The Beauty of the Cross

~by Jared Osborn

We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you, because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.

(Good Friday anthem from the 1979 Book of Common Prayer p. 281)

The cross is the most common symbol of Christianity.  Many churches use a large cross as a focal point in their sanctuaries, many Christians have crosses in their homes, and many wear a cross around their neck or carry one in their pocket or purse.  The cross is depicted in this clue of the knit-along.  Why do Christians have such an appreciation for such a symbol?

The reason is this: We believe the cross is the central focus of Jesus’ life, the culmination of his ministry, and the turning point from which we understand all of history.  Yet the cross is not the whole story; it is the climactic moment of the Biblical narrative.  To understand the cross, we must locate it within the story of Scripture.

In the beginning, Jesus was with God.  He was the Word by which God created all things.  “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:3, ESV).  God created human beings to be his friends.  He gave Adam and Eve a world of beauty and order, and God Himself lived with them and had a close relationship with them.  But God knew from before creation what would happen next, so He was already looking ahead to the cross.

God also gave Adam and Eve free will, so that they could choose to follow Him.  We could not truly love God if we had no other choice.  So God opened up the possibility of rejection, and Adam and Eve rejected Him.  Adam and Eve scarred humanity with sin by denying His glory, His character, and His ways.  God, being perfect, cannot dwell in the presence of sin.  At that moment, God could have wiped out sin, but in doing so, He would have wiped out humanity.  Indeed, that is what humanity deserved because of our sin.  But instead, God was merciful.  He bore the pain of the loss of His relationship with humanity.  He knew that this would happen, and He knew what He would have to do to save us.

God’s plan of salvation started with Israel.  God called Israel as a people to be a blessing to all nations.  He showed His faithfulness to them by bringing them out of Egypt.  He promised them a land that would be their own.  He gave them His law so that they could know Him.  Because He knew that in their sinfulness they could not keep the law, He provided a way for their sins to be forgiven and for atonement to be made through sacrifices.  Again and again, Israel turned away from God, and God sent prophets to call them back to Himself.  At times He punished Israel, even sending the nation into exile, yet it was all for the purpose of calling Israel to repentance.  God continued to show Israel His faithfulness and love, grace and mercy, though they did not deserve it.  He did all of this to foreshadow His ultimate gift of grace.

At just the right time, according to His choosing, God became a man, Jesus.  Jesus is both fully God and fully man.  The Athanasian Creed teaches us that this happened not by converting God into flesh but by taking up of manhood into God.  Jesus fulfilled the calling of Israel by following the law and living a life without sin.  He demonstrated that the law was intended for Israel to come to know God, not simply to be used as an elaborate holiness code.  Jesus revealed aspects of God’s character, especially His compassion for sinners and His love for all people, not limited to Israel.  He surprised a lot of people, and ultimately, the leaders of His own people rejected Him and sentenced Him to death for claiming to be Israel’s Messiah.  In one of the most brutal execution methods known to humankind, they nailed Him to a wooden cross and left him to die as a bloody, gruesome spectacle.

Jesus’ death was also part of God’s plan.  Because Jesus lived a sinless life and chose to take on a death he did not deserve, God placed upon him the sin of humanity.  He died the death that all of humanity, and indeed each one of us, deserves because of our sin.  His death was the one perfect sacrifice for sin that Israel’s sacrificial system foreshadowed.  Because of his death, humanity has been reconciled to God.  Yet this is not ‘cosmic child abuse,’ as if God were punishing His son as an innocent third party, because Jesus is God.  So Jesus’ sacrifice was in fact God substituting Himself for us, taking our punishment Himself, so that we can be restored to Him.  This was God’s ultimate gift of love and grace toward a completely undeserving humanity.

But the story does not end with Jesus’ death.  On the third day, Jesus was raised from the dead, conquering sin, death, and evil.  After appearing to his disciples, Jesus ascended to heaven and sent the Holy Spirit to be his spiritual presence to all believers.  Before leaving, Jesus gave his followers a mission: to share the good news of God’s love manifested in Jesus with the whole world.  And he promised to return when the time is right to dwell with us forever.

Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, we have hope.  God has provided a way for our sins to be forgiven and our relationship with Him to be restored.  We look forward to the day when Jesus will return and do away with sin forever, this time without needing to destroy sinful humanity.  Jesus’ resurrection is evidence of new creation taking place in our hearts as we await the restoration of all of creation.  We live now in the in-between time, when we know the future that God has promised and can work toward that future when all will fully be accomplished with Jesus’ return.  And our mission is to proclaim this good news to the whole world, as we offer the whole creation to God in our worship and learn to live in this hope every day.

This is the beauty of the cross: God substituted Himself for us to do the work of reconciliation we could not do on our own.  In so doing, God demonstrated to us how great His love was: that although we sinned and rebelled against God in every imaginable way, God loved us and wanted to bless us.  He made a way for our relationship to be restored when we were unable to save ourselves.  On the cross, he did the work to save us, and all we can do in response is to receive His gift of salvation and thank Him for it.

Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord. Amen.

(Collect for Fridays from the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, p. 99)

For further reading: “The Cross of Christ by John Stott offers a comprehensive Biblical look at the cross and what God accomplished through it.” – Jared

-Jared Osborn is the husband of Rebecca Osborn, the main author of this blog.  After a short career in research as a computer engineer, Jared felt a call to ordained ministry in the Anglican church.  He is currently a first-year student in the Master of Divinity program at Trinity School for Ministry, where he is exploring an interest in the history of worship.  He is also a knitter who has recently been inundated with fair isle projects on tiny needles.

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