The Meaning of the Cross

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

We are told never to judge a book by its cover. A better approach is to judge a book by its table of contents.

As Easter approaches, I’ve been thinking of a wonderful little book by John Piper entitled ‘Fifty Reasons Jesus Came to Die’. Just reading the table of contents is worth the price of the book! The death of Jesus was not simply the result of jealousy on the part of the religious leaders, the fear and self-protection of Pilate, or Judas’ greed. It was the sovereign plan of God, which Jesus came to accomplish (John 4:34, 5:30; 6:38-40; 12:27-28).

Piper highlights the multi-faceted purpose of the death of Jesus. It’s not that the Bible contradicts itself over the reason for Jesus’ crucifixion. To the contrary, the purposes of God in Jesus’ death are compatible and interrelated. Like a diamond with many sides, the many aspects of Jesus’ death together form a more beautiful picture.

And because one aspect of Jesus’ death was to create a band of crucified followers (Luke 9:23), what we think about the crucifixion will be a determining factor in our Christian life and obedience. Focusing on only one or two aspects of Jesus’ death to the exclusion of the others will produce an unbalanced and unhealthy Christian life.

Yes, the cross is a ‘call to follow His example of lowliness and costly love’ (Titus 2:14), but it is more than that. In His death Christ also ‘absorbed the wrath of God’ (Romans 3:25).

On the cross, Jesus was securing so much more than only ‘the forgiveness of our sins’ (Matthew 26:28). Indeed, it was the cross (not just the resurrection) which means he can ‘give eternal life to all who believe on Him’ (John 3:16). Jesus’ death gives us confidence to enter the Most Holy Place (Hebrews 10:19) while at the same time making Jesus the place where we meet God (John 2:19-21). The Scriptures tell us that the death of the Jewish Messiah was designed ‘to destroy the hostility between races’ (Ephesians 2:14-16). It gives marriage its deepest meaning (Ephesians 5:25) and makes us holy, blameless and perfect (Colossians 1:22).

Yet, ultimately, the cross is not about us. In His death, Jesus was pleasing His heavenly Father (Isaiah 53:10, Ephesians 5:2), ensuring that he would be crowned with glory and honour (Hebrews 2:9, Revelation 5:12), and that we should live for Him and not for ourselves (2 Corinthians 5:15).

The events of that first Easter are foundational to Christianity. The sacrificial death and glorious resurrection of Jesus are the bedrock on which our faith rests; the fact they agree with the Old Testament Scriptures is essential (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). If they were only an uncertain tradition or a myth, our faith would be utterly futile and all Christian teaching would be a blasphemous lie (1 Corinthians 15:15, 19). Of course the Old Testament promises, the incarnation, and the assurances about the coming judgement are indispensable too, but at its heart, Christianity is about the obedient sacrifice of Jesus on behalf of His people for the glory of God.

The more we know of this, the greater our joy should be, not only at Easter, but all the time.

Every Sunday is a celebration of the resurrection, marking the first post-resurrection worship service as Jesus came to meet with His disciples (John 20:19, cf. 20:26 & Revelation 1:10). As each new week dawns, we should awaken with rejoicing that “The Lord is risen. He is risen indeed.” So why not put aside some time each Sunday to consider one of the fifty reasons Jesus came to die?

Yours in Christ’s service,

Stephen McDonald

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