WHY THE CROSS?
The subtitle of this blog is “Jesus and the Cross and God’s Righteousness.
NAS Romans 3:21-26 But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; 25 whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; 26 for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
The crucifixion of Jesus Christ was the climax of redemptive history, the focal point of God’s plan of salvation. The whole of God’s redeeming work culminated in the Cross, where the Lord Jesus bore the sins of the world…
NAS Matthew 27:21-22 But the governor answered and said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?” And they said, “Barabbas.” 22 Pilate said to them, “Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” They all said, “Let Him be crucified!”
And they crucified Him. And they crudely nailed His precious hands and feet on a wooden cross…”and they crucified Him”…
Question: “Why the cross? Why did Jesus have to go to the Cross? Just like the question, “Why did Jesus come in the first place?” there are a number of legitimate answers one could give. One is, “The Cross was the ultimate expression of God’s love for mankind.” Surely that is one of the main reasons why Jesus had to go to the Cross. But I am going to suggest to you that the primary reason Jesus had to go to the Cross was to demonstrate God’s righteousness. As I believe you will see, I have scriptural support for that claim.
Romans 3:21-26 is a magnificent passage of Scripture that deals with the crucifixion of Christ from a theological perspective – theological as opposed to a historical perspective. The historical perspective is found, for example, in Matthew 27:24-35a…
NAS Matthew 27:24-35 And when Pilate saw that he was accomplishing nothing, but rather that a riot was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the multitude, saying, “I am innocent of this Man’s blood; see to that yourselves.” 25 And all the people answered and said, “His blood be on us and on our children!” 26 Then he released Barabbas for them; but after having Jesus scourged, he delivered Him to be crucified. 27 Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole Roman cohort around Him. 28 And they stripped Him, and put a scarlet robe on Him. 29 And after weaving a crown of thorns, they put it on His head, and a reed in His right hand; and they kneeled down before Him and mocked Him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” 30 And they spat on Him, and took the reed and began to beat Him on the head. 31 And after they had mocked Him, they took His robe off and put His garments on Him, and led Him away to crucify Him. 32 And as they were coming out, they found a man of Cyrene named Simon, whom they pressed into service to bear His cross. 33 And when they had come to a place called Golgotha, which means Place of a Skull, 34 they gave Him wine to drink mingled with gall; and after tasting it, He was unwilling to drink. 35 And when they had crucified Him, they divided up His garments among themselves, casting lots;
While the two terms – theological and historical – are distinctive, they are complimentary. A historical perspective would be one that looks at the Cross primarily in terms of its historical relevance. It would be a practical study, concerned mainly with how the event happened. A theological perspective, on the other hand, while not divorced of historical significance, is concerned with the events of the crucifixion in abstract terms. It would focus on why it happened. A theological perspective deals with the spiritual meaning of the Cross. We might say a historical study would look at the Cross from man’s point of view, while a theological study would look at the Cross from God’s point of view. Our study this week will look at the Cross through God’s eyes, and by so doing we will see its spiritual relationship to us. Understanding the Cross from a theological perspective is fundamental to us accurately comprehending our salvation.
“Jesus and the Cross and God’s Righteousness”: A look at the Cross from God’s point of view…
Romans 2:21-25 gives us the meaning of Easter. When man sinned he incurred God’s wrath. A holy, sinless God cannot tolerate sin. Therefore, there was a spiritual separation between God and man. Man’s religions throughout history have tried in vain to bridge that gap, but the only way is Jesus. Because God loves man He sent His Son to bridge the gap. The only way God’s wrath over sin could be appeased was for there to be an atoning sacrificial death, a death so powerful that it would cover and take away man’s sin. Only Christ’s blood, the blood of God, could do this. Through the Cross, God’s holiness and righteousness were preserved and a way was made for man to be accepted. Through Christ alone man is declared righteous…
In order to understand Jesus and the cross, we must understand God’s righteousness. One of the major themes of Romans, if not the major theme – is righteousness. The word in different forms is repeated more than 60 times in Romans. The Greek word for righteousness, δικαιοσύνη (dik-ai-ah-su-nay), means uprightness or just. Righteousness is one of the attributes of God (cf. Romans 3:5-6). Righteousness in human terms, it may be accurately said, is conformity to the claims of a higher authority. “Righteousness stands in opposition to lawlessness. In both the O.T. and N.T., righteousness is the state of man that is commanded by God. It is what is required to stand the test of His judgment (2 Cor 3:9; 6:14; Eph 4:24). Righteousness is conformity to all that He commands or appoints” (Zodhiates/TAR). Said succinctly, righteousness is right standing with God, something man on his own without the help of a gracious Savior could never hope to achieve. Look at Romans 3:25-26 again (emphasis added)…
NKJ Romans 3:25-26 (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, 26 to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
Here we have no less than the purpose of the cross: to demonstrate God the Father’s righteousness. To whom? To everyone, to His entire creation. The word “demonstrate” is very interesting. The Greek word ἐνδείκνυμι (en-deik-nu-mi) means to direct attention to or cause something to become known; to show, to demonstrate, to display conduct that affects another, to prove. I encourage you to contemplate Easter in light of this word. I believe such solemn meditation will enhance our already deep appreciation of our dear Lord.
