Why the Cross?
Jesus Christ died on the Cross of Calvary. His death was seen as a criminal execution by the Jewish people and their Roman overlords. Although Pontius Pilate issued the death decree under political pressure, he was not fully convinced Jesus of Nazareth had done anything to warrant such a gruesome end to His life. Why did Jesus have to die? From man’s perspective, it was complicated and political. From God’s perspective it was simple, essential, and by God’s design.
When Adam and Eve sinned, they were separated from God (Gen 3). Their estrangement angered their offspring, who increasingly grew more hostile toward God (Gen 6:5). Their evil practices were the result of their sin nature (Eph 2:3). Sin is lawlessness (1 Jn 3:4), and all people are sinners (Rom 3:23; 5:12). Every person is born into a state of enmity with God. Sin is the ongoing practice of rebellion against God. The wages of sin is death (Rom 6:23). For people to spend eternity anywhere other than hell, required a merciful act of God (Rom 9:15). Hell and the lake of fire were created by God, as the eternal prison for rebellious, fallen angels. God never made a way of salvation for these powerful, evil spirits.
God decreed salvation for some people (2 Thess 2:13; 1 Pet 2:9), even before the fall of humanity into a world of sin. God cannot contradict Himself. God’s justice must be appeased for God to remain holy and righteous. Sin and sinners are not permitted in the presence of God’s holiness. Sin must be dealt with, entirely. The penalty for sins is death and judgment. Each person is responsible for her own sins. Thus, it is appointed once for a man to die, and then comes the judgment (Heb 9:27). Justice demands that all sins be paid, either by the person or an acceptable substitute.
God revealed to Moses and the people of Israel, the only acceptable approach into His presence. First, God gave them the Law, in order for them to recognize His holiness and acknowledge their sinfulness. The Law was good, and it was spiritual. No one could keep the Law, however. Therefore, the Law was not to be instrument of salvation. Unfortunately, many tried to keep the Law, in order to merit favor and even salvation.
Second, God gave Israel the tabernacle, and later, the temple. This would be the real presence of God, on earth, and in the midst of His people, Israel. God’s tent was in the center of the community of the tribes of Israel. The people could not just prance into God’s presence, however.
Third, God gave Israel a priesthood to offer acceptable, blood sacrifices. Bulls and goats were slaughtered on the altar of sacrifice, and their blood would be presented to God. These animals were the substitutes, for the sins of the people, who came to seek forgiveness for their sins.
Throughout the Bible, only the blood of an acceptable substitute was acceptable to God. Acceptable meant that the animal was without blemish or defect. God required a quality offering. People brought the animal for sacrifice, and they gave it to a priest. The priest would slaughter the animal and collect its blood for presentation. Not every priest could enter the holiest of holies, the place of the presence of God, in the inner sanctum of the temple. Only the high priest was permitted into the room occupied by the Ark of the Covenant, the symbol of God presence, and only once per year.
The Day of Atonement occurred in the autumn each year, and it was the one day this one man brought blood for the atonement. The sins of the whole nation of Israel were presented along with the blood of the unblemished animal. The blood was placed upon the ark’s mercy seat. If all went well, the high priest would emerge from the holiest place, and He would declare the forgiveness of sins for the whole nation. Temporary union, atonement with God, was secured until it needed to be repeated the following year.
John the Baptist made his public appearance to Israel. He called for the people to repent of their sins and be baptized. When he was confronted about his identity and peculiar, wilderness ministry, he quoted the prophet Isaiah, “I am a voice of one crying in the wilderness, make straight the way of the Lord (Is 40:3; Jn 1:23).” John was preparing Israel for Messiah.
When Jesus Messiah appeared at the Jordan River, John exclaimed, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (Jn 1:29).” Jesus Christ was the provision of God, an unblemished God/man without sin. When Jesus was crucified on the Roman execution tree, He was the sacrificial Lamb of God sent from God in heaven (Gen 22:7–8).
Jesus preached, “…no man comes to the Father, except through Me (Jn 14:6b).” Jesus came into the world to open the veil of partition that separated sinful man from a holy God. Only a high priest, carrying an acceptable guilt offering, was permitted behind the veil. Jesus Christ is our great high priest. Although he did not belong to the tribe of Levi, nor of the family of Aaron, He was a priest of another order. The order of Melchizedek was known from the time Abraham encountered the king/priest of Jerusalem. Abraham presented an offering to this great man. Jesus is a high priest in this order.
The high priest was an office that served both God and sinners on approach to God. The high priest was a mediator between God and man. When the high priest offered sacrifices, he also offered prayers of intercession. He would petition God for mercy and grace for the penitent. God would hear the prayers of the high priest because of the blood on the mercy seat. The altar of incense, at the door to the holiest place, was symbolic of morning and evening prayers said daily for people. The high priest would also have the joyful duty of proclaiming forgiveness of sins.
