The death of God’s Son was the ultimate purpose of His coming down from the Father to this earth. He would be delivered up to death “by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23). This was His necessary course, the only way by which the Father’s eternal purpose could be accomplished. He became a Man with a view to giving up His life: “Who was made a little lower than the angels for (with a view to) the suffering of death … that He by the grace of God should taste death for every man” (Heb 2:9). Thus, divine purpose and divine grace met at Calvary when the Lord Jesus offered Himself.
These eternal truths were occupying the mind of Christ as He spoke that night with Nicodemus (John 3). He enlightened the teacher of Israel as to man’s great necessity to be born of the Spirit in order to enter the kingdom of God; “Ye must be born again” (v7). In accordance with that, there was His own great necessity: “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up” (v14). The priority for the Son of Man, when He “came down from heaven” (v13), was to be “lifted up” on the cross at Calvary, His hands and feet pierced (Psa 22:16), publicly taking the place of sinners and bearing sin’s curse. He would say, “I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straitened till it be accomplished” (Luke 12:50). Calvary was the culmination of His earthly service, to provide salvation for sinful humanity and in order to eternally glorify His Father.
Proclamation of Christ’s Death for Sinners
All believers in the Lord Jesus appreciate the necessity of Christ’s death for their personal salvation and eternal blessing. As precious as the life of the Lord Jesus is, His life alone could never save. His life exposes man’s failure, and shows how far short of the divine standard we all come. His sin-atoning death was necessary to procure our soul’s salvation.
Every presentation of the gospel to sinful humanity must, therefore, make much of the death of Christ. The apostle Paul went to Corinth with one basic message: “I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” (1Cor 2:2). The enormity of sin to a holy God, and the absolute righteousness of God, is declared by the events at Calvary. Christ’s death is the basis for the great salvation truths of redemption, justification, propitiation, substitution, and reconciliation. These truths are to be proclaimed in language that sinners can grasp, in order that gospel testimony be for Christ’s honor and glory. A faithful presentation of the gospel must point sinners to the Man lifted up at Calvary, that they might look there and live.
Appreciation of Christ’s Death for the Father
The Savior’s death was not just His priority with respect to man’s blessing. There was also His necessity to be lifted up as the sacrifice that would eternally please His Father. He was from all eternity the sacrificial Lamb, “foreordained before the foundation of the world” (1Pet 1:20), and He will be eternally the young, freshly slain Lamb before the throne of God (Rev 5:6). Calvary will eternally delight the Father’s heart.
In Hebrews 10, we learn of the priority in the mind of Christ at the very moment of His incarnation. “Wherefore when He cometh into the world, He saith, Sacrifice and offering Thou wouldest not, but a body hast Thou prepared Me … Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of Me,) to do Thy will, O God” (vv5-7). Animal sacrifices of the old economy provided the basis for a nation to go on with their God, in that they pointed forward to Christ’s death, but those sacrifices in themselves never brought any real pleasure to the heart of God. When Christ came in the body prepared for Him, He alone was sensitive to the Father’s heart, and He came to provide the sacrifice that would eternally satisfy His Father.
Christ’s sacrifice, “the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Heb 10:10), was the fulfilment of all the Old Testament sacrifices and offerings. He provided the final sin offering that has eternally satisfied the claims of divine justice: “But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins, forever sat down on the right hand of God” (Heb 10:12). He provided the true burnt offering that delighted the heart of His Father and effected a perfect acceptance for redeemed sinners. “For by one offering He hath perfected forever them that are sanctified” (Heb 10:14). He provided the perfect peace offering, the basis for approach into God’s holy presence, to draw near and enjoy communion as purged worshippers. “Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus” (Heb 10:19).
By going all the way to Calvary, God’s Son declared the extent of His devotion and obedience to the will of His Father: “obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Phil 2:8). In laying down His life, He demonstrated the greatness of His love for His Father, “But that the world may know that I love the Father; and as the Father gave Me commandment, even so I do. Arise, let us go hence” (John 14:31). His sacrificial death also gave the Father fresh cause to love Him: “Therefore doth My Father love Me, because I lay down My life, that I might take it again” (John 10:17). For these reasons, and doubtless many more, it was His priority to be lifted up as a sacrifice to His Father. “Who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God” (Heb 9:14).