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The True Meaning of the Cross

*A note from Marci: I’m sharing an email by permission we received by a dear brother in the faith. It is a response he wrote to an email he received regarding the facts of the crucifixion that are historically accurate but void of the true meaning of the Cross. Take in the full message of the Cross as believers, those who have repented and put their faith in Jesus Christ alone for salvation, celebrate the fact the Christ has risen from the dead – The Gospel is good news – it is the best news!

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures,  that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, ~ 1 Corinthians 15:3-4

The four Gospels focus very little time on the gruesome realities of the execution of Jesus Christ. Isaiah 53 that was written around 700 years earlier covers more detail than all of the four Gospels combined. The reason that the Holy Spirit revealed to us so little of the details of the historical reality of the crucifixion is that the glory of the cross does not so much lie in Jesus Christ’s physical suffering on the cross.

At the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry the Roman Empire crucified thousands of people every year. His suffering and death on the cross was crucial to our salvation because through His death He paid the penalty that our sins deserved which is death. [“The wages of sin is death…”(Romans 6:23); “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.”(Heb. 9:22; Lev. 17:11)]  The reference to blood is used throughout the New Testament to refer to the death of Christ. But the reason Jesus’ “soul was very sorrowful, even to death”(Mark 14:34) and that He was sweating blood in the Garden of Gethsemane and crying out to His Father in prayer the night before and that the sun was darkened for three hours while He hung on the cross was that he was bearing the full and infinite wrath of God for our sins. This is most clearly seen in Romans 3:23-26 where it says that God put forward Christ “as propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith”. A “propitiation” is an atoning sacrifice that satisfies God’s wrath. 

There is only one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus (1 Tim. 2:5)  And only Christ Jesus, the Son of God could have been our substitute and reconciled us to God because He was and is both God and man. He needed to be man so that God could “condemn sin in the flesh”(Rom. 8:3). And He needed to be God to be able to bear the infinite wrath of God which our sins deserved. And He needed to be God to be able to defeat Satan and conquer death.

In our rebellion we have offended an infinitely holy and worthy God so the punishment that we deserve is infinite and an eternity in hell would still not satisfy God’s justice for our sins. And part of God’s wrath on the cross included Christ being forsaken and alienated by God the Father as He turned His back on His Son because He is so holy that He can’t even look on sin (Habakkuk 1:13) and Jesus was bearing all the sins of all the people in the history of the world who would come to believe into Him.

Jesus acknowledged that He was being forsaken and separated from His Father, who He had perfect fellowship with for eternity, when He quoted from Psalm 22:1 which says: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?…”  Psalm 22 as well as Isaiah 53 and many other prophecies in the Scriptures were promises from God that pointed forward to Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection and Jesus fulfilled all of God’s Word that referred to His first coming, and when He returns to consummate the kingdom of God on earth He will fulfill the rest of the prophecies and promises of God exactly and completely.

God is holy and righteous so He could not just forgive sin without His justice being satisfied; otherwise He would be violating His very nature and would cease to be God. But in God’s infinite wisdom and according to the riches of His mercy and grace He delivered up His Son to be our substitutionary sacrifice so that He might be just and the justifier of those who by God’s grace are united to Christ and are “in Christ” through the miracle of saving faith in His name.(Rom. 3:26)  This is what many refer to as the “Great Exchange”. The sins of all of those who would come to trust in Christ were counted to Him on the cross, and His perfect righteousness was counted to them through the miracle of saving faith.

Abraham is the example and father of all those who are saved by faith in Christ alone. Abraham didn’t just believe that there was a God, he believed God and trusted in all His promises that pointed forward to the Messiah, and God counted that faith to him as righteousness. But even Abraham’s faith was a gift of God’s grace (Eph. 2:8-10). Unless by God’s grace you are born again and given a new heart from God above (John 3:3; Titus 3:4-7) you will consider this message foolishness (1 Cor. 1:18). But God’s Word is powerful and all sufficient to save through the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit. Salvation belongs to God from first to last so that He alone might receive all the glory by putting His mercy and grace on display through saving unworthy and lost sinners.

The true meaning of the cross is the heart and glory of the gospel. And God in His infinite wisdom summed up the entire gospel in one glorious verse:  “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”(2 Cor. 5:21)  

So I finish with a doxology borrowed from the apostle Paul who launched into a crescendo of praise as he completed his treatise on the doctrines of grace in Romans 1 through 11 through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit: “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.”

~ Tom Vann

“It is at the cross where God’s Law and God’s grace are both most brilliantly displayed, where His justice and His mercy are both glorified. But it is also at the cross where we are most humbled. It is at the cross where we admit to God and to ourselves that there is absolutely nothing we can do to earn or merit our salvation.”~ Jerry Bridges

Related Links:
The Gospel
Tom’s Favorite Gospel Tract
Granted Ministries

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