Why The Cross?
The cross of Christ is the epicenter of human history. It is the pillar of God’s eternal plan of redemption. In eternity past God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit together in One determined the plan of salvation. The Father elected a people unto Himself, the Son agreed to purchase their pardon, and the Spirit would apply the work of the Father and Son by calling and sealing all who would believe. It is on the cross that the Lord Jesus Christ paid to ransom people from every tribe, language, nation, and people in order to make “them a kingdom and priests to our God” (Revelation 5:10). Paul told the Corinthians that the cross of Christ is of primary importance to the believer (1 Corinthians 15:3).
John Piper’s book Fifty Reasons Why Jesus Came to Die is a wonderful exultation in the cross of Christ. In the book, Piper assembles his meditations on the New Testament’s teaching for the reasons for the death of Christ. He does much to lead us in considering the awful, wonderful cross. The chief accomplishment of this book is to remind us that the Bible is, in fact, a book about Christ: His Cross, Resurrection, Ascension, and soon Coming. The Bible is God’s revelation of His glory and it is the glory of God is that is on display on the cross.
The greatest question of our day is the question of why Jesus Christ had to die. This is the most pressing issue of all time: why the cross? Following Piper’s lead and considering the teaching of the Scriptures, I’ve noted ten glorious reasons for the cross of Christ.
To Display the Glory of God’s Righteousness
“It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:26 ESV).
The Cross is a grand display of the utter righteousness of God. It is by the cross that God clearly communicates His holy hatred for sin. Romans 3:25 declares that God “put forward” Christ as the propitiation. Those words “put forth” suggest a public display. Christ was put on public display so that all might see that He is the propitiation of God’s wrath in order to demonstrate that God is holy. He hates sin. He is righteous. And the cross is the perfect demonstration of the righteousness of God.
Paul describes this in terms of God’s previous forbearance of man’s sin. In other words, when Adam and Eve sinned God would’ve been just in doling out His wrath on them both for their sin. But He did not. However, we should not think of this as God’s indifference towards sin. He hates sin and always will. And His righteousness (justice, holiness) demands that every sinner and every sin be punished according to His holiness. However, according to His goodness (cf. Romans 2:4) God did not punish every sin and every sinner according to His holiness.
But rather, God who is rich in mercy (Eph. 2:4) and in perfect accord with His holiness, “put forward” Christ in order “show his righteousness at the present time”. So, the cross of Christ becomes the stage on which God would display His righteousness. The plan of redemption meant that God would punish Christ in the place of guilty sinners and thus be “just” (righteous, holy) and at the same time allow for Him to be the “justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”
To Demonstrate the Great Love of God
“but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8 ESV).
The cross of Christ is the undeniable evidence of God’s love for sinners. In fact, the word “shows” here implies a proof. The cross is the proof of God’s love for sinners. The love of God, in Romans 5 is doubly confirmed. It is confirmed by the Holy Spirit (5:5) and it is confirmed by the cross of Christ (5:8). And therefore no believer ever has to fear being embarrassed or ashamed at the judgement. Why? Because God loves us and gave Himself for us! The Cross assures us that we will not be humiliated when we stand before God at the judgement!
Let there never be a lengthy period of time when you aren’t receiving inspiration and instruction related directly to the cross, since that’s where we find a fresh, sustaining conviction of His personal love (Mahaney, C.J. Living the Cross Centered Life, p. 107).
To Defuse the Wrath of God for Believers
“Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God” (Romans 5:9 ESV).
The wrath of God is clearly revealed against every single unrighteous act and thought of man (Romans 1:18). Man’s hard and unrepentant heart of sin simply stores up wrath that God will mete out on the day of judgment (Romans 2:4). God’s wrath will be on the selfish disobeyers of the truth (Romans. 2:8). And the law of God holds us as guilty sinners in imminent danger of the wrath of God (Romans 4:15).
Yet, “by his blood” we are most certainly saved from that wrath! The Bible declares that God “sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” That word “propitiation” means “wrath bearer. It was on the cross that Jesus Christ became the substitute. He became the One who would receive the wrath of God in my place and yours!
To Delight the Father
“Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand” (Isaiah 53:10 ESV).
God tells us that the cross of Christ was the pre-determined or predestined plan of God (Acts 2:23). What happened on the cross that day was not an accident. It is through the Apostle Paul that God reveals that this was pleasing to God. In Ephesians 5:2, we learn that Christ “gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God”.
Oh, that we might worship the terrible wonder of the love of God! It is not sentimental. It is not simple. For our sake God did the impossible: He poured out his wrath on his own Son—the one whose submission made him infinitely unworthy to receive it. Yet the Son’s very willingness to receive it was precious in God’s sight. The wrath-bearer was infinitely loved (Piper, John. Fifty Reasons Why Jesus Came to Die, p. 23)
To Decontaminate the Believer’s Conscience
“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 9:14 ESV).
