The mission of the Son of God on earth was to reveal the character of His Father. In the New Testament we read of Christ lifting burdens, healing diseases, and touching the hearts of men, women, and children. Mothers earnestly desired to bring their children to Him that He might touch them and bless them. Never had the world witnessed such selfless, caring love. With every passing hour the picture of His Father was being revealed. A picture they had never really seen before.
The overwhelming picture that Jesus painted for us was a perfect match for the words spoken to Moses nearly 1500 years earlier.
And the LORD descended in the cloud, and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD. (6) And the LORD passed by before him, and proclaimed, The LORD, The LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth… Exodus 34:5-6
Yet the life of Jesus was painted upon a canvas stained with blood. As the twelve year old Jesus stood in the temple and watched the lamb being slain, He knew this was His destiny. When John the Baptist proclaimed Him to the world, it was with the title of “the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.” John 1:29. The wages of sin must be paid, justice must be served as the Scriptures say.
Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: (25) Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; (26) To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus. Romans 3:24-26
Did God require the cross? Was this His punishment for the transgressor of His law? These questions are vitally important. If the wrath of God was satisfied in the death of His own Son and this death was something that God Himself had determined, then ultimately the beautiful picture painted by Jesus concerning His Father is stained with the blood of an innocent child. The words of Christ, “It is finished,” would not complete the picture of a wonderful Father, but rather it would forever enshrine the belief that God demanded death to satisfy His anger against sin. This would make Him the author of death and the instigator of violent retaliation.
The prophet Isaiah spoke about the cross of Christ 700 years beforehand and he revealed our human response to it.
Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the LORD revealed? (2) For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him. (3) He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. (4) Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. (5) But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.
When Christ came to save humanity our natural collective response was to reject Him. He came to offer us eternal life, but the natural human reaction was to despise this offer.
In him was life; and the life was the light of men. (5) And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. John 1:4-5
The Son of God was carrying our sins upon Him, and yet our response to Him was to believe that He was being smitten by God. The words stricken and smitten mean to beat, to strike and violently kill. But it was not God who violently struck the death blow to His Son on the cross; this is what man believes, but it is not true. So what caused the death of the Son of God upon the cross? The pattern was set in the very beginning when Adam was asked if he had eaten of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
And the LORD God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where art thou? (10) And he said, I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself. (11) And he said, Who told thee that thou wast naked? Hast thou eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat? (12) And the man said, The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat. Genesis 3:9-12
Adam never asked for mercy or forgiveness. His sin had blinded his perception to such an extent that he never thought to ask for it. Instead of accepting his guilt and asking for mercy he placed the blame upon God for creating Eve who then tempted him. He imagined God to be harsh and punishing in nature, and so the true character of God was hidden from him in this falsehood. In the story of Cain we can see this same principle in operation.
And Cain said to the Lord, My wickedness is more than that I deserve forgiveness (for); Genesis 4:13 (Wycliffe Translation, See also Luther 1912 Translation)
Cain refused to repent because he believed that God would not forgive him. This is the power of sin over the human race; it is the sin of believing that God cannot forgive our sins. Even the prodigal son does not ask for forgiveness but rather seeks to pay for his deeds himself through work.
I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, (19) And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants. Luke 15:18-19
The only way for man to repent is for the Spirit of Christ to be given as a gift to enable us to reach forth our hands and ask for and receive forgiveness.
The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree. Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. Acts 5:30-31
When Adam sinned he became hostile towards God. His heart was at war with Him, for we read:
The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. (7) The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so. Romans 8:6-7 (NIV)
In order for God to give Adam the ability to repent and ask for forgiveness, He sent the Spirit of His Son into the heart of Adam that Adam might cry “Abba Father.” Only the Spirit of Jesus in Adam could give him grace to give this cry.
And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father. Galatians 4:6
In coming to Adam while he was utterly unreceptive, Christ was forced to endure hostility in the heart of Adam in order to give him grace. This animosity pierces the heart of Christ and causes Him terrible suffering.
For he said, Surely they are my people, children that will not lie: so he was their Saviour. (9) In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them: in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; and he bare them, and carried them all the days of old. Isaiah 63:8-9
It is therefore in this sense that Christ is the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. Revelation 13:8. In order to give men the desire and will to ask for mercy and forgiveness, Jesus must suffer the agony of human rejection and hatred. He is despised and rejected of men and a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. Every time men and women resist the appeal of Christ to the heart, the rejection pierces Him to the depth of His love for their soul. Every manifestation of evil from human hearts causes Christ indescribable sorrow both for perpetrator and victim. From this perspective indeed Christ was despised and rejected of men in the days when Isaiah wrote those words seven hundred years before Christ appeared on the earth. Therefore today He carries the same grief as a cross upon His shoulders in order to give humanity more time to turn from their cruel and harsh ways and learn the truth about His Father.
As the human race determined not to believe that God could forgive, this is the price that Christ had to pay in order to redeem the human race. In order to take our place He had to die as men die. This death is one in which the sinner believes that God will not forgive him. The lie that God cannot forgive is what gives Satan the power of death. Therefore, it is only through death that Christ could defeat Satan.
Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; Hebrews 2:14
The death of the cross is the death that sin demands – not God. Once someone crosses the line into sin it becomes impossible to come back, as all perception of mercy and grace are gone, and the only possible outcome is death. When man looks into the perfect law of God as a mirror and seeks to attribute death to God, the reflection immediately comes back onto man and destroys him.
For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; James 1:23 (NKJV)
For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. Matthew 7:2
When Adam took the fruit of the tree he chose to believe that God did not have his best interest at heart. He chose to believe the serpent, that God was a selfish liar. These thoughts, projected onto the perfect mirror of the law, came straight back to him and judged him as he perceived. His false conception of God completely withered his hand that would have, and should have reached out for mercy and grace. It was impossible for him to come back from this position. Death must be the result, for this is the sentence that he himself had determined.
