It is indeed amazing that in an irreligious culture as ours, the sense of guilt should be so widespread and deeply rooted as it is. (Erich Fromm - The Sane Society)
The cross is an instrument by which God carries out blood transfusions. The sinful blood of Adam can be replaced by the holy blood of Jesus so that when the Father looks down on His children, all He sees is the righteousness of Christ. This miraculous act of propitiation permits God to enter into fellowship with us, but it does not mean that we would enter into a relationship with Him.
When two parties have been alienated from each other as a result of one person wronging the other, reconciliation does not take place simply because the offended party forgives the one who hurt him. The guilt of the misdeed may keep the offender from humbling himself at all and entering back into a relationship, because the presence of the wounded party irritates his conscience. Alternatively, the guilty party may be willing to humble himself, but under the demand that reconciliation take place on his terms, as if the offended party had something to do with the infraction. This can only be received as an insult by the offended party and further widen the gap of estrangement.
Reconciliation is not easily accomplished in any context for; "The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?" (Jeremiah 17:9). One of the reasons planet earth has been plagued by major armed conflict for all but eight percent of recorded history is because of man's unwillingness to set aside his pride to achieve reconciliation. Likewise, many people would rather live in shame than forego their pride and seek God's forgiveness.
I know a man who wanted, with tears, to receive Christ into his life, but he was a Vietnam veteran and had killed people in the war. He would not believe that God should have anything to do with him because of the lives he had taken. I sympathize with his grief, but who is he to put limits on God's grace? Because of his unwillingness to plumb the extent of God's love and seek His forgiveness, he doomed himself to carrying this burden of terrible remorse. What a common story! So many people choose to let shame eat away at their physical and mental health; rather than utter the words, "I'm sorry".
The renowned psychiatrist, Karl Menninger, once said that if he were able to persuade the patients in his psychiatric hospitals that their sins were pardoned 75 percent of them would walk out the next day. In order to reunite two estranged parties, often the offended has to go one step further than simply forgiving his transgressor; he needs to effectively communicate his genuine forgiveness. God not only had to devise a plan that would satisfy all of his righteous requirements, he had to effectively convey that the work was done and forgiveness was available.
Peace to Israel
The narrative of redemption was born out of the history and culture of the Israelites. As Paul stated, "Theirs is the adoption as sons, theirs is the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs is the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ" (Romans 9:4,5). They were God's chosen people and they retain a special status in His plan to this day. Therefore, it was paramount to the Heavenly Father that the children of Israel have first opportunity to see and know life in Christ. For this reason, God powerfully expressed His forgiveness to the Jewish people by presenting the sacrifice of Christ in a way that they could easily comprehend. His sign of their forgiveness was delivered to them on a tree.
Classical paintings depicting Jesus hanging on elaborately carved crosses are unrealistic. The Romans would never have gone to this much trouble to execute anyone. Crosses were simply tree trunks stripped of their branches and joined together. This fact may have been the reason Saul of Tarsus so vigorously persecuted the first Christians. He believed, as many Jewish people did, that, "anyone who is hung on a tree is under God's curse" (Deuteronomy 21:23). In his mind, therefore, it was impossible for the Messiah to be crucified. Saul would have opposed anyone following Jesus until that day when he was on his way to persecute Christians in Damascus, he encountered Christ. This experience began an apostolic ministry for him as Paul, the messenger to the gentiles. After this meeting, Paul realized that "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us". (Galatians 3:13)
Perhaps the most dramatic event in human history was when Jesus cried out on the cross, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Mark 15:34). At that moment, as if Boulder Dam had broken loose, all of mankind's sin came crashing down on him. Jesus experienced the reality of hell as the Heavenly Father had to turn away from His own son and vent His punishment of sin on the cross.
The Jews understood the doctrine of the substitutionary sacrifice, so it was a simple matter for them to grasp how taking refuge in Christ was to encamp in a safe place - a place which had already endured the curse of God. This principle is like the story of a farmer who was caught out on the open prairies with his family when a fire started raging across the wheat fields. In order to save them, he started a small fire and burned a patch of ground big enough to keep the flames of the large blaze away from his loved ones. The Jewish people knew that they could come to God with all their sin and all their shame, because in the shadow of Christ's cross they could hide on land that had already experienced God's full wrath. "Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is his body, . . . let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleans us from a guilty conscience" (Hebrews 10:19,20,22).
Peace So Easily Attained
Shortly after the Jews miraculously escaped from being enslaved in Egypt, the people began to grumble - "They spoke against God and against Moses, and said, 'Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the desert? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!'" (Numbers 21:5) Because of their ungratefulness so soon after God had demonstrated His love and power to them, they found themselves surrounded by a plague of snakes. Many people died before they repented and pleaded with Moses to pray that the snakes would be taken away.
Moses prayed and God answered by instructing Moses how to provide a means to heal the people that were poisoned. "The Lord said to Moses, 'Make a snake and put it on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live" (Numbers 21:8). The snake that Moses formed out of bronze represented the fruit of the people's rebellion. So God was requiring those who wished to be healed, to both recognize their own sin and look up to heaven for forgiveness and deliverance.
The cross conveys this same potent symbol of God's healing, for in looking to the cross you must look up. Jesus said "Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life" (John 3:14). The cross is a gateway suspended between heaven and earth representing the judgement man's sin deserves and pointing to the source of mercy available to any who seek healing and look up.
Peace to all
A story is told about a young man who grew up in a caring and responsible household in the Midwestern United States. Despite Tom's good upbringing, he allowed his passions get the best of him and he raped a young woman he was dating. Ashamed of what he did, Tom turned himself in to the authorities, yet the judge wanted to set an example to the community and sentenced him to prison for several years. The trial brought great dishonour on Tom's family, and during his stay in prison, he refused to see anyone, too embarrassed to even send a letter home.
Life in prison was desperately lonely and he longed to see his family. So shortly before he was to be released, Tom wrote a letter to his parents. He related how sorry he was for all the pain he had brought them and how he would understand if they never wanted to see him again. Tom went on to explain how he was going to take a train into town and that if they wanted to see him, they should place a yellow ribbon on the tree of his old school yard. If a ribbon was not there, he would simply stay on the train and they would never have to worry about seeing him again.
The day of the train ride finally came and as he approached his hometown, Tom nervously closed his eyes and turned his face toward the window. As he opened his eyes, his heart almost stopped, for there in every tree of the town, as far as he could see, were thousands of yellow ribbons. His family had spent days turning the entire countryside yellow.
The cross is God's forest of yellow ribbons and there are several ways that this image physically communicates His forgiveness to us.
The cross is a kind of claim stake, driven into the ground by God, saying, "This is my creation and I want it back". Its tenant calls out to the world, "My beloved children, I have given everything I am to win your hearts and I have come to take you home". The breadth of the cross holds Jesus' outstretched arms before the harassed and helpless for all time.
Jesus says, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28). An unknown author once wrote, "I asked Jesus how much he loved me. He said, 'this much', spread open his arms, and died".
"For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him (Christ), and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behaviour. But now he has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation" (Col. 1:19-22).
I know a place where mercy flows
Like a river wild and free
Its wood is stained with Jesus' blood
A life forfeit for you and me
Its shadow hides us from God's wrath
His son alone He sees
The cross removes our guilt, our shame
Peace found here, evermore will be
Bruce Paul is a Christian business man, father of three, lay apologist, and freelance writer. He is a principle of Faith-Friends, a new portal concept to promote local Christian ministries and Christian business people in the marketplace, one community at a time. http://www.faith-friends.com/
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