Summary: What exactly happened on the cross of Jesus Christ? What did it mean then and what does it mean to me now? Is is just a mascot, a symbol, or something much much more?
So what happened on the cross? Why is this THE seminal moment of Christianity? Many of us accept the reality of the cross without understanding why it matters. The cross, in its simplest terms, was a substitution. Back in the Garden of Eden, mankind rebelled against God and decided to be god instead. That created a separation between God and man and that rebellion was so infectious that it spread from generation to generation, leading us to do all manner of things that are not like God. In order for God to restore that broken relationship something had to bear the punishment for all of that evil—something had to die or we would have to bear it ourselves. But that something had to be completely without evil. The problem was that anyone born human of a human father would be unable to resist the rebellious spirit. So Jesus came, born of a human mother but not a human father so was without that rebellion.
To understand why Jesus died on the cross we need to get some history on the Old Covenant sacrificial system. We need to go back to: Leviticus 16:20-22 where I want to illustrate the transfer that takes place from man to sacrifice. God, you see, modeled this substitutionary death long before the cross.
1.Transference – Leviticus 16:20-22
"When he has finished purifying the most holy place, the tent of meeting, and the altar, he is to present the live male goat. 21 Aaron will lay both his hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the Israelites' wrongdoings and rebellious acts—all their sins. He is to put them on the goat's head and send it away into the wilderness by the man appointed for the task. 22 The goat will carry on it all their wrongdoings into a desolate land, and he will release it there.”
The sin offering for the people was taken outside the camp ( vs 27) after laying hands on the offering. Most offerings were then slaughtered and the blood of that offering was sprinkled on the mercy seat to “cover” the people’s sins. In a sense, we “laid hands” on Jesus when the guards tied him up, when they struck him, and when they literally nailed his hands and feet to the cross. So too then, Jesus as the ultimate sin offering was taken outside of Jerusalem to Golgotha, bearing on Himself all of our iniquities:
Hebrews 13:11-13 For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy of holies by the high priest as a sin offering are burned outside the camp. 12 Therefore Jesus also suffered outside the gate, so that He might sanctify the people by His own blood. 13 Let us then go to Him outside the camp, bearing His disgrace. (burning outside the camp comes from Exodus 29:14 and other places).
2.He became sin for us - 2 Corinthians 5:21
He made the One who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
God made Jesus bear the guilt for all of our iniquities, though He Himself was innocent. He took our sin and gave us His purity.
3.God placed the punishment for our sins on Him – Isaiah 53:6