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Why Did Jesus Die on the Cross? Meditation on the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ

By Dr. Richard P. Bucher,

Other than adherents of Islam, few today dispute the historical record that Jesus of Nazareth was crucified outside of Jerusalem around 30 A.D, including non-Christians. But what that death means to people runs the gamut.

In a few days we will join perhaps a billion people in focusing our attention on Jesus Christ's crucifixion. But it is the meaning that Jesus Himself and the apostles attached to that crucifixion that we will focus on. Put another way, at the time that Jesus lived, thousands of people were crucified by the Romans. Crucifixion was a common, though cruel and gruesome, form of execution in those days, reserved for hardened criminals. What made Christ's crucifixion special?

"Anyone knows that," you say. "He died to take away our sins." True, but what Scriptures could you point me to that clearly show that Christ's death on the cross takes away our sins? That's what I set out to determine for myself in my own Lenten devotion. I wanted to know: when the apostles wrote about Christ's crucifixion, what did they say about it? How did they understand and apply Christ's death to their readers? As example? ("He sacrificed Himself and you should too") As atonement? ("His death paid for our sins") As bare historical fact? ("Jesus really did die at the time of Pontius Pilate and we have witnesses to prove it"). As object of sorrow? ("How awful that such a good man suffered such a horrible death!").

I constructed my search (in the Greek) by listing all the verbs, nouns, and grammatical constructions I could think of that might refer to Christ's death and running a search on them (the computer is a wonderful Bible study tool!). My search criteria required that the verse(s) clearly mention Christ's death in some way. I also limited my search to the New Testament epistles. After many revisions, I had a satisfactory list about six pages long.

As I studied these faith-enriching passages, the following pattern emerged. The apostles wrote about Christ's crucifixion in the following three ways: (1) Christ's Death as Vicarious Atonement; (2) Christ's Death as Example. (3) Christ's Death as Power/Motivation for Christian Living through Baptism; But see for yourself. You are encouraged to examine the context of each of these brief passages, as in most cases it is difficult to catch the meaning without doing so. Also the categories are not carved in stone and you will find overlap (some verses fit in all three categories!). The passages for the three sections follow with a brief explanation after each. The verses are from the New International Version. I hope our gracious Lord blesses you as richly as He did me as I meditated on our Lord's death afresh.

I. Christ's Crucifixion as Vicarious Atonement (Jesus bore the punishment we deserved and by His death we are completely forgiven, justified, cleansed, etc.)

Roma 3:23-25 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished--

Roma 4:25 He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.

Roma 5:6-8 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Roma 5:9-10 Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through him! 10 For if, when we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!

1Cor 1:18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

1Cor 5:7 Get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeast--as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.

1Cor 15:1-3 Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2 By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. 3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,

2Cor 5:14 For Christ's love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.

Gala 1:3-5 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, 4 who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, 5 to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

Gala 2:20-21 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!"

Gala 3:13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: "Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree."

Ephe 1:7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace

Ephe 2:14-18 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

Ephe 5:2 and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Ephe 5:25-27 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.

Colo 1:19-23 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. 21 Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. 22 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-- 23 if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel.

Colo 2:13-15 When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14 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. 15 And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.

Titu 2:13-14 while we wait for the blessed hope--the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

Hebr 2:9-10 But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. 10 In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering. 11 Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers.

Hebr 2:14-15 Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death--that is, the devil-- 15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.

Hebr 7:26-27 Such a high priest meets our need--one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. 27 Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself.

Hebr 9:25-28 Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own. 26 Then Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But now he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27 Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, 28 so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.

Hebr 10:10-14 And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. 11 Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God. 13 Since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool, 14 because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.

Hebr 13:11-12 The high priest carries the blood of animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering, but the bodies are burned outside the camp. 12 And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood.

1Pet 1:18-19 For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.

1Pet 2:24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.

1Pet 3:18 For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit,

1Joh 1:7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

1Joh 2:1-2 My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense--Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. 2 He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world

1Joh 4:10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

Commentary

These thirty beautiful passages describe in various ways the atonement that Christ accomplished on the cross.

