Surveying the Wondrous Cross
“For God so loved you…” John 3:16
As we make our way to Easter let's take a look at the central idea of this most holy of weeks. The cross stands at the same time as a horrible and beautiful reminder. It is the crossroads of human brokenness and God's grace. The cross is the answer to the very question of our existence as humans.
On one side we have the problem that, in a word, is sin. Most people would be surprised to find out that there are more than a dozen words for sin in the New Testament. The most familiar to many Christians is the term hamartia. When Paul wrote “all have sinned” (Rom. 3:23) he used this word.
As most anyone with even a modest Sunday School background can tell you, it means “to miss the mark.” The usual illustration is of an archer who fails to hit the target. This words implies that there is a target to miss. It also implies that someone is intentionally attempting to hit the target.
Both of these observations are important in a culture where many people question even the existence of a mark. Not surprisingly, when you do away with a target, you tend to do away with the bow and arrow. Forgive my brief digression, but when we neglect to even try to define righteousness, much less attempt to reach it, is it any wonder that we end up with an even messier problem?
When we lose our connection to vast spiritual resources, we become what Elton Trueblood described as a cut-flower culture. We have no roots. Cut flowers look good for a couple of days, perhaps three if we really look after them. But soon they begin to wither.
Signs of withering surround us. The brokenness of our world is but a reflection of the brokenness of souls and the disconnection we have from The One who created us and loves us. What’s more, the farther from the target we miss, the worse the problem becomes. That brokenness, my brokenness, is the result of sin.
This separation takes us to the heart of why it’s so important to understand sin. Sin is not just a breaking of a rule. It hurts us. God’s opposition to sin is not a petty tantrum because we’ve broken His laws. He sees the pain we cause ourselves and others. One of God’s great graces is protecting us from seeing the full extent of the damage we do by missing the mark. This explains why God, who can see the full extent, will go to a cross to bridge this terrible gap and heal our souls.
We really can’t talk about any true solution to any problem in our society without a reasonable understanding and acceptance of the reality of sin. No other word will do.
The psychiatrist Karl Menninger in Whatever Became of Sin? wrote, “There is sin…which cannot be buried under verbal artifacts such as disease, delinquency, or deviancy. There is immorality. There is unethical behavior. There is wrongdoing.” His concern in 1973 was that the sense of personal moral responsibility was faint and growing fainter. He predicted that if people would confront sin in their lives the result would be less depression, not more.
So the cross, I argue, is first a reminder of the very nature of our problem. Sin is a reality. Its existence is clearly portrayed or assumed on every page of the Bible.
But let’s move to the solution side of the question. The cross stands for forgiveness. We’ve lost the public-relations battle to some degree because people think the Christian religion is simply about sin. This is not true. The focus of the Bible is forgiveness. The entire book, written by 40 or so authors over a span of 1000 years, in three languages, and in a myriad of cultures, is a unified presentation of God’s effort to solve our problem. And the cross is God’s solution.
Why a cross? The cross is both an illustration of what God has always done and an objective action that removes sin.
God always forgives. One of the most incisive verses in the Bible comes right after He expelled Adam and Eve from the garden. “The Lord God made for Adam and his wife garments of skins, and clothed them.” (Gen. 3:21). This action is practically tender, but it also foreshadows the ultimate covering of sin in the cross. God always forgives.
Why isn’t it enough to simply forgive? Why the cross? Because forgiveness is ALWAYS costly. Most of our “forgivings” are too light to feel this cost, but ask the man whose daughter was murdered, yet forgives the two men who sit in prison serving a life sentence for that crime if forgiveness is costly. His tears are a powerful testimony to the costliness of forgiveness.
Forgiveness implies accepting, at the very core of our existence, the pain of the offense. It is not approval of the act, or agreement with the act. Painful, costly acceptance necessitates suffering in order to remove the obstacle between an individual and the target. The sacrificial system reflects this. The cross perfects it.
Do take time this week to survey the wondrous cross on which the Prince of glory died. As you do, repeat the verse that better sums up God’s motive and desire than any other. But substitute your name for whosoever. “God so loved ______ that He gave His only Son. That if ________ believes in Him, he/she shall have eternal life.”
Grace and peace,
Dr. Terry Ellis
March 25, 2018