That terrible cross

As terrible as the cross is, it is a wonderful cross for Christians. There we see God's answer to our sin.

In a typical Christian bookstore in the United States, you will see scenes of glorious nature everywhere. The pictures for our walls and the greeting cards we send out all communicate a soothing message of tranquility and beauty. You would never know that the central scene of the Christian narrative is a scene of unspeakable ugliness—that the real message of Christianity is found in that terrible cross.

Think of the Christian art around your house. You might have pictures of Jesus, perhaps gathering the little children around him, or Bible verses on plaques, or decorative picture frames with Christian symbols. But do you have a cross, one with Christ hanging from it? Does it show the agony and the horror of death by crucifixion? Do you see the scene of Christ's unbearable suffering, not just from his crucifixion but also from the damnation he must carry as the atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world?

That terrible cross is the very heart of our Christian faith. The cross was used to execute the most defiant criminals and the most dangerous enemies of the state. It was a deliberate, public, state-sponsored torture to so demean the crucified that everyone would turn away from them in disgust. Christ on the cross was, as Isaiah tells us, "one from whom men hide their faces" (Isaiah 53:3).

Terrible to see, Christ on the cross gives us something even more terrible to think about; namely, we should be on that cross, not Jesus. What does that say about us? Do we deserve to be there? Are we so bad that something so terrible should come upon us? Is God that angry with us for what we have done?

We are good at seeing terrible things that go on in this world. We see wars and atrocities. We hear daily about evil things others do. We would like to say that it is always someone else who is doing terrible things, someone else who is hurting other people, someone else who is failing to be the father and mother and husband and wife and friend and neighbor that they should be. We would like to say that someone else should be punished, but not us.

But the terrible cross says, "Yes, it is you too." Christ hangs there for the sins of all the people of the world—including you. Ephesians says it bluntly: "As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins. . . . Like the rest, we were by nature objects of [God's] wrath" (2:1,3). The terrible cross shows us what would have been our destiny under God's wrath if Jesus had not come and taken our place. " 'Tis I who should be smitten, My doom should here be written: Bound hand and foot in hell . . . ' Tis I who have deserved them well" (Christian Worship 113:3).