Why did God Choose a Terrible Way to Die?
The Cross of Jesus is the centerpiece of the Christian faith. You put it on your walls and clothing. You wear it around your neck as jewelry. Most churches have it prominently displayed as a beacon expressing allegiance to Jesus.
But do you understand the meaning in the actual Cross of Jesus?
It is an article of faith, yes. It is also a profound statement of unrestrained love. God overcame the worst evil of man through offering His gentle servant because He just loves you that much. Jesus did not have to die on a Cross. No one took His life from Him, He laid it down freely. He is fully sovereign and all-powerful. He could have chosen any number of ways to be killed. Yet, He chose to be crucified – one of worst tortures in history. He did so for a reason. The complete and utter misery of the Cross is part of His message. It is God defeating sin at its most brutal, vindictive, and repulsive.
A Message of Conviction
The cross was an instrument of cruelty. Crucifixion was not just about execution. It was designed to hurt terribly. It was meant to inflict as much pain as possible. Giant nails pounded through the nerve centers of your body tend to do that. It was also set up to draw the pain out as a public spectacle The longest recorded took 3 weeks. The person in great pain was lifted up and exposed to the elements and mockery the entire time.
If the physical suffering were not enough, crucifixion was also meant to be publicly humiliating. It was used by the Romans to show their complete and total domination over conquered peoples. The victims were stripped bare and hung up before their people for a purpose. The Romans wanted their subjects to watch their brothers or sisters die a slow and agonizing death. The most powerful nation in the world’s judgment was certain, public, excruciating, and humiliating. It was inventively awful.
The cross was so horrible Roman citizens were not allowed to be crucified. It was so repugnant that it wasn’t spoken of in polite circles. It was for slaves, the conquered, and barbarians only.
Yet, this is the form of death chosen for the Son of God. Fully sovereign, all-powerful Jesus chose to take on this horrible death for you. He did so to make His message clear.
Man was created with inventiveness and creativity in the image of God. We use it for the worst kinds of evil. The calculated torture of the cross is clear evidence of this truth.
God loved you so much He willingly faced the worst mankind had to offer to save you.
God faced the depths of sin from mankind’s heart – mockery, rebellion, sin, cruelty, obsession with power, and injustice – and conquered it to save those same rebels. Behold what manner of love God bestows on us!
The complete and utter misery of the Cross is part of Jesus’ message. It is part of His victory. Man threw the worst we could possible invent at God and He used it to show us our utter depravity. We took the spotless lamb and killed Him in the worst way.
The brutality of the Cross of Jesus should shock and convict you, if you are honest. You like to view yourself as the heroes in any story, but think about the actual events of the day of Jesus’ death. No one stuck with Jesus. No one was faithful. Most of the people of the world either called for or joined in killing Him. You and I would likely have been pounding the nails into Jesus, mocking Him as He was dying, or chanting for His death on that awful cross.
The Cross is a message of brutal and honest conviction before it is one of salvation. Man is filled with all kinds of evil. God is perfectly loving through it.
A Message of Separation
The Cross is also part of Jesus’ winnowing process. God uses it to separate those willing follow Him from the stiff-necked and rebellious. It is so terrible and unexpected, no man would have chosen it as part of a redemption story from God. You must humble yourself and submit to God in order to understand its beauty.
In 1 Corinthian 1, Paul write:
For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written: 20 Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. 22 For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; 23 but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
The Messiah suffering is a shameful thing to those too proud to listen to Him. His humiliating death was inconceivable to the Jews. They were expecting the Conquering King. God’s plan was beneath their dignity as Children of Abraham. They looked for a sign of their own choosing and were disappointed with Jesus as a result. The Cross became a stumbling block to the Jews, therefore. It tripped them up in their journey to repentance.
A King choosing crucifixion was also unacceptable for the Greeks. It was madness. The Gentile world was based upon prominence, wealth, power and pleasure. Their chosen king, the Roman Emperor, lived in unimaginable luxury. A King who died in embarrassment, shame, and poverty was inconceivable.
God said this foolishness would be His method of testing. The message of the Gospel is obviously true, if they listened. Jesus performed many miracles. The Jews and Greeks observed His obvious power – even over death. The Jewish rulers plotted to kill Lazarus because Jesus raised him from the dead. Lazarus was too powerful evidence to ignore so they wanted him dead again. They even understood Jesus when He declared He would be killed and raised on the third day.
Jesus was clearly who He claimed. Heaven was opened to anyone willing to listen and follow Him. It still is today.
You just need to let God be your guide in responding to the Cross. If you search out the answer with an open heart and open mind, the answer is provided by God Himself. If you choose to rely on yourself, it is foolishness. There is no middle ground.
The Cross is still an offense to the world to this day. It is convicting not pleasant and manageable. It is humiliating and shameful. It demands a different kind of submission than the Romans sought. It causes those who think that they don’t need salvation to recoil and stumble. Yet, to those who are being saved, it is in your face evidence of a God who loves you so much that He died a horrible death to save you. The horror of it becomes a beautiful display of God’s heart toward you. He turns ashes into beauty.
How much love does it take to die in such a ghastly way by your own free will?
For those who are perishing it is foolish to think that God died on an ancient torture instrument. But for those called it is clear that it is the power of God and the wisdom of God. It is what saved you.
The world says anything but the Cross. God says nothing but the Cross…so that none may forget how much I gave for them or boast in my presence!