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Why the cross?
by Bill Clark

It was another one of those days when crowds flocked to the hill just outside the city to watch the execution of three condemned men. Two were criminals, the third was the Son of God

His claims to be the Son of God and the miracles he had done, along with his example of perfect holiness and authoritative teaching, had not convinced the people at large. Their religious leaders had condemned him as an impostor and together they had been before Pilate's court clamouring for him to be put to death. Finally they had won, and they gathered to see the spectacle.

There was, however, one thing which troubled them. Pilate had put over the cross of Christ the inscription, "Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews". They did not accept him as their king. To them he was an impostor and an upstart, but in spite of their protestations Pilate had refused to have the inscription removed. However, this was not something of which they should make a greater issue. The main thing was that he had been crucified and they had gathered to see him die.

The Jews thought they had won the day. Most of those who gathered around the cross were delighted. There were, however, some close friends of "Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews" who had gathered in deep despair and with broken hearts to be with him to the end. His mother was there and one of his close disciples, John, was also there. It was a sad spectacle, and one which they could barely bring themselves to look at.

Most of the other disciples of our Lord had fled and were probably in hiding. Two of them were contemplating returning to their home village of Emmaus, and this they later did. Peter had denied his Lord with oaths and curses, and he was having to cope with that.

It was no easy time for them all. Their world had fallen apart. The one with whom they had lived for 3 1/2 years and whom they had thought was the Messiah prophesied in the Scriptures, was dead. Their dreams of an earthly messianic kingdom, in which they would play important roles, had vanished. They were at the end of the road. It had all been an illusion and they were back to square one.

How wrong they were! What happened that day on Mount Calvary was by no means a defeat; it was the greatest victory that this world has ever witnessed. God was in control of all that had happened, and would happen, and as we now look back on that eventful day, with the insights given to us through the Scriptures, the revealed Word of God, we can see just how much the Almighty God accomplished.

1. Man's sinfulness was demonstrated. The Romans, the Jews, and all those who had clamoured for the death of Christ were wicked people who were responsible before God for their actions. Peter tells us this in Acts 2:23 "Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain." We may well ask the question, "How could anyone desire the death of the Son of God, who had done so much good through his miracles and teaching?" Yet they were no more guilty that we are before God. It was because of their sin that they rejected Christ and people to-day still reject Him. We all did, until God in sovereign grace opened the eyes of our understanding to see our sinfulness and need of Him as Saviour.

2. The Old Testament prophecies, pictures and types were all fulfilled. The whole of the Old Testament points to Christ. Later the risen Saviour demonstrated this to two of his discouraged disciples on the road to Emmaus. We read in Luke 24:27, "Beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself." These Scriptures were what we call to-day the Old Testament. The New Testament was not yet written. Again he said to the Jews and the religious leaders of his day, "Had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me: for he wrote of me." (John 5:46).

Back in the Garden of Eden God's plan of salvation was revealed when he said to Satan, the serpent, "I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel." (Gen.3:15). It was also pictured in the slaying of an animal to cover the sinful nakedness of Adam and Eve, and right through all the pictures and types which we find in the whole of the Old Testament.

3. God's sovereignty was demonstrated. The people did what they wanted to do. Those who clamoured for his death and those who nailed him to the cross did what they wanted to do, and they will be held responsible for their actions. However, what they did was part of the eternal purpose of God. Once again Peter makes this clear in Acts 2:23 "Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain."

God was not taken by surprise by the events which led up to the crucifixion of Christ, nor did he simply foresee them. He planned them and throughout the whole unfolding of history his hand was at work in nations, rulers and people so that his eternal purposes would be fulfilled.

Things have not changed in this respect. God is still in control of world events, even though we, like the disciples of our Lord at the time of the crucifixion, cannot at all times clearly distinguish his sovereign plan and purpose.

4. God's justice was satisfied. God is a holy God and he cannot forgive sin without satisfaction being made. Sin had to be punished to satisfy his holy justice. Either the sinner himself will bear the full force of that justice or it will be born by a substitute. That substitute is Christ and this is the significance of all the Old Testament sacrifices. The sin of the guilty is punished in a substitute. In the death of his own Son God's justice has been satisfied on behalf of all His people. The innocent has died for the guilty.

5. God's righteousness was revealed. A righteous and holy God cannot look on evil nor receive sinners into his holy presence. The Scriptures tell us, "Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity" (Hab.1:13). What hope does the sinner have before a righteous and just God. It is because God is righteous and holy that Christ had to die in order that the guilty might be received guiltless into his eternal presence. In Rom.3:25-26 we read "God hath set forth (Christ) to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; to declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus." This is what the sneering crowd did not see nor understand on Calvary that fateful day.

6. God's love and mercy were manifested. God does not have to save guilty sinners, and such we all are. He would be just and righteous if he condemned us all to the just and eternal condemnation which our sin merits. However, "God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." (Rom.5:8). His love is so great that he could send his only-begotten son into this sin-cursed world to redeem repentant sinners (John 3:16). Were it not for God's love and mercy in Christ we would all be eternally condemned. The righteous and holy God so loved guilty and condemned sinners that he gave his own Son to die for them - that is real love. The people around the cross of Christ gave vent to their hate. It was there that God manifested his great love.

7. God's eternal purpose in the redemption of a people was accomplished. There was a purpose and goal in the death of Christ. He did not simply die to make salvation possible; he died to save his people. This is what the angel had declared to Joseph before his birth, "Thou shalt call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins" (Matt.1:21). Who were these people? They were those whom the Father had given to him from before the foundation of the world. In John 10 he refers to them as his sheep and he says, "I lay down my life for the sheep" (John 10:15). In the same gospel he says, "I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine." (John 10:9). Isaiah the prophet writes concerning Christ, "He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied." (Isa.53:11). There could not have been any satisfaction for Christ if he had only made salvation possible for everyone and given his life to redeem some who will eventually end up in a lost eternity.

God's purpose in the death of his son was that all those whom he had chosen from eternity and given to the Son should be effectually redeemed. Again Isaiah puts it very clearly, "For the transgression of my people was he stricken" (Isa.53:8).

What God purposed to do through the cross of Christ he effectually accomplished. As the people stared and sneered our Lord cried out, "It is finished". They rejoiced at this; they wanted to finish with him. The real meaning of that cry did not even begin to dawn upon them. Christ's eternal work of redemption was "finished" and he would be vindicated through the resurrection three days later. What Christ finished can never be undone and all those for whom Christ died will eventually be brought to repentance and faith through the faithful preaching of the gospel.

It is our task to proclaim this gospel to all, without exception. God alone knows who are his elect and it is through the preaching of the gospel that he will ensure that they all come to repentance and faith in his crucified Son.

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