Chris' Original Blogbeque

A fresh, vinegar-based examination of life

The true power of the cross over sin (Thoughts on crucifixions in the Philippines)

Posted by Chris on March 22, 2008

Each year at Easter, certain zealous Philippine Catholics willingly endure crucifixion in honor of the suffering of Jesus. One man describes his experience, saying: “After being nailed to the cross, I feel so refreshed, like all my sins are washed away.” This is an unfortunate misunderstanding of the work of God in the suffering of Christ. First, the idea that self-imposed suffering of any kind brings about redemption or healing by itself, or that it obligates God, is an error. This includes the historic practice of penance by Roman Catholics and other secular and religious activities.

This sounds harsh, but I am afraid that at best, he is wasting his time and undergoing unnecessary suffering. At worst, it diminishes the work of Christ and undermines the Gospel. It is not the suffering of the crucifixion which overcomes sin, but the death of the Lord Jesus.

The Passion of Christ- When was sin overcome?

A brief summary of the Passion: Jesus was arrested, taken to the Jewish authorities, and condemned without a trial. He was taken to Pilate, sent to Herod, and back to Pilate. The soldiers, Jewish leaders, and Herod mocked him and abused him, but he was not sentenced. Finally, Pilate, by not overruling the cries of his accusers (“Crucify Him!”), issued a guilty verdict, and a death sentence, to a man Pilate knew to be innocent.
Jesus was beaten brutally, forced to carry his cross to Golgotha, and crucified. While on the cross, there were both abuses and worship from the soldiers, leaders, and criminals beside him. Finally, he called out to God, gave up his spirit, and died. He died prematurely (compared to others who were crucified) and did not receive a coup de grace execution, fulfilling an Old Testament prophecy that the bones of the Messiah would not be broken. A Jewish follower of Jesus requested his body and placed it in a tomb and sealed it. On the third day, the stone had been rolled away and Jesus’ body was gone.

Were sins washed away throughout the process of suffering (the time from arrest to just before Jesus’ death)? No. In fact, it was quite the opposite—the taking on of sin, the addition of sin, and the justice of God against sin.

Isaiah 53:4-7. He took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows… he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities… he was led like a lamb to the slaughter

Deuteronomy 21:23. Anyone who is hung on a tree is under God’s curse

Galations 3:13. Christ… became a curse for us.

So, Jesus, by being falsely condemned by man, took our sins and sufferings from us who are justly condemned by God (we actually are guilty).

God’s mercy was displayed in the Old Testament through the system of sacrifices. A man who sinned could gain atonement through the death of a sacrifice. This was a mercy of God because He accepted an inferior ransom in the place of the sinner. An important precedent was set: the punishment for sin could be placed on another.

Jesus was the embodiment of that precedent and the fulfillment of the sacrifice for atonement system. He embodied the precedent by taking on our sin. He was the fulfillment of the atonement system by virtue of his death being the death of a sinless man.

If a rich murderer were sentenced to a fine of one billion dollars, the sum of his fortune, what would you say? The sentence does not fit the crime. Sins should be punished in a like fashion. The degree of the punishment (taking all of one’s money) is not as important as the type (we’d much rather the murderer spend the rest of his life in prison, or even 30 years of his life).

In the same way, the justice system of God decrees that a man should suffer for men, not animals.

Hebrews 9:13-14. The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death?

1 Peter 3:18. For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.

The death of the perfect man reverses the sin of the imperfect man. No number of crucifixions after Christ can do the work he already did, and none are needed.

Romans 5:18. Just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men.

Shortly after publishing this post, I found the following quote which perfectly summarizes the doctrine I described (but did not name): substitutionary atonement.

“The curse which Christ bore upon the cross was not a curse that wrongly rested upon Him; it was not a curse pronounced upon Him by some wicked human law. No, it was the curse of God’s law; it was a curse, therefore, – we tremble as we say it, but the Scripture compels us to say it – it was a curse that rightly rested upon Him. But if that be so, there can be no doubt but that the substitutionary atonement is taught in Scripture. The only way in which a curse could rightly rest upon a sinless One is that He was the substitute, in bearing that curse, for those upon whom it did rightly rest.” – J. Gresham Machen


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