your good works is like presenting him with bloody tampons. Paul says all his righteousness is as dung (Phil 3:8). It’s disgusting. Religion is disgusting. Because that is what you’re offering up on your own. It’s no justification, no defense in the light of a perfectly holy and righteous God. This is why it is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Hebrews 10:31). But through Jesus – He exchanges our filthy rags for HIS righteousness. God made Him who knew no sin to become sin – so that we would BECOME THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD! Not just have some form of righteousness, but we become… As the only person to live a perfect life – Christ is truly just – He has no sin of His own to pay for – and therefore can pay for someone else’s… His righteousness embodies us and is imputed to us… He takes our filthy rags and clothes us with righteousness.
We are saved by grace, through faith in Jesus. NOT of works.
THE CROSS SHOWS US GOD’S LOVE.
A lot of people have a sentimental view of the love of God. Apart from the cross – we only think that God feels deeply and emotionally – but he doesn’t DO anything. The cross shows that God DOES something!!! He doesn’t just feel something without acting on it! Greater love has no one than this, than he lays down his life for his friends. (John 15:13) God demonstrates His love for us in this that while we were yet still sinners he died for us. (Romans 5:8) The cross of Jesus IS the love of God. And if your God doesn’t DO anything for you, to rescue you from the mire you’re in… Your God doesn’t love you. And do not be fooled – we all have a god. We were created to worship – and we worship our belly, our money, our looks, our relationships, our family, our leaders… what has your god done for you to compare to the love of Christ?
The cross also shows us how to live. That we are to lay down our lives in love of others. That love requires sacrifice. That what God promises isn’t comfort in this life, but eternal life in the other and the pleasure of knowing and experiencing a relationship with Him… The eternal, unsurpassed, beautiful, loving, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent Creator of heaven and earth… not just in the life to come but also in the here and now. Because the point of salvation is NOT to goto heaven… If it was – when you are saved – you’d just die and go there… the point of salvation is an eternal relationship with God, starting here now and continuing to eternity. That He would be our delight and pleasure…
This study doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of the implications of the cross and how wonderful it truly is… it should be the subject of ongoing study for every Christian to a deeper understanding of God’s love toward us.
It is for this reason that I think the most perfect symbol of love is not a heart, but a cross. Amen.