About the cross¶
The cross is the most widely used logo of Christianity. It is probably one of the best-known logos in the world.
Was it really necessary to use such a cruel and sadistic picture? Isn’t it harmful for your children to have a picture of a dying man being tortured in your living room? Isn’t this picture in contradiction with a God who loves us unconditionally? Why did Jesus have to die on the cross?
Our children are used to much more cruel stories than the one of Jesus’ crucification.
Christians worship the cross because it reminds them and others that Jesus had to go through death in order to confirm the Good News.
Getting convicted to death on a cross meant, for the people at that time, that you had done something utterly evil and criminal. No religion can reasonably be based on such a guy. Nobody can be proud about a hero just because that hero managed to get convicted to death in a miserable way. The cross originally signifies a complete failure. To go through death means that Jesus did not only die, but that he also resurrected from death. The symbol of the cross would make no sense without Jesus’ resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:17).
Worshipping the cross also means to refuse to claim that everything is okay. I wouldn’t trust any culture that sweeps under the carpet unpleasant topics like death, hate and war. The Gospel doesn’t fix these issues for us, but it helps us to embrace them.
Penal Substitutionary Atonement¶
Another aspect of the cross is theological. The Jewish faith includes the idea that God punishes us for our sins. If not directly, then up to several generations later.
Jesus’ Gospel about a forgiving God who doesn’t account our sins is the radical opposite of this.
How can we imagine a God who rules the whole world in justice and at the same time forgives every sin? How can we speak about divine justice when those who do evil don’t get punished?
The answer to this is that Jesus died on the cross as an atonement for our sins. The Penal Substitution theory “derives from the idea that divine forgiveness must satisfy divine justice, that is, that God is not willing or able to simply forgive sin without first requiring a satisfaction for it.”
We can develop this and say that Jesus had to die. The cruel end of his human life is part of God’s plan. Because this theological problem needed to get fixed. By his death he “pays back our debt” and definitively saves the world from the old Jewish idea of a God who punishes us for our sins.
This is why Christians sometimes call Jesus the Lamb of God or Redeemer.
Some Bible verses about this:
“Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood” (Romans 3:25)
“For our paschal lamb, Christ, has been sacrificed.” (1 Corinthians 5:7)
“Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:2)
“But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the age to remove sin by the sacrifice of himself” (Hebrews 9:26)
“Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins” (Hebrews 10:12)
“Jesus Christ the righteous, and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 2:2)
“In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. (1 John 4:10)
Did Jesus die for my sins?¶
Some Christians love to say that Jesus died on the cross “for my sins” or even “because of my sins”.
We should be careful with this formulation because people can get it wrong. I have heard children understand it as “When I lie to my parents or steal something, then I become co-responsible for Jesus’ death”. Ouch, that’s obviously not what the Gospel tells us!
Yes, of course also my sins have been atoned. It would be ridiculous to believe that I would have committed some especially detestable sin that would exclude me from God’s forgiveness.
I guess that Christian authors use such formulations in order to express that God’s forgiveness is not limited to an abstract theological idea or the collective sins of a whole people. The Gospel is indeed something personal, something that happens between God and me.
Keith Giles formulates well why many people turn away from church. He writes (source): “It’s quite disturbing to me that so many Christian churches today are continually fixated on how sinful we all are. They constantly remind us that we are unworthy and that our sins are filthy and that this keeps us separated from God.” In another blog post (Seven reasons why Jesus was not sacrificed for your sins) he goes further and writes that “One of the lynchpins of Penal Substitutionary Atonement Theory [PSA] is that Jesus had to die on the cross to fulfill God’s requirement for a worthy sacrifice that could atone the sins of mankind once and for all”. In a theological fight against the idea of atonement he gives a list of Bible verses that turn it ad absurdum.
Which for me is a funny example of how the Bible can be interpreted in very different ways. Theology is an eternal wayfare in boggy lands!