Tom: In our ongoing series in which we’ve been exploring the biblical teaching of the Gospel of Salvation, we’re considering a question which many non-Christians think about, even object to, yet rarely do Christians supply an answer in their presentation of the gospel. The question is this: Why did Jesus go to the cross? In other words, why did He, who claimed to be God incarnate, have to die?
Dave, before we get to the Bible scripture verses on this, how important is such a question for Christians to be able to answer, and for those seeking God, to understand?
Dave: Well, I think it’s absolutely essential that we have an answer for this, because if there is no answer, if it’s just a capricious thing, happenstance—just happened to be that’s the way it was as some kind of mythology or something, then what’s the point? You know, we began our program discussing that.
Now, there are absolutely basic biblical reasons for this, beginning right in the very chapter. You know, Tom, I can’t remember from one week to the next, but I think we started—are we in Genesis 3 still?
Tom: Yeah, we’re going to pick up with Genesis:3:7.
Dave: Yeah. But to answer this question, do you mind if I jump a little ahead of that chapter?
Dave: When God throws Adam and Eve out of the Garden—I mean, this is very serious. They only ate of the tree that God said not to eat of, but that was rebellion against God! They had forfeited their right to be in His universe, in fact. He didn’t wipe them out totally, because He’s going to give them an opportunity to receive His grace, and to receive the pardon that He offers through Christ, who is yet to come.
The other tree that was named for us in the Garden besides the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was the tree of life. And when God put Adam and Eve out of the Garden because of their rebellion against Him, He kept the way to the tree of life with a flaming sword—cherubim, it says, were there with a flaming sword to prevent mankind from getting to the tree of life.
“Well,” you say, “that seems mean, for God to do that? Doesn’t He want them to live?”
Yes, but He does not want to perpetuate them in their sinful state. That would not be a kindness to us! So we continue to live on forever in these sinful bodies of suffering and sickness and so forth? God has something better! He has resurrected glorified bodies for us, so He kept the way to the tree of life… You don’t get to heaven that way, but there was a flaming sword—and I love the way a hymnwriter put it. He said, “Up to that sword…” We all fled that sword. We were talking about the death penalty. We complained against that sword. God said, “Death is the penalty.” And the human race complains…we’ve fled that sword, our major instinct is self-preservation. One day, the second Man, the last Adam, Jesus Christ, walked up to that sword and took it in His heart for us. And that is how He became the Way to life…
Tom: You’re talking about the cross now.
Dave: Right. And I like the way the hymnwriter put it, if I can remember a few words at least, he said, “His blood that flaming blade must quench. His heart its sheaf must be.” And this is what we talked about earlier, when Christ took the punishment we deserved at the cross.
Now if the flaming sword was there from the very beginning, and if God said, “You will never get life—eternal life—you will never be back in My favor unless you pass that sword!” That is laid out at the very beginning of the Bible: “The day you eat thereof you will surely die.”
Now, Tom, an objection—I don’t remember whether we talked about this before, but an objection that some people have—and I’ve talked with philosophers, and scientists, and atheists and skeptics, and so forth, and one thing that they sometimes bring up is, “Wait a minute! It is not just for Jesus to die in my place. If Mr. Brown murders someone, you don’t put Mr. Jones in the electric chair in his place.”
And, I think we’ve talked about Barabbas: Jesus died in the place of Barabbas, but He didn’t save him. It didn’t change his life. All he did was get out again so that he could live the way he wanted to live.
But Paul said, “I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live, yet not I but Christ liveth in me.”
So, we go through death in Christ, accepting His death as our death. We have died in Him. The cross isn’t something you wear around your neck or you put on top of a steeple, but it’s a place where we face the truth about ourselves, that we’re sinners, and that we have forfeited the right to live in God’s universe, and we gave up life as we would have lived it! And we accept the death of Christ as our very own death, and we open our hearts to Him to become our life. It’s not now from a tree of life. The tree of life is the cross, you could say. But the life that we now receive is through Jesus Christ living within us as we have accepted Him as our Savior.
