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What's Jesus Doing on the Cross

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  TEXT:  Matthew 27:15-25

TOPIC:   What’s Jesus Doing on the Cross?

Pastor Bobby Earls, First Baptist Church, Center Point, Alabama

April 5, 2009

(Message outline, title and substantial notes come from James MacDonald’s book, Downpour.)


            Someone has said that the cross of Jesus Christ is the magnet of the ages, for many are drawn to the cross while others are repelled.  The resurrection of Jesus Christ was that event that secured man’s salvation and verified Christ’s victory over death.  But it is the cross of Christ that shows us best the grace of God.  Everything that God wants us to know about Himself comes together in those crossbeams. 

            I’ve heard the story told about a man who had been sent up on one of Chicago’s highest downtown sky scrapers to clean the cross atop the building, high above the streets of that windy city.  From below the citizens of Chicago began to stop what they were doing and look up to see this man who was cleaning the cross. You see, from far below this man appeared to be hanging from the cross. 

            That cross had been there for years and years and no one paid any attention to the cross until someone, a man appeared to be hanging on the cross.

This morning I want you to see Jesus hanging on the cross.  Even more, I want you to understand just what Jesus was doing on the cross, dying on the cross.

Please stand and turn your bible to Matthew 27:15.  (Read Matthew 27:15-25)

15 Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to releasing to the multitude one prisoner whom they wished. 16 And at that time they had a notorious prisoner called Barabbas. 17 Therefore, when they had gathered together, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release to you? Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?” 18 For he knew that they had handed Him over because of envy.

19 While he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent to him, saying, “Have nothing to do with that just Man, for I have suffered many things today in a dream because of Him.”

20 But the chief priests and elders persuaded the multitudes that they should ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus. 21 The governor answered and said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release to you?”

They said, “Barabbas!”

22 Pilate said to them, “What then shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?”

They all said to him, “Let Him be crucified!”

23 Then the governor said, “Why, what evil has He done?”

But they cried out all the more, saying, “Let Him be crucified!”

24 When Pilate saw that he could not prevail at all, but rather that a tumult was rising, he took water and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, “I am innocent of the blood of this just Person. You see to it.”

25 And all the people answered and said, “His blood be on us and on our children.”

Matthew 27:15-25, NKJV

I.  WHAT’S JESUS DOING ON THE CROSS?  HE’S SUBSTITUTING.                 Matthew 27:20-21, 20 But the chief priests and elders persuaded the multitudes that they should ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus. 21  The governor answered and said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release to you?” They said, “Barabbas!”


            Jesus was crucified between two thieves.  The word thieves literally means “revolutionaries.”  The cross upon which our Lord Jesus Christ hung upon was  intended for Barabbas, the most notorious revolutionary of all.  So Jesus was very literally taking the place of Barabbas on the cross.  He was a substitute for Barabbas.  Jesus died in Barabbas’ place.

            You cannot understand the cross of Christ until you understand the concept of substitution.  Jesus died first for Barabbas then for every member of the human race who have ever lived.  That includes you and that includes me.

            Each of us as sinners deserves to die.  Like Barabbas we are guilty.  We are all revolutionaries against God.  The bible says, the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Romans 6:23


            That’s substitution.  Jesus took my place.  He took your place when He died on the cross.


2 Corinthians 5:21 tells us, For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.[1]

Romans 5:8 says, But God proves  His own love for us  in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us![2]

Not only is Jesus substituting on the cross, He is also scandalizing.  Look at Matthew 27:26.



Matthew 27:26-44, 26 Then he released Barabbas to them; and when he had scourged Jesus, he delivered Him to be crucified. 27 Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole garrison around Him. 28 And they stripped Him and put a scarlet robe on Him.

29 When they had twisted a crown of thorns, they put it on His head, and a reed in His right hand. And they bowed the knee before Him and mocked Him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” 30 Then they spat on Him, and took the reed and struck Him on the head. 31 And when they had mocked Him, they took the robe off Him, put His own clothes on Him, and led Him away to be crucified.

32 Now as they came out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name. Him they compelled to bear His cross. 33 And when they had come to a place called Golgotha, that is to say, Place of a Skull, 34 they gave Him sour wine mingled with gall to drink. But when He had tasted it, He would not drink.

35 Then they crucified Him, and divided His garments, casting lots, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet: “They divided My garments among them, And for My clothing they cast lots.” 36 Sitting down, they kept watch over Him there. 37 And they put up over His head the accusation written against Him: THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS.

38 Then two robbers were crucified with Him, one on the right and another on the left.

39 And those who passed by blasphemed Him, wagging their heads 40 and saying, “You who destroy the temple and build it in three days, save Yourself! If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross.”

