For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered, died, and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in fulfillment of the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory
to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.
Every time we pray the Nicene Creed, we profess our faith in Jesus Christ and his saving deeds for us. These few sentences summarize the whole truth of our redemption. But the words have become so familiar that they trip off our tongues, almost without thought. We have memorized them and easily say them by heart, so to speak. But how deeply do we really understand their meaning? How can we truly grasp by heart the profound truths they contain?
By studying the Scriptures about the meaning and power of the cross. Prayerfully contemplate our crucified Lord, and you will come to know the depths of his mercy and compassion toward us, sinners undeserving of such sacrificial love.
The Paradox of the Cross
“When mankind was estranged from him by disobedience, God our Savior made a plan for raising us from our fall and restoring us to friendship with himself,” wrote St. Basil the Great in the fourth century. “According to this plan Christ came in the flesh, he showed us the gospel way of life, he suffered, died on the cross, was buried, and rose from the dead. He did this so that we could be saved by imitation of him, and recover our original status as sons of God by adoption.”
In words echoing the Creed, Basil clearly and effectively reviews the history of humankind’s redemption, the story of our need for salvation, and how God brought that about through his Son Jesus. Central to our salvation is Christ’s death on the cross: Through his sacrifice, the Son of God conquered sin and Satan, overcame death’s stranglehold on the human race, and restored us to union with our Creator. Jesus’ cross is the greatest of paradoxes: Through his death we have received life. The cross may seem an instrument of torture in the eyes of unbelievers, but to those who do believe, it is the instrument of our salvation. “For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18).
St. Paul was the first to put into writing a “theology of the cross.” In his letter to the church at Corinth, he explained, “In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them. . . . For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:19, 21). What good news it is that God reconciled the world to himself through Christ and does not count our sins and failings against us! But we are forgiven, not because God overlooked our trespasses, but because Christ took them upon himself. Reconciliation with God was won for us at the price of Jesus’ death on the cross. His passion and crucifixion are a stark reminder that our salvation, forgiveness of our sin, is costly.
Not only does the cross bring us eternal life, but it also brings us a more abundant life here and now. Jesus “bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness” (1 Peter 2:24). His death on the cross won us victory over our sins—every one of them. Through his cross, Jesus has set us free from all that separates us from our Lord and prevents us from following him: our disobedience, our pride, our anger, and our self-centeredness. In Christ we die to this “old self,” and in Christ we rise to the new.
Allow Paul’s cry, “Be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:20) to strike deeply at your heart. He persistently appeals to us not to reject God’s offer of salvation, “not to accept the grace of God in vain” (6:1). “Now”— today, each and every day—“is the acceptable time” for us to return to the Lord, “now is the day of salvation” (6:2) for us.
Let us take hold of the life-giving power of the cross so that we can share in the victory that Jesus won for us. Our hope is that on the last day, we will be united with him in his resurrection, healed and transformed in body, mind, and spirit, and wholly conformed to his image. “Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen” (Ephesians 3:20-21).
This is a selection from The Life-Giving Power of the Cross by Jeanne Kun (The Word Among Us Press, 2011).