“Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know—this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.” —Acts 2:22–24
Every spring, once the red hearts and roses of Valentine’s Day make their way off the shelves, our culture gets ready for Easter. Parents buy bunny-themed candy to put in our kid’s colorful baskets. We buy decorative grass to make the baskets look full after Dad eats some of the candy. We draw colorful eggs and put together cute outfits for the Easter service. Dad makes an emergency trip to the store because he ate the backup candy, too. It seems like everywhere we look, there are bunnies and pastel eggs to remind us of Easter.
In fact, the only thing that seems hard to find are images of the cross. The thought of crucifixion is startling and upsetting compared to the picturesque images that fill our store shelves and our social media feeds. When we look at Christ on the cross, we are forced to look on at pierced hands and broken flesh. It’s hard to look at, even in art. Surely no one would choose this unless it was the last option and all other contingencies had been exhausted.
But this is one of the amazing truths of the crucifixion—Christ chose the cross. The apostle Peter made this clear in his sermon in Acts 2. On the day of Pentecost, less than two months after the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, Peter stood up in front of the same Jerusalem crowds that had called for his death. Peter indicted them for the part they played. After all, members of God’s chosen people violently murdered God’s anointed one. The same people that should have welcomed Jesus as king had him killed as a criminal. But Peter proclaimed hope, even in the middle of his condemnation. He told them that their actions weren’t just a product of their own evil. They were part of a larger plan.
In fact, Peter tells the crowds that Christ was, “delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God.” It would be enough to say that Christ went to his death with full knowledge of what was coming, but Peter says even more than that. Peter, newly indwelled by the Holy Spirit, in the first public proclamation of the gospel—after Jesus was crucified and raised from the dead—says that all that happened was part of God’s definite plan.
The cross of Christ was never the backup plan. It wasn’t an incidental detail in salvation history. The cross is at the very center of everything that God has done since before the foundation of the world. So, as we enter this Easter season and prepare to celebrate the death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord, don’t shrink back from the cross. It is gruesome and bloody. But the cross of Christ sits at the very center of God’s design for history, beckoning us to repent and to praise the Son of God who came to die.