As a youth pastor, I can remember telling my students a fictitious story about a father and a son.  The father was a draw-bridge operator.  His son was with him at work, down climbing around in the gears, having a good time.  A train was coming.  The drawbridge was up.  The father had to decide:  Am I going to crush my son, kill my son, and save everybody on the train?  Or, am I going to let my son live and everybody on the train die?  It’s a very emotional story and one that stirs the human heart.  The punchline was that this was a picture of what happens on the cross, and God decides to kill his son, so that we, humanity, on the train might live.  It’s emotive.  It stirs a response.  But is it accurate?  Is that what’s going on on the cross?  Ever since there’s been a cross, there’s been discussion.  Paul would say:  For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God .  (Romans 1:16)    The reason he’s saying ‘I am not ashamed’ is because there were some people who were ashamed.  There was shame to be had.  The cross was as much about shaming someone as it was about killing someone.

Jesus’s cross wasn’t the only cross people had seen.  It’s the cross we talk about, but there’s this story that Josephus records.  He was a Roman historian.  He wrote that in 4 B.C, when Varus, one of the governors of Rome, propped 2000 people on crosses. . . . .ONE day, outside the city of Galilee, and he crucified them all in ONE day.  People in Jesus’s day would have understood the shame of the cross.  They would have understood the pain of the cross.  They would have understood the cross in a far better way than we do.  They would have struggled just as much with Paul’s statement that the cross is the wisdom, and the power, and the glory of God.  How could something that was so shameful be so glorious?

Well, 2000 years later, the cross is one of THE most recognized symbols in the entire world.  It adorns jewelry, it marks gravestones, it identifies churches.  It’s THE most identified symbol in the entire world.  But there’s still so much debate about what’s going on.  How does the cross work?  Why does the cross work?  The Bible’s really clear in saying the cross is the power of God to save and to forgive, but how and why?  {I’d encourage you to write this down.}  The cross is the crux of Christianity and the center point of all of history.

But I’m convinced that it’s a story that we often get wrong.  I’m going to call today the highjacked gospel.  The highjacked gospel starts in Genesis 3, instead of Genesis 1.  The highjacked gospel goes something like this:  Humanity sins against God.  They essentially rob God of some of his glory.  They’re disobedient.  Because humanity sins, God is angry.  God is angry and he kicks them out of the garden, and it’s like God is playing a Cold War game. . . .He snubs humanity.  He turns his back on humanity and says I want nothing to do with you.  So humanity’s caught in this predicament, they’re fractured from God.  They’re out of relationship with God.  God decides you know, I’m really angry with humanity, but the way I can become happy with humanity again is to kill my son.    He’s sort of viewed as this bloodthirsty, vindictive God.  This version of the gospel is God is angry and Jesus’s blood makes Him happy.  Then, because God kills his own son, He can open his arms to us and welcome us home.

Now, there’s a lot of questions we have about that story.  There’s some things in there (and we’ll talk about those) that are really true.  Then there’s some things in there that are true-ish.  They’ve been twisted just a little bit, a few degrees, where they’ve lost their meaning almost entirely.  Here’s the true story of the gospel.  The true story of the gospel starts in Genesis 1.  It starts with God creating humanity, God creating the earth, and it’s good, it’s really good.  He looks on it and goes, “It’s really good.”  Humanity, created in the likeness and image of God, decides they’d make a better God than God, so they eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  That fractures relationship with God and we are, according to Genesis 3:15, involved in this cosmic battle now between good and evil.  Genesis 3:15 is called the protoeuongelion, it’s the gospel before the gospel.  In it, God says, “I will crush the enemy under my foot.”  That’s the first promise we have of what God’s going to do on the cross.  Keep that in mind, it’s really important to the story.

All throughout the Scriptures, here’s what we see. . . .it’s NOT God playing the Cold War with humanity.  We see God pursuing humanity.  From Genesis 3 in the garden, when he clothes them, to sending them Moses, sending them the Law, sending them the prophets, sending Wisdom literature.  We even see Him pursuing humanity when he sends them into exile, saying I want to woo you back, I want to win your hearts.  That’s Hosea where he says that.

So the true gospel is God creates good, humanity fractures that relationship with Him through sin, God continues to pursue, continues to pursue, until finally, He sends his own son to give his life, to bring us back into right relationship with God, creating a restored humanity that invites us home.  So here’s the question:  Does God kill his son?  Is that what’s going on?   Does God need blood in order to forgive?  Does Jesus’s death make an angry God happy?  There’s all these questions that we have about the cross, but my conviction is that we can understand what goes on on the cross best if we listen to the words of Jesus himself.

