WHAT DOES THE SCRIPTURE SAY ABOUT THE CROSS?
The Meaning of the Cross may surprise you as being a bit impractical and theological. It sounds like something that a theology professor may enjoy talking about, but not the kind of thing that will help you with difficulties in your marriage or raise your children or pay your bills or overcome your problems.
But in reality, there is no more realistic topic in the entire Bible. The cross of Jesus Christ is at the center of Christian faith. The cross shows us God’s character: His love for lost sinners and His perfect justice met on the cross. If you want to grow in love towards God, which is the greatest and first commandment, then we must grow to understand and appreciate the cross, which shows us His amazing love. If we need to grow in godliness, we must grow in understanding the meaning of the cross that confronts the most prevalent and insidious of all sins called pride.
The cross is where all the wounds of sin have been healed. If you have emotional problems — guilt, anxiety, depression, rage, or whatever — there is salvation in the cross of Christ. If you are going through tragedy or misery, there is plenty of comforts when you ponder on the sufferings of the spotless Savior for your sake. After all, Peter wrote these exact words to the slaves who had suffered unjustly under cruel masters. Words about the wound of Christ (referring to the welts caused by the whipping) must have spoken to the hearts of those slaves who were unjustly whipped. Peter understood that meditating on the cross would produce in them a heart of overflowing gratitude to the One who suffered so much on their behalf.
Keeping Christ’s cross at the center of it all will protect you from the many winds of false doctrine that are blowing in our day. Satan abhors the cross because it sealed his doom, and he is relentless in his attempts to thwart and undermine the cross. In some way, every false teaching diminishes the work of Christ on the cross and magnifies human ability. I believe that the doctrine that Satan is currently working to undermine in American Christianity is the doctrine of sin. If he can persuade people that they are not sinners who deserve the wrath of God, then they do not need a crucified Savior. If he can persuade Christians that they aren’t ongoing sinners in daily need of repentance and the cleansing blood of Jesus, so they don’t need to go further in appropriating the message of the cross. Thus, the centrality of the cross is important to all sound doctrines.
Through the death of Christ on the cross, those who turn to Him are freed from both the power of sin and the penalty.
All our problems stem from sin. Therefore the solutions to our issues center in the cross of Christ.
1. Through Christ’s death on the cross, those who turn to Him are saved from the penalty of sin.
This is certainly the meaning of the words, “Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree”(I Peter 2:24). By using the “tree” rather than “cross,” Peter did not doubt Deuteronomy 21:22-23, where it prescribes the punishment for a condemned criminal, that his body be hanged on a tree: “For he who is hanged is cursed of God.” The apostle Paul points to the same text in Galatians 3:13: “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree.” Both apostles were saying that Christ took on Himself as our substitute the condemnation which we deserved.
When Peter says that Christ suffered our sins, he is quoting from Isaiah 53:12. The justice and holiness of God require that a penalty be paid for sin; Christ has taken this penalty upon Himself on the cross. In discussing the body of Christ, Peter calls attention to the fact of His existence. Since the human race had sinned, a member of the race had to pay the demand of God’s just penalty. But only a sinless person could pay such a fine since others would have to pay for their sin. Jesus Christ, who alone in the human race did not sin (1 Pet. 2:22; Isa. 53:9), is the only one able to bear the sins of the human race. This bearing of sins was a legitimate transaction in which God the Father passed the penalty we deserve to God the Son.
We live in a day of loose justice. People commit terrible crimes and get away with it. A man admits to sexually molesting, murdering and dismembering several people, but pleads insanity and is likely to end up spending some time in a psychiatric hospital. We all know that this is not right.
Many Christians believe that God’s justice is like that. They shrug off sin as if it wasn’t a big deal for God. They think He’s just going to forget it. But the Bible is very clear: all sins must be judged. Your sin is either on you, and you must bear the penalty; or your sin is upon Christ, who suffered the penalty. Either way, God doesn’t take sin lightly! The just penalty must be paid.
