The Cross of Christ

The Cross of Christ

A. Naismith

The Triumph of the Cross

Our Lord, in His discourse to the Jews recorded in the tenth chapter of John’s Gospel, told them, “No man taketh My life from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of My Father,.”

Three great facts which should never be forgotten mark out Jesus, the Son of God, as a unique Person. He was the only person who lived in this world who chose the time, place, and manner of His birth. He was the only person who lived in this world without sin: and He was the only person who came into this world with the express purpose of dying, of laying down His life. In His unswerving obedience to the Father’s will, that led Him to the death of the cross, divine love triumphed over man’s hatred, light gained the victory over darkness, and patient endurance overcame the agony of crucifixion. (3). Right from the beginning of our Lord’s public appearances there are incontrovertible evidences that He knew that He would be crucified. “I have a baptism to be baptized with,” He said, “and how am I straitened till it be accomplished” (Luke 12:50).

“His path, uncheered by earthly smiles,
Led only to the cross.”

In the account of His life given by John in his Gospel, the Lord Jesus refers again and again to “His hour.”

At the marriage in Cana of Galilee He said, “My hour is not yet come.” When urged by His brethren to go up to the Feast of Tabernacles, do His miracles there, and be hailed as King, He said, “My time is not yet come.” His enemies could not arrest Him as He taught in the temple because “His hour was not yet come.” As the Passover drew near when He, the Lamb of God, would become the sacrifice for sin to accomplish man’s redemption, He knew and said that His hour had come. In the Garden of Gethsemane He knew all things that should come upon Him. The same evangelist, John, records three occasions on which He spoke of being “lifted up”, signifying that He would die on a cross.

The seven sayings on the cross make an illuminating study; but the central utterance of our Lord on the cross is the only one we have space to consider here. In it He did not address men, as He did in two of the other sayings: nor did He speak to His Father, as He did in the other two: nor did He make a general announcement, as in the remaining two. This is the only saying of our Lord on the cross in which He addressed God, and it is the only one in which He quoted verbatim from the prophetic Scriptures. This was indeed the gravest crisis of His sinless life, when that cry was wrung from His agonized soul, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?”

The last word “Me” reveals His aloneness, not just solitude, or loneliness, but aloneness. He stood alone, the sacrificial Victim, the sin-bearer, the Saviour. Never had another who trusted in God been thus forsaken.

“Alone upon the cross He hung that others He might save;
Forsaken then by God and man, alone His life He gave.”

“Thou,” the word He used in addressing His God, expresses his Alienation. Sin is alienation from God; and there He who knew no sin was made sin for us. The answer to the question of the spotless Victim was, “Because Thou art holy.” He who knew no sin, and who did no sin, was bearing sin’s penalty, alienation from God, not for Himself but for others. “He saved others: Himself He could not save.” He took the guilty sinner’s place and suffered in his stead.

“Forsaken” on the cross by His God: that spells out the deep sorrow of abandonment. His own race, the Jews, had abandoned Him by the negation of His claims (John 1:11). In the Garden He has been abandoned by His disciples who “all forsook Him and fled” (Mark 14:50). On the cross He was forsaken by His God. God who had from the Heaven of heavens declared, “This is My beloved Son in whom I am well-pleased,” who had daily found His delight in Him, forsook Him when He was made sin for us. Never before had the Lord Jesus asked, and never again would He ask, such a question. The triumphant shout “It is finished,” announced both the consummation and the completion of the work of redemption, that work that had necessitated the death on the cross.

“Why” is the language of the sob that expressed His deep agony. Never had anyone endured such agony. The anguish of His holy soul far exceeds human comprehension. How the silence of His friends must have wounded Him as His enemies cried, “Let Him be crucified!” But who can fathom the depth of His agony at the silence of His God when, while He was enduring excruciating physical pain and torture Jehovah bade His sword awake and smite the Man who was His Fellow? The “Why” of His question has its answer in His own emphatic assertions on the road to Golgotha: “I come to do Thy will, O God:” “not My will, but Thine be done:” and “I came not to do My own will but the will of Him that sent Me.”

(4) The conflict with Satan culminated at the cross, for behind the cross were arrayed all the powers of darkness. As was foretold in the first prophecy (Gen. 3:15), Satan bruised the Lord’s heel by bringing His walk and life on earth to an untimely end, but in dying Jesus defeated Satan and bruised his head. When the priests and elders came to lay hands on the Lord Jesus, He said, “This is your hour and the power of darkness.” His hour had come and their hour had come, and so the cross became the scene of a great conflict whose issue was never in doubt. It was an outstanding victory for the Son of God, the proof of which was His triumphant resurrection.

“He hell in hell laid low:
Made sin, He sin o’erthrew;
Bowed to the grave, destroyed it so,
And death by dying slew.”

On the cross Christ bore the penalty of sin: in His resurrection He bruised the head of the prince of this world and annulled his power: and in His exaltation He breaks the power of cancelled sin and sets the prisoner free. Almost two millenniums before the cross, Job had asked the question, “How can a man be just with God?” Justification is possible only because the sins of the person who accepts Jesus as Saviour were borne by the sinless Son of God when He died on the cross, and the believer becomes “the righteousness of God in Him.”

The Jewish sacrificial system of ceremonial law, incessant in its performance, had proved ineffectual, for

“Not all the blood of beasts on Jewish altars slain
Could give the guilty conscience peace or wash away its stain.”

The aesthetic and rational principles of conduct embodied in the philosophies of the cultured Greeks also failed, as is evidenced by the dissoluteness of their most enlightened cities. The Romans, recognizing the misery caused by sin and crime tried to suppress it by ethical laws and wipe out its consequences by ordered government, but the violence and vice that led to the decline and fall of their empire are ample proofs of the breakdown of their system.

To the believer who receives Jesus Christ, acknowledges Him as Lord, and is accepted by a holy and righteous God on the ground of the atoning sacrifice on the cross, the risen, living Lord imparts His victorious power, the power of His resurrection.

“His victory is ours:
For us in might come forth the mighty One;
For us He fought the fight, the triumph won:
His victory is ours.”