Making Sense of the Cross

To most Asians, the cross does not make sense. If anything, its appeal is very negative. Why glorify the brutal death of Jesus?

If Jesus were just a great teacher, his crucifixion would just be another tragic event in history. But it was far more than that, because he was far more than a great teacher. God chose to become a man and come humbly to earth in an effort to reconcile to himself as many of mankind as would believe in him and follow him. So Jesus voluntarily submitted himself to be crucified to pay the penalty of death for the rebelliousness of the human race.

To better appreciate all this let's take a look at an analogy from what could have been part of American history.

Suppose we had lost the Revolutionary War. All the signers of the Declaration of Independence were captured, bound in chains and deported to England for trial, along with hundreds of other POWs.

King George III of England had issued a special decree during the uproar in the American colonies before the war began. Many public leaders advocated not paying taxes to the British government, inciting armed rebellion against the Crown. The King's decree bluntly declared that the minimum penalty for such treason was hanging.

As the day for the trial of the revolutionary leaders and the American POWs approached, King George was quite grieved. He knew well that many of the signers were great men. They were able leaders of their respective colonies, such as George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and John Hancock. He could not bear to hang all of them, as well as hundreds of other POWs.

The King sought a reduced penalty as an alternative—20 years hard labor in prison. However, Parliament demanded justice. They all must be executed. Many in Parliament felt the King didn't have the power to reduce the sentences. Yet, since no one had disputed his power to issue the original decree of high treason, he arguably had the power to modify his own decree.

The king was very sorrowful. If he had allowed the American colonies to have representatives in Parliament, war would have been avoided. Out of his great remorse, he made a radical proposal. He himself would be hung instead of the leaders of the revolution. The only way this substitution could be seen as adequate was that George was King and ultimate Judge of the British Empire. So, Parliament accepted the King's proposal. The King was hung. All 700 of the American captives were released and returned to America and the American colonies were given representation in Parliament.

Why did Jesus volunteer to be executed?

Jesus volunteered to suffer the death penalty to release people from guilt for their rebellion against God. His sacrifice was sufficient because He was God and ultimate Judge of all human beings. So, the divinity of Jesus was essential for him to be an acceptable substitute for all of mankind for the death penalty that we all face. To be spared of their guilt, however, each person must willingly accept his astonishing act of mercy and grace.

In the days of Noah, God deeply regretted creating mankind.
    Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart. So the Lord said, "I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth, both man and beast, creeping thing and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them." But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.[1]
Jesus, being one with God, took part in this sorrow. He also wept over Jerusalem.[2] The context makes it clear that Jesus wept because Jerusalem had again rejected one of God's prophets (himself) and sought his death. Yet he may also have wept because he felt responsible for participating in creating the human race and granting it free will, making possible the epidemic of spiritual rebellion and wickedness among all human beings. So his volunteering to be sacrificed may well have been due partly to his sorrow over this.

Is the death penalty unfair?

Isn't God's insistence on the death penalty unjust and excessive? Let's look at the context of this decree. God had created the Garden of Eden for Adam and Eve to live in. It was truly paradise, yet there was one condition. Neither of them were to eat of the fruit of the tree of life in the middle of the garden. They chose to disobey and God gave this decree to Adam:
    Cursed is the ground for your sake; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you, and you shall eat the herb of the field. In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for dust you are, and to dust you shall return.[3]
Later, in the book of Ezekiel, God (and Jesus) gave this decree: "Behold, all souls are Mine . . . The soul who sins will die."[4]

This may seem unfair unless we consider that each human life is a gift from God, not a right. Each individual life is a miracle, not a routine happening. As Job said,
    Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return there. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; Blessed be the name of the Lord.[5]

What about the Buddha?

Though Buddha possessed great wisdom and legends of supernatural powers, he bowed dutifully to karma as the undisputed king of the universe. He did not have the power to alter the operation of karma. Yet Jesus has that power, and on the basis of his divine person and authority, he can free an individual from the guilt of all their past wrongdoings.

[1] Genesis 6:5-8 (NKJV).

[2] Luke 19:41.

[3] Genesis 3:17-19 (NKJV).

[4] Ezekiel 18:4 (NASB).

[5] Job 1:21 (NKJV).
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