The current conditions in our relationship with God are essential background for understanding the supreme importance of the Cross. Only when we recognize God’s love, holiness, truth and justice–and understand that through our rebellion against Him we are “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1, KJV) and bound for eternal punishment in hell–does the necessity of what Jesus did on the Cross become apparent.
In fact, these current conditions raise what I call the “Big Question.” Because God is indeed a God of love, holiness, truth and justice, and at this very moment “the wrath of God abides” (John 3:36, NASB) on us, how is it possible for us to meet with any outcome other than eternal punishment and destruction?
That question has only one right answer. We must come to God on His terms, not ours. We must meet with God where and how He appoints. No other terms will suffice.
In the latter days of World War II, the Allies spelled out in the Potsdam Declaration the terms for Japan’s surrender. The Allies warned that unless those terms of surrender were met, Japan would suffer prompt and utter destruction. Japan did not surrender, and the Allies dropped two devastating atomic bombs on Japan, unleashing previously unknown horror. It was clear that Japan faced annihilation.
On Sept. 2, 1945, Japanese representatives arrived on the deck of the USS Missouri, anchored in Tokyo Bay, and signed the document of surrender. They had to surrender on the Allies’ terms.
The same principle applies in answering the “Big Question.” We must meet God where and how He appoints. That place is the Cross of His only begotten Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. No alternative will do. Trying to buy God’s favor, trying to earn His approval, trying to impress Him with our achievements, adhering to some world religion–none of those measures is acceptable in God’s sight. The Bible tells us, “For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5, NIV).
Why the Cross? This side of heaven none of us can fully understand this mystery. Scripture, however, does give us insight into the mind and heart of God.
First, the Cross is the antidote to prideful self-indulgence, which is the essence of sin. Sin is disobeying God’s law and going our own way. Christ said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23, NIV). The Cross is the place God has appointed for us to come to Him in humble faith and obedience, in opposition to our pride, in order to be forgiven and delivered from the punishment we deserve.
Second, the Cross underscores our need for God and the insufficiency of our own efforts to deal with sin. In other words, what we have messed up we cannot fix.
There is a story about a man who drove a nail into a piece of wood every time he did something bad. The following week, he removed a nail every time he did a good deed. At the end of the second week, his good deeds had equaled his bad deeds, and there were no more nails in the wood. But his good deeds couldn’t repair the imprint of those nails.
In a similar way, only God can deal with our sins. Only His Son could take “the imprint of those nails” for us. 1 Peter 3:18 says, “For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God” (NIV).
Third, the Cross speaks of the necessity of shed blood for forgiveness. In Hebrews 9:22 we read, “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (NIV). Repeatedly in Scripture we read of blood sacrifice as the way to approach God, and the New Testament declares Christ to be the perfect sacrifice for our sins. His resurrection from the grave validates that declaration.
Trying to approach God any other way is like trying to use foreign currency at your local grocery store. Blood is the only currency God will accept as payment for our sins–and not just any blood. It must be the innocent, holy blood of Jesus–God’s sinless, spotless Son. Nothing else will do.
Fourth, the Cross is the line of demarcation between the Kingdom of God and the domain of Satan. Today it’s unpopular to speak in terms of absolutes. Yet all is not relative. God and Satan, righteousness and wickedness, light and darkness, life and death, heaven and hell–each is incompatible with the other.
Near my home is a mountain ridge marked as the eastern continental divide. Water on one side of it flows to the Atlantic Ocean. Water on the other side flows to the Gulf of Mexico. The Cross is like that; we’re on one side or the other. Paul said, “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Galatians 6:14, NIV).
Fifth, the Cross is the place where God’s justice is satisfied and His wrath appeased and turned away. “Once you were alienated from God,” Paul wrote to the Colossians, “and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation” (Colossians 1:21-22, NIV).
A man I know received a ticket for speeding through a small town. In that town, they brought violators before the judge immediately. The judge declared him guilty. Then, with a hint of kindness in his face, the judge said, “You’ve broken the law and must be fined. But nothing in the law says I can’t pay the fine for you. That’s what I’m going to do. You’re free to go.”
That’s the Gospel! “He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:13-14, NIV).
For all of these reasons, the only answer to the “Big Question” is the Cross of the Lord Jesus Christ. After we come to the Cross, by faith accepting God’s terms and the payment His Son made for our sin, we can walk through the door of eternity and receive a warm welcome into the everlasting joy of our Lord.