The Cross of Christ
The Meaning Of The Cross — Part I
The cross of Christ was the glorious Climax of the Eternal plan, the greatest Crime of sin-benighted man, the gravest Crisis of a sinless life, the grandest Crown of Christ’s triumphant strife.
In 1 Corinthians Paul lays emphasis on “the word of the cross.” In the 18th verse the attitude of two classes of people to the cross is indicated, those who perish consider it sheer absurdity, but to those who are saved it is the manifestation of divine power and heavenly wisdom. In the same chapter (verses 23-24) he contemplates three classes in their reaction to the message of the cross. To the Jews it gives offence and proves a stumbling block, for in their Scriptures the curse of God rested on anyone hanged on a tree. The philosophic Greeks thought the cross the height of folly and unworthy of credence. “You ask us,” they argued, “to repose our confidence in a man who died as a criminal, who was crucified; that is an insult to our intelligence.” The third class, a minority group called by the Apostle “the elect,” chosen from among both Jews and Gentiles, saw in the cross of Christ the revelation of divine wisdom and power. The message of the apostles, for which they made no apology, was therefore “Jesus Christ and Him crucified.”
Jew and Greek have their modern counterpart in the ritualist and the rationalist, but those who are saved can confidently assert:
“A Christless cross no refuge were for me:
A crossless Christ my Saviour could not be:
But oh, Christ crucified! I rest on Thee.”
What then is the significance of the cross? In the first recorded apostolic sermon on the day of Pentecost, Peter proclaimed that Jesus of Nazareth was “delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God” to be crucified. Behind the cross, therefore, was the eternal purpose of God. From the word translated “determinate” our English word “horizon” is derived: so the cross was from the beginning on the horizon of God.
The Apostle continued: “ye have taken and by wicked hands have crucified and slain.” Behind the cross, too, was the sinful hatred of men.
As the Lord Jesus contemplated the cross, He said in prayer to His Father, “For this cause came I unto this hour,” and again, when prostrate in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Not My will but Thine be done.” A third factor in the cross was the submissive will of the Son of God who “gave Himself for our sins.” Further, Hebrews 2:14 tells us, the Son of God became incarnate that “through death He might bring to nought him that had the power of death, that is, the devil (Revised Version). So behind the cross stood the powers of darkness, led by Satan.
God’s eternal plan centred in the cross. When by one man sin entered into the world and death — physical, spiritual and eternal — by sin, the promise of God concerning the seed of the woman (Gen. 3:15) was the first intimation of His purpose to ‘bring life and immortality to light’ through one born of a woman. This was the first prophecy concerning the cross in which divine wisdom and power were to be demonstrated, the wisdom of God in its conception and the power of God in its completion. God did not say ‘the seed of the man,’ but ‘the seed of the woman.’ Centuries later Isaiah prophesied, ‘A virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call His name Immanuel,’ (Isa. 7:14) and when, after the lapse of more than 700 years, Jesus came into the world, the Spirit of God through Matthew recorded the fulfilment of that prediction at His birth.
Through the prophet Isaiah God had declared, “Behold I will do a new thing” (Isa. 43:19). It was no new thing for a child to be born into the world. But it was a new thing for a child to be formed in the womb of a virgin and to be born at the very time and in the very place predicted centuries before. It was no new thing for children to be born in the likeness of their parents and after the image of the first man, Adam, but it was a new thing for a holy child to come to earth from Heaven as ‘the image of the invisible God.’ It was no new thing for erudite teachers to meet within the precincts of the temple in Jerusalem and discuss the Law and the Hebrew Scriptures; but it was a new thing for a child of twelve to sit among them and to astound those learned men by his understanding and answers. It was no new thing for men to travel throughout Judea and Galilee teaching the Law of Moses; but it was a new thing for a teacher to claim equality with God, and to teach the people in such a way that officers sent to arrest Him had to return empty-handed saying, ‘Never man spake like this Man.’
It was no new thing for men to be crucified under the Roman regime; but it was a new thing for a man, by dying in anguish and ignominy on a cross, to make full atonement for sin, rending the veil of the Temple and the rocks on the mountainside at the time of His death, and the hard hearts of sinners down through the centuries ever since. It was no new thing for men to die and be buried; but it was a new thing for one who died and was buried to move the stone rolled over his grave on the third day after his burial, to come out of his grave alive, and to appear in human form to many who knew him.
It has been said that the heart of Christianity is the Bible: the heart of the Bible is the cross: and the heart of the cross is the very heart of God Himself. Inscribed upon the cross we see in shining letters, ‘God is Love.’ The attributes of the Almighty, the heart of the Eternal, the love and righteousness, and the wisdom and power, of God are all revealed in the cross.
Man’s sinful hatred, culminating in the greatest crime ever committed, demanded the crucifixion of the Lord of glory. ‘This is the heir: come let us kill him,’ they said. In Genesis 3 is recorded the first prophecy uttered to fallen man, which contained both the revelation of God’s purpose for man’s redemption and His promise of man’s triumph through the woman’s seed. Genesis 4 contains the account of the first outburst of human hatred and its culmination in the first murder. But the blood of Jesus, the Mediator of the new covenant, of which the murder of Abel is a figure, speaks better things than that of Abel which cried out to God for vengeance from the very ground on which it was spilt.
The Lord Jesus, alluding to the words of the Messianic Psalm — 35:19 — said to His disciples, ‘They hated Me without a cause.’ Dr. G. Campbell Morgan has called the cross of Christ “the most daring act of men in revolt against the government of God.” Pointing out that the languages — Hebrew, Latin and Greek — in which the inscription over the cross was written represent the religion, power and culture of the world of that day, he says, “Sinful religion rejected Him, sinful power murdered Him, and sinful culture neglected Him.”
The Jews, vociferating their hatred of the Son of Man, cried, “Away with Him, crucify Him.” The Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, passed sentence on One whom he found guiltless and should in justice have acquitted, and delivered Him to be crucified. The elders and scribes of the Jews, at the instigation of their high priest, spat on His face, buffeted Him and struck Him with the palms of their hands. The Roman soldiers crowned Him with thorns, beat Him with scourges and bound Him with ropes. So “they killed the Prince of Life and desired a murderer,” Barabbas.
In one of his tracts John Weston depicts divine grace prevailing over man’s sinful hatred. He writes:
The world is like a ship whose crew has mutinied and murdered the captain (the owner’s son) and thrown his body overboard. Now the question arises as to who can guide the ship. Attempts are made by one and another, but all ends in failure and disaster, for the ship strikes a rock and is heading for destruction. The owner hears what has happened and orders a lifeboat to be sent out immediately to save the crew. “But they have murdered your son!” the life-boat men exclaim. “I will pardon their awful crime,” replied the owner, “and save every man who will jump into the lifeboat.”
Thus God has transmuted man’s greatest crime, the crucifixion of His Son, for the salvation of all who repent, accept Christ as Saviour and confess Him as Lord.