In order to possess the righteousness of God, we must have faith in Jesus and Jesus alone and be saved by the blood of Christ. It is not ours, but Christ’s righteousness we possess. Righteousness is available to all. By dying on the cross, Christ paid for the sins of the whole world, and His righteousness is available to the whole world. This does not mean, of course, that everyone will be saved. Righteousness is realized only by those who place their trust in Christ alone. It is righteousness that is the key to properly and completely understanding Jesus and the Cross…
“Up Calvary’s Mountain one dreadful morn, Walked Christ my Savior, weary and worn; Facing for sinners death on the cross, That He might save them from endless loss… Blessed Redeemer! precious Redeemer! Seems now I see Him on Calvary’s tree; Wounded and bleeding, for sinners pleading – Blind and unheeding – dying for me!” (Although I believe it can be shown from historical study that rather than the traditional mountain, which would be somewhat removed from the populace, Roman crucifixion was purposely carried out among the people [in busy intersections and along busy roads] for full threatening effect; the words from this familiar old hymn were, I thought, too piercingly relevant not to include here.)
NAS Galatians 3:1 You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified?
You most probably noticed in the Romans passage the word “propitiation.” Basically, propitiation means satisfaction; specifically, biblically, the satisfaction of God’s wrath. I think you’ll find that understanding this word also enhances your appreciation of what God in Christ has done through the cross. Propitiation is the Greek word ἱλαστήριος (hil-as-tay-ree-os); here’s a lengthy definition I have taken from a number of sources: propitiation, atoning sacrifice; relating to an appeasing (satisfying) or expiating, having placating or expiating force, expiatory; a means of appeasing or expiating, a propitiation; also used of the cover of the ark of the covenant in the Holy of Holies, which was sprinkled with the blood of the expiatory victim on the annual day of atonement (this rite signifying that the life of the people, the loss of which they had merited by their sins, was offered to God in the blood as the life of the victim, and that God by this ceremony was appeased and their sins expiated); hence the lid of expiation, the propitiatory sacrifice.
The only propitiation, or satisfaction, that could be acceptable to God and that could reconcile Him to man had to be made by God Himself. Man could not make himself righteous. For this reason, God in human flesh, Jesus Christ, died on the Cross. Consider these explanatory verses:
NAS Romans 3:10 as it is written, “There is none righteous, not even one”:
NAS 1 Timothy 2:6 who gave Himself as a ransom for all,
NAS 2 Corinthians 5:21 He (God the Father) made Him (God the Son) who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
“The attempts by man to become righteous in the sight of God are what we call ‘religions.’ Of all the religions and cults in the world’s history, only Christianity says man’s good works are not sufficient.” – MacArthur
Maybe at this point you’re saying, “I thought the purpose of the cross was to pay for our sins.” You’re right. But Jesus dying for our sins and dying to demonstrate God’s righteousness are not contradictory or exclusive; they are complimentary realities. Both have to do with God’s righteousness and our sinfulness. Both have to do with our salvation…
NAS Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
The penalty of sin is death. A righteous and holy God cannot tolerate sin. Both of these truths point to the death of Christ on the cross. The only way to pay for sin is the death of someone. Blood had to be shed…
NAS Hebrews 9:22 And according to the Law, one may almost say, all things are cleansed with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.
The sins of the world required Christ’s blood…
NAS Hebrews 9:12 and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption.
In our text from Romans 3, v. 21 includes the clause, “Righteousness is manifested.” This is an important point in our passage. “Manifested” means shown, displayed, demonstrated, The Holy Spirit is particular in pointing out that when God the Father sent God the Son to the cross He did it publicly…
NAS Romans 3:25 whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed;
God had to prove His righteousness because He had tolerated sin previously in anticipation of the cross: note the second part of the verse above. But for God simply to pass over sins would be altogether incompatible with His righteousness. He would not be the good and merciful God which He is, had He been content to pass over sins indefinitely; for this would have been to condone evil – a denial of His own nature and a cruel betrayal of sinners.
NAS Acts 17:30-31 “Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all everywhere should repent, 31 because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.”
Two final appropriate and significant passages to consider in the context of this study:
NAS Romans 1:16-17 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “But the righteous man shall live by faith.”
NAS Galatians 2:21 “I do not nullify the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.”
In closing, back to the beginning: in Romans 3:25, the Word of God said that God “publicly displayed” Jesus (“presented” – NIV; “set forth” – NKJ; aren’t those two telling terms?). The word in the Greek (προτίθημι [pra-teeth-a-me]) literally means set before. So, Jesus was lifted up on a cross before the whole world to be seen. Jesus came to show us God’s righteousness (cf. Hebrews 4:15) and He most vividly displayed that righteousness on the cross. Jesus died on the cross in order that you and I, believers by grace through faith, could become righteous (right with God). Jesus is the very embodiment of God’s righteousness. Why the cross? The theological answer is to publicly demonstrate God’s righteousness.
I hope you all have a blessed Resurrection Season, thanking God for the unspeakable blessings He has given us because of Jesus and the Cross!
“When I survey the wondrous cross, On which the Prince of glory died, My richest gain I count but loss, And pour contempt on all my pride. Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast, Save in the death of Christ my God; All the vain things that charm me most, I sacrifice them to His blood. See, from His head, His hands, His feet, Sorrow and love flow mingled down; Did e’er such love and sorrow meet, Or thorns compose so rich a crown? Were the whole realm of nature mine, That were a present far too small; Love so amazing, so divine, Demands my soul, my life, my all.
– Professor Thomas A. Rohm