The cross of Jesus Christ was the divine and eternal plan of God for the redemption of mankind who had fallen from the state of innocence. God the Father had entrusted to the great mission of redemption to his own son. Therefore, it is impossible to separate the cross from Jesus or Jesus from the cross. “But when the fullness of time had come, God had sent his son, born of a woman, born under the law” (Gal.4:4). Jesus knew well His mission.
From the very beginning of His earthly life Jesus was aware of the reality of cross. It was evident that he had felt the cross in His inner spirit from the very beginning of His ministry as he spoke in John 3:14, “And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up”. When Jesus started to the Mount Olives after the Passover and the sharing of bread and wine to His disciples, he quoted the prophet Zechariah saying, “Strike the Shepherd and the sheep may be scattered” (13:7). Jesus threw himself on the ground and prayed three times like this as he entered the Garden of Gethsemane, “… yet not what I want, but what you want” (Mathew 26:39,42,44). It was with this commitment Jesus took up the cross. Here Jesus declares that His cross was the sacrifice for the salvation of the entire world.
Cross was the most unsophisticated and atrocious means for killing convicts. Crucifixion was sentenced for the horrible criminals who deserve no forgiveness. Jesus knew very well the cruelty, shame and pain associated with the cross. It is written, “… and began to be distressed and agitated”. And he said to them, “I am deeply grieved, even to death;…” (Mark 14:33.34).
In the Biblical narrations, it was Jesus who used the word ‘cross’ for the first time. There is no mention of the word ‘cross’ in the Old Testament. But the word, cross is used in almost all the books of the New Testament. The trail of Jesus was held before the Jewish and Roman rulers. Even though Pilate said, “I find no accusation against this man”, he didn’t release him free. (Luke 23:4). Responding to the cry of the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas and Jesus was sentenced for crucifixion. Following this, Jesus moved to Calvary.
Apostle Paul describes the unique sacrifice of Jesus, “who though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death- even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:6-8). About the full obedience of Jesus, Paul speaks in another place, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law be becoming a curse for us- for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”. (Gal.3:13).
Jesus knew that he was made sin. God’s righteousness was to be fulfilled in him. Jesus cried our loudly, “Eloi, Eloi, Lama Sabachthani?” which means, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34). It was also the fulfillment of a prophecy (Psalms 22:1). It was Jesus, the Son of God who cried out aloud. He gave himself to be forsaken by God the father so that mankind might not be forsaken by God. God the Father didn’t reply to the cry of His own Son!
The Day of Crucifixion of Jesus
The day of Jesus’ Crucifixion is the most important day in the history of the world. Three people were crucified that day. Jesus and two thieves (wicked men). It is God’s righteousness that sin must be punished. Therefore the sinless Jesus was made sin to fulfill God’s righteousness by punishing sin through the death of Jesus.
One of the thieves who was crucified with Jesus ridiculously asked him, “Are you Christ?” This wicked man went to eternal damnation from the very place where he was very close to eternal salvation. But the other criminal, understanding Jesus as Christ, cried out to Jesus, “Jesus, remember me when you come to your Kingdom!” Just before the death of this criminal, the comforting reply of the Savior came, “Truly, I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23: 39-43). Jesus, who was incarnated, carried the cross, crucified, fulfilled the will of God by sacrificing Himself on the cross and finally entered paradise with the thief who was saved at the cross.
The Cross at the zenith of the world.
The Cross of Jesus Christ is the royal symbol of the message of peace and reconciliation given by the loving God to humanity, who was damned for eternal punishment and hell. The Cross is the place where the loving Father embraces the prodigal son as he returns home in repentance. There is no Savior other than Jesus; and there is no other way for salvation other than the cross of Jesus. We see the ultimate consummation of the eternal plan, which was in the heart of God even before the foundation of the world for the salvation of mankind.
The cross of Jesus Christ is lifted up to the highest point in the world for the remission of the sins of the entire humanity. The cross of Jesus invites all mankind for the salvation of their souls. No doubt that the cross is a symbol of victory of Jesus over Satan and death – all those who accept Jesus and the cross of Jesus will be saved. Only what a human has to do is to believe in his or her heart and confess with one’s tongue. Jesus’ last words on the cross were “It is finished”. All what was needed for the salvation of a sinner was completed on the cross by Jesus.
The Cross of a Christian
During the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry, big crowds had followed Jesus day and night. Looking at the crowd Jesus used to say, “One among you”, “one among you”…. “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Mathew 16:24, Luke 9:23). Each one must take up his or her own cross. Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God” ( Luke 9: 61,62). This was the non-compromising stand and reply of Jesus. The basic rule for a Jesus’ follower is not to look back – no turning back.
Once a person decides to take up the cross and follow Jesus, Satan will array all the powers of darkness against him. It is quite impossible to follow Jesus without carrying the cross. A Christian has to face shame, ridicule, rejection, isolation, persecution, warfare and so on in the way of the cross. One has to give up all the tastes and desires of the flesh. One has to engage in constant battle with sin, flesh and satan. Even among the common crowd, a Christian bears the cross and stands alone.
The rejection by one’s own family, brothers, sisters and dear ones may be felt heart rending. They will constantly compel a Christian to give up the cross and follow them. A Christian has to run straight, with his fingers in his ears, crying out like the Christian in the Pilgrims Progress, “Life, life; eternal life!”
A Christian who moves in the direction of the cross understands that his or her path is full of obstacles and darkness. There will be physical strain, tiredness and even wounds. No matter what – one must always hold on the cross. Like Amy Carmichel asked, “Why there are no blood stains on your feet, if you walk the path of the cross?” and, “Why isn’t there a cross on your shoulder, if you are one who follows Christ?”. A Christian understands well the importance and seriousness of bearing the cross. It means that despite the wounds in the feet, one must have the cross on the shoulder.
A pious Christian who really experienced persecution and rejection in life writes, “O God! one who has not eaten the bread of adversity and has not drunk the tears of affliction in life has not known you!” It is the daily experience of a cross bearing Christian. “…We are destined for persecutions…” Paul writes in I Thess. 3:3. It is through many sufferings we enter the kingdom of God.
Once, a cross-bearing Christian woman saw a dream. In the dream an angel of God came to her and showed her a plain land full of crosses. Angel said, “You can put down your cross here and take any one of the many crosses- take one that you like the most.” The woman was very happy. She placed down her cross among all other crosses on the plain. She began searching for a cross which would be most suitable for her. Some of them were very heavy, others very light, a few did fit / rest well on her shoulder. Yet some were very long and so on. Finally, after much searching she identified a cross which was very suitable for her to bear. Full of joy she said to the angel, “It is this cross that I want”. To this the angel replied with a smile, “Dear one, please look at it closely!” She looked at it very closely and to her surprise she understood that it was the same cross which I have been carrying all throughout my past life!” Our Lord gives to each one of us the cross which is most fitting to us.
Paul said, “May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ…” (Gal. 6:14). A Christian is one who hopes for the crown of righteousness on the day of our Lord. Cross is a vision of life for a Christian. It is this vision which instills a desire of mission and evangelism in a Christian. At the end of a faithful journey in the path of the cross, when we reach the other shore, our Lord will take away the cross from our shoulder by his own hands and will place a crown on our heads! What a living hope is this!
(Translated from Malayalam by Pastor Saju Joseph)