Jesus’ message about the Kingdom of God was revolutionary. The only problem with a revolution is that some people do not want the world turned upside down. They are perfectly happy with it the way it is. This was particularly true of the religious establishment in Jesus’ day. They found him disrespectful of their traditions and authority. He, in turn, was deeply critical of their hypocrisy.
Seeing Jesus as a threat to their position, the religious authorities arranged to have him executed. They persuaded the Romans, who were governing Israel at the time, that Jesus was a dangerous revolutionary. In those days, crucifixion was the punishment set aside for such criminals. It was the most horrifically painful and degrading means of death imaginable, designed by the Romans to send the message to the world: “Don’t mess with us.”
So, on the face of it, Jesus died because the religious authorities saw him as a threat and a trouble maker.
But clearly there is something deeper going on here. The New Testament consistently says that Jesus ‘died for our sins’. The clue to understanding the meaning of the cross lies in the prayer that Jesus prayed as he was dying: “Father, forgive them.” In one sense, Jesus was praying specifically for those who were responsible for crucifying him. But in a wider and deeper sense Jesus was praying for all of us.
All of us have contributed to the sins of the world. Through our anger and apathy and selfishness and greed we have all added to the sum total of human sin and misery. As he hung on the cross, Jesus prayed for us to be forgiven. And what makes the prayer so very powerful is that Jesus poured his whole life into it – quite literally. The power of Jesus’ prayer comes from his suffering love for us – the suffering love of God.
John’s Gospel tells us that just before he died, Jesus cried out, “It is finished” (John 19:30). The meaning is, “It is accomplished” or “It is done”. Jesus knew that his prayer was answered.
The cross is the place where God’s mercy and forgiveness meets our human sinful. Through the cross of Jesus, each of can find eternal forgiveness.
The cross is powerful stuff. It offers us a forgiveness that can bring healing to the most broken of lives.