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The instruments of salvation (I): The cross

"For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but for us who are being saved is the power of God" (1 Cor 1:18)

A revelation of the cross. Throughout the history of humankind and of the people of Israel, the cross has been present and has been constantly announced. Some examples:

  • The tree of life in the garden of Eden, as opposed to the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, which fruit generates the seed of sin. Only the fruit of the tree of life, that reveals the cross, with its seed of obedience, could annul the devastating effects of the rebelliousness of sin.
  • The Ark of Noah: a means of salvation to escape the judgment that divided history into two, before and after salvation through the Ark. The wooden vessel prefigures the cross.
  • The firewood of the holocaust on which Abraham was going to sacrifice his only son, the son of the promise, is a figure of a cross. Abraham climbed the hill of Moriah with the firewood that he laid on his son, and with him carried the fire and the knife for the sacrifice on an altar that he built. God finally provided the sacrifice, a sacrifice instead of that of the son. The true sacrifice that God wanted was the obedience that was attributed to Abraham as righteousness and equally to Abraham’s descendants.
  • The bronze serpent in the desert. People had spoken against God and against Moses, and God sent a punishment: poisonous serpents. Due to the attack by the serpents, people were dying. When people repented and Moses interceded, God commanded Moses to make a serpent of bronze and to set it on a pole; those who looked at it would be set free from the lethal effect of the poison of the serpents: "So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live" (Num 21:9). The serpent was a cursed animal, and in this way the serpent is a curse that falls over the pole leaving free from all curses the victims of all serpents. Jesus Christ himself said: "And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life" (Jn 3:14-15). And John said: "They will look on the one whom they have pierced" (Jn 19:37). When we contemplate Christ on the cross we recognize that he took upon himself our curse, as the bronze serpent nailed to the pole, set free from the curse and from death those who were attacked and bitten by the serpents in the desert.
  • The Ark of the Covenant was where the testimony that God had sent from heaven was kept: his laws carved on stone, the manna of the desert and the rod of Aaron that sprout. The Ark was of acacia wood overlaid on the inside and the outside with gold. The wood represents the humankind and the gold the divinity. Jesus Christ embraced the cross as a new Ark of the Covenant or Ark of the Testimony, and for being greater and more perfect, indeed an Ark of the New Covenant.
  • Isaiah, God’s prophet, saw the death of the Redeemer on the cross: "He was despised and rejected by others; a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity; and as one from whom others hide their faces he was despised and we held him of no account. Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases; yet we accounted him as stricken, struck down by God and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all" (Is 53:3-6).

In the fullness of time. The Letter to the Hebrews says that "Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son [...]. He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high" (Hb 1:1-3).

Two faces. The entire life of Christ remained marked by the cross. But the cross in Christ has two faces. One of the faces of this cross is the one where we see:

  • Persecution that Jesus suffered right from the beginning, since his birth.
  • Contempt of many countrymen and relatives.
  • Rejection by many who could not tolerate his teachings when he began his public life.
  • The attempt to kill him, as when they wanted to hurl him down or when they wanted to stone him.
  • Loneliness that as man he experienced many times.
  • The blasphemies and slander that he had to bear from the Pharisees and the Jewish priests.
  • The envy and the plots that they set up against him.
  • The treason of one of his.
  • The desertion by his own disciples at the time of his Passion.

So, the cross shows in Christ suffering, persecution and rejection.

The other face of the cross. Jesus Christ accepted and embraced the cross throughout his life, but the suffering and rejection he bore were not fruitless. In addition, if he embraced the cross as persecution it was because that in the cross there was something more, some other reality:

