Friday, April 10, 2009

What happened on the cross?

At the moment that God poured out His wrath and Christ bore the penalty for our sins in His flesh, something happened, something changed. We will never understand more than a sliver of what the cross means in this life, but what has been revealed to us in the Bible is enough for man to ponder for a lifetime.

On the cross the godly died for the ungodly. The Good Shepherd laid down His life for His sheep. He who knew no sin became sin for us so that through Him we might become the righteousness of God. What Luther called the Great Exchange occurred, our sin imputed to Him and His righteousness imputed to the elect through the God-given gift of faith (Eph 2:8 ). But what does that mean?

Some of the terminology used about the cross causes confusion. The Bible and theologians use language and terms that are pretty uncommon in normal conversation. Here are a few of them using dictionary definitions that don’t always capture the nuance of the term…


2: something that propitiates ; specifically : an atoning sacrifice


: to gain or regain the favor or goodwill of : appease


2: to supply satisfaction for : expiate


2 a: to extinguish the guilt incurred by b: to make amends for


2 archaic : to administer justice to archaic : absolve c: to judge, regard, or treat as righteous and worthy of salvation

So when we are speaking of the cross, we need to recognize that there are a number of things going on. When we read in Romans 3:25; Hebrews 2:17; 1 John 2:2 and 1 John 4:10 of Christ being made the propitiation for our sins, we see an atoning sacrifice, a sacrifice that appeases and satisfies the judgment of God. Sinners who were enemies of God regained his favor through the imputed righteousness of Christ. We are justified by faith, but the reason for our justification by faith alone in Christ alone is because of what He did on the cross. By His cross He made peace between man and God, reconciling us to our Creator by fulfilling the demands of the Law.

And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. (Col 2: 13-14)

For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. (Eph 2: 14-16)

The cross changed the dividing lines among humanity. Before the cross, humanity was divided by nationality. The Jews were God’s chosen people, a nation chosen among all of the nations by God’s sovereign will (Deu 7:6). It was through the Jews that the types and shadows of the cross were revealed in the sacrificial system, it was through the Jews that the Law was given and it was through the Jews that the Messiah came. Within the nation we found believers who were faithful and many who were not believers and continually violated the laws. After the cross, the dividing line is the cross. The world contains two kinds of people today, the redeemed and the lost. We have created all sorts of subdivisions within both groups (Baptist/Methodist/Presbyterian on the one hand and agnostic/atheist/”seeker”/Muslim/Buddhist on the other) but when you get through all of the labels and subgroups there are really only two types of people: Christians and everyone else. You were either redeemed at the cross or you are eternally lost. There is no second place prize.

We also see the very root of eternal security on the cross, the action that makes sinners secure in their salvation. The sins of the elect are placed on Christ and He made propitiation for them. If the Christian is able to “lose their salvation” that would indicate that Jesus died for their sins and the Christian is still punished for them. That flies in the face of God as a just judge, sort of the theological equivalent of double jeopardy.

What else can you think of that was accomplished on that day almost two thousand years ago on the cross of Christ at Calvary?

1 comment:

Steve Martin said...

Jesus declared the war between God and man to be over.

"It is finished."