The Cross Convinces

Dr. Nabeel Qureshi is a convincing person. He is a member of the speaking team at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries. He’s also the author of a book entitled Seeking Allah: Finding Jesus. He holds an MD from Eastern Virginia Medical School, an MA in Christian apologetics from Biola University, and an MA in Religion from Duke University. He has participated in 17 moderated, public debates around North America, Europe, and Asia. His focus is on the foundations of the Christian faith and the early history and teachings of Islam.

For Dr. Quereshi, the cross is the central theme on which Christianity depends. In an interview he stated. “I call Jesus’ death on the cross the ‘litmus test’ between Islam and Christianity because Christianity clearly affirms it (e.g. Luke 23:47) and Islam clearly denies it (4:157). If the historical evidence favors one position or the other, then the evidence favors one religion over the other. And the historical evidence for Jesus’ death on the cross is overwhelming.”

There is good eyewitness testimony that reaches the same conclusion. Matthew27:54: When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!”

Mark 15:39 and Luke 23:47 record the same conclusion. The cross commands attention. It arrests the casual observer and forces a person to take a side. The cross dismantles ambivalence!

Paul Guttke said, “The cross is God's centerpiece on the table of time.” P.T. Forsyth wrote, “Christ is to us just what his cross is. All that Christ was in heaven or on earth was put into what he did there ... Christ, I repeat, is to us just what his cross is. You do not understand Christ till you understand his cross.”

Malcolm Muggeridge spoke of his “heart standing still” when he saw two pieces of wood even accidentally nailed together. This despite the fact he was brought up in a Socialist Sunday School where he learned a “sort of agnosticism sweetened by hymns.” Muggeridge called the cross a “precious standard” which pointed to his own failures. It was derided in his home yet in it was his “focus of inconceivable hopes and desires.”

But what was it like to stand at the foot of Golgotha and watch a wrecked human being die? The centurion had probably seen hundreds expire. Usually, within 48 hours the victim died of dehydration, suffocation and the stress of trying to lift his tortured body high enough to bring air to his starved lungs. If it took too long a heavy stick crushed bones and the internal bleeding from multiple fractures dispatched the criminal. Rome knew what to do with zealots and other revolutionaries. What the whip failed to do, the cross easily accomplished. But as this centurion stood at this cross, he knew he was witnessing a different scene. This was no ordinary execution for a number of reasons:

The Centurion was watching an innocent man die. Four times Jesus had been declared “not guilty” during the travesty of his trial. There were flagrant violations of the code of legal ethics and procedures supposed to be followed. Judas said, “I have betrayed innocent blood.” Pilate summarized the case wisely, but without the conviction that produces action when he said, “I find no fault in Him.”  Pilate's wife said, “Have nothing to do with this just man.” Like the ideal lamb marked for the Passover meal, He was found to be without blemish.

The Centurion was watching a good man die. Could this be the same Jesus whose reputation had filled this nation? Was He the healer? The One who raised the dead? The One with power over demons? Was He the One who had healed a fellow centurion's servant just by His word? He'd created a small stir by driving the moneychangers out of the temple and by debating religious leaders, but was that reason for death? Acts 10:38 states, “[He] went about doing good.” Thieves and soldiers recognized truth more readily then did the religious elite of Jesus' day. The thief said, “This man has done nothing amiss.” The centurion said, “Truly this was the son of God.”           

The Centurion was watching both a hated man and a loved man die. The Roman judgment hall, the Praetorium, rang with the calls of the mob for the death of this man. Pious religionists and socialites rubbed shoulders with the commoners in the mob venting their bloodlust for One they saw as a threat for their corrupt, lifeless kingdom. At the foot of the cross stood the weeping form of a broken-hearted mother. The sword that Simeon had spoken of in the Temple when Mary and Joseph brother Him there was now piercing her heart as she watched her Son die horribly. Could this be “my Father's business” He spoke of when they found Him reasoning in the temple at 12 years of age?

The Centurion was watching a substitute die. Another man, probably by this time rejoicing in his unexpected freedom, could easily have been hanging on the cross. He would have been in good company between the thieves. Barrabas was a terrorist. He tried to start a revolution against Rome and was destined for the cross. In a last ditch effort to save an innocent man Pilate appealed to the crowd to have Jesus released and Barrabas brought to justice. The mob would not relent and they called the louder for the death of Christ. Even the forty stripes that left his back a bloodied, mangled mess of flesh did not appease them. They wanted the death of Jesus of Nazareth.