  • He embraced the cross out of love; love for the Father and for humankind. In the cross of Christ is the great love that made the Redeemer search at all times for what pleased the Father and for the salvation of humankind over and above his own wellbeing, inclusive above his own life. When he looked for the salvation of the Samaritans, more than his own rest and food, he answered his disciples: "My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work" (Jn 4:34).
  • In the experience of Christ of the cross that he carried throughout his life, not only is revealed the greatest love, but as well the greatest pardon. Those who accused him, those who persecuted him, never found in him an answer of condemnation. Nor he defended his honor or his rights: "Yet I do not seek my own glory" (Jn 8:50), he used to say. It was much more the glory of the Father that he always searched for, and if men in their blindness rejected him, his sorrow was that they had rejected the salvation in him, but never considered this a personal offense. He himself was teaching: "Indeed God did not sent the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him" (Jn 3:17).
  • The experience of the cross of Christ reveals the perfect obedience to the Father and the trust in his plans. Everything was design and permission of God, to the smallest detail in the life of Christ, and he willingly embraced the will of the Father: "Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered" (Hb 5:8).
  • It also reveals perfect humility. While kings seek crowns and thrones, Christ divested himself from his glory and assumed the condition of a Servant, embracing the cross, reflecting his meek and humble heart, and reigning and being glorified by the Father since the throne of the cross.
  • The experience of the cross of the Redeemer reveals also the authentic joy, the deep joy that is born from within, from the spirit, and which circumstances cannot change, the joy of living in the Father’s hands, the overflowing joy of the Spirit of Life and Truth: "At that same hour Jesus rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, "I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants: yes, Father for such was your gracious will" (Lk 10:21).
  • In the life of the cross of Christ is also revealed the greatest intercession: "In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission, [..] and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, having been designated by God a high priest" (Hb 5:7-10), meaning mediator and perfect intercessor.
  • This other face of the cross, reveals also liberation, healing, salvation, restoration, life. All acts of the Savior were aimed at bringing life for humankind, life eternal and life in its fullness, ransoming them from slavery that oppressed them and healing, restoring, making known to them the redeeming love of the Father and his perfect will for them, greater and better than the desires and dreams of human beings: "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life" (Jn 3:16).

The culminating moment. The cross was revealed in definitive form in the life of Christ, when he was nailed to the wooden pole and lifted up from the earth, and —carrying upon him the sins of all humankind— abandoned by the Father. Men were joking at him, the devil was harassing him. But he was not opening his mouth. He gave his life entirely, loved to the extreme, forgave totally, and obeyed unto death, death on a cross. And on the cross was revealed the defeat of Satan, the salvation of humankind, the hope of the entire humankind, the complete and definitive salvation, the breaking of all curses, the perfect righteousness, the healing from all infirmities and wounds , the restoration of all that was destroyed by the enemy, the life that defeated death. What was impossible by human logic, gave way to God for whom all is possible: the faith that triumphed over fear and doubt, the good and love over the evil empire, the mercy over judgment, the life over death. The sin with all its consequences was defeated and destroyed. Christ "has appeared once for all at the end of the age to remove sin by the sacrifice of himself" (Hb 9:26).

Failure or victory? The cross has a face of failure, of defeat. Christ assumed our condemnation, defeated, frail, handing over his life and truly dying on the cross. Is there any greater failure? Is there a greater defeat? Nevertheless, the love and the obedience of our Savior, made by accomplishing all righteousness, all law, achieved the nullifying of the law with its curses, and by going down to hell and to the place of dead, to make the devils captives, defeating Satan under the weight of the cross, with a deadly wound for the enemy. And he set free those who captives of death, were waiting for the Redeemer.

The cross is victory, the greatest success and the greatest victory of all history, encompassing all times and all creation, spiritual and physical. The cross is not the cross alone, but the cross with Christ, our Redeemer, who changed the cursed pole, the instrument of death, into an instrument of blessing and life.

If the cross is what a human being contributed, the blood is what Christ contributed. They met, the torture and the sacrifice, the condemnation and the pardon, the hatred and the love, the sin and the redemption, and love and forgiveness won forever! So the cross is no more the sign of death but that of life, and is not loneliness and senselessness but is the cross of Christ, the cross with Christ our Savior, is not curse and humiliation, but an instrument of blessing and the path to glory.

Questions for sharing:

  • Do you find common elements in the different revelations of the cross in the Old Testament?
  • What is the meaning of the cross according to its "first face"? How shall we look at the cross, which is the "other face of the cross"?
  • Why do we say that Christ nullified the curse of sin and defeated his enemies on the cross?

 

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