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The Purpose of the Cross


When they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. – Luke 23:33

The Gospel writers, without exception, do not dwell on the manner in which Jesus was crucified. Indeed, if you search the Gospels, you will discover that there are very few details concerning Christ’s physical suffering. Given the exceptionally brutal manner in which He was executed and the fact that all of Scripture moves us toward the cross, this absence of detail should give us pause, causing us to wonder why the Savior’s death is captured only in that simple phrase “There they crucified him.”

Presumably, the Gospel writers understood that if they focused on the physical sufferings of Jesus, then we could very easily stop at that. We might mistakenly think that once we have been gripped, stirred, and moved by this dreadful scene, we have come to terms with it. In point of fact, though, to focus on the outward aspects—the physicality—of this terrible event is to miss the purpose of the cross altogether.

For this reason, the Gospel writers did not explain much of what Jesus’ physical suffering was like but rather point to what was happening to Him spiritually as He hung there. Their focus is more on the purpose of the cross than on the cross itself.

Throughout Scripture—indeed, from the very beginning of it all, in the book of Genesis—the greatest need of humanity is atonement. As soon as the first man and woman turned their backs on God in the Garden of Eden, they were alienated from Him on account of their disobedience. Ever since, humanity has followed in our first ancestors’ steps: we, too, turn our backs on God and live in His world in rebellion against Him. This sin, this alienation, must be atoned for, and no amount or doing or trying on our part can reconcile us to God.

But in Jesus, “the righteousness of God has been manifested” to us (Romans 3:21), and we are reconciled to the Father through faith in the Son, “whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith” (Romans 3:25). This is atonement. This is the place where the Father’s wrath over sin was turned away from sinners and onto another—onto His own Son. This is the purpose, the great and wondrous achievement, of the cross.

There is all the difference in the world between sympathy for Jesus as the perfect sufferer and faith in Christ as our personal Savior. Stop and consider what He hung on the cross to do. Reflect on His spiritual suffering—the agony of bearing the judgment of His Father. Do not gaze on Him so that you feel sorry for Him, but until you are worshiping Him.

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