The first saying that we’re going to look at today, as Jesus, it says, is being crucified.  Luke 23:33-34.  And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and  one on his left.  And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”   And they cast lots to divide his garments.    Father, forgive them.  They don’t know what they’re doing.  If this is a story, ultimately, that we’re in, about a God who is angry or vindictive because he has had glory robbed from him, and he wants to get back at humanity in a retributive sense, that statement doesn’t seem to make sense.  I think one of the areas that we go wrong is in trying to understand who actually killed Jesus.  So part of the narrative goes, well, God killed Jesus.  The Father killed Jesus.  That’s who killed Jesus.  We get twisted because in Acts 2:23 it says it was the plan of God, but it says it was clearly executed by evil men.  In Acts 3:15, Peter speaking, says to a group of people:  …you killed the Author of Life.  All throughout the Scriptures, it’s really clear that the person or people that killed Jesus is humanity, not God.  You can write this down, it was by the plan of God, but by the hand of evil, wicked, blood thirsty , vindictive people.  That’s who killed God.  I love the way that Brian Zhand said it:  “The cross is not what God inflicts upon Jesus in order to forgive; the crucifixion is what God endures in Christ as he forgives.”

When Jesus says, “Father, forgive them,”  he’s not asking his Father to do something that’s outside of his character, he’s asking him to do something that’s completely in line with who he is, and completely in line with what we saw originally in the garden when sin entered the picture.  God shows up, God pursues, God covers, and God forgives.  In one of my favorite passages in the entire New Testament, Romans 5:8, it says that Christ died for us while we were sinners. That while we were his enemies, he died for us.  The cross is the ultimate show of God’s love for humanity, not his thirst for blood or his thirst for death.  In your notes, can I encourage you to write down:  The cross reveals what God is like.  The cross reveals God, it doesn’t appease God.

A lot of times I think we misread the Scriptures, or maybe we hear some verses that we just no longer hear them.  Like John 3:16 — For God so loved the world that he gave his only son.    Some versions of the gospel story that you hear people tell sounds more like “for God so hated the world that he killed his only son.”  But Father, forgive them.  ‘Father, forgive them’ reveals the heart of God, it reveals the purpose of God.  Here’s three things we see God doing in the cross of Christ under this banner of forgiveness.  One, God is continuing to pursue humanity—broken, hurting, fractured humanity.  He is purifying them.  In Colossians 2:13-14, it says he takes the death that was against us, the sin that we had incurred, and he takes it on himself and he nails it to the cross and he frees us from that which separates us, ultimately, from God.  He pursues us, he purifies us, and he proves that, ultimately, he is love.  The cross is what God endures as he saves us, as he forgives us.  It’s evil,  it’s murder, it’s violence from humanity towards God, and it’s God saying I’ll take all of that to bury it in the ground and to raise you up on the other side for eternal life.  The cross reveals what God is like, it does not appease a bloodthirsty God.

When I was a kid, I could remember going to Southwest Plaza Mall with my mom and my siblings.  I was probably six-years-old.  We were shopping somewhere and I wandered off.  All of a sudden, I’m in the middle of this really busy mall and I know absolutely no one.  My mom’s gone.  My siblings are gone.  I’m just standing there.  People all around, but completely alone.  Eventually, somebody who worked at the mall came and asked me if I was lost.  I told them I couldn’t find my mom.  They called over the loudspeaker and had her come.  But it was that moment of feeling like, I’m all alone, I’m completely abandoned here that was absolutely terrifying.

As we continue to look at the cross and try to ask and discern what’s actually going on here, the next cry from Jesus that we’re going to talk about is a cry of abandonment, a cry of aloneness.  Mark 15:33-34.  Mark is writing about the crucifixion and he’s going to record this phrase, this utterance of Jesus.   And when the sixth hour had come (noon), there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour.  And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  

At this point it’s really important that we remember what story we’re in.  Remember, this is a story that began in Genesis 1.  It began with God creating, and God creating good, and God creating beauty, and God creating humanity in his image and in his likeness.  But in Genesis 3, humanity chooses to go their own way.  They’re created to live eternally, feasting on the tree of life, and in connection with God himself.  But they decide that they’d rather have the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  The Scriptures are really clear that the result of that choice is death.  There’s a curse that comes along with that and there’s a number of things that you can read in Genesis 3 that come along with this decision to live in sin and apart from God, but, ultimately, the punishment for sin is death.  If you flip over to Romans 6:23, you’ll see that again.  It’s a verse that probably a lot of us have memorized — For the wages of sin is death.  A lot of us read that and think the wages of sin is punishment.  But really, the wages of sin is death and ultimately, the worse kind of death.  It’s saying to God, “God, we think we can do it better on our own than we could with you.”  And it’s God saying, “If that’s your decision then I’m going to let you have that.”  So it separates us from God.  So when Jesus says, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” he’s calling on himself the sin of the entire world and the result of that sin. . . which is death.  Ultimately, separation from the Author of Life himself.

