Tuesday, 2 April 2013

What really happened at the cross

(The following is an adaption of chapter 3 of John Stott's 'The Cross of Christ')

What on earth did Jesus think he was going to achieve by going to the cross?  What was the point of all it all?  We are going to look at three scenes that explain what happened.

Scene 1:  The Upper Room.

Jesus spent the evening before the cross with his closest disciples.  They gathered to eat the Passover meal.  They would have reclined on cushions at a low table.  There was no servant in attendance and so no-one had washed the disciples' feet.  Jesus gives them a lesson in authentic love and humble service as he puts on a slave's apron, pours water into a basin and does what none of the rest had been willing to do - he washes their feet.

At some stage during that meal he took a loaf of  bread, gave thanks for it, and gave it to his disciples saying, 'This is my body, which was broken for you; do this in remembrance of me.'  In the same way, after the supper had ended, he took a cup of wine, gave thanks for it, passed it to them, and said 'This is my blood of the new covenant which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins ... do this in remembrance of me.' 

Of course he wanted his teaching and miracles to be remembered, but what he want remembered most was that his body was broken and his blood was shed for the forgiveness of sins.  But how would his death result in forgiveness of sin?

Scene 2:  The agony in the Garden

A man called George went to a leader in his church and asked, 'Why did Jesus have to die?'  The leader asked for two weeks to consider that question and came to the conclusion that he did not know why Jesus died.  What's more this leader concluded, from the account of the Garden of Gethsemane, that Jesus didn't know why he had to die either.  That leader spectacularly refused to see the significance of Jesus' words in our second scene. 

In the garden Jesus talks about the cup.  The Old Testament imagery of the cup would have been well known to him.  The cup was a regular symbol of God's wrath.  Jesus was not primarily anxious about the physical pain of being flogged and crucified, the mental distress of being despised and rejected, but rather the spiritual agony of bearing the sin of the world.  He was going to experience the divine judgement that our sins deserved.
We may not know, we cannot tell,
What pains he had to bear;
But we believe it was for us
He hung and suffered there.
Scene 3:  His cry from the Cross

So Jesus was going to die for our sin as he experiences God's holy anger.  This brings up to Golgotha ('The Place of the Skull') and the cross.

Darkness descends for three hours at midday.  In the Bible darkness symbolises separation from the God who is light.  'Outer darkness' was an expression that Jesus used when teaching about hell.  Jesus was enduring a sort of hell.  There is real abandonment, as is seen in the words translated, 'My God, my God why have you forsaken me?'  Yet there is mystery, for even though the God-forsakeness is utterly real, the unity of the Trinity is even then unbroken (Cranfield).

I think that the most comforting word that Jesus speaks from the cross is that translated 'It is finished.'  At the moment of his death something amazing happens in the Temple of Jerusalem - the curtain, which for centuries had symbolised the alienation of sinful people from God, was torn in two from top to bottom.  Christ's people can now approach the throne of grace with confidence.


Having examined these scenes John Stott draws three conclusions.

Firstly, the cross teaches us that our sin must be extremely serious.
For if there was no way by which the righteous God could righteously forgive our unrighteousness, except that he should bear it himself in Christ, it must have been serious indeed.  It is only when we see this that, stripped of our self-righteousness and self-satisfaction, we are ready to put our trust in Jesus Christ, as the Saviour we urgently need.
Second, God's love must be wonderful beyond comprehension.
God could quite justly have abandoned us to our fate.  He could have left us alone to reap the fruit of our wrongdoing and to perish in our sins.  It is what we deserved.  But he did not.  Because he loved us, he came after us in Christ.  He pursued us even to the desolate anguish of the cross, where he bore our sin, guilt, judgement and death.  It takes a hard and stony heart to remain unmoved by love like that.  It is more than love.  Its proper name is 'grace', which is love to the undeserving.
Third, Christ's salvation must be a free gift.
He 'purchased' it for us at the high price of his own life blood.  So what is their left for us to pay?  Nothing!  Since he claimed that all was now 'finished', there is nothing for us to contribute ... we have to humble ourselves at the foot of the cross, confess that we have sinned and deserve nothing at his hand but judgement, thank him that he loved us and died for us, and receive from him a full and free forgiveness.


Anonymous said...

wow... continue to be a blessing pastor! Praise God!

Anonymous said...

God is great & God is love. Thank you pastor for the truth.