It is always good for us to take time to reflect on the Cross. The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is not merely a key doctrine to our faith. Rather, it is absolutely central and of primary importance. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:
If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is vain. … If in Christ, we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.
Christianity without the death and resurrection in empty, vain and futile. It would have nothing to offer. But Christ HAS died, and he HAS been raised. Let us pause and reflect on a few thoughts:
The Cross is Historical
The death of Jesus of Nazareth is one of the best attested historical events. Plenty of books and articles do a far better job that I could of articulating this. Lee Strobel’s book “The Case For Christ” is noteworthy here. Even the Wikipedia article, which is hardly sympathetic to Christianity, agrees that the Crucifixion is one of “two historically certain facts about Jesus.”
The Cross was Brutal
Most of us will have seen Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ.” I found it very difficult to watch, and that’s intentional. Crucifixion was utterly brutal and repugnant, specifically designed to provoke a visceral reaction and hopefully dissuade others from crime. It was an extremely painful way to perish – so much so that the word “excruciating” was invented to describe it. But more than that, it was shameful. It shamed the victim to hang there, totally exposed and open to insult and ridicule.
In connection with this, let’s consider two things:
First, Jesus did not deserve this brutality. He was declared innocent at least three times by the presiding judge (John 18:38, 19:4, 6), and the trial was an illegal sham anyway. His execution is probably the greatest miscarriage of justice the world has ever seen.
Second, Jesus Christ could have easily avoided it. Remember how easily He slipped away from His would-be murderers in Luke 4:30? Or how he refused to give any defence against the (false) charges against Him (see e.g. Matthew 27:13-14, John 19:9)? He rebuked Peter when he tried to fight back, saying (Matthew 26:53):
Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?
Amazing, isn’t it? He could have avoided the horrors and the shame, but He didn’t. These two together leads to a third point:
The Cross was Purposeful
The Cross was not an accident, a tragedy or a defeat. To meditate on this point, and how seriously Jesus took it, look at how He answered Peter. Peter, in his characteristically misplaced zeal, rebuked Jesus when He started speaking of His imminent death. The response:
Matthew 16:23 (ESV)
23 But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”
This is a stinging rebuke! To Peter, the idea of a crucified saviour was a nonsense, but Jesus knew the Cross was integral to His being the Saviour.
Not a tragedy, but an accomplishment (see Luke 1:1). How is it an accomplishment? In that it fulfilled many specific prophesies, and is the antitype to many types, in the Old Testament. Again, many more learned than I am have undertaken to catalogue these. my purpose for this meditation is only to remember that those bloody events of Good Friday were foreseen and predicted centuries beforehand.
The Cross was NOT Christ’s Fear
I think any mere mortal who faced a Roman cross would be afraid. Christ, indeed, just before His arrest, prayed in agony such that His sweat mingled with blood (Luke 22:44). But I submit He was not afraid of the nails. When you read the accounts of the Passion, in contrast to Mel Gibson’s view, Jesus never cries out in pain. After the flogging, as He makes His way to Golgotha, He ministers to the women there with Him (see Luke 23:26ff).
At what point did Jesus Christ cry out? What was it that finally caused Him to cry “My God, My God! Why have you forsaken me?” It was when the darkness had come, and when that Temple veil was torn in two, top to bottom. It was when, as Peter says, He “bore our sins in His body on the tree.” It was when He was “put forward as a propitiation by His blood, to be received by faith,” as Paul says in Romans 3:25.
That was Christ’s fear. The only moment in eternity when the fellowship He enjoyed with God the Father was severed, and He experienced separation. This was the fearful thing He anticipate in Gethsemane. Not the nails.
Christ was Victorious
We cannot ponder the Cross without recalling the glorious Resurrection that we celebrate tomorrow, on Easter Sunday. We remember, paraphrasing Peter in Acts 2:24, that it was impossible for death to hold Him. He rose triumphantly. So let’s conclude by finishing Paul’s thoughts from 1 Corinthians 15:
1 Corinthians 15:20–22 (ESV)
20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.
There is our hope! The Cross speaks of death, yes, but defeated death. Through faith in Jesus Christ’s death, that it was for you, you can find forgiveness and hope.
I pray that you know this hope!