What Happened at the Cross?

What happened at the cross?I never could make sense of how an innocent man could pay a penalty for a guilty man. We would never allow a murderer’s mother to pay his sentence. Justice links the perpetrator to the crime. “He who does the crime does the time.” So how can Jesus, who is innocent of the crime, take our penalty at the cross?

The chink in my logic was a subtle misunderstanding of what happened at the cross. I saw Jesus as appeasing the Father’s wrath in my place. God’s holy law had been broken and the penalty must be paid, so He punished Jesus in my place. But if Jesus didn’t do it, how can He take my place? Also inherent in my line of thought was that Jesus was not only sating the Father’s anger, but also persuading the Father to forgive me.

So What Did Happen at the Cross?

If somebody raped me and I forgave them and refused to pursue punitive action, who suffers the penalty? I do. Isn’t it within my legal right not to pursue retribution? The Bible teaches that it is God and God alone who we have sinned against. So justice allows Him to forgive us and suffer the penalty Himself.

So Where Did I Get Mixed Up?

My confusion was precisely here:

“I and the Father are one.” John 10:30

“Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father living in me, who is doing his work.” John 14:10

“Jesus said to him, ‘Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Phillip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father.” John 14:9

“I and the Father are One is the center truth of the universe.”
– George MacDonald

Jesus and the Father are one! Jesus is God! The Father did not send someone else. The Father Himself came in the person of Jesus. This makes utter nonsense out of any claim that Jesus had to appease the Father’s wrath or persuade Him to forgive us or pay any sort of penalty to Him for our sins. Whatever we see Jesus doing, the Father is doing as well, and certainly, God doesn’t have to appease (or make any payment to) Himself. Nor does the Father need to be persuaded to forgive us. God has loved and forgiven us from the foundation of the world. The purpose of the cross was to reveal to us the forgiveness that was already there.

“When the crucified Jesus is called the ‘image of the invisible God’, the meaning is that this is God, and God is like this. God is not greater than he is in this humiliation. God is not more glorious than he is in this self-surrender. God is not more powerful than he is in this helplessness. God is not more divine than he is in this humanity.”

– Jürgen Moltmann, The Crucified God

So If the Father Didn’t Punish Jesus on the Cross, Who Did?

The question should actually be, “What did?” What is the antagonist to love? Sin! It’s a lot easier to blame the Father for the death of Jesus rather than our sin. Who among us is anxious to raise our hand and accept such responsibility?

The truth that I missed for years is that Jesus came to save me, not from an angry God, but from my sin. There is never any need to be afraid of God. It is sin that deserves my fear.

“God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them.” 2 Corinthians 5:19

“Be kind one to another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ has also forgiven you.” Ephesians 4:32

No, the Father was not the punisher at Calvary, but the punished. He showed us how much He had always forgiven us for our sin against Him, and He paid its penalty. The cross is not the means by which God forgives, but a time-transcending act of forgiveness itself.

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