At the crux of the story of Jesus is the cross. Without his humiliating death we are left proclaiming "another Jesus" (2 Cor 11:4), not the one of Scripture. No wonder Paul was forced to fight super-apostles in Corinth, missionaries in Galatia, and adversaries in Philippi over its centrality. Battle fatigue prompted him to assert Christ crucified is what he preaches (1 Cor 1:23), all he boasts in (Gal 6:14), and all he knows (1 Cor 2:2).
Our present aversion to the cross centers around a question posed by a friend: Is it a symbol of God's love or God's love itself? There is a world of difference. If the cross is a symbol it is a demonstration; it is a kind gesture (albeit confusing) out there. But if it is God's definitive act of love we invite two messy concepts right here, our sin and God's wrath.
There is no ambiguity in the Scriptures. Jesus died for sins. "For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God" (1 Pet 3:18). Language of imputation and balance transfers has the adverse affect of rendering what we mean by it as about as controversial as an accounting textbook. But as we approach Good Friday we are in a season to reflect very graphically and very precisely on what we mean.
On the cross, afflicted, bloodied, abandoned my God, naked, reeking of his own feces Jesus was a sexual predator. He raped women; he performed back alley abortions; he was an avid homosexual with multiple partners; he was strung out on coke; he was racist.
And just as the transition from Romans 1 to 2 indicts the self-righteous elder brother along with the prodigal, he was an online porn addict; he was anorexic; he said and did cruel things to his spouse; he insulated himself in the suburbs; he isolated himself in the city; he withheld the gospel from those who needed it most and collected trinkets for his modest home while others starved; he was proud, greedy, selfish, loving only people who were most like him.
For such a vile sinner there could be no humane execution, no heart attack in the garden or beheading before Pilate. The utter, vehement, violent wrath of God demanded abandonment, humiliation, horror, mocking, spitting, beating, whipping, thorns, nails, agony, desperation till Isaiah's prophecy could chillingly be fulfilled: "his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the children of mankind" (52:14).
Martin Luther said, "The whole value of the meditation of the suffering of Christ lies in this, that man should come to the knowledge of himself, and sink and tremble."