By Gregg Bing
Continued from last month.
“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Cor. 1:18)
The message of the cross refers not just to the symbol of a cross, or even to the historical facts of Jesus’ death, but to the meaning and significance of the cross on which Jesus died. Three key aspects need to be considered in order to understand the true meaning of the cross. Last month we looked at the first of these considerations: the Person on the cross. While the world considers Jesus of Nazareth to be merely a man, the Scriptures plainly declare and give overwhelming proof that He is exactly what Simon Peter boldly declared of Him: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” It is vital to see that the Person who died on the cross was very God Himself who “became flesh and dwelt among us” that He might shed His blood for our sins. In this issue, we consider the second important aspect of the message of the cross:
The Price of the Cross
Imagine what it would be like to know exactly when and how you would die. From a human standpoint, such knowledge could be quite distressing. The Lord Jesus spoke of how this knowledge of His own death distressed His soul.
“I came to send fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! But I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how distressed I am till it is accomplished!” (Luke 12:49-50)
Jesus would “send fire on the earth” through His death. It was also His death He had reference to when He said, “I have a baptism to be baptized with.” Many people think baptism always refers to a water ritual, but its basic meaning is identification. Jesus was to be identified with our sins when He went to the cross. Jesus spoke of the deep distress His impending death caused Him and expressed His heartfelt wish that it were already accomplished. After making His triumphal entry into Jerusalem the week before His crucifixion, Jesus uttered these words:
“Now My soul is troubled, and what shall I say? Father, save Me from this hour? But for this purpose I came to this hour.” (John 12:27)
What was so distressing and troubling to Jesus’ very soul? It was not just the prospect of physical death, but “the death of the cross.” Philippians 2:8 distinguishes between these two things. When Jesus left the glory of heaven to become a Man, He became obedient “to the point of death” (i.e. physical death), but this verse goes on to say, “even the death of the cross.” There is death, and then there is the death of the cross. They are not the same thing! Jesus’ death on the cross meant terrible sufferings for Him on several different levels.
The physical sufferings Jesus endured were as harsh as those any man has ever experienced. He was struck about the head with a reed (rod). He was scourged (whipped) until His back was terribly lacerated. He had a crown of thorns pushed onto His head. His hands and feet were nailed to a cross, and He was left hanging there to die a slow, painful death—one of the cruelest forms of capital punishment ever devised. Jesus endured through all these sufferings, for the “joy that was set before Him” (Heb. 12:2).
The public shame Jesus was put through was an extremely humiliating experience. During His “trials,” Jesus was slapped and spit upon by the Jewish rulers. The soldiers put a purple robe on Him, placed a reed in His hand, and mocked Him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” (Matt. 27:16-18). He was paraded before King Herod who questioned Jesus and heard numerous accusations about Him from the Jewish rulers. When Jesus refused to answer, Herod and his soldiers treated Jesus with contempt and mocked Him (Luke 23:8-11). When He was delivered to the Roman centurion to be crucified, Jesus was led through the crowded streets of Jerusalem to the place of crucifixion, being forced to carry His own cross. It must be remembered that crucifixion was a punishment reserved for the worst of criminals. He was crucified alongside two thieves, wicked men who were deserving of this type of death. As He hung on the cross, Jesus endured repeated blasphemy and taunts from the Jewish rulers who cried out, “If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross” (Matt. 27:40). Yet, “when He was reviled, He did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously” (1 Pet. 2:23).
Jesus also suffered tremendous person sorrow throughout this ordeal. Consider how Jesus must have felt when Judas Iscariot, His own familiar friend, betrayed Him with a kiss into the hands of the Jewish rulers; when all of the disciples forsook Him and fled after His arrest in Gethsemane; when Simon Peter denied three times even knowing who Jesus was; when His own people preferred to have Pilate release Barabbas, a notorious murderer and rebel, instead of Him, and then cried out for Jesus to be crucified (Luke 23:18-21). He came unto His own, the very ones He had created, and they “did not receive Him” (John 1:11). How this must have deeply hurt Jesus on a personal level!
Yet, as Jesus anticipated these sufferings He must soon undergo, they were not the real reason for His great distress. Jesus’ soul was troubled knowing He would soon face a
Period of Silence
After Jesus had hung on the cross from 9:00 in the morning (Mark 15:25) until noon, Matthew described what followed:
“Now from the sixth hour until the ninth hour there was darkness over all the land. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is, My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matt. 27:45-46)
During this three hour period, Jesus endured an unbearable period of silence, silence from His Father. There was no communion with Him, no help from Him, no comfort from Him, no strength from Him. The Father had utterly forsaken His Son, abandoning Him completely. During the early hours of His crucifixion, Jesus prayed, calling God “Father” (Luke 23:34), but during that period of darkness, Jesus could only cry out to Him, “My God, My God,” asking the piercing question, “Why?” Being very God, Jesus certainly knew why the Father had forsaken Him. His cry of despair in the form of a question shows how painful the anguish was He felt at that time.
The 22nd Psalm prophesied of the anguish Jesus would experience hanging on the cross.
“My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me? Why are You so far from helping Me, and from the words of My groaning? O My God, I cry in the daytime, but You do not hear; and in the night season, and am not silent. But You are holy, enthroned in the praises of Israel. Our fathers trusted in You; they trusted, and You delivered them. They cried to You, and were delivered; they trusted in You, and were not ashamed. But I am a worm, and no man; a reproach of men, and despised by the people.” (Psalm 22:1-6)
This passage gives us a little more insight into the pain Jesus experienced as His Father forsook Him, and it answers the question Jesus asked from the cross, “Why?”—”Why have You forsaken Me?” Christ declared to God the Father, “You are holy … but I am a worm” (verses 3 and 6). A holy God had to turn His back on His Son, because during those three hours of darkness, Jesus “bore our sins in His own body on the tree” (1 Pet. 2:24). The One who knew no sin was made sin for us “that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21). Christ “became a curse for us (for it is written, Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree)” (Gal. 3:13). God’s full wrath and judgment were poured out on His beloved Son while He bore our sins on that cross (Rom. 8:3-4). The Lord Jesus not only shed His blood and died physically, He also died spiritually, being separated from God the Father because of our sins.
What a tremendous price Jesus paid for us on the cross of Calvary. We cannot even begin to imagine how painful it was for our Savior to endure “the death of the cross,” but it is important we understand the reason for His sufferings. The gospel message is not simply that Christ died, was buried, and rose again, but that He died “for our sins” (1 Cor. 15:3-4), and not for ours only, but “for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2).
Next Month we will look at the third aspect of the message of the cross: “The Product of the Cross.”
(Continued Next Month)