At the Feet of Jesus
For Us! Jesus was crucified "for us." What does that mean? What do those two little words mean?
The Christian Church has answered that in a couple of ways. The first goes by the name of "substitutionary atonement." It says that we are sinners and we deserve punishment for offending God. God's justice has to be settled; somebody has to pay to settle the account. Jesus dies, accepts the penalty for the world's sin, the sentence of judgment is suspended. We are set free through our faith in Christ's work on the cross for us. For some this describes the meaning "for us" perfectly. Jesus is God's gift to the world to settle accounts. He takes our place. He is the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. And becasue of Jesus and his cross God, instead of punishing, forgives. This view takes our sin seriously.
Yet some have objected to this view of the cross. They point out that John 3:16says "God so loved the world he gave;" it doesn't say "in order for God to love the world he gave." "Does God need Jesus' sacrifice to love us? Does God hate us before Jesus came along?" they ask. Does God accept the sacrifice and then he loves us and pardons us? What kind of God is that? If we don't have faith in the work of the cross, does that mean we are lost forever? For them, "substitionary atonement" denies the heart of God which is love from the beginning. So they argue that "for us" has nothing to do with changing God's attitude towards us. It is love from the beginning. Jesus dies for us to prove God's love for us. "While we were yet sinners Christ died for us and that proves God's love for us," the Apostle Paul writes in Romans. God in Christ will go to the cross to show you and me the depth of God's loving reach for us. And once we see such love, such sacrifice for us, our hearts are changed, and we are moved to love God and neighbor anew. This is called the "moral influence" theology of the cross. This view takes the love of God seriously.
Both understandings of the cross are accepted and believed by many different Christians. Different hymns share the differing views. "When I Survey the wondrous Cross" sings of the moral influence of the cross. As you see the wondrous love of Christ on the cross, it moves you to give your all to God. The hymn that I wrote, "O Bleeding Love",sings of the moral influence of the cross. Yet there are other hymns. "Rock of Ages," that old hymn sings of hiding oneself in the cross; "Nothing But the Blood of Jesus," another old hymn sings that the only thing that saves is the blood of Christ. Both of those hymns sing of the substitutionary understanding of the cross.
It is interesting that the church has never settled on one view of the cross. The cross is too wondrous, too mysterious to fully comprehend it. Thus, the church sees a multifaceted understanding of the cross. And maybe that is a good thing. Can any of us fully fathom the gift of the cross?