The crucifixion of Jesus was a historical event in which the world expressed its hatred of God and its hostility toward Him. It was the ultimate symbol not only of the evil of sin but also of the greed of the human heart. Taking the life of the Lord of Glory was the world’s ultimate “I want.”
Yet the cross stands at the heart of the gospel not because of what it tells us of sin, but because of what it tells us about the grace of God—mercy’s providing a remedy for sin, and love’s ensuring the effectiveness of that remedy. The cross is good news not because of what we took away from God, but because of what God has given us.
The Nature of the Gift
The cross was the giving of God the Son by God the Father for the salvation of the world. That is the distinction introduced in John 3:16—the God who loved the world is the God who gave, and the One who was given was “his only Son.”
Yet, John introduces his gospel account to us with the assertion that the Son, while distinguished from the Father, is not distinguished from God. Rather, He is identified with God. To say that the Father gave His Son for us is to talk about one person’s giving another; but it is also to assert that in an ultimate sense, God gave His Son. It is with “his own blood” that God redeemed the church (Acts 20:28).
That fact alone ought to set the cross in the clearest relief. At Calvary, the world stood before God and said, “We hate you this much!” And at Calvary, God stood before the world and said, “I love you this much!”
The Planning of the Gift
The cross was no accident. It was planned by God before the world began. When God introduced His champion, “the seed of the woman” (Gen. 3:15), as the One who would be victorious over sin and Satan, this was no plan B. This was the first intimation in history that, behind history, there was a purpose of salvation already decreed in which the Son of God would be given as the Savior of sinners.
The first proclamation of the promise in Genesis 3:15 sets the cross in a threefold context: first, the gift of a Savior was necessary because of the violation of the covenant of works between God and man; second, the gift was prepared in an intra-Trinitarian covenant of redemption; and third, the gift would be given through a covenant of grace administered in history.
For this reason, throughout the Old Testament, the already-formulated-but-not-yet-realized gift of a Savior is indicated in various ways and at different times. “God will provide a lamb,” Abraham says in Genesis 22:8. “The virgin shall conceive and bear a son,” the prophet says in Isaiah 7:14. “I will set over them one shepherd, my servant David,” God says in Ezekiel 34:23, promising the coming of the royal shepherd who would lay down His life for the sheep.
The Giving of the Gift
And in due time, Jesus came. But the New Testament is very careful to highlight the givenness of His coming. “When the fullness of time had come,” Paul writes in Galatians 4:4, “God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law.” We had been expelled from Paradise; so God sent His Son out of Paradise and into the far country. When Isaiah declared that “to us a child is born, to us a son is given” (Isa. 9:6), the final fulfillment of his words arrived when the Son of God became incarnate as one of us.
And ultimately, that Son was given in death, the Father not sparing Him but giving Him up for us all (Rom. 8:32). It was the most costly of all gifts: God “became poor, so that [we] by his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9). God, in the weakness of human flesh, achieved for us what we could not do in our own strength (1 Cor. 1:25). The cross was the ultimate gift of love.
The Purpose of the Gift
Had John told us that God so loved His Son that He gave Him the world, it would cause us no surprise. The surprise comes in the opposite direction: God gave His Son because He so loved the world. And the reason He gave was so that the world might be saved through receiving the gift. How wonderfully wise. How wonderfully simple. Yet how wonderfully difficult for the hard heart of man to thank God for what Paul calls “his inexpressible gift” (2 Cor. 9:15).