Category Archives: Cross of Christ
Sin in Eden knocked all creation into chaos. Sin at Babel marked the collective pride of mankind. And while every sin is an act of God-rejection, humanity’s wickedness reaches new heights in the horrifying events of Good Friday.
Holy Week makes us uncomfortable. There is glorious life and victory to come on Easter Sunday, but to get there we must pass directly through the darkness of Good Friday. We must remember the day when human malice broke barriers and reached levels of previously unmatched atrocity. The Messiah, the King, come to save mankind, was nailed to an accursed tree and left to die.
There is no immunity for such cosmic treason.
On Good Friday we feel the finger of guilt and culpability rightly shoved into the ribs of humanity:
- “…this Jesus whom you crucified…” (Acts 2:36)
- “…you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and you killed the Author of life…” (Acts 3:14–15)
- “…whom you crucified…” (Acts 4:10)
- “…whom you killed by hanging him on a tree…” (Acts 5:30)
Humanity has never heaped upon itself more self-condemning guilt than on Good Friday. This simple phrase — you killed — pierces through all vain excuses. It was a conspiracy to kill the God-man, and success in the evil plot has stained our hands with God’s own blood, blood on the hands of both scheming Jews and acquiescing Gentiles.
This is why Good Friday was the most horrible sin the world ever witnessed (Sibbes). More terrible than Babel’s arrogant tower. If ever there was cause for God to rain down wrath upon the world, and re-flood the globe with justice, there was no more opportune moment than the brutal slaughter of his beloved Son.
In his Good Friday sermon of 1928, Dietrich Bonhoeffer drives this cosmic tragedy home like three cold steel stakes pounded through the nerves of humanity’s own wrists and feet.
Good Friday is not the darkness that must necessarily yield to light. It is not the winter sleep that contains and nourishes the seed of life within. It is the day on which human beings — human beings who wanted to be like gods — kill the God who became human, the love that became person; the day on which the Holy One of God, that is, God himself, dies, truly dies — voluntarily and yet because of human guilt — without any seed of life remaining in him in such a way that God’s death might resemble sleep.
Good Friday is not, like winter, a transitional stage — no, it is genuinely the end, the end of guilty humanity and the final judgment that humanity has pronounced upon itself. . . .
If God’s history among human beings had ended on Good Friday, then the final pronouncement over humankind would be guilt, rebellion, the unfettering of all titanic human forces, a storming of heaven by human beings, godlessness, godforsakenness, but then ultimately meaninglessness and despair. Then your faith is futile. Then you are still in your guilt. Then we are of all people most to be pitied. That is, the final word would be the human being.1
This is the awful memory Good Friday presses on us.
Humanity, aspiring in arrogance to become godlike, has slayed the God-man by both murderous intent and by woeful passivity. And in this crime, Bonhoeffer goes on to explain, everything else has been made futile. All our culture, all our art, all our learning, all our hopes, have come to a meaningless end once we have heaped on our own heads the murder of God’s only Son.
Thank God, the story doesn’t end here, but Good Friday presses us to imagine if it did. What if the story ended at the cross? What if the God-rejecting sin of humanity wrought despair to life now and nothing short of a godforsaken despair for eternity?
Divine words of accusation stab into the ribs of humanity:
You have swelled up around him like a wall of unfounded hate and vicious lies (Psalm 69:4).
You have circled him like ravenous dogs (Psalm 22:16).
You have ambushed the beloved son (Mark 12:1–9).
You have killed the Author of Life (Acts 3:15).
Let these hard words sting as we consider for a moment together how stupid and how foolish and how ignorant and how wicked is the human heart to have brought this end upon human history — the darkest day of mankind, the apex of human ignorance, a situation so hopeless that human history seems to have been brought to its very end. What now can we look forward to but only eternal despair and desolation forever?
But sinful mankind does not get the last word. How appropriate the prayer of the dying Christ — “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).
As a human race we can scarce understand what we’ve done, what we’ve unleashed in evil ignorance.
1 Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Vol. 10, Barcelona, Berlin, New York: 1928–1931 (Fortress, 2008), 487–88.
From Tullian Tchividjian’s forthcoming book Glorious Ruin: How Suffering Sets You Free (October 2012), page 189:
If you’ve taken an art history class, you’ve probably come across Matthias Grünewald’s Isenheim Altarpiece. Or at least the panel depicting the crucifixion.
