There is no formulaic order to considering the death of Jesus. Yet if I had to choose a point of inception, it would the coming to a realization of why immersion in this portion of the gospel story is so utterly necessary. Every sincere believer would readily affirm that the cross, in a general sense, is vital. The problem is that the cross was never meant to be known in a general sense. It is something intended to be remembered forever and known as exhaustively as the mind and heart permit. The next several posts will be devoted to briefly expounding why it is so essential to scour the biblical witness through deep meditation and study.
The first of these is the way in which devotion to the story of Jesus’ suffering anchors salvation to a vividly real event and prevents it from drifting into the realm of abstract concepts. Often when considering the subject of salvation our first association is with a body of ideas and doctrines that we have heard throughout our Christian experience. We must resist this with vehemence and turn our eyes to a hill outside of Jerusalem two-thousand years ago. Doctrinal ideas are both necessary and valuable but must not be detached from the real historical event of the cross. Fastening the theology of salvation to a historical event steers our focus to a Person, and thus to relationship.
The cross was not an abstract occurrence to be dissected and evaluated in order to produce cohesive dogmatic statements in thick books. There is a mystery that prevails over the reconciliation of God and man and our eyes need to be fixed upon a real person – a real life – named Jesus. We are saved by throwing our faith upon the man Christ Jesus and what He did, not by merely ascribing to a formula of justification by faith found in a piece of literature. At a real time, in a real place on earth that still exists, a Man suffered the agony of having His hands and feet pierced and pinned to wooden beams. To those present that day, the subject of modern sterile theological musings and hostile debate was a scene unforgettable in its horror and yet somehow unthinkably beautiful. Memories of skin torn asunder, heaving sweat, dripping blood, and tear-stained eyes filled their minds at the mention of the cross of Christ. Through meditating on the testimony of Scripture and the ministry of the Holy Spirit we, like them, should also know the feeling of this graphic scene bearing down upon our souls until we are crushed.
If one’s preoccupation is linguistic metaphors and ideas found in “the text”, it is possible to walk away from study of the cross unmoved. Yet if we join John at the foot of the cross and behold the chest we leaned upon the night before now covered in blood and straining to be filled with breath, indifference is not plausible. If we kneel beside Mary and look up to see the One who entered her womb by the Holy Spirit, the One who grew before her eyes through the passing years, the One promised to sit upon the throne of David, now marred and reviled, our heart is flung into a torrent of emotion. There is so much recorded in the gospels concerning those final days, and as we give careful attention to those details the cross will actually be real to our souls.