The two most important planks of wood ever…

28 Mar

Why did Jesus have to die on a cross? It seems barbaric and unnecessary.

I will leave the task of explaining the depth of meaning behind the cross to better theologians and better wordsmiths. My task here is to simply respond as if someone had asked me in conversation, which conveniently, someone has.


The short answer is sin, and we cannot explain the meaning of the cross without first making sure our friend has an understanding of the nature of sin and its consequences. I usually make a reference to the laws of our country, asking what happens if someone gets caught breaking the law. My friend usually observes that the lawbreaker pays a fine or goes to jail, etc. Exactly. Every human breaks God’s law. We know this because the law is impossibly difficult to keep: Looking lustily at another person is the equivalent of committing adultery. Harboring anger is tantamount to murder. The elevation of anything other than God to a primary place in our hearts (even our spouses, our kids!) is idolatry. We have all sinned, we have all broken the law.


We would be incensed if proven rapists, drug traffickers, and murderers got no penalty for their crimes. We have a deep sense of justice and want evil to be repaid with punishment and good to be repaid with reward. This is natural and good (as long as we realize that we, as individuals, shouldn’t be making those judgment calls). The same is true on a cosmic scale: evil merits punishment and good merits reward. God is the final judge and his justice is perfect. The only problem is that we’re all evil. This doesn’t mean we don’t understand right and wrong, just that we’re crappy at picking right. If we stop at 99 consecutive red lights, run one, and then stop at the next 99 lights we are still guilty of an infraction. The same is true with regards to God’s law. If we’re super nice most of the time but act selfishly even once a day we’re still subject to punishment. The punishment for sin is death. Seems harsh, no? Remember, the law is a high standard. I am not a fibber – I am a liar. I’m not angry – I am a murderer. I’m not checking out that girl – I’m cheating on my wife. Because God is perfect and holy there is no middle ground for people who are mostly good. We must be perfect and holy as well or own up to our wickedness and rebellion, it won’t get swept under the rug because we’re good ‘most of the time.’

Mercy.The cross

It’s been said that the cross is the place where God’s justice and mercy kiss. Jesus was innocent of any violation of God’s law – though he did violate some of the human customs of his day. He bore no guilt and yet was given a criminals death. In this moment God’s justice was satisfied as his wrath (the penalty for sin) was poured out onto Jesus who paid the price (the ticket so to speak). His perfect mercy is evident here as well because all are free to put their faith in Jesus and claim his righteousness for their own – allowing the guilt (and thus the punishment) of sin to be removed. Many will say this is the free gift of God but I’m reluctant to use that term, knowing that there is always a cost. The cost for us is our very lives: “he who wishes to save his life must lose it.” We exchange our will which is bent on serving ourselves for God’s will which is bent on God’s glory. Conveniently we were built to glorify God, he cares about this world more than we do, and he’s better at it than us – this means that the exchange of wills actually frees us, we are more satisfied, and we do more good in the world. The caricature of coming to faith is giving up fun things to become a prude, the reality is leaving the bondage of self to truly live.

So when someone asks “why the cross?” you must explain that we are spiritual criminals who deserve sentencing in a spiritual court. Instead of charging us God has charged his own Son with the crimes of every human of all time and sentenced him to die on a cross – which Jesus did willingly. Our option is to proudly refuse this kindness like someone who won’t let a friend pay for a meal at a restaurant or to humbly submit to Christ’s Lordship and find freedom from the tyranny of self-interest.


One Response to “The two most important planks of wood ever…”


  1. The two most important planks of wood ever… | Running the Race - March 28, 2013

    […] The two most important planks of wood ever…. […]

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