In the verses from Mark’s gospel which we read during the service, we read how the Lord Jesus was first taken before what was known as the Sanhedrin, the Jewish court, made up of priests and elders and teachers of the law. And various false witnesses came forward; and they accused the Lord of many things. But their testimony against him didn’t agree: they were saying different things and contradictory things. Finally though the High Priest accused the Lord Jesus of blasphemy, because he claimed to be the Son of God. And, of course, he is the Son of God. But the High Priest and the members of the Sanhedrin did not believe he was the Son of God. And so, they condemned him as deserving death.
The Sanhedrin, however, didn’t have the authority to execute anyone. Only the Roman governor had that authority. So, we also read how they took the Lord Jesus to Pilate, the Roman governor, to persuade him to pass the death sentence. Now, Pilate understood that the Lord had done nothing to deserve the death penalty. He understood that the reason the chief priests wanted rid of the Lord Jesus was envy. And so, he offered to release the Lord Jesus. You see, at that time of the year, it was customary to release one prisoner. Whoever the crowd asked for, that one person was pardoned and released. So, Pilate offered to release the Lord Jesus. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to ask him for Barabbas. Barabbas, we read in verse 7 of chapter 15, was an insurrectionist, a terrorist, who had even murdered someone in an uprising. And so, this murderer, this man who had committed a terrible crime, was pardoned and set free, while the Lord Jesus — who never did anything wrong — was sentenced to death in his place.
And so, we read how the Lord Jesus was flogged: whipped in order to weaken him and to hasten his death. And after the flogging, he was handed over to the soldiers to be crucified. And Mark tells us very briefly and very simply how the Lord was taken to Golgotha where they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, which was to act as a kind of anaesthetic, to ease the pain. But the Lord refused it. And then they crucified him. The people who passed by hurled insults at him and they mocked him. And when the time came, the Lord cried out, and breathed his last, and died. And Mark tells us that the curtain in the temple — which represented how sinners are separated from God by their sin and guilt — was torn in two. And it was torn in two to represent how the Lord, by his death on the cross, has opened the way for sinners to come into the presence of God. He died to bring us to God.
And the centurion, who heard the Lord’s cry and who saw how the Lord died, said: ‘Surely this man was the Son of God.’ The members of the Sanhedrin did not believe in him, but something about the way the Lord died, persuaded this Roman soldier that Jesus is the Son of God.
So, what’s what happened on that very first Good Friday. The question I want us to think about this evening is this: Why did the Son of God die on the cross? What did his death accomplish? That’s what we’re going to be thinking about this evening. And really there are five things I want us to think about.
And the first point is that the Lord’s death on the cross is portrayed in the Bible as a sacrifice which takes away our sin and guilt. Think about what happened back in the beginning of the Bible. God made Adam and Eve, the first man and woman. He placed them in the Garden of Eden and we’re told the plants in the garden were good for food and pleasing to the eye. It was the perfect home for them. And the Lord invited them to eat from any of the trees in the garden, apart from one. They mustn’t eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. If they ate the fruit from that tree, they would die. But along came the Devil, disguised as a snake, who tempted Eve to take the forbidden fruit. She took some; and she then gave some to Adam. And so, they did the one thing, the one thing, the Lord had forbidden them to do. And immediately, it hit them and they realised what they had done: they had disobeyed their loving father, who made him and who loved them and who cared for them.
And when they heard his voice, what did they do? They hid from him. For the very first time, they hid from God. And they hid from God because they were ashamed and they were afraid, because they knew they had done wrong.
All of us are like Adam and Eve in that all of us have disobeyed God. Every day we break his laws and commandments. We might not realise that we’re breaking his laws and commandments, but we are; and from time to time, we feel guilty, or we feel ashamed, because we know that we’ve done wrong and we know that we have always done what is wrong; we know that we’re not the people we’re supposed to be.
