The cross is en vogue today as a fashion accessory.This symbol of the Christian faith is emblazoned on shirts and purses, and is even a popular tattoo design. People wear crosses around their necks and have them hanging on the walls of their homes.But I sometimes wonder if any of these people have any idea as to what the cross is all about or what it really represents.Let me address that in a few words in this short column.The cross is where everything was finished and where everything started.Right before Jesus died, he said something of breathtaking importance. An eyewitness to his crucifixion wrote, "When he had received the drink, Jesus said, 'It is finished.' With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit" (John 19:30 NIV). This statement from the cross was not the whimper of a defeated man. No! It was the triumphant shout of victory of the Son of God. In Greek, the statement is one word, consisting of ten letters: Tetelestai. It means, "It is finished, it stands finished, and it always will be finished."Matthew's gospel tells us that Jesus shouted this word with a loud voice (see Matthew 27:50). I call it the battle cry of the cross. It's as if Jesus was saying, "The war is over."This word was not only heard by those who stood at the foot of the cross, but also reverberated, no doubt, through both the hallways of Heaven and the corridors of Hell itself. In the presence of the Father, it was a cry of victory, marking the birth of a new covenant relationship between God and humanity. Man could now approach, speak to, and know the God who created him in a personal and close way."It is finished!" or "Tetelestai!" was a commonplace term in the first century. Workers used it when they had completed a job: "Tetelesai—I have finished the work you gave me to do." Jesus Christ had completed the job the Father had given him to do.All of the Old Testament sacrifices were pointing to what Jesus would do on the cross. John the Baptist said of him, "Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1:29 NLT). When Jesus died, his followers probably felt like they were finished. All their hopes and dreams were dashed as they looked at their dead leader hanging on that cross. But everything was proceeding as God had planned it.The storm finally passed, the cup Jesus was given had been drained, the devil had done his worst, and God had bruised him. The darkness had ended.When you consider what Jesus went through on the cross, you may wonder, "Why did he have to suffer and die like that? Was it really necessary?"Yes it was, for a number of reasons.First, he suffered and died to show his love for us. Jesus said, "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16 NLT). If ever you're tempted to doubt God's love for you, look at the cross.He also suffered and died to absorb the wrath of God. If God were not just, there would be no demand for His Son to suffer and die. And if God were not loving, there would be no willingness for His Son to suffer and die. But God is both just and loving. At the cross, God lovingly met His own demand for justice. We have sinned against and have offended God. So a just and loving God sent Jesus as the substitute for us. God's wrath that should have been placed on us was placed on Him.Conventional wisdom says that God "grades on the curve." In other words, if our good deeds outweigh our bad deeds, then we're OK. But that's neither biblical nor true. If we are saved from the consequences of our bad deeds, it will not be because they weighed less than our good deeds. Salvation isn't attained by balancing records. It is only acquired by canceling records! This is why Jesus suffered and died for us. Colossians 2:13–14 says, "He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was used against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross" (NIV).Finally, Jesus suffered and died to provide our forgiveness and justification. "Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through him" (Romans 5:9 NIV).Justification is a word that has basically lost its meaning to most people today. But it is powerful, meaningful word that the Bible often uses to describe what God has done for the person who puts their faith in Him.To be justified means to be forgiven of the wrongs we have done. In a legal sense, it means, "just as if it never happened."So, God not only forgives you of your debt, He also forgets what you have done. God says, "Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more" (Hebrews 10:17 NKJV).One other thing about justification—it balances the spiritual and moral balance for us.Imagine being in debt for $10 million. You charged yourself into oblivion, and there was no conceivable way to pay back those debts. In fact, you have exactly $10.34 in your checking account. Now, imagine an anonymous billionaire heard about your situation and was in an especially good mood that day and said, "I'm going to pay off your debts." And then he pays off your debt of $10 million.You would say, "Thank you so much! I can't believe that I'm now debt-free!"But wait, there's more, as they say in those infomercials on TV.Then your new billionaire buddy says, "I think you ought to go down and check your account balance."So you go down to your local ATM and check your balance. And then you see it: $20 million! Not only did he forgive you of a debt of $10 million and pay it for you, but he also put $20 million in your account!Think about that for a moment. And then think about the fact that what God did for you is infinitely greater. He forgave you of all of your sin, and He placed the righteousness of Jesus Christ into your spiritual bank account. Now that's a lot to be thankful for. And it came as a result of God's most painful moment—upon the cross.So, the next time you see someone wearing a cross, even if to them it's only a fashion accessory, remember, it means a lot more to you.This article is excerpted from Greg's forthcoming Baker book called Walking With Jesus.
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