The cross offers a glimpse into the heart of a God who is willing to be with us in death and suffering. But we need more than a God who knows our pain. We need mercy for our own contributions to the pain in the world. Christ’s death is not merely a picture of God with us. It is also a picture of a God willing to stand in our place.
Jesus Christ dies instead of us. He not only identifies with our suffering caused by our sin; He also enters into our sorrow and makes it His own. He takes our sin and its consequences upon Himself so that we can be free. He experiences the full force of God’s wrath toward sin in order that we might be saved. Only the cross satisfies God’s demand for justice and our desire for mercy.
Picture the first humans in the garden of Eden in uninterrupted fellowship with God and each other. They are called to do the will of God, but they disobey. Not your will, Lord, but mine! decides Adam, lurching forward to take the fruit. Thousands of years later, another garden is before us—Gethsemane. The Second Adam agonizes over the will of God, shrinking back from the cup of God’s wrath, the cup He must drink for His sinful people to be spared. Not my will, Lord, but yours! He decides.
The essence of Adam’s sin was that he put himself in God’s place. The essence of Christ’s obedience is that He put Himself in our place. Because of His life in our place, and His death in our stead, we are freed from our sins.
When the Romans crucified criminals in the first century, it was customary for them to nail an accusation list to the cross. The list informed people why this person was being crucified. When Jesus died, God took the accusations that Satan brings against us—all our failures and mistakes, our willful rebellion, and our constant inability to keep God’s law—and God nailed those accusations to the cross of His Son. So Jesus Christ died there on Calvary, bearing your sin and mine; the accusations that should be hurled against us were hurled against Him instead.
On the cross, God demonstrated His perfect justice and His great mercy. He executed justice by pouring out His wrath against sin upon His only Son. He showed mercy by absorbing that wrath Himself, thus allowing us to escape His judgment.
Because Jesus was filled with horror and cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” we are filled with wonder and cry, “My God, my God, why have you accepted me?”
Because Jesus cried, “Father, forgive!” the taunts we hurled at Him on the cross are transformed into praise for His generous mercy.
Because Jesus said, “I thirst,” we can drink from the fountain of living water and never thirst again.
Because Jesus said, “Woman, behold your son,” and felt the pain of separation from His earthly family, we can experience the blessing of being united with a heavenly family.
Because Jesus cried, “It is finished!” our new life can begin.
Because Jesus committed His spirit into the Father’s hands, God commits His Spirit into our hearts.
Jesus is the Passover Lamb—the substitute that protects us from the wrath of God. He experienced the curse of God, the punishment for sin, the hellish torments of eternal damnation—all for the glory of God and the salvation of His people.
– from Counterfeit Gospels, 97-98.