The Bible doesn’t leave us guessing as to why Jesus dies on a cross. Even as he is dying, Jesus says several things that help us know what is going on. Here’s two of them.
Two criminals are being crucified with Jesus. They have lived violently and selfishly. But one of them has second thoughts about the life he has lived. His restless life has taken peace from many others. Probably spilled their blood. But now, he asks to be ‘remembered’ when Jesus receives his kingdom (Luke 23:38-43).
He sees that Jesus is in charge—even from his cross. He admits he deserves what he’s getting. And he asks for a place in the kingdom Jesus is making.
This man has come a long way in a short time. Does he recall that Jesus has given help to many others? Has he noticed his unusual composure? And especially, what does he think about Jesus’ asking his Father to forgive his torturers?
Whatever has changed this man, he asks to be ‘remembered’, a word used by God’s covenant people when they look for mercy. And his request is granted, in the most luxurious of terms: ‘Today, you will be with me in Paradise’.
This man, who has spilled the blood of others, loses his arrogance and finds peace with God.
But there is no peace for Christ. Before long, he is asking God why he has been forsaken. He is making peace for us, but it is by the blood of his cross.
Here’s how Paul explains this—first in his letter to the Colossians (1:19-22).
First, we don’t like God and avoid the things he wants us to do. We do the opposite actually. Perhaps not in the brazen way of the repenting criminal, but decidedly, and dangerously.
And then, we tend to ‘spill blood’. We ‘do evil deeds’.
Here’s a suggestion about what might be going on. We think God doesn’t matter. Or we think he’s against us. So, the world is all we’ve got, and our demands on what it can give keep increasing. We get restless, demanding, agitated, intolerant, bitter, and, if nothing stops it, violent.
Not everyone gets to the end of this sequence—fortunately. But the seeds of discontent are deep. They make us complain, take sides, look for someone to blame—and punish. They make us ‘spill blood’. It can happen in friendships, communities, or nations.
God goes to the heart of the issue. He knows we can’t live with the guilt of leaving him out of our thinking. He knows we’ll never find true peace (Isa. 48:22).
And God sees the weariness, and the uselessness of it all and sends his Son to make peace—by his blood.
God nails his complaint about us to the cross where Jesus is dying (Col. 2:13). This is what we need to see and embrace. Will we stand aloof and insist we are OK? Or will we receive God’s gracious gift?
‘Blood’ is a reference to Israel’s worship. They were taught to put their hands on a lamb’s head, confess their sins, and then sacrifice the lamb. This didn’t pay for their sins, but it showed what God had in mind. His Son is on the cross as ‘the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29).
If we receive this as God’s way of dealing with our rebellion, we are washed clean. He won’t count our sins against us (2 Cor. 5:19-21). We are ready to share in God’s company. This is peace!
Until now, we’ve been fighting. But, what about the crucified Lord telling us we can be with him in Paradise? Does this not melt our resistance? Does this not take the puff out of our fighting?
God now calls us righteous. And this means being at peace with God (Rom. 5:1). If God does this reconciling while we are still fighting him, we can be sure there’s no anger left in God towards us, now that we are reconciled to him. We now take pleasure in God. This is where we want to be (Rom. 5:9-11).
Let’s return to the story of Jesus. When he rises from the dead, his first words to the disciples are, ‘Peace be with you’ (John 20:19, 21, 26). He’d promised to give them his peace (John 14:27) and now he’s giving it.
He’s picked up the arguments these disciples have had with each other, worn their pride, borne their failures, and taken them to his cross. He’s made peace by the blood of his cross. So now, their need to call down fire from heaven and their need to take up a sword against the soldiers who arrest Jesus is gone. And their need to compete with each other is gone too.
God has not only made peace by the blood of the cross, he’s provided a peace we can live in with others. We all come to God in the same way so the dividing walls we erect between ourselves and others can come down (Eph. 2:13-18). This peace of Christ needs to rule everything we are (Col 3:15).
Our ‘peacemaking’ often leads to more spilling of blood. The peace God makes through Christ heals our inner wounds. It brings us to God. And it returns us to each other.