Friday, 2 May 2014

The Necessity of the Cross

The Necessity of the Cross

To understand the necessity of the cross, we first need to look at the concept of sin.

What is sin? The Bible does not leave us without a definition of this subject. In its most basic form, sin is described as ‘transgression of the law’ (1 John 3v4) and ‘rebellion against the Lord’ (Deuteronomy 9v7). Expanding on this definition, the Apostle John says ‘all unrighteousness is sin’ (1 John 5v17). In the Sermon on the Mount, we see that Jesus described sin as starting from within; it is not simply a matter of what we do, but also of what we think. Thoughts are as bad as the action; thoughts in the mind can lead to action in the body (Matthew 5v21-30).

The word translated ‘transgression’ carries with it two meanings:

1.    To step across (an established boundary)
2.    To miss the mark

Sin, therefore, is stepping outside and beyond the boundaries God has set in His law. It is active rebellion against Him. It is a going astray: all we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way, (Isaiah 53v6).

To read more about the Bible’s definition of sin, please go to the following links:

Where did sin come from? When God created the world, He declared it ‘very good’. If there had been sin present, it could not have been ‘very good’. So where did sin originate? The ultimate crown of God’s creation was mankind, Adam and Eve. God set them in the garden to tend and keep it and gave them one rule – they could eat anything in the garden, but ‘of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat’ (Genesis 2v17). But Adam and Eve did eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The devil tempted Eve and she ate, then brought some to her husband and he ate also. Thus mankind fell prey to the penalty for their sin (transgression of God’s law).

What was that penalty?

‘In the day that thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die’ (Genesis               2v17)

         ‘...till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for dust               you are and to dust you will return’ (Genesis 3v19)

         ‘But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God            and your sins have hid His face from you’ (Isaiah 59v2)

        ‘Cursed is the ground for your sake...thorns and thistles it shall bring             forth’ (Genesis           3v17).

How does this affect me?

        ‘Wherefore as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin;           and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned’,                         (Romans 5v12). 
        ‘All have sinned and come short of the glory of God’ – we all sin, there is         no-one who does what is right and good. (See Romans 3v23 and Romans         3v10-12). Therefore, we are all under the same condemnation, all worthy         to suffer the penalty of death and separation from God.

But God did not leave it there; He also provided a remedy.

For generations, until the destruction of the Temple in AD 70, God’s people, the Jews, presented sacrifices to atone for sin on a regular basis, some daily, some annually and some in between. But these sacrifices did not take away sin, it merely covered it for a time, then the whole process had to be repeated:

For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect. For then would they not have ceased to be offered? because that the worshippers once purged should have had no more conscience of sins. But in those sacrifices there is a remembrance again made of sins every year. For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins, (Hebrews 10v1-4, emphasis mine).

In an obscure part of the world in around AD 30, there came a man named John, preaching repentance, preparing the way for the One who would come after him, saying ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’ and ‘he who comes after me is preferred before me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose.’ Who was he referring to? Well, the very next verse tells us:

‘the next day, John saw Jesus coming towards him and said, Behold, the Lamb of       God, that taketh away the sin of the world’ (John 1v29). Did you notice that? The       Lamb who would take away the sin of the world, not just cover it (hide it temporarily). The book of Hebrews goes into great detail about how the new covenant that God was establishing was better in every way compared with the old covenant – this covenant would take away sin:

‘And every priest stands ministering daily and offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice forever, sat down at the right hand of God’, (Hebrews 10v11-12, my emphasis). There is no longer any need for sacrifices; Jesus was our Passover Lamb, slain on our behalf, to take away sin:

This is the covenant I will make with them after those days, says the Lord... their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more. Now where there is remission of these, there is no longer an offering for sin, (Hebrews 10v16-18).

A new covenant was established between God and mankind, a covenant based on the death of the Lamb of God, Jesus Himself, and not on the repeated sacrifice of animals.

Was it necessary for Jesus to die?

A testament is like a will; it only becomes effective on the death of the testator. If Christ had not died, the new covenant could not have been established. Matthew Henry puts it like this:

Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary

Hebrews 9:15-22 The solemn transactions between God and man, are sometimes called a covenant, here a testament, which is a willing deed of a person, bestowing legacies on such persons as are described, and it only takes effect upon his death. Thus Christ died, not only to obtain the blessings of salvation for us, but to give power to the disposal of them. All, by sin, were become guilty before God, had forfeited everything that is good; but God, willing to show the greatness of his mercy, proclaimed a covenant of grace. Nothing could be clean to a sinner, not even his religious duties; except as his guilt was done away by the death of a sacrifice, of value sufficient for that end, and unless he continually depended upon it. May we ascribe all real good works to the same all-procuring cause, and offer our spiritual sacrifices as sprinkled with Christ's blood, and so purified from their defilement.

The final question therefore would be: how shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation? (Hebrews 2v3).

In Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible we read:

How shall we escape,.... the righteous judgment of God, and eternal punishment... if we neglect so great salvation? as the Gospel is, which is called salvation; in opposition to the law, which is the ministration of condemnation; and because it is a declaration of salvation by Christ; and is the means of bringing it near, and of the application of it in conversion, and so is the power of God unto it: and it is a "great" salvation; the Gospel which reveals it is great, for the author of it is Christ; it has been confirmed by miracles, and attended with great success; and has in it great things, great mysteries, and exceeding great and precious promises: and the salvation which it declares is great; it is the produce of great wisdom; it is wrought by a great person, by a Saviour, and a great one, and who is the great God, and our Saviour; it has been procured at great charge and expense, even at the expense of the blood and life of the Son of God; and has been obtained through great difficulties; and is the salvation of the soul, the more noble part of man; and it is a complete and everlasting one: to "neglect" this, is to be careless of it; to condemn it, and to despise the ministers of it; and to make anything else but Christ the way of salvation: and the danger such are in is very great; it is not possible that they should escape divine vengeance, since their sin is so great

Without shedding of blood there is no remission (of sins) (Hebrews 9v22). There is no longer a sacrificial system; there is no Temple. The sacrifices have been overwritten by God’s new covenant. If we reject His new covenant, there is no salvation. Only the death of Christ could take away sin.

Now God commands all men everywhere to repent. Repentance is the method God chose for salvation. It is a Godly sorrow for sin and a turning from sin to serve God; from pleasing ourselves, to pleasing Him.

Repentance from dead works, faith towards God. Our works are useless to save us; we need to rely on God’s promises, not on what we do. Our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; they are tainted with our sin and no matter how much good we do, we can never cancel the debt of sin. To put it another way, if we have committed a crime worthy of punishment by the civil authorities, then no matter how much good we have done other than the crime, we are still worthy of punishment. We do not have to pay for our sins ourselves, but only by trusting that Christ paid that penalty on our behalf can we be forgiven.

For by grace are ye saved through faith (Ephesians 2v8-10). God has offered us salvation, freedom from sin, a place in His kingdom. The qualifications for entering that salvation are repentance and faith. This offer is all of grace. God did not have to offer salvation to anyone; we have rebelled and chosen to go our own way; we have broken His laws. But because He loves us, He chose to offer salvation. We can refuse to believe, we can reject God’s offer, but we will end up paying the penalty for ourselves. Unless we repent, therefore, we shall all perish – eternally separated from God. Since Christ’s sacrifice, God commands all men everywhere to repent.

Was the cross necessary? Yes, I believe it was! 

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