I held my cross necklace in front of me. It had been a Christmas gift, and I couldn’t have picked a prettier piece of jewelry if I’d chosen it myself. As I languished over the prospect of the next chapter of my life, I admired the craftsmanship of it. Gold chain. Gold pendant with small stones that looked like diamonds. It was beautiful.
“But it wasn’t pretty to you, was it?” I finally said out loud.
No, it wasn’t, Jesus answered.
The image of gold and gemstones faded, and my mind’s eye saw wood, splinters, and blood.
“It was really ugly, wasn’t it? Hideously ugly.”
Yes, it was.
I pondered that a while in silence. Then I went back to looking down the road before me that I did not want to walk. It was not my plan. I was pretty sure it was not God’s plan, either. Yet there it was, and I really had no better alternative but to walk it.
“Jesus, if you did that for me, then I guess I can trust you no matter what lies down that road. I’ll walk it, and trust you.”
That was the end of the conversation.
But it wasn’t the end of my pondering. One question I couldn’t get past was, Why did it have to be a crucifixion? If Jesus had to die, why did it have to come by the most cruel, inhuman, torturous form of execution known to man?
I couldn’t venture a guess at that for a long time.
Today, on the verge of Easter, I have a theory. It grew out of my own imagination, so it’s nobody’s doctrine. It’s just my speculation, so take it for what it’s worth.
Being eternal, Jesus existed, with the Father, before the world began. Being omniscient, he knew that we would rebel and fall into sin. Being the essence of pure love, he chose to act: I will go to them. As many as will receive me, I will save.
But that introduced a problem into our world, what with our superficial human hierarchies and petty grievances. Jesus is pure righteousness. Man is fallen and given to sin. Sin cannot endure righteousness, therefore, it was inevitable that sinful men (and women) would not merely dismiss or dislike Jesus. They would hate him. Loathe him. So much that they would seethe with a bristling, fulminating, contempt that would not be satisfied until it had done away with its object.
Maybe, I’m beginning to think, it didn’t have to be so bad, but it just was. Because that’s how bad sin really is.
And he knew it all along. He knew exactly how it would end. But he would nevertheless allow the epic saga to play out, himself at the center of it, knowing and silent. He would go to the cross, the hideous splintered, bloody one, hang on it, and die for the ones who would stop and think long enough to ponder exactly what was going on, even after it was over.
And so … it played out all the way until the end. Tetelestai, he said finally. “It is finished.”
What is finished? The work he set out to do. He came to deal with the sin problem once and for all, and the cross became the focal point for all the horror and hideousness of sin. To look upon the bloody, wooden cross of crucifixion is to see what sinful man does to pure righteousness. It’s ugly because that’s how bad sin is.
What is finished? The debt he came to pay. He took the sin, like a lightening rod, onto himself. For you and for me.
Will you look upon it with me today? Look at it, and keep looking at it until you know the answer to the question, What happened here? and can walk away free from sin because you put yours off onto the lightning rod-man on the cross. You can trust him more than you can trust yourself.