The Cross and the End Times: Part 1

René Malgo

When Christ appeared in Israel, the Jewish people were counting on a strong savior who would drive out the Roman occupation forces and take over the world. Instead, Christ was born in a manger and died on the cross. What does this surprising twist mean for our lives, our daily struggles, and the end times?

Someone who works with mentally broken people once said, “Many Christians who go to church don’t believe in the depths of their hearts that God loves them.”

The living God speaks: “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isa 55:9). God is higher than and different from us humans. He says of Himself, “…I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me” (Isa 46:9). Before Him “there was no God formed, neither shall there be after.” He is the Lord (Isa 43:10-11). He has “neither beginning nor end [. . .] He who gives birth to all gives perpetuity to Himself [. . .] He orders everything, whatever it is, by a word; arranges it by His wisdom; perfects it by His power. He can neither be seen—He is brighter than light; nor can be grasped—He is purer than touch; nor estimated; He is greater than all perceptions; infinite, immense, and how great is known to Himself alone. But our heart is too limited to understand Him…” (Minucius Felix, Octavius 18:7-9). He is “a consuming fire, even a jealous God” (Deut 4:24). He is “of purer eyes than to behold evil” (Hab 1:13). And it is a “fearful thing” to fall into the hands of this “living God” (Heb 10:31). That is God.

Do we really believe that this incomprehensible and great God can love us?

Yes, and we see the proof of this in the Lord Jesus Christ; namely in the crucified Christ, “unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness” (1 Cor 1:23). As Paul writes to the Corinthians, “For I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified” (1 Cor 2:2).

Why does everything depend on our crucified Lord? Because God is revealed right there, and in a surprising way. With regard to the end times and biblical prophecy, we should consider the following: when Jesus was born, the angels of God said that the Lord had been born (Luke 2:11). “Lord” is used in connection with Jesus as a title of God in the New Testament (cf. Luke 1:43). Later, the disciple Thomas also said to Jesus, “My LORD and my God” (John 20:28). Jesus is the Lord. He is God. This is one of the great secrets of the Christian faith: God became man in the person of Jesus Christ. “And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh…” (1 Tim 3:16).

God revealed Himself when He became flesh and blood in His Son, Jesus Christ. And when that happened, God turned all human expectations and even ideas about Him upside down. Yes, the prophets of the Old Covenant had announced the coming of the Messiah, the coming of God. But who could have foreseen that He would come like this?

How did God come to earth, then? Every Christmas reminds us: He came through the womb of a young Jewish woman, a simple girl. She was insignificant. She didn’t belong to one of the families that set the tone in Israel at the time. She didn’t come from the ruling nobility, from the Herodians, the Pharisees, or the Sadducees. Her husband was a craftsman, not a scribe or, to put it in modern terms, he was not a theologian, a professor, president, or board member.

And Jesus, the incarnate God? Because there was no space for Him in a normal room, as a newborn baby He was first placed in a feeding trough for animals. It wasn’t very sterile. And the manger definitely didn’t smell good, either. God the Son was born in poverty. He grew up as a carpenter’s son. And for 30 years, virtually nothing was heard of Him. He led a simple and unassuming life among simple and unassuming people. Would you have imagined or planned such an appearance for God on earth?

Many Christians condemn the Jews so quickly because they rejected Jesus, and many still reject Him. But let’s imagine the situation at that time: the Jewish prophets announced that God would come and live and rule among His people. They spoke of power and glory. And that was also what Israel expected. But with the coming of the Lord Jesus, God turned everything upside down that man had imagined about His appearance, His power and His glory.

And when Jesus appeared publicly at that time, He apparently preferred to do nothing better than affront the religious elite. We tend to read over it quickly in the Gospels, but just one example: The Lord went to the synagogue, read a passage about the appearance of the Messiah and Savior of Israel, and explained that He is the fulfillment (Luke 4:16-21; Isa 61:1-2). The Jews were astonished “at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth” (Luke 4:22). And how did the Lord Jesus react to that? He didn’t use their amazement to say nice things and win over these Jews. He already knew that they would reject Him later. Instead, He insulted them by saying, “I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian” (Luke 4:25-27, NIV).

The widow of Sidon was a heathen, a non-Jew. Naaman the Syrian was a pagan, a non-Jew. The Gentiles were spiritual scum in the eyes of the religious Jewish elite. They did not belong to God. They were nothing. And now, Christ was rubbing His people’s nose, so to speak, in the fact that God had previously taken care of two despised Gentiles, rather than the many widows and lepers in Israel itself. These are very harsh words. Humanly speaking, no wonder the Jews wanted to stone the Lord afterward (Luke 4:28-30).

