The Meaning of the Cross for God the Father- hope and rescue
In his highly acclaimed book, TheGulag Archipeliago, Alexander Solzhenitsyn highlights the plight of humanity. And it is in complete agreement with the Word of God. He writes, “If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”
The Apostle Paul put it this way in Romans 5:12 “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all humanity, because all sinned.”
Note these truths from this verse about the nature and plight of humanity. Firstly, all of humanity is sinful, no one is exempt save Jesus. And secondly, the consequences for sin is death.
Death is a separation. Physically we die because of sin. The body will separate from the soul at death. The body to decay. The soul into eternal life or eternal death. Spiritually we have died because of sin, we are separated from the life of God and alienated from him. One of the temporal consequences of sin is that we will all physically die. The eternal consequence of sin is an eternity in hell away from the love, life and presence of God.
The Apostle illustrated these truths in Ephesians 2:1-3. He writes, “You were dead in your transgressions and sins in which you used to live…gratifying the cravings of the sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. We were objects receiving the wrath of God.”
History is filled with tragedy on the sea. Hundreds, thousands of ships and sailors have come to their end through violent storms. They were engulfed in monstrous waves. The ship brakes up and falls to the bottom of the sea. Often, all aboard went to a watery grave, none survived. They were helpless in the wake of the storm in spite of their prowess at sailing, and in spite of their skills.
Spiritually, everyone is born into a raging sea of sin engulfed by its waves. Our destruction is sure. There is no hope we can find in ourselves. We are utterly powerless. Our only hope is help from outside. And that’s the good news of our faith. God our Heavenly Father is not content to leave us in this plight. His deep love moved him to provide a way out of our helpless situation. He reaches into the timeline of humanity and through the cross he provides the only way and the only hope we have to correct this uncorrectable plight.
“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:6-8
For God the Father, the Cross means the rescue and hope out of spiritual and eternal death. The next time you see a cross somewhere, stop, ponder, remind yourself of what it represents. The compassion of our Heavenly Father to rescue us because we cannot rescue ourselves from the impact and penalty of our sin. And then offer your heart to Jesus, “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 Corinthians 1:18
What did the cross mean for Roman citizens of the first century? When they saw a crucifix or a crucifixion what was on their mind? It meant a gruesome one way journey to humiliation, suffering, excruciating pain, and death.
Anyone who faced a Roman cross never came back alive. There was only one outcome to this trip and the road was paved with brutality, and unbelievable agony. For them the cross was a cruel instrument of death, it was not an artistic statue or a piece of jewellery. Today there are electric chairs, a gas chamber, a hangman’s noose, a firing squad. In that day there was the Roman cross.
I have a close friend who is a medical pathologist. He performs many autopsies each year. He knows what happens to bodies as they die. In 1986 he wrote an article in a major medical journal that summarized his quest to understand what happens during a crucifixion and therefore what would have happened to Jesus. Some of you may have heard these details before, for others this may be new. Its not a pleasant read. It will turn your head and heart inside out. It’s something that many cannot read or entertain. But it’s true.
The process of crucifixion began with stripping the person completely naked and tying the person to a wooden post with their arms above their head. Our pictures of Jesus during his beating and on the cross have him wearing a loin cloth. It’s done out of our sense of modesty. However there was no loin cloth at all. This was done to completely humiliate the person.
Soldiers would beat the back of the victim with a scourge laced with thorns or jagged bits of bone. The effect was to shred the muscles of the shoulders, back and sides down to the bones. Some victims died from this flogging alone. Jesus lost an enormous amount of blood but somehow survived.
After the beating the victim was to carry the horizontal beam of the cross to the site of the crucifixion on top of the shoulders which had just been shredded. Jesus crumbled under the weight and pain. A stranger carried it for him. Then a spike 5 to 7 inches long was driven into the both wrists and the feet as the body was attached to the cross. Our pictures show the nail holes in the palm of the hand, but the nail was actually put into the wrist so that the bones would hold the body in suspension.
The cross was lifted and dropped into a small hole with a thud and the full weight of the body was now hanging by these three nails. There was no anaesthesia, only searing pain. This did not kill the victim however. Usually the victim died from suffocation. Unable to lift the body, the person was strangled as they struggled for a breath of air. If the soldiers were in a hurry to finish the job they would break the legs of the victim to make it more difficult to push up and catch a breath. Death came quickly then and only death released the victim from the excruciating pain and agony. How remarkable that Jesus was able to say a few words from the cross. How remarkable the content of those words.
“My God why have you forsaken me?”
“I am thirsty.”
“Here is your son, here is your mother.”
“Today you will be in paradise.”
“It is finished.”
“Father into your hands I commend my spirit.”
The cross the woman in the jewellery store sells is not just a cultural symbol. It does not have a cute little man on it. The cross is a symbol of the depth of human cruelty and torture. When a man or a woman, a boy or a girl in the Roman Empire thought of the cross, they thought of only one thing, a gruesome one way journey to humiliation, excruciating pain, and death.
The next time you see a cross somewhere, stop, ponder, remind yourself of what it represents. And then offer your heart to Jesus who, “For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.