  • Christ died "for our sins" (1 Co. 15:3; Gal. 1:4; Heb. 10:11-12; 1 Pet. 3:18;
  • Christ died for "all sins" (Heb. 7:27). Christ's crucifixion was an "atoning sacrifice" (Rom. 3:25; 1 John 2:2; 4:10).
  • Christ's crucifixion brought about
    • "redemption" [set us free from slavery to the Law's curse, slavery to sin, death, and the devil] (Rom. 3:24; Gal. 3:13; in His blood Eph. 1:7a; Col. 2:14-15; Titus 2:14a; Heb. 2:14-15; 9:12; 1 Pet. 1:18-19)
    • "justification" [God's verdict of "not guilty, innocent, righteous"in His sight] (Rom. 4:25; 5:9; Gal. 2:21)
    • "reconciliation" [Our sin had separated us from God, God made peace and restored us to fellowship with Him] (Rom. 5:10; Eph. 2:13-18; Col. 1:20,22; 1 Pet. 3:18b)
    • "forgiveness" (Eph. 1:7; Heb. 7:26-27; 9:25-28; 1 Pet. 2:24)
    • "cleansing, holiness, sanctification, purity" (Eph. 5:25; Col. 1:22b; Titus 2:14b; Heb. 13:11; 1 John 1:7)
    • "healing" (1 Pet. 2:24)
    • "rescue, salvation" (1 Co. 1:18; Gal. 1:4; Heb. 2:14-15)

These words of Scripture also declare for whom Christ Jesus died. He died for:

  • "the ungodly, the powerless, sinners, the unrighteous" (Rom. 5:6-8; 1 Pet. 3:18)
  • "us, us all" (Rom. 5:8; 8:32; Gal. 3:13; Eph. 5:2; Titus 2:14; 1 John 2:2)
  • "all" (2 Co. 5:14-15; Col. 1:20; Heb. 7:27)
  • "the whole world" (1 John 2:2)
  • "Jews and Gentiles" (Eph. 2:13-18)
  • "you" (Col. 1:19-23)
  • "every person" (Heb. 2:9)
  • "the Church" (Eph. 5:25-27)
  • "many" (Heb. 9:28)
  • "me" (Gal. 2:20)
     

II. Christ's Crucifixion as Example

Ephe 5:1-2 Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children 2 and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Ephe 5:25-27 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.

Hebr 13:11-13 The high priest carries the blood of animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering, but the bodies are burned outside the camp. 12 And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. 13 Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore.

1Pet 2:19-21 For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God. 20 But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. 21 To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.

1Joh 3:16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.

Commentary

This second set of passages holds up Christ's death on the cross as example. Both Ephesian passages direct the reader to practice sacrificial love as Christ did, though the latter passage is written specifically to husbands. The 1 John passage is similar, though it seems even stronger. The Hebrews passage exhorts us to be willing to bear the same disgrace that Jesus Himself bore when He suffered "outside the city gate." Similarly, the 1 Peter passage tells us that those who bear up under unjust suffering for Christ's sake, please God, and are following "in his steps."

III. Christ's Crucifixion as Power/Motivation to Live the Christian Life (through Baptism)

Roma 6:1-6 What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? 2 By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? 3 Or don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. 5 If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. 6 For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin.

Roma 8:32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all--how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?

Roma 14:15 If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy your brother for whom Christ died.

1Cor 8:11 So this weak brother, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge.

2Cor 5:15 And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.

Gala 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Gala 5:24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.

Gala 6:14 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.

Titu 2:14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

Commentary

This section informs us that through our baptisms we were united with Christ's crucifixion. Our sinful natures were crucified and buried with Christ through baptism and therefore, according to Paul in Romans 6, willing sin becomes unthinkable. Thus, Christ's cross not only forgives our sin, it gives us the power to overcome our sinful flesh (Rom. 6:1-6; Gal. 5:24) and the fallen world (Gal. 6:14), and Christ Himself is formed in us and animates us (Gal. 2:20). Christ's crucifixion also motivates and empowers us to live for Christ (2 Co. 5:15), to love (Rom. 14:15; 1 Co. 8:11), and to do what is good (Titus 2:14), and to continue to believe and hope in midst of suffering (Rom. 8:32).

Revised, April 2000