Why Was the Cross Necessary?

Why was the cross necessary

by Nick Lotter on April 22, 2015

Roughly 2000 years ago, Jesus Christ hung from a wooden pole in the ground. He had been beaten almost to death. A crown of thorns had been placed on His head causing excruciating pain and tremendous loss of blood.  He had received a brutal lashing with the cat of nine tails – a lashing that would have ripped lumps of flesh from his back and exposed his internal organs. With all those injuries and in unimaginable pain, he was made to carry his own cross to the hill where he was to be put to death.

They drove nails through his hands and feet, securing him in the most cruel way to the wooden pole, and then lifted it up into the air and into the ground. Jesus hung there, in suffering too harsh for words. Blood running down his face and body from his wounds. To hang from his hands would have caused excruciating pain in his hands, arms and joints as well as causing suffocation as he struggled to take a breath. At the same time, if he transferred his weight to his feet, the pain in his feet and legs would have been just as painful. And so he spent hours hanging on the cross, transferring his weight from excruciating pain to excruciating pain, suffering not only physical torture and the mocking of the crowd, but worst of all bearing the full weight of the fierce burning anger of His Father as He cried out, “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

And he died. The only begotten Son of God died. He was God in flesh, but He died.

The disciples were most distraught. They thought that the Messiah was supposed to rescue Israel from bondage to Rome and lead them into a new era of glory as their king. But he died.


Why did his death have to be so cruel and brutal? Why did he have to die? Why was it necessary for Him to suffer such a cruel death? How could a loving Father allow His only begotten Son to suffer this way? Why was the cross necessary?

You’ve probably heard it said that the cross is for forgiveness of sins. Jesus died so that we could be forgiven and have eternal life. Consider for a moment that there are thousands of religions in the world. All of them place significant demands on their followers – obedience, commitment, devotion, good works, sacrifice. Through these and more, religious followers can prove their allegiance to their god(s) and win his /her / their favor and win forgiveness and a ticket to paradise. They can make payment for their mistakes, offer up apologies for their grievances and sins. If they show enough remorse, they will be forgiven and receive a pardon. If other gods are able to forgive so mercifully and graciously without requiring a gruesome death of such enormity in payment, why can the Christian God not do the same?

Couldn’t God just be merciful and gracious without the cross? Other gods do so. They forgive their devotees freely as long as the apology and remorse is sincere – how merciful! Why can’t the Christian God be as merciful without killing an innocent man so brutally as He did to Jesus on the cross?

This is an important question, because the answer sets Christianity far apart from any other religion. Will you consider the answer with me?

The Text

Romans 3:23-27

23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,
25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.
26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
27 Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith.

The Crime

To begin with, let’s first try to understand the nature and enormity of the crimes that need to be forgiven.

Verse 23 says “for all have sinned…”

It’s hard to think of a more condemning statement than that. ALL HAVE SINNED. Like a judge reading out his guilty verdict, this statement brings us all under the realisation that we have all sinned against God, and the sentence is about to be handed down.

The crime: rebellion against the Almighty Creator of the universe. Because that is what all sin is, rebellion against the clear commandments of God. He has given us His law, He has made it clear to us what we ought to do. But we have all, ALL of us, rejected His law and rebelled against Him. Instead of worshiping and adoring Him as the almighty, wonderful, awesome, kind and loving God that He is, we have shaken our fists at Him, rejected Him, shut Him out, broken every law He gave and challenged Him to dare do anything about it.

Don’t say that isn’t you… don’t say you have never done that. Because every time you have so much as grumbled and complained about something, you have forgotten or rejected the graces and gifts He has showered on you and instead have lashed out in anger for not getting that one thing that you want in that moment. Every time you have chosen to prioritize anything above the worship of the One who created you in love, you have rejected Him and shut Him out. The most important of the commandments Jesus said, is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and strength. Yet there has never been a single moment in any of our lives where we have loved God as He ought to be loved. NOT. ONE. MOMENT.

The weight of this reality ought to send us all to our knees in agony and in tears, like they did in the days Jesus walked the earth and men would tear their clothes and pour ashes over themselves and beat their chests saying “who can save a wicked man like me?” – all because they had caught just a glimpse of His holiness and goodness and understood in that instant the wickedness of their own hearts.

But we don’t do that, do we? Why? Why are people so non-chalant about sin? Why is sin treated so lightly? Why does it not drive us mad with guilt and fear that we have sinned against the holy and almighty God?

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. He created the universe with all of its wonder and beauty and enormous magnitude out of nothing, with nothing but a spoken command. He filled the earth with plants and animals, He designed the eco-systems and laws of physics and created everything to work together in perfect and amazing harmony. He even created man and woman in His own image and everything was good and perfect. He gives the man and the woman charge over the earth that He created and gives them everything they could desire. And then He gives them one instruction – do not eat of the fruit of this one tree. And what does man do? He rejects all of the many good things that God has given him to enjoy, and goes for the one thing that He has been told he must not touch.

