By Jon Anderson
Having kids is a great way to be forced to think about things that we might not normally consider, and to see the world from a bit of a different angle. I was driving along the other day, minding my own business when my oldest son asked me “Dad, what would the world be like if Jesus had not died on the cross?” I let him flounder with his own speculations for a little while; partly to see where he would go with it and partly buying time to gather my own thoughts and try to formulate an answer. He flexed and stretched his 9-year-old-mind wondering if we would still worship God, if there would be any way to get to heaven and how short the Bible would be with no New Testament and no prophesies about Jesus. My mind went to the fall and Genesis 3:15, wondering if man would ever have lived to see a second generation or life outside the Garden of Eden. And then it donned on me: if Jesus had not died on the cross, our world would be more than just different… it would be non-existent.
Even as Christians, we tend to think of our world and of humanity as almost self-existent entities. We think of sin as something that broke into our world as an unwelcome and unforeseen intruder, and of Christ and the cross as God’s plan to rescue a project that was spiralling out of a control and away from what He intended. Because we are finite and limited creatures, this is how our lives and plans tend to play out, and so the world makes sense to us through that grid. And along those lines, it makes sense to ask “what if something were different? What if there had been no sin? What if there had been no cross?”
But God is not like us. He is not limited in His knowledge and foresight like we are. And He is not limited in His ability to carry out His plans perfectly like we are. As a result, our world is a much more unified and seamless existence than we naturally consider it to be. And right at the heart of that unified plan that is our world, right at the core of its meaning and purpose, is the cross of Jesus Christ. So much so that I think we can say with confidence that without a cross, there would have been no creation.
We could approach this looking at God’s absolute sovereignty from verses like Isaiah 46:9-10 where God essentially hangs His own divinity on this attribute saying “for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose.’” But I want to stay close to the issue at hand, the cross of Christ specifically. Let’s go back to what got me on this train of thought in the first place, Genesis 3. Adam and Eve had rebelled against God and plunged all of humanity under the curse of sin and death. At this early moment in history, God would have been absolutely justified in simply destroying the world and scrapping the project altogether. In fact, He would have been obligated by His own unchangeable justice to do so, were there not a plan in place whereby the penalty of sin could be paid. Humanity, at that moment, deserved no good thing and the fact that Adam and Eve were allowed to breath another breath is evidence that the work of the Cross was already in play. And it shows up in Genesis 3:15 where the Lord gives a promise to Adam and Eve by way of a curse on the serpent; a promise that is the acorn which holds all the DNA and will one day grow into the fullness of the gospel. The Lord says “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” Sin and Satan would one day be fully conquered and destroyed by one who would come as the son of the Woman, one who would be bruised by sin and Satan, but would have ultimate victory over them. That plan shows up as integral for the continuation of the world, right from the beginning.
Humanity could not have continued into even it’s second generation without the cross. But the plan of the cross reaches back to even before Adam’s sin and will resonate long past the existence of our world. Revelation 13:8 looks forward to the last days of the great tribulation. And it tells of the vast allegiance that the world will have to the Antichrist saying “and all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain.” Look at what is said about Christ and the cross and those whom He will save. This plan of salvation was fully formed and as good as done, names written in the book and the Jesus as ‘the Lamb who was slain,” all “before the foundation of the World”. That goes back before Genesis 3:15. That goes back before Genesis 1:1! The salvation of individuals by the cross of Christ was God’s plan from before He even began the work of creation. It is no wonder that when Jesus Himself in His humanness pleads with God saying “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me” the answer is clearly “it is not possible. You must face the cross.” The cross is an unalterable part of the seamless fabric of creation.
But it’s more than even just that. It’s not just an indispensable piece of creation, but the cross is at the very core of the purpose of creation. God’s ultimate goal in all that He does is the display of His glory. That’s why He created the world (Psalm 19:1) and that’s why He saves sinners (Ephesians 1:4-6). He does all things so that it will be evident that “From him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen” (Romans 11:36). God’s highest Goal, His ultimate goal, is the display of His glory. And the cross is the most complex, full and magnificent display of the many facets of the glory of God. Look at Romans 3:23-26
for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
Verse 23-25a shows that salvation is by the grace of God in His undeserved kindness to us. Jesus is our propitiation to be freely received by nothing but faith alone. And Verse 25b-26 outlines how all of this was to display, or glorify, the righteousness and justice of God in dealing with sin. The death of Christ on the cross is the apex of the display of God’s glory, the highpoint of everything from creation to second coming and into eternity.
If there was no Jesus dying on the cross, there would be no world. The importance and centrality of Jesus’ substitutionary death on the cross simply cannot be overstated.