Text: Luke 23:32-34, 44-49; Romans 3:25-26 (original NIV) Theme: Jesus' cross reveals God's perfect justice and love.
Why do we make such a big deal out of Jesus’ death on the cross? We commemorate it with special services during Holy Week. Churches build crosses which soar into the sky. People wear gold or silver crosses around their necks.
Why do we make such a big deal out of the Jesus’ death on the cross? After all, he wasn’t the only one who died on a cross. Two other men were crucified with him. We don’t sing songs about that. And the Roman Empire crucified thousands of people during their lengthy reign.
So, why do we make such a big deal out of the Jesus’ death on the cross? To answer that we have to look behind the cross. We just read Luke’s account of what happened- on the outside. To understand their significance, we have to look behind the cross of Christ.
A week after I was ordained into gospel ministry, my grandfather wrote me these words: I am real thankful to God for the way it all worked out. And now I pray daily [that] you may be a good minister, preaching the gospel, Christ died for sinners. By the way, what a blessing to have a grandfather praying for you like that!
Preaching the gospel: Christ died for sinners. This gives a glimpse behind the cross. Now at first glance Jesus’ death doesn’t seem to have any gospel, any good news. Crucifixion was a most hideous way to die. The tearing and rending of the flesh. The pain. The gasping for air. Dragged out over hours. All as a public spectacle.
Let’s not forget that our songs of the cross are pretty bloody. Listen to these titles: There is Power in the Blood. Are You Washed in the Blood?Nothing But the Blood. All these songs about blood and gore might be shocking to our modern sensibilities. Because of the cross, the Christian faith has been called a brutal and barbaric religion.
How can Jesus’ horrible crucifixion be good news? Why do we call it Good Friday? To answer that question, we must look behind the cross to see what was happening. To help us look behind the cross I want to ask and answer two questions. First, why did Jesus have to die to save us? Second, why was Jesus willing to die for us?
First, why couldn’t Jesus save us some other way? Why did we need Jesus to die for us? After all, there is no universal agreement that Jesus did have to die. Most Jews today deny the need for a particular Savior who would be sacrificed for us. Muslims think that God is just able to forgive us- period; no sacrifice needed.
Why did Jesus have to die to save us from our sins? Answer: To satisfy God’s justice. To satisfy the pure justice of God's righteous wrath against our wrongdoings.
We cannot understand the cross of Christ unless we understand God's pure justice. Justice says that wrong must be punished and thereby have the moral balance restored. It is simply a fundamental principle of God's universe that wrong deserves punishment. As Romans 6:23 says: The wages of sin is death. Pure justice.
You may know the light-hearted musicals of Gilbert & Sullivan: like The Mikado. Our human desire for justice even pokes its head even such a frolicking play. One song declares: Let the punishment fit the crime, let the punishment fit the crime. All of us, from child to adult, from comic to serious, have a built-in sense of justice.
For example, how often don’t you heard children say: It’s not fair! I grew up in the middle of five boys. There was plenty of competition and jostling- to use toys, to get seconds at meals, to determine who had poked whom first. My Mom was the homemaker + the disciplinarian. You know what would really bug me? When my Mom settled a spat in a way I thought was unfair!
Adults have a built-in sense of justice too. I once served a church near Toronto. In Canada there is no death penalty allowed. But one day a popular, athletic girl was abducted from her safe neighborhood. Later her body was found in some underbrush. Immediately the city was up in arms. A massive manhunt was launched. And there was an outraged cry for the death penalty.
It is simply a fundamental principle of God's universe that wrong deserves punishment. Because of our ingrained sense of justice, many look at current events and wonder: Where on earth is God’s justice! We see abusive homes where kids don't have a chance, we see playground bullies, rapes, political corruption and terrorist bombings. Where is God's justice? People with moral sensitivity have long been troubled by this.
Our unmet desire for justice may lead to bitterness + cynicism- unless we look to the cross. Now, it is true that final justice is not completely handed out in our time. It is true that God allows sins to accumulate in our day without always being punished.
