Southminster Presbyterian Church

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The Four Sides of the Cross

Ken Onstot

“Paying for the Damage”

Scripture: Romans 3:21-26

If I drive into the church parking lot

And run into your car,

Forgiveness will not come cheap.

You may say, “Forget about it.”

But the insurance company won’t,

Unless someone else pays for the damage.


When hurt is inflicted,

Someone bears the pain;

When wrong is done,

Someone suffers for it.

When damage occurs,

Someone pays the price.

Forgiveness is nice to talk about,

But someone bears the cost.


Families in a South Carolina church

Forgive the murderer who bereaved them.

But what if he had been forgiven

By the judge?

The judge has no right to do that,

Since the judge did not suffer the wrong.


God, Paul says, is both righteous and forgiving,

Both just and justifying,

Bringing the wronged and the wrongdoer

Back into right relationship.


But how?

Jesus can forgive his crucifiers.

But how can he forgive the wife,

Who cheated on her husband, the father

Who abused his child, the company

That defaulted on its pension, the driver

Who killed a pedestrian?

How can he forgive you and me

For the mean, dishonest, uncaring things

We did to someone else?


The Bible says Jesus redeemed us,

Like making payment to a pawnshop

To get back a treasure.


God put him forward, Paul says,

Like a sacrifice of atonement,

Like the ransom for a hostage,

Like a benefactor paying off our debt,

Like a substitute taking our place at the gallows.


All these have one thing in common:

Whatever damage I did to your car,

Or to you,

Whatever damage you did to others,

Or to yourself,

Jesus accepts the blame,

Jesus suffers the consequences,

Jesus takes on the hurt,

Jesus pays for the damage.


And that’s why Jesus can forgive.



“Correcting the Cause”

Scripture: I John 1:5-10

So I drive into the parking lot,

And hit your car.

And you say, “I forgive you,”

After paying yourself to have it fixed.


But there is still a problem:

Why did I hit your car in the first place?

And what will keep me from doing it again?

Does my eyesight need correction?

My reflexes evaluation?

My drinking rehabilitation?

Do I need to quit texting?


It is one thing to forgive a sin.

It is another to attack the cause.


But the causes of sin are complex,

And deeper than poor driving.

Self-centeredness cannot be corrected

With glasses;

Idols are not as easily put away

As cell phones;

And alcoholism has a higher cure rate

Than bitterness.


Sin is a problem that must be attacked

From the inside.


The Bible calls this cleansing.

“If we confess our sins,

God who is faithful and just will forgive our sins

And cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

It is not just the car that needs to be fixed;

It’s the driver.


This, too, is a reason for the cross.

“The blood of Jesus

Cleanses us from all sin”--

Not only our violence, but our anger;

Not only our stealing but our greed;

Not only our lust but our ingratitude.


Cleansing is a lifelong process.

You don’t look at the cross

And suddenly feel kind

Toward your enemies.

You don’t look at the cross

And suddenly feel gratitude

For the disappointments in your life.

You don’t look at the cross

And suddenly feel moved

By generosity or humility.


But maybe when you look at the cross

Your own struggles don’t seem so daunting

Since the one who died on a cross

Will help carry yours.


You can look at the cross

As another miscarriage of justice,

Fueling your disillusionment.

Or you can look at the cross

As the triumph of love,

And glean courage from it

To try loving again.


“Intervening with the Court”

Scripture: Romans 8:31-34

So I drive into the parking lot

And smash into your car.

And you say, “You’re forgiven.”

And I get help

For my self-preoccupation.


But there is yet another problem.

The state requires an accident report.

A ticket has been written

With a summons to appear in court,

And the judge is not inclined

To be lenient.


It is not enough to pay for the damage.

It is not enough to reform your driving.

There is a judge to be faced,

An accounting to be given,

For which it may help

To have a good lawyer.


“Who is in a position to condemn?

It is Christ Jesus, who died,

Yes, who was raised,

Who is at the right hand of God,

Who indeed intercedes for us.”


When you’re in court,

You need a good lawyer.

How much better a lawyer

Who is related to the Judge.



The good news of the gospel

Is not only that Jesus died,

But that he lives,

That he ascended into heaven,

That sits at the right hand of his Father

To plead our case.


The cross is not just a sacrifice

That pays for our sins,

Though it is that.

It is not just an example of love,

Inspiring us to love others,

Though it is that.

The cross is the bar exam

Admitting Jesus to the heavenly court,

Qualifying him to plead our case,

Before a Holy Judge

Whom we on our own

Have no right to approach.


Do not treat too casually

The God of all creation;

Nor think you can cozy up

To the Judge of all the earth.


You are in serious trouble,

And the only thing that will save you,

Is a friend in high places.


“Reconciling with the Owner”

Scriptures: Romans 5:6-11

So I drive into the parking lot

And smash into your car.

And you pay for the damage;

And I get help for my driving,

And the court finds me “Not Guilty,”

Thanks to a good lawyer, who happens to be

The Judge’s Son.


There is still one more problem:

My relationship to the car owner.


If you smash your best friend’s car,

Are you worried only about getting a ticket?

Are you concerned only about your insurance rates?

Is there not a friendship that’s been damaged,

A trust that’s been violated,

A relationship broken that means more

Than an insurance claim?


Is it enough to escape God’s punishment,

If you no longer have God’s companionship?

Is it enough to avoid hell,

If you no longer have a friend in heaven?


How tragic to walk away from the cross

Forgiven, but alone;

Delivered from punishment,

But still alienated

From the best friend you could ever have.


“If while we were enemies,

We were reconciled to God

Through the death of his Son,

Much more surely, having been reconciled,

Will we be saved by his life.”


The cross is a mystery with four sides.

Jesus paid for our sins,

So we could be forgiven;

Jesus moved our hearts,

So we could learn to love;

Jesus passed the bar,

So he could plead our case;

Jesus broke down the barriers,

So we and God could be friends again.


How do you receive such a gift?

By believing it,

By giving thanks for it,

By living as if it is true:

As if you are forgiven

And need no longer nurse your grudges,

As if you are transformed

And need no longer repeat your mistakes,

As if you are exonerated,

And need no longer condemn one another,

As if you are reconciled to God,

And no longer have to hide.


There are four sides to the cross,

All of which are needed

To repair a broken car,

And to heal a broken life.


"Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the LORD our Maker; for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care."

Psalm 95:6-7