Three crosses on a beautiful picturesque hill with the sun setting behind them. A beautiful inspiring picture. The cross, a symbol worn around the neck in gold, tattooed with ink and Celtic artistry, engraved in Stone memorials – a symbol of hope.
Yet 2000 years ago it would have conjured up a very different sentiment. The cross was designed to be as grotesque as possible. It was Rome’s way of advertising the severe consequences of crime for the maximum deterrent. Reserved for murderers and the worst of criminals, it was the death sentence drawn out over days.
How can something so grotesque now appear so picturesque?
Just outside Jerusalem, in a place called Golgotha nearly 2000 years ago, Jesus hung on a wooden cross, with two other crosses and their respective criminals either side of Him paying for their crimes.
Yet God’s love displayed on that wooden cross, would transform it into something that would become the canvas for God’s masterpiece:
"You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:6-8).
These words from the Bible tell us why Jesus died: “the righteous for the unrighteous”, or the good for the bad. Jesus was different from the people either side of Him. They were guilty, He was innocent. Even the charges against Him, nailed above His head, only said He was the “King of the Jews”. We are used to people in authority taking all the credit and enjoying all the privileges, but this King took all the blame and suffered all the consequences. The righteous for the unrighteous, the innocent for the guilty, “God demonstrates His own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us”.
Sin simply means to miss the mark. It is to not hit the target. No matter how hard we try, we miss what God is asking for. He wants us to love Him the way He loves us, but we all turn away in the end. Like a parent that would do anything for their wayward children, God loves us with an unrelenting love that looks for a way back for us. He wants to forgive us, and help us to find Him.
The problem is that bad things have bad consequences. Someone must tidy up the mess. Someone must fix what is broken. Someone must pay the fine. That’s what Jesus did on the cross. He paid the fine. He took the blame. He suffered the consequences of our wrong-doing. He could do this because He was innocent. He had no sin of His own to pay for. A bit like Bill Gates paying off our debts – his wealth easily covers the cost. Jesus covered the cost. Not that it was easy!
The two men either side of Him knew they were guilty. One of them hurled insults at Jesus, consumed with anger against God. But the other looked at Jesus differently. He was humble and knew He needed to be forgiven. “'This man has done nothing wrong'. And he said 'Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom'. And Jesus said to him, 'Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise'." (Luke 23:41-42)
Three days later Jesus would show the world just how powerful His love is, that even death cannot stop His life from breaking through, that even the darkness of a tomb would be filled with light!
Crosses made of wood, un-refined and void of any beauty, yet one is transformed by the person it carries and the love it displays. Its shape hasn’t changed, but its meaning has. Something that once stirred up fear now gives us hope; we too can be forgiven and know God once again.
In the same way those two men either side of Jesus responded differently, we have the same choice of how we respond to Jesus. We can hurl insults, mock or ignore him, or we can realise that we need forgiveness too, and say to Jesus “remember me”. Which will you chose?
This Easter why not consider coming to church to find out how God can transform your life too.