What does the cross mean to you? Historically, it was the most brutal and inhumane form of capital punishment which was invented by the Persians and perfected by Rome. An ancient Jewish historian called crucifixion, “the most wretched of deaths” (War VII, 202ff.) and rightly so, for the victim was hung naked to a cross fastened with nails in both his hands and feet. The mode of death was a slow, extremely painful suffocation. The nails not only pierced the hands and feet, but also pierced the Medien nerve, which would cause severe sciatic-like-pain through the entire body which would only intensify every time the victim pushed his body up to get air into his/her lungs. Eventually the person would become so fatigued that he/she could no longer thrust his body up, thus leading to a slow, agonizing suffocation. Mostly males were crucified, but when a woman was nailed to a cross, she was nailed facing the cross because few wished to see a woman die in such fashion.
It would take about three days for a person to die. As if the physical suffering that came with crucifixion were not enough, often birds of prey would perch themselves on the cross of the dying victim to feast while they hung dying, yet still alive. What dropped was left for the wild dogs to eat. Typically, the body was left to hang on the cross and then latter thrown into the city dump. Did you know that the word “excruciating” literally means: “from the cross”? The word we use to describe pain at its highest level is a word originally derived from the most horrible form of capital punishment. So why the cross? Why was it necessary for Jesus, who loved the unlovable, healed the sick, raised the dead, and lived a life without sin, to die in such a horrible way?
The crucifixion of Jesus is really a picture of the ugliness and the seriousness of our sin against a perfectly good and infinite God. I heard an illustration this week that may help you understand why God takes sin so seriously. If you take a key and scratch a rock, there is really no offence. If you take that same key and scratch a dilapidated care in a junk yard, there really is no great offence. If you take that same key and scratch a scratched up and beat up 20 year old car with over 200k miles on it, it may be of some offence. However, if you take that same key and scratch a brand new Ferrari, your offence is all of the sudden far greater than the scratch you made on the old functioning car, the dilapidated junkyard car, or the rock. Your sin against God is great and infinite because that sin is against a great and infinite God. This is why the prophet Nahum states in the Bible: “The LORD is a jealous and avenging God; the LORD takes vengeance on his foes and vents his wrath against his enemies” (Nahum 1:2).
If God is a perfect God, he must be perfect in every single way. He must be perfect in his holiness, his goodness, his love, and even in his justice. If God is perfect in every way then his perfect and sincere love requires that he hate evil (Rom. 12:9). Here is the problem: we are all born into sin and therefore stand before God as sinners and are therefore evil from the moment we take our first breath. From the moment of birth, the Bible says, “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God” (Rom. 3:10b-11). In another place the Bible says, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked… and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Eph. 2:1, 3b).
One of the most popular Bible verses in the world is John 3:16. I heard a story that when one unreached people group heard it in their own language for the first time, they wept. You know it and have heard it dozens of times: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” So how does John 3:16 work for you and for me if God’s perfect love requires of him to hate evil? The answer to that question is that Jesus became sin for us (2 Cor. 5:21), and in becoming sin for us, he willingly became our sin in our place. This is why Jesus said of his sacrifice for sinners: “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take up again” (John 10:17-18). So, Jesus willingly laid down his life as the prophets of long ago foretold: “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth” (Isa. 53:7).
Dear friends, the reason we call the Friday of holy week “Good Friday” is because, “Jesus paid it all, all to him we owe. Sin had left a crimson stain, he washed it white as snow.” In Romans 5:1-11, we are told what the cross of Christ means for all who believe it message.
Jesus Died So that We Could Have the Peace of God (vv. 1-5)
Our world is under a curse. This is the reason for wars, for plagues, for disease, and death. Our world, and everything in it, was meant to know only peace. Since Adam and Eve rebelled in the garden, our experience has been the vandalization of the peace we all long for and the peace we were made for. The Hebrew word for the peace we were born to experience is shalom, and it is the kind of peace that only comes through God.
