What is the cross of Jesus all about? Depends on who you ask.
Many evangelical churches in America these days speak of the cross of Jesus primarily, if not exclusively, in terms of His suffering, agony, and death. In popular piety the cross has been turned into a tool to make you feel guilty for how rotten and wretched you. It was your sins, after all, that put Jesus on the cross. You might as well have been driving the nails (reminds me of a Christian song I've heard on the radio). This sort of guilt manipulation is a very effective tool for revival services and high-pressure altar calls. Good Friday services and observance of the Lord's Supper often use the cross in this way.
But this is not the way Scripture speaks of the cross. It is true that Jesus died for our sins. It is true that the Apostles confronted the Jews of Jerusalem with the fact that they had crucified their Messiah and were going to face God's wrath (referring to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD). But other than that, the cross is almost exclusively referred to in terms of the victory, redemption, and reconciliation that Jesus has accomplished by His death. In John's Gospel, Jesus speaks of His crucifixion as His enthronement (being "lifted up"). Similarly, in the book of Colossians, Paul never once refers to Jesus' physical suffering in conjunction with His cross. Consider how the cross is described:
- In Col. 1:12-14 Paul alludes to the cross as the means by which God's people are redeemed (rescued by purchasing one's freedom).
- In Col. 1:19-20 the cross is how God reconciles sinners to Himself along with the entire creation.
- In Col. 1:21-27 the cross of Jesus is the means by which God breaks down the barrier between Jew and Gentile and forms one new humanity in the body of Christ, the church.
- In Col. 2:11-12 the crucifixion of Jesus is described as His "circumcision", by which He has put flesh (often called "sinful nature") to death.
- In Col. 2:13-14 Jesus' death on the cross satisfies the wrath of God against law-breakers and blots out the accusations of the Law against us.
- In Col. 2:15 the cross is Jesus' triumph over all spiritual and human rulers and authorities, especially the one who sentenced Him to death.
- In Col. 2:20-23 Paul explains that our union with Christ includes our death to the elemental principles of the world before Christ.
- In Col. 3:1-11 Paul exhorts us to put sin to death because we have died with Christ and been raised with Him in baptism (cf. Rom. 6:1-14).
This is why the cross is at the heart of the gospel ("good news"). This is why Good Friday can legitimately be described as "good". This is why the cross is called the power of God (1 Cor. 1:17). When we see the cross in these terms, we begin to understand what it means to boast in nothing but the cross (Gal. 6:14). The cross is Christ's victory and ours.