From the angel Gabriel’s announcement, Jesus’ life headed toward the cross. He came to die. About thirty-three years after His birth, on a dark night in Jerusalem, His shocked disciples scattered in fear after His arrest. But they shouldn’t have been surprised. Not only did Jesus predict His coming death (Mark 8:31), but all of Scripture points to it. Hundreds of years before Jesus was born, the prophet Isaiah wrote,
He was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
Jesus came to earth to die for our sake. After being sentenced by Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea, Jesus died a literal death on a wooden cross. His followers took His broken body and buried Him. The creed spells this out, declaring that we believe these are historical events that actually took place.
Jesus’ death served a precise purpose. By dying in our place, He brought us atonement. As one scholar put it, “The atonement is the work Christ did in his life and death to earn our salvation” (Grudem 1994, 568). Christ made amends for our wrongs. He reconciled us back to God. He lived the sinless life we could not live. He died the death we deserved to die, going into the grave meant for us. Jesus willingly took our place.
Christ suffered intense physical pain on the cross—the Romans’ most brutal method of execution. Hundreds of years earlier, Jesus’ ancestor David wrote Psalm 22. His words carried deep prophetic meaning, especially when we think of the crucifixion. David wrote,
I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint;
my heart is like wax;
it is melted within my breast;
my strength is dried up like a potsherd,
and my tongue sticks to my jaws;
you lay me in the dust of death.
While he may not have known it at the time, David described in excruciating detail the death his descendent would die. On top of the physical pain, Jesus carried the spiritual weight of our guilt. When we know we have sinned, our stomach turns in knots. Christ, the only one who had never felt guilt, took on all of ours. As He took on our sin, He became the object of God’s wrath. In those hours on the cross, God the Father poured out His hatred of sin on God the Son. In His agony, Christ quoted the Psalms: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1). As we think of what happened at the cross, we reach our limits of understanding and are left in mystery and awe.