Every year, I devote several posts during Holy Week to the cross and resurrection of Christ. I realize that blogging and thoughtful devotional material often do not mix, since many readers simply scan feeds. But I hope that during this week, you will take a few moments to read through these five reflective posts and that you will glory in the sacrifice of our Savior.
The Beauty of the Cross
No theology is genuinely Christian
which does not arise from and focus on the cross.
- Martin Luther
We stepped outside into the soft glow of early morning light. A chill was in the air. Seeing our breath reminded us that summer had faded. Fall was upon us. No more chirping of crickets. No more singing of birds.
My son grabbed his backpack for kindergarten and we headed toward the car. Yesterday had been windy. The trees had surrendered their leaves overnight. The leaves now covered the ground in various shades of colors, like a patchwork quilt that brightens a dreary room. Deep red. Luscious green. Bright yellow. Dark brown. And all sorts of shades in between. The leaves on the driveway were damp from the cool rain, while the ones taking refuge under the trees were old and crispy. No leaf seemed exactly alike.
“What happened to all these leaves?” my son asks me. “Why aren’t they on the trees anymore?”
“The leaves are dead,” I tell him. A puzzled look crosses his face. Dead? But they’re so beautiful. How could they be dead?
When beholding beauty and color, one rarely thinks of death. Yet, these leaves are not signs of life. Their beauty is their death. This canvas on which the Creator splashes his autumn colors is actually a glorious display of death.
It is a paradox woven deep into the fabric of creation. Yes, death is an enemy of God’s good creation. An intrusion. One of the results of our destructive choice to rebel against God. We humans cut ourselves off from the source of life, and death has been inextricably tied to our existence ever since. And yet, there is one death so beautiful, so glorious, that despite its horror and brutality, we are transfixed by its splendor.
To the outsider, it must seem odd that Christians commemorate and celebrate the death of their Founder. Our songs tell of blood, death, and sacrifice (often to upbeat and happy tunes).
Gruesome lyrics. Beautiful truth.
While outsiders find the blood-stained cross repulsive, Christians are compelled by what it represents. We contemplate Christ’s crucifixion. We reflect upon his death. We celebrate his glory. The paradox of death and beauty is at the heart of Christianity.
The Brutal Beauty of Christ’s Crucifixion
Crucifixion – the brutal method of execution devised by the Romans – has become the symbol of Christian faith. Surely there is nothing appealing about dying on a cross:
- Severe flogging. Victims covered in blood.
- Long, iron spikes driven into the wrists. Pounded into the feet.
- Nakedness. Exposed to the elements. Ashamed before the bystanders.
- Convulsions. Every little movement tearing at the hands and feet.
- Desperate gasps for air, as suffocation and exhaustion slowly snuff out of the life of the victim.
The Romans introduced crucifixion as a public spectacle, an ugly form of brutality that sent a powerful message to anyone who dared challenge the Roman government. This is what can happen to you, the cross said.
Most people could not stomach the brutality of crucifixion. Roman citizens could be beheaded, but never crucified. The Roman philosopher Cicero believed crucifixion ought never be mentioned in polite company. Jewish people interpreted crucifixion as a sign of God’s curse.
Signs of death. Ugly. Stark. Brutal.
But one crucifixion is beautiful. In the midst of this vicious death, we peer into the very heart of God. On this windblown, stony hill outside Jerusalem – dotted by three crosses – we see God in his brilliant, unexpected glory. Like the autumn leaves that drape the earth in color, one cross shines in beauty.
Martin Lloyd Jones once said:
“You will never know God as Father except by Jesus Christ, and in particular, by his death upon the cross… Look there, gaze, meditate, survey the wondrous cross. And then you will see something of him.”
Pondering the meaning of the cross draws us into the self-giving love of God. The cross by itself is not beautiful. The atonement is beautiful because it illuminates the heart of God.
What Christ accomplished on the cross is so massive, and the window into the heart of God is so big that no one explanation or description of the atonement can tell the whole story. Because the atonement is at the heart of who God is and what he has done for us, we can never fully exhaust the riches that flow from this event.
But recognizing our inability to mine all the theological treasures represented in the cross of Christ should not keep us from pondering the beautiful truth of this event. In particular, there are three major aspects of the atonement that reveal the beauty of our Creator and Redeemer God. In the following days, we will open the windows and peer into the very heart of God.