Christ and the Cross
You have probably seen some people wearing a cross around their necks. If you have ever asked a person why he wears a cross, the person may have explained to you that the cross represents Christianity. What does a cross have to do with Christianity?
In about 500 B.C., the Persian Empire invented a form of punishment we call crucifixion. It was passed down for hundreds of years and used in the first century by the Roman Empire. It was a form of capital punishment that was often applied to criminals and prisoners of war. Capital punishment occurs when the person being punished is sentenced to death for his crimes. Crucifixion often involved nailing a person to pieces of wood that formed the shape of a cross. The point of the punishment was to keep the criminal alive for many hours and cause him as much pain and humiliation as possible. Sometimes criminals would hang on a cross for several days before they died.
Why would anyone want to use such a cruel form of death? The main point was to show other people what would happen to them if they committed a similar crime. Often during crucifixion, the crime that the criminal was being punished for would be written on a sign and hung at the top of the cross. If a person stole or committed murder, the sign would say something like “Thief” or “Murderer,” and would warn people to avoid such crimes if they didn’t want to die a cruel death. So, why is a torture device a symbol of Christianity? As you may know, the Roman governor, Pilate, ordered Jesus to be crucified on a cross about the year A.D. 30. In fact, the earliest Christians viewed the crucifixion of Christ as one of the most important events in His life. The apostle Paul once wrote to the church at Corinth, “For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2).
If Jesus is God’s beloved Son, why would God let Him suffer and die such a painful death on a cross? When we look into the Bible, we find out that Jesus died on the cross to save humans from their sins. You see, when people sin by breaking God’s laws, they have earned the payment for sin—separation from God (Isaiah 59:2)—which the Bible calls death (Romans 6:23). There is no amount of work, good deeds, or prayers that a person can perform to ever earn forgiveness for sins. Death is a debt that God owes sinners. Because God is a just God, He must pay the debt (Deuteronomy 32:4). That means that all people who are old enough to understand sin, and who have sinned, deserve to be separated from God forever.
Those who sin deserve to die, but they cannot pay the debt for their own sin. That means, if God is going to be just and punish sin with death, then someone must die for that sin. The Bible explains that Jesus carried the sins of the whole world to the cross and died to pay the debt for sins. This was only possible because Jesus never sinned. He did not deserve death, so He was not dying for His own sins. The Bible says that God “made Him (Jesus) who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God” 2 Corinthians 5:21. The apostle Peter wrote that Jesus “bore our sins in His own body on the tree (cross), that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness” 1 Peter 2:24. The prophet Isaiah stated, “But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all” Isaiah 53:5. In other words, on the cross, Jesus paid our debt for sins. He could do this because He was the only person to ever live a perfect, sinless life on Earth. Humans who sin deserve to die a cruel death, but Jesus took our place.
Think about it like this. Imagine that you go into a cafeteria and order a bunch of food. You get a slice of pizza, a candy bar, a soda, and a bag of chips. You then sit down and eat all the food. When you get done, you are about to walk out, but the owner explains that you owe her $12 for all the food you ate. You do not have any money, and since you ate the food, you cannot give it back. There is no way for you to pay the debt you owe. The owner will not let you leave until the debt is paid, but you have no money. How can you ever get out of the cafeteria? You need someone to come and pay your debt for you so you can leave and go home to be with your family. When Jesus died on the cross, it is like He paid our debt of sin (the money we owed for the food) so that we could go home.
Let’s think about another illustration of this principle. In the book of Matthew, we read about a man named Barabbas who rebelled against Rome and committed murder during his rebellion. His crimes were exactly what the Romans used crucifixion to punish. They wanted to show everyone that a cruel and painful death awaited all such criminals. Barabbas deserved to die. The Roman governor Pilate knew that Jesus did not deserve to die. He had not committed any crimes and was innocent. The Romans had a custom that at a certain time of year, they would let one prisoner go without being punished. Pilate tried to get the Jewish mob to have Jesus released. The jealous crowd, however, did not want to let Jesus go, even though He was completely innocent. They demanded that Pilate release the murdering rebel Barabbas and crucify Jesus. Jesus went to the cross while Barabbas, the criminal who deserved death, was freed (read Matthew 27:26). All humans who have sinned are like Barabbas. We deserve death. But Jesus came to this Earth to live a perfect, sinless life so that He could pay our debt of sin on the cross.
In the book of Colossians, Paul wrote that Jesus took our debt of sin “out of the way, having nailed it to the cross” (2:14). The next time you see a cross, remember what Jesus suffered to pay the debt for our sins.
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