Crux Sola

“The cross is the key signature of our theology.” This was the conclusion of one German author, for whom the cross loomed large in his understanding of God’s great story of redemption. He may as well have been quoting from Martin Luther, who years ago famously said that “the cross alone is our theology.” To be a Christian is to be a “soldier of the cross,” to borrow language from the old hymn. Yet when Mel Gibson’s film The Passion of the Christ was released, many reviewers were baffled that Gibson would ignore every scrap of Jesus’ ethical teaching in favor of delivering a brutal portrayal of Jesus’ crucifixion. At least one reviewer sneeringly dismissed the film as the “Jesus Chainsaw Massacre,” revolted that a religious film would disproportionately focus on a man’s blood rather than his message.

But don’t you see? For Christianity, Jesus’ blood is the message: the message of love, of justice, of forgiveness all rolled into a singular, defining event.

This is why the writer of Hebrews—among others—sees the cross as fulfilling and replacing the Old Testament sacrificial system entirely:

8 When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure insacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), 9 then he added, “Behold, I have come to do your will.” He does away with the first in order to establish the second. 10 And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. (Hebrews 10:8-10)

The cross was no great accident or interruption in God’s plan of redemption. It was the plan all along.

THE CROSS IN ANTIQUITY

We must not underestimate the sheer, shocking brutality of crucifixion in the ancient world. The ancient historians described “being nailed up” as the worst form of death.[1] Latin writers described it as an “infamous stake,”[2] the “barren and criminal wood,” [3] and “a most cruel and disgusting punishment.” [4]

Medical experts tell us that the most likely cause of death was slow, painful asphyxiation—that the lungs could not adequately expand and contract when suspended on the cross. But this might have been one of several causes of death, including death from blood loss, shock, or even being attacked by wild animals.

The practice of crucifixion had been invented as early as the culture of Assyria, though it was the Romans who had perfected it into the form of an art. The methods of crucifixion varied person to person. The Jewish writer Josephus tells us that “The soldiers out of rage and hatred amused themselves by nailing their prisoners in different positions…”[5] The Latin writer Seneca lamented: “I see crosses there, not just of one kind but made in many different ways: some have their victims with head down to the ground; some impale their private parts;  others stretch out their arms on the gibbet.” [6]

This was not done in obscurity; this was done publicly, in the ancient equivalent of the corner parking lot of the local strip mall. The whole purpose, of course, was to shame you, and shame your followers. When Spartacus was defeated after his rebellion against Rome, 6,000 of his most loyal followers were crucified on the 120-mile stretch of road between Capua and Rome. I did the math on this. This means if you left Tri-State Fellowship and drove to Lancaster, roughly 60-70 yards, on either side of you, you’d see a person hanging in agony on the cross. One ancient writer lamented:

“What death is more shameful than to be crucified?  What death is worse than this condemnation is conceivable?  Even now he remains a reproach among all who have not yet received faith in him!”[7]

CRUX SOLA

In the ancient world, when someone was crucified, the public places were chosen so that people would stop and look. And so today, when we speak of the Savior crucified, we must stop and look. We must see the blood. We must see the nails. We must cringe at the (literally) God-forsaken spectacle we see before us, we must see the Savior pushed to the bitter edges of the world that we might be invited to taste in Heaven’s sweetness.

And above all, we must see that here is our shame, lying not on our own shoulders, but on his. On Christ’s. On our behalf.  Here is the sacrifice that lifts away the sin of the world (cf. John 1:29). My shame died there with him. He was broken that I might be made whole again. “The deformity of Christ forms you,” wrote Augustine. “By his wounds,” God said through Isaiah, “we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).

If you are not a follower of Jesus, then this is your time to begin. If you’ve been following our devotional writings for the past two weeks, then you’ve been confronted with the inescapable truth of your own wickedness, a stain you can’t clean on your own. The cross sets you free from your guilt and shame, it transfers that debt from you to Jesus. Jesus took the penalty that you deserve so that you could be reunited in relationship to God. All you need to do is pause, bow your head, and tell God two things:

  • I know that I am a sinner in need of your grace,
  • I believe that your Son Jesus died in my place. I ask for your forgiveness.

It’s as simple as that. That’s grace. That’s your first small step toward a larger world. If you have said that prayer—either now or as a result of our recent sermon series, we’d love to hear from you. You may find our contact information through the Church’s website (www.tristatefellowship.org), or you can contact me personally at my email address (chris@tristatefellowship.org).

[1] Demosthenes, Oratio, 21.105.

[2] Anthologia Latina 415.23

[3] Seneca, Epistulae Morales 101.14

[4] Cicero, Contra Verres in The Verrine Orations, 2.5.64.

[5] Josephus, Bellum Judaicum, 5.11.1

[6] Seneca, Dialogue 6, 20.3

[7] Eusebius, Preparation for the Gospel, 10.9

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One thought on “Crux Sola

  1. It is then for good reason that Hebrews 12 speaks of Jesus dealing with “shame” when he was on the cross. Jesus looked beyond the suffering to the joy and glory and despised or scorned the shame of the cross.

    And so we follow Jesus, looking for “times of refreshment” as well as strength to carry on during times of difficulty or persecution. And too we need to pray before disasters come too that we be strong enough to serve God in a good manner in difficult times.

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