‘For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God’ (1 Corinthians 1:18)
‘We preach Christ crucified’ (1 Corinthians 1:23)
‘And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life’
'But now, once at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself' (Heb 9:26)
'But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses'
'What must I do to be saved?' - 'Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved (Acts 16:30-31)
The gospel is the message of the cross. A representation of a cross in various forms, with or without an image of Christ, has been used over the centuries to symbolize Christianity. However the Biblical message of the cross is about salvation, not symbolism - ‘For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God’ (1 Corinthians 1:18). There is absolutely no mandate in the Bible for making an image of the cross but there is a clear unmistakable mandate for preaching the truth of the cross - ‘We preach Christ crucified’ (1 Corinthians 1:23).
Why then was the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus necessary? What were the reasons that caused Him to go through the humiliation and suffering of the cross? And in what way do we benefit from His experience?
The Cross was Necessary to Satisfy God
It was the Lord Jesus Himself who used the following words, when addressing a man called Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews, ‘And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life’ (John 3:14-15). Jesus used a story from the Old Testament (Numbers 21:4-9) concerning a bronze serpent lifted up on a pole as a means of life to dying Israelites, who had been bitten by poisonous snakes, which were sent by God as a judgment upon their sin. The Lord was telling Nicodemus, who was well acquainted with the story, that He too must be ‘lifted up’ upon a cross, to ensure the gift of salvation and eternal life to all who believe in Him.
The Lord Jesus did not submit to the cross merely as an example of selfless sacrifice and non-resistance in the midst of violence and evil, nor was He the helpless victim of men’s hatred. Certainly the events of the cross have demonstrated the ultimate of man’s rebellion against God, and while many today readily accuse God of injustice, they fail to recognize that it was the injustice of men that condemned the Son of God to die on a cross even though He was declared completely innocent by His trial judge.
The cross happened because it was in the plan of God. This is what the apostle Peter preached, sometime after the event, to a Jewish audience, “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves also know— Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death; whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it” (Acts 2:22-24). God purposed that the very instrument used by men to reject Christ, would be the very means by which forgiveness would be obtained for fallen humanity.
The cross was not only in the will of God but the reason why God purposed that Jesus should die, is best expressed in these words from the Bible; ‘He [Jesus] has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself’ (Hebrews 9:26). The Lord Jesus was on the cross to deal with the problem of sin and satisfy divine justice. God is holy, that means He is absolutely pure and separate from sin. The nature of God sets the standard of His justice; He is unerringly, unchangingly and uncompromisingly righteous. He did not make man to become a sinner. The glory of humanity’s creation was their God given ability to reflect the nature of God and represent Him uniquely in this world. In man and woman, originally created, there was a perfect dignity, majesty and beauty along with the ability to enjoy relationship with God. Man chose to sin. Should God have forgotten, ignored or compromised with Adam’s rebellion? Natural and legal justice today does none of these things. Breaking, entering and stealing someone else’s property is universally wrong. Murder is a crime against all humanity. God said to Adam, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:16-17). Death was the sentence pronounced and death was the sentence passed upon mankind (Romans 5:12).
Unfair! Is often the response to the fact that ‘death passed upon all men’ because the first man sinned. Understandable as this objection is, we must remember that God holds us accountable for our own sin, not Adam’s. God’s answer to man’s plight was to provide one who could be his saviour and substitute. Out of His ‘rich mercy’ and because of His ‘great love’ (Ephesians 2:4), God sent His Son to sacrifice His life for us. Therefore on the cross the Lord Jesus was answering to God for sin, and bearing in Himself the totality of God’s judgment against sin – ‘For He [God] made Him [Christ] who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him’ (2 Corinthians 5:21). At the end of His experience the Lord Jesus said in triumph, ‘It is finished!’ (John 19:30). He satisfied God’s justice. On the third day after His crucifixion, God raised His Son from death to demonstrate His satisfaction.
The Cross was Necessary to Save Sinners
Saved! Is a thoroughly Bible concept and word; ‘We must be saved’ (Acts 4:12) declared the apostle Peter to men who thought they knew better. The trembling Jailor in the city of Philippi asked the two missionaries, Paul and Silas “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” To which they replied, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:30-31). Our spiritual plight is like one who is in danger of drowning, or someone trapped in a burning building; we urgently need rescued and brought to safety!
The Lord Jesus told Nicodemus, ‘whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life’ (John 3:15). The danger facing us is the reality of perishing in our sins; dying without God’s forgiveness and the removal of our guilt means that we will ultimately perish and be under the judgment of God forever – ‘And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment’ (Hebrews 9:27). That is why God sent His Son to die upon the cross. He is ‘not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance’ (2 Peter 3:9). Through the Lord Jesus and because of what He has done by His death we can be saved and receive eternal life.
While Jesus was hanging on the cross his mockers scoffed, “He saved others; Himself He cannot save” (Mark 15:31). It was true! In order to save sinners, the cross was necessary.