Completed in 1515, just before the Protestant Reformation blasted off, the altarpiece was commissioned for the church hospital of St. Anthony in Colmar, France, which specialized in comforting those dying with skin diseases. Grünewald took a radical approach to his subject. While most of his contemporaries were still depicting Calvary with post-Renaissance delicacy, Grünewald’s version was dark and borderline horrific: especially Christ’s smashed feet, His contorted arms, and His twisted hands. The cross is bowed to demonstrate Jesus bearing the sins of the world.
The most shocking part of the piece, however, is that Jesus Himself has a skin disease; His loincloth is the same as the wrappings worn by the hospital’s patients. The altarpiece is a creation of such shocking intensity that many initially — and even today — found it repulsive. Yet the graphic nature served masterfully to define and illustrate the Antonite brothers’ powerful understanding of Christian ministry. Apparently patients were brought before the piece in order to meditate on it as they died. The brothers were a quiet order, so no explanations were provided. There was no awkward chatter, no halfhearted attempts to piously let God off the hook. There was just silence.
But he was pierced for our transgressions; / he was crushed for our iniquities; / upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, / and with his wounds we are healed.
“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” –Galatians 2:20
Although I disagree with a few strands of his overall theology, I appreciate what Ethelbert Stauffer writes about corporate Christian worship in his New Testament Theology [(Macmillan: 1955), 201]:
The worship of the primitive Church at every point took it back to the coming of Christ, the Christ-event. So it is the good news of the gospel that constitutes the real centre of her services of worship. The Word of Jesus Christ must have its course, said Luther, in the German Mass. It must dwell amongst us richly, declared Paul (Col. 3.16; cf. 1.27). So it came about that the prophecies and histories of the OT were read and expounded; the sermon set forth the mighty acts of God in the fulness of time (Acts 13.15 ff.); the correspondence of the apostles, new and old alike, the epistles, which are very much like sermons when read to the congregations, these were read and so, with their message, their thanksgivings and doxologies, helped to bring out the full meaning of Christian worship.
But Christian worship was ‘also’, most certainly, a service to the world. Yet the primitive Church did not serve mankind in solemn rites and cultic practices, in pious instructions and edifying spirituality. Christian worship rooted men out of their self-centred individualism into an extra nos — away from all that is subjective — up to that which is simply objective. This was its service to humanity. It summoned the nations to worship the crucified.
But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.
Ben Witherington III, Grace in Galatia, 450:
Paul is saying his conversion to a belief in a crucified messiah entailed an enormous transvaluation of values, and an adoption of a new paradigm of what God was really doing in the world, how he was doing it, and therefore what the believer’s life meant. But notice Paul is not simply talking about an experience that happened to him. He also says that the world was crucified to him, by which he means that he believes that the death of Christ on the cross changed the world, it had cosmic effects. Paul has partially addressed this subject when he spoke about what the Galatians had been freed from — the elementary principles of the universe which enslave fallen human beings, and it is attended to even more fully in the later Paulines (cf. especially Col. 2:15 to Eph. 4:7–10). Here Martyn is quite right to stress the importance of this phrase and the mention of the new creation [v. 15] and connect them both with Gal. 1:4.
In Paul’s view the present evil age exists, but has been dealt a deathblow by the crucifixion of Jesus. All of the world’s basic values and assumptions and operating procedures have been put on notice that they are passing away (cf. 1 Cor. 7:31). What really matters are the new eschatological realities brought about because of the death of Christ. In Paul’s view, even the Law, as well as other good things about the material world, are part of the things that are passing away or are fading in glory (cf. 2 Cor. 3). Having lost their controlling grip on a human life when Christ came and died, one must not submit to such forces again, but rather live on the basis of the new eschatological realities. The new age has already dawned and Christians should live by its light and follow the path it illuminates.
C.S. Lewis wrote the following in a corrective letter to his friend, the 78-year-old Don Giovanni Calabria [12/26/51; Letters, 3:152]:
. . . This emboldens me to say to you something that a layman ought scarcely to say to a priest nor a junior to a senior. (On the other hand, out of the mouth of babes; indeed, as once to Balaam, out of the mouth of an ass!) It is this: you write much about your own sins. Beware (permit me, my dearest Father, to say beware) lest humility should pass over into anxiety or sadness. It is bidden us to ‘rejoice and always rejoice.’ Jesus has cancelled the handwriting which was against us. Lift up our hearts!
