During the weeks leading up to Easter our pastoral staff will tackle theological topics related to the resurrection in a series we're calling "Easter's Gospel."
How are we to understand what Jesus is doing on the cross? He clearly teaches us that, "the Son of man came to give his life as a ransom for many"; the Good Shepherd would give his life for the sheep; he laid down his life for his friends (Mark 10:45, John 10:11, and John 15:13). He did this to bring us to God; to deliver to us the forgiveness of sins and give us the gift of eternal life. He offered for all time "one sacrifice for sins;" and his "blood (shed in violent sacrificial death) cleanses us from all sin" and "frees us from our sin" (1Corinthians15:1, Hebrews 9:26 and 10:12, and Revelation 1:5-6). He therefore had to endure the penalty of sin which is death, physical and spiritual, for "the wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23).
The Last Supper & the Cross
At the Last Supper on the night of his betrayal and arrest, Jesus took the people he had chosen to form the nucleus of the true and new Israel—his disciples—and broke bread and served wine. These elements signified his body "given" for them in death and his blood "poured out" for them in sacrifice. He spoke of the new covenant "in my blood" which would be shed "for the forgiveness of sins" (Matthew 26:28). Covenants represent the way that God relates to his people: when Adam broke the covenant with God in Eden, God made a promise of an offspring who would reverse the fall. He repeated this promise to Abraham promising an offspring who would bring blessing to the world; and when Israel was redeemed from Egypt, God made a covenant with them which was ratified by sacrifice, and Moses said, "this is the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you" (Exodus 24:8). At the Last Supper on the eve of the Passover, Jesus clearly ties his death to the work of the Passover Lamb in securing the salvation of his people.
The Garden of Gethsemane and the Cross
Later, in the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus was "in agony" and wrestled with the "cup" held out to Him. This was not the cup of suffering (though his physical sufferings were intense), but rather the "cup" of the "wrath of the Almighty" (Job 21:20), "the wine of God’s fury" (Revelation 14:10). What was deserved by the wicked, Jesus took in their place. His sinless soul shrank from that judgment, but he never wavered in his commitment: “yet not my will but as you will" (Luke 22:42). God’s purpose was to save sinners righteously, but that could never be done without the sinless Savior dying in their place.
Then on the cross, at noon, a deathly darkness descended on the scene for three hours (reminding us of the Exodus). As he emerged out of that darkness Jesus cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). It was a cry of real dereliction; his soul was suffering what souls must suffer when they are exposed eternally to the wrath of God. Here was the eternal Son of God, in his perfect humanity, being made sin with his people’s sin, and voluntarily enduring the wrath we deserve. I don’t think the Father loved his Son more than at that moment when Jesus took our place and endured our punishment to make it possible for us to be reconciled to God. As he emerges from that darkness, the sun shines upon his soul again, and he calmly gives himself to die, conscious of his Father’s smile. Three days later God raises his Son, Jesus, to life to declare his victory over sin and death on behalf of his people.
John Stott gives us three things to meditate upon from these events:
- How horrible our sin is that Jesus should have to suffer so.
- How wonderful beyond imagination God’s love must be to act in Christ for our salvation.
- How free that gift of life is, since Jesus "purchased" our salvation at the high cost of his own blood.
"Payment God cannot twice demand; once from my bleeding Surety’s hand, and then again at mine!" (Toplady "Faith Reviving").