“I will drive him like a peg into a firm place; he will become a seat of honor for the house of his father.”—Isaiah 22:23
It was a terrible night in the Capitol in Rome. Swords clashed in hand-to-hand combat. Led by General Manlius, the Gauls were repelled and the city was saved even when all seemed lost. Then, in a strange twist, Manlius was accused of sedition. The trial convened in the Forum under the shadow of the towering Capitol. As he was about to be sentenced, he stretched out his hand and, weeping, pointed to the arena of his triumph. The vast audience burst into tears, and the judges were silenced. But the trial continued, and his accusers were defeated. Not until the court was moved to a lower spot from which the Capitol was obscured were his enemies able to secure a conviction, and Manlius’s execution quickly followed. What the Capitol was to Manlius, the cross of Christ is to the Christian.
The battle of Golgotha was a victory, though it seemed to be a defeat. The Savior died, but in His death He triumphed over Satan. In the sense of victory, the cross is even greater than the resurrection. The cross is the victory, the resurrection, the triumph. Christ’s victory was complete when on the cross He cried, “It is finished” (John 19:30).
In what way, you may ask, can we say that the cross was a victory? I suggest there are three reasons.
I. IT WAS THE SUPREME EVIDENCE OF GOD’S LOVE
The Lord God gave up His Beloved Son, knowing He was destined to die a shameful death. As Moses says, “Anyone hanging on a tree is cursed of God” (Deut 21:23, TLB). But Jesus willingly submitted to the shame and violence of the cross. He whose voice spoke the world into existence was the Prince of life, yet He bowed before the death, which was our just reward for sin. No wonder the apostle proclaims, “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8).
“Our sins have hurt God. They outrage His holiness. If He was to remain the moral arbiter of the universe, He could not ignore them. But if He acted in judgment on them, as He fittingly might, there would be no hope for any of us. So He became one of us and in our place bore the alienation, the judgment, which was due. That is how much He cares. There is nothing like it in all the world.”1 What greater proof of God’s love could be offered than this?
The crude concept that Christ sacrificed Himself to appease an angry God cannot be found in the Bible. A picture hanging in an Italian church illustrates the truth. At first sight it seems like any other painting of the crucifixion. Looking carefully, however, the viewer sees a difference. There’s a vast and shadowy Figure behind the figure of Jesus. The nail that pierces the hand of Jesus goes through to the hand of God. The spear thrust into the side of Jesus goes through into God’s.
This is the uniqueness of Christianity. No founder of any other religion came into the world to die. Yet “Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51), knowing fully the consequences.
II. THE VICTORY OF THE CROSS IS THE GREATEST EVIDENCE OF GOD’S RIGHTEOUSNESS
It was on the cross that the supreme Judge of the world did not spare even His own Son, but freely gave Him up for us all (Rom 8:32). God’s law is righteous, and the righteous law demanded the death of the sinner. God did not change His law; neither did He remove the sentence of death. Not only was God’s love revealed on Calvary, but His righteousness was shown also, thereby justifying the repentant sinner. There, all his debt was paid. God’s patience in past ages was made possible only in view of the cross, for Jesus was “the Lamb who was slain from the creation of the world” (Rev 13:8). Forgiveness now and in the future is possible only by looking back to the cross (Rom 3:20; 1 John 1:9). God’s patience in the past (Rom 3:25), His present judgment (John 2:31), and the future grace (Rom 5:8–9) all meet at the cross, for the righteousness of God is revealed in the gospel. As Paul affirms, “For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith’” (Rom 1:17). In the words of a French cynic, “The good God will forgive me; that’s His specialty.”
III. THE VICTORY OF THE CROSS IS DEMONSTRATED IN CHANGED LIVES
As we stand before the sinless Golgotha sufferer, we see ourselves as we really are, for our sins put Him there. Which one of us has reason to boast of our position, power, wealth, race, or intellect? We can only join with Isaac Watts in saying, “My richest gain I count but loss, and poor contempt on all my pride.”
At the foot of the cross, new life begins for the Christian. Not that we will never sin again, but as Ellen G. White says, “we shall have no relish for sin. . . . We may make mistakes, but we will hate the sin that caused the sufferings of the Son of God.”2
The Moravian count Zinzendorf stumbled one day upon a picture of Christ dying on the cross. Underneath were the words “I did this for thee; what wilt thou do for Me?” There was only one answer, and that answer changed the rest of his life. “I have but one passion,” he said. “It is He and He alone.”
We have forgiveness, a new life in Christ, and eternal hope through the cross of Christ. “Let the repenting sinner fix his eyes upon ‘the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world’ [John 1:29]; and by beholding, he becomes changed,” writes White. “His fear is turned to joy, his doubts to hope. Gratitude springs up. The stony heart is broken.”3
Some time ago, six lives were snuffed out when a small plane crashed into a mountain in Pennsylvania near a sixty-eightfoot high stainless steel cross, which served as a marker for a Christian training center. The Associated Press dispatch reporting the tragedy says, “The cross has electric lights, but they were not turned on at the time.” We would infer from this reference to the unlit cross that perhaps the terrible tragedy might have been averted had the cross been lit.
So the message of the cross, the only hope of eternal life, must be given to all people for their salvation. Christ crucified is still “the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom 1:16).
“There was One who was willing to die in my stead, That a soul, so unworthy, might live. And the path to the cross He was willing to tread, All the sins of my life to forgive.”— Carrie Ellis Breck
So to you who are troubled, sorrowful, dissatisfied with life, or in despair, let me say, Christ’s victory at Golgotha was for you. Believe it and accept it, and you will have found a power in your life to face any situation. You are not alone. Jesus is still Immanuel, God with us!
The victory of the cross, then, is that it becomes for us a tree of life, a living corridor of infinite hope, a bridge to heaven, a seal of salvation, a destroyer of sin, a stimulus to kind and holy deeds, a bond of union to all who love God, and a fountain of justice and mercy—immeasurably deep, yet ever accessible.
1 Michael Green, Running from Reality (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1983), 3.
2 Ellen G. White, Selected Messages Book 1, 360.
3 Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, 439.
Rex D. Edwards is a former vice president for religious studies at Griggs University.