At The Cross
Have you ever heard the expression “familiarity breeds contempt?”
Sometimes, we can become so accustomed to something that we lose the respect we ought to have for it. Something special and of infinite insignificance can become trivialized over time due to constant exposure.
You may be familiar with the story of Uzzah son of Abinadab (2 Samuel 6:1-7 and 1 Chronicles 13:9-12) who touched the ark and died. Many are shocked by this story since Uzzah was only trying to keep the ark from falling when the oxen stumbled. I don’t want to spend too much time in this story but it is worthwhile noting that according to 1 Samuel 7, the ark had been at the house of Abinadab for 20 years. It is very likely that Uzzah had forgotten how holy the ark of God was. Exodus 25:10-15 and Numbers 4 list the details regarding transporting the ark, and it was to be completely covered and carried by Levites with poles, not by oxen on a cart. Carrying the ark of God on a cart pulled by oxen was the idea of the Philistines! (1 Samuel 6) I believe the main point of the story is that Uzzah meant well, but he forgot about the holiness of the ark, he was irreverent.
When it comes to the cross, I believe those of us who have been believers for a long time, or who grew up in a Christian environment run the same risk of becoming irreverent before a holy and awesome God. We can take grace for granted and forget both the holiness of God and the sinfulness of sin.
There is also a famous line from Alexander Pope’s poem “An Essay on Criticism” that comes to mind.
“For fools rush in where angels fear to tread.”
When talking about Jesus and His sacrifice for us, if we are not careful, we can foolishly rush in and make light of a reality that causes the entire universe to pause and ponder in awe of the great love of God and the awfulness of sin.
This weekend Christians remember the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. Many also hide and hunt for colorful bunny eggs. I am not going to attack bunnies or discuss their association with Easter celebrations, because I believe highlighting Jesus and what the cross teaches us about God to be a more worthwhile use of my time and of your time.
The first thing we can learn from beholding the cross and Christ’s death is the infinite love that God has for us. Christ's death proves, beyond any shadow of doubt, God's great love for humans. Think of the death of Jesus on the cross as our pledge of salvation. I love how Ellen White puts it,
To remove the cross from the Christian would be like blotting the sun from the sky.
- Acts of the Apostles p209.
The cross not only declares the love of God for us, it also brings us near to God, reconciling us to Him. With the compassion of a father's love, God looks upon the suffering that His Son endured in order to save the human race from eternal death, and accepts us in Jesus. We are not accepted because of our good behavior, but rather because of Jesus’ death on our behalf. It is humbling to realize that the price of our salvation was so high!
Without the cross, humanity could have no union with the Father. There was no other way to save us, all our hopes depend entirely on the cross. To put it poetically, from the cross shines the light of our Savior's love. We must come to the foot of the cross and look up to the One who died to save us. Because Jesus was willing to die on the cross we may rejoice with fullness of joy, for our sins are pardoned. Kneeling in faith at the foot of the cross, we reach the highest place any human being can attain. (Acts of the Apostles p.209)
But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.
Galatians 6:14 NKJV
Like Paul, it is also our privilege to boast in the cross. We should count it a joy and a privilege to give ourselves completely to Him who gave Himself for us. The cross reveals to us the love of the heavenly Father, His infinite and eternal love. This precious understanding of God we gain from what took place at the cross can be compared to a light streaming from Calvary and shining on our faces. We then go and reflect this light to those who are around us. This is how we become lights in this dark world. It is not that we have any special light in and of ourselves, rather we reflect the light that has its origin in God.
Mercy and Justice
Through Jesus, God's mercy was manifested to men; but mercy does not set aside justice. The law reveals the attributes of God's character, and not a jot or tittle of it could be changed to meet man in his fallen condition. In order to save humanity God appeared to have only two options. God could change His law, and thus admit that something was wrong with it, or He could keep his law intact and destroy all of humanity. However, on the cross we have God keeping His law intact and still managing to save all who wish to be saved by sacrificing Himself for our redemption. “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself.” 2 Corinthians 5:19.
God’s perfect law requires righteousness,—a righteous life, a perfect character; and this we do not have to give. We are unable meet the claims of God's holy law. But Christ, coming to the earth as one of us, lived a holy life, and developed a perfect character. These He offers as a free gift to all who will receive them. His life stands for our life. This is how we have remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God. But it gets better, because beyond just forgiving us, Christ imbues us with the attributes of God. He builds up the human character after the likeness of the divine character, a beautiful fabric of spiritual strength and beauty. Thus the very righteousness of the law is fulfilled in the believer in Christ. God can “be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” Romans 3:26.
By His life and His death, Christ proved that God's justice did not destroy His mercy, but that sin could be forgiven, and that the law is righteous, and can be perfectly obeyed. Satan's charges were refuted. God had given man unmistakable evidence of His love. “Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other.” Psalm 85:10.
