The Cruel and Beautiful Cross of Christ

Photo Credit: Icon Films

by Jon Gaus

The CROSS…How can a cruel instrument of torture and excruciating death, be seen by some as wonderful and beautiful?”

The future of everything and everyone who ever existed, hinges on what happened that day on the hill outside of Jerusalem called Golgotha …God’s perfect justice AND God’s prefect mercy met in JESUS on the cross. If the human race was ever going to be free from the curse of our sins & death, if we were ever going to escape the God’s righteous wrath against our sins…it had to be JESUS on that cross!

JESUS is the “Only One!” The “Only One” uniquely qualified to restore our relationship with God the Father, and to save us from a just, eternal punishment in Hell. JESUS IS the perfect & awesome mediator!

2 Timothy 2 proclaims…“For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the MAN Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all”

While we were still His enemies…Christ suffered and died for us IN LOVE!

1 John 4:10 T”his is love, not that we have loved God…but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.

Ephesians 2:4–5 “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the GREAT LOVE with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ.”

As one N.T. scholar has stated, The One from whom we needed to be saved, is the One who saved us!…Now that’s GRACE & LOVE!

JESUS IS…the only one qualified to redeem mankind and all of creation, because He is the only one who is fully God and fully man! Since, sin was committed by man, therefore sin must be atoned for by “a man.” Only a “prefect human being” can be a substitute for other human beings! But, as God’s Word states…”For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God!”

We DESPERATELY needed a divine rescue….we DESPERATELY needed a qualified Savior! And the Father, whom we rejectedwe offended and we rebelled against… He sent us JESUS…fully God and fully man, who was tempted just as we are tempted… but remained without sin.

JESUS would let NOTHING STOP HIM in His mission to rescue you and me from sin, death and eternity in Hell! MANY forces tried to stop him from making it to the cross!

Shortly after His birth, the blood-thirsty King, Herod tried to murder Jesus and stop God’s plan of redemption…but The Father sent His ministering angels to rescue Joseph, Mary and Jesus.

As Jesus began His earthly ministry, SATAN came at Him FullForce in the wilderness to tempt Him with the “All the Kingdoms of this World” and to stop Him short of the cross, but Jesus used the power of the Word to continue toward Calvary.

After feeding the 5000, the crowd, wanting an earthly King, (not realizing they desperately needed a “crucified Savior”) tried to stop Jesus from going to the cross, but, in love for sinners…He kept traveling straight toward Calvary!

Even one of those closest to Him…tried to keep Jesus from the cross! Matthew 16 reports it this way…

“Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and be killed… and on the third day be raised. PETER took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord!” This Shall NEVER happen to you. But Jesus turned to Peter and said, “Get behind me Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

JESUS, authoritative, fearless, in total control, face set on Calvary…BUT the moment we get to “Garden of Gethsemane”, it radically changes! Jesus knows what’s in store for Him. It’s been a planned “covenant” between He, the Father and the Spirit since eternity past. Jesus has been warning His disciples for months…YET as he forges ahead to the cross, the Gospel of Matthew tells us he began to “be gripped by a shuddering terror” that sent him falling on his face.

Jesus made it clear to His disciples he had the power to stop this at any time, but as the Jonathan Edwards has stated, “you and I were hanging over the “flames of hell” by a thin thread…and Jesus willingly came to our rescue!

So horrific is the burden on Jesus, of what lies ahead, he cannot even remain upright, and he turns to Peter and John and says “My soul is sorrowful even to death…” He actually “draws near to dying” in His human experience in the garden.

THEN, THE CROSSa place of excruciating suffering and death for common criminals!

Within the first hour of being nailed to the cross the criminal experiences the inability to push himself upward to breathe. Air can be drawn into the lungs but not exhaled. He fights to raise himself in order to get even one small breath. Finally, “carbon dioxide” builds up in the lungs and in the blood stream.

Certainly not a quick death…crucifixion is hours of limitless pain, cycles of twisting, joint-rending dislocations, growing asphyxiation, searing pain as tissue is torn from his lacerated back as he moves up and down against the rough wood of the cross.

Then, a “greater agony” begins: a deep, crushing pain in the chest as the pericardium (the sack that surrounds the heart) slowly fills with serum and begins to compress the heart.

