And they crucified him. (Mark 15:24)
It would have appeared to the naked eye that this was the end of Jesus of Nazareth. He was a condemned criminal, nailed to a post, stripped of dignity, and left to die. But what appeared as a defeat was our victory. His death paid for the sins of the world.
This one man nailed on the tree of Calvary interceded for the many. He who had no sin became sin for us. He erased the debt that only he could – the debt of our sins. He paid the price in full, not in part. It is not Jesus’ sufferings plus our penance. It is Jesus’ death and his alone that has ransomed us from the bondage of disobedience and unbelief. It is the gift of God – his life for our life.
The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. (Romans 5:16)
Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. (Romans 5:18)
God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21)
And it is the preferred way that we remember Christ. He lived on earth for approximately 33 years, and was only on the cross for about six hours. He rose from the grave in a glorified body, and ascended into heaven. He will come again in glorious splendor. Yet he still bears the scars of his crucifixion. It is and remains the signal event that reveals his love and our redemption.
The scripture makes a clear connection in these matters. The Christ who was crucified was raised from the dead, and showed his wounded hands and side to his disciples (Luke 24:36-43). The resurrected Christ was also the Christ who ascended (Acts 1:6-9). The ascended Christ is also the coming Christ, “This same Jesus … will come back” (Acts 1:11). Christ is seen in heaven, even for all eternity, as the Lamb who was slain (Rev. 5:6 and Rev. 22:3). He is no longer in pain, neither is he in an unglorified, undignified condition. But yet the scars of his love are still evident.
And the cross has become for us the standard of discipleship. We are also to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow him. We are to put aside pride and ego, to see the needs of those around us, and to give ourselves in the service of Christ.
The cross has become forever the complete picture of abandonment – the abandonment of love. Christ abandoned himself out of love for us – “became obedient to death, even death on the cross” (Phil. 2:8). And he calls us now to also lose ourselves in loving others. The cross is ever a call to accept the immeasurable love of God for us, and to find comfort and peace in this knowledge, and a call also to serve in the same spirit.
Jesus Christ lived in the midst of his enemies. At the end all his disciples deserted him. On the Cross he was utterly alone, surrounded by evildoers and mockers. For this cause he had come, to bring peace to the enemies of God. So the Christian, too, belongs not in the seclusion of a cloistered life but in the thick of foes. There is his commission, his work. [Luther said,] ‘The kingdom is to be in the midst of your enemies. And he who will not suffer this does not want to be of the Kingdom of Christ; he wants to be among friends, to sit among roses and lilies, not with the bad people but the devout people. O you blasphemers and betrayers of Christ! If Christ had done what you are doing who would ever have been spared.’ (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)
But there is also joy and peace in so doing – it is the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings (Phil. 3:10). It is taking up our cross and “dying outside the camp, bearing the disgrace that he bore” (Heb. 13:12). It is the road we take wherein we lose ourselves for his sake, but through our own sacrifice we find ourselves in him (John 12:25).