The Centrality of the Cross
If there is one theme that runs the entire course of scripture, binding everything together in a united whole, it is the fundamental truth of all reality that, what God does, he does for his own glory. All that God created, he created for his glory (Revelation 4:11, Isaiah 43:7); and all that God does with his creation, he does, ultimately, so that he may be glorified (Isaiah 46:9-13). Every rivulet of history is so planned out by the sovereign God of the universe that, when its course is ended, it will issue forth with all of creation in a mighty tide that testifies to nothing other than the glory of God. This is true of the final outcome of the wicked, who will glorify Godâ€™s wrath and justice (Proverbs 16:4; Romans 9:22); and especially of the final outcome of the people of Christ, who for all eternity will glorify the greatness of Godâ€™s faithfulness, love, mercy, and grace (Romans 9:23-24; Ephesians 1:3-6; 2:7).
Now, what is it for God to be glorified? It is certainly not as though we or the rest of creation are adding anything glorious to God. He is infinitely glorious in his person, and has been for all of eternity, before he had ever brought creation into existence with the word of his mouth. Creation added nothing to him, and derives everything from him. So if creation adds no glory to God, what does it mean that everything glorifies him? Simply this: that everything exists to display who he is. God, being essentially glorious by his very nature, is glorified when he is seen for who he is. Which means that all God created and all he has done in history is ultimately done to display himself. History is the grand display of the all-glorious God.
This unified purpose for history suggests a unified theme around which all of history is designed. What is the superlative way in which God might be displayed for who he is? Find the answer to that question, and you will discover the goal toward which all of history is striving together. Fortunately, the scriptures do not leave us ignorant of this unifying theme; it is nothing other than Godâ€™s mightiest act of all: the redemption of his people. All of history is redemptive history; because redemption is the greatest display of Godâ€™s essential nature that could have been formulated in the mind of God. Hence, matters related to the accomplishment of redemption are unexceptionally the great events of history and at the same time the great revelations of God. Consider the Old Testament redemptive accomplishment par excellence: the exodus from Egypt. This one mighty act displayed the power and glory of God in a superlative degree. All other gods were found out to be impotent imposters; all of creation was shown to be in the almighty hand of God, ready to do his bidding, no matter how impossible the task; Godâ€™s mercy, elective love, covenant faithfulness, and just wrath against sin, poured out on a spotless substitutionary sacrifice, were seen more clearly than ever before. And this great display of who God is was also the most pivotal event in the history of Godâ€™s people. Great events in history, in proportion as they are great, are also great displays of Godâ€™s nature.
What then is the pinnacle of all history, and the ultimate display of who God is? The central moment of all history, the greatest display of Godâ€™s eternal glory, indeed the very reason that God made the world and worked out all of history to bring things just to that point â€“ to the fullness of time, to the minutely and flawlessly prepared stage for the mightiest of all acts â€“ that central moment was the eternal Son of Godâ€™s taking on human flesh, accomplishing a perfect obedience, and offering himself up as a substitutionary sacrifice to accomplish eternal redemption for those whom the Father had given him. And this pivotal moment of all history was also the unparalleled display of Godâ€™s nature. God, who had been revealing himself in various ways in past ages, revealed himself fully and perfectly when he sent his Son into the world (Hebrews 1:1-3; John 1:18). The greatest display of Godâ€™s nature consists in Christâ€™s accomplishing redemption. And the pinnacle of Christâ€™s redemptive work, in fact the moment for which he came into the world (John 12:27), occurred nearly two thousand years ago on Good Friday. The cross is both the greatest event in all of history and the mightiest display of Godâ€™s nature. Let us pause on this Good Friday to reflect on some ways in which we can apprehend the nature of God by beholding the wonder of the cross.
First, the very essence of the Godhead, that God is one God eternally existing in three Persons, who are joyfully and eternally united in a holy fellowship, could never have been apprehended apart from this great work. Theologians like to distinguish between the ontological Trinity and the economical Trinity. The ontological Trinity refers to who God is in his essential being; the economical Trinity refers to how this essential nature works itself out in the mighty acts of God. No act of God in all of history could have been better designed to display the wonder of the ontological Trinity than the work of redemption. In this work, we see how the Father relates to the Son, planning out a mighty task for him alone to accomplish (John 10:18), delighting in his perfect obedience to that plan (Luke 3:22; John 10:17), and rejoicing to glorify him as the only Redeemer and Mediator between God and men (John 17:5; I Timothy 2:5), the unique and marvelous God-Man, the One who alone holds the keys to Death and Hell (Revelation 1:18), the Possessor of the only Name which is above all names (Philippians 2:9-11). We see how the Son delights to render perfect obedience to the Father, giving glory to him (John 4:34; 17:4; I Corinthians 15:25-28). We see how the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, and how his delight is to testify, not of himself, but of Christ (John 14:16-17,26; 15:26). The very nature of God is Trinitarian. And we could never have understood the ontological inter-Trinitarian relationship as we do now, if God had not displayed himself economically through redemption: the Father planning, the Son accomplishing, and the Spirit applying that blessing which contains in itself all blessings (cf. Ephesians 1:3-14).
Furthermore, the absoluteness of Godâ€™s justice, the uncompromisable purity of his holiness, the infinite weight of his wrath against sin, are all things which we never glimpse so emphatically as we do when we gaze at the Son of God suffering under the curse of God, bearing Godâ€™s wrath as he hangs upon a tree. How unflinching is Godâ€™s justice, how vast his hatred of all which is opposed to his holy nature that, because of sin, he was pleased to crush his only spotless Son (Isaiah 53:10), whom he loved with all the love of an infinite Being who is very love! Godâ€™s justice must be infinite; because to satisfy it, he required an infinite sacrifice, even Jesus Christ, infinite in his being, purity, and holiness. Godâ€™s wrath must be eternal; because to exhaust it took the death of One who is very Life, eternal and unchangeable in his Person. Oh how great is the display of God in his holiness, purity, love of right and hatred of wrong, faithfulness to carry out the demands of his immutable law â€“ how great is the display of who God is on the cross of Calvary!
But beyond the display of God in his justice and holy wrath, we see in the cross the unmatched display of God in his faithfulness, compassion, mercy and love. How infallible is Godâ€™s faithfulness to his sovereignly-entered covenant that, in order to fulfill its promised blessings, he did not even spare his own Son! No rebellion, depravity, or sinfulness was too great for God to overcome it, and bring the blessings of eternal life, peace, and righteousness to those whom he had called to be his. This is love, free, undeserved, sovereign in its origin and application, boundless and unfathomable! This is grace, unmerited, unearned, springing forth from no other place than the illimitable reserves of the bountiful nature of God! There is no love like the love of God. God is not just loving â€“ he is love itself (I John 4:8). And all acts and spectacles of love in all of history are but tainted reflections of the One from whose nature the very meaning of love is derived. If anyone should doubt this, let him but glimpse Christ hanging on the cross for our justification and put all foolish doubts to rest forevermore.
We were created with a purpose: to know God and enjoy eternal life in his presence. Knowing God for who he is is the essence of what it means to glorify him. Knowing God is also the essence of what it means to have eternal life, peace, joy, and purpose (John 17:3). And knowing God â€“ knowing him and hence glorifying him and securing our own unending delight â€“ is only possible by gazing long and hard at Calvary. Let us labor, by Godâ€™s grace, to do this not just today, but every day we live, now and throughout all eternity.