Calvary: Earth's greatest tragedy! Heaven's greatest triumph! --Adrian Rogers
It seems to me that there has been an increase in the highlighting of Christ’s physical suffering at Calvary. This is not a bad thing—after all, the Gospel writers devoted attention to the physical nature of what happened. For both the original audience and us, we are reminded that the Crucifixion is a historical event and that a real Jesus died on the Cross, rose from the dead, and ascended to the Heaven (Luke 22-24; Acts 1).
I fear, however, that in speaking so much of the physical aspect of what transpired on that Hill so long ago we lose sight of the spiritual truths at play. That’s what I want to focus on: 1) What happened at Calvary? 2) Why it still has bearing on our lives today.
In the interest of transparency, I’ve given a great deal of thought this year to what happened at Calvary and why it’s important today. As I have pondered these things, I am amazed that a tragedy-triumph can have so much bearing on us all these years removed—and that’s part of the beauty.
So, what happened at Calvary? In broad-brush strokes, Judgement, Forgiveness, and Redemption.
First, let’s define sin. Sin is anything we think, say, or do that displeases God and breaks his rules. We know that everyone has sinned (Rom. 3.23) and that our sin demands punishment (Rom. 6.23).
We can be sure of this: “Our sin will be pardoned in Christ of punished in hell—but it will not be overlooked” (Adrian Rogers). God cannot overlook sin and remain faithful to who he is. Afterall, he does not change (Mal. 3.6). Our sin demands punishment, and his wrath will be poured on sin and sinners. The question though is who is going to bear that wrath? You or Jesus? Many have written and spoken on God’s wrath and while many things can be said, there is one thing for sure: No man—except the God-Man—can adequately bear that wrath.
It is on the Cross that a divinely scandalous exchange took place. The one who knew no sin, because sin for us so that we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5.21).
God himself was crucified by the hands of sinners in order to save any who would come to him (Rev. 22.17). God poured out his judgement squarely on the shoulders of Jesus and in doing so, our sin was charged to him and covered permanently. Every loose word, sexual perversion, sinful thought, abuse, drunken night—every sin, both remembered and forgotten by man—was placed solely upon the shoulders of Jesus.
Once and for all, our sin was dealt a final and fatal blow. Friend, a very real judgment happened at Calvary. But the story does not end there.
In the perfect bearing of judgment, God is now able to extend forgiveness because our sin debt was paid in full by the perfect lamb (1 Pt. 1.19). In a word: propitiation—the satisfaction of God’s wrath. Since judgment has been taken care of, forgiveness is now extended.
Forgiveness pretend that we have never sinned. Rather, forgiveness assumes the debt. In the last year or so, I forgave a $100 debt that a friend owed me. How much did forgiving the debt cost? $100. I know that there was debt—but I choose not to remember it.*
Have you been forgiven of your sin? If you’ve surrendered to the Lord Jesus and confessed your sin to him, then you are (For more on this, I recommend “Gentle and Lowly” by Ortlund and this article by him)
This aspect is essential. What good is judgment and forgiveness if we are left exactly as we were before we were saved by Christ? We must be redeemed. We must be bought back from the Kingdom of Darkness (Col. 1.13)
Read these words carefully from Ephesians 1.7-10:
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace (8) that he richly poured out on us with all wisdom and understanding. (9) He made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he purposed in Christ (10) as a plan for the right time—to bring everything together in Christ, both things in heaven and things on earth.
God, in his graciousness, has redeemed us. He bought us back from sin’s enslavement and has placed us squarely in his kingdom for his glory. Our lives are no longer ours—it is God’s (1 Corinthians 6.19-20).
Why does Calvary still have bearing today?
Well, it has bearing because Christ identified with us and ushered in a reality of finality with the Cross.
First, let’s talk about identification, that is, our union with Christ. Identification is essential to understanding what happened at Calvary. Had Christ not identified with us (Phil. 2.5-11), then he would not and could not have been our sacrifice. He stood in your place and my place. It’s not that we weren’t guilty! We were guilty! Rather, he became our substitute and took our punishment upon himself as his own. And in taking our place, we were also crucified with him in this divine exchange (Gal. 2.20) and now we live in his power and presence.
Christ paid the price once and for all (1 Pt. 3.18) and therefore, forgiveness and redemption remain permanent (Ps. 103; Eph. 1.3-14). Thus, the reality of finality. Since Jesus died in our place, there is no need for any more sacrifices—he was the final one (1 Cor. 5.7b).
A great deal happened at Calvary—both in the physical and spiritual realms. However, what happened in the spiritual realm is what makes this tragedy-triumph so glorious. Yes, our Lord died a death that we caused. But in the greatest plot twist in history, he didn’t stay dead. He rose and he is alive!
On the Journey,
*Updated on April 15, 2022 for grammar and punctuation.