Archive for cross

Why Did Jesus Die on a CROSS?

Why did Jesus Chricrossst die on a cross? That seems to be a strange question to ask. He obviously died there to pay our sin debt. But why did He pay for sin on a cross? It seems like it would have been more appropriate for God to allow Christ to die on one of the altars mentioned in the Old Testament—the bronze altar or maybe the mercy seat. Or maybe God should have erected an altar for Christ to die on. Where did the idea of the cross come from?

The cross of Calvary had everything to do with the Mosaic law. We have learned that no one ever received life from God by keeping the Ten Commandments. In fact, only one person ever kept them perfectly, the Lord Jesus Christ. Speaking of this, Jesus said that He did not come to destroy the law or the prophets. He came to fulfill them (Matthew 5:17).

Christ fulfilled the law in three ways: He kept it perfectly (John 8:46); He was the permanent sacrifice to which all of the temporary sacrifices in the law pointed (Hebrews 10:1–5); and, most importantly, He took its curse (Galatians 3:13).

The law of Moses is made up of many more laws than just the famous ten. It actually includes hundreds of laws and ordinances found throughout the books of Exodus and Leviticus. The whole complex system of commands, ordinances, and sacrifices was intended by God to make known to man His righteous requirement and man’s sin. Far from giving life, the law written on stones is called a killer, a minister of death, and a minister of condemnation (2 Corinthians 3:6–9).

How could this be? It is true because the law makes clear that we are sinners and separated from God. Because the law reveals man’s sin and death before God, it is God’s executioner. It pronounces that every member of Adam’s race is guilty before God and condemned (Romans 3:19).

The law shuts every mouth! It says to everyone—good, bad, moral, immoral, religious, or evil: “Quiet! You have sinned before God, and you must die” (Romans 3:10–17; Romans 3:23). The curse of the law is illustrated graphically in the Old Testament. Catch this glimpse!

“If a man has committed a sin deserving of death, and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain overnight on the tree, but you shall surely bury him that day, so that you do not defile the land which the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance; for he who is hanged is accursed of God.” (Deuteronomy 21:22–23)

If a rebellious son committed a sin worthy of death, he was to be stoned to death and hung from a tree. His body was not allowed to remain on the tree all night; he was to be buried that day. The body hanging on the tree was a vivid reminder that the prisoner was accursed by God. The tree exposed the curse of sin. Keep this thought in mind as we investigate further.

Jesus Christ, God’s perfect lamb, died as the permanent payment for sin. To understand how Jesus died, we must recall how Adam died. Remember that death means “separation.” Remember also that Adam was separated from God the moment that he sinned (Genesis 2:17, 3:7–8). This unseen death was passed on to the entire human race (Romans 5:12). Every person born into this world from then until now has been born physically alive but spiritually separated from God (1 Corinthians 15:21–22).

Jesus Christ, having no human father, bypassed Adam’s sin and came into the world as the first freeborn human being. He was born not only physically alive, but also spiritually alive. He was the only one of His kind. He remained spiritually alive until He died upon the cross.

Now from the sixth hour darkness fell upon all the land until the ninth hour. About the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:45–46).

How did God make known to us that the curse of the law had come upon His Son? Jesus Christ as the second person of the Trinity had throughout His life referred to the first person of the Trinity as “Father.” The Father and Son had enjoyed a special relationship throughout eternity. They had never been separated from each other. But here on this Roman cross was a tremendous contrast. About three o’clock Jesus Christ screamed from the cross, not “My Father, My Father,” but the impersonal words, “My God, My God.”

Why did He refer to His Father using the name God? Because His sinless, uncontaminated flesh was bearing at that moment the sin of the imperfect flesh of those connected to Adam’s sin. God the Father placed upon His Son all the guilt and penalty of our sin. Christ was separated from His Father and at that moment received in His body the curse that the law imposed upon us. He bore our sin in His body on the tree (1 Peter 2:24).

Paul applied the curse of the death on the tree in Deuteronomy 21:22 to the Lord Jesus Christ:

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.” (Galatians 3:13)

When God placed our sin upon Christ, the law became God’s minister of condemnation (2 Corinthians 3:6–7). It cursed God’s most precious one. Jesus Christ bore in His body the curse of the law that was meant for us (2 Corinthians 5:21a). By bearing in His body the curse of the law, He destroyed forever the condemnation that the law had pronounced upon us. God removed the curse of the law (which Paul called the certificate of debt, consisting of decrees that were against us and hostile to us). He nailed it to His cross (Colossians 2:13–14).

We owed God a debt that we could not pay. We have all violated His law. The certificate of God’s law was hostile to us, that is, it was enough to condemn us to judgment and hell because “cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, to perform them” (Galatians 3:10). But when Christ died on the cross, He canceled the debt.

No trace of the debt remains to be held against us. Because of that old rugged cross, our forgiveness is complete.


The Value of the Cross

January 15, 2011

One of the most used words by Christians – those with a Calvinistic view, those with an Armenian view and those everywhere in between – is the Old Testament word atonement. Why not? It is a strong Bible word.  Atonement is first used in Exodus. “They shall eat those things with which the atonement was made, to consecrate and to sanctify them; but an outsider shall not eat them, because they are holy” (Exodus 29:33). It is last used in Ezekiel 45:20. “And so you shall do on the seventh day of the month for everyone who has sinned unintentionally or in ignorance. Thus you shall make atonement for the temple.”

