Christians worldwide just celebrated the birth of the Christ child. The baby would not remain in the manger forever, though. The God-man would grow, and would end His life stretched on a cross, broken, bleeding and willing. In obedience to His Father, He would bear the wrath of a holy God, taking upon Himself the punishment of sin for all who would believe. Death by crucifixion was violent, shameful and public. Yet it was the means by which God determined long ago that Christ must die.
The wages of man’s sin was death (Rom. 6:23), and without the shedding of blood, there could be no forgiveness of sins (Heb. 9:22). Thus God, in His great goodness, ordained that Christ would come, live the sinless life that man could not, and would die the perfect and acceptable sacrifice for the sins of men. Psalm 22 predicted the crucifixion long before the practice had been invented:
I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast; my strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death. For dogs encompass me; a company of evildoers encircles me; they have pierced my hands and feet— I can count all my bones— they stare and gloat over me; they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots. (Psalm 22:14-18)
In spite of the Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah, there was not a Jew alive at the time of Christ who would have fathomed that their promised Messiah would arrive as anything other than a victorious King. The Savior they had anticipated would never hang beaten and bloodied, cursed on a cross.
Yet that is precisely what our Lord did. He died, willingly and lovingly, so that those whom the Father had chosen could be saved. Contrary to the worldly ideas of victory, Christ was victorious and He is the King. One day when He returns, all finally will know and understand.
Christ had to die, else there would be no salvation available to man. How must one respond, then, when the argument is set forth that the crucifixion is too violent, too unpleasant, to truly display God’s love? In a 2008 article appearing in The Christian Century entitled, “God’s Love, Mother’s Milk,” Margaret R. Miles, emerita professor of Historical Theology at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkley, California, argued that the use of a cross to symbolize God’s love was a newer phenomenon in Christianity and that a “more persuasive symbol of God’s love was the virgin’s breast.”
The Layman Online would briefly detail Miles’ position again in 2010, prior to her appearance at Union Theological Seminary’s 2010 Sprunt Lectures:
“Although theologians may have claimed that crucifixion scenes exhibited the extremity of God’s love for humans, it was scenes of the child sucking at the breast that spoke to people on the basis of their earliest experience,” she said. This symbol was replaced by the cross, argued Miles, when patriarchal Western Europeans “secularized the breast.”
Miles suggested that the cross is inappropriate as a symbol of God’s love because “it presents a violent act as salvific.”
“The equation of love with heroic violence and suffering is typically a male-centered perspective,” she argued, leading to her conclusion that “the value of the nursing breast as a symbol of God’s provision might need to be reconsidered in our own time … In societies in which violence is rampant on the street and in the media, the nursing virgin can perhaps communicate God’s love to people in a way that a violent image, the image of one more sacrificial victim, cannot.”
Is there validity to Miles’ statements? Is the image of a crucified Savior too violent to properly communicate the love of God? Is the image of “one more sacrificial victim” too gory to truly display this great gift?
True Christians know the answers before the questions even are asked. Christ was not merely “one more sacrificial victim,” He was the only acceptable sacrifice for the sins of men.
But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. (Hebrews 9:11–14)
But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. (Hebrews 9:26–28)
But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. (Hebrews 10:12–14)
If not for the blood of Christ, man could never approach a pure, holy and perfect God. How, then, is the reality of a crucified Savior incapable of demonstrating the love of God? It must further be remembered that this bloodied Messiah did not remain in the grave. No, He is alive, thereby promising believers an inheritance of eternal life!
Further, Christ Himself declared the loving reality of a sacrificial death:
Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:13)
Of this verse, Dr. John MacArthur states,
The world over, for all of history, the world has always acknowledged the supreme evidence of love, is when a person would die for the one he loved. And that’s exactly what Jesus is about to do. He loves these disciples. If he doesn’t die, they’ll spend forever in hell, and so would you and so would I and so would everybody else, who ever lived, because there would be no sacrifice for sin. Jesus knows his death is only a few hours away. He’s not dying for himself. He bore our sins in his own body on the tree. He became sin‑for us who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. He was dying a substitutionary death, and we are the beneficiaries. We’re not just witnesses of Calvary. We’re the recipients of what was accomplished there. (Source)
J.C. Ryle similarly reminds:
There is no greater love than willingness to lay down life for those we love. Christ did this, and Christians should be willing to do the same. Let us note here that our Lord clearly speaks of His own death as a sacrificial and propitiatory death. Even His friends need a substitute to die for them. (Expository Thoughts on John, vol. 3, 127.)
The Apostle John, who first recorded these words of our Savior, would later write,
By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. (1 John 3:16)
The sacrificial death of Christ is how fallen man may come to realize the love of Christ for those whom He came to save! To strip this from Christians is a crime that ought not be committed.
As Christ loved us, so we too are commanded to love the brethren. Indeed, without the cross of Christ to look to as the supreme demonstration of love, Christians cannot seek to obediently show love to one another in the same sacrificial manner (not that Christians can love in the same saving, substitutionary act as did Christ, but that they may strive to sacrificially love one another as Christ has loved His own). Did not the Apostle John remind us of this?
In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. (1 John 4:10–12)
Without the substitutionary death of Christ, one cannot know what is love. Assuming that she has not changed her position, it would be logical to presume that Margaret Miles and those who would agree with her have very little eternal hope. It seems nearly impossible that a person could declare the sacrificial death of Christ to be insufficient to communicate the love of God and yet still possess a glimmer of the hope offered in Jesus Christ. For these people, trapped in a skewed worldview and lost, we pray.
The Christian must take such ridiculous statements as those made above by Miles and see them as an opportunity to rejoice in his salvation, and to strengthen the defense of his faith. What greater expression of love can there be than that of the sinless Son of God suffering the wrath of the Father and dying for sinners? Oh, dear Christian, there is no greater demonstration of love than this! How utterly sad it is to realize that many will never know this great truth.