The following reflection on the cross has been contributed by David Blevins (part-time pastoral assistant to Richhill Methodist and reporter with Sky News).
If anyone understood the cross, the late Bob Maginn from Portadown did. Some years ago, he asked his son Aubrey to drive him to Stranocum in County Antrim. Bob had been in the Maritime Royal Artillery. Throughout World War II, he served alongside a man called Jimmy McKinley. When Jimmy became ill and had to leave the ship temporarily, a comrade – Daniel Holmes – offered to cover Bob’s post so that the friends could remain together. Within hours of them disembarking, the ship was torpedoed. There were no survivors. When they reached Stranocum that day, Bob pointed to the name of Daniel Holmes on the war memorial. His words were few. “He took my place.” That was Bob Maginn’s testimony. He would often say, “Two men died for me: Daniel Holmes and Jesus Christ.” ‘He took my place.’ Could there be a better description of the cross?
Consider Jesus’ own words:
The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected…and He must be killed and on the third day be raised to life again.
The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.
The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.
I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.
Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and He will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?
Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter His glory?
From these six examples alone, we can draw three conclusions: that suffering and death were His destiny; that He had resolved to fulfil that destiny voluntarily; and that He learned His destiny from Scripture. So what were these Scriptures? We could turn to Leviticus and consider the whole sacrificial system. We could turn to Exodus and consider the blood of the Passover lamb. We could turn to Psalm 22, a prophecy quoted by Christ on the cross. There is however, one prophecy that stands head and shoulders above the others. It is the Old Testament Scripture quoted most often in the New (12 times): Isaiah 53.
Isaiah speaks of the ‘Servant’ (52:13). Who is the Servant? Turn to the New Testament and ask Philip! In Acts 8, he finds the Ethiopian eunuch reading this passage from Isaiah. “Then Philip began with that very passage and told him the good news about Jesus.” Jesus is the servant.
Isaiah speaks of the ‘suffering’ (53:4-6). We read the pronouns “our”, “we” and “us” 10 times. It could not be clearer. The Servant is suffering for us. Our part in this drama is sin. His part is suffering. He took our place. He served our sentence. He paid our debt.
Isaiah speaks of the ‘sacrifice’ (53:10-12). We were guilty. The Lord made his life a guilt offering. Justice had to be done. He died to justify many by bearing their iniquities. God is so holy He cannot ignore sin but so gracious He sacrificed His Son to set us free.