In Old Testament times, people atoned for sin through repeated animal sacrifices. But that was a temporary measure, since the blood of bulls and goats covered sin without removing it. The offering of animals, however, pointed to the ultimate solution: Jesus’ shed blood on the cross—the perfect once-for-all sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins.
Calvary wasn’t some improvised fix to correct the original system; Jesus giving up His life for us had been the plan all along (Matt. 20:28). Scripture reveals that God was never fully satisfied with burnt offerings, no matter how much they cost the person seeking forgiveness. To eradicate sin, absolute perfection had to be offered. That’s why Jesus came (Phil. 2:7-8)—and why the cross is a reminder of the greatest sacrifice love has ever made.
To eradicate sin, absolute perfection had to be offered. That’s why Jesus came.
The cross is also an example Christ set for us. When James exhorted believers to “consider it all joy” as difficulties arise (James 1:2), he likely remembered how the Lord “for the joy set before Him endured the cross. Jesus said that to be His follower, one “must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For … whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it” (Luke 9:23-24). Billy Graham explained, “It was the same as saying, ‘Come and bring your electric chair with you. Take up the gas chamber and follow Me.’ He did not have a beautiful gold cross in mind—the cross on a church steeple or on the front of your Bible. Jesus had in mind a place of execution.”
God doesn’t demand our own blood to pay for atonement but wants us to give our life in a different way—as a living sacrifice offered up in service for His kingdom. The cross of Christ is more than the wood His body was nailed to 2,000 years ago. It’s more than a symbol, on churches or jewelry, of what Jesus did for us. The cross we carry must be a consciousness of the debt we owe God and the willingness to live—or die—for Him.