Jesus Christ’s last day on Earth was a zero-sum situation. All creation had come to that point and for a moment the entire universe pointed to a single spot on this dust ball we call plant earth. Jesus faced a simple choice. Live as the awe inspiring God-Man that he was, return to heaven and be welcomed by the angels in songs of praise and worship or, he could be beaten and torn, made filthy with the worlds sins and be nailed to a cross until his lungs filled with blood and he died from pain and exhaustion and a body that could give nothing else.
On one point we must be clear; Jesus Christ was not a mere man so either choice would have done nothing to reduce his integral nature. He was not faced with being a noble hero or a coward, nor would he have returned home to heaven in shame and disgrace. This was the son of God, this was God. And his nature would have remained intact even if he called the angels to remove him from the cross and leave mankind to our deserved fate. And yet he chose to die. Why?
Jesus Christ died to save mankind. This is the Sunday-School conceit and while true it is far from the whole story and does little justice to what was at stake and why the cross mattered. After all, many men have been heroes, many have saved the lives of people they cared for, and many have saved the lives of those they never even knew, even unto death but the cross was different. The cross was special.
Despite the profound implications the cross is actually a simple equation if we think carefully. It goes like this…
As a Man, Jesus Christ died for us because HE loves us – HE loves us because HE was one of us. HE experienced the pain and suffering that is the lot of mankind; living in a fallen world filled with death, sickness and despair. The sacrifice of HIS precious life was the sacrifice of a husband who saves his bride, a father who saves his child, a patriot who saves his nation. As faithful Christians we in turn love HIM all the more because that act is familiar and because we are moral beings motivated by the same love even when we fall short.
And through the cross
As Messiah, Jesus Christ conquered death on our behalf out of a higher form of love that is unfamiliar and sometimes frightening– HE loves us because HE created us and because HE takes joy in his creation. This is unfamiliar because even though we are creative beings, our creative ability is limited and unrefined. It is frightening because though GOD is familiar he is also unfathomable in a way that no father or husband or patriot can comprehend. The husband understands his bride because they are the same more than different; the father understands the child because the father was once a child; the patriot understands his nation because he helped make it. But GOD does not merely take part in creation because HE is the source of creation. By contrast GOD created all things out of himself and for himself. He needs no love to fill an emotional deficiency or to compliment a divided nature. Though Jesus Christ is the son of GOD, GOD needs no son to carry a legacy into the future. Though GOD loves the land HE made he does not need borders or national identity because the whole of the world is contained within his creative nature.
Nothing changes this equation. And the equation holds true regardless if we are talking about Jesus Christ or GOD because they are consubstantial. GOD’s mercy is motivated by love for his creation | GOD’s wrath is motivated by love for HIS creation | Gods destroying sinful cities is motivated by love for HIS creation. Every action of GOD’s hand, even those we find shocking and distasteful is motivated by love for HIS creation. By contrast when humans show wrath out of fear of jealousy or anger. We hate injustice because God hates injustice, but we are also the instruments of all injustice. In GOD we see the higher example but through our limited and faulty moral reasoning we can never and will never live up to that standard. Which is why the cross had to happen. It was the ultimate corrective. Just as fire is used to burn away the danger of infection in soiled rags so the cross was used to burn away the danger of infection in sin. The fire does not abolish infection from the world nor did the cross abolish sin from the world. It only checked the danger of infection and gave a means to minimize the risk until the last days when the infection itself is abolished.
Or to put it another way Emancipation was a check against chattel slavery and later the 14th amendment was a more perfect check against the evil of chattel slavery. But neither abolished the source of slavery which is racism, fear of the unfamiliar, and a desire to control, all hallmarks of evil. GOD sent plagues and destroyed cities and sent his chosen people wandering as a check against evil, not a means to abolish it. GOD gave the temple and condoned sacrifice and sent kings to rule and to conquer to check evil not to abolish it. And GOD sent his son to provide the final check against evil, not to abolish it from the world. But the cross marked the point to which mankind could look forward from in anticipation of that future time when evil will be abolished that is the return of Christ and the world restored.
But what about those shocking actions? It is too easy to simply brush past them and not confront them. The Bible is honest in reporting them so we must be honest in seeking to understand them. We focus on GOD’s love for us but while it is certainly true that GOD loves his creation it is equally true that we sinful human beings have made a mockery of that. If God stepped in only because he has love for us, then it would indeed be monstrous to destroy whole cities, to lay waste to whole human populations. Love for someone could just as easily mean letting that person get away with the bad and continue on in sin. After all if God is all powerful could he not simply erase evil or turn evil acts into good? Could he not change the rules that dictate what it means to be Holy? If god simply loved us individually then any of these would suffice. But they don’t suffice because more than GOD’s love for us as individuals GOD has love for his creation of which we are the apex as individuals. It is the love for HIS creation that motivates those seemingly questionable acts and from which god must occasionally act against individuals and groups.
Consider this. If it was enough to love all people individually out of a love that directs us to become self-actualized then the slave master who beats his slave and the slave who is beaten would be equally moral. The slave master acting on his natural impulses inclined towards sin and the slave on his natural state of fallen humanity to be deserving of domination. The best a deity could do is to encourage a change of behavior in one or both parties. BUT the individual is part of created order and so what we do has implications for that order. In the business of combating sin, and the cross was exclusively about sin, we cannot recognize the zero-sum business of it AND attempt to reconcile it with toleration of a sinful nature.
The cross is the greatest monolithic moral statement there is. It is an absolute refutation of moral, radical autonomy and the reconciliation of the sinful individual and the fallen creation into which he is born with the original intent of GOD’s perfect created order.