The truth of the sacrificial death of the Lord Jesus is at the very core of the Christian faith; the righteous for the unrighteous (1 Peter 3:18). God’s justice demands a payment as the punishment for sin.
In the Old Testament, that payment came through the sacrifice of an innocent third party; an animal, whose shed blood covered the sins of the people. But, the Old Testament sacrificial system had one major problem, it could only provide a temporary covering, because…it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sin. (Hebrews 10:4)
When Jesus shed his blood on the cross, His death as the sinless Lamb of God was sufficient to once and for all and forever cover the sins of man. Romans 3:25 tells us that Jesus died to provide…a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood. The phrase “sacrifice of atonement” expresses the turning away of wrath by the offering of a gift.
When Jesus cried out, My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? (Mark 15:34), in that moment the wrath of God was poured out on Jesus. The Bible says, he became sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21), to pray the penalty of our sin through which the wrath of God is satisfied. When we, as sinners, turn to Christ for forgiveness, God grants us a pardon on the basis of the sacrifice Christ made when He died on the cross. The death of Jesus Christ turns away the wrath of God. The cross is the place where grace and wrath meet.
The Bible tells us that God did this to demonstrate his righteousness…to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:25-26) Because, He is holy, God cannot simply ignore our sins or allow sin to go unpunished; His justice demands payment. To offer pardon without payment would mean that He ceases to be holy and just; God would no longer be God, because he would have denied His own nature. That could not happen—a price had to be paid.
We understand this, even in our culture a price must be paid for breaking the law. When lawbreakers are pardoned with no payment, respect for the law disappears. So
God had to provide a plan of salvation, in which He would remain holy and just and could still provide a way for guilty sinners to be forgiven, pardoned, set free. Somehow, somewhere, someway, there had to be a place where grace and wrath could meet—that place is the cross of Jesus Christ.
The wonder, the beauty and the paradox of our salvation is this: God is a God of love, and therefore wants to forgive sinners. But, He is also a God of holiness, who cannot overlook sin. So how does God love sinners and yet not ignore their sin? No one would ever have imagined His solution: God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8) By His death, the just punishment for sin was fully paid and sinners who turn to Christ are freely forgiven. In this, God is both just and the justifier of those who believe in Jesus.
This is the heart of the message of the Gospel, the message of the Christian faith. The wonder of atoning sacrifice of Jesus is that the offended party (God), who has every right to be angry at sinners, He Himself offers the gift of saving grace, making it possible for guilty sinners to be forgiven. God’s holiness demands that sin be punished, but then God’s grace provides the sacrifice to pay for the punishment we deserve. What God demands, He supplies; amazing love, how can it be?
Grace and wrath have met at the cross and the result is the free offer of salvation to everyone who believes. And apart from such grace, we would all face His wrath, His condemnation. But, because of the cross, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1)
This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. (1 John 4:9-10)
Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:25)