And so it continues. Christ chose twelve ordinary Israelites as His apostles. None of them were from the religious elite. These were fishermen, who were spiritually slow on the uptake. Among them were two hotheaded brothers: the “sons of thunder,” James and John, or the cheeky Peter. Then there was a tax collector, known for his scams, who was hated and despised throughout Israel. There was also a so-called Zealot, a freedom fighter (that is, one who had made attacks on the Roman occupiers). Today he would be called a terrorist.

And that’s not nearly all. Jesus dined with the tax collectors and sinners—those who were despised by the religious elite. The Lord called the supposedly pious star preachers and super-theologians of his time “vipers” (Matt 12:34) and concealed graves (Luke 11:44). He accepted prostitutes and, when He was alone, cared for an adulteress at the well without concern for His reputation.

When God became man in Jesus Christ, He turned all ideas of power and glory upside down. Our Lord showed His divine power and sovereignty, by completely ignoring those who considered themselves spiritually sound and well, and going instead to those who were despised, those who were broken, those who yearned for healing. He did what His mother Mary expressed as praise: “He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree” (Luke 1:52). Or, as the Lord Jesus Himself said in the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 5:3). He came to proclaim good news to the poor, deliverance to the captives, sight to the blind, and freedom to the downtrodden (Luke 4:18).

And then? Then this incarnate God, who purposefully and consciously cared for the despised, the poor, and the battered in Israel, was arrested, charged, slandered, tortured, and nailed to the cross at Calvary. God’s appearance in Jesus Christ led to His painful death on a cross outside the walls of Jerusalem—in utter shame and disgrace. And that’s where we learn to know God.

Do you want to know what God is like? Do you want to know if God loves you? Then go to the manger and go to the cross. Because that’s where we recognize who God really is.

Yes, the most holy, solely glorious God is unapproachable and unfathomable to us. But He made Himself approachable and tangible when He was revealed in His Son, Jesus Christ. And, He didn’t display Himself with pomp and splendor, not as a mighty general, a great statesman, or insurmountable hero, but as a simple man. God humbled Himself and came to us in the dirt. He fulfilled the prophecy of the Old Covenant in a surprising way. He brought the end times in an unexpected way (Gal 4:4; 1 Cor 10:11).

We could now ask ourselves: What does any of this have to do with us? It’s nice and well that God humbled Himself like that. But what’s the point of it for us? Is it just a good example? No. It’s about much more. Something happened on the cross: something that really is good news for the poor, liberation for the captives, light for the blind, and freedom for the downtrodden.

Jesus Christ didn’t die “just because.” It wasn’t a mistake in God’s plan. It was His goal: He wanted to die, for us. He took our sins on Himself. God joined with mankind in Jesus Christ to carry the sin and guilt of men against Himself. Jesus died the lonely and terrible death of a man who was punished for his sins. But He did not stay dead. He was raised from the dead. His wounded body was awakened to new life. So He defeated sin, hell, death, and the devil on the cross.

With the cross in mind, Christ said, “The hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified” (John 12:23). That’s a remarkable word. The Lord speaks of His glorification in relation to the terrible tragedy of the cross. He calls this terrible crime His glorification. The crucifixion of the Son of God is the glorification of the Son of God. How can that be? How can something so ugly be glorious?

Again, that is the theology of the cross. God turns all human expectations of power and glory upside down. He proves His power and glory in His darkest hour, in greatest pain and in deepest sorrow. It would be easy for God to destroy and crush us sinners, but where is such a God who dies as a human being for sinners? That’s true power.

When Christ suffered and died, the incomprehensible happened: He took our sins upon Himself. But that was not all. Jesus Christ was and is the only person who has lived completely righteously and sinlessly on earth. He was not blinded by the devil, by other people, or by sin, but always did the right thing. An exchange now takes place on the cross: Christ gives us His righteousness and takes our sins upon Himself, and carries them away through His sacrificial death on the cross. “For he [God] hath made him [Jesus] to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Cor 5:21).

Nothing and no one can condemn us believing sinners anymore, because the perfect God Himself in the perfect God-man, Jesus Christ, has joined with us. The key to this treasure of perfection is our faith. Christ alone is our guarantee. Thus, the shame of the cross becomes the glory of God. For Jesus Christ, with His holy, precious blood, now ransoms innumerable people “of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation” for God’s new heavenly world (Rev 5:9).

God, the mighty lion of Israel, has conquered as a sacrificial lamb for the world. He has “[blotted] out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross; And having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it” (Col 2:14-15). The devil has nothing left to hold against us. The punishment for all our sins has been paid. God’s apparent defeat was His total victory. God showed His power and glory in the bloody drama of the cross this way.

For our lives, this means we are free. “If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed” (John 8:36). Jesus Christ frees us from our sins, from our guilt, from our attachments, from our burdens, from our guilty consciences, from everything that ensnares us and can bring us down. This is the good news: we can now lead a new life, purified by the precious blood of Jesus. A life for God that is pleasing. And a life with the God who makes us happy.

Midnight Call - 03/2019

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