The Crux of the Issue

The Crux of the Issue

The cross of Christ is the issue this Easter, and the cross of Christ is the issue every Easter! Author John Stott wrote that the late Sir Alfred Ayer (a prominent Oxford philosopher) was scathing in his comments of Christianity, especially the cross of Christ; he said, “… of all the religions of historical importance, there is good reason to regard Christianity as the worst.” And the reason for this thinking was because Christianity rests on “the allied doctrines of original sin, and vicarious atonement, which are intellectually contemptible and morally outrageous.” A similar shot is made by atheist Richard Dawkins, who considers the account of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection as “cosmic child abuse,” because God the Father caused an innocent man in His Son to die for the sins of many. The cross of Christ is under attack because many would like it to be devoid of its true and radical meaning, and if they can dismiss the cross, they can dismiss sin and a need of a Saviour.

Do you realise that the cross isn’t a ‘postcard’ from God portraying a sacrifice and nice sentiment for us to merely admire?  No, the crucifixion of Jesus actually accomplishes something of the greatest magnitude! Paul makes this so clear when he writes,

And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied” – 1 Corinthians 15:17-19

Put it this way: if Christ’s cross and victory doesn’t accomplish what Christ claims it to, then Christianity falls and Christians are to be pitied. The cross most certainly is the crux of the issue, for Christianity rises or falls on the reality of the redemptive work of the cross of Christ.

In our day there are many primary doctrines that are under attack, and none are more central and consequential than ‘Substitutionary Atonement’. In simple terms, this is our belief that Jesus lived the life that we couldn’t on our behalf, and died the death for sin that we should have. Christ’s sacrifice on the cross was the ‘substitution’ that absorbed God’s hate and wrath for sin so that God’s called people can be with Him, who is holy and righteous. So if this doctrine is undermined then other beliefs like sin, hell, justice, mercy, obedience, etc. become unravelled and unimportant. If someone were to want to rip the heart out of Christianity then they would aim to rip the atonement from Christian understanding and belief.

Critics challenge the ‘atonement’ with the cry that it is ‘unfair’ of God. So is it morally wrong or unfair that God would sacrifice His only son? I don’t think it is unfair for God to do what only God can do, for in the cross of Christ we have God both requiring and providing the sacrifice for sin in Jesus. We see this very point being made in Christ’s atonement being foreshadowed in the account of Abraham who in faith lifts his knife above his only son Isaac, and then our gracious God provides the substitute of a ram to serve as an offering in the place of Isaac (Genesis 22:1-13). It’s not unfair for God to crucify His son in our place for our sin; no, what is really unfair is that our sin would need to put Him there. Ultimately Jesus goes to the cross willingly for the plan of God, but our sins are what nailed Him there, for:

this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.” – Acts 2:23–24

I believe the Bible teaches that justice and mercy meet in the cross of Christ, for 1 Peter 3:18 says

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit,” – 1 Peter 3:18

If this substitutionary work of Jesus is not actually the case then I’m perplexed as to the point of the cross. If there is no substitutionary atonement then we are nullifying the meaning and sacrifice of what a loving God has gone to great lengths to do for humanity. If there is no justification, atonement and propitiation through the cross then what is being accomplished? What does Paul mean when he declares, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21)?

Let’s have assurance this Easter (and every Easter) that the cross of Christ is a wonderful collision of the justice of God being satisfied along with His loving mercy being poured out on unjust sinners like you and me. The cross literally is the ‘crux’ of our faith and it is of first importance that Christ died for sins according to the scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:3). This Easter and every Easter the cross is the crux of the issue.

In Christ,

Andrew Edmonds

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