The Romans used the cross as a merciless method of execution. Crucifixion embodied the cruelest form of torture, shame, and Roman brutality.
Yet, we Christians see the cross as a symbol of hope. Because of the cross, we have the promise of eternal life in heaven, a place prepared for those who trust Jesus’ atoning blood, shed for us.
Have you ever stopped to consider this paradox and how it might appear to someone unfamiliar with the gospel?
In The Revisionary, Portia has no understanding of the Christian faith. She’s never seen a Bible and can only wonder about the book George Washington clutches, as shown in a decaying statue. So naturally, when she stumbles upon a graveyard, she puzzles why a cross adorns the landscape.
If only she could know the story behind the cross and the breathtaking paradox it presents.
A Curse Broken
In the Mosaic law, to die by hanging was a curse.
“And if a man has committed a crime punishable by death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain all night on the tree, but you shall bury him the same day, for a hanged man is cursed by God.” – Deuteronomy 21:22-23a (ESV)
To be hanged meant a public execution and open shame. A criminal’s body remained visible until the sun went down, a poignant reminder that God’s holiness demands punishment of sin.
In the Old Testament, the Israelites offered animal sacrifices to temporarily atone for their sins. This shedding of blood made possible forgiveness (Hebrews 9:22). The sacrifices themselves had to be unblemished or as perfect as possible, but even so, they couldn’t permanently erase the memory of sin and had to be repeated.
That is, until God sent His own Son as a ransom for humanity’s sins. He provided a final, ultimate payment “with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (I Peter 1:19).
Yes, final. When Jesus willingly laid down his life, his blood provided a once and for all atonement (Hebrews 7:27).
The just God whose holiness required punishment for sins is also the merciful God who provided His own Son to pay the penalty.
A Choice Presented
For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God. – I Corinthians 1:18 (KJV)
According to dictionary.com, a paradox is “
In this case, the cross presents a certain and unshakable truth, despite the apparent contradictions:
- A criminal’s death and an innocent substitute: Jesus is Emmanuel, which literally means “God with us” (Matthew 1:23). The Son of God took on human likeness and entered the world for the purpose of dying for our sins (Philippians 2:5-11).
- Blood-stained nails and washed-away sins: Jesus’ perfect blood covers and forgives our sins.
- Death and life: Jesus’ death wasn’t permanent. He rose from the grave three days later, defeating the victory of death, thus making our eternal life possible (I Corinthians 15:56-57).
Is the cross a case of confused messages? I don’t think so. Rather, it presents God’s power and love demonstrated in the ultimate redemptive sacrifice, told eloquently in John 3:16.
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. (NKJV)
Whoever believes reveals that each one of us has a choice.
If you haven’t made that choice, I hope you’ll consider the Philippian jailer’s question in Acts 16:30. When suddenly confronted with his own guilt, he asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
Maybe he was expecting a hard demand. Maybe he thought he would have to work for his salvation, do something—anything—to make up for his mistakes.
Perhaps he expected to perform rigid acts of penance. Little did he know that Jesus Christ had already paid for his sins. All he had to do was accept His sacrifice on his behalf as final.
“Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved …” – Acts 16:31 (ESV)
This answer gave him hope, no, more than hope. It gave him a reason to rejoice. That same night, he and his household believed in Jesus Christ as their Savior.
However, some people will reject His salvation. To them, the message of the cross is foolishness or perhaps too unbelievable to be true.
But what is the alternative? The end of a rope and an irredeemable eternity.
“If the cross was the end of the story, we would have no hope. But the cross isn’t the end. Jesus didn’t escape from death; he conquered it and opened the way to heaven for all who will dare to believe. The truth of this moment, if we let it sweep over us, is stunning. It means Jesus really is who he claimed to be, we are really as lost as he said we are, and he really is the only way for us to intimately and spiritually connect with God again.”
If you don’t know Jesus yet, I hope encountering the cross might spark the beginning of your eternal story.
The Paradox of the Cross – @kjhogrefe (Click to Tweet)
Is the cross foolishness or power? You choose. – @kjhogrefe (Click to Tweet)