The cross as a fact is recorded in that most profound Gospel according to John: ‘And he bearing his cross went forth into a place called “the place of a skull”. . . where they crucified him’ (John 19:17-18). The cross as a fact is recorded in that inimitable passage where the Apostle Paul exhorts the Philippian church to mutual love and humility as exemplified in the life and death of Christ: ‘Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus; who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God, but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men; and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross’(Phil. 2:5-8).
The cross as a doctrine is set forth in that glorious phrase: ‘having made peace [i.e. between God and his sinful people] through the blood of his cross’ (Col.1:20). The cross as a doctrine appears as the only basis of union between Jews and Gentiles: ‘that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross’ (Eph. 2:16). The cross as a doctrine surfaces again in Paul’s refusal to preach in high-flown scholastic language: ‘lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect’ (1 Cor. 1:17).
Let us briefly consider both fact and doctrine.
As a fact of history, the cross was divinely planned: in his infinite wisdom, God both decreed in eternity that the redemption of his elect should be by the cross, and in due time brought his dear Son to the cross. The cross of Christ is thus the focus of God’s eternal purpose and of its providential fulfilment. The Apostle Peter makes this clear in his remarkable address on the day of Pentecost: ‘Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain’ (Acts 2:23).
It is impossible to conceive or feel the pain and anguish the sinless Saviour suffered on the cross: the agony of physical crucifixion, the pain of shame before a gaping world, and the spiritual dereliction he experienced as his soul sank into the abyss beneath the stroke of divine justice. It may help us a little to realize that he bore an infinite hatred to the very sins which caused him such pain on the cross, even while he was suffering for them.
Even in its outward aspect, the cross of Christ was an act of violence. The conflict between the Jews and Jesus, and between God and sin, was brought into the open, and the Son of God bore the brunt of both. To be ‘cut off out of the land of the living’ (Isa. 53:8) was to suffer violent judicial punishment at the hands of God and man. As John Murray writes: ‘there were no lower depths possible;’ his humiliation and suffering were ‘inimitable, unrepeated, unrepeatable.’ Yet it all actually took place, so that the Redeemer of God’s elect could of his own free choice finish the work God gave him to do. Nothing less could save them, and nothing more was required to save them.
– John Brentnall