The Nature and Necessity of the Cross: Why Christ Had to Die for Sin (With a Little Help from Anselm)

cross

For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men,
the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all,
which is the testimony given at the proper time.
— 1 Timothy 2:5–6 —

Yesterday (Psalm Sunday) marked the day when Jesus entered Jerusalem en route to a cross. There on that Roman instrument of death, he revealed God’s justice and mercy, disarmed the devil, and ransomed his people from their sin—to name but a few of the ways Scripture speaks of Christ’s death.

In the days of crucifixion, Jesus was one of thousands who were hung on a tree. Physically speaking, his death was not remarkable, aside from the fact that his death came much quicker than most who died by crucifixion. Spiritually speaking, however, his death was unlike any other. No one else—before or since or ever—died in the place of others and rose from the grave, conferring on his people resurrection life won through his obedience unto death.

Today, there dozens of ways Christians speak of the cross—e.g., a redemption, victory, sacrifice, penal substitution, etc.—but critically two issues stand at the center of the cross. First, for whom was the cross chiefly designed? Did Jesus die to give man a moral example? Did he die to defeat the devil? Or did he die to propitiate the wrath of God? In truth, we must affirm all three realities, but only when the design of the cross is chiefly Godward do the other aspects of the cross hold together.

Second, was Christ’s death the only way of salvation or might God have forgiven man in another way? This was the question answered in Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36–46). For Jesus, the cross was the cup prepared for him to drink, and on the cross this cup—the cup of God’s wrath—he would drink to its dregs (Psalm 75:8). Truly then there was no other way. Continue reading

Seven Good Words: The Work Jesus Did on the Cross

goodfriday04.jpg. . . they crucified him . . .
— Luke 23:33 —

For six hours Jesus body hung on the cross. Nailed to the tree, another crucified enemy of the state, Jesus labored to breathe as pain racked his body and mockers filled the air with vitriol. Tempted by Satan one last time to save himself (see the words in Luke 23:35, 37, 39), Jesus remained, inching closer death. Still, the end of Jesus’ life was not a passive surrender to the inevitable. Just the opposite, it was the climax of his earthly labor.

Indeed, Luke only uses three words to speak of his crucifixion. He revels not in the physical agony Jesus experienced. Rather, the good doctor focuses on what the cross meant. His testimony is a work of theology, not autopsy. For him, the importance of Jesus’s death was not found in the physical pain, but in the message it sent to the world. Like the other Evangelists, he tells us that Jesus came to seek and save the lost (19:10), and on the cross we find the climax of Jesus’ work of salvation.

And thus, to understand the cross we must ponder what his cross means and what the final work of Christ meant to accomplish. And to do that we can and must follow the lead of Luke and the other Gospels, who capture the final moments of Jesus’ life with seven different sayings on the cross. Continue reading

*This is the Day* That the Lord Has Made: A Good Friday Reflection

cross2This is the day that the Lord has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.
– Psalm 118:24 –

Like many, I learned this verse not from reading it in the Bible but singing it in church.  Les Garrett’s chorus, “This is the Day,” is a popular praise song that sets this verse to music.  My wife and I have taught this song to our kids, and it is not unusual to find myself singing this little song.

However, as with every verse in the Bible, context determines meaning.  And left to itself, Psalm 118:24 and Les Garrett’s modern rendition can make it seem that we are giving thanks to God for the day in which we stand—‘this day”—and not the day that is actually foretold in Psalm 118.

When Psalm 118 is read in its entirety, however, it becomes apparent that the day mentioned in verse 24 is the Day of the Lord.  How do we know?

Well, two verses earlier stands another well-known verse, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone” (v. 22).  Picked up in the New Testament (Mark 12:10–11; 1 Pet 2:4–7), it refers to Jesus Christ and his death.  Thus, set in the historical context of the work of Christ, the “day that the Lord has made” is not just the day in which we stand—it is the day that God’s Son fell!

In Mark 14:26, the Bible says, “When they sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.”  Previously, Mark records the Lord’s Supper where Jesus broke bread and drank wine, both representing the death he would die on the next day (14:22–25).  Thus, the hymn they sang is probably Psalm 118, the closing hymn of the Jewish Seder—the meal commemorating the Passover.

How marvelous it is to consider the placement of this verse in the events around Jesus’ death. As the disciples of Christ concluded their Passover meal, which Jesus transformed into his own Lord’s Supper, this song would be sung to prepare for “the day.” As Psalm 118:23 puts it: “This is the Lord’s doing, how marvelous it is in our eyes. This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

For us, two thousand years removed, the context makes all the difference in how we join in the chorus praising God. Do we rejoice in our day, the one in which we stand?  Or do we rejoice in that day when Christ died so that we could stand?  Hedonists easily rejoice in the pleasures of a good day, and stoics can convince themselves in the midst of difficulty that something good will come in this day.

But only gospel-loving Christians have a secure reason for rejoicing in any day and everyday.  If the physical resurrection of Jesus did not happen, then Christians are to deluded and damned.  But because the eye witnesses account for Christ’s empty tomb, we call the Friday that Jesus died “good.”  We do not sing songs saying that every day is good; we rejoice everyday because God is good.

good dayIt needs to be said that the God of the Bible is not the God of Ned Flanders, who might pedantically praise Jesus for even the worst days. God does not call his followers to mindlessly call bad days “good,” to comfort themselves meaningless platitudes affixed to coffees cups, or  and to reinforce their joy by songs that grate against reality.

