Over the years, the cross has become a religious symbol for many Sadly, this is only a symbol and a religious add-on to their lives. We need to know and remember that there is a a deep and profound meaning when we think of the cross of Christ. In the first century the cross was the place where painful and gruesome public execution occurred. The horrific event of the Lord Jesus Christ being crucified on the cross was not an event that captured the Lord by surprise (Acts 2:23). It was a part of His plan of redemption.
What happened at the cross and what does it mean for us? In this post I want to share two aspects of what the Lord Jesus Christ did at the cross so that we may know what this means for us.
At the cross the Lord Jesus Christ suffered for sins (1 Pet. 3:18). What was this suffering? According to the prophecy of Isaiah (around 700 years before the event of the cross),
“He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:3-5).
Leading up to the crucifixion He was flogged and ridiculed. He endured the mocking that took place and in the words of Peter, when “he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23). The physical suffering was excruciating, however the suffering of Christ on the cross went beyond the physical pain. We are told “For Christ also suffered once for sins” (1 Pet. 3:18). This is why He was crucified. Now, the Lord Jesus Christ Himself was not a sinner – He was acting as a substitute for sinners (more on this in our next point). In this act of sacrifice He “suffered once for sins“. Isaiah said that He “was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors” (Isaiah 53:12). Here we learn that the Lord Jesus Christ experienced torment and punishment even though He was innocent.
Back in the Old Testament, once a year the High Priest would cast lots over two goats, one was to be killed the other was to be a scapegoat. He would enter into the Tabernacle and proceed to the Holy of Holies. Within that area was a golden altar of incense and the Ark of the Covenant. This ark was covered with gold and contained three items inside of it: a golden jar holding manna from the wilderness, Aaron’s rod which budded, and the ten commandments. And “above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat” (Heb. 9:5). It was on the mercy seat and in front of it that the high priest sprinkled the blood of the sacrifice to be the atonement for the people of God. The mercy seat was hidden behind the veil and was only seen by the high priest once a year. This practice was on-going occurring year after year. The New Testament tells us that when Jesus Christ suffered, it was “once for sins“. The writer to the Hebrews said, “He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself” (Hebrews 7:27) and He was “offered once to bear the sins of many” (Heb. 9:28).
This means that what He accomplished at the cross worked. His sacrifice was pleasing to God and paid the penalty for all who would ever believe. This leads us to the second aspect of what occurred at the cross.
The Lord Jesus Christ was a sacrifice, but why?
At the cross the Lord Jesus Christ was a substitute for sinners. We are told that in His suffering, it was “the just for the unjust“. He wasn’t suffering because of anything wrong He did. The religious leaders plotted to murder Him. They tried to find false testimonies against Him but couldn’t (Matthew 26:59-60). In the end Caiaphas (the high priest) charges Him with blasphemy (Matt. 26:65). Then He is taken to Pontius Pilate, who sees nothing wrong with Christ. However, He cowers to the crowd and orders for Him to be crucified. The Lord Jesus Christ was “just” says Peter (1 Pet. 3:18). The writer to the Hebrews said that He is “holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens” (Hebrews 7:26).
Why did He act as a substitute? Why is He representing the many (cf. Is. 53:12)? Why did He go to the cross bearing the sins of others?
Peter says, “For you were straying like sheep” (1 Peter 2:25). The word of God reveals that all mankind is sinful (Rom. 3:23) and as sinners we are deserving of God’s wrath (John 3:36). In this act of suffering, it was “the just for the unjust“. The Lord Jesus Christ who is the eternal Son of God – the sinless Saviour – took the place of sinners at the cross. According to the apostle Paul we learn, “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). John MacArthur says it like this,
“Here’s what was happening on the cross: God was punishing His own Son as if He had committed every wicked deed done by every sinner who would ever believe. And He did it so that He could forgive and treat those redeemed ones as if they had lived Christ’s perfect life of righteousness” – (John MacArthur, The Murder of Jesus, Thomas Nelson, p. 219).
Peter tells us what this act of Divine grace accomplished, “that He might bring us to God” (1 Pet. 3:18). This is necessary because everyone in this world is separate from God. The good news is, “now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Eph. 2:13). An important question needs to be asked, who are the “us” in 1 Peter 3:18 and the “you” in Ephesians 2:13? It refers to all those by God’s sovereign grace to have faith exclusively in the Lord Jesus Christ (cf. Eph. 2:8-9).
So, what does the death of Christ mean? If you trust in Him alone for salvation as your substitute, it means that you have been provided complete forgiveness and you are now a child of God.
What great news! Allow the meaning of Christ’s death to fill you with gratitude for the gospel.