Nothing can cleanse the contaminated conscience of man. Conscience is the center of guilt, and shame; it is what produces the sense of conviction. Conscience is the part of man that feels the weight of accusation and conviction. Man has tried for centuries to cleanse, ease, or relieve his guilty conscience. But nothing can wholly purify it. Religion can do nothing to purify the inside of man. Legalism can do nothing to restrain the inside. Mysticism, with all of its attempts, cannot do enough to dismiss the inner realization of wrong and despair.
We don’t feel good enough to come to God. And no matter how distorted our consciences are, this much is true: We are not good enough to come to him.
We can cut ourselves, or throw our children in the sacred river, or give a million dollars to the United Way, or serve in a soup kitchen on Thanksgiving, or perform a hundred forms of penance and self-injury, and the result will be the same: The stain remains, and death terrifies (Piper, John. Fifty Reasons Why Jesus Came to Die, p. 51).
But Jesus Christ takes away the guilt of our sin. The cross is God’s instrument for purifying the conscience of every believer.
To Declare That all Who Believe are Actually Righteous
“and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood” (Romans 3:24-25 ESV).
On the cross, Christ took the place of everyone who would ever believe on Him. The sacrifice became our sacrifice. And this is the very foundation of our justification. It is because of the cross of Christ that we can know the forgiveness of sin.
To Deliver Believers from the Power of Sin Presently and the Presence of Sin Eternally
“He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24 ESV).
The blessed cross of Christ not only provided the means for my deliverance from sin’s penalty but provides the means for every believer to be delivered from the very real present power of sin. He died so that we would be able to die to sin and by virtue of dying to sin, we can live for righteousness. The cross delivers us from the power of sin presently!
Furthermore, the cross of Christ guarantees that every believer will be delivered from the very presence of sin one day in eternity! There will never be condemnation for the believer because Christ was condemned in His place. He was forsaken so that we might never be. And eternity will be spent enjoying the eternal fruits of His work on the cross for us, away from sin forever.
So eternal life is not merely the extension of this life with its mix of pain and pleasure. As hell is the worst outcome of this life, so “eternal life” is the best. It is supreme and ever-increasing happiness where all sin and all sadness will be gone. All that is evil and harmful in this fallen creation will be removed. All that is good—all that will bring true and lasting happiness—will be preserved and purified and intensified (Piper, John. Fifty Reasons Why Jesus Came to Die, p. 57).
To Destroy Sin, Death, and Satan
“Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery” (Hebrews 2:14-15 ESV).
We might add to all of this that Christ died on the cross in order to destroy Satan and the great enemy of man, death. On the cross Christ defeated sin. He delivered believers from the one who is known as “the prince of the power of the air” (Eph. 2:2). He died to take our place and reversed the curse. He died so that He could be raised again, and by virtue of His bodily resurrection, Christ delivered every believer from death.
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this? (John 11:25-26 ESV)
To Design His Church
“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25 ESV).
The specific design of the cross was to make for Himself His own special people–the church! Revelation 5:10 explains that Christ died to guarantee that there will be people “from every tribe and language and people and nation” in heaven. This speaks of the church. Peter reminds believers that we “were ransomed…with the precious blood of Christ” (1 Peter 1:18-19). And again in the next chapter Peter explains that Christ made us “a people for his own possession” (1 Peter 2:9). Paul proclaims that Christ “gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people zealous for good works” (Titus 2:14).
Christ gave His life for the church. He died in order to bring His own unto Himself!
To Declare that He is Greater Than any Sin or Evil
It impossible to imagine a greater sin or more wicked evil than the crucifixion of Christ. God makes this very clear when He repeats the innocence of Christ time and again in the New Testament. Not only was Christ crucified by sin-loving Roman soldiers, handed over for crucifixion by a self-minded Pontius Pilate, accused by hypocritical and jealous Jewish leaders, abandoned by His own disciples, but He was betrayed by one who was a close friend. The very crowds who had witnessed some of His miracles and heard some of His teachings had now screamed for His death in exchange for the release of a dangerous criminal.
In the midst of all of this when we look to the cross we do not see a victim. We see one who pardons for His mockers, promises eternal life to one criminal, providing for his own mother, and proclaiming victory in His death. Why? All of this to show us in the greatest possible way that NOTHING and NO ONE is greater than God. There is no sin that can take Him by surprise. No amount of suffering or evil or wickedness or treachery can defeat Him.
And so my dear friend, as you look to the cross you are looking at God’s reminder to you that He is greater. No matter what takes place in your life, He is greater. Death? Disease? Discouragement? Defeat? He is greater. Moreover, He is in fact, working His greatest plan for His greatest glory and your ultimate good.
This is why Jesus came to die. God meant to show the world that there is no sin and no evil too great that God cannot bring from it everlasting righteousness and joy. The very suffering that we caused became the hope of our salvation. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34) (Piper, John. Fifty Reasons Why Jesus Came to Die, p. 119).