This title comes from the account of Jesus hanging on the cross. The Roman soldiers were mocking him, and the Jewish leaders decided to chime in. In the Passion translation, their full sarcasm reads:
“He saved others, but he can’t even save himself! Israel’s king, is he? He should pull out the nails and come down from the cross right now; then we’ll believe in him!” (Matt. 27:42)
This is painful for me to read, and to reflect that this is what so many people would say right now if these same events were unfolding before them.
Jesus on the Cross makes people very uncomfortable. Maybe if he had pulled out the nails and come down from there, they might have to believe that he was more than just a beleaguered rabbi who got in trouble with the Jewish religious hierarchy. But because he stayed there to his dying breath, he was just another victim of human cruelty. At best he’s someone to be pitied, at worst a cult leader to be dismissed as a fraud.
Even today (or maybe I should say especially today), unbelievers who hold Christ and Christians in contempt, or simply see them in a condescending light, might say, “I believe that Jesus lived, and that he taught some good things. But don’t talk to me about sin, or the cross, or resurrection! Don’t tell me it matters whether I believe he is the Son of God. If all that makes you feel better, that’s your business. To me it’s all a bunch of nonsense.” This is of course grounded in moral and religious relativism. And it hurts the heart of Father God, the One whose will was fulfilled on that dark day.
In the Greco-Roman world of Jesus’ day, people would gather to debate the philosophies and politics of the day, as they do in all ages. It was OK to talk about God, or gods, or spiritual things—endlessly—without coming to any conclusions. But when the followers of Jesus started proclaiming the name and cross of Jesus Christ it stirred people up! If you read the Acts of the Apostles, you’ll see that those disciples never backed down on these truths. They couldn’t. The gospel taught by Jesus, all that they had witnessed, and whole unfolding of Christian doctrine could only hold together because of the Cross.
Jesus did not come down. He finished his assignment on that Cross. It was the scene of his greatest triumph (Col. 2:14-16). He paid for the sins of the world, and “by his wounds we were healed” (Is. 53:5; 1 Pet. 2:24).
The Apostle Paul often encountered the anti-Christ spirit in the Greco-Roman world, and he responded to it boldly. Even in the emerging, rapidly growing church of Corinth, Christ on the Cross could be a sticking point. Paul wrote,
” For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. (1 Cor. 1:17-18).
The choice is made clear. If a person insists that Jesus come down from the Cross to prove himself, that person is perishing. But if a person takes in the deep and vast truth of Christ’s accomplishment at the Cross–however foolish it may seem to human intellect–that person is being saved.
If you’re reading this, and you don’t like it, I’m afraid I can’t apologize. I’m a highly educated, rational person who believes and is humbly grateful that Jesus stayed on the Cross until my atonement was complete.
Eternal “at-one-ment” with God could only happen there.
Bless you, during this blessed season!