After hours of this torture…its almost over — the compressed heart is struggling to pump heavy, thick, sluggish blood into the tissues — the tortured lungs are making a frantic effort to gasp in small gulps of air. He can feel the “chill of death” creeping through his tissues. Finally…after hours of excruciating torture…the body succumbs to physical death.

As “unthinkable” as it is that the “CREATOR himself…JESUS” would “willing” suffer such a torturous, shameful death by those He creates…on a tree that He created…the historic truth is, “thousands of men” were executed by crucifixion before Jesus…and “thousands” died by crucifixion after Jesus.

NO, “Christ’s suffering” goes much, much deeper than that! Beyond the physical torture of crucifixion…Jesus is bearing three “much greater” agonies on the cross:

First, God the Son, who for eternity has existed in “full divine glory” and “full divine holiness”, is about to have the vile, evil, putrid sins of the whole world, including yours and mine, cast upon Him FULLY!

As 2 Corinthians 5:21 describes, “He became sin who knew no sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God!”

Jesus was also in the “deepest agony” because He knew He was about to have the Father’s full, righteous wrath against all sin poured out fully onto Him…..the wrath of God against sin that had been stored up since Adam’s fall, extending past the cross to your sins and mine, all the way to the end of human history…a torment “infinitely” beyond the pain of physical suffering!

Because Jesus knew He was about to drink fully, of the cup of the Father’s righteous wrath against sin…He prayed to the Father to “take away the cup of wrath…if possible”, if there was any other way!

God’s Word clearly teaches that JESUS was laying down His life willingly, He “had the power” to stop the crucifixion at any time…but out of a “covenant obedience & love to the Father” and out of “perfect, merciful love” for you and I, He ENDURED to the end. As one theologian has described it: “In love, Jesus looks down from the cross at you and me and whispers our name and says, “I drain this cup fully for you, for you who have lived in defiance of me, for you who have hated me, for you who have opposed Me, I drink it all…for you!”

The third horrific torment Jesus knew was coming, was that for the first time in all eternity, He would be separated from the perfect, unity and fellowship of the Trinity! Our finite minds cannot fathom what it was like for God the Son, to have God the Father forsake Him and turn his gaze away from him for those hours on the cross bearing our sin!

The infinite unity and fellowship of the Trinity (that has eternally existed) has to be broken by the Father, because in His perfect holiness, the Father cannot look upon the most obscene mass of sin in the history of the world…resting on one man…His own Son!

So why do some see the cross as WONDERFUL and BEAUTIFUL?

Because Jesus willing went to the cross to experience the Father’s full wrath against our sins… so we will never have to!

Because Jesus, for the first time in eternity was totally alone and forsaken… so we will never have to be!

This is why followers of JESUS…look upon the cross, a cruel instrument of torture and excruciating death, and see it as eternally wonderful and beautiful?”

Camping Out

by Jon Gaus

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

The longer we follow Jesus Christ and experience the daily sanctifying work of his Spirit in our lives, the more we realize the necessity of renewing our minds daily with the living, active Word of God.  We come to discern that there are three voices that are always lying to us…the Enemy, the world and our own sinful flesh.  To combat these powerful lies, we need something even more powerful washing our minds, souls and emotions…and that something is the inerrant, infallible, eternal Word of God which indeed is more precious than gold & silver!

Many of us use daily reading plans and schedules that will get us through the Bible in a year, which is a blessed accomplishment and will certainly bless us beyond measure in every part of our lives.  Yet, there are times when the Holy Spirit (who wrote the Bible) will lead us to “camp out” on a certain verse, half a verse or even a single word that he wants to drill down into our hearts and have us meditate on.  Once, as I was systematically reading through the Psalms, the Spirit stopped me dead in my tracks on the first three words of Psalm 97…”The LORD reigns…”

 All of a sudden, all these Kingdom thoughts came rushing into my heart and mind about the ramifications of these three words for me personally! The LORD should be reigning not only over the entire universe but also over my life, my thought life, over my finances, over my emotions, over my affections, over my identity, etc….and if he’s not, I’ve allowed someone or something else to replace him on the throne of my life!  The Spirit was drilling down and sanctification was happening because I was willing to “camp out” on three words for the day instead of having to stick to my daily reading schedule.  That was a great lesson for me to open God’s Word daily with the prayer of anticipation from Psalm 119:18, “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.”

