2-18 The Real Cross: Today Is Friday

The idea that the Lord Jesus ended the Law of Moses on the cross needs some reflection. That statement only pushes the question back one stage further- how exactly did He ‘end’ the Law there? How did a man dying on a cross actually end the Law? The Lord Jesus, supremely in His death, was “the end of the law” (Rom. 10:4). But the Greek telos [“end”] is elsewhere translated “the goal” (1 Tim. 1:5 NIV). The character and person of the Lord Jesus at the end was the goal of the Mosaic law; those 613 commandments, if perfectly obeyed, were intended to give rise to a personality like that of the Lord Jesus. When He reached the climax of His personal development and spirituality, in the moment of His death, the Law was “fulfilled”. He taught that He “came” in order to die; and yet He also “came” in order to “fulfil” the Law (Mt. 5:17).

The sheer and utter reality of the crucifixion needs to be meditated upon just as much as the actual reality of the fact that Jesus actually existed. A Psalm foretold that Jesus at His death would be the song of the drunkards. Many Nazi exterminators took to drink. And it would seem almost inevitable that the soldiers who crucified Jesus went out drinking afterwards. Ernest Hemingway wrote a chilling fictional story of how those men went into a tavern late on that Friday evening. After drunkenly debating whether “Today is Friday”, they decide that it really is Friday, and then tell how they nailed Him and lifted Him up.  ''When the weight starts to pull on 'em, that's when it gets em... Ain't I seen 'em ? I seen plenty of 'em . I tell you, he was  pretty good today" . And that last phrase runs like a refrain through their drunken evening(1). Whether or not this is an accurate reconstruction isn't my point- we have a serious duty to seek to imagine what it might have been like. Both Nazi and Soviet executioners admit how vital it was to never look the man you were murdering in the face. It was why they put on a roughness which covered their real personalities. And the Lord’s executioners would have done the same. To look into His face, especially His eyes, dark with love and grief for His people, would have driven those men to either suicide or conversion. I imagine them stealing a look at His face, the face of this man who didn’t struggle with them but willingly laid Himself down on the wood. The cross struck an educated Greek as barbaric folly, a Roman citizen as sheer disgrace, and  a Jew as God's curse. Yet Jesus turned the sign of disgrace into a sign of victory. Through it, He announced a radical revaluation of all values. He made it a symbol for a brave life, without fear even in the face of fatal risks; through struggle, suffering, death, in firm trust and hope in the goal of true freedom, life, humanity, eternal life. The offence, the sheer scandal, was turned into an amazing experience of salvation, the way of the cross into a possible way of life.  

The risen  Christ was and is just as much a living reality. Suetonius records that Claudius expelled Jewish Christians from Rome because they were agitated by one Chrestus; i.e. Jesus the Christ. Yet the historian speaks as if He was actually alive and actively present in person . In essence, He was. All the volumes of confused theology, the senseless theories about the Trinity. would all have been avoided if only men had had the faith to believe that the man Jesus who really died and rose, both never sinned and was also indeed the Son of God. And that His achievement of perfection in human flesh was real. Yes it takes faith- and all the wrong theology was only an excuse for a lack of such faith. 

It is in our reflections upon the cross that we see revealed the real nature and quality of our relationship with the Lord Jesus. When we survey the wondrous cross… there ought to be that sense of wonder, of love for Him, of conviction of our personal sins, and also conviction of the reality of His forgiveness. As we survey that wondrous cross, all commentary is bathos. It’s like trying to describe the Ninth Symphony in words. It is so much easier, so less challenging, to respond to the cross by seeking to describe it in the words of atonement theory. All the ink pointlessly spilt in this area is indicative of this; there seems an obsession with ‘the doctrine of the atonement’. But the essential response to the cross is not any commentary in words; for as I’ve said, grasping it for what it is convicts us that all commentary is bathos. Not words, not theories of explanation, but feelings, belief deep in the heart, challenge to our habits and traits of character, real, actual, concrete and practical change, a transformation that is empowered by the Man hanging there.


(1) " Today is Friday'' in The Short Stories Of Ernest Hemingway (New York: Scribner's, 1954), p. 357.




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