Good Friday & the Purposes of the Cross

I wanted to write a brief blog in light of Good Friday, the celebration and memorial of the death of Christ.

The Cross is at the heart of the Christian faith, and is seen as being, coupled with the resurrection, the climax of all of history. It is the single greatest event creation will ever know.

The Cross accomplishes much, and among all it does accomplish, I want to focus on four important purposes the cross was necessary to bring about. The death of Christ was necessary for Jesus to . . . 

1) Become Our High Priest

In order for Christ to be our faithful, empathetic high priest, He had to be made like us and experience what we experience. Only then could He rightly be our mediator before the Father.

Death is perhaps the worst aspect of our human experience, and is universal among nearly every single human being. Thus, Christ needed to taste death in order to truly be familiar and know what it is to be us.

Hebrews 2: 17-18,

Therefore [Jesus] had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

2)  Conquer All Enemies

Death is an enemy. Death is a result of the Fall; a result of sin. In order for Christ to be truly King, in order for Him to be truly the ultimate Victor over all things, He needs to conquer all enemies. Since death is an enemy, Christ must conquer that enemy, and subdue that enemy under His feet. But how does one defeat an enemy like death? Death has no material incarnation to attack with swords and clubs. Death has no heart to regenerate and change through the Gospel.

The only way to conquer death was to taste it, and then rise above it. Jesus’ resurrection conquers death. This makes the cross a necessary means to conquering death. Jesus had to taste death in order to conquer death.

1 Corinthians 15:20-28,

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first-fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.

As a matter of fact, by conquering death, the author of Hebrews suggests Christ also conquered Satan, due to him being the one who has the power of death,

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery (Hebrews 2: 14-15).

Satan himself is a conquered enemy, and Christ accomplished that victory through His death.

3) Set An Example 

The Cross of Christ serves as an example for Christians to follow. It demonstrates the love God has for His people (John 3:16) like no act possibly could (John 15:13).

Along with that demonstration of love, Jesus’ entire process of suffering is given to us as a model for how we ought to love and how we ought to respond to persecution.

1 Peter 2: 19-23,

For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.

We learn how to follow Jesus and model Jesus in suffering because of His death.

4) Atone for Sin

However, Peter does not stop there. He does not say the death of Christ was just an example, the very next two verses say this,

He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls (24-25).

Jesus did more than just demonstrate love and power; He actually paid for the sins of His people. He actually canceled their record of debt before God by nailing it the cross (Colossians 2:14), Jesus forensically, legally, and actually satisfied the wrath of God on our behalf. He bore our sins.

This is by far the most important and fundamental purpose for the death of Christ, and ironically, the most controversial.

The doctrine is commonly called Substitutionary Atonement (a.k.a. Penal Substitution). This doctrine does not deny the other points mentioned, but it is the foundational reason for Christ’s death. The heart of the Gospel is justification. The heart of justification is the imputation, and the heart of Imputation is Substitutionary Atonement. This doctrine is the very essence of the Gospel itself. It is crucial to the justice of God, and is a clear biblical teaching.

God is so just, He would not just wink at our sin and forget it. The bases upon His ability to forgive and forget is wrapped up in the sacrificial lamb (1 Cor. 5) being slaughtered on our behalf’ or, as Paul says in Corinthians 5: 21, God made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God.

To deny this doctrine is to not only reject the clear teaching of the New Testament, but also the entire sacrifricial system of the Old Testament, which was a type for the Christ (Hebrews 8: 5; 10: 1).

And that is why, in my opinion, the book of Hebrews presents such a strong and clear teaching about Christ actually paying the penalty of our sins, for this is what the Old Testament had set up to establish for thousands of years.

Hebrews 9: 11-28,

But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant. For where a will is involved, the death of the one who made it must be established. For a will takes effect only at death, since it is not in force as long as the one who made it is alive. Therefore not even the first covenant was inaugurated without blood. For when every commandment of the law had been declared by Moses to all the people, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, saying, “This is the blood of the covenant that God commanded for you.” And in the same way he sprinkled with the blood both the tent and all the vessels used in worship. Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. Thus it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him (emphasis mine).

Could the doctrine possibly be any more explicit? Christ died on a cross to be our faithful High Priest, to conquer His greatest enemies, to set an example of holiness and love for His people, and to atone for the sins of His Bride.

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