“Though he was God, Jesus did not cling to his rights … but humbled himself, even to dying a criminal’s death on a cross.”
– Philippians 2:5-8
If Jesus truly was God, as the Scriptures claim, then why did he go to all the pain and trouble of the cross? Couldn’t he just as easily have forgiven our sins by pardon or decree, without ever leaving heaven?
Consider: “I, Jesus the Christ, by the power vested in me as the Son of God, do hereby absolve (your name) of all the sins you have every committed or will commit in the future.”
With rare exceptions – England’s King Edward VIII, for example, who in 1936 abdicated his throne for the woman he loved – few earthly rulers have ever willingly relinquished their status or positions of authority, and they had much less to give up than Jesus did.
So why did the “King of Kings and Lord of Lords” (I Timothy 6:15), who was “in the beginning with God” (John 1:1), give up his throne and more for the people he loved, especially since, unlike King Edward’s bride, so few ever loved him back?
As a rule, whatever our status, we humans don’t like going back one notch, not to a less stylish home, an older car, poorer health or a job with less pay. But Jesus dropped back a whole universe. For him, leaving his perfect heaven for a flawed earth was like moving from a palace to an anthill.
Never having experienced heaven, we can’t imagine what that pain-free, trouble-free, gold-lined “City of God” is like, but after living in the “City of Man” all our lives, we have an idea of what Jesus found when he came here.
Instead of a throne he found a stable; rather than a standing “higher than the angels” (Hebrews 1:4), he became the object of ridicule and scorn; instead of an antiseptic environment, he was surrounded by overwhelming pain, depravity, and distress.
All this would be incredible enough, but that is not the end of his list of demotions. In the worst exchange of all, including the great pain of the cross, Jesus gave up his pure, sinless life, and took on the penalty for the sins of the whole world.
Oh the pain of being unjustly accused or unfairly punished, and scarce are the number who can forgive their accusers as Jesus did while he was on the cross (Luke 23:34).
To the Roman rulers he was a rabble-rouser; to the church he was a blasphemer who only claimed to be the Son of God. Today we hand out fines or a night in jail for civil disturbance, and once in a while a church excommunicates someone who violates its doctrine. Jesus was innocent of all these charges, yet he was punished as though he were guilty of these allegations and much more.
But still the question: Why the cross? Words always fail us when we try to explain this mystery, not because our vocabulary is limited, but because the reason goes beyond human comprehension. Simply put, sin cannot be excused or deleted like errors on a word processor script. Sin can only be forgiven, usually after the punishment of the offender or a sacrifice offered by the forgiver.
To solve the problem of the world’s sin, God had two choices: He could have refused to grant us forgiveness altogether, or, following the Old Testament pattern, he could have offered the customary (animal) sacrifice “without blemish” (Exodus 12:5) and allowed that substitute to be unjustly charged for the wrongs committed by someone else. God chose the latter.
At the time the sacrificial “Lamb of God” was offered for the sins of the world, the primary method of execution throughout the Roman Empire was a cross.
But couldn’t God have sent someone besides “his only son?” There was no one else.