He Has So Much To Show Us

“Be still and know that I am God…” Psalm 46:10

by Jon Gaus

We all exist in a fast-paced, fast-food, fast-forward culture!  The tyranny of the urgent seems to be pulling us in five different directions and we are succumbing more and more to the addictive time-snatcher that is social media and online brain candy.  Yet, in the midst of this daily frenzy, the Holy Spirit continuously bids us to come and sit at the feet of Jesus… and “be still.” Deep down, most of us recognize that we have the disposition and values of Martha rather than her sister Mary (Luke 10:38-42).  We know that getting things accomplished is “good” and busyness is not only encouraged in our culture but applauded.

Yet, the Spirit keeps calling us to the feet of Jesus, because a major part of the Spirit’s work of sanctification in our lives is convincing us that we are now citizens of a different culture…the Kingdom culture. And, in the Kingdom culture, the King calls His beloved to “be still and know that He is God.”  With all of the hyper-stimulation we’ve been exposing our eyes and minds to it’s very difficult for us to “be still” about anything. But, the Lord Jesus invites us and exhorts his people to come and sit at His feet, gaze into His beauty, soak in His healing presence and grow in our relationship with Him!  His Spirit even has things to speak to us if we will stop treating Him like our “fast-food” God by giving Him a quick two-minute drive-through.

Think of it this way. We’ve all walked into a dark room and at first you can’t see anything. But, if you linger in that dark room for a few minutes and give time for your eyes to adjust and take it all in, all of a sudden you begin making our shapes and seeing objects.  It’s the same way with “being still” before the Lord.  It’s pretty clear from the Scriptures that our God will not be treated as a “fast-food” God but is calling for and deserves our first and best.  When we heed the Spirit’s calling to come and linger in the presence of Christ, if we settle our heart and calm our mind, we will begin seeing with our Spirit!  We will receive a fresh view of the beauty of Jesus, His Spirit will give us a fresh filling Himself, His Spirit will have time to give us fresh revelation and best of all…we will grow deeper in our relationship with Jesus!

Jesus Makes It Personal

Photo by: Travis Silva: Forgiven Photography

by Jon Gaus

In Christianity we often use the phrase that it’s not about “religion” but about a “relationship.”  And, this is certainly true!  God’s Word is abundantly clear that you and I cannot earn our way out of our sinful condition through ‘good works” (Eph 2:8-9) or through any amount of religious activities or rituals.  We must repent of our sins and turn to Jesus Christ and personally put our faith in Him to save us.  This work of salvation wrought by the Holy Spirit of God puts us into a new relationship with God the Father through the redemptive work of God the Son.

Now that we have begun our new life in Christ and the Holy Spirit has begun His life-long work of progressive sanctification in our lives, we must be aware that Jesus has made our fight against sin and temptation very personal!  Instead of just saving us and then sending us on our way telling  us to “try your best” and “be good” and “make sure and follow all of the commandments”, Jesus has made our obedience VERY PERSONAL!

First, Jesus didn’t leave us alone when He ascended back into heaven.  He sent us the person of the Holy Spirit to indwell us, empower us, counsel us and work through us. Notice, the Holy Spirit is personal and not just an “it.” Next, Jesus didn’t just command us to follow all of His commands…He made it extremely personal when He said in John 14:15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”  Just like our salvation, here Jesus is telling all of His followers that our daily fight against sin and temptation is not about “religion” but about “relationship!”  Jesus is telling us that when we choose the way of sin instead of the way of the Spirit toward obedience, we are showing Jesus that at that moment we love ourselves and our sin more than we love Him.

What a motivation for obedience!  Instead of just looking at the commands of Scripture as list of religious rules and regulations to be followed the best we can…Jesu has made it totally personal.  He’s personally given us His Spirit to empower us AND He has told us that each time we are faced with a temptation it really comes down to a choice between who we love more, our sin and ourselves or Him.  Once, we embrace this Kingdom truth that our daily obedience to the commands of Scripture is based on our personal love for Jesus in conjunction with the power of the Holy Spirit in us, we will experience increasing victory sin and temptation in our lives.  Jesus made this all…very personal!

