The Cross: God’s Response
All of this leads us to the cross, God’s answer to our predicament. And it is a gracious answer, a mysterious and profound answer. In Jesus, God decides to suffer the wages of sin Himself. God the Son willfully and freely agreed with God the Father to align Himself with sinful humanity and to suffer God’s wrath against sin by dying on the cross. Remember, God’s wrath is not some heavenly temper tantrum but rather it is His indignation against Sin. God’s wrath is His opposition to anything that undermines His good purposes. Those who seek to divorce God’s wrath from the biblical story are fashioning a God in their own image, a God whose willingness to ignore sin and its consequences would actually make him more of a cosmic enabler than the holy God of the Scriptures.
So Jesus accepts the punishment for sin in our place. All of our best stories come back to this kind of substitutionary sacrifice:
- Katniss Everdeen taking the place of her sister, Prim
- Aslan giving himself up for Edmund
- Belle begging the Beast to imprison her instead of her father
There’s something deeply heroic about this idea. It seems to resonate deeply within us.
The fact that God would provide a substitute for humanity is foreshadowed in much of the Old Testament.
The Lord called Moses and spoke to him from the tent of meeting, saying, “When any one of you brings an offering to the Lord, you shall bring your offering of livestock from the herd or from the flock. If his offering is a burnt offering from the herd, he shall offer a male without blemish. He shall bring it to the entrance of the tent of meeting, that he may be accepted before the Lord. He shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him.”Leviticus 1:1-4
The writer of Hebrews says that the blood of goats and bulls was intended to teach us that without the shedding of blood, there can be no forgiveness of sins (Heb. 9:22). And all of this was to be taken even further, pointing us to Jesus, whose blood brings ultimate forgiveness.
At the cross, Jesus died the death of a condemned man. But He did more than bear the condemnation of Barabbas; He bore our condemnation as well. He died for my sin, for your sin.
What would motivate Jesus to do this? This is what Jesus said to His disciples just before His death:
We just celebrated Valentine’s Day, the day our culture celebrates romantic love with all the teddy bears and hearts and chocolate. And there’s quite a bit of feeling associated with this picture of romantic love, which is understandable. But in the ultimate picture of love — Jesus on the cross — we find a whole lot more going on. More than feelings. More than emotion. Jesus helps us understand love as concrete action — not just something you feel, but something you do.
The cross is the ultimate example of what love will prompt someone to do. Real love, by its very nature, is sacrificial. As it says in 1 Corinthians 13, love bears all things, endures all things. So Jesus loves Barabbas enough to stand in His place, to take the full penalty reserved for a rebel. He bears this, even endures this, for the sake of love. And the Bible is clear that Jesus also does this for you and for me.
His death accomplishes God’s great rescue plan. We can now be reconciled back to God — forgiven of our sins and also liberated from the dominion of Sin. Like Barabbas, our slate has been wiped clean AND we are able to walk away from the shackles of our cells.