A Roman execution device isn't exactly a picturesque scene of divine love on display. It'd be the equivalent to having three criminals side-by-side in electric chairs. Or a firing squad having their criminals in a line with crowds watching and laughing. We'd never turn that scene into jewelry or bumper stickers; it's disturbing. The cross is a symbol of torture and cruelty, blood and death. It highlights the abuse of power and an undeserving punishment. Yet it's in that place that God does the scandalous. He turns the excruciating event of the cross into the perfect display of a scandalous, unmerited love for the undeserving.
In 2 Corinthians 5:21 Paul writes, "For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." The scandal of the cross is that in a moment Jesus becomes the worst of the worst and we put on the righteousness of God.
On the cross, Jesus becomes the worst sinner of all time. In a moment, there is no sinner worse than what Jesus becomes on the cross. The sins of all people in all times and in all places get put onto Jesus.
Jesus becomes the adulterer.
He becomes the gossip and the town drunk.
He becomes the racist and the oppressor.
The self-righteous Pharisee.
This is scandalous. Jesus, who knew no sin, gets beaten and bruised in order to make an unfair exchange - giving up his own righteousness to receive our unrighteousness. Jesus becomes the sinner and we become the heir to the throne. Jesus becomes the liar and we become the honest one. Jesus becomes the adulterer and we become the faithful one.
In 1 Timothy 1:15 Paul writes, "The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost." In humility Paul acknowledges what we all know to be true, we've got a laundry list of sins that are embarrassing, disturbing, and shameful. This is the same thing the Psalmist writes when it says, "If you, Lord, kept a record of sins, Lord, who could stand?"
Imagine if the thoughts of our hearts were live-tweeted throughout the day. The insight into our heart would create a record of our sins that in a single day would leave us with no possibility for recovery. Jesus came to save sinners.
When the experts of torture and pain set up their execution station, Jesus hijacks their agenda for his own. They seem to think their execution is about making a mockery of Jesus and turning his death into a spectacle. Instead mockers leave with blood-stained hands that remind them of the blood that washed them. Instead spectators come for a show but leave as worshippers.
The scandal of the cross is that on the cross Jesus becomes the worst of sinners. On the cross the record of sins gets handed to Jesus and it gets buried in the tomb with Jesus. On the cross an execution event becomes a transaction in the divine economy. God pays with his life and we receive what only he could afford.
On the cross Jesus becomes the sinner. We become heirs.
On the cross Jesus becomes the guilty one. We become the innocent.
On the cross Jesus is publicly shamed before men. We have our shamed covered over.
On the cross, the one who least deserved it, chooses to die. It's not forced upon him, he chooses the cross. He chooses the torture and mockery. He chooses the pain and the betrayal. He chooses the cruelty and the crowds. In an outrageous act, Jesus pays the price for all of sin by choosing to suffer for your freedom.