Our greatest need is not a cure for the Coronavirus, but shalom. The only way to have shalom is to be reconciled with the God we are all guilty of sinning against. If God is truly perfect, then his justice must also be perfect, and his perfect justice requires that sin be punished. What that means is simply this: our greatest need that our sins be forgiven so that we can shalom, and by having shalom… I mean that we have God. What that means is that we deserve the cross, not Jesus! We deserve the great sorrow Jesus experienced in the garden hours before his betrayal and death, not Jesus. We deserve the proverbial cup of God’s wrath that Jesus stared into on the eve of his crucifixion, not Jesus. Yet, it was Jesus who drank the cup of God’s wrath by voluntarily and willingly enduring death by crucifixion.
According to Romans 5:1-5, it is only through the cross of Christ that you can have peace with God. If you have peace with God then what can the Coronavirus take from you? What can wars take from you? What can death take from you? What can pandemics really take from you? If your faith rests in what Jesus did in your place for the forgiveness of your sins, then you have a joy that is rooted in the glory (character) of God because he is now for you and not against you.
If your sins have been forgiven, you now stand on the grace of a God who loves you, and according to the apostle Paul we can, “rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (vv. 3-5). Because of the cross of Christ, we can have peace with God.
Jesus Died So that We Could Know the Love of God (vv. 6-9)
There is another reality Jesus died so that we can have and that is the love of God. Paul writes, “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.” The ungodly of verse six is us! Why did Jesus die for the ungodly? He died so that we could know the love of God instead of the wrath of God. Jesus endured our hell so that we could one day enter his heaven.
On the cross, both the justice of God, and the mercy of God came together as the expression of his hatred for sin and his great love for those of us who had no power or ability to fix the sin problem we are all born with. Jesus was, as the prophet Isaiah wrote: “…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” (Isa. 53:4-5). Or as one modern hymn rightly states:
This gift of love and righteousness,
Scorned by the ones He came to save
Till on that cross as Jesus died,
The wrath of God was satisfied
For every sin on Him was laid
Here in the death of Christ I live.
This is the reason that Paul states, in verse 9, “Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.” Later in Romans 8:31-32, Paul wrote of the great love of God that was expressed in the slaughtering of Jesus: “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” Jesus died so that we could know the unfailing love of a God we were born to know.
Jesus Died So that We Could Experience the Friendship of God (vv. 10-11)
Finally, the cross of Christ reveals that, through the death of Jesus, we have been made a friend of God. That is what reconciliation will do. True reconciliation brings two opposing people into one healthy relationship. Notice what verse 10 says of those of us before our faith in the Christ of the cross: “We were enemies…”
I love a good mystery movie or television show where you do not know who the real villain is. I am not sure if Scooby-Doo is still on, but I grew up watching it. In every episode, the villain was not the person you expected, but the seemingly good person. The point of Good Friday is that the only truly good person in the story of the crucifixion is the one on the cross. The true villains in the story is us! If we take off our masks what we discover is that we are all Adam and we are all Eve. Donald Grey Barnhouse, in his sermon on this verse, said something that is the equivalent of the big reveal that the Scooby Gang at the end of every Scooby-Doo episode would do to prove their case for who the real villain was:
God placed man on earth in a perfect environment and made him lord over all creation except a few square yards of ground which surrounded one tree. Man was to have everything north, south, east, and west of that tree. The forbidden tree was the sign of man’s creaturehood and dependence upon God. The New Testament tells us that when Eve sinned she was deceived. She thought she was doing a good thing. The Devil had told her that by eating the fruit she and Adam would be as the gods, knowing good and evil, so she thought that it was a thing to be desired. But when Adam sinned… he was not deceived (1 Tim. 2:14). He boldly ate the fruit Eve offered him. It was an act of rebellion, the equivalent of a declaration of independence; and from that time the entire human race has wanted to be independent of God.
We are the villain in the “Good Friday” story, but we are also the rescued and the redeemed. Listen to Romans 5:10 again, “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.” On the eve of Jesus’ death, he was determined to make enemies of God into friends of God. The way he wanted them to remember was through the breaking of the Passover bread and the sharing of the Passover cup every time they gathered together.
Not only have we received life, but the cross of Christ means that once we believe that what Jesus is enough for the forgiveness of our sins, we are now reconciled to a holy God who calls us a son or a daughter instead of an enemy. The cross of Christ guarantees for all who have been made a friend of God that, “there is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”