But what is that compared to the darkness that fell in the eighteenth year of Tiberius at Jerusalem, when midnight came at noon. For three hours, an impenetrable darkness shrouded the earth as a carpenter from Nazareth hung on a cross. That darkness was occasioned by no power failure. Quite the contrary. Spiritual power had won the victory over military, political, and religious power put together. Here is the strange truth. In that darkness, the light of God's purpose is most clearly seen. Those purposes are made plain in 1 Peter 1:18-23:
Here we see that the cross is related to God's eternal purpose. It was planned before the foundation of the world. Revelation 13:8 speaks of the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world. Of course, Christ was not literally slain before the foundation of the world. The meaning must be that God knew about it before creation. How remarkable that He created us at all. Would parents ever become parents if they knew the heartache and the pain it would cause? Perhaps, but no young couple thinks of those things, nor can see that far ahead. God knew, yet He created us."Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot: who verily was fore-ordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you, who by him do believe in God, that raised him up from the dead, and gave him glory; that your faith and hope might be in God. Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently: being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth forever."
It means that Christ knew when He came into the world He must die for it. Yet He came. Thus Christ's death is unique. He was immortal. All others who have died sacrificial deaths have been mortal. They would have died eventually anyway. Here one immortal accepts death. His motive was pure mercy. He did not die to gain relief or release, nor for the satisfaction of doing one's duty. It was mercy alone that motivated Him. And He died to procure something for His killers. Many have died for family or country. Christ died for the men who caused His death! "Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends." Underline the word "man." There is a greater love. Christ died for his enemies.
A Russian novel describes a nobleman driving across the frigid country side, pursued by hungry wolves. One of the horses is left behind, but soon the wolves have devoured him and again are in pursuit. Finally, the servant volunteers to stay behind and to sacrifice himself to give the nobleman time to flee. It was an heroic deed, but the servant offered himself for one whom he regarded as his superior. Here it is the Superior who dies for the inferior.
The cross is related to God's redemptive purpose. It enabled God to save us. Romans 3:25, 26 says that it made it possible for God to be just and the justifier of them that believe. How could a holy God forgive our sin without losing some of His holiness? How could a loving God not offer us forgiveness and yet remain a God of love? Those two dilemmas are solved by the cross.
There is no parallel to it, no illustration of it. It is unique, and nothing like the death of Christ ever happened before or since. The closest we can come is the sacrificial lamb offered in the Old Testament. The Bible uses that comparison, calling Christ the Lamb of God. But even then the differences are greater than the similarities. The Lamb stands for innocence and purity, but it is symbolic. The lamb has no moral choice. Jesus did have such a choice, yet He was sinless and pure. The lamb was passive, not willfully going to sacrifice. Christ said, "No man taketh my life from me. I lay it down of myself." There was no personal bond between the lamb and the sinner. Yet Christ was like us, made like unto His brethren.
We are baffled when we see good and evil locked in mortal combat. Christ had a double agony, for He was perfect God and perfect man. As man, He identified with sinners, the victim of Satan. As God, He resisted sin and refused Satan. As man, He felt the divine wrath and displeasure the sinful must always feel in the presence of the holy. As God, He felt the horror the holy must always feel in the presence of sin.
We are in one respect like the British author, DeQuincy. He was a man who turned on to drugs long before the present generation discovered them. He never cleaned the rooms where he lived. When they became uninhabitable, he simply moved on, leaving the mess for someone else to clean up. Because we could do no other, we had to turn over to God the mess that sin had made in our lives. Only He could clean it up.
There are certainly practical purposes to the cross. Everyone reacts to it. Some react with pity, but Christ does not want your pity. "Do not weep for me," He said to the women along the road to Golgotha. Why doesn't He want your pity? Because it reverses the whole plan. God pities man, not the reverse; the cross was His destiny. "For this purpose came I into the world." It was "for the joy set before Him" that He endured the cross. Pity suggests weakness, but here is strength. Most of all, pity can get in the way of the larger emotions. Christ wants you to feel - worship, adoration, commitment.
To the Greeks the cross was foolishness, to the Jews a stumbling block. What is it to you? It should be a convincing demonstration of love. "Herein is love," wrote John, "Not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His son to be the propitiation for our sins." Paul agrees saying, "God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us."
Here is a strong affirmation that the purposes of God cannot be thwarted. Certainly the cross was a wicked scheme conceived in evil hearts; but God foresaw their plans. And in making them, they played into the very hand of God. They tried to silence Him with a cross, but that cross became the sounding board to send the gospel around the world.
Here is a powerful example of patience, of suffering, of obedience. So Peter sees it in 1 Peter 2:21-24. Two Moravian missionaries once entered a leper colony with the gospel, knowing that if they went in, they could never come out again. What inspires such dedication? Two others, in the West Indies, found no way to reach the slaves on a large plantation; so they sold themselves into slavery that they might preach to them. What inspires such sacrifice? It is Christ upon His cross.
The cross has an appealing invitation. Never is there a revival without a sermon on the cross. Never is there an evangelistic sermon that does not somewhere touch upon the cross. Turn through the hymnal. The most appealing songs are songs of the cross. The cross will bring out the best in us or the worst in us. The cross brought out the best in John. Who would have thought that shy, quiet John should be the only one of the twelve with enough courage to stand by the cross. The cross brought out the best in Mary, and the other women, in the centurion, in Nicodemus. The cross brought out the worst in Pilate, Herod, Judas, the soldiers. Why do you suppose they mocked Him and spat upon Him?
The cross is the great divider. It sorts people out. It sifts them. Look at those two thieves on Calvary. They looked just alike to everyone. No one thought there was any difference in them. But the cross separated them and showed us a tremendous difference. So the cross sifts us, sorts us out brings out our best or our worst. That outstretched arm would touch your life today.