Understanding the Cross: A Parable

When you think about God, what do you think of? How would you describe his attributes? Most church-going people would describe Him as loving, merciful, forgiving, all-powerful, just and fair. This is what theologians call “The Theology of Glory.” These are descriptions that make us feel good about God. There is nothing offensive about this.

However, when you turn to the events of Easter, particularly Good Friday, you hear words like “sin, the Cross, God’s wrath and judgement, sacrifice, the shed blood of Christ.” These are words used by theologians to describe “The Theology of the Cross.” For many people these are not pleasant words. They would prefer to hear about God’s mercy and love. Let’s skip the crucifixion and just move on to Easter.

The heart of the Christian faith is the Cross. Without it, the Biblical story of redemption makes no sense. Therefore, to provide a good understanding of the cross, I share with you a wonderful parable from Dr. Norman Geisler.

The Judge

A young man is brought before a judge for drunk driving. When his name is announced by the bailiff, there’s a gasp in the courtroom – the defendant is the judge’s son! The judge hopes his son is innocent, but the evidence is irrefutable. He’s guilty.

What can the judge do? He’s caught in a dilemma between justice and love. Since his son is guilty, he deserves punishment. But the judge doesn’t want to punish his son because of his great love for him.

He reluctantly announces the sentence: “Son, you can either pay a $10,000 fine or go to jail.”

The son looks up at the judge and says, “But, Dad, I promise to be good from now on! I’ll volunteer at soup kitchens. I’ll visit the elderly. I’ll even open a home to care for abused children. And I’ll never do anything wrong again! Please let me go!

At this point, the judge asks, “Are you still drunk? You can’t do all of that. But even if you could, your future deeds can’t change the fact that you’re already guilty of drunk driving.” Indeed, the judge realizes that good works cannot cancel bad works! Perfect justice demands that his son be punished for what he has done.

So the judge repeats, “I’m sorry, Son. As much as I’d like to allow you to go, I’m bound by the law. The punishment for this crime is $10,000 or you go to jail.”

The son pleads with his father, “But, Dad, you know I don’t have $10,000. There has to be another way to avoid jail!”

The judge stands up and takes off his robe. He walks down from his raised bench and gets down to his son’s level. Standing eye to eye next to his son, he reaches into his pocket, pulls out $10,000, and holds it out. The son is startled, but he understands there is only one thing he can do to be free – take the money. There’s nothing else he can do. Good works or promises of good works cannot set him free. Only the acceptance of his father’s free gift can save the son from certain punishment.

God is in a situation similar to that of the judge – he’s caught in a dilemma between his justice and his love. Since we’ve all sinned at one time in our lives, God’s infinite justice demands that he punish that sin. But because of his infinite love, God wants to find a way to avoid punishing us.

What’s the only way God can remain just but not punish us for our sins? He must punish a sinless substitute who voluntarily takes our punishment for us (sinless because the substitute must pay for our sins, not his own; and voluntary because it would be unjust to punish the substitute against his will). Where can God find a sinless substitute? Not from sinful humanity, but only from himself. Indeed, God himself is the substitute. Just as the judge came down from his bench to save his child, God came down from heaven to save you and me from punishment. And we all deserve punishment. I do. You do.

One of the things that strikes me in this parable is the son’s belief that performing good deeds in the future could somehow nullify his clear violation of the law. Clearly justice does not allow for it. Someone has to pay the penalty. The son ultimately realizes that he can pay the penalty in jail or let his father pay it for him. It is a gift that he has to receive. Salvation is not a wage you earn but a gift you receive through repentance and faith.

Furthermore, this parable reveals the great mystery of the incarnation: that Jesus came into the world, and was fully man and fully God. He had to be fully man so that He could be crucified on the cross. He had to be fully God to bear the sins of the world. Only God could do this.

The Apostle Paul said in response to this: “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift.” (II Corinthians 9:15)


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