41 Likewise the chief priests also, mocking with the scribes and elders, said, 42 “He saved others; Himself He cannot save. If He is the King of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe Him. 43 He trusted in God; let Him deliver Him now if He will have Him; for He said, ‘I am the Son of God.’ ” 44 Even the robbers who were crucified with Him reviled Him with the same thing.


            The cross was a scandalous event.  The bible tells us, Cursed is everyone who dies on the cross, or who hangs on a tree.  Galatians 3:13.

            But beyond that, our Lord Jesus was treated scandalously on the cross.  First by the Romans, then the Jewish leaders, and now even the criminals take their shot at our Lord on the cross.  What a scandal! 

            As I stated at the beginning of this message, the cross is the magnate of the ages.  Some are drawn to the cross while others are repelled at the very thought of the cross.

Some years ago in Israel, and heeding pleas of Jewish religious leaders, (former) Premier David Ben-Gurion of Israel ordered alterations made on a planned postage stamp which was to have shown a cross atop a church steeple in Nazareth. The new stamp will not show a cross.

—Christianity Today[3]

            1 Corinthians 1:18, For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.[4]

            As scandalizing as the cross may be, you cannot remain neutral about the cross of Jesus Christ.

            There’s a third thing Jesus is doing on the cross.  Not only is He substituting, and not only is He scandalizing, but Jesus is suffering on the cross.  Look at Matthew 27:45.


Matthew 27:45-50, 45 Now from the sixth hour until the ninth hour there was darkness over all the land. 46 And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”

47 Some of those who stood there, when they heard that, said, “This Man is calling for Elijah!” 48 Immediately one of them ran and took a sponge, filled it with sour wine and put it on a reed, and offered it to Him to drink. 49 The rest said, “Let Him alone; let us see if Elijah will come to save Him.” 50 And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit.


            One thing is very clear about Jesus on the cross.  He is suffering.  We have heard much about the physical torture and anguish Jesus experienced on the cross, but very little is said about what most likely was an even greater form of misery Jesus suffered on the cross.

            Think of it this way if we can.  Through endless, eons of time, stretching from the base of infinity, Jesus had known only the perfect unity with His Father.  Now as He hangs on the cross, He experiences for the first time, total separation and isolation from the Father. 

            We cannot comprehend the horror, the agony, and the pain that must have brought Jesus on the cross.  Hanging in the darkness, Jesus senses for the first time, what it is like to be forsaken, to be deserted, and abandoned.  The word forsaken here refers to being left to fend for one’s self during the most difficult of times.

            Jesus had done nothing wrong, but He was abandoned by the Father.  Jesus suffered the separation of the Father’s presence because at that moment, on the cross, He bore the weight of mankind’s sin. 

            Finally, what is Jesus doing on the cross?  He’s substituting.  He is scandalizing.  And He is suffering.  But He is also, thank God, satisfying!  Go to Matthew 27:50.



Matthew 27:50-51, 50 And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit.

51 Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split,


            The Temple in Jerusalem represented God’s presence.  God dwelt, at least in a figurative way, within the Holy of Holies in the back portion of the Temple, behind a curtain.  That curtain represented a barrier, a limitation on man’s ability to approach God.  Only the High Priest one time a year could enter the Holy Place to offer sacrifice for man’s sins.  The curtain reminded everyone of the sin that separated man and God.

            How wonderful then to understand that what Jesus was doing on the cross was satisfying the wrath of God against man’s sin.  That’s why the Temple curtain in torn and divided asunder, from the top to the bottom.  God rent the curtain that had been a separator of sinful man to holy God. 

            Through Christ’s death on the cross, and remember what Christ did on the cross; substituting for us, taking our place, dying for us, paying the penalty of our sins; scandalizing, holy God cursed by His own creation; suffering the agony of separation from God’s perfect union, all so He could satisfy the just demands of a righteous God.

            John’s Gospel tells us of the final moments of our Lord on the cross.  John 19:28-30, 28 After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” 29 A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. 30 When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.


            The Greek word is tetelestai.  It means completed or as it is translated in John 19:30, finished.  In the market place it was a word that meant the debt had been paid.  Jesus finished his work.  He came to seek and to save the lost.  He paid our sin-debt.  He was born to die for each of us. And on the cross, bleeding and dying, suffering, He finished the work of redemption!

            That’s why I say with the Apostle Paul, in Galatians 6:14, But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.




[1]The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), 2 Co 5:21.

[2]The Holy Bible : Holman Christian Standard Version. (Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 2003), Ro 5:8.

[3]Paul Lee Tan, Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations : A Treasury of Illustrations, Anecdotes, Facts and Quotations for Pastors, Teachers and Christian Workers (Garland TX: Bible Communications, 1996, c1979).

[4]The New King James Version. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982), 1 Co 1:18.

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