That one sin, one bite of a forbidden fruit, was enough to condemn the entire human race and bring a curse upon all mankind and on all creation and bring every person ever to be born under the judgment and wrath of God.

“…just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.” (Romans 5:12)

One sin was enough to condemn the entire human race and yet we sin every single day heaping them one on top of the other and hardly give it a second thought.

Such is our wickedness that we cannot even see the weight of the problem of sin. Because we have been born in sin, sin is all we know. We are so swallowed up in sin and rebellion that we don’t even recognize it – we can’t see it in ourselves. Like a fish doesn’t know that he’s wet because wet is all he has ever known, sin is all we have ever known and we cannot see the problem of it or our possession of it. Even when we are shown and made to see that we have sinned against God, we try to trivialize it or make light of it, as though it is no big deal.

You even see this when some people with good intentions try to share the gospel with someone, and they will tell the person that he is a sinner, which is true, but instead of bringing home the terrifying reality of what that means it is almost made to sound like it’s nothing but a minor hurdle to get around. They’ll say something like “well the Bible says that we have all sinned, so yes you have sinned but hey all of us have.” It is implied that nobody should feel too bad about their sins since, after all, everyone has done it – not just them. Well isn’t that just so comforting. Everybody’s done it, so don’t beat yourself up about it. My friends, “All have sinned” is not supposed to be a comforting statement for you, it is your death sentence!

Romans 6:23 – the wages of sin is death.

The verdict is in… all have sinned. The sentence: death. Not obliteration – you don’t just get destroyed after you die and then cease to exist. No – the consequence of sinning against the eternal God is eternal torment in hell. THAT is the death that we deserve.

Some people say that’s harsh. How could God send anybody to hell for eternity? That’s not fair! That’s not equal punishment for our crimes! I mean we only live for a few decades, how can our crimes be bad enough to justify an eternity of punishment?

Well consider for a moment what might happen if you slapped your neighbour’s dog. The consequences won’t be very bad at all, and if your neighbor doesn’t see you then you might even get away with it completely. What might happen if your neighbor did see you, he gets into an argument with you and then you slap your neighbor? Well he might slap you back for starters. And you can forget about being invited to his next braai, that’s for sure. What might happen if you wife gets into an argument with you over the whole incident and you slap your wife? Well now things are starting to get more serious. She most probably might want to slap you back and you should most definitely get into a lot of trouble. You’ll be sleeping in the dog box and the whole family will be angry with you. It could even put your marriage in jeopardy. What might happen if she calls the police and you end up slapping the policeman? You’ll get arrested for sure. What might happen if you get brought before the judge and while he’s considering your sentence you end up slapping him? Say goodbye freedom because you’re going to jail for a long time.

What changed in the examples I just gave you? Why were the consequences getting progressively worse? The same crime was being committed each time, no difference there. Why should the punishment for the same crime be worse in some cases than others? It depends on the authority of the one you are committing the crime against, doesn’t it? The judge you slapped has a lot more authority and power than the neighbor’s dog, so naturally the punishment fits not only the crime but the authority and importance of the one the crime is committed against. Now tell me, what might be an appropriate punishment for sinning against the highest authority in the universe? If you shake your fists in rebellion at the eternal and almighty God of the universe, your punishment will be eternal.

That is exactly what we’re told in the Scriptures we can expect if we reject this God.

All have sinned. All are under the death sentence.

Now the idea of spending an eternity in hell does not exactly promote warm and fuzzy feelings in people, but its actually very scary. To escape this fate, many try to fix the problem by making up their mind to do the best they can to stop sinning and be a very good person from now on.

“I’m going to do my best not to sin, I am going to sell everything I have and help the poor, I am going to go to church every Sunday, I am going to help in every ministry and charity that I can, I’m going to sing in the choir, I’m going to do everything in my power to become the most obedient person in the world! Then maybe I will be good enough to please God and he will let me go to heaven and I will escape hell.”

Sorry, but “All have sinned” is not where verse 23 ends. It says “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

Our problem is two-fold. Number 1, we have sinned against God and are therefore under a curse and must pay the penalty which is eternal death in hell. Number 2, even our best efforts to be obedient will fall short. Isaiah 64:6 says that even our best works are like filthy rags to God.