Permit me, I pray you, these stammerings. You are ever in my prayers and ever will be.
Robert Peterson in his new book Salvation Accomplished by the Son: The Work of Christ (Crossway, 2011), page 301:
What is the place of the cross of Christ in this cosmic restoration? As was the case in the previous passages that we explored, the cross is front and center in reconciliation in Colossians 1 too. God was pleased “to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross” (v. 20). The cross, therefore, is multidirectional. Taking into account all of Scripture’s teaching, the cross is directed toward God himself (in propitiation); toward our enemies, including demons, to defeat them; toward men and women to redeem them; and toward the whole creation to deliver it from “its bondage to decay” and to bring it into “the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Rom. 8:21). Why will all of these things occur? Why will we be finally saved? Why will the Devil and evil angels not ruin the shalom of the new creation but instead be cast into the lake of fire? Why will there be a new heaven and a new earth? All of these questions have the same answer: because the Son of God died and rose again on the third day.
From the sermon of Octavius Winslow (1808–1878) titled “The Vitality of the Atoning Blood”:
The moment the ransomed and released soul enters glory, the first object that arrests its attention and fixes its eye is the interceding Savior. Faith, anticipating the glorious spectacle, sees him now pleading the blood on behalf of each member of His Church upon earth.
“By His own blood He entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us.” [Hebrews 9:12]
“For Christ has not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, NOW to appear in the presence of God for us.” [Hebrews 9:24]
There is blood in heaven! the blood of the Incarnate God! And because it pleads and prays, argues and intercedes, the voice of every sin is hushed, every accusation of Satan is met, every daily transgression is forgiven, every temptation of the adversary is repelled, every evil is warded, every need is supplied, and the present sanctification and the final glorification of the saints are secured.
“Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? It is Christ who died, yes rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us.” [Romans 8:33–34]
Draw near, you Joshuas, accused by Satan!
Approach, you Peters, whose faith is sifted!
Come, you tried and disconsolate!
The mediatorial Angel, the pleading Advocate, the interceding High Priest, has passed into the heavens, and appears before the throne, for you.
If the principle of the spiritual life in your soul has decayed, if your grace has declined, if you have ‘left your first love,’ there is vitality in the interceding blood of Jesus, and it prays for your revival. If sin condemns, and danger threatens, and temptation assails, and affliction wounds, there is living power in the pleading blood of Immanuel, and it procures pardon, protection, and comfort.
The purposes behind the OT Law are various and complex and often debated. But one of its main functions is articulated beautifully by my favorite theologian (Herman Bavinck) writing in an often overlooked, but outstanding, volume on theology (Our Reasonable Faith). These are his words on page 81:
So far from being opposed to the promise, the law serves precisely as the means in God’s hand to bring the promise constantly nearer to its fulfillment. The law put Israel under restrictions, as a prisoner is put under restraint and denied the freedom of movement. Like a ‘pedagogue’ the law took Israel by the hand, accompanied her always and everywhere, and never for a moment left her out of its sight. As a guardian and supporter, the law maintained a strict watch over Israel in order that Israel might learn to know and to love the promise in its necessity and its glory.
Without the law, so to speak, the promise and its fulfillment would have come to nothing. Then Israel would quickly have fallen back into paganism, and would have lost both her revelation of God with its promise and her own religion and her place among the nations.
But now the law has fenced Israel in, segregated her, maintained her in isolation, guarded her against dissolution, and has thus created an area and defined a sphere in which God could preserve His promise purely, give it wider scope, develop it, increase it, and bring it always closer to its fulfillment. The law was serviceable to the fulfillment of the promise. It placed everybody under the wrath of God and under the sentence of death, it comprehended everybody within the pale of sin in order that the promise, given to Abraham and fulfilled in Christ, should be given to all believers, and that these all should attain to the inheritance as children (Gal. 3:21 and 4:7).
J.I. Packer, who turns 85-years-old today, wrote these words:
An evangelical theologian, dying, cabled a colleague: “I am so thankful for the active obedience (righteousness) of Christ. No hope without it.” As I grow old, I want to tell everyone who will listen: “I am so thankful for the penal substitutionary death of Christ. No hope without it.”