Our understanding of who God is and who we are drastically affects our understanding of who Christ is and why we need him, For example, if God is only a loving Father who wants to help his people, then we will see Christ as a mere example of that love. We will view the Cross as just a demonstration of God’s love in which he allowed Roman soldiers to crucify his Son so that sinful man would know how much he loves us.
But this picture of Christ and the Cross is woefully inadequate, missing the entire point of the gospel. We are not saved from our sins because Jesus was tried by Jewish and Roman officials and sentenced by Pilate to die. Neither are we saved because Roman persecutors thrust nails into the hands and feet of Christ and hung him on a cross.
Do we really think that the false judgment of men heaped upon Christ would pay the debt for all humankind’s sin? Do we really think that a crown of thorns and whips and nails and a wooden cross and all the other facets of the crucifixion that we glamorize are powerful enough to save us?
Picture Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane. As he kneels before his Father, drops of sweat and blood fall together from his head. Why is he in such agony and pain? The answer is not because he is afraid of crucifixion. He is not trembling because of what the Roman soldiers are about to do to him.
Since that day countless men and woman in the history of Christianity have died for their faith. Some of them were not just hung on crosses; they were burned there. Many of them went to their crosses singing.
One Christian in India, while being skinned alive, looked at his persecutors and said, “I thank you for this. Tear off my old garment, for I will soon put on Christ’s garment of righteousness.”
As he prepared to head to his execution, Christopher Love wrote a note to his wife, saying, “Today they will sever me from my physical head, but they cannot sever me from my spiritual head, Christ.” As he walked to his death, his wife applauded while he sang of glory.
Did these men and women in Christian history have more courage than Christ himself? Why was he trembling in that garden, weeping and full of anguish? We can rest assured that he was not a coward about to face Roman soldiers. Instead he was a Savior about to endure divine wrath.
Listen to his words: “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.” The “cup” is not a reference to a wooden cross; it is a reference to divine judgment. It is the cup of God’s wrath.
This is what Jesus is recoiling from in the garden. All God’s holy wrath and hatred toward sinners, stored up since the beginning of the world, is about to be poured out on him, and he is sweating blood at the thought of it.
What happened at the Cross was not primarily about nails being thrust into Jesus’ hands and feet but about the wrath due your sin and my sin being thrust upon his soul. In that holy moment, all the righteous wrath and justice of God due us came rushing down like a torrent on Christ himself. Some say, “God looked down and could not bear to see the suffering that the soldiers were inflicting on Jesus, so he turned away.” But this is not true. God turned away because he could not bear to see your sin and my sin on his Son.
One preacher described it as if you and I were standing a short hundred yards away from a dam of water ten thousand miles high and ten thousand miles wide. All of a sudden that dam was breached, and a torrential flood of water came crashing toward us. Right before it reached out feet, the ground in front of us opened up and swallowed it all. At the Cross, Christ drank the full cup of the wrath of God, and when he had downed the last drop, he turned the cup over and cried out, “It is finished.”
This is the gospel. The just and loving Creator of the universe has looked upon hopelessly sinful people and sent his Son, God in the flesh, to bear his wrath against sin on the cross and to show his power over sin in the Resurrection so that all who trust in him will be reconciled to God forever.
Excerpted from the book Radical – Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream by David Platt