Why the Cross?
The Cross of Jesus Christ means a lot of things to us. The Cross stands as the centerpiece of God's action to redeem His fallen creation. Why the Cross?
Jesus told Nicodemus the reason for the Cross before He went there and died. "For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16 NIV) Love sent Jesus to the world to redeem it. Love held Him on the Cross when He could have come down from it supernaturally or called a legion of angels to rescue Him. Love paid the price for our sins so we do not have to bear their consequences.
But why the Cross? Why couldn't God have just forgiven our sins without His Son dying a cruel death? We get a glimpse into the full meaning of the Cross in what Jesus told Nicodemus after the most famous verse in the Bible. Here is the rest of what Jesus said:
"For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him. Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son." (John 3:16-18 NIV)
Many people, perhaps most of us, focus on the first two sentences. God loves the world. God sent His son to grant eternal life. Jesus did not come to condemn the world, but to save it. But it's the next sentence that tells us why the Cross was God's chosen instrument for redemption. Whoever does not believe in the Son of God stands condemned already.
You see, the God who loves us enough to send His Son to redeem us is both Holy and Loving. Our sin condemns us to judgment. Our sin condemns us to separation from God. Our sin condemns us to hell. "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." (Romans 3:23 NIV), and "The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 6:23 NIV)
Because God is Holy, He is the very source of justice. His Holy character cannot just ignore sin or wink at sin or treat sin casually. The wages of sin is death. We stand condemned already. Hell is our inescapable destination unless we take the remedy God has made for us - the Cross. Leslie Schmucker, commenting on how frequently Jesus talked about hell, writes this for the Gospel Coalition:
"Jesus has to talk about hell because it is the fate that awaits all people apart from Him. Because of Adam's sin, we're all guilty and deserve God's eternal punishment. Contrary to popular belief, hell is not a place where God sends those who have been especially bad; it's our default destination. We need a rescuer, or we stand condemned."
It is the just and Holy God who decrees that a life must be given as a sacrifice for the life of one who has sinned. "In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness." (Hebrews 9:22 NIV) This is the "why" of the Cross. It is by the perfect sacrifice of the life of the Son of God that forgiveness is granted. It is by the shed blood of Jesus that sin's penalty is set aside. It is by the Cross that one who trusts Jesus is delivered from hell.
All this is true, and yet it seems unreal and far away because we live in a culture that believes people are basically good and going to heaven. Popular religion says that only the worst sinners, the murderers and rapists and terrorists, go to hell. But Jesus died for the sins of everyone, not just for the sins of the worst of us. Sin separates us from God and brings judgment to us. Not just horrible sin. All sin.
Schmucker is right. Hell is our default destination without Jesus. Without Him - without God's stunning plan of redemption - we would be hopelessly, helplessly lost. But God loved the world. God sent his one-and-only Son. Jesus laid down His life on the Cross. And it was for everyone. No one has to end up in hell. God has made a way to escape the punishment we deserve. And God does not send people to hell. Hell is the consequence of our own choice to reject the Redeemer who died for us.
Why the Cross? The love of God makes a righteous way for our Just and Holy God to forgive us. Without contradicting His own Holy character, God triumphs over the sin and brokenness of His fallen creatures. The price is paid. Redemption is available for all who cast our lives fully onto the Grace of Jesus. We become children of God and heaven becomes our inheritance. And Jesus paid the price for it all, because we couldn't ever save ourselves.
This is the glory of the Gospel. This is Good News to all humanity. And this is the story of my own life. I am a sinner, redeemed by Grace, who has been adopted as a child of God and is doing what I can to grow to be more Christlike - more Holy as God is holy.
And in it all, I can only be thankful to Jesus. Thankful for the Cross. Thankful for redemption.