Don’t think you can buy your way out of this jam you’re in. Bribery and corruption won’t work in God’s court of law. No amount of good works will outweigh or wipe clean the list of evils you have committed against God. All of your best works will fall short of God’s requirement – which is holiness. God is holy holy holy… He cannot even look at evil. He hates evil. For you to be in his favourable presence you also have to be holy. The problem is, all have sinned and none are righteous according to Romans 3:23 and Romans 3:10. None are holy. No matter what we do, we have sinned and we have fallen short.

Now what is to be done about us? We are under the death penalty and we cannot save ourselves. We are wicked and deserve judgement. What hope is there?

The good news is, there is hope!

The Gift

verse 24: “and are justified by his grace as a gift…”

Just when all hope seems to have vanished, we hear this wonderful news: we who are wicked and have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God with no hope of rescuing ourselves at all, have been justified by his grace as a gift. We have been justified by God – made righteous in his sight! All of our sins have been wiped out and forgotten and it is as if we had never sinned at all. We have been justified – cleared of all charges, declared innocent, NOT GUILTY!

How can this be? It is a gift of God’s grace! He has given this to us as a free gift! A totally undeserved gift! We didn’t do anything to deserve it… we didn’t do anything to earn it… its not a reward, it is a gracious gift!!! How unbelievably amazing is that??? It is a gift of salvation that wipes away every sin we have ever committed and makes us innocent in God’s sight… and it was given to us while we were His enemies! Do you buy good gifts for your enemies?

We didn’t even ask for this gift. This gift is free, it’s gracious, it’s undeserved. It wasn’t even given to us because we asked for it, it was given to us before we asked for it. We didn’t choose this gift! We didn’t get this gift because we chose God! Have you never read Romans 3:10-11? “None are righteous, no not one. No one understands, no one seeks for God.” We didn’t go seeking after God, God came seeking after us! And He has found us and He has given us this free gift that does away with all the evil we have ever done and gives us eternal life!!!!

Isn’t that amazing? What love is this? “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (1 John 4:9)

The Problem

But wait a minute… Something is not adding up here… How can this be possible?

Did God really just take our sin away just like that? Did He just pretend we didn’t do it? This is problematic. Surely our God would not contradict himself? I mean how can the Holy Spirit say on one hand that the consequences of sin is death (Romans 6:23), and yet at the same time say that we who have sinned will not die but will be justified (Romans 3:24)? Do you see the apparent contradiction there?

What about Proverbs 17:15? This text provides us with a real problem. It says: “He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous are both alike an abomination to the LORD.” Alright, so what’s the problem with that? Well, connect the first part with the last part – He who justifies the wicked is what? An abomination to the Lord. An abomination is the strongest word in Scripture for something that God hates. God hates it when someone justifies the wicked. And yet what have we just rejoiced about in Romans 3:24? God has justified the wicked…

How could God do that? Is this not another contradiction?

The Justice

A deeper look reveals that there is no contradiction at all. Let me explain…

God is a judge. God must judge with righteousness because he is righteous. That means that God must judge every single wicked deed and give it the penalty it deserves. He cannot pass over it, ignore it, or simply take it away. To do that would not be just. But God is just and therefore he must do what is just. He must judge all sin. That means all sin must receive the appropriate penalty – which as we know from Romans 6:23 is death.

So if God is the Judge of all mankind, and as a good judge God makes sure that justice is carried out against all sin, and we have all sinned – meaning God must carry out justice against us and give us the death penalty… how could God justify us as a gift according to Romans 4:24? Surely the death penalty for our sins needed to be carried out? How was this justice? How was justice satisfied?

What do we read in Romans 3:24 and 25? “and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood

Ladies and gentlemen, justice was satisfied. The death penalty for your sin was executed. God did judge with justice, and justice was carried out against your sin. But instead of it being executed against you, God put forward His own Son, Jesus Christ, as a sacrifice in your place. All of the justice against your sin fell on Jesus Christ.

How can that be justice? Firstly, He volunteered. He took it willingly upon Himself. He didn’t do this against His will but He offered up and laid down His life for His flock. Secondly, the value of Jesus Christ who is God manifest in flesh far outweighs the value of all created beings combined. His life is worth infinitely more than every other life combined. His sacrifice was more than enough to purchase every other life ever made.

“In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (1 John 4:8-9)

That’s a long word – propitiation. It means a mercy sacrifice. Jesus Christ died in your place as a sacrifice that satisfied God’s requirement for justice, and it bought you mercy!

The Cross Was Necessary

Why the cross? Why did Jesus have to die?

It was necessary because God is holy and He hates sin, and He does not pass over justice but will make sure that perfect justice is dealt out against all sin. The cross was necessary so that Jesus Christ could come and die in our place – as a sacrifice in our place – to satisfy justice. When Jesus hung on that cross, the worst suffering he had to endure was not the crown of thorns, or the wounds from his beatings, or the nails through his hands, or the mocking of the crowd. It was the guilt that was placed on his shoulders and the full, unfiltered wrath of God against sin that was all poured out on Him instead of us – the rightful debtors.