Perhaps without realizing it, this centurion, who had overseen the nails being driven into quivering flesh, was witnessing the fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy. He was seeing a lamb being sent to the slaughter. He saw a despised man and rejected man, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. He saw a man carrying grief and sorrow. He was stricken, smitten, afflicted, wounded, bruised and chastised. This was the Lamb of God, viciously beaten, justice denied Him, cut off from the land of the living.

Despite its gruesome quality, its obvious conflict and its raw violence, the cross was an instrument of peace. The Anglican scholar, Bishop Stephen Neill, stated, “In the Christian theology of history, the death of Christ is the central point of history; here all the roads of the past converge; hence all the roads of the future diverge.” The cross is God’s way of reconnecting us to Him. The Prince of Peace gave His life to create our peace with God.

The cross obtains peace through words and deeds of forgiveness. Forgiveness convinces. Forgiveness constructs a foundation for peace. “Father forgive them …” is a word of peace. Rome prescribed a penalty for wrong. Life was to be forfeited for justice to be served. God also demanded justice. The sinner should die. He should pay for his crime. Here is the paradox of the cross: The man dying next to the thief was giving him life. A condemned man on the centre cross offered forgiveness with all the power of God's mercy behind it. Justice would be served, but Jesus paid the penalty. Our peace was purchased at infinite cost.

The Cross was forcing a decision.  The centurion was provoked. Everyone who encounters the cross was provoked. After Jesus died two secret disciples emerged. Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea lovingly provided for his burial. The whole scene of salvation for every person was played out in the dialogue between Jesus and two condemned thieves. One decides wisely and embraces his dying Saviour's offer. The other goes rebellious and cursing into eternity. Peace with God is always our decision – the cross provokes that choice.

The centurion had probably seen hundreds die. Soldiers in occupied countries were often a calloused lot. Yet this man was profoundly touched by the man he had helped to execute. He was probably unfamiliar with Jesus' teachings. He likely had never heard His rich parables. Perhaps he had never seen an actual miracle. A hardened soldier of Rome may have been unimpressed with talks of a kingdom of peace and justice. For Rome, might was right. Yet three gospel writers record his unique confession.

Nothing convinces like the cross and nothing is as universally applicable to the human race. Edith Brock said, “Take another look at the cross and see the revelation; it is a sword that cuts our conscience; it is a key that unlocks our prisons; it is a royal scepter under which we will live eternally with Him in His kingdom.”

What will it take today to bring peace to our families, our communities, and our world? What is to be the ground zero, the central focus of our message?

·      Mere words can be empty.

·      Superficial holiness and a selected list of “dos and don'ts” won't win them.

·      Being socially active or politically involved won't save people.

Campbell Morgan made a statement that cuts to the heart. He said, “It is the crucified man that can preach the cross. Thomas said, ‘except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails ... I will not believe.’” What Thomas said of Christ, the world is saying of the Church “... unless I see in your hands the print of the nails, I will not believe. It is only a person who has died with Christ who can truly preach the cross of Christ.”

Having finished his formal education in 1719, a young nobleman set out on a Grand Tour of Europe. It was during this tour that he visited the art gallery in Dusseldorf where he became transfixed with Dominico Feti’s work Ecce Homo (“Behold, the man”). He was arrested with what he saw in the painting representing Christ, “into every lineament of whose face the Christian artist had painted Love. As the nobleman saw the pierced hands, the bleeding brow, and wounded side; as he slowly scanned the couplet,

      ‘All this I did for thee,

      What hast thou done for Me?’

a new revelation of the claim of Jesus Christ upon every life upon which His grace had been outpoured flashed upon him. Hour after hour passed as he sat intently gazing upon the face the Suffering One. As the day waxed apace, and the lingering rays of sunlight...fell upon the bowed form of Count Nicolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf, weeping and sobbing out his devotion to the Christ Who had not only saved his soul, but conquered his heart...” (The Dawn, Vol. 1, Apr. 1924-Mar. 1925, p. 188). “There and then the young Count asked the slaughtered Lamb to draw him into ’the fellowship of His suffering’ and to open up a life of service to Him” (Count Zinzendorf, Great Men of the Church Series, No. 4). Zinzendorf went on to found the mighty Moravian mission.

William Barclay says it eloquently, “The Cross is the proof that there is no length to which the love of God will refuse to go, in order to win (people's) hearts. The Cross is the medium of reconciliation because the Cross is the final proof of the love of God; and a love like that demands an answering love. If the Cross will not waken love and wonder in people's hearts, nothing will.” 

The Cross was an instrument of obscene violence, yet it is capable of producing enduring peace. THE CROSS ALONE CONVINCES!