When one considers the biblical narrative we see that the Old Testament shows us the that a Saviour is needed. The law points both to the need of a saviour and through the sacrificial system the atoning death of Christ is foreshadowed. We can think also of prophetic passages like Isaiah 53. The New testament shows us that the Saviour has come to save his people from their sins, we see in Jesus Christ the fulfillment of all the prophecies and the desires of people to be reconciled with God. In the atoning death of Christ we find hope,we know our own guilt and we instinctively know that we are far from God. In the cross we see atonement achieved.
There are many discussions about the nature of the atonement but surely we need to acknowledge that some of the differences in theology have come about because of the riches of the biblical picture. sometimes even in our own communication we unwittingly stress one aspect of the atonement, I was aware of doing this as I preached my Good Friday sermon from John 19, speaking about Jesus cry of victory from the cross, when he says “it is finished” the emphasis was on the Christus Victor model of the atonement, yes substitution was also present but it was not the main emphasis. So often we try to reduce the riches of the atoning death of Christ to a neat formula but this will not work.
Although various models of the atonement have been emphasized at different points of Church history we need to see the riches of God’s revelation for what they are. The atoning death of Christ does not fit nicely into any neat category it is too great for that. What is of paramount importance is that we see that in the cross of Christ we have the greatest demonstration of God’s love to fallen humankind. In the atonement we find that Christ has gained the victory over all evil powers, at the same time he is the substitute for sinners dying in their place and taking their sin upon himself. With this we will realize afresh that salvation is all of grace, we cannot do anything to merit salvation, all we can do is to come to the cross with the empty hands of faith and receive an all sufficient Saviour there. the old hymn writer said “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness”.
This being true we need to emphasize that we need to keep the cross central to all our thinking because without Christ crucified we would still be in our sins.
This posting has only been able to sketch some of the riches of what Christ achieved upon the Cross, if you want to consider this subject in more depth read John Stott’s great book “The Cross of Christ”