Because of recent prompting, I’ve visualized myself at the foot of the cross looking up at the Crucified Christ. While Protestants are sometimes critical of the Roman Catholic crucifix and say that Jesus is no longer on that cross, thinking about His suffering is not a bad idea. But those thoughts are painful.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people? (Isaiah 53:8)
Martin Luther says that if I reflect deeply on the suffering of Christ, I will be “terror stricken” and the more I reflect, the deeper the impression. I might not use those words “terror stricken,” but Luther is right about that reflection making a deep impact on my heart.
Whenever I struggle with temptation, fleeing to the Cross makes even the most appealing sin lose any glamour it might have had. Whenever I fall into self-effort and think I can live my Christian life without prayer and the Holy Spirit, the mere thought of Jesus crucified and dying humiliates all my best efforts. If I could do this without Him, He would never have needed to be there. If I start grumbling, thoughts of the cross change my griping to gratitude. The cross is a powerful image because the reality of what happened there is immensely powerful.
The Bible says the preaching of the Cross is a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles (1 Corinthians 1:23). It does not make sense to many, yet it is the central message of the Gospel. Jesus died for my sin. Yes, He rose from the dead and the Cross is now empty, but first He suffered died. If I am rejoicing in the power of the resurrection, that is a wonderful way to think, but if sin, or self-effort, or grumbling is tempting me, then I need to move back a couple of days and consider what happened on that fateful Friday.
For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. (1 Corinthians 1:18)
The word of the Cross is foolishness to those who do not believe. It terrified the Jews when Peter preached it to them, but it also changed many lives...
(Peter said,) “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:36–37)
Some versions say these listeners were “terrified,” but whatever the description, putting their focus on the crucifixion, the Cross, had a strong effect. They trembled and were contrite, bowed before the reality that their sin killed their Messiah. Thousands repented and believed in Jesus Christ.
The cross had to be. What is the point of dying for my own sin? God’s wrath against sin is satisfied, and that would be the end of it and of me. Instead, He wants me to live forever with Him, so He became a man and took my place, dying for my sin so I could go free, so I could live forever.
As Luther says, when I view the nails piercing through His hands, I know this was because of my sin, and that crown of thorns was on His head because of my wicked thoughts and other sins. Where one thorn pierced Christ, more than a thousand should pierce me in eternal suffering.
One believer in early church was so terror stricken by Christ’s sufferings that he said, “I imagined I was secure and I knew nothing of the eternal judgment passed on me in heaven, until I saw that the eternal Son of God took mercy on me, stepped forward and offered himself on my behalf in the same judgment. Ah, it does not become me still to play and remain secure when such earnestness is behind those sufferings.”