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What was God doing on the cross?

Alister McGrath wrote a book with precisely that provocative title. The simple answer is: dying. The much more complex issue is why? Why would the God of all the universe allow himself to be die. And not just die, but die a painful, humiliating death. Pulling from a list compiled by my friend, John Karraker, on the meaning of the atonement.

  • Covenant
    • God established a “covenant of blood” with Israel that certified that they were indeed His people. In the same way a new covenant has been established in Christ. (See Genesis 15)
    • Exodus 24:8 – “Moses then took the blood, sprinkled it on the people and said, “This is the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words.”
    • Leviticus 17:11 – “For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life.”
  • Sacrifice
    • Christ’s death was a sacrifice that purchased “eternal redemption.” The unique feature of Christ’s sacrifice is that He is both victim and priest who offers it.
    • Isaiah 53:5 – “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.”
  • Redemption
    • Webster’s says, “To buy back, to liberate by payment.” The Scripture records several incidents of this kind of liberation. (Book of Ruth)
    • Hebrews 9: 12 – “He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption.”
  • Reconciliation
    • The death of Christ brings to an end the enmity and estrangement that exist between God and man.
    • Romans 5:11 – “Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.”
    • 2 Corinthians 5:19 – “that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.”
    • Colossians 1:20 – “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.”
  • Propitiation
    • Christ died to appease God’s wrath.
    • Romans 3:23 – “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,”
    • 1 John 2:2 – “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.”
    • 1 John 4:10 – “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (KJV).
  • Substitution
    • Numerous passages assert that Christ died in our place as our substitute. This substitution is individual and personal. (See Genesis 22:7, 8)
    • Galatians 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. II
  • Justification
    • “Justification is God’s action pronouncing sinners righteous in His sight. It is a matter of our being forgiven and declared to have fulfilled all that God’s law requires of us.” (Erickson, p. 954) Faith is the principle that applies the benefits of Christ’s work to the sinner.
    • Romans 5:1 – “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,”
    • Romans 6:23 – “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Conclusion: We must be sure we preach “Christ and Him crucified,” trusting that His Word will be met with faith in the heart of the unbelievers we meet.

Interact: Which aspect of the atonement from the above list is most captivating to you? Why?


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