In order to reveal these principles to the world, Christ came that He might reveal the cross to us and that we might discern the true nature of sin. Jesus spoke the words of a man laden with sin:
And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? Matthew 27:46
God did not forsake His Son at all. Yet as Christ was carrying our sins upon Himself, He died as the man who cannot be forgiven for this is the will of man – the man who, when his sins are pressed upon him, thinks he can’t be forgiven or hasn’t come to an assurance of forgiveness will feel forsaken by God. In these words of Christ we see the curse of sin upon Him, the curse expressed by Cain.
Behold, thou hast driven me out this day from the face of the earth; and from thy face shall I be hid; and I shall be a fugitive and a vagabond in the earth… Genesis 4:14
The word fugitive can mean to stagger and shake. Christ demonstrates that He carried the curse of Cain. He felt that God’s face was hidden and He shook under the sense of our guilt. The Scripture reveals what hides the Father’s face.
Because for thy sake I have borne reproach; shame hath covered my face. Psalm 69:7
But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear. Isaiah 59:2
Burdened with sins Christ cries out:
For troubles without number surround me; my sins have overtaken me, and I cannot see. They are more than the hairs of my head, and my heart fails within me. Psalm 40:12 (NIV)
With reference to the Father we read:
For he hath not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; neither hath he hid his face from him; but when he cried unto him, he heard. Psalm 22:24
The shame of our sins covered the face of Jesus so He could not see the Father’s face. He faced death as every sinner will face death at the conclusion of the great controversy. Christ felt the coals of fire in His soul.
The sorrows of hell compassed me about: the snares of death prevented [confronted] me. (6) In my distress I called upon the LORD, and cried unto my God: he heard my voice out of his temple, and my cry came before him, even into his ears. (7) Then the earth shook and trembled; the foundations also of the hills moved and were shaken, because he was wroth. (8) There went up a smoke out of his nostrils, and fire out of his mouth devoured: coals were kindled by it. Psalm 18:5-8
Christ suffered the death of the wicked. A fire came forth from the midst of Christ and devoured Him. Our sins upon Christ caused Him to suffer as Satan and all the wicked will suffer in the end.
Thou hast defiled thy sanctuaries by the multitude of thine iniquities, by the iniquity of thy traffick; therefore will I bring forth a fire from the midst of thee, it shall devour thee… Ezekiel 28:18
As our substitute Christ’s sanctuary or body temple was defiled by the multitude of our iniquities. He was wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities. The terrible death that Satan will die has already been experienced by Christ on the cross. The heart of Christ exploded from the fire brought forth from the midst of Him and there came forth water and blood. Christ died in the fires of a living hell and this is exactly how the wicked will die. I pause and reflect with amazement that just as the Father never left His Son but suffered with Him through His death on the cross so also our Father and Saviour will be right there with the wicked suffering with them in those flames of hell. The Scripture tells us:
In all their affliction he was afflicted… Isaiah 63:9
No father can rejoice at the loss of a child, it is agony for him and so our Father and His Son will suffer again the agonies of the cross with the wicked in their death. As the righteous stand upon the walls of Zion and see those they have loved in those flames, the Saviour will have to carry them through that cross and it will take a thousand years to prepare them for that event. Like Mary and the disciples when beholding the Son of God on the cross wept in agony, so too will the righteous be pierced by the eternal loss of their loved ones who refused the grace of God. Only then are we told that God will wipe away every tear from our eyes.
And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. Revelation 21:4
This occurs after the death of the wicked in Revelation 20:
And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. (14) And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. (15) And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire. Revelation 20:13-15
As Christ rose from the grave of His suffering 2000 years ago He will also be raised from His agony of losing billions of His children who spat upon Him, despised Him and refused His loving mercy. And as Christ is raised up by the blessing of the Father we also shall be raised up with Him to enter into the new earth without one shadow of sorrow remaining.
Coming back to the suffering of Christ on the cross we want to notice something. We observe that although Christ was in the very depths of despair when He felt completely alone and isolated, by faith He asked the Father to forgive those killing Him.
Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do... Luke 23:34
The death of the cross unmasks Satan’s lie that God cannot forgive us. We see that God willingly gave up His Son to our human perception of justice. He allowed Him to die without hope, in order that once we see He had risen from the grave, we might then choose to believe that we can indeed be forgiven of our sins and receive the blessed hope of newness of life. The Spirit of the Son of God comes into our hearts and lifts our spiritually withered hand to take hold of the mercy of God.
How wonderful to know that God did not demand death. He does not stand toward the sinner as an executioner of the death penalty. Our Father willingly allowed His Son to show us the end result of those who refuse to believe in the mercy of God. He did not kill His Son to avenge His wrath, rather He gave up His Son to our wrath that through this death we might see the love of God.
The warning that God gave in the garden that in the day Adam should eat of the tree of knowledge he would surely die, was not a threat to kill him; it was a warning of the judgment that man would bring against himself by choosing to believe that God is selfish, and therefore, He would not forgive. It is a beautiful truth that only Christ who alone understood the height and depth and length and breadth of the love of God, knew that it was possible to ask God for mercy and forgiveness. Matthew 11:27. It is therefore clear that the Son of God is the one reaching into the hearts of men to give them courage to believe they can be forgiven.
How wonderful is the revelation of the cross. Let us not continue to consider Christ “smitten of God and afflicted” but rather that He is “despised and rejected of men” – smitten and afflicted through a wrong understanding of the character of God. God did not demand death as a penalty for sin; death is rather the sure result of believing that God will not forgive.