Sadly, another deception is now being brought forward. Some are convinced that mercy destroyed justice, and that the death of Christ nullified the Father's law. But let’s think about this together. If it had been possible for the law to be changed or annulled, then Christ would not have needed to die. But to abolish the law would be to immortalize transgression, and place the world under Satan's control. It was exactly because the law was changeless, because humanity could be saved only through obedience to its precepts, that Jesus was lifted up on the cross. Yet the very means by which Christ established the law is represented by some as destroying it.
The cross not only reveals God’s love, it also reveals Satan’s real character. For any who might doubt if Satan really exists, if sin is really bad, just take a look at the cross. Our sins placed Jesus there. His love for us held Him there.
For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 6:23 NKJV
Some think that God has too many rules, that He is withholding positive experiences from us. The view of God as a killjoy is popular in many circles. So many in our world are blind both to the love of God and to the true nature of sin and to the separation from God it brings.
Eve probably thought, “it’s just a fruit, how bad could the consequences be?” How often do we reason “It’s just a small lie. God understands.” We think to ourselves “God understands when I have to break the Sabbath.” “ When I fall out of love with my spouse and fall in love with someone who is not my spouse.” “God wants me to be happy right?” “I would honor my parents if they weren’t so set in their ways and critical of mine.”
How often do we ponder about the law of God and what breaking it does to our relationship with Him?
Listen to me carefully, I am not talking about keeping the law as a way of earning your salvation, I am talking about loving God to the point that you are no longer interested in entertaining even thoughts towards behavior that caused Jesus to be nailed to that cross.
I am not here to threaten you with hellfire. I am just asking if your heart is so hard, cold, and selfish, that Jesus dying for your sins does not cause you to wish to live differently? As you view in your mind’s eye God suffering and dying because of your sins, does it not stir your soul?
Yes you are saved by grace. Yes, you can confess and repent and receive forgiveness and salvation. But do not be deceived, your sin causes God to suffer (Isaiah 53; grieves his heart Genesis 6:6), it separates you from God (Isaiah 59:2), it hurts those around you. Look at the cross and realize that God loves you.
Let that sink in.
Let it impact your soul.
Let it soften your heart.
It is challenging to get the full emotional impact of the events that took place that Friday, all those years ago, so let me try to help you.
Imagine all the angels of heaven watching that Friday as Jesus is betrayed into the hands of the murderous mob, and hurried from one tribunal to another with mockery and violence. Imagine the holy angels who serve in the presence of God who knew Jesus before He became a man, hearing the sneers of His persecutors because of His lowly birth. They heard the denial with cursing and swearing by one of His best-loved disciples. All of heaven saw the frenzied work of Satan, and his power over the hearts of humans. Oh, imagine the agonizing scene! The Savior of the world, seized at midnight in Gethsemane, dragged to and fro from palace to judgment hall, arraigned twice before the priests, twice before the Sanhedrin, twice before Pilate, and once before Herod, mocked, scourged, condemned, and led out to be crucified, bearing the heavy burden of the cross, amid the wailing of the daughters of Jerusalem and the jeering of the crowd.
Heaven viewed with grief and amazement Christ hanging upon the cross, blood flowing from His wounded temples, and sweat tinged with blood standing upon His brow. From His hands and feet the blood fell, drop by drop, upon the rock drilled for the foot of the cross. The wounds made by the nails gaped as the weight of His body dragged upon His hands. His labored breath grew quick and deep, as His soul panted under the burden of the sins of the world. Your sins played a role in placing Him there, He stayed because of His great love for you and His desire to save you. Think about that sin that is in your life that you have been holding on to for a while. That little sin that nobody knows about. The one that you keep finding excuses for. The one that is not that bad and does not hurt anyone else. Imagine Jesus bearing the guilty of that sin, bearing its shame and reproach. Imagine your favorite sin causing the innocent lamb of God to suffer in agony and die.
All heaven was filled with wonder when the prayer of Christ was offered in the midst of His terrible suffering,—“Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34) Yet there stood men, formed in the image of God, joining to crush out the life of His only-begotten Son. What a sight for the heavenly universe!
Jesus went through all that so that you could have the choice of accepting His gift of eternal life. He took upon Himself the wages of your sins, in order for you the have His gift of eternal life.
When you behold the cross, it is judgment day. When you come face to face with the love of God you must make a choice. Either you allow Him to come in and transform you, or resits Him and harden your heart. Each time you behold the cross and resist the love of Jesus, you harden your heart against Him. You behave like the Pharaoh in the days of Moses, or many of the religious leaders in the days of Jesus, refusing to to recognize the power of God being revealed to them.
For a summary of my understanding of the plan of salvation I would recommend my post One Story to Rule Them All.
For fascinating insights on the death of Jesus on the cross I highly recommend The Desire of Ages chapter 79