So when Jesus cries out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” he’s identifying with us.  He’s identifying with human beings.  I love this quote that says:  “The slave has sinned and the son has suffered.”  It’s really interesting because the early church and the church fathers came up with a lot of solid theology, and what they thought about certain topics. . . .who is God?  The deity of Christ.  The deity of the Spirit.  But one of the things they never came to a conclusion on was what happened on the cross.  In fact, they maintained this tension, believing like the rabbis used to talk about the Scriptures being a gem that you could turn and look at from different angles and see different things that were equally true, but that we needed all of them to fill out the picture of what was going on in the Scriptures with God.  That’s the same way the cross functions.  I think the way that we see Jesus associating with humanity, or being a substitute for humanity, is in his cry of dereliction — My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?  So throughout the New Testament, there’s this emphasis on God dying in our place.   In Romans 8:1-3, we see one of those instances.   There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.  For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do.  By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh {Jesus takes on humanity and becomes one of us.} and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh.  So what’s going on on the cross?  It’s not that God is condemning Jesus, it’s that God is condemning sin.  God’s judging, in a sense.  He’s saying this is evil, this is bad, this must be punished and put to death.  How does Jesus take our place?  He takes our place by living a perfect life and bringing on himself sin.  What’s condemned in Jesus is not Jesus, and it’s not you and it’s not me.  It’s SIN and death and all of his friends.

There’s another passage in Galatians 3:13-14.  This is Paul writing to the church at Galatia.  He’s going to talk about the Law, again, and the Law is the barometer.  The Law is the way God intended us to live that we just couldn’t live up to.  Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us   {He condemns sin, he becomes the curse, he takes on the violence that the Romans put against, and that you and I did by our sin as well.  He takes on the curse, he becomes the curse for us.}  ….for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who  is hanged on a tree”   {Paul’s quoting from Deuteronomy 21:23}  …so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.   Jesus, it says, becomes a curse for us.  This is substitutionary language.  I’ve heard people say, and I’ve said it too, that Jesus takes the punishment that we earned.  Jesus dies the death that we should have died.  I wondered if I should have died on a cross, should you have died on a cross?  Is that somehow what our sin deserved?  Well, no!  What our sin deserved was ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’  Why are you abandoning me?  The wages of sin is death, and death, ultimately, is separation from God.

So what does Jesus do on the cross?  Well, maybe the most succinct way it’s put in the Scriptures is that He becomes sin on our behalf.  He takes all of the evil, all of the death, and all of the separation from God.  He bears that punishment—that is death—he buries it in the ground and he comes out holding new life, saying, he became sin for us that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Cor. 5:21) 

There’s a lot of talk these days about penal substitutionary atonement (PSA).  A lot of people wondering what do we do with that doctrine.  One of the things I would say is that I believe in penal substitutionary atonement, but I believe we need to define it better.  If by penal we mean that God is punishing Jesus, it’s not what the Scriptures say.  The Scriptures say that he’s punishing sin.  So what’s being punished?  Sin and death.  We’re going back to the Garden, it’s the separation from God.  Penal—that’s what’s being punished: sin and death.  Substitution—Jesus bore our sin.  Jesus took our place.  He calls it all on himself and he atones for it.  He dies that death—My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?—-goes into the ground, buries it, and rises with new life in his hand.  I think the best picture we see on the cross of the wrath of God is Jesus saying ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’   He takes all of that. . . . .all of the evil, and all of the sin, and all of the shame, and all of our weakness, and he bears it on the cross, for you and for me.  He condemns sin in the flesh, he bears the penalty, which is death itself and separation from God.  He becomes sin that you and I might become the righteousness of God.  Penal substitutionary atonement.  He bears the consequences of sin, not a punishment from God.  Sin is its own punishment, and Jesus takes it fully and squarely on his shoulders.

In 1961, East Germany decided they didn’t want a “fascist” West Germany coming in and tainted their people.  So they built a wall.  They built a wall that separated Berlin right almost down the middle.  But on November 9, 1989, the government finally decided that there could be passage from east to west.  On that evening, people went into the wall and started to rip it down.  They started to tear it down.  Well, sin is like a wall.  It’s a wall between us and God.  Here’s the question:  Whose side of the fence is the Law on?  Is the Law on God’s side of the fence, is it God who builds a wall or is it humanity?  All throughout the Scriptures it’s like we said, God is pursuing, he’s jumping over the wall—-through prophets, through leaders, through Wisdom literature, through kings, through exile.  What God does on the cross through Jesus is he doesn’t just jump over the wall.  With his own blood, he jumps onto our side and then he tears that wall down.  I don’t know the exact mechanism of the way that works, that is a profound, cosmic mystery.  But he bears in his body the punishment of sin, that is death and separation, so that you and I might have life.

