Jesus Verse by Verse

an expanded commentary on the Gospel of Matthew

Jesus Verse by Verse...

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Digression 13: The Compulsion Of The Cross

There is a sense of compulsion associated with the cross. The Greek word dei, translated “must" or “ought", is repeatedly used by the Lord in reference to His death. He spoke of that death as the coming of His hour, as if always and in all things He felt a compulsion that He must die as He was to. Listing the references chronologically gives an impressive list:
“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up" (John 3:14)
“From that time forth began Jesus to shew unto his disciples, how that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders" (Mt. 16:21).
“And he strictly charged them, and commanded them to tell no man that thing; Saying, The Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and [must] be slain, and be raised the third day" (Luke 9:21-22).
“And he answered and told them, Elias verily cometh first, and restoreth all things; and how it is written of the Son of man, that he must suffer many things, and be set at nought" (Mark 9:12). These last three references all occurred within a day of each other, if not a few hours. The Lord at least three times was emphasizing how He must die the death of the cross.
“Nevertheless I must walk to day, and tomorrow, and the day following: for it cannot be that a prophet perish out of Jerusalem" (Luke 13:33)
“But first [i.e. most importantly, not just chronologically] must he suffer many things, and be rejected of this generation" (Luke 17:25).
“And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me. This he said, signifying what death he should die. The people answered him, We have heard out of the law that Christ abideth for ever: and how sayest thou, The Son of man must be lifted up? who is this Son of man?" (John 12:32-34). When the Lord spoke of “If I be lifted up", there was no doubt about it. The idiom was correctly understood by the people as meaning: “I absolutely must". And for them this was a contradiction in terms: a “son of man" Messiah who must be crucified.
“Then came the day of unleavened bread, when the Passover must be killed" (Luke 22:7).
“As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep. And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd. Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again" (John 10:15-17). Embedded in the context of prediction of the cross, the Lord described that act as being how He must bring His sheep unto Himself.
“But how then shall the scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be?... For I say unto you, that this that is written must yet be accomplished in me, And he was reckoned among the transgressors: for the things concerning me have an end" (Matt 26:54; Luke 22:37).
“I was daily with you in the temple teaching, and ye took me not: but the scriptures must be fulfilled" (Mark 14:49). Again, three times in say 30 minutes, the Lord has stressed the compulsion of the cross.
After He rose, the Angels pointed out this sense to His men: “...remember how [the Greek sense is: ‘with what urgency’] he spake unto you when he was yet in Galilee, Saying, The Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again" (Luke 24:6-7). Like us, they heard and saw the compulsion, that Messianic must, but didn’t really appreciate it. The Lord was no fatalist, simply reflecting that what was to be ‘must’ be. Rather He meant that it ‘must’ be and therefore He strove to fulfill it. There was no fatalistic compulsion about the cross- for He need not have gone through with it. But He ‘must’ do so for the sake of that indescribable compulsion to save us, to glorify Yahweh’s Name, which He felt within Him. He reminded the two on the way to Emmaus: “Ought [s.w. ‘must’] not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory?" (Luke 24:26). And consider Heb. 2:17: “Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people". It was in His death that the Lord’s blood acted as a reconciliation for the sins of the people- an evident reference to the ritual of the day of atonement, which the same writer shows spoke so eloquently of the cross. And yet he was “behoved" to do this, it was an obligation He felt intrinsic within His very being. The same word occurs later: “And by reason hereof he ought, as for the people, so also for himself, to offer for sins. And no man taketh this honour unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron. So also Christ..." (Heb 5:3-5).
This sense of compulsion was also found in the Lord’s whole life of service, leading up to the cross as it did:
“Wist ye not that I must be about my Father's business?" (Luke 2:49)
“And he said unto them, I must preach the kingdom of God to other cities also: for therefore am I sent" (Luke 4:43)
“He left Judaea, and departed again into Galilee. And he must needs go through Samaria" (John 4:3-4). This is significant, as this was not from geographical necessity. The Lord was in the Jordan valley (Jn. 3:22) and could easily have taken the valley road north through Bethshan into Galilee, avoiding Samaria entirely.
“I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work" (John 9:4).
Our Compulsion
That same ‘must’ applies to our response to what He has done:
“But new wine must be put into new bottles; and both are preserved" (Luke 5:38)- otherwise the new wine of the Gospel will burst apart our lives.
“God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth" (John 4:24).
We must put off our tabernacle in death, there must be heresies in the ecclesia, there must be a day when we come to judgment, we must be baptized, we must give account of our lives at judgment, and some must enter the promised rest. In all stages of our lives, this Divine compulsion operates.
He extends the sense of compulsion which He experienced to all of us: “And he said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me. Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures, and said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem" (Luke 24:44-47). The same must which led Him to His passion is the very same compulsion which “behoves" us to preach that passion which we have witnessed and benefited from. In His ministry, He had taught that we must be born again, and in the same discourse spoke of how He must be lifted up in crucifixion (Jn. 3:7,14). His cross, His will to die in the way He did, must be our inspiration. “Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren" (I Jn 3:16).
We must carry the cross if we are to know His salvation. Yet we can be caught up in the spirit of a world which seeks obsessively to save its life rather than give up life. Through popping pills, exercise, healthy living...we can seek to extend our days. We use insurance to seek to cushion us against the harder knocks of life. We seek our lives to be as free as possible from hard work. And none of these things is wrong in themselves. It is quite right that we should make use of these things in the Lord’s service. But we can be caught up in the spirit of life and thinking of which they are part, and this is the danger. For the spirit and desire that gave rise to them is that which is exactly the opposite of the sense of must which the Lord possessed. He knew that He must suffer, He must crucify His flesh. And so must we. This is a solemn and eternal compulsion. Yet we live in a world which believes that we must not suffer anything negative, and we must seek to save our lives rather than give them out for others.
We can have the sense of that compulsion, and yet flunk out of it, as Peter did: “Peter said unto him, Though I should [s.w. translated ‘must’- he isn’t saying ‘even in the case I have to...’; he knew that ‘I must...’] die with thee, yet will I not deny thee. Likewise also said all the disciples" (Matt 26:35). Peter knew he must pick up the Lord’s cross, he knew he must share it. But he sidestepped it when it came to real sacrifice. Even in his actual death, he was carried whither he would not- even though he knew he must die the death of the cross. The same idea is to be found in Rom. 8:26, where we read that we don’t seem to have within us to pray as we ought, i.e. as we [s.w.] ‘must’. It’s not that we just don’t know what to pray about; we don’t pray as we ought to / must, and yet our gracious Mediator makes intercession with unutterable groans. And the older Paul can lament his failures to preach as he “ought", as he must, and therefore he appeals for prayer that he will witness to the Gospel as every believer of it must (Eph. 6:20; Col. 4:4).
We have rightly understood that the cross of Christ was not to an appease an angry God. His blood, as red liquid, did not mystically take away the wrath of an offended Deity. Seeing then that God could have brought about our salvation in any way, why was the death of the cross chosen? Surely it was because through this method, our response would be evoked. Our repentance and our living of a new life, modelled on the death of the Lord, is elicited by the cross in a way no other method of atonement would have achieved. We must, therefore, let the cross have its power in us; for otherwise, Christ is dead in vain for us.