Why the cross?

Palm Sunday marks the beginning of Holy Week, an eight-day Christian commemoration of the most important week in the history of the world. On a Sunday nearly two thousand years ago, Jesus rode a donkey into Jerusalem. There he cleared the Temple of merchants and money-changers, then taught in the Temple and debated his opponents. On Thursday night Jesus celebrated the Passover with his disciples and give his church the gift of the Lord’s Supper. Then he went to a garden to pray. In the garden he was arrested, and from there he was taken to trials before Jewish leaders and Roman leaders. Accused first of blasphemy, then of treason against Rome, he was sentenced to die on a cross. When Jesus had died, he was taken from the cross and buried in another garden. There, on Sunday morning, he rose to complete the work that he had finished on the cross.

What did Jesus accomplish on the cross, beyond his own suffering, bleeding, and dying? The Bible provides several analogies of what Jesus accomplished, explaining it from several points of view. When Christians limit themselves to one analogy and treat it as literally true, they miss the fullness of the gospel message. Moreover, mockers are able to take the analogies literally and extend them beyond the Bible’s intended meaning, twisting the beauty of God’s Word in their mockery.

The most common analogy of the cross is financial. By his suffering and death, Jesus paid the price for sins, rescuing sinners from their debts. The beauty of this analogy is that we understand debt and payment. We understand how our sins place us in debt to God, a debt we cannot pay. Jesus paying in our place is a beautiful image of his love for us. But to whom did he pay the debt? Did he buy us from the devil, or pay his Father for our sins, or purchase redemption from a power higher even than God? Each of these explanations has problems when the analogy is treated literally and left as the only explanation of the cross.

A second common analogy of the cross is military. On the cross Jesus fought a battle against all the forces of evil. These forces include the devil, the sinful world, sins committed by people, and death itself—the ultimate result of sin. Becoming a victim of these enemies, Jesus also defeated them. His resurrection on Easter morning is a declaration of victory, and the Church continues to share that news of victory with sinners who have been enslaved by their sins and by the power of evil. We were prisoners of war in the Great War between God and evil, but the victory of Jesus rescues us from prison and puts us on the winning team.

Yet another analogy of the cross is healing. Through his time on earth, Jesus healed many people, often with just a word or a touch. He never seemed to be harmed by any of his miracles of healing. But in those physical healings, Jesus was simply treating the symptoms of evil. To fully heal the damage caused by sin and evil, Jesus had to bear that damage in his own body. What he endured on the cross gives him the power to heal every consequence of sin and evil: leprosy, blindness, paralysis, and even death. His own suffering and death provides the remedy that reverses all the damage caused in this world by sin and evil.

Still another analogy of the cross is rescuing what was lost. This is why Jesus is called a Savior and Christians describe themselves as saved. C.S. Lewis adapted this metaphor by describing Jesus as a diver who descends to the bottom of a muddy pond to unearth a treasure. The diver becomes thoroughly dirty digging in the bottom of the pond, but when he ascends to the surface he carries his treasure with him. So Jesus humbled himself, obedient to death, even death on the cross, to claim us as his treasure. Though we were buried in sin and evil, Jesus takes us out of the mud through his own suffering and death. In his resurrection, Jesus lifts us also to new life in a perfect new creation.

A similar analogy of the cross is fixing what was broken—which can also be described as reconciling or uniting. Like a shepherd going into the wilderness to find a lost sheep, Jesus comes into this sin-stained world looking for his lost people. He rescues us from the mouth of the wolves. Even in the dark valley of the shadow of death, he finds us and brings us home. We were separated from God by our own rebellion, but Jesus has restored us to the family of God through his expedition into suffering and death.

One more analogy of the cross is adoption. In modern society, the process of adoption is difficult and expensive. In our relationship with God, the process of adoption is even more difficult and expensive. We are not God’s children because he made us. Even if that was once true, it is true no longer. By breaking his commandments, we have forfeited our place in God’s family. Jesus, the only-begotten Son of God, personally pays to adopt us into his family. He gives himself as the cost of our adoption so we can be children of God and can pray to the Father of the eternal Son as our Father. Baptism is the personal ceremony by which this adoption is made certain, just as in baptism each Christian dies with Christ, is buried with Christ, and rises again with Christ.

