The cross is the great symbol of the Christian faith. It was upon a cross that our Savior died. God has ordained the “preaching of the cross” (1 Corinthians 1:17-18). Millions have been taught that Christ died on the cross for our sins. But what does this mean? Why was it necessary? What did it accomplish? These questions often leave those who profess to be Christians in a state of confusion.
The Necessity of the Cross
Why was Christ’s death upon the cross necessary? Consider this:
1. God is Righteous and Holy (1 Peter 1:16; Isaiah 6:2-3).
Nothing that defiles can enter His presence (Revelation 21:27).
2. Sin Must Be Judged (Romans 2:3,12).
He can by no means clear the guilty (Exodus 34:7; Job 10:14). All the world is guilty before God (Romans 3:19). Sin demands capital punishment, which is death (Romans 6:23).
The penalty must be paid. The problem for God was how to be entirely just and yet be able to justify the sinner (Romans 3:26). How could the righteousness and truth of God be reconciled with His mercy?
The Principle of Substitution
When one person or thing takes the place of another it is called substitution. The substitution of animals in place of the sinner was a feature of approach to God in the Old Testament. The Passover lamb was sacrificed in death as a protection against the judgment of God (Exodus 12:3-17). Millions of such sacrifices were offered to God, according to His commandment. Such offerings made what was called “atonement” (Leviticus 5:10). This meant that sin was “covered” by the death of the innocent victim.
It is important to note that John the Baptist publicly hailed Jesus as the “Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). He saw in Jesus the One who would be the true sacrificial victim and toward whom all previous sacrifices had been pointing. He was to be the one true and final Substitute. The prophets clearly predicted that the coming Messiah would be stricken by God for the sins of others and thus bear all their judgment (Isaiah 53:4-6). It is the heart of the Christian proclamation that “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3).
The Scriptures which teach this substitutionary death should be carefully studied (Romans 5:6-8; 1 Peter 2:24; 1 Peter 3:18). The Savior took the place of the sinner. The just took the place of the unjust. The innocent took the place of the guilty. The death of Jesus was not just a moral example. Our offenses demanded it (Romans 4:25). It was according to the counsel of God (Acts 2:23). He was the willing victim and no man took His life from Him (John 10:17-18). He gave Himself for us (Galatians 1:4), was made sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21). He was made a curse for us (Galatians 3:13).
Thus Jesus bought, or redeemed, us (1 Peter 1:18-19; Matthew 20:28). He made peace through the blood of His cross (Colossians 1:20). The sinner has been justified, or declared righteous, and has been reconciled to God by the death of Jesus (Romans 5:9-10).
The Perfection of the Sacrifice
Sacrifice is a word repeatedly used in the Bible and is at the heart of the Christian message. The sacrificial death of the Lord Jesus may be considered in various ways.
1. Blood Sacrifice (Hebrews 9:22).
Without the shedding of blood, there is no remission, or forgiveness, of sins.
2. Human Sacrifice (Hebrews 9:12-14; Hebrews 10:4).
Only a man can die in place of another man in satisfying God’s justice.
3. Sinless Sacrifice (Hebrews 4:15; 1 Peter 1:19; John 8:29,46).
Only the One without sin can die for the sins of another.
4. Divine Sacrifice (Hebrews 1:1-3; Colossians 2:8-9; 2 Corinthians 5:19).
He purged our sins. None but God can do this (Isaiah 43:25).
5. Loving Sacrifice (Ephesians 5:25; Revelation 1:5).
The cross is the ultimate expression of God’s love for sinful men.
6. Sufficient Sacrifice (1 John 2:2; Hebrews 10:14).
He fully and finally satisfied every claim of perfect justice.
The Finished Work
The Lord Jesus said to the Father, “I have finished the work which Thou gavest Me to do” (John 17:4). On the cross His final, exulting cry was “It is finished!” (John 19:30). What was the great work that He came to finish? “For the Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). “The Father sent the Son to be the Savior of the world” (1 John 4:14). His mission was to “save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). Consider how fully He completed the work which He came to accomplish.
