Understanding the cross

I’m never going to be able to wrap my mind around what happened two thousand years ago in Jerusalem. Think about it. The God of all creation not only humbled himself to come to earth, he endured the most horrific, torturous death that’s ever been devised. And he did that to pay the penalty for our rotten behavior. When I think about my own situation, that thought blows my mind.

Now, I know some of us — maybe even most of us — don’t like to think of ourselves as rotten. And most of us get it right occasionally. We love God and love people. But we all get it wrong at some point. The Bible says all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

And that’s what the cross is all about. It’s all about paying the penalty for the bad stuff we’ve done. And I understand that in one sense, but can’t even fathom it in another.

The first sacrifice
The Bible tells us that when the first man and woman sinned, God made gaments of animal skin to clothe them. In other words a blood sacrifice was needed to cover their sin, both physically and spiritually. Fast forward to the first century B.C. and the Jews sought God’s blessings through a complicated system of animal sacrifices. Then, when Jesus came. he provided the ultimate sacrifice. It paid for sins once and for all. I get that part. Sort of.

What still baffles me is the depth of Jesus’s sacrifice. It’s hard for me to grasp that Jesus would ever leave heaven — a place I don’t have the mental capacity to even imagine — to come down here. Sure, some places are beautiful, but overall, this place is a mess.

And I can’t fathom the punishment he took. Sure, I can read about how crucifixion actually killed people. They didn’t bleed out. They were stretched out on the cross so their collar bones dug into their throats and cut off their airway. So they had to choose. Relieve the pain from the nails in their hands and feet and cut off their air supply. Or breathe and tolerate increased pain from the nails. And as horrible as that sounds, I don’t think that was the worst of it.

Relational pain was the worst
I think the spiritual and relational torment Jesus endured was the worst part. One of his cries from the cross was, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He was alone. Abandoned. Derelict. Separated from the Father for the first time in all of eternity because God can’t be in the presence of sin. And yet, the Bible says Jesus became sin to take our punishment. That’s another concept my tiny human brain can’t comprehend. Becoming sin.

Certainly, it seems plausible that the thought of becoming sin and understanding the intensity of the punishment in store were parts of Jesus’s anguish at Gethsemane. After the Last Supper, Jesus took his disciples to an olive grove at Gethsemane where he asked them to pray. The Book of Matthew says, “he began to be sorrowful and troubled.” Then he said to Peter, James and John. “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” I’ve heard one Bible scholar say the English translation of the biblical Greek doesn’t fully convey the scale of Jesus’s distress.

The Bible says he fell face down on the ground as he prayed. Picture it. The only man who ever lived a sinless life, the Son of God, who could have avoided the entire situation, face down under the olive trees in the dark. The Bible says he prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.’”

I can’t grasp his distress and I can’t grasp his willingness to endure what he did.

He drank it for us
The Book of Jeremiah talks about the cup of God’s wrath. Think about that for a second. God’s wrath. I don’t know how to even begin imagining its intensity. But I think that’s the cup Jesus prayed the Father would take away. But the Father didn’t remove it. And Jesus drank it. Voluntarily. He did that for me, and he did that for you. And because of that we can have peace with him. We’re free. We no longer have to fear death. We know that if we follow him, we can go to heaven.

His grace truly is amazing, more amazing than I can possibly appreciate. Praise Jesus! Happy Easter, everyone!

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