Friday, August 20, 2010

Why the Cross?

Since I was a child, the theme of the cross, the death of Jesus and the experience of salvation that results has been the focus of my church experience. Every week, I would either sing about, discuss in Sunday School or hear a sermon about how salvation came through the sacrificial death of Jesus. However, as I look back, the way we talked about these things assumed that they actually made sense to our way of thinking. And honestly, nothing about the way of the cross, the sacrificial death of Jesus or why his death has anything to do with why I might be saved makes any sense. What bearing does the violent death of an innocent man 2000 years ago have upon me and my relationship with God?

I think we are so accustomed to hearing about the cross that we really don't know much about what it means. This is no less the case for those who did not grow up in the church, as the cross is such a common symbol that we assume that its meaning is clear.

With even a simply cursory reading of the New Testament it becomes clear the the cross is crucial. The four gospels are all written pointing to the Passion narratives, the actions of Jesus leading up to his crucifixtion. The Apostle Paul, makes a big deal about the death of Jesus. The writer of Hebrews focuses extensively on the sacrificial acts of Jesus within the temple system of the Old Testament.

So why all of this focus on death, sacrifice and the cross? Why did Jesus have to come and die for my sins? Why couldn't God just forgive our sins and go on?

This goes the the need to get a clear picture of the problem. Too often we assume that the problem is my individual morality. But the problem lies in the fact that mankind broke covenant with God and with that breaking of covenant, abdicated rule of the earth to an enemy named Satan. Instead of living in free covenant relationships with God, man broke covenant and opened the door to what the Bible calls "principalities and powers of this world." Simply put, these are patterns of living that are dominated by the rule of Satan.

In Romans we are told that the "wages of sin is death." Our covenant breaking creates patterns of living that result in death. There is no way around this. Because God remains faithful to his part of the covenant even though man has continually broken their part, God's goal is much bigger than forgiveness of individual sins that we might commit. Immoral behavior is only part of the problem. We need redemption from the entrapment to this life of evil, not just forgiveness so that we can remain caught by it.

In order to free us from this entrapment, there needed to be a faithful covenant partner, who would fulfill the human side of the covenant relationship with God. In Isaiah, this person is called the suffering servant. There we learn that this servant will be a sacrifice for our transgressions. (53:5). In contrast to all the other religions in history, the kind of sacrifice required by God is not something brought to God by the people for the forgiveness of sin. That is the kind of sacrifice that God does not want from us. Instead, God provides the sacrifice himself. He is the faithful covenant partner who fulfills our side of the covenant and actually loves in our place.

But this still does not get at the question of Why the cross? Being the consequences of sin is death, we could be forgiven by God but not be released from the powers and the principalities that rule the world. Jesus, as the faithful covenant partner, the suffering servant, came and fully entered into our state of being and took on our death for us. He stood in our place and embraced the worst of the worst kinds of deaths. He fully entered into our suffering and assumed it all the defeat and desolation of this life of the principalities and powers upon himself.

If we try to understand the cross in isolation from his live and from his resurrection, we will not have the ability to fully understand his death. He died our death so that he could defeat our death for us. The problem is not just that we need to be forgiven of sin but that we need victory over death that is a result of our breaking of covenant. 

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