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Can Anything Good Come out of the Cross?

April 13, 2020
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Photo by Dylan McLeod on Unsplash

A Good Friday meditation, delivered at Stonebridge Church on April 10, 2020.

 

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isa. 53:4-6 ESV)

This is the word of the Lord through the ancient prophet Isaiah, looking across the centuries to One who would accomplish all God’s will, deliver his people, and establish his kingdom. Not by conquering with the sword, but by being pierced for our transgressions. A victory he accomplished on Good Friday.

It’s strange that we call it “good” when you consider the loss, doubt, pain, and death. As people said of Jesus at the beginning of his earthly ministry, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (Jn. 1:46) so it’s tempting to say of his ministry’s end, “Can anything good come out of the cross?”

After all, before the cross was the symbol of Christianity, or a piece of jewelry to wear around your neck, it was an object of torture and execution. It was a symbol of shame and defeat, reserved for the worst of criminals. It was violent, brutal, beyond painful. Even today, our word “excruciating” comes from the word “crucify.” How can anything so intensely violent and painful be good?

The goodness of the cross comes not from what man intended by it, or accomplished through it, but what God intended by it, and accomplished through it. What the Sanhedrin and the soldiers, what Pilate and Herod and even Jesus’s followers didn’t understand that day, is that God was about to take the greatest symbol of shame in the Roman world, and the greatest act of evil in human history, and turn it into the greatest expression of love in human history, and the most profound revelation of his glory.

What happened that day was no accident. It’s not as though Jesus’ plans went sideways, or his Father slipped off his throne for a moment at the expense of his Son. The cross was always the plan. It was born in the heart of God before the foundation of the world. Hundreds of years before Roman crucifixion was even invented, the Bible describes how God’s king would give himself for his people. “He was pierced for our transgressions,” Isaiah 53. “They have pierced my hands and feet,” Psalm 22.

At the cross the brokenness and rebellion of this world come face to face with the perfection of God’s holiness and love. We see God’s holiness in how he deals justly with human sin, pouring out his holy anger against all unrighteousness and all human rebellion. We see God’s love in how he offers deliverance from that judgment according to the riches of his grace.

And what makes that possible is that in Jesus, we have a willing and worthy substitute. The eternal Son of God took on human flesh and became like us, that he might represent us in both life and death. He lived for us the life we couldn’t and wouldn’t live, in perfect obedience to his Father. As Isaiah described, all we like sheep have gone astray. And as our innocent substitute, as the true Passover Lamb, Jesus died for us the death we deserve, that God might deal justly with sin and mercifully with sinners.

That’s what Isaiah 53 describes—one who has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows, who has borne in himself the full weight of sadness and sickness and all the pain of this broken world, even as he is smitten and stricken by God. One who was pierced for our transgression and crushed for our iniquities, who dealt decisively with our sin and rebellion, taking the judgment we deserved, paying the debt in full, such that with his wounds we are healed.

And so it is, that everything wrong with this broken world finds its answer in the cross. If you’ve ever been whitewater rafting, one of the things they tell you to do when the river begins to get really choppy, is look for the V in the river, the point where all the water is converging, because that’s where the raft is going to go. And you want to point the boat toward the V. If you hit it sideways, you’re likely to flip over.1

The cross is the V of all human history. The point where all the water of human suffering, evil, sin, pain, sickness, and sorrow is all converging. The sin that every one of us has committed, the ways we color outside God’s lines: the cutting things that we think or say, the selfish moves we make, the subtle idolatries of our heart when we look to created things for that which only our Creator can give, or give to created things that which only our Creator deserves. And not just the sin we commit, but even the sin committed against us. The betrayal or injustice we’ve experienced; the pain others have caused us. The sorrow of this world. The shame, sickness, sadness, death. Even the COVID-19 crisis, with all of the dislocation and frustration, the pain of the disease, the loss of life—the suffering and sin of all humanity converges at the cross, where it finds its answer. A willing substitute who bears it in our place, and is able to deliver us from it.

Good Friday is God’s invitation to take all that is not good in your life, all that is not good in this world, and fold into the cross of Christ. To give it by faith to the one who has dealt with it, and find forgiveness, wholeness, and new life in him.

Because, of course, the cross is not the end of the story. It can only answer our brokenness and rebellion if there’s a resurrection on Sunday morning. Without the resurrection, Jesus is just another criminal. The resurrection both demonstrates his innocence and defeats the power of death. The resurrection is what brings God’s new life and new creation to bear on this broken world. We’re going to celebrate that Sunday morning.

And even before that comes Holy Saturday, a day when at Stonebridge we’re used to being out on the street corners proclaiming the good news, carrying the cross. Streets that feel hauntingly empty right now. Perhaps as empty as that first Holy Saturday, when the disciples were gathered in their homes, afraid for their lives, and giving themselves to prayer. And so we encourage you to make Saturday a day of prayer for our community, nation, and world.

But tonight, consider the cross. See in it God’s holiness and love. See your sin, your sorrow, your shame, even your sickness folded into it, accounted for, answered, addressed, dealt with decisively through the loving sacrifice of our Savior, and know that the love of God is for you.

Footnotes:

  1. This illustration comes from N. T. Wright, Christians at the Cross (Word Among Us Press, 2008) 53.
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