Forgiveness of sins is not an obligation for God; rather, it is an act of mercy. God told Israel, “I will have mercy upon whom I will have mercy.” A man who receives mercy does not get what he truly deserves. Every man deserves punishment for sins in hell. Mercy means that punishment is not endured by the penitent sinner. The death of Christ, on the Cross, allowed God to have mercy where mercy was not previously legal. God could not just excuse people for their sins. Their sins must be paid-in-full, with blood, first, then, mercy became possible under the scrutiny of justice. When justice was satisfied, it was righteous for God to extend mercy.
If God does not extend this legal mercy to some, He is not unjust. Every sinner deserves just judgment, hell, and the lake of fire. The wrath of God is without passions. It is the appropriate punishment for the crime committed. God pours out His wrath in perfect justice on sinners, today. God is love, and God is just. It would not be loving for God to act unjustly toward people. So, God, in His love for justice, pours out His wrath justly. He is righteous in all His works. This is good for man, and it is glorifying to God. Because God cannot change, the Cross is on permanent display for all to consider.
Sinful man sees injustice everywhere in the world and throughout history. He clamors for justice. The Bible informs man that God is just, and that His justice will be meted out in one of two places: Hell or the Cross. In other words, there is a place for each person to pay for their sins, from their own account, with their own blood. Daily, Hell receives millions of souls.
The wrath of God in Hell is an eternal punishment for sins committed against God in time, which is itself part of eternity. The eternal, Triune God has been offended, and man will see God’s perfect justice in Hell. The second place for sins to be paid, in satisfying justice, is on the Cross where Jesus died. God imputed the sins of His elect people onto their God-provided substitute, Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God.
Jesus Messiah is the fulfillment of everything we have referenced here from the Old Testament. Jesus fulfilled the Law of God, perfectly. Jesus served God and man, by being the perfect High Priest. Jesus was the perfect sacrifice, the Lamb slain. Jesus received the wrath of God on the Cross. God punished the sins of His people in Jesus’ body on the Cross. The sins of God’s people have been done away with in Christ’s death. God’s judgment is seen at the Cross.
Jesus’ flesh was ripped and torn like the veil in the temple. By His suffering stripes, pierced and crushed (Is 53), forgiveness was issued to those sprinkled with His blood. By the shedding of His blood there is forgiveness of sins. God has had mercy upon those baptized into the death of Christ (Rom 6). He has also granted access to God the Father, by the Holy Spirit. With the veil removed, redeemed people now have permanent access to God’s throne, which has been changed from a throne of judgment, to a throne of grace for them.
We summate that the Cross was essential for God, in reconciling a people to Himself. The partition of separation has been removed in Christ Jesus. The Cross is the one and only way to God. Only one sacrifice has been offered, and there will never be another one. God’s wrath is no longer directed at His chosen, redeemed people. He has had mercy in a just manner.
Union with Christ, at the Cross, means union with God through the one Mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus. Jesus said, “I am the way (Jn 14:6a),” and that means the one and only way to right relationship with God the Father. God took the sins of His people and imputed them to Christ on the Cross. God took the righteousness (right standing) of Christ and imputed it to those who are now in Christ Jesus, by faith in His finished work on the Cross.
The Holy Spirit-filled preacher proclaims the Word of the Cross. There is no other way for man to be reconciled to God. There is one approach. There is one acceptable sacrifice, offered once for all of God’s people. There is one High Priest, who has passed through the heavens, to be enthroned at the right hand of God in heaven.
God calls out to all men to repent from their sins, and through the regenerating power of the indwelling Holy Spirit, some people hear, repent, and believe the good news preached to them. These come to the Cross of Calvary, bringing their sins, guilt, and shame. “All that the Father gives Me shall come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out,” is the promise of King Jesus (Jn 6:37).
Why the Cross? God’s plan of salvation was decreed. It has a means for the end objective, which is the saving of His people from their sins (Mt 1:21). Christ bore our sins on the Cross (1 Pet 2:24). He laid down His life for His sheep (Jn 10:11, 15). He gave Himself at the Cross, for His bride, His church (Eph 5:25). The Cross of Jesus Christ is the means by which Jesus Christ ransomed and redeemed His people. Greater love has no one than this, that a man lay down His life for His friends (Jn 15:13). The righteous One has given His life over to death that the unrighteous ones, who were dead in their trespasses and sins, might be made alive in Christ (Eph 2:5; Col 2:13). We have died with Christ, in baptism. We have been buried with Him. We have been raised with Christ to new life, His resurrection life.
My dear reader, you have come to the Cross and learned of its power. You must believe it all, and you must then bring your life of sin. You must turn around on the wide way of destruction, leading to eternal damnation. Repent and change your mind about sin and the world you live in. These will soon burn under God’s wrathful judgment (2 Peter 3:10–12). Place your trust in Jesus, who God is showing to you upon the cursed tree. He went there to endure the punishment for sins, not His, but the sins of His people from the whole world. They are the ones who listen and obey…by His grace.
David E. Norczyk
Spokane Valley, Washington
November 25, 2020