6 For while we were still helpless, at the appointed moment, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For rarely will someone die for a just person — though for a good person perhaps someone might even dare to die. 8 But God proves His own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us! - Roman 5:6-8
The cross of Christ has sometimes been compared to the electric chair or other forms of execution, meaning we are wise to remember that it was an instrument of death in the ancient world. The cross is also often used to prompt us to give ourselves sacrificially for him and others. But comparisons to other forms of execution can miss the deeper biblical teaching about the cross. And the cross is much more than an object lesson in how we should live.
To get at the deeper meaning, we can turn to the great Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment. The lead character Rodion Raskolnikov had brutally murdered an elderly woman, Lizaveta, and her sister. Raskolnikov later meets a young woman, Sonia, who has become a prostitute. He is immediately drawn to her, and after he learns that Sonia had been friends with Lizaveta, he feels compelled to confess the murders to her. Dostoyevsky wrote,
“What have you done—what have you done to yourself?” [Sonia] said in despair, and, jumping up, she flung herself on his neck, threw her arms round him, and held him tightly. . . . “There is no one—no one in the whole world now so unhappy as you!” she cried in a frenzy . . . and she suddenly broke into violent hysterical weeping.
There we see the meaning of the Cross and the revelation of the deepest nature of God. Jesus did not consider that the glory of divinity as something to exalt in, but decided to bear the yoke of human nature. He showed himself not only to be a man of sorrows, but also a God who has borne our griefs; not merely a man wounded for our transgression, but also a God bruised for our iniquities (Isa. 53). He saw the grievous sin of humankind, and the cross is the sign of his “violent, hysterical weeping” for us.
Jesus calls us to take up our cross (Mark 8:34), but the full weight of the cross-beamed yoke is born by him, the God who sorrows for our sins, the man who bears our griefs. This is the Lord and Savior who promises to never leave or forsake us (Matt. 28:20) and actually helps shoulder the burdens that life with him invariably entails, even when our journey takes us to the most desolate of places.
Mark Galli, editor in chief of Christianity Today.