Why is the cross of Jesus so important to Christians? It appears to be tragic and useless but Paul says it is God’s way of working powerfully among us.
Here’s the first of five articles to talk about this.
Just before Jesus is arrested, he says the time has come for this world to be judged (John 12:30). In other words, God will set up his court, expose wrong doers, and pronounce judgement. Jesus is speaking about his death.
This is the exact opposite of what seems to be happening. Jewish leaders agree Jesus must die. Pilate sentences him to death. He is nailed on a cross. But Jesus says this is the judgement of the world.
This happens when Jesus is ‘lifted up’ (John 8:26-28). He is lifted up on a cross. But he is also going to be lifted up in victory. Satan will be ‘driven out’. And Jesus will be revealed as the world’s true leader—he will draw all people to himself (John 12:32).
The cross is not just something that happens to Jesus. It is something that affects us all. There’s some local content to how this is happening, but the implications involved in Jesus being killed are global, historic and final.
Effectively, the whole race is being assembled by it’s Maker—ahead of the final judgement day—and we are finding out where we stand. These local Jews and Romans represent us all.
In the immediate setting. Jesus has spent three years attending sick and troubled people. He has shown that God is working in him powerfully. He’s made it clear that whatever people think of him is what they think of God.
Many have welcomed Jesus because of this, but Israel’s leaders are jealous. They can’t deny what he is doing, or the attitude of many people to him, but they decide to destroy him.
Jesus either attracts or repels us. We can’t be neutral. He’s claiming to be in charge. He’s revealing God. If you don’t want what God can do, you’ll end up hating his Son, even if you think he’s ‘nice’.
Jesus is aware of these different attitudes. He’s already said that if we believe he is God’s Son we won’t be condemned, and, that if we don’t, we are condemned already (John 3:18-21).
Here’s why. ‘Light has come into the world, but men love darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.’ If we don’t come to his Son, we’re hiding something.
And of course, we then have to get rid of the evidence that he is who he is. We have to ‘kill’ the Son of God all over again.
If you know you are a sinner, you come to God and to the Son he has sent because he’s promising to do something about your problem. You know you’re not nice! But if you say you don’t need that kind of help, you’re exposing something about yourself that’s very sinister and dark.
Our friends might think we are wonderful, but this won’t make much difference when we have to stand before God.
So, how is this working out now?
Jesus says the Holy Spirit will come and convict the world of sin, and righteousness and judgement (John 16:7-10). The judgement of the world that happened when Jesus was killed will be administered by the Holy Spirit through the preaching of the apostles.
And this is what happens when Peter preaches the first Christian sermon. He says to those who have gathered, ‘You killed him’ (Acts 2:23, 36). These accusations continue throughout the book of Acts (3:14; 4:10, 27; 5:30; 7:52; 10:39; 13:27).
Peter does not accuse others as though he is innocent. He had failed Jesus badly himself. And we are not told this so we can blame the Jews. Rather, the apostles are telling us what all humanity is like.
We all like to think we are ‘nice’—or good—and that no-one would think of condemning us. But God says we are sinners because we don’t believe in his Son (John 16:9).
But now, if Christ’s death is the judgement of this world—and we are the accused, we should notice how the ‘trial’ proceeds.
Jesus is dying—nailed to a cross. The first things he says is, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing’ (Luke 23:34).
Can you believe this? We are watching ‘the judgement of the world’. We are found guilty. And the Son of God is asking his Father that we not be condemned for the crime!
When God shows us how wrong we have been, he’s not wanting to condemn us but to warn us. It’s a wake-up call! God is asking us to look up—at him. He is showing us how horrible, inexcusable, miserable and poor minded our attitude to him is. And he is saying there is time to change our minds.
This is what Peter does in his sermon: ‘Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins’ (Acts 2:38).
This is what Jesus does in his letter to Laodicea (Revelation 3:17). Their problem is not that they are pitiful poor and naked but that they don’t know it. He says, ‘Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent.’
But look at what he offers! He is standing at their door and knocking. If we open up to him, we will have rich fellowship—immediately.
Through the cross of Jesus, God has us before him, exposed and guilty. If we think we don’t need his Son, we are in the dark. We have a deadly ailment and will die from it if it’s not exposed and treated. But if we hear his cry from the cross, and his letter from heaven, we will be forgiven.
It is to this that we must turn in the following articles.