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