1. He met the full demands of the Law against us (Romans 8:3-4).
2. He justified us from all things from which we could not be justified by the Law of Moses (Acts 13:39).
3. He freed us from all condemnation (Romans 8:1).
4. His own righteousness and holiness were satisfied (Psalm 85:10).
5. His work is sufficient to save all sinners (1 John 2:2; John 1:29; John 12:32). But he cannot do so unless they come to Him (Matthew 23:37).
6. He “offered
one sacrifice for sins forever” (Hebrews 10:12). No one should dare suggest the slightest addition to His finished work on the cross. It is the sole and sufficient basis for putting away our sins.
The Proof of Acceptance
The consistent proclamation of the early church was that God had raised Jesus from the dead. On this basis, men were called to believe upon Him (Acts 2:24, Acts 32; Acts 3:15, Acts 26; Acts 10:40).
1. He rose according to the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:4). He fulfilled a thousand-year old prophecy by doing so (Psalm 16:10; Acts 13:35-37).
2. He rose according to His own words (Matthew 12:39-40; Matthew 16:21; Luke 18:31-33). He specified the exact day of His resurrection (Matthew 27:63).
3. He rose in spite of a Roman guard watching over His tomb. Every effort was made to prevent a mere pretended resurrection (Matthew 27:63-66). He was seen by many witnesses (1 Corinthians 15:5-8).
4. He rose by the power of God and convincingly proved that all He said and did was fully accepted by God (Romans 1:3-4; Ephesians 1:19-20).
5. He rose because His resurrection is essential to our justification (Romans 4:25).
The greatness of this work does not change the necessity of man’s response. All men are not automatically or universally saved. They must respond to Jesus Christ and His claims (John 3:18; Acts 3:19).
Study Guide The Meaning Of The Cross
Millions say they believe that Jesus died on the cross for the sins of man, but they do not understand it. Prayerfully consider your understanding of this great truth by answering the following:
1. Jesus died on the cross because (select one)
a. He was a victim of circumstance.
b. He was a victim of a tragic mistake.
c. sin must be judged if we are to be brought to God.
d. He could not escape from either the Romans or Jewish leaders.
2. God is able to free sinners from the penalty of death by (select one)
a. allowing them to do penance.
b. overlooking their failures due to His love.
c. providing a perfect sacrifice for sins.
d. doing whatever He pleases because He is God.
3. If Jesus had not died on the cross we would have been (select one)
a. hopelessly and forever lost.
b. taught an equally acceptable way to God.
c. forced to work harder to please God.
d. accepted on the ground of His love.
4. Paraphrase (rewrite in your own words) 1 Peter 3:18
or Isaiah 53:4-5.
5. If God loved His Son, why did He allow Him to suffer and die at the cross (Romans 4:25; Romans 5:6-8)?
6. For whom did Jesus die (John 3:16; I John 2:2)?
7. What did Jesus mean when He said, “It is finished” (John 19:30)?
8. Name one convincing proof of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
What do you say? Explain in your own words why Jesus died on the cross.
What do others say? Contact at least three people this week and ask them the following questions. You may wish to say something like the following:
“I’m involved in a Bible Survey here in (name city). Could you help me by sharing your opinion on three important questions? (1) In your opinion what was the purpose of Jesus Christ dying on the cross? (2) Do you believe that Jesus arose from the grave and is alive today? (3) What effect should belief in the resurrection of Christ have on a person’s life? Thank you so much for your help. Would you like for me to mail/e-mail you a copy of the survey results? Thank you.”
Record their names and addresses on the 3x5 cards provided by the class leader. Record the answers on the back, indicating if survey results are desired. Then return the cards next class meeting. Results of the survey will be tabulated by the class leader and mailed to each person indicating an interest.