HERE IS ONE OFTEN ASKED QUESTION ABOUT THE CROSS. How can the suffering of one man on the cross for six hours atone for the sins of billions of sinners past, present, and future, and what is the most root sin atoned for?
Infinity And Beyond
The answer rides on a deep-dive into the word “infinite.” The suffering of the cross, although finite in duration, was infinite in its atoning power. Why? Because the Atoner was God. That means he was infinite in dignity and purity. God’s greatness and majesty are infinite. It has no beginning or end. Therefore, the depth of His condescension or humiliation in his descent to become man was infinite. The distance between something finite (man) and something infinite (God) is an infinite distance. Therefore, Christ’s infinite condescension makes the atonement infinitely valuable.
This matters because the severity of any sin is a function of the value of the person sinned against. If I crush a worm, it is little evil. The worm has no intrinsic value. But if I murder a human, the evil is great because God made the human in his image and likeness. However, sin against God is infinitely serious because God is infinite in dignity, majesty, and value. Therefore, Christ’s atoning work needs to be infinite to right the scales of divine justice.
The King of the Jews
The Jews and Romans crucified Jesus for the crime of self-exultation. His gospel was the “gospel of the kingdom. He claimed to be the “King of the Jews.” “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand,” he proclaimed. In the Roman world, this was a great crime. Caesar would have no competitors. But in Christ’s case, the claim was true. He wasn’t just King of the Jews. He was King of the Universe!
It was the custom to nail the crime for which someone was executed on a placard over the cross. It might be murder, insurrection, theft, larceny, etc. In Jesus’ case, the placard just read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” The letters “INRI” often represent this. This was cosmic irony. Why? Because by God’s sovereign decree the Romans inadvertently crucified Jesus Christ for the sin of self-exaltation, for claiming to be a king. But something profound was happening behind the scenes. God was using his death to atone for our sin of self-exaltation. He was our Substitute. We should have been on the cross. Jesus took our place. Why?
Christ submitted to crucifixion for something he didn’t do. He submitted to crucifixion for claiming to be the King of Jews—when he in fact was. He took our place on the cross. He atoned for our sin of claiming to be something that we are not—kings of our own lives—wanting to “be like God.”
The Great Sin
This lesson makes one thing crystal clear. Adam’s great sin was arrogance or pride. The sin of Adam was self-exaltation. God made him in his image and likeness, but this wasn’t enough. He wanted to displace God. He didn’t want God telling him what to do. He wanted to be god of his own life. In righteous judgment, God gave him up to what he wanted to be. This is the heart and soul of Original Sin. We are all Sons of Adam, and we inherit his sin of self-exaltation at conception. We are born with it. Pride saturates us.
In the Garden, the Serpent tempted Eve with these words, “you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” That was the temptation—to exalt themselves—to be something the primal pair were not—God. Therefore, Jesus, the Second Adam, came to take the death penalty we deserved for this sin. He actually died to atone for this sin.
And here also is the love of God. Christ, the only fully humble man that ever lived, was crucified for our sin of pride. He was crucified for claiming to be something he wasn’t—but actually was—the king of the Jews. Remember this the next time you’re tempted to self-pity.
How should we respond? First, we should confess our rampant pride. It is the ultimate evil. God wants us to hate it as he does. According to the prophet Isaiah, it will be the fundamental issue on the Last Day.
“The haughty looks of man shall be brought low, and the lofty pride of man shall be humbled, and the Lord alone will be exalted in that Day.”Isaiah 2:11
And here also is the Good News. Jesus died to atone for this sin, and his atonement was infinitely efficacious in scope. He satisfied God’s need to judge this sin, and Believers go free.
Second, this should motivate us to bow in worship. We serve an infinitely good God. It is no exaggeration to proclaim with the apostle John that “God is love.” The cross convinces us that his love, his humility, and his goodness are off the charts.