We have seen the involvement of different men and women at the cross of our Lord Jesus, both those who believed in Him and those who didn’t. We have seen wickedness and kindness, betrayal and loyalty, viciousness and tenderness, all that men did unto Him in their desperate desire to do away with Him. Peter was right when he said of our Lord that they, ‘by the hand of lawless men, did crucify and slay’, Acts 2. 23 RV. Yet we cannot close our thoughts on characters around the crucifixion without considering the One who surely was invisibly there.
It beggars belief that, before the world was ever made, before mankind was formed, the trinity of divine beings knew that sin would enter the world and that the Son of God would have to enter His sinful creation to redeem it. Our Lord, ‘verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you’, 1 Pet. 1. 20; the Father brought this about, ‘according to the eternal purpose [purpose of the ages, RV] which he purposed [carried out] in Christ Jesus our Lord’, Eph. 3. 11. In addition, we read of a plan concerning sinners that God made before the world was. Of believers we read, ‘He hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world’, Eph. 1. 4; and that we have, ‘hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began’; Titus 1. 2. ‘All that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world’, Rev. 13. 8. Even if we take revised readings here, such as, ‘everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain’, ESV, it is clear that something was determined before the world was made. It is beyond our understanding to think that God would plan the death of His Son before He had ever formed man, but it would appear to be so. After all, all that was done at the cross was done, ‘according to the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God’.
Even in Eden, God promised a Messiah who would come to save mankind, Gen. 3. 15. Jewish interpretations led them to believe the Messiah would come in triumph, but they seem to have missed the many prophecies that spoke of Him as a suffering Messiah. Yet our Lord showed, beginning at Moses and all the prophets, that the scriptures clearly said Christ was to suffer, Luke 24. 25, 26. With the help of the Spirit of God, the apostles saw in these prophecies direct references to the death of our Lord. Peter claims Psalm 16 refers to the Messiah when he preached, ‘He seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell, neither his flesh did see corruption’, Acts 2. 31. John sees Psalm 22 fulfilled when he quotes, ‘They said therefore among themselves, Let us not rend it, but cast lots for it, whose it shall be: that the scripture might be fulfilled, which saith, They parted my raiment among them, and for my vesture they did cast lots’, John 19. 24. Isaiah’s words ‘I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair: I hid not my face from shame and spitting’, 50. 6; ‘He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth’, 53. 7; ‘he hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors’, 53. 12; were all fulfilled at our Lord’s death. The book of Psalms told the Jews, ‘Dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have inclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet. I may tell all my bones: they look and stare upon me’, Psa. 22. 16, 17. Zechariah spoke of the Messiah upon whom the nation would look as One, ‘whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him’, Zech. 12. 10.
From the moment the sacrifice of animals was commanded by God, we see the sacrifice of our Lord represented in the offerings. Some see this first shown in the animal sacrifices that must have been made when God clothed Adam and Eve in the skins of animals. Abel brought a sacrifice from his flock; the principle being established that an innocent victim had to give its life for the sinner to be accepted before God. Since Christ is our Passover, we see Him prefigured in the passover lamb that was examined by men and then killed, the lamb then roasted and eaten with bitter herbs, Exod. 12. That the apostles understood this to refer to Christ is also clear when, ‘neither shall ye break a bone thereof’, is seen to be fulfilled at the cross – ‘they break not [our Lord’s] legs’; Exod. 12. 46, John 19. 32-37. His death is also seen in the offerings of the Jewish ritual law. The writer to the Hebrews tells us that the tabernacle and all that was done in it was a ‘figure for the time then present’, Heb. 9. 8, 9, and that it was all a picture of the perfect sacrifice, our Lord Himself. ‘For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh: How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?’ Heb. 9. 13. Our Lord, also, said, ‘As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up’, John 3. 14.
New Testament writers refer to our Lord’s coming as willing and voluntary. ‘When he cometh into the world, he saith, Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body hast thou prepared me: in burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin thou hast had no pleasure. Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me,) to do thy will, O God’, Heb. 10. 5-7. Yes, the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world, but He was no reluctantly obedient Son. ‘I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me’, John 6. 38. If this was true before ever He left heaven, how much more was it true down here. He resisted all temptations from the devil to seek glory without suffering first. When Peter tried to deter Him from the path of suffering that lay ahead, our Lord detected in Peter’s words the influence of Satan, Mark 8. 33. For our Lord, the path of suffering was of God. ‘Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour: but for this cause came I unto this hour’, John 12. 27. Even in the garden of Gethsemane, being in an agony as He contemplated the day that lay ahead of Him, He would say, ‘Let this cup pass from me. Nevertheless, not my will but Thine be done’. And as He put His hand on the handle of the door of the upper room, as they were about to pass out into the darkness of Gethsemane, Gabbatha and Golgotha, these were His sublime words, ‘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’, 14. 31. The path of obedience, though it led to the bitterness of the cross, was one He preferred.
When Moses and Elijah stood with our Lord upon the Mount of Transfiguration, as we call it, they spoke of ‘his decease [death] which he should accomplish at Jerusalem’, Luke 9. 31. And what an accomplishment it was! He offered no sacrifice for Himself, for He had no sin, unlike all the previous high priests. And He was once offered, once for all. ‘Christ was once offered’, Heb. 9. 28. ‘We are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. And every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins: But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God; From henceforth expecting till his enemies be made his footstool. For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified’, Heb. 10. 10-14. And in His death, not only was salvation accomplished and God’s wrath propitiated, but death was defeated, Satan weakened and a people purchased for Himself. We hear, too, His exultant cry from the cross, ‘Finished!’ All the work that had been planned from before the foundation of the world to be done, that was prophesied and prefigured, the work He had come to do and He had preferred to do above all else, was finally and fully accomplished.
Was God there at the cross with His Son? Surely He was. Our Lord had confidently said, ‘Ye shall leave me alone: and yet I am not alone, because the Father is with me’. How He rejoiced in that! Yet let us never forget there was a time in the darkness alone, when our Lord was forsaken of His God. ‘My God, my God, why didst thou forsake me?’ There seems to have been a time when justice caused a holy God to forsake His sin-bearing Son, sending Him, like that scapegoat of old, to a ‘land not inhabited’, Lev. 16. 22. Why the cross? Why the fearful agony? His Son had to become a curse for us, that we might no longer be under a curse; He had to be forsaken of His God that we might no longer be forsaken; He had to become sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in Him; He had to be judged for our sins that we might never be judged for them; His blood had to be shed publicly for all to see, for ‘without shedding of blood [there] is no remission’, Heb. 9. 22. And though we have seen the wickedness of man at that cross, the ‘contradiction of sinners against himself’, yet let us never forget what God did at that cross. ‘It pleased … [Jehovah] to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand. He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear iniquities’, Isa. 53. 10, 11.
Jehovah lifted up His rod;
O Christ, it fell on Thee!
Thou wast sore stricken of Thy God;
There’s not one stroke for me.
Thy tears, Thy blood,
beneath it flowed;
Thy bruising healeth me.