“The Cross is Serious”
Dear Members and Friends of our ELS:
Turn it one way and a beautiful woman appears. Turn it another way and a hideous figure is seen. Trick drawings are interesting. They can also illustrate well a key fact: How you look at what is depicted is important. Either the picture elicits joy or it brings on sadness depending on the angle of sight.
Does this happen with the cross of Christ? From one perspective, the account of our Lord’s crucifixion serves a terrifying law function. From another, it presents the true beauty and depth of God’s love and is the Gospel in all its fullness. Our Lutheran confessors drew attention to this. In discussing the vital distinction between Law and Gospel, they asked rhetorically: “Yea, what more forcible, more terrible declaration and preaching of God’s wrath against sin is there than just the suffering and death of Christ, His Son? But as long as all this preaches God’s wrath and terrifies men, it is not yet the preaching of the Gospel nor Christ’s own preaching, but that of Moses and the Law against the impenitent” (Formula of Concord, V:13).
Viewing the cross from the vantage point of the seriousness of our sin in light of the unyielding justice of the holy God is devastating. If it took the death of God’s own Son at the place of the skull to satisfy justice, what does this say about the heinous and damnable nature of even one sin of yours and mine? For any who treat sin lightly – a temptation common for our society and our times – there is stark reality in the stroke of justice piercing the Lord of Glory. This view of the cross has been called “the alien work of Christ.” It is not the chief and proper view of Christ’s suffering and death where God desires our focus, yet it is one that shakes us from complacency!
The hymn writer Thomas Kelly, in his familiar “Stricken, Smitten and Afflicted,” captures the somber mood of the diabolical character of sin:
Ye who think of sin but lightly
Nor suppose the evil great
Here may view its nature rightly,
Here its guilt may estimate.
Mark the sacrifice appointed,
See who bears the awful load;
‘Tis the Word, the Lord’s Anointed,
Son of Man and Son of God. (ELH 297:3)
Turn quickly to the proper side of the Golgatha scene. See not only the cross and burial, but the empty tomb! God forbid that we miss the real meaning of the Man on the cross! He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins – for every one of them, no matter how grievous they are or how penetrating for our conscience. His resurrection from the dead gives proof positive that the right view of the cross is always good news and joy for each sinner. He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification (Romans 4:25).
Sin is serious. God’s love in Christ is all the more serious! Rejoice in his forgiveness of every sin and rest assured that eternal life in heaven awaits all who believe this amazing news!
Rev. John A. Moldstad, ELS President
“The Cross is Serious”