Operation Infinite Justice: Why the Cross of Christ Is Necessary
If you’re like most Americans, your interest in America’s fight against terrorism has been renewed by the death of Osama Bin Laden. Like most Americans, you’re probably hoping that eventually all terrorist networks and their leaders will be brought to justice. You may recall it was that desire for justice that prompted the Bush administration initially to suggest the phrase “Operation Infinite Justice” as a description for America’s war against terrorism. Especially catchy is the term, “infinite.” That term suggests a strong confidence that justice will fully and finally be carried out. It suggests that not one “evil-doer,” as President Bush referred to them, would escape.
But you and I know that only God Himself can fully and finally exact justice against sin and evil. Therefore, it was wise of President Bush to change the name to “Operation Enduring Freedom” (more modest). When we think of infinite justice, we don’t think of war in Afghanistan or the war in Iraq. We don’t think of the killing Sadam Hussein or Osama Bin Laden. We think of the Day of Judgment and the Lake of Fire. And yet, today I’d like to remind us that we don’t have to look off into the future to see a display of infinite justice. Actually, infinite justice was displayed 2,000 years ago just outside the city of Jerusalem.
Why Did God Become Man?
In the eleventh century, a Christian theologian named Anselm wrote a theological treatise entitled Cur Deus Homo? (“Why Did God Become a Man?”). In the centuries preceding Anselm, the Church had already settled the question of Christ’s identity. Her conclusion was that the Lord Jesus Christ was both fully God and fully man. Anselm wholeheartedly embraced this doctrine. But he wanted to probe deeper. He wanted to know why the pre-incarnate Son of God became a man.
As Anselm sought to answer that question, he concluded that there was an intimate connection between Christ’s incarnation and His redemptive work upon the cross. In other words, Anselm concluded that the Son of God took upon Himself true humanity in order that he might give his life as a sacrifice for sins. As Jesus Himself had said, “The Son of Man [came] to give His life a ransom for many” (Mk. 10:45). Thus, God became man in order to die on the cross. But that’s not where Anselm stopped. He probed deeper into the relationship between Christ’s incarnation and the atonement. He asked “Was it necessary for the Son of God to die on the cross? And if it was necessary, why?”
Those are weighty questions! Have you ever asked yourself those questions? To pose the question from another angle: was there another way that God could have saved sinners? Could there have been a totally different plan of salvation without a cross? What Christianity would be like without the cross? What if all the symbols of the cross were removed from all the churches, and Bibles, and Christian art? What if we removed from our Bibles all the words that related to the cross, like sacrifice and atonement and Lamb of God and crucifixion? Would there even be Christianity without the cross?
The Necessity of the Cross
After carefully studying the Scriptures, Anselm concluded the answer was, ‘No!’ There could be no Christianity without the cross. Once God decided to save sinners, He had to save them by sacrificing His Son on the cross. Therefore, Jesus became a man and died upon the cross because that was the only way that sinners could be saved. Hebrews chapter two was one of the passages that led Anselm to that conclusion. In verse 10, we read, “For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things, and through whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to perfect the author of their salvation through sufferings.” The key word is the one translated “fitting.” It means “appropriate” or “proper.” It was appropriate for God to make Christ as the author of our salvation perfect (complete) through suffering (the suffering of the cross).
The word here doesn’t always have to mean necessity. But sometimes it does. For example, when Jesus commanded John the Baptist to baptize Him in the Jordan, He explained, “Permit it at this time; for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Jesus isn’t commanding John to baptize Him simply because it’s a nice or convenient or helpful thing to do. Rather Christ’s baptism is perfectly appropriate because the fulfillment of all righteousness depends upon it. So when the writer to the Hebrews tells us that it was appropriate for Christ to become the author of our salvation through suffering, he’s telling us the one and only appropriate way that God could save sinners.
If there’s any doubt in our mind, verse 17 clears it up: “Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.” The little phrase “He had to” translates a Greek word that often refers to a legal necessity. John chapter nineteen confirms this meaning of legal necessity. At the trial of Jesus of Nazareth, Pilate cannot find anything in Christ worthy of death. So he brings Christ before the Jews to ask what they wanted to do with Him. They all shout, “Crucify Him, crucify Him!” Then Pilate responds, “But I find no fault in Him” (19:6). In other words, there is nothing in my Roman law book that would necessitate this man’s death.
Now notice how the Jews answer: “We have a law, and according to our law He ought to die, because He made Himself the Son of God” (19:7). The Jews believed that Jesus had violated their law—and to violate their law made his death a legal necessity! In the same manner, it was a legal necessity, once God decided to save sinners, that he send His Son in the likeness of human flesh to be a merciful and faithful high priest and to offer His own life as a propitiation for sin. Propitiation is an offering that pacifies an angry God and that satisfies His justice. That’s what Jesus had to do if sinners were ever to be saved.
With these passages of Scripture in view, we can see how the cross of Jesus Christ underscores and highlights the infinite justice of God. We tend to think of the cross mainly in terms of God’s love and His mercy and His grace. But according to the Bible, the cross is a display of God’s Infinite Justice.
A Warning to the Sinner
Some seem to think God’s love will move Him to overlook all human sin and ensure that everybody gets to heaven. But if God judged His beloved Son, why would He let the sinner slip into heaven without judging his sins? From heaven the Father looked down upon Calvary and His eyes fixed upon His only begotten Son—the same Son who always did those things that pleased His Father—the same Son who wholeheartedly loved His Father—the same Son whose heart was pure and innocent.
Yet, as the Father looked upon His Son, He saw the transgressions of many! And when the Father’s pure eyes looked upon that evil, even the love He had for His Son could not stop the reflex of His justice. Down came His wrath, crashing upon the head of His dear Son! Divine Justice must be satisfied. You say, “I don’t believe in justice.” No? Let someone steal your paycheck. Let someone burn your house down. Let someone brutally murder your spouse, or one of your children. As a being created in God’s image, you know in your heart of hearts that sin must be punished (Rom. 1:32). You know that the wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23). Therefore, your only hope is to satisfy the justice of God, not with your own blood, but rather with the precious blood of Jesus Christ. Apart from the cross of Jesus Christ there is no salvation!
An Encouragement for the Believer
The display of God’s infinite justice on the cross ought to be a great encouragement to the child of God. “How’s that?” you say. When Jesus died, He completely satisfied God’s justice. God is perfectly just. He doesn’t fudge. He does not shift according to whim. God’s justice is inflexible. And once sin has been judged—once the penalty has been paid—once satisfaction has been made, then “there is therefore now no more condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1). When Jesus was dying upon the cross, He cried out, “It is finished!” Now where there is forgiveness of these things, there is no longer any offering for sin (Heb. 10:18). Dear believer, it is finished! Hallelujah!