One of my favorite illustrations of the cross can be found in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis, the first in his Chronicles of Narnia series. The story tells the tale of four children who enter another world, in which they are destined to reign as monarchs after they defeat the White Witch who holds the land under her enchantment. Aslan, the high king of Narnia, acts as a God figure, and the most dramatic moments of the book occur when Aslan offers himself to the White Witch in exchange for one of the children that had escaped her. Aslan’s death at the hands of the witch occurs on an ancient altar, called the Stone Table. The following morning at sunrise Lucy and Susan are startled from their grief by an earsplitting crack and a resurrected Aslan is before them, standing on the broken shards of the table. This is exactly what happened on the cross. While Jesus was accepting the consequences of our sin, he was also nullifying the prosecutor of sin – the law.
The law refers to a series of commandments that God codified to Moses detailing how people in relationship with Him would behave on all levels – personal, societal, cultural, juridical, ceremonial. The Ten Commandments are the most famous and serve as a summary of the key points of the law. Later Jesus Himself would further reduce the law to its most basic commands – to love God with all that we are and to love our neighbors as ourselves. Would you like to know something astonishing about the law? We were never meant to keep it. The entire law existed to show that God’s people were completely incapable of obeying it. That did not keep people from trying and pretty much the entire Old Testament is a saga of a people trying to keep the law, failing, and abandoning God. By the time that Jesus was teaching in the temple, the law had been made even more onerous by generations of religious leaders adding in their own pet rules. Jesus was dealing with a people exhausted and discouraged by the continual demands of a law they couldn’t keep and desperate for a way of escape. The purpose of the law was to reveal our failure to reach perfection and prepare us for another way.
While the law stood as a silent witness to the incapacity of humanity to save itself, it also foreshadowed the One who could. As God in the flesh, Jesus maintained all the purity and holiness of perfection. We talked yesterday of how Jesus destroyed the effects of sin and provided His righteousness for us. That righteousness satisfied the demands of the law and gave Jesus the authority to save. On the cross, the tablets of stone were smashed into a thousand pieces. We are free forever from trying to fulfill the law because Jesus has done it for us. This has enormous implications for us. Two common reasons for religion are to draw close to God by appeasing Him through good works, or to shield ourselves against God with morality. The cross shatters both these illusions. The truth of the cross is that we can’t do enough to earn God’s favor because He has already bestowed it – He gives His love freely and without any conditions. Nothing we can do or not do can change God’s love for us. At the cross is an invitation to drop our efforts at self-righteousness and accept His love and righteousness instead. We can also use systems of religion or morality to distance ourselves from God or to manipulate Him (if I do good things God will bless me, but if I mess up He’ll punish me). Both of these methods enslave us through fear and create a self-perpetuating cycle of self-obsession with our actions. This is not what God has in mind for us and it is not His grace in action. At the cross, we are forced to come face to face with a Person, not a system of religion. Recognizing that God wants to establish a relationship with you based on His perfection and love is the most freeing reality in the world. It is the most blessed relief to cease your efforts to be good enough and trust that God’s righteousness is sufficient. It’s not about what we can do – it’s about what He can do.
When God called a nation to Himself, He delivered His law on a mountaintop so holy that no one could approach except Moses. When Moses received a covenant on stone, we are told that God’s glory passed over the mountain in a cloud of darkness. So intense was the passing that Moses’ face shone for days from the exposure and he had to cover his face with a veil so that others could look on him without terror. Over a thousand years later, on another mountain shrouded in darkness, a new covenant was initiated; one which fulfilled the old and heralded something more precious, more intimate. God offered Himself – not a tablet – as the security of the covenant which He promised to all peoples of the world. A law of stone hidden beneath the covering of a veil…. Now an outpouring of grace from God’s heart as veils were ripped apart. (more on that later this week!)
To close, these are the words of God when He gave the law of stone. As Jesus hung on the cross, these words take on a prophetic stance, becoming something even more real, more precious than when they were first spoken.
“Yahweh! The Lord!
The God of compassion and mercy!
I am slow to anger
and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness.
I lavish unfailing love to a thousand generations.
I forgive iniquity, rebellion, and sin.” Exodus 34:6-7
Blessings to you,