And when we feel like that, what can we do? Well, lots of people, lots of people, do what Adam and Eve did: they hide from God. They maybe don’t realise they’re hiding from him, but they are, because they won’t come into church to hear his word which reminds them that they’re sinners who have done wrong. And they hide from him by refusing to think about him. They hide from him by filling their thoughts and by filling their lives with other things which prevent them from thinking about God and how they’ve broken his laws and commandments. That’s one way to deal with our sense of sin and guilt: hide from God. But it doesn’t work, because God speaks to us through our conscience and makes clear to us that we’ve done wrong and though we try to suppress that sense of our guilt, it keeps rising to the surface to trouble us. And so, the right way to deal with our sense of sin and guilt is to trust in the Lord Jesus, whose death is portrayed in the Bible as a sacrifice which takes away our sin and guilt.
John the Baptiser was preaching one day. We read about it in John 1. And he saw the Lord Jesus. And he pointed to him and said: ‘Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!’ In those days, the people would sacrifice lambs and other animals on the altar in the temple to show that they were sorry for their sins and to show that they wanted God to take their sins away. And here’s John the Baptiser saying to the people: ‘Here’s the true Lamb of God, the real Lamb of God. And he’s come into the world to take away your sins for ever.’
Or later in the Bible, in Hebrews 10, we’re told that it’s impossible, impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away our sins. But the blood of the Lord Jesus is able to cleanse us from all our sin and guilt. His death on the cross was a sacrifice which takes away our sin and guilt. When we believe in him, we’re cleansed from all that we’ve done wrong. When we believe in him, all our sin and guilt is cancelled out. And so, instead of hiding from God, or running away from him, we’re able to come into his presence in church, Sunday by Sunday, to worship him. And one day, one day, we’ll come into his presence in the world to come, and we’ll worship him for ever.
That’s the first point: the Lord’s death on the cross is portrayed in the Bible as a sacrifice which takes away our sin and guilt.
The second point is that the Lord’s death on the cross is portrayed in the Bible as a sacrifice which turns away God’s wrath from us. You see, the Bible is very clear: God is angry with us. He’s angry with us because we’ve broken his laws and commandments. And so, because of our sins, we’re liable to his punishment in this life and in the next. But Christ’s death placates God’s anger; it turns away his wrath from us. ‘This is love’, says the Apostle John in his first letter in the New Testament (4:10):
This is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.
And by ‘atoning sacrifice’, John means that the Lord’s death was a sacrifice which turns away the wrath of God.
You see, in Old Testament times, God’s people would bring a lamb up to the temple to offer to God as a sacrifice. And before the animal was sacrificed, the priest would place his hand on the animal and confess the sins of the worshipper. And it’s as if the priest was saying to God: ‘We confess our sins before you. We know that we deserve to die for these sins because the wages of sin is death. But we now transfer our sins from us on to this lamb and it will now pay the penalty and die in our place.’ And then, the lamb was killed instead of the person who had sinned. God’s judgment fell on the lamb and not on the sinner. The lamb was punished in the place of the sinner; and God was no longer angry with the sinner.
Those animal sacrifices were given by God to make do, to fill in, until the time came for the true Lamb of God to be sacrificed. Those Old Testament animal sacrifices were designed by God to point forward to the true sacrifice. They taught the people to look forward to the day when God himself would provide the perfect sacrifice which would pay for their sins for ever and which would completely satisfy God’s justice and remove his wrath from them.
You see, God’s perfect justice demands that sin must be punished. Sin must be punished, mustn’t it? If a judge in the court down in the city set free someone who was clearly guilty, then there would be a public outcry, wouldn’t there? Everyone would complain about the judge: ‘Look what’s he done! How could he let that person free? It’s not right?’ And they’d be right to complain, because the job of the judge is to punish the guilty. And if a human judge must punish the guilty, then how much more must God — who is the judge of all the world — punish the guilty. How could we worship a God who ignored wickedness and evil? How could we worship a God who wasn’t interested in truth and justice and goodness? How would we worship a God who shrugged his shoulders at what is evil? Such a God would not be worth worshipping. But God is a God of truth and justice and holiness and goodness and righteousness; and one of the reasons we worship him is because he is like that. And because he is like that — perfect in truth and justice and holiness and goodness and righteousness — then he must punish wickedness and sin. He must.
