The Message of the Cross
Dr. Valson Abraham
“Weep for yourselves and for your children” (Luke 23:28). “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).
Countless painters have painted the scene of Jesus’s crucifixion or dramatized it on film.
There is a natural tendency among many people to regard the cross as a tragedy, a terrible thing that happened to a good man who did so much good for multitudes of people. Many people talk about Jesus’ suffering unjustly at the hands of evil men. They even weep for Jesus because they see Him as a victim of evil.
This also happened in Jesus’ time. Luke tells us that when some women saw him on the way to His crucifixion, they wept in pity and sorrow over His mangled appearance following great torture and abuse. No doubt, many of them, or members of their families, had heard His teachings. Some may have experienced healing and deliverance. Now they saw blood from the whip and flesh shredded to the bone. They recoiled in horror at this wanton evil perpetrated on an innocent man. They recoiled from the heartless mobs who scorned His agony.
In one sense, we understand the shock of these women. The sight sickened them, yet a wicked rabble laughed at the sickening spectacle! The women’s tender mercies erupted in tears. Who could blame them? Yet in the midst of His obvious agony, Jesus seems to rebuke this weeping over Him. He rejects their sympathy and pity. Instead, He tells these women, “Do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children.”
Why would Jesus talk this way about the commendable sorrow of the women who identify with Him while others mocked? Was he merely showing bravery in the face of His imminent death? Why should they weep for themselves rather than for Him who is about to suffer the worst of deaths, especially since He didn’t deserve it?
I believe that in this unexpected word from Jesus, we find an astonishing but tough message of God’s love for us as we approach Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday.
In spite of the women’s tender hearts, they still did not really know who He is and what He was up to. They saw in Him a good man, teacher and miracle worker, but they did not yet see the Son of God. It is not as if He did not warn them earlier that this day would come. He foretold his agony numerous times. We see this in Mark 8, Matthew 16 and Luke 9. In John 3, Jesus tells Nicodemus, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up.”
In Matthew 20, He details how He will be betrayed to the chief priests and teachers of the law who will condemn Him to death. The Gentiles (Romans) will mock, flog and crucify Him, but on the third day, He will rise again. No, none of this took Jesus by surprise.
The week of His crucifixion, after He entered Jerusalem, He announced to a group of people, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified…For this hour I came into the world” (John 12:20-27). Jesus calls out to His Father, “Father, glorify your name.” We are told a voice from heaven heard by the crowd, saying, “I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again.”
Recall also that at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, John the Baptist introduced Him to his followers, saying, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” By this introduction, John presented Jesus as the perfect sacrifice promised by the prophets hundreds of years earlier. Sacrifice involves death. His death would become necessary to remove the worst of curses upon all humanity.
That curse is the curse of sin. Sin is falling short of the glory of God. It is suppression of God and the knowledge of God, so that we cut ourselves off from the life of God and get the horrible things that invade and destroy all our lives and distort our humanity. Because of sin, we have all lived stunted and crippled lives that curse our lives and ultimately lead to death and judgment.
This curse of sin incites God’s wrath and indignation because sin imprisons, blinds and kills those made in His image. We have all felt and known sin in our bodies, souls and spirits. Sin takes us all to destruction whether we know it or not. We are all worse off than we think we are.
All this havoc of sin comes about as the work of the devil, the great enemy of God and all of us made in the image of God.
Jesus was born to end this curse, to destroy the works of the devil and set us free (John 12:31). He came to bear sin within Himself and destroy it once and for all, to set us on a new course, to enter a new humanity.
Jesus’ death on the cross is not merely the act of evil men against a good man, but the plan of God to become the sacrifice that would bear all the sins of all people everywhere, destroy them and take them away. As He told His followers, “…now the ruler of this world is cast out. And I, if I am lifted up from the earth [crucified], will draw all men to Myself” (John 12:30-31).
The cross displays the love of God to men, women and children who are still sinners. In John 3:16, we read, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whosoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.” Paul reminds us in Romans 8, “If God spared not His own Son, will He not give us all things?” This is love of God at its highest.
Let us briefly summarize what the cross of Christ accomplishes:
The cross glorifies God.
The cross destroys the work of the devil.
The cross restores men, women and children to a new place with God.
The cross replaces the rule of the devil with the kingdom of God.
The cross displays the love of God.
In other words, the cross fulfills the plan of God, conceived before He created the world. The cross sets things right. That is good reason to rejoice and thank God for the cross. For these powerful reasons, Jesus said, “Do not weep for me.”
Instead, Jesus tells the women (and us), “Weep for yourselves and for your children.” Why? Because the cross reminds us in all its starkness and ugliness just how monstrous our sin really is in God’s eyes and how terrible is sin’s curse. It reminds us of the radical and unspeakable remedy God must take to rid such a large and deadly tumor from the human race. He sent Jesus from heaven to earth, to die on the cross precisely because of what we all have done to put Him there.
When we focus above all on Jesus’ sufferings and
the injustice He experienced, we do not fully know
who Jesus is. We are ignorant of God and His boundless love. We are ignorant of ourselves and our vile condition before a holy God, ignorant of our helpless guilt before Him, the sentence of death and hell upon us all. We are ignorant of the fate of all who remain unrepentant before a righteous and holy God. We are ignorant of our own hopelessness without Him.
How often have you wept for yourself and your children, your sin, your ignorance of God, the calamity you surely face if you do not trust His work on the cross? Do you see yourself as part of the reason for His agony and death? Have you fully realized the consequences of insulting your Maker by failing at what He expects from you, for rationalizing your sin, even laughing at it? Have you fully realized what it cost God to save you? These things should bring your weeping, and mine.
“Do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and your children.” In other words, repent. Turn to the Lamb of God. Trust in Him who went to the cross for you to take away your sin. He crushed your sin. He has defeated the devil. He has displayed His sacrificial love. He did it all for you and for me.
But drops of tears can ne'er repay
the debt of love I owe.
Here, Lord, I give myself away;
'tis all that I can do.
How best to show our love to Him but to tell others of this glorious good news of the cross.
Father God, I confess that my own sin helped to nail your Son to the cross, to sacrifice Himself on my behalf. Help me to understand more fully what happened on that day so that I may better live in gratitude of your great love and tell others this message of the cross. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.