Squeegee Your Mind!

by Jon Gaus

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:2

Every driver has had to face a filthy windshield.  Those times when the accumulation of dead bugs, dirt and bird droppings make it impossible for even your wipers to accomplish a satisfactory cleaning.  That’s when we can’t wait to pull-up to a well stocked gas pump and get our hands on a squeegee soaked in windshield solvent.

There are few things more satisfying than scrubbing a filthy windshield with the spongy side of the soaked squeegee and then flipping the squeegee around to take advantage of the rubber side.  Watch most people when they apply the rubber side of the squeegee to their windshields and you’ll notice how deliberate they are in wiping away all excess cleaning solution and dirt in a careful horizontal pattern, so the result is crystal clear windshield.  This is exactly what the Apostle Paul is commanding us to do here in Romans 12:2!  He warns us that this world is constantly trying to pollute our minds with lies, temptation, accusations and anti-Christ philosophies.  Since, we currently are assigned to live in this world as Christ’s ambassadors and witnesses, it’s impossible for us not to be affected by our environment.  Some of the stuff thrown at us actually sticks! 

This is why Paul goes on to exhort us to “renew our minds.”  The Spirit is communicating through Paul a very critical truth every believer must embrace…the mind is the battlefield!  We’re taught in Ephesians 2:5-6 that our spirit has been redeemed and is now seated with Christ at the right hand of the Father.  We’re taught in 1 Corinthians 15:42-44 that our natural bodies, which are aging and fading away, will be redeemed in heaven when we receive a glorified sinless, sickless eternal body. And, we are taught in Colossians 3:2, and elsewhere, that our minds are being redeemed.  Since the mind is the battlefield, and the world, the enemy and our flesh are constantly trying to plant worldly thoughts into our minds, we must renew our minds daily on the truth of the Word of God.  God’s Word, His love letter to us, always tells the truth about who Christ is and who we are in Christ! 

God’s Word is like a supernatural squeegee that wipes away all of the accumulated lies, accusations and anti-Christ philosophies that have stuck to our minds as we daily traffic in this fallen world.  Just like looking through a sparkling clean windshield, when we clean our minds with the Word of God our view of God and our view of who we are in Christ are no longer distorted but once again accurate and clear!  So, next time you’re tempted to think of time in God’s Word as simply a good spiritual discipline to do…remember its much, much more than that because the mind is the battlefield and it is either being polluted daily by the world or being redeemed daily by the Word!

The Sweet Aroma of Our Prayers

by Jon Gaus

In Revelation chapters 4 & 5, the Apostle John is called up into the heavenly realm and shown the very throne room of God.  John reports back to us, as best he can, the awesome and amazing things he sees around the throne of the Lamb.  One of things that John reports seeing before the throne is your prayers and mine!  He describes the events in heaven constantly unfolding this way:

“And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.” 

Revelation 5:8

This very scene that is unfolding day and night in heaven was foreshadowed in the Old Testament under the Old Covenant. Exodus chapters 30 & 35 describe how every morning and every evening, one priest would go into the holy place of the tabernacle (and later the temple) and burn a fragrant offering on the altar of incense to the LORD. But now that Christ has ushered in the New Covenant through his perfect life, death and resurrection, we born-again believers in Jesus are the temple of the Holy Spirit and we are in the priesthood of all believers. So now there is something offered daily to Jesus that is much better, much sweeter and much more beautiful to Him…our prayers!

So according to the Apostle John’s report of what he saw in the throne room of God, every time we pray in the name of Jesus with proper motives, our prayer is immediately transported right into the throne room of God and kept in golden bowls as a fragrant offering to Jesus to be poured out at His feet and answered in His perfect way and His perfect timing. WOW! This should really help grow our faith in the power and reality of prayer!

In those times when our faith in prayer wavers and is weak, we now have this incredible picture of what happens to all of our prayers, where they immediately go and how precious and fragrant they are to Jesus!  Even when we’re doing something mundane like driving down the road and we say a simple, one-sentence prayer, that prayer doesn’t just float into the air and dissolve….it immediately becomes the incense of worship to Jesus and is before this throne to be answered according to His perfect will!