I remember singing, “At the cross, at the cross where I first saw the light, and the burden of my heart rolled away, it was there by faith I received my sight, and now I am happy all the day!” (Isaac Watts).
What makes the cross so meaningful? Why do believers use it as the symbol of their faith? And, why do barbarians such as Isis hate the cross and mark believers as followers of the cross?
Paul’s words to the church at Corinth may give us as much instruction as any. “For our sake [God] made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
I see four elements we must understand about the work of Christ on the cross.
First, God did this on our behalf. The cross was “For our sake.”
Our sin keeps us from saving ourselves or effecting our own salvation. God did for us what we could not do for ourselves.
Second, the work on the cross was the work of the sinless Son of God (“who knew no sin”).
How do we know Jesus was without sin? At least, two reasons make this clear. (1) Jesus came from the Father. The more the disciples knew Jesus, heard His teaching, and observed His power, the more they realized this was no ordinary teacher. He had come from God with God’s power over Him.
(2) They observed His life. Those of us who stand 20 centuries from the cross are not those describing Him as sinless. It was the eyewitnesses–those who knew Him best. As John the Apostle said: those who heard, saw, looked upon, and touched proclaimed Him as the Son of God without sin (1 John 1:1-3).
Third, He became sin for us, taking our sin and our punishment as His own. Anytime this truth is proclaimed among the people of God, a hush and awe should overcome the congregation. We who are sinners deserve punishment; He who deserved no punishment took ours upon Himself.
Finally, His death produces our right standing with God. Since we are rebels, we have no righteousness of our own. The work of Christ on the cross gives us our only righteousness–His righteousness.
As we contemplate the cross, we should think of our righteousness and live according to who He has died for us to become.
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