But God is also a God of love. That’s also clear from the Bible. And because of the greatness of his love, he sent his Only Begotten Son into the world as one of us and to take our place and to receive the punishment we deserve for what we’ve done wrong. And in this way, by dying on the cross, taking the punishment we deserve, the Lord Jesus has satisfied the demands of God’s perfect justice and holiness. And that means that all who now believe in the Lord Jesus can rest in the knowledge that God’s wrath has been turned away from us, because the Lord Jesus Christ suffered in our place the punishment we deserve in order to satisfy the justice of God.
This is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.
The Lord’s death was a sacrifice to remove our sins from us. And his death was a sacrifice to turn away God’s wrath from us. But the Lord’s death was also the means by which God and sinners are reconciled to one another. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Romans and said in chapter 5 verse 10: ‘while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son.’
Think of two friends who have fallen out. Their friendship is ruined because one of them did something thoughtless and offended the other. And every time they see each other, it’s very awkward; and they’re stiff with each other; and cold towards each other; and they hold back from one another. And it’s all because of this thing that has come between them. Well, that’s the way it’s going to stay unless one of them does something to sort out the trouble between them. One of them needs to do something to deal with this problem that divides them.
So, think of Adam and Eve again. They disobeyed God by taking the forbidden fruit. And so their relationship to God was ruined because of what they had done. Their relationship was ruined and they felt that had to run away from him. They couldn’t face him. They were ashamed to be in his presence. Their sin had come between them. Well, one of them was going to have to put things right; otherwise their relationship would have been ruined for ever. And it’s the same with all of us. Our sin and disobedience has ruined our relationship with God. We’re ashamed because of our sin and disobedience; and he’s offended because of our sin and disobedience. And so, because we’re ashamed, our natural reaction is to hide from him, to stay away from church, where we’re reminded of his perfection and of our sin. And because he’s offended, he’s angry with us.
How can we ever be reconciled? How can there ever be peace between us? Well, the good news is that the Lord Jesus Christ died to take away our sin and guilt; and the good news is that the Lord Jesus Christ died to satisfy the demands of God’s justice and holiness. And in this way, by accomplishing those two things, he has made a lasting peace between us. He’s made up for all our sins. He’s paid for what we’ve done wrong so that there can now be peace between us, and not enmity.
And, of course, the really amazing thing, the really amazing thing, is that it’s God who does this. Think of a husband who has offended his wife. He’s said something hurtful. Or he’s done something hurtful. And she’s upset and angry. And this thing which he has done stands between them. And that’s the way it will stay unless what? Unless he does something to make it up to his wife. He has to do something, because he’s the one who has done wrong; and therefore he’s the one who has to make it up to her.
But listen to this verse from 2 Corinthians 5. Paul wrote: ‘God was reconciling the world to himself through Christ….’ Do you see? God is the one who has been offended by what we have done. God is the one who we have angered by our sins. We’re the guilty ones who have done wrong. And so, we’re the ones who ought to do something to make up to him for our sins. We’re the ones who ought to make the first move. But what could we offer to God to pay for our sins? There’s nothing we could give to make up to him for all that we’ve done wrong. But the good news is that God is the one who acted in Christ Jesus to make peace between us. He’s the one who did what was necessary so that we can be reconciled. He’s the one who has made a lasting peace between us by his Son. There was nothing we could give to God to make up for what we have done wrong, because what could we give him for a lifetime of sin? And so, he gave up his Son to death on the cross to remove our sin and to satisfy his justice and to make peace between us forever.
The Lord’s death was a sacrifice to remove our sins from us. And his death was a sacrifice to turn away God’s wrath from us. And his death is the means by which we’re reconciled. And fourthly, by his death he sets us free.
