Christ to the Cross

The Raising of the Cross     The Raising of the Cross was painted by Rembrandt sometime around A.D. 1633.  In the painting the artist portrayed himself as one among many who placed Christ on the cross to bear the sin of all mankind.  You can see Rembrandt in the center of the painting wearing his painter’s hat.  Rembrandt is telling everyone that it was his sin that sent Christ to the cross, and that it was his hands that lifted Him up to die.  There is a richness of Christian theology in the painting. 

       I understand what Rembrandt is communicating in the picture.  It speaks for itself.  More so, I personally identify with the artist, because I see my hands raising the cross of Christ.  I too am guilty of the sin that put Him there to die in my place.  The cross of Christ is essential to  the gospel message of Christianity (1 Cor. 1:17-18; 15:3-4), and every Christian who believes in Jesus as Savior—at some point in his learning—must see himself at the cross, for Scripture declares, “we died with Him” (2 Tim. 2:11; cf. Col. 2:20). 

       When we think about Jesus, we know from Scripture that He is simultaneously the eternal Son of God and true humanity.  At a point in time, the eternal Son of God took upon Himself sinless humanity and walked among men (John 1:1, 14, 18).  In theology, this is called the doctrine of the hypostatic union.  Though He is fully God, we must always keep His perfect humanity in our thinking as well.  While in the Garden of Gethsemane, just hours before the crucifixion, it was the humanity of Christ that struggled to face the cross.  In the Garden, Jesus “fell on His face and prayed, saying, ‘“My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will’” (Matt. 26:39).  Jesus went to the cross as His Father willed.  When we think about the cross, we realize that it was not Jesus’ deity that died for our sins, but His humanity, as Peter tells us, “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross” (1 Pet. 2:24).  Peter’s reference to “His body” speaks of the humanity of Jesus. 

       Concerning the death of Christ on the cross, The Bible reveals it was simultaneously an act of God as well as sinful men.  When delivering his sermon about the crucifixion of Jesus in Acts chapter 2, Peter declared, “this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death” (Acts 2:23).  In one verse, Peter captures the coalescence of divine and human wills that participated in putting Christ on the cross.  On the divine side, Jesus was “delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God”, and on the human side, He was “nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men [who] put Him to death.”  Jesus was not a helpless victim, torn between the will of God and sinful men, but a willing sacrifice who chose to lay down His life for the salvation of others.  The prophet Isaiah declares:

But the LORD was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief; if He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, and the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand. As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied; by His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, as He will bear their iniquities. (Isa. 53:10-11)

       The language is plain, “the LORD was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief; if He would render Himself as a guilt offering” (Isa. 53:10a).  God punishes sin as His righteousness requires, and saves the sinner as His love desires.  It is simultaneously true that God sent and Christ went.  Christ was willing to be put to death in our place, for the Scripture declares “Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma” (Eph. 5:2).  Jesus said “I lay down My life for the sheep” (John 10:15), and “no one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative” (John 10:18).  Other passages in Scripture clearly reveal that Christ went to the cross willingly and laid down His life for our benefit (Gal. 2:20; Eph. 5:25; Heb. 7:27; 9:14).  Jesus was punished in our place so that we might have forgiveness of sins and the gifts of eternal life and righteousness (John 3:16; 10:27-28; Eph. 1:7; 2:8-9; 2 Cor. 5:21; Philip. 3:9; 1 Pet. 3:18). 

       We must not see Christ dying at a distant time or place.  Like Rembrandt, we must see ourselves at the place where Christ died.  We should see our hands driving the nails and lifting the cross.  We must see Jesus bearing all our sin, and paying the penalty of the Father’s wrath that rightfully belongs to us.  Afterward, we must see ourselves risen with Him into newness of life.  In May, 2006, while taking a seminary class on the Atonement with Dr. Paige Patterson, I wrote a poem and tried to capture in words what Rembrandt captured in his painting. 

Christ to the Cross ©

I and the Father led Christ to the cross,
Together we placed Him there;
I pushed Him forward, no care for the cost,
His Father’s wrath to bear.
Christ in the middle not wanting to die,
Knelt in the garden and prayed;
Great tears of blood the Savior did cry,
Yet His Father He humbly obeyed.

So He carried His cross down a dusty trail,
No words on His lips were found;
No cry was uttered as I drove the nails,
His arms to the cross were bound.
I lifted my Savior with arms spread wide,
He hung between heaven and earth;
I raised my spear and pierced His side,
What flowed was of infinite worth.

Like a Lamb to the altar Christ did go,
A sacrifice without blemish or spot;
A knife was raised, and life did flow,
In a basin the blood was caught.
Past the incense table and the dark black veil,
To that holy of holy places;
The blood of Christ was made to avail,
And all my sins it erases.

Now this Lamb on a cross was a demonstration
Of the Father’s love for me;
For the Savior’s death brought satisfaction,
Redeemed, and set me free.
Now I come to the Savior by faith alone,
Not trusting in works at all;
Jesus my substitute for sin did atone,
Salvation in answer to His call.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Believe in Jesus for Salvation

John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”

       To be saved means to be rescued from harm or danger. Based on the authority of Scripture, all mankind is under the sentence of sin and death, and in danger of eternal damnation (Jo. 3:18, 36; Rom. 1:18; 3:9-10, 23). The good news, according to Scripture, is that God saves sinners based on the work of Jesus who died in our place. The only true God—according to Scripture—has punished sin as His justice requires, and saves the sinner as His love desires. But the sinner must receive the free gift of eternal life by believing Jesus is the Savior—trusting in Him alone for salvation.

       Some men dare to trust in themselves that they are righteous and good enough to earn acceptance into heaven. This is wrong according to Scripture, which teaches that all men are dead in their “trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1), and “helpless” to save themselves (Rom. 5:6). The Scripture is clear that God saves sinners, “not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy” (Tit. 3:5). By sending His Son to the cross to die in the place of sinful men, God has rejected human good as a way of earning salvation.

       Some might ask how God can be just and at the same time declare righteous those who are guilty of sin? God is just in dealing with sin because He has judged it in His Son who died as our substitute and bore the wrath that rightfully belonged to us (Isa. 53:6). He is also loving toward the sinner and offers salvation to us who accept His free gift by trusting in Christ who died in our place (Jo. 3:16; Rom. 5:8). God is both just and the justifier of the one who believes in Christ for salvation (Rom. 3:25-26).

       Jesus alone is the Savior, and to trust Him for salvation is to have eternal life, and be rescued from eternal torment (Rev. 20:14-15). Jesus is the only Savior, “for there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name given among men, by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Jesus stated, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through me” (Jo. 14:6). This is good news to those who accept it.

       The gospel is the good news that “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scripture” (1 Cor. 15:3-4). It’s as simple as, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31).

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.