Rather, the message of the Bible, the message of Good Friday, and the message of Psalm 118:24 is this: We can rejoice in any day because the worst day in the history of the world—the day on which the Son of God died—became the best day in the history of the world. Because of this day and the ensuing resurrection of Christ we can rejoice in any day.

As we celebrate Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday, let us sing with all our might that “This is the Day that the Lord has made,” but remember what day we are singing about.  The reason why we rejoice in this today is because of that day when the sky grew black, the earth quaked, the temple veil tore, and the Son died.

This was the Day of the Lord, when Christ Jesus laid down his life, so that sinners could be reconciled to their Maker.  This is the good news, and this is the reason why we rejoice and sing!

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

 

 

 

 

Looking at the Old Testament on Good Friday

 

isaacAlthough the centerpiece of the Bible—Christ’s cross—is revealed in the New Testament, we cannot understand its meaning without the Old Testament. Indeed, Paul says Christ’s death and resurrection happened “according to the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3, 4), which means according to the Old Testament Scriptures. Similarly, Peter says the prophets were led by the Spirit of Christ to “predict the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories.” He writes more fully,

Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories.  It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look. (1 Peter 1:10–12)

Peter says something even more radical about the cross of Christ a few verses later:

With the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you. (v. 20)

The cross wasn’t the tragic conclusion of a series of unexpected events. It was God’s predestined plan to put Jesus to death. Continue reading

Approaching Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday: A Few Video Resources

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.
— Galatians 4:4–7 —

Looking for ways to prepare for Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday?

A few years ago Justin Taylor and Andreas Köstenberger teamed up to write a book called The Final Days of JesusIn it they produced a harmony of the Gospels, a “play-by-play” of everything that happened from the day Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday to the day of his crucifixion (Good Friday) to the day of his vindication (Resurrection Sunday). This is a great resource, but maybe one to schedule for next year.

In the meantime, consider a shorter series of videos based on the book. In what follows Justin Taylor has teamed up with Köstenberger and a number of other biblical scholars (e.g., Douglas Moo, Grant Osbourne, Nicholas Perrin, and Paul Maier) to lay out the historical background and theological significance of Christ’s final week in eight 4-minute videos. And explanation for the dates and the content of these videos can be found in their book.

As you prepare this Holy Weekend, these videos would be a great encouragement. To watch them all would take less than an hour (approx. 40 min.). In that time you would be greatly encouraged and instructed with how and why Jesus did what he did as he approached his cross, the reason for which he came to earth.

Psalm Sunday, March 29, AD 33.

Monday, March 30, AD 33.

Tuesday, March 31, AD 33.

Wednesday, April 1, AD 33.

Maundy Thursday, April 2, AD 33.

Good Friday, April 3, AD 33.

Saturday, April 4, AD 33.

Resurrection Sunday, April 5, AD 33.

For those in the Woodbridge, Virginia area looking for a Good Friday service, please join us at Occoquan Bible Church at 7:00pm. And if you are looking for a church home, we’d love to have you join us on Sunday (at 9:30am or 11:00am).

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

What is Good About Good Friday?

[This article was originally featured in our hometown newspaper, The Seymour Tribune].

What makes Good Friday good?

What is good about illegal arrests, puppet trials, executing the innocent, and setting free the guilty?  Nothing.  And everything.   For centuries, Christians have deemed the Friday of Jesus’ death “Good Friday.”  But why?  How?  When the day centers on death and defeat, what makes it good?

How we answer that question says so much about what we believe about God, the gospel, and our own lives.  In a word, the event that makes Good Friday “good” is what happened on three days later.

When the sun went down on that fateful Friday, the disciples hid themselves from the world.  On the Sabbath (Saturday), they did not move.  But on the first day of the week, they awoke before dawn, walked to the place where Jesus was.  And what happened next changed everything!  The tomb was empty.  The Lord was risen.  His promises were true, and what the disciples would discover is that the worst day in history has now become the best day in history.

This historical reality has and will changed the world, and has the power to change every person who believes in it.  Consider: Paul says that in comparison to the eternal weight of glory, today’s sufferings are light and momentary.  While the pangs of death do not feel light and momentary, the power of the resurrection reinterprets our current pain, loss, and heartache, even as it reinterpreted Christ’s cruciform execution.

Even better, the resurrection is not just a palliative for temporary relief.  It is not a best-selling strategy to make you feel better about yourself.  No, the resurrection goes deeper.  It tells us that life exists on the other side of death. Our best life is not now.  It is later.

This is the gospel message: Jesus died on a rugged cross so that from the grave, he could raise the dead.  Jesus does not help us find a way in the wilderness of life.  Resurrection is not just a spiritual experience; it is a reviving flesh and blood.  The broken bodies of believers buried in the ground will be raised to new life on the last day, and the goodness of Good Friday will be experienced for eternity. This is what makes Good Friday good.

This week as you prepare for Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday, remember that the resurrection of Christ has the power to overturn the horrors and heartbreaks of life.  Even more, the cross and resurrection of Christ secure the promise of abundant life.  For all who call on the Lord will find the goodness of Good Friday to overwhelm the badness of any other day.  Resurrection life is what Christ offers, and that is what is makes Good Friday good.