Christianity is a rescue religion. It declares that God has taken the initiative in Jesus Christ to deliver us from our sins. This is the main theme of the Bible.

There is no hope without the cross. N.T. Wright tries to put this understanding into perspective when he writes:

The death of Jesus of Nazareth as the king of the Jews, the bearer of Israel’s destiny, the fulfillment of God’s promises to his people of old, is either the most stupid, senseless waste and misunderstanding the world has ever seen, or it is the fulcrum around which world history turns.

Christianity is based on the belief that it was the latter. (Simply Christian, p 111)

The cross is central to Christianity. It must be believed, incarnated, and proclaimed to the world.

John Piper, Pastor for Preaching at Bethlehem Baptist Church (Minneapolis, Minnesota), is troubled over whether the essentials of biblical faith are embraced by new converts to Christ. He asks this important question: “Do they embrace and make known that the Bible is the only inspired and infallible written revelation of God, and that Christ is God and was crucified for sin and raised from the dead above all authority?” (Mission Frontiers, Jan-Feb 2006, p 17)

Christians need to be clear in communicating the central message of the Bible. What is the central message? Jesus Christ died on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins. Without the cross, there is no atonement. If Christ had not died on the cross, everyone would have to pay the penalty for their own sins. The gospel message is all about the cross, and what it represents.

In 1 Corinthians 2:2, Paul emphasizes the cross: “For I decided to concentrate only on Jesus Christ and His death on the cross.” In 1 Corinthians 15:3–5, Paul articulates the essence of the gospel:

Now let me remind you, dear brothers and sisters, of the Good News I preached to you before. You welcomed it then and still do now, for your faith is built on this wonderful message. And it is this Good News that saves you if you firmly believe it—unless, of course, you believed something that was never true in the first place. I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me—that Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, as the Scriptures said.

Without the cross, no one is saved. No one is rescued. Everyone is lost.

Why does the cross matter? Because sin is serious. The Bible contends, “All have sinned” (Rom 3:23) and “the wages of sin is death” (Rom 6:23). Sin earns death: eternal separation from God. That is why the cross is so important.

When Christ died, He “canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us and which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross” (Col 2:14). It was on the cross that He paid the debt for our sins. Christ died for our sins, in our place, so we would not have to suffer the punishment we deserve. This doctrine is called substitutionary atonement

Christ’s death was a vicarious, penal satisfaction. He literally paid the price for our sins. He bore the wrath of God on our behalf. He took what we deserve and He freely gives us blessings that only He deserves. And we who are united with Him are untied with Him in such a way that His death paid the price of our sins and His righteousness now covers us like a garment of absolute perfection. (Phil Johnson, The Nature of the Atonement, March 5, 2003)

Jesus took the place of sinners. 1 Peter 2:24 says: “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.” Also, 2 Corinthians 5:21 says: “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”

By His death, Jesus restores our relationship with God. It is not just good news that the debt of sin was paid, but it is also good news that relationship with God is restored!

Sin caused an estrangement; the cross, the crucifixion of Christ, has accomplished an atonement. Sin bred enmity; the cross has brought peace. Sin created a gulf between man and God; the cross has bridged it. Sin broke the fellowship; the cross has restored it. (John Stott, Basic Christianity, p 82)

I like the way Randy Alcorn explains this: “Christ took the hell He didn’t deserve so we could have the heaven we don’t deserve.” (The Grace and Truth Paradox, p. 29)

Christ also suffered when he died for our sins once for all time. He never sinned, but he died for sinners that he might bring us safely home to God. He suffered physical death, but he was raised to life in the Spirit.
(1 Pet 3:18)