Well, that brings us to the last of our three sayings that we’re exploring of Jesus on the cross.  Flip over to John 19:28-30.  After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.”  A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth.  When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

That phrase ‘it is finished’ is three words in our English Bible, but it’s actually one word in the Greek, in the original.  It’s the word ‘tetelestai.’  It’s a word that, in the Greek, is in the perfect tense.  Here’s why it matters.  It indicates that it’s an action that happens at one point in time, that has an ongoing effect or result for potentially ALL of time.  So when Jesus says it is finished, he’s not just saying he’s finishing something then, but that he’s accomplishing something that would have lasting impact on you and on me.

So the question is:  On the cross, what does Jesus finish?  There are at least three things that Jesus finishes when he’s on the cross.  The first thing that happens is the enemy of God, ultimately sin and death and all of its friends, are defeated by Jesus on the cross.  The second thing Christ finishes is a reconciliation of the world to himself.  This is really, really important.  Fleming Rutledge who, I believe, is the preeminent scholar on the crucifixion right now, writes that there’s no where in the New Testament where you can find that God is even suggesting that he is reconciling himself to the world.  The problem isn’t in the heart of God; the problem, the locus of the offense is in the heart of humanity.  Paul will write in 2 Corinthians 5:19 that while Jesus is on the cross, God is, in Christ, reconciling the world to himself.

So what’s finished?  Well, he (Jesus) drives out evil.  He defeats, destroys the work of the enemy, and he draws in people, as we said last week from John 12.  Here’s why this is really, really beautiful, really good news for you and I.  The book of Hebrews (10:1-4) will say it like this:  For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. {What the author of Hebrews is writing is that the sacrificial system of the Old Testament wasn’t an end in and of itself.  It didn’t actually work.  It covered sin, but it didn’t remove sin.) Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, have once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins?  But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year.  {It’s a reminder of the fact that we needed to continually go back to God to be washed clean.}  For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.  {Skip to verse 10.  Talking about the sacrifice of Jesus.}  And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

So what’s finished?  A sacrifice for sin.  Here’s why that’s beautiful news:  If you walked into this place today, carrying guilt about the things that you’ve done in the past, about the places that you’ve been—-and the enemy LOVES to remind you of those things. . . . .the enemy always wants to point you back to a past event. . . .what Jesus is telling you today is that you can drop the baggage, because once and for all, on the cross, sin has been atoned for.  It’s finished!  If you came in today carrying shame….    Guilt is when we feel bad about what we’ve done, shame is when we feel bad about who we are.  If you came in carrying shame, I want to tell you that is not from God.  He has finished his work of redemption on your behalf, and the Scriptures are really, really clear that There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Rom. 8:1)  Somebody say amen to tetelestai.  IT. IS. FINISHED. And the results continue to move us forward.

There’s this really interesting scene at the end of the movie, “Saving Private Ryan.”  The captain, who is going to save Private Ryan, to rescue him, after many people have given their life for Private Ryan, to bring him back, pulls him (Private Ryan) in close, grabs him by the shirt and he says to him, “Earn this.”  You know what?  When Jesus pulls you in, he does not say, “Earn this.”  Because the reality is, friends, we never could.  We could never do enough to earn his love.  We could never do enough to get back in his good graces.  What the cross declares is that we could never earn it, and that we were loved anyway.  When Jesus pulls you in close, here’s what he says:  I love you!  I’m for you and I have always been for you.  He’s always been for humanity.  He’s always been pursuing humanity.  The cross reminds us just how far he will go to offer you and I forgiveness.  So he pulls us in close and says, “I love you.”  He pulls us in close and he doesn’t say, “Earn this.”  He says, “Embrace this!”

In all the talk about the cross today, what if, what if, we became the type of cruciformed community who had this conviction, this deep seated conviction, that God was passionately, ferociously FOR his creation.  That he’s redeeming it.  That he was not content to allow us to suffer in the muck and the mire of our sin, but he went so far as to offer us forgiveness—-that’s what we explored first—-to take on himself our forsakenness, and to finish the work of reconciling the world to himself.  What if we had that same conviction?  That God was passionately pursuing the people around us. . . .in our neighborhoods, in our families, in our work places.  Not counting their sins against them, but reconciling them to himself.  What if we were carriers of that message?   Today, we placed crosses all over this city.  What if we became a community committed to declaring the goodness, the power, the wisdom, and the strength of God, through his love that he displayed for us on the cross, given to the entire world.  That’s the type of community I want to be.  One where we’re convinced that death has defeated death, that sin has slaughtered sin, and that evil has enveloped evil, and that Jesus, on the cross, is redeeming the world to himself.  Let’s be people of that good news.