I’ve borrowed what follows from a little book I wrote called The Dragon Slayer (Amazon has it).
The cross of Jesus claims that the true measure of sin is not how we feel about it or how repulsed we are by it or even how much agony it has cost us when others have sinned against us. As I see it, this is one of the places at which the cross appears in its most scandalous light.
God does not hold us responsible for not being God. And when he teaches us (as he does throughout the Bible) that He sees sin more clearly than we do He does not hold us in contempt because that’s true. He understands we can’t know it as He does because no one is holy as He is holy and it is only the holy one who truly sees sin for what it is. So when we feel and speak against it as we do—limited though our sense of it is—He is pleased with the genuineness of our renunciation. Just the same, He insists on our believing that the true and full measure of human sin is seen only in the cross of Christ.
But think how difficult that is for millions to believe. Let me focus on the astonishing evil that exposed itself during the Hitler & Stalin years. There must be thousands of books that rehearse the crimes that leave us speechless until we feel we must say something if only to keep from saying nothing. And who can forget the images that we’ve seen on television and in the movies? Haven’t we at times been on the verge of rising to stick our boot through the television set in irrational fury? And haven’t we now and then shouted at God, “How could you let this go on?” This is how we who are spectators feel, so how must it have been for those who were actually enduring it.
Now try telling those people that the true measure of sin is not the crucifixion of the Jews and other nations by the Nazis at Auschwitz, Dachau, Buchenwald or the Stalin murder of millions, and elsewhere. Tell them that the true measure of sin is revealed in the crucifixion of a young Jew on a cross outside Jerusalem some 2,000 years ago. Tell them that and see their response!
Tell that to those who know what has happened in the gulag prison system down the years where on Solzhenitsyn’s conservative figure, 68.7 million people have died after prolonged crucifixions. Tell it to the multiplied millions who lived in the dark nights of Papa Doc, Pol Pot; tell it to the people in Syria, South Sudan, Yemen, Africa, North Korea and the numberless oppressed, ancient and modern.
Tell them that that the New Testament teaches that the comparatively humane death of Jesus of Nazareth is the true and full revelation of Sin. In unison they will tell you that you’re deranged. And they’ll feel insulted beyond measure because it will look like you’re minimizing the awesome magnitude and depth of their loss and the twisted malevolent evils that confound adequate description.
But that’s not what the New Testament is doing. That’s not at all what the cross of Christ does! It doesn’t make less of human suffering—it makes more of it! We see all that as moral evil and the cross says it’s more than that—it’s sin!
When my child is raped or my family tortured I want you to tell me that my feelings matter and that my pain is a measure of the sinfulness of sin. But I want you to tell me it’s worse than that! I want you tell me that if there’s a God that He thinks it’s worse than that. I want you to tell me that there aren’t enough words in the entire world or enough passion in the whole of humanity to damn it with. When my personal pain is multiplied by tens of millions and we stand in speechless rage and utter bewilderment at the sights and sounds of it we want someone to say, “Yes, the eternal God agrees with you. It’s as bad as you feel. Your devastation and your ceaseless fury-filled protests are a measure of it all. But it’s worse even than that.”
That’s what Christians mean to do when they say the cross of Christ is the true measure of sin. Minimize the world’s hurt and the oppressor’s wrong? God forbid! And the cross forbids!
When Judas betrayed Christ that night something more profoundly serious had happened than a friend turning against a friend (Luke 22:3-6). A “world spirit” was defying eternal holiness and God’s aim to bless a world. Spiritual hosts of wickedness in all their forms were weighing in against holy love—worlds were colliding. Cosmic corruption and pollution was showing itself and coming to focus in that specific moral crime and in that specific person. That’s what Luke meant when he said Satan entered Judas! At the cross it was more than religion and politics and realism in a deadly mix doing away with an innocent man (as they have so often done). It was satanic evil against God himself. It was Satan screaming, “You will not redeem them.” It was human evil as part of a corruption that reaches beyond the stars. The monster that swelled in the nineteen twenties and forties in Europe until it blocked out the sun is beyond our comprehension. As inexpressibly vile as these crimes are in and of themselves, they are only the ulcers generated by a galactic predator that has ravaged worlds seen and unseen. Sin!
At Calvary, Christ was saying to every sufferer down the ages, “What has happened to you is more sinister than you know. It is part of creation’s self-destruction; it’s part of creation’s sinful alienation from its God and you in your awful agony have exposed its hind quarters.” But we could never have known this except via the cross of Christ for that is where the alien power fully exposed itself. We could stutter something legitimate about moral evil but we couldn’t see it as “sinful” because the word “sin’ only makes sense when God enters the picture.
Make less of our astonishing cruelty and inhumanity? No, Golgotha is Auschwitz and Africa and Cambodia, Syria, North Korea and every other hell-hole seen through the eyes of God. We don’t mean to diminish the sickening savagery when we speak of the cross. We have another agenda in mind.
If He is such a lover of humans why doesn’t He do something about it—now? God could answer that perfectly legitimate question, He has the answers but we couldn’t grasp the complexity of the situation. That’s not a dodge—it’s the truth (compare John 16:12). We know from our own experience that we’re faced with a host of specific questions that we can’t wrap our minds around even when most of the facts are before us. But even if God explained everything satisfactorily that wouldn’t be enough; it’s not explanations we want when we’re in agony—we just want it to stop! What He asks for, and He knows how great a thing He is asking for, is for us to trust Him that He will right all wrongs—He asks us to trust Him. In the meantime He has made it clear in Jesus Christ who came and shared in His own life some of what the tortured millions have suffered, that He sees and will not forget what is going on. I am one of the countless who have been called by God to give the plundered and abused of the world a gospel and it’s this—THIS IS NOT HOW IT ENDS! THIS IS NOT AS GOOD AS IT GETS FOR YOU. HE NOT ONLY DIED FOR YOU, HE AROSE IN TRIUMPH OVER ALL YOUR ENEMIES. THOSE WHO OPPRESS AND TORMENT YOU HAVE MADE AN ENEMY OF HIM.
(Holy Father, convince us that You love the entire human family and deliver Your people from our self-centered search for more “rights” while millions of our brothers and sisters in this human family suffer so terribly. More and more deliver us from Sin that we might give the hurting world hope and a song to sing. Remind us that Resurrection follows the Cross. Our prayer in Jesus’ name.)