But that’s not because God lacks a sense of justice. Rather God is being patient with us. As Romans 3 says: in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished. God is being patient, longing for us to accept Christ's saving work on the cross.
On the cross, Jesus bore God's awful, majestic judgment for every last one of our sins. Only the divine Son of God could bear such thundering, consuming wrath. That is why creation seemed to creak and groan and heave! The sun stopped shining. Darkness came over the whole land. When Jesus died, an earthquake shook the land.
God's pure justice was perfectly demonstrated at the cross.
In turn, the cross points to God's pure justice on the last day- the Judgment Day. Romans 3 says that Jesus saves us through faith in his blood. It is by faith that Jesus takes away our sins. It is by faith that we are saved.
But for all who reject Christ, the cross reveals the awful punishment waiting for them. The punishment Jesus endured on the cross foreshadows punishment at the Judgment Day.
Do you get indignant when God seems to do nothing- when injustice runs rampant? Then you better first look at yourself- your mixed record. Then look at the cross + tremble. Praise God for his patience with us.
Praise God that he presented Jesus as a sacrifice… to demonstrate his justice. The cross of Christ demonstrates God’s pure justice.
The second question I promised to ask: Why was Jesus willing to die for us? We all know the answer- love. Sheer, unexplainable, unbelievable love.
It was out of love that Jesus could say of the soldiers who crucified him: Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing. It was out of love that Jesus assured the criminal at his side of being with him in paradise. It was out of love that Jesus suffered the tearing and rending of his flesh. It was out of love that Jesus endured the awful anger and rejection of his own Father.
Out of love God wanted to be, as Romans 3 puts it: the one who justifies us. As this great hymn puts it: What wondrous love is this, O my soul. What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of bliss to bear the dreadful curse for my soul.
Do you want to know what real love is? Don't look in a dictionary. Look at the cross! I John 3 says: This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. For our good, Jesus was willing to give up his rights, his dignity, his health, his very life. The cross of Christ supremely demonstrates God's perfect love for us. F Finally, I want to apply the justice and love of the cross to our daily lives. Perhaps, in a moment of frustration, you said hurtful things to someone you care about. Later, you saw how wrong and hurtful it was; it was inexcusable; you felt ashamed. And then you felt down on yourself; you really blew it; so you felt rather unlovable.
Can you relate? In that situation, besides apologize, you need to look to the cross. On the cross Jesus already satisfied God’s pure justice- even for your worst behavior. And God's perfect love shown on the cross is strong enough to love you- even when you’ve blown it.
Another application: a woman I met became Muslim after growing up in the church. She cited the awful things going on in society: racism, crime, rape. She said: All Christians talk about is a nicey, nice love in the face of his terrible injustice. So, she turned to the stern Allah of the Koran to satisfy her craving for justice.
The truth is: she didn't need to look elsewhere to find a God of justice. She simply needed to look to the cross and what Jesus suffered there. If she had, she would have seen God's pure and absolute justice.
A third application: even in our parenting we should look to the cross. Offering children justice without love will leave kids rigid, shriveled and unforgiving. Offering children love without justice + discipline will leave kids wild and selfish- not knowing the seriousness of wrongdoing and how their behavior hurts others. Parents must reflect the cross in the wonderful interplay of justice and love.
A final application: perhaps some of you here just aren't doing that well. This has been a rough stretch. Maybe you’re down because you don’t have true friends. Or maybe your job is a real grind. Or maybe there’s a lot of bickering at home. Maybe you’re dealing with health issues. It’s draining. It’s getting under your skin. Bottom line: with all this you are beginning to wonder if God really loves you.
Then look to the cross! Read about Jesus' crucifixion. Ponder what he suffered for you! Then you may grasp in your heart what you know in your head-God absolutely loves you!
So, friends, let’s make such a big deal out of Jesus’ death on the cross? Let’s sing songs of the cross. Let’s celebrate Good Friday. Let’s build crosses that soar to the sky. Let’s wear cross necklaces. Let’s glory in the cross: the demonstration of God’s pure justice and perfect love for us.