In reference to his death, Jesus said, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32).
Remember the underlying theme of these posts under the above title? To see Christ is to see God. To know the Son is to know the Father. To believe in Jesus Christ is to believe in God.
In Jesus Christ on the cross I see God most clearly and am drawn to him. God as he is revealed in Jesus Christ on the cross sustains my faith, keeps me believing in the midst of my questions and doubts, my struggles and disappointments, and my joys and blessings. In Jesus Christ on the cross I see God himself giving himself for all of humankind, for me.
God created humankind in his image, to be his image in his creation, living with a character like that of God, caring for and tending to God’s good creation. Humankind, however, in the persons of Adam and Eve, and ever since, in the persons of us all, made the choice and keep making the choice, to live contrary to the image of God, to live contrary to a character like that of God. The choice is continually made choosing self and selfish pride. Scripture calls our thoughts, words, and behavior contrary to the image and character of God sin. Sin is missing the mark, missing the goal of what God created us to be. Taking a look at history, at the world today, even at ourselves, the results and consequences of choices of self instead of God are readily seen. And we understand “the essence of sin is man substituting himself for God.”1
Jesus Christ on the cross helps us to realize the essence of the cross, “the essence of salvation is God substituting himself for man.”2 God himself takes the initiative to do what only God could do, to do what God desired to do, to bring about the reconciliation of his creation, of humankind, to himself. God himself presents the sacrifice. He does so not as a result of our demand of God or of God making a demand of us. Rather God demands of himself to give of himself in the person of his Son, to give himself.
“Jesus Christ, whom God put forward as a propitiation [sacrifice of atonement] by his blood…to show God’s righteousness” (Romans 3:25).
“In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation [the atoning sacrifice] for our sins” (1 John 4:9-10).
Jesus, the Son of God, came, not forced, but willingly, out of love for his Father and for humankind. “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Of his life Jesus claimed, “No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord” (John 10:18).
“The Lord Jesus Christ who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father” (Galatians 1:4). John Stott writes, “In giving his son he was giving himself. This being so, it is the Judge himself who in holy love assumed the role of the innocent victim, for in and through the person of his Son he himself bore the penalty which he himself inflicted.”3
In Jesus Christ on the cross I see God’s nature, God’s character–his holiness and his love. I see God’s holiness in Jesus on the cross. In Jesus God, true to his holiness, his righteousness and his justice, condemns sin.
“By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh” (Romans 8:3). “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin” (2 Corinthians 5:21). “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned–every one–to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6). “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (I Peter 2:24). “Jesus Christ, whom God put forward as a propitiation [sacrifice of atonement] by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness” (Romans 3:25).
In his holiness, his righteousness and his justice, God does not condone sin. He condemns sin. He brings his wrath against sin as he placed the weight and the liability of my sins, our sins, on his Son on the cross.
In Jesus Christ on the cross I see God’s love, his mercy and grace, his longsuffering and forgiveness. I see God in Jesus Christ giving of himself, his suffering with us and for us.
“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” Jesus told the Twelve as he prepared them for his crucifixion (John 15:13). “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us (1 John 3:16). “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation [the atoning sacrifice] for our sins (1 John 4:9-10). “Christ died for the ungodly…but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5: 6, 8).
Charles E. B. Cranfield writes, “God, because in his mercy he willed to forgive sinful men, and, being truly merciful, willed to forgive them righteously, that is, without in any way condoning their sin, purposed to direct against his own very self in the person of his Son the full weight of that righteous wrath which they deserved.”4
Stott writes that God “both exacted and accepted the penalty of human sin…it is the Father himself who takes the initiative in his love, bears the penalty of sin himself, and so dies. Thus the priority is neither ‘man’s demand on God’ nor ‘God’s demand on men’, but supremely ‘God’s demand on God, God’s meeting his own demand.”5
How do I wrap my mind, my heart, my reason, and my emotions around the truth of God in Jesus Christ on the cross? I remember the calling of Isaiah to be a prophet of God. God comes to Isaiah through of vision of God enthroned. There were two seraphim calling out to each other, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts [or Almighty]” (Isaiah 6:3). Before God, the Creator, the Almighty God, I, like Isaiah, tremble. “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips” (Isaiah 6:5).
Yet in Jesus Christ on the cross God, in the fullness of his holiness and love, gives himself so unselfishly and so completely so that he can pour out on my heart and life his love. He forgives me, saves me, reconciles me to himself, and gives me a living hope in Christ. How do I wrap my mind, my heart, my reason, and my emotions around the love of God in Jesus Christ? “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” (Romans 5:10).
During forty years of ministry I have been at the bedside of a number of people facing death, including our fifteen-month-old grandson Sully and my father. Always I have been able to draw on the hope that is found in Jesus Christ without hesitation. Recently I was visiting with a friend who has been an encouragement to me over the years. He knows his life is soon to end. I knew he needed to talk about it and to express his faith in Christ and the hope Christ gives him. For the first time I can remember I had difficulty giving him the opening to share his heart. I could not, I did not want to, discuss death and Christ and hope. Digging deep I made myself for my friend’s sake. When I prayed for him I found the prayer flowed freely from my heart. My hesitancy surprised me. Was it too painful for me to discuss my dear friend’s approaching death? Or was it one of those dark valley moments when the lingering grief of Sully’s suffering and death wrestles with my faith? How was I able with honesty, though struggling, to encourage my friend with his hope in Christ? In my journey through the Shadowlands how do I find the strength to continue to believe and to hold on to my faith in God through Jesus Christ?
Christ on the cross, God himself giving himself in holiness and love, this is the sustaining foundation of my faith. Christ on the cross keeps me believing in the midst of my questions and doubts, my struggles and disappointments. How do I wrap my mind, my heart, my reason, and my emotions around the love of God for me expressed in Jesus Christ on the cross? If God himself gives himself so completely for me, loves me so dearly at such cost to himself, then surely whatever happens in my life, God’s love is greater; God’s love is present. With the eyes of my heart on Jesus Christ on the cross I tell myself, “Believe and hold on.”
A closing quote from John Stott. He writes of a picture, unidentified as to title and artist, seen by and described by George Buttrick in his book Jesus Came Preaching. Buttrick had seen the painting in an Italian church. “At first glance it is like any other painting of the crucifixion. As you look more closely, however, you perceive the difference, because ‘there’s a vast and shadowy Figure behind the figure of Jesus. The nail that pierces the hand of Jesus goes through to the hand of God. The spear thrust into the side of Jesus goes through into God’s’.”6 How do I wrap my mind, my heart, my reason, and my emotions around the love of God in Jesus Christ?
1John R. W. Stott, The Cross of Christ (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1986), 160.