Why the cross?

A year ago I posted the following message about the significance of the cross. Because of an ongoing conversation (which you can find here), it seemed worth repeating. Christians sometimes differ from one another over the theology of the cross and the theology of glory. Those who reach for glory without the cross are mistaken. In this world we need the cross in our lives; only through the cross can we be carried to glory.

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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11 thoughts on “Why the cross?

  1. We can be conduits for sure. But this passage is very clear in John 16:7-9, “Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you. 8 And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment…” specifically verse 8.

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  2. You know, our “natural” theology is always going to be a theology of glory, and a theology of glory is of course going to be all kinds of uncomfortable when it’s confronted with the full implications of what happened at the Cross. But unless you look at it head on, in all its ugliness, you are just never going to appreciate the goodness and mercy of what was done for us. I don’t think it’s wrong to say that there was a cost to the Father as well, at the Cross. The events of that day were anything but glorious, and yet this is precisely where it pleases God to reveal his glory. Glory does not look like Jesus, Triumphant. It looks like a dead criminal on a Roman cross. In that shame, is all glory. This is counter-intuitive to our natural theology, which we all retain a little of in the old Adam.

    The analogy I like best is the courtroom. The devil is your accuser (prosecuter) and you are the accused. Jesus is your advocate (defense attorney). It’s not a perfect analogy either but for whatever reason that one resonated with me

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    • You and I have spent years learning the theology of the cross. For people fed on the theology of glory, the reality of the cross can be a shock. But the Bible is so clear about the cross, it does surprise me to encounter resistance within the Church. J.

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  3. Sometimes, people must decide to lose people in their circle of friends. Too often, we think we can convince those who have made up their minds on certain things, but when you constantly get and only read a clear deviation of the interpretation of what is laid out in the Bible, one’s attemp of persuading the repeat promoter of false doctrine becomes exactly the “Pearls to pigs” scenario. The Bible is replete with warnings (Revelation 2) to those who tolerate teachings that clearly lead people into error.

    “Warn a divisive person once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them.” – Titus 3:10

    “I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them.” – Romans 16:17

    My initial encounter was the instance of rebuking a “Christian” allusion laced with witchcraft lingo and the second one was regarding John 14:6 and yet, a third instance would have something to do with The Shack. It merely becomes a choice of whether you want to keep tolerating garbage or not. People will be held accountable for every single soul they lead astray. This is reality.

    “But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to fall away–it would be better for him if a heavy millstone were hung around his neck and he were drowned in the depths of the sea.” – Matthew 18:6

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      • I would also like to add to my previous comment that merely quoting passages are deemed judgmental and has grounds for “hate speech.” Either way, you cannot escape people’s perception.

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      • I often try to summarize the teachings of the Bible without listing proof texts. I can bring them forth easily enough when asked, But people sometimes want to challenge a translation or interpretation of one verse without commenting on the other five that teach the same doctrine. J.

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