In my mind, the most important word translated atonement is the Hebrew word “kaphar.” It means simply “to cover.” It is found first in Genesis 6:14 to describe the work of the tar or pitch used between the boards of Noah’s ark to cover and waterproof the boat. No matter how many times it was used and in whatever version it is found, its basic meaning is “to cover or to hide.”

This word permeates the entire Old Testament sacrificial system. The blood of all of the sacrificial animals shed by the sinner, or by the priest on behalf of the sinner, was done in order to symbolically hide the consequences of the sin from the eyes of a holy God. Its primary use culminated with God establishing the holiest day of all to the Jews, the Day of Atonement, or “Yom Kippur.” This special day is mentioned first in Leviticus 23:26-28. Once a year God commanded that the high priest take blood from a kid goat into the holiest part of the tabernacle or the temple. There he would sprinkle the blood upon the mercy seat on top of the ark of the covenant. The blood symbolically came between the judgmental eyes of God represented by two replicas of cherubim located at each end of the ark. They were looking down upon that which was beneath the gold mercy seat.  There rested three items: the broken tablets of the Ten Commandments, Aaron’s rod that had sprouted buds, and a pot filled with manna. These articles represented Israel’s rebellion against God’s law, His order, and His amazing provision. Together they revealed the depth of Israel’s sin against God.

The blood came between the eyes of the cherubim and the sin of the people. The blood symbolically hid the consequences of sin (death) from the eyes of God. Thus, the blood became the “atonement” for sin before God. The blood never satisfied the just demands of a holy God on behalf of the people. It merely revealed that such satisfaction was necessary. It became a temporary shadow indicting that God was going to deal with the sin of man by the shedding of blood.

Hebrews 10:1-5 says clearly:

For the law, having a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with these same sacrifices, which they offer continually year by year, make those who approach perfect. For then would they not have ceased to be offered? For the worshipers, once purified, would have had no more consciousness of sins. But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins.

So, what is the value of the work of Jesus Christ on the cross? Two schools of thought have emerged among serious Bible students. Both groups teach that God used Christ’s death on the cross as the atonement for sin. Then what remains is to decide what the extent of that atonement is. Did Christ’s death provide atonement for the entire sin debt of Adam’s race, or did Jesus’ death just atone for the sins of the elect, His beloved sheep? Was Christ’s blood shed for all men, even those whom God created, knowing that they would reject His Son, or was Christ’s blood shed for those whom God has chosen even before He created this world.

I believe that God did not use Christ’s death to be an atonement for sin at all. His death did not merely temporarily cover sin, nor was it to foreshadow anything. His death actually paid sin’s price in full, and it is an eternal payment. The author of Hebrews says that if any Old Testament sacrifice actually satisfied God, then the worshipers, those who were making the offerings, would have no more consciousness of guilt before God. The writer goes on to say that when Jesus came into the world He said that God did not desire the sacrifices or the offerings but that God had prepared a body for Him (Jesus). It would be the sacrifice of His body as the Lamb of God that would actually take away sin, not merely cover it (Hebrews 10:5-10).

The entire sacrificial system made clear God’s just demand against sin but the cross work of Jesus Christ met the demand. God had determined before He created this world that He was going to die in order to pay our sin debt. But God is eternal life and eternal life cannot die. So, amazingly, God took on flesh in the person of Jesus Christ in order to die in our place. As a man, He suffered the death of the cross becoming the Lamb of God (Philippians 2:7).

People saved in the Old Testament were given divine insight into the real meaning of the myriads of sacrifices and the shedding of their blood. God opened the eyes of their heart look beyond that which was seen and believe that He was going to pay their debt in ful. “All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned everyone to his own way, but the Lord has laid upon Him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6).

In a strange way all Old Testament saints were saved on credit with the bill finally coming due and being paid in full on the cross of Calvary. So, technically speaking, Christ’s death was not an atonement at all but a propitiation. The word propitiation (Greek, “hislesterion”) means “satisfactory sacrifice.” Like atonement, propitiation is a Bible word that for the most part is seldom used. It is applied to Jesus Christ as our faithful High Priest making propitiation for the sins of the people (Hebrews 2:17).

It is true that the word “mercy seat,” in Hebrews 9:5 is the word that is often translated “propitiation,” but it points directly to the finished work of Jesus Christ (Hebrews 9:11-15). It clearly connects the dots, so to speak. Christ – unlike all of the Old Testament sacrifices – offered one sacrifice for sin forever (Hebrews 10:11-12).

The word propitiation, not atonement, explains the value of Calvary’s cross. Therefore, the issue concerning the worth of Christ’s death on the cross should not be “limited or unlimited atonement,” but “limited or unlimited propitiation.” But there can be no such thing as an unlimited propitiation. Since Christ’s death – unlike the sacrifices in the Old Testament – actually takes away the consciousness of guilt before God, then it has to be limited to all those who are to trust the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation.  People do not go to hell with God permanently freeing them from the guilt of their sin. That would be ludicrous! Propitiation explains clearly that Jesus Christ died to really satisfy His Father’s demand against sin and it will accomplish His purpose of saving those who trust in Jesus Christ alone. Christ’s shed blood has immeasurable worth. His blood does not simply give members of this fallen race a chance to be saved but actually saves those who believe (Hebrews 10:13).

Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:24-26)

And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world. (1 John 2:2)

In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4:10)