In the ancient world, slaves could buy their freedom by paying a ransom price. If they saved up enough money, they could pay a price and go free. Prisoners of war could be released if a ransom price was paid. The two sides would agree what the ransom price should be; and if the price was paid, the prisoners were set free. But more more importantly, in Old Testament times someone who was condemned to die as a punishment for some crime could pay a ransom price and be set free from condemnation. Instead of being put to death, the offender could pay a penalty and be allowed to live. And, of course, we’re familiar with something similar today when someone may be offered the choice between serving a prison sentence or else paying a penalty for some offense they’ve committed. They’re either locked up or they can pay the price to keep their freedom.
Well, the wages of sin is death, says Paul in Romans 6. That’s what we deserve for our sins. But the Lord Jesus announced that he had come into the world to give his life as a ransom for many. The wages of sin is death; and so, the Lord Jesus gave up his life and he died on the cross to pay the ransom price so that all who trust in him are freed from the penalty for sin, which is death, and they’re able to live with God in perfect peace and rest for ever and ever. Without Christ, we’re condemned to die: to die and to suffer eternal punishment away from the presence of God. But whoever trusts in the Saviour is delivered: set free from the death to live with God for ever.
The Lord’s death was a sacrifice to remove our sins from us. And his death was a sacrifice to turn away God’s wrath from us. And his death is the means by which we’re reconciled. And by his death he sets us free. Finally this evening, by his death he has defeated Satan.
Go back to the Garden of Eden: Satan, the Devil, was the one who tempted Eve to disobey the Lord. And as a result, the Lord announced that one of Eve’s descendants — and he was talking about the Lord Jesus — one of Eve’s descendants would crush the serpent’s, or the Devil’s, head. Well, in due course, when the time was right, the Lord Jesus was born into the world. And the Devil’s demons were frightened of him, because they knew he had come to destroy them. And John, in his first letter, tells us that the reason the Son of God appeared on the earth was in order to destroy the works of the Devil.
But, of course, when the Lord was crucified, it seemed as if the Devil had won. He had tempted Judas to betray the Lord Jesus; and the Lord Jesus had been taken away and crucified. And so, when the Lord’s dead body was taken from the cross and laid in the tomb, it must have seemed as if Satan had won and the Lord Jesus had been destroyed.
However, three days later, the Lord Jesus was raised from the tomb. And afterwards, he was exalted to the highest place in heaven, where he rules over all things, and from where he is building his church on the earth. And what does he say? ‘The gates of hell will not prevail.’ In other words, the stronghold of Satan cannot stand against the Lord Jesus, and its gates will fall and all of God’s people — who were once enslaved by Satan to do his will — are being set free through the preaching of the good news and they’re being brought into the Lord’s kingdom of grace. All authority in heaven and earth has been given to the Lord Jesus Christ; and Satan and all his demons with all their wicked schemes cannot resist him, because the Lord Jesus Christ is the Great Victor, who has already crushed the Devil’s head; and one day, he will come back to earth to destroy the Devil completely.
The Lord’s death was a sacrifice to remove our sins from us. His death was a sacrifice to turn away God’s wrath from us. His death is the means by which we’re reconciled. By his death he sets us free from death and condemnation; and by his death and resurrection he has defeated Satan. And so we see why we ought to trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. We’re born into this world as guilty sinners and we sin against the Lord continually and our conscience accuses us so that we know, deep down inside, that we are not right. But whoever trusts in Christ can rejoice because their sin and guilt have been taken away.
Because we’re guilty sinners who do wrong, we’re justly liable to God’s wrath and curse in this life and in the next. But whoever trusts in Christ can rejoice because he bore the punishment we deserve to satisfy God’s justice and to turn away his wrath.
Our sin separates us from God and comes between us so that there is enmity between us. But whoever trusts in Christ can rejoice because he has reconciled us to God by making peace for us through his blood.
The wages of sin is death and therefore we all deserve to die as the punishment for our sin and to be eternally condemned. But whoever trusts in Christ can rejoice because he has set us free from condemnation and death.
And the whole world is under the power of the Devil. But whoever trusts in Christ can rejoice because Satan, the enemy of our souls, has been defeated and he can never, ever hurt us.
And so, this is why the the Son of God died. And this is why we all need to believe in him, because he alone is the Saviour of the world.