Finally, an analogy of the cross is cheating justice. We broke the rules. We rebelled against God. We declared our independence from God and said that we wanted to be separate from him. Justice would have God say yes to our rebellion. Justice would have God abandon us to our sinful choices. But God’s love is greater than his justice. He allows the world to be unfair. He allows evil people to prosper, and he allows good people to suffer. By letting evil be unfair, God makes it possible for good to be unfair. Now Jesus can suffer in our place so we can be rewarded in his place. Now his Father can abandon him instead of us so he can claim us for his kingdom.

Each of these analogies is true. All of them are supported by the writings of the apostles and prophets. All of them are enacted in the history of God’s people. When we cling to one analogy and neglect the others, we weaken the message of God’s grace and allow mockers room for their opposition. When we see all these analogies as pictures of the cross from different points of view, we begin to comprehend (albeit dimly) the true glory that Jesus revealed by his sacrifice on the cross. J.

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9 thoughts on “Why the cross?

  1. Reblogged this on Citizen Tom and commented:
    The significance of Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection is both easily stated and quite difficult to appreciate. Even a child can understand sin. Even a child appreciate Jesus paying the price for our sins. Even a child can strive to model the sacrificial love of Jesus. Even a child can appreciate being forgiven. What a child cannot comprehend is exactly how Jesus’ death and resurrection reconciled us with God, and that creates a problem. What a child innocently accepts as true, an adult insists upon knowing is true, and comprehension is part of knowing.

    As adults don’t we flounder when we try to understand the significance of Jesus’ sacrifice to our salvation? How then can we explain Jesus’ sacrifice to others? We can repeat the mantra, but we cannot comprehend what Jesus did, or easily make it real in our lives. We can only know the relief that comes from being forgiven, and we can look to the cross in wonderment. Therefore, we must ask God for wisdom, and we must pray for greater faith and understanding.

    Perhaps in Salvageable’s post some will find an answered prayer. Here Salvageable goes over each of the analogies the Bible uses to explain what Jesus accomplished. If you have not considered the subject quite this way before (and I had not), please take the time to do so. I believe you will find it quite worthwhile, an appropriate Bible study for Holy Week.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Excellent insights and clarification in the spirit of my favorite anagram – KISS = “keep it simple stupid”! Yes, indeed, the ‘analogies’ are an ALL or NOTHING proposition. ALL the truth, or you’re left with only ‘half truth’ which = UNTRUTH. Focusing on solely one aspect to the exclusion, omission, or rejection of the others is to miss the fullness of God’s revealed salvation through Christ.

    It is quite sad to realize how many persons fail to endeavor to comprehend the greater spiritual truth available to those who dig a little deeper into Scripture. Too many settle for the naive assumption that part of the story = the complete revelation. It’s like reading merely the jacket of a novel, then saying you’ve read the book. Too often people take what they’ve been told and rest on only that, never continuing in an objective search for more. Convinced that their subjective acceptance of one facet of the whole is a threat to their belief system by any introduction to further illumination. Professing themselves wise, they become fools (Ro. 1:22).

    To “comprehend (albeit dimly) the true glory that Jesus revealed” should incite us all to an open-minded perpetual approach to truth. After all, Jesus declared that truth sets us free, NOT holds us in bondage to merely one side of the complete picture. Truth is eternal and ever increasing, NOT confined to the finite limits of the physical mind of humanity. God created us, it’s high time we stop acting as though God is a product of our creation and our minimal knowledge about Him. Peace!

    Liked by 3 people

    • I quite agree, although there are also risks with the “open-minded” approach. It has been said that a healthy mind is like a healthy window, open when appropriate and closed when appropriate. On the one hand, all of us need to read Scripture with open minds, prepared to receive the message God wants to deliver without limiting him by our presuppositions. On the other hand, we need to be prepared to discard false teachings and misunderstandings when they would block us from seeing God’s message. Thank you for reading and commenting. J.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Agreed, and again appropriate analogies. Moderation and balance, knowing right from wrong, true from false, then cementing these as permanent building blocks to form a sound foundation. Knowing the truth, all false claims are automatically rejected. The perceived problem with such a strict commitment is self-righteousness rather than truly God breathed confirmation. Presenting truth in a manner conducive to illumination rather than humiliation, is also only possible through God breathed inspiration.

        Liked by 2 people

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