Tom: But, Dave, take me back to where you were talking about the philosophers—their objection was that Christ died in our place, and how could that satisfy absolute justice—or justice, in their minds?
Dave: Well, they were saying it wasn’t just for someone to die in the place of another. But what I’m saying is that isn’t exactly the way it happens, because we die in Him. His death becomes our death. He is…
Tom: But not for salvation. In other words, you’re not adding on something that we would do that would solve the problem of our reconciliation to God.
Dave: I’m talking about what it means when… it’s nothing that I do. It’s something that I accept—that I’m accepting Christ as my savior. When I accept Him as my savior, having died in my place, I’m accepting His death as my death. I’m acknowledging…if I believe that Jesus died for me, then I’m acknowledging that I deserve to die. Otherwise, He wouldn’t die. I’m acknowledging that when He took my place, He stood between me and a righteous holy God and the sword of God’s judgment, that He took it for me, that’s what I deserve. If I want a little deeper understanding, it’s not a penalty that I could pay, you see. You park illegally, or you speed…there’s a penalty within reason that you could pay. And then you’re cleared in the eyes of the law.
But this penalty is eternal death! It’s eternal separation from God. I could never pay that penalty, but God loves me so much that He doesn’t want me to be lost for eternity. And so, God himself could pay an infinite penalty, but it wouldn’t be just, because He’s not one of us. So God became a man, and He represented the human race. “Behold the Lamb of God who bears away the sin of the world.” He is the second Man. You know, Adam —and the Bible lays out it out, in Romans 5: “By one man, Adam, sin entered into the world. Death passed upon all.” So by one man, Christ, redemption comes. By not just His fulfilling of the law, but His pay…well, the law requires the death penalty—He is paying the penalty in our place. And God accepts that.
Tom: Dave, can we make a distinction here, because sometimes I like to say that either Christ pays the penalty or we have to pay it. So the distinction here is that He is paying it to the reconciliation of man to God. Reconciling us with God. But if we pay the penalty, in the sense that “here’s the penalty: you have to go to jail, you have to be separated (I’m using that analogy), you have to be separated from God forever.” So I don’t mean by us paying the penalty—that’s all we have. Either Christ is going to pay it and we’re going to be reconciled to God, or we’re going to be reconciled to God forever.
Dave: That’s right. Now, you can try to analyze this any way you want, but the fact is, Muhammad didn’t do this. Buddha didn’t do this. Nobody did it. There is no way that I can appease God. It’s not a matter of appeasing God. I had a debate with a Catholic apologist, and he kept insisting that the death of Christ appeased God. That’s a pagan term! It’s not appeasing God. God’s justice had to be settled, and in Romans 3, for example, Paul argues this, and he says, “The whole world is guilty.” How can God, a just and holy God, forgive sinners? He can’t just make a bookkeeping entry in heaven. The penalty has to be paid. And so God himself, who is infinite, could pay an infinite penalty. He became one of us. The Second Man. The last Adam, the progenitor of a new race.
And He represented mankind before the bar of justice, God’s justice, and He took that penalty for us. There was no other way that man—if you object to this, if someone objects to this, there’s no other way. Then it’s totally hopeless. Man is separated from God forever in hell paying off an infinite penalty which he can never pay. But God loves us, and this is the difference. We talked about it way back there, between reincarnation and karma and so forth, the law of Karma just…you’re finished.
But God became a man—the God of the Bible! He took our place, came to where we were; He died in our place. That’s the best news that you could ever hear, and why everybody doesn’t believe it, I can’t imagine.
Tom: So God is an absolutely just God, and He came up with a solution that satisfies absolute perfect justice, and he did it through love that’s unimaginable by sending His Son: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth upon Him should not perish but have eternal life.”