Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.
The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.”
The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar and said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.”
There was a written notice above him, which read: this is the king of the Jews. –Luke 23:32-38
Has anyone ever asked you what you want to be when you grow up? Maybe you want to be a teacher, or an airline pilot, or a doctor or an astronaut. Maybe, if you’re really ambitious, you want to be a princess or a unicorn.
Well, a lot of people end up doing something when they grow up that’s entirely different than what they had planned when they were a kid. But some people end up doing exactly what they always wanted to do. And the reason that those kids who wanted to be astronauts or teachers grow up to be astronauts or teachers isn’t just because they were lucky; no, it’s because they planned and worked hard to make it happen. The little boy who grew up to be an astronaut didn’t just sit around waiting for NASA to call him; he went to space camp and later went to college and joined the air force or whatever it is you do to become an astronaut. He had a plan and he made it happen.
Jesus had a plan, too. Even before he was born, even before the world had been made, he had this plan: he knew exactly what he wanted to do when he grew up. But his plan wasn’t something fun like being an astronaut. His plan was to die on the cross.
“Why would he plan that?” you might think. Wouldn’t it make more sense to do the exact opposite: to plan how to not die? After all, I don’t sit at home dreaming up gruesome ways I hope I die.
But this was Jesus’ plan all along. Because his plan was so much bigger than just himself. The cross was planned to do something amazing, something only God could do: to rescue sinners and punish their sin at the same time.
You see, God loves sinners passionately; he loves you and me more than we could ever even dream. Even though we disobey him and try to live without him and rob his glory and ignore his rule, he still loves us and still wants us in his family. He still invites us to come into his kingdom party.
But at the same time, God is holy, which means that he refuses to tolerate sin, and sinners cannot even come near him. He is a good judge, and good judges are tough on crime. He won’t just sweep sin under the rug, wink at our badness, and let things go. If he did that, he wouldn’t be a good judge. In fact, he wouldn’t be God.
So how can God rescue the sinners that he loves while still being tough on crime and punishing sin? By sending his Son to take the place of sinners, to take their punishment so that they can go free. It would be like if you were guilty of murder and were about to be thrown in jail, but the father of the person you killed stepped forward and said, “I’ll go to jail for you.” That’s how crazy God’s love for you is. Jesus stepped forward to take your punishment so that you could go free. And he did it simply because he loves you.
And so this was the plan all along. Everything that we’ve seen Jesus doing and saying has all been leading to this moment, when the nails go through his hands. This is what everything has been about. Think about it: Jesus touching the untouchable leper because he loves those that no one else does; Jesus forgiving the paralyzed man; Jesus inviting himself over to Zacchaeus’s house; Jesus telling stories about God rejoicing over sinners; Jesus coming not as a king but as a lowly baby to lowly people. All these stories are just pictures of the rescue mission, different ways we see Jesus loving the last people you’d expect him to. Every miracle Jesus did, every story Jesus told, every person Jesus helped, were all just steps along the road to the cross, to show us Jesus’ sacrificial love and humility and grace and kindness, so that when we come to the cross we’d see that this is the greatest rescue of them all. Because this is where Jesus was going all along: to rescue you.