Jesus Christ carried your sin on the cross, but you must take Him on the offer. If you confess to Him, you will be saved from the penalty of sin. That is what Peter means when he says, “He Himself bore our sins on the cross in His body.”
But this isn’t the end of the matter. Peter proceeds to show that Christ’s death not only saves us from the penalty of sin but also from the power of sin:
2. Through Jesus Christ’s death on the cross, those who confess to Him are freed from the influence of sin.
“… that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed.”( 1 Peter 2:24). Some have wrongly applied the term” healing “to physical healing. But this is obviously not in the context (neither here nor in Isaiah 53:5). The “for” in (1 Peter 2:25) is EXPLANATORY; Peter is describing what he means by the healing effect of Christ’s death: instead of straying like sheep, as we used to live, we have now been turned (passive verb in Greek) to the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls. In other words, the death of Christ saves us from the continuous power of sin.
THREE FACTS ABOUT THE POWER OF SIN THAT WE MUST UNDERSTAND FROM THESE VERSES:
A. THE POWER OF SIN MADE US TO STRAY CONTINUOUSLY AS SHEEP.
“For ye were as sheep going astray, but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.” (1 Peter 2:25). Peter made use of a verb construction that emphasizes the continuous practice of wandering in the past. Before we turned to Christ as our sin-bearer, we were marked by wandering away from the Good Shepherd and going our own way. We were lost although we may not have known about it. We were in danger of harm and even death, although perhaps we may have been oblivious to it.
Although I’m not a shepherd or farmer, I understand that God didn’t do us a great favor by comparing us to sheep. Domestic sheep are some of the stupidest animals in the world. They must be under the supervision of the shepherd or fall victim to carnivorous beasts. If they get stuck in bad weather, they’re not smart enough or brave enough to survive. But they’re not wise enough to know that they’re not wise, so they keep running away and getting into trouble.
How do sheep do that? Well, for one thing, the shepherd’s intellect or loving dedication is not appreciated. He knows better pasture up on the slopes, but the sheep don’t know what he knows when he makes them climb the hill. All they know is that it’s hard and they are hungry. They see a small patch of grass off the trail and wonder, “Why should we go through all the trouble by climbing this hill? This patch of grass looks good enough.” So, following their appetites and disregarding the shepherd, they turn aside for momentary pleasure and skip the bountiful provision they would earn if they only followed him to the higher ground. This is also applicable to humans, isn’t it?
Sheep aren’t smart enough to know they are lost, or to find their way back to the shepherd if they wanted to. The only way they can get back to him is if he takes the initiative to go out and look for them. That is inferred in Peter’s use of the passive verb “have been turned to the Shepherd.” This is clear in the parable that Jesus told of the shepherd who left his 99 sheep in the fold and went out to look for the one sheep that was lost. It means that none of us can speak of coming to God with our cleverness. If we have to confess to Him, it is because He came looking for us. If you haven’t come to Him yet, you can’t save yourself. But the shepherd is always searching for you. He wants to save you from the power of sin, which causes you to stray from His loving protection and care.
B. THE POWER OF SIN NEEDED DEATH AND NEW LIFE FOR DELIVERANCE.
The power of sin is very strong that we cannot be rescued from it by sheer will, force or by agreeing to turn over a new leaf. There has to be the death of our old man in the course of sin and the redemption of a new life in Jesus Christ: “that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed.” It is the same truth because Paul teaches in Romans 6-8, Galatians 2:20, Colossians 3:1-4, and several other places: that when Christ died, we who believe in Him died with Him. In His death, we were identified with Him. He rose from dead; we too are raised to the newness of life, so that the power of sin will be broken.
WHAT DOES THE BIBLE MEAN?
