“When they arrived at the place called The Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals, one on the right and one on the left.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
These are perhaps some of the most unlikely words ever written. God, the eternal creator of the universe, died. On a cross. That’s what it means when it says, “they crucified him.” All modern theories about His perhaps not really dying on the cross to explain away the resurrection aside, when someone was crucified, the end result was their death. Always. But why did it have to be a cross?
Why did it have to be a cross? Why wouldn’t we just apologize and move on the way we might with a friend or family member we’ve offended? The answer to that lies in understanding what sin is. Stay with me here for a bit.
If God made the world and is the source of all life, then that means there isn’t any life to be found anywhere else. Right? If He’s the creator of life, the only creator of life, then there isn’t any life anywhere else. Make sense? Well, not only is God the creator of life generally, He’s the creator of our lives–yours and mine.
Let’s keep going. If God created our life–yours and mine–then He own them. Right? I mean, if you make something, then it’s yours unless you’ve been commissioned by someone else to make it or else you give it away. We don’t have evidence that either of those things are the case with God. Moses calls us stewards of creation in Genesis, but stewards are just managers, not owners. When we sin, when we do something that violates God’s character and command, we are, in that moment, declaring ourselves to be owned by someone else.
Indeed, if we still recognized God as our owner, we would do what He said. The fact that we are doing what someone else has said is right,whether ourselves or someone else, means that we are recognizing that someone else is in charge.
Now, it might sound somehow romantic to be our own bosses, but there is a problem: If God is the only source of life, and if we disconnect from Him, do we have access to life anymore? We don’t, do we? Disconnecting from God by sin is a little like a deep-sea diver disconnecting her air hose and trying to make it on whatever she can hold in her lungs. Depending on how well she’s trained, she may be able to go for several minutes, but eventually she’s going to run out and then what? Unless she reconnects, she dies. Or, to switch imagery on you, it’s like cutting a flower from its root. You might be able to keep a freshly cut flower alive for a few days, maybe even a couple of weeks, but eventually it is going to die.
It gets worse. The problem with sin and reason we can’t just apologize and move on is that when we sin, we have taken something that belongs to God from Him, namely, our lives. Well–and forget Jesus’ command to forgive one another–if I were to take something that belongs to you, the only way we’re ever really going to be right with each other again is if I return what I took in the same condition it was when I took it. Or, at the very least, I need to compensate you for the full value of whatever it was.
Listen: The same thing goes with God. And forget about thinking, “Well, why doesn’t He just forgive us?” The only reason that works at all is because of what Jesus did on the cross which is precisely what we’re trying to understand right now. Jesus paid our price and so God can just forgive us. Without that, He can’t because the price hasn’t been paid. No, the only way we can get right with God again is to give back what we took. And what did we take? Our lives. Stay with me: If we give our lives back to God, do we have them anymore? No. Why? Because we gave them to Him. And if we don’t have our lives, then what do we have? Well…not life. Most people just call that death.
Do you see where this leaves us? Assuming no outside intervention for a minute, the only way we can get right with God again after sinning–even one tiny, little sin–is to forfeit our lives to Him. What this means is that when Paul said the wages of sin is death, he meant that in every possible sense. There’s no life apart from Him and in order to get back to Him we have to give up our lives meaning we’re dead either way.
So, how does this situation get fixed? How can we get right with God without dying? The only way is for someone to die in our place. The only way to get right with God is for someone to give Him something on our behalf that He deems equally valuable as the thing we took…times the entire population of humans who ever walked on the face of the earth. Well, what could possibly be that valuable? How about the life of God Himself! Thus Jesus.
God Himself came to earth as a human–fully human, born just like any other human–with the goal in mind of one day offering up His life in exchange for ours. All of ours. And that’s just what He did. He offered His life as a ransom for many, God the Father deemed the exchange equal, and announced that His justice had been satisfied. What this means is that if you want to be right with God, you simply have to go to Jesus and accept what He did on your behalf. You accept what He did on your behalf and agree to make Him your Lord. When you do, He’ll give you your life back to live as you please–understanding that you’ll only really be pleased if you live it His way. God’s justice is satisfied, and you still get to live to His glory and your joy. If you have done this, you’re right with God in Christ. If you haven’t…you’re not right with God, and you won’t ever be until you do.
Well, that all sounds good, but still, why the cross? Why not do it on some way that was quick and painless. Because we had to see. We had to see just how bad our sin really is. Being told it was bad wasn’t going to be enough. We weren’t going to buy it like that. We had to see it. And on the cross we did. The cross was the most brutal, painful, dehumanizing form of execution ever invented by people. It was a graphic depiction of what sin does inside of our hearts. Thus, they took Him to the place called The Skull, and there they crucified Him. Today is for remembering that. I hope you will, because it will make what’s coming on the Third Day even better.