How can we be justified and made righteous in God’s sight? How could God justify us wicked people? How can we receive eternal life when the wages of sin is death? “Through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood” (Romans 3:24). “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

God can justify us and make us righteous because his justice was satisfied in his Son. Jesus bore our guilt, and he suffered and died in our place. Because the requirements of His justice were carried out against Jesus, God can now forgive us for our sins and wipe them away, and at the same time still be just.

All those other gods I mentioned earlier… the ones I said appeared so gracious and merciful because they forgive sins freely without requiring a brutal death… are they really merciful and gracious compared to Jesus? Whereas those other gods require unquestioning devotion, commitment, obedience and sacrifice from their followers before they will forgive them and reward them with their ticket to paradise, Jesus makes no demand of payment before justification but gives salvation to His followers freely as a gift even while they were His enemies (Romans 5:8). This is REAL grace and mercy. In comparison with Christ’s grace and mercy, those other gods are not gracious or merciful at all.

Furthermore, if those other gods are able to freely dish out mercy and grace to followers who show enough remorse (how much exactly is enough?), it shows that A) their authority is of such a low level that rejecting them carries no eternal or even immediate serious consequences, and B) their “mercy” and “grace” is unjust. They are not just judges – they do not maintain a system of justice. They would be seen as corrupt judges in any court of law. In contrast, Jesus Christ is loving, gracious, merciful AND just at the same time. Not only has He offered us salvation as a free gift without requiring payment from us, He came and made the payment that was necessary Himself! Some gods may require sacrificial death from their devotees, but Jesus Christ made Himself a sacrifice to death for the sake of people who hated Him! Not only did He die, He raised Himself to life and showed the world that He has power over life and death! He reigns now, and He reigns forever!

Such love we cannot fathom or comprehend. Yet there it is. God of wonders, might, power, majesty, love, grace, mercy and awe… none can compare.

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. (Romans 11:33-36)

The Response

What can we say to this, except to lay down our lives for the One who purchased us with His own blood? What you have just read is the gospel. It’s the good news. What is your response? What is God doing in your heart now that you have read the good news?

It’s an important question, because what you have just read is not a promise that everyone in the world will be saved and receive eternal life – although there are many false teachers like Rob Bell who will try to convince you otherwise. Will every single person in the world be saved because of the cross? Did Jesus’ sacrifice purchase the salvation of every man and woman?

Consider the rest of this passage…

Rom 3:23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
Rom 3:24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,
Rom 3:25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.
Rom 3:26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
Rom 3:27 Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith.

Salvation and eternal life are a free gift by God’s grace and cannot be earned, but the reality is that only those who receive it and believe it by faith will be saved.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

Are you relying on your works? Are you hoping you are good enough to go to heaven? Are you hoping God will overlook your sins because of your good deeds? Are you trying to earn his good favor? Are you floating by thinking you and God have your own thing going? Are you ignoring Jesus and carrying on with your own life, thinking its enough that you know of him and went to Sunday School a few times when you were a kid? Are you putting all of your hope on the sinner’s prayer you once repeated after someone and hoping you were sincere enough to be forgiven?

If that’s you, you’re in serious trouble, and you need to repent today and believe the gospel.

If you do not repent and believe the gospel and instead reject it, then you have not received the justification promised in Romans 3:24. If you reject Jesus, then the payment and penalty for your sins will be required at your expense. The wages of sin is death… if you do not repent and believe in Jesus Christ as God and Savior and put your faith in Him alone, then His death will not be considered payment for your sins and you will be required to pay the penalty yourself. God will not put aside His just requirements… He will make sure justice is done.

Everybody knows John 3:16, but John 3:18 is equally important and contains both the promise and the warning: “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”

The only way for you to receive eternal life is to receive by faith and believe that Jesus died and rose again, and that he paid for your sins in full. And the evidence that you have truly received this precious free gift of salvation is that you DO believe, and that your belief and your faith causes you to repent of your sins and turn away from wickedness and turn towards God for forgiveness, and having been given the gift of the Holy Spirit you begin to WALK in your faith, laying down your life for the Savior, loving Jesus Christ and loving your neighbor, and bringing everything in your life under Jesus authority and care. Not in order that you might receive His mercy and compassion, but because His mercy and compassion have already been poured into you and given you new life which is manifesting itself in an ever increasing and loving obedience and devotion to God.

Because He died and rose again.

(Note: this is the transcript from the sermon I delivered at Cambridge Baptist Church on Good Friday, 3 April 2015. You may download the sermon as an mp3 here.)

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