Christians highly value the cross because it means that our sins were borne by Jesus on the cross. The cross was an instrument of Roman torture to administer the death penalty. The criminal was nailed to a beam with his hands over his head or to a cross-beam with his hands spread out. His feet were nailed below. In this hunched-over position, the victim died of suffocation, complicated by loss of blood and other factors.
It’s very important that we recognize that Jesus was nailed to the cross, because prophecy in Psalm 22 indicates that God’s anointed will die by having his hands and feet pierced and his bones will go out of joint. This happens when a person hangs on a cross. (If Jesus had died in any other way, he would not have been God’s chosen Savior.)
It is shameful for someone to die on a cross, and God chose that form of death on purpose. Jesus took on all the shame of our sins when he was on the cross. Then he died. But the third day he rose from the dead – because only people who sinned must stay dead. Jesus never sinned, so death could not hold him.
In the Old Testament dealings with the Israelites, God had instituted animal sacrifices, and it is here that we see the meaning of the cross. When a Jew knew he had committed sin (broken one of God’s laws), he was to take an animal from his flock and kill it before the priest to make atonement for his sin. Those sacrifices teach us that God accepts a substitute – that another may die in our place. On the cross, Jesus was not dying for any sins he had committed, for he was sinless. He was dying in our place. We have broken God’s laws and need to bear the punishment. Jesus is called the Lamb of God because he was the lamb sacrificed in our place. Now, believing in him, we are forgiven all our sins and come into a right relationship with God. In this way is Jesus’ death different from all the criminals’ that the Romans had crucified.
The empty cross reminds us that Jesus rose again. It is a symbol of God’s love. You want to know how much he loved you? Well, see the hands stretched out on the cross? He loved you that much.
What Do You Think?
a. God foretold hundreds of years before Jesus’ birth that he would die with his hands and feet pierced. Jesus was sentenced to die even though he had done nothing wrong – another prophecy that was foretold. Does this sound like God had figured out a way to deal with our sins in advance? Why or why not?
b. If the Son of God had to become man and suffer agony on the cross to set us free from our sins, then what does that say about our efforts to deal with the sin issue, including being a good person?