There are two things I understand. First of all, being dead to sin is an accomplished fact that takes place as soon as I am united with Christ at conversion. Many Christians don’t know about it at the time, but it’s still positionally. Once you accepted Jesus as Savior, you are united with Him in His death on the cross, so that all the rewards of His death will be yours. As Paul puts it (Rom. 6:6, 10-11),
It is real, so believe it! “Still,” you say, “I do not feel dead at all. So how can I believe anything contradictory to my experience?” The key is to recognize that the Bible never means a cessation of existence, but rather a separation. When you die physically, your soul will be separated from your body. To be identified with Jesus Christ in His death means that you are separated from the power of the old life and the evil system of the world. I am now separated from what was once a stronghold on me. I may choose to serve God rather than the lust of the flesh.
The idea of separation is brought out by the term that Peter uses for death, which happens only here in the New Testament. This meant to be separated from or to depart, and thus was used euphemistically of death, as we talk of the departed. Your old nature isn’t eradicated as long as you are in this body. But its power over you has been broken by the cross so that you can exist separately from it.
The second aspect of death entails something that you must do, not something that has already been achieved by your union with God. We see both aspects in Colossians 3:1-5, where Paul says that we have died (3:3) and then he states, “Therefore, put to death …” (3:5). It means that we must take drastic steps to distinguish ourselves from the numerous sins that beset us. This refers to the ultimate and sometimes painful act of denying ourselves in obedience to God. It must begin at the thought of thinking if we want to live in holiness before God.
Peter refers to the first aspect of death, to the separation that takes place positionally when we trust in Christ (“die” is an aorist passive participle whose action precedes that of the main verb, “live”). Having died to sin (in the death of Christ), we are now to go ahead living in righteousness, which means adherence to the commandments of the Bible. When you, as a believer in Christ, are constantly overcome by sin, then you must delve deeper into the sense of His death on the cross, which saves you from the power of sin.
The power of sin caused us to wander continually like sheep; it required death and new life for deliverance.
C. THE POWER OF SIN NEEDS THE ONGOING CARE OF OUR GREAT OVERSEER OR SHEPHERD.
You have been turned “to the guardian and shepherd of your souls.” What a beautiful picture this is, particularly for the slaves to whom Peter was writing, who had been mistreated by their earthly masters! Peter informs them that they are under the tender care of the Good Shepherd, who sees the needs of all His sheep. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, is watching over the souls of His people.
Does the fact that Jesus watches everything you think, speak, and do make you uncomfortable or comforted? If you are trying to live in justice, if your attention is on the cross where the Good Shepherd laid down His life for you as one of His sheep, then it should be a comforting thought that He is keeping watch over your soul. That doesn’t eliminate the need for church leaders to keep watch, nor for you to abstain from sin. But if we seek to obey Him, we can know that He will feed, guide and protect us as our Overseer and Shepherd.
Thus, through the death of Jesus, we are saved both from the penalty and the power of sin. But we have to turn to Him.
3. TO BE RELEASED FROM THE PENALTY AND POWER OF SIN, WE MUST TURN TO CHRIST.
As I said, the passive verb points to the initiative of God in turning us. We do not turn to Christ because of our intellect, or our strength or will power. If we turn, it is because God has graciously turned us (Ps. 80:17-19; Jer. 24:7). At the same time, it’s our responsibility to transform from sin to God (Isa. 55:7). It requires, according to 1 Peter 2:25, a turning from the self-willed life that seeks our way (“straying like a sheep”) to the life of the shepherd and protector of Jesus Christ.
Make no mistake: Genuine conversion is not just an intellectual assent to the facts of the Gospel. Saving faith is always an exchange of masters, from self to Jesus Christ. Although we spend a lifetime growing in our devotion to Christ, if we do not seek to live under His Lordship, our call to faith is questionable.
The cross of Jesus tells of God loves to the sinners— those who are under the penalty and power of sin. If you turn to Jesus Christ and believe what He has done for you by taking away your penalty for sin on the cross, He will free you from the wages of sin and its power. He wants to be your Shepard and Overseer. He loves you just the way you are, but he loves you too much to abandon you that way. He wants to heal you from the destructive effects of sin. Will you turn to Him?