Who doesn’t like being on a victorious team? Victory is something we all want to experience. In fact, I have never met anyone who would choose defeat over victory. Human nature strives for victory. The late Paul “Bear” Bryant, award-winning coach at the University of Alabama, said, “The price of victory is high but so are the rewards.” Another Paul, the great apostle, said, “I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14).
What is the greatest and most costly battle ever to take place? Who was the victor, and what was the reward? The greatest battle ever fought was between good and evil. This great battle took place at Golgotha—also known as Mount Calvary—a rugged hill outside the walled city of Jerusalem. Jesus Christ was Victor, paying the cost with His blood. The reward was the salvation of human souls.
Jesus had spent three years with 12 chosen men—His disciples. He had walked with them across the plains and through the valleys. He had sailed with them upon the waters. He’d sat with them on the mountains and taught them many things, including this: “The Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and to the scribes; and they will condemn Him to death, and deliver Him to the Gentiles to mock and to scourge and to crucify. And the third day He will rise again” (Matthew 20:18-19).
Jesus gave them a glimpse of what was to happen, but they did not comprehend that the Man they believed to be their King could ever fall into the brutal hands of mere men. They were focused on the Friend they called Master—the One who preached salvation and a coming kingdom, the One whom they believed to be the promised Messiah.
Victory From Bondage
Passover in the city of Jerusalem was a day of remembrance—the holiest of days for the Jews. This day marked victory from generations of bondage, freedom from enslavement by the Egyptian kingdom. What the Jewish nation failed to realize, however, was it had exchanged physical enslavement in Egypt for religious ritual as well as Roman rule.
Jesus had been sent from Heaven to earth to identify with their suffering and to preach that His kingdom was not a human kingdom but the Kingdom of God Himself. He preached not religion but a personal relationship that God desired to have with people. They failed to see that God’s law revealed humanity’s sin. They didn’t like to think of themselves as sinners. Pride in their religious heritage had blinded their eyes to the truth that they too were sinners in need of forgiveness. They continued the practice of the law, unwilling to believe that Jesus had come to fulfill the law (Matthew 5:17) by cleansing it with His blood.
Many who followed Jesus loved the miracles that He performed. They loved His message of peace and love. But while they continued their sacrifices, they rejected the idea that their Messiah would have to die for sin. They had missed the purpose of the sacrificial system that for centuries had pointed toward the cross. The Bible says, “These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ” (Colossians 2:17, NIV). But when Jesus spoke of His death and the cross, many turned away from Him, rejecting the truth that all men and women are sinners and must repent of their sins and follow Him by faith.
As Passover approached that year, “all the chief priests and elders of the people plotted against Jesus to put Him to death” (Matthew 27:1). This brewing storm overshadowed the celebration that was taking place in the city. Jerusalem was the destination for travelers who had come to observe the most religious holiday in the land. It was to be a time of remembrance, proclaiming that they were the people of God. Instead they became a mob who cried out for the blood of God’s Son—the very One who had come to redeem them from the bondage of sin and the law they could not keep.
No one there that day would ever have thought such chaos would result in resounding victory. How could such a cataclysmic event as the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, robed in horror and brutality, turn out victorious? One must look into the greatest book ever written, the Bible, to find the truth.
The Message From the Cross
Jesus willingly died on the cross to identify with all those searching for truth. Are you among them? Have you heard what Jesus has said to you from the cross? You were there. I was there. Oh, it’s true that we hadn’t been born yet, but our sins were present that day. It wasn’t just the soldiers, thieves, religious leaders, and passersby who took part in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Our sins also nailed Him to the tree.
No one could have forced Jesus to the cross had He been unwilling to go. This is the crux of the cross—Jesus chose to go to Calvary. He willingly laid down His life for the sins of the world. He died of His own volition by allowing your sins and my sins to be nailed to His cross.
The Bible says that we are doomed to eternal banishment from the presence of God because sin separates man from God. Remember, sin brings about a penalty: “The soul who sins shall die” (Ezekiel 18:4). Here in chapter 18 the Prophet Ezekiel was delivering “the word of the Lord” (Ezekiel 18:1), and this reality was stated again in verse 20. But Jesus Christ said, “I will die in their place. I’ll take their judgment. I’ll take their death. I’ll go to the cross.” This is what Christ did for you and for me. Two thousand years ago, God invited a morally corrupt world to the foot of the cross. There He held your sins and mine to the flames until every last vestige of our guilt was consumed.
When Jesus hung on the cross, a great unseen cosmic battle raged in the heavens. And in the end Christ triumphed over all the forces of evil and death and hell, giving us the greatest of all hope—eternal forgiveness.
Though the cross repels, it also attracts. It possesses a magnetic quality. Once you have been to the cross, you will never be the same. The greatest vision of sin is at the cross, where we also see the greatest vision of love. “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends” (John 15:13). ©2013 William F. Graham, Jr.
Unless otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New King James Version. The Scripture quotation marked NIV is taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version®, ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
This article is taken from The Reason for My Hope: Salvation by Billy Graham. Used by permission of Thomas Nelson, Nashville, Tenn. All rights reserved.