A man was sitting outside a Buddhist temple in Indonesia. Men and women filled the elaborate, colorful temple grounds, where they daily performed their religious rituals. Meanwhile, the man was engaged in a conversation with a Buddhist leader and a Muslim leader in this particular community. They were discussing how all religions are fundamentally the same and only superficially different. “We may have different views about small issues,” one of them said, “but when it comes down to the essential issues, each of our religions is the same.”
The man listened for awhile, and then they asked him what he thought. The man replied “It sounds as though you both picture God (or whatever you call god) at the top of this mountain. It seems as if you believe that we are all at the bottom of that mountain, and I may take one route up the mountain, you may take another, and in the end we will all end up in the same place.”
They smiled as he spoke. Happily they replied, “Exactly! You understand!”
Then the man leaned in and said, “Now let me ask you a question. what would you think if I told you that the God on the top of the mountain actually cam down to where we are? what would you think if I told you that God doesn’t wait for people to find their way to Him, but instead He comes to us?”
They thought for a moment and then replied, ‘That would be great.”
The man replied, “Let me tell you about Jesus.”
This is the gospel. As long as you and I understand salvation as checking off a box to get to God, we will find ourselves in the meaningless sea of world religions that actually condemn the human race by exalting our supposed ability to get to God. On the other hand, when you and I realize that we are morally evil, dead in sin, and deserving of God’s wrath with no way out on our own, we begin to discover our desperate need for Christ.
Our understanding of who God is and who we are drastically affects our understanding of who Christ is and why we need Him. For example, if God is only a loving Father who wants to help his people, then we will see Christ as a mere example of that love. We will view the Cross as just a demonstration of God’s love in which He allowed Roman soldiers to crucify His Son so that sinful man would know how much He loves us.
But this picture of Christ is woefully inadequate, missing the entire point of the Gospel. We are not saved from our sins because Jesus was falsely tried by Jewish and Roman officials and sentenced by Pilate to die. Neither are we saved because the Roman persecutors thrust nails into the hands and feet of Christ and hung Him on a cross.
Do we really think that the false judgment of men heaped upon Christ would pay for a debt for all of humankind’s sin? Do we really think that a crown of thorns and whips and nails and a wooden cross and all the other facets of the crucifixion that we glamorize are powerful enough to save us?
Picture Christ in the garden of Gethsemane. As He kneels before His Father, drops of sweat and blood fall together from His head. Why is He is such pain and agony? The answer is not because He is afraid of crucifixion. He is not trembling because of what the Roman soldiers are about to do to him.
Since that day, countless men and woman have died for their faith. Some of them were not just hung on crosses, they were burned there. Many of them went to their crosses singing.
One Christian in India, while being skinned alive, looked at his persecutors and said, “I thank you for this. Tear off my old garment, for I will soon put on Christ’s garment of righteousness.
As he prepared to head off to his execution, Christopher Love wrote a note to his wife, saying, “Today they will sever me from my physical head, but they cannot sever me from my spiritual head, Christ.” As he walked to death, his wife applauded while he sang glory.
Did these men and women in Christian history have more courage than Christ himself? Why was He trembling in that garden, weeping full of anguish? We can rest assured that He was not a coward about to face Roman soldiers. Instead He was a Savior about to endure divine wrath.
Listen to His words, “My Father, if it is all possible, may this cup be taken from me.” This “cup” is not a reference to a wooden cross; it is a reference of divine judgment. It is the cup of God’s wrath.
This is what Jesus was recoiling from in the garden. All of God’s holy wrath and hatred toward sin and sinners, stored up since the beginning of the world, is about to be poured out on Him, and He is sweating blood at the thought of it.
What happened at the Cross was not primarily about nails being thrust into Jesus’ hands and feet but in the wrath due to your sin and my sin being thrust upon His soul. In that holy moment, all the righteous wrath and justice of God due to us came rushing down like a torrent of water on Christ Himself. Some say, “God looked down and could not bear to see the suffering that the soldiers were inflicting upon Jesus, so He turned away.” But this is not true. God turned away because He could not bear to see your sin and my sin upon His Son.
One preacher described it as if you and I were standing a short 100 yards away from a dam of water ten thousand miles high, and ten thousand miles wide. All of a sudden that dam was breached, and a torrential flood of water came crashing toward us. Right before it reached our feet, the ground in front of us, opened up and swallowed it all. At the Cross, Christ drank the full cup of God’s wrath, and when He had downed the last drop, He turned the cup over and cried out, “It is finished.”
This is the Gospel. The just and loving Creator of the universe has looked upon hopelessly sinful people and sent His Son, God in the flesh, to bear His wrath against sin on the cross and to show His power over sin in the Resurrection so that all who trust in Him will be reconciled to God forever.