The Necessity of the Cross

By Mark D. Roberts

April 25, 2022

Following Jesus Today

Scripture – Luke 24:17-27 (NRSV)

And [Jesus] said to [the two people walking on the road to Emmaus], “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.


As Jesus walked along with two of his disciples after his resurrection, he explained to them how the Hebrew scriptures informed and guided his messianic work. In particular, Jesus showed how his death was necessary. As God’s Messiah, Jesus needed to die to overcome the power of sin and death.

Today’s devotion is part of the series Following Jesus Today.


In yesterday’s Life for Leaders devotion, we began reflecting on the story known as “The Road to Emmaus.” Two disciples of Jesus were walking on a road toward a village not far from Jerusalem. As they talked, the resurrected Jesus joined them, but the two walkers did not recognize him. That’s where we pick up the story today.

Jesus asked the two what they had been discussing, but they didn’t answer. Rather, they looked at Jesus with sad faces. Finally, one of the disciples, a man named Cleopas, asked Jesus if he was the only person in Jerusalem who didn’t know what had recently taken place there. Jesus, acting as if he didn’t know what Cleopas was talking about, said, “What things?” In response, Cleopas and his companion, who may have been his wife, explained to Jesus what had happened to “Jesus of Nazareth . . . a prophet mighty in deed and word” (Luke 24:29). Though they had hoped that Jesus was the Messiah who would redeem Israel, their hopes were crucified on the cross along with Jesus. Yet, on the Sunday following Jesus’s death, Cleopas and his companion had heard mystifying stories about Jesus’s empty tomb and angels who claimed he was alive. That’s all the two disciples knew before leaving Jerusalem for Emmaus.

Jesus’s response to the two disciples began with a bit of scolding: “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” (Luke 24:26). In defense of the two, it should be noted that, as far as we know, no Jewish person before Jesus thought that it was necessary for the Messiah to suffer and die. Nobody read the Old Testament that way until Jesus came along with his stunning re-interpretation of the Hebrew scriptures.

Jesus understood that his followers, beginning with the two on the road to Emmaus, needed to see the Old Testament in a whole new light. Only then would they know that the first responsibility of the Messiah was not to establish God’s global kingdom, but rather to suffer and die. In fact, as Jesus said, this was “necessary.” In order to help the two people on the road grasp this necessity, Jesus “interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures” (Luke 24:27).

We can’t be sure about the biblical passages Jesus used in this, the first Christian Bible study. Many texts from the Old Testament describe the suffering of the righteous person (for example, Psalms 31, 69, and 118). Psalm 22, from which Jesus quoted while on the cross, records the prayer of one who suffers as he is forsaken by God but who is ultimately delivered by God. Perhaps Jesus used this psalm to help his followers understand his messianic task. We can be certain that Jesus drew liberally from Isaiah 52-53, where God’s servant is “despised and rejected by others, a man of suffering” (Isaiah 53:3). He suffers for the sake of others. He takes upon himself the “punishment that made [them] whole” (53:5). Ultimately the suffering servant of God will be rewarded for his faithful sacrifice (53:12).

Jesus’s understanding of his messianic task differed starkly from that of his fellow Jews, including his closest followers. It was only after his death and resurrection, as Jesus provided a biblical foundation for his unique perspective, that his disciples were finally able to grasp the necessity of his suffering. Before the Messiah would be able to receive the glory of his kingly reign, he needed to take upon himself the sin of the world (see John 1:29).

In our day, most people aren’t looking for a victorious messiah, but it is still difficult for many to understand why the death of Jesus was necessary. Couldn’t a loving God just forgive everybody out of the goodness of God’s heart? Couldn’t God just overlook sin? Why was the death of anyone, including Jesus, necessary? People in our time of history have a hard time believing that “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). We might struggle with this notion as well, given how counter-cultural it is. Thus, if we’re going to grasp the necessity of Jesus’ death on the cross, we’ll need the Bible to teach us about just how bad sin is. That will, in turn, also show us just how much we need a Savior.

The good news, of course, is that Jesus is such a Savior. As God’s Messiah he did exactly what needed to be done, offering his life as a sacrifice for all. Jesus was, indeed, “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). That isn’t just good news. It’s great news.


Using your Spirit-inspired imagination, put yourself in the place of one of the people walking on the road. How would you have felt when Jesus scolded you? How would you have felt as Jesus showed how the Scriptures made his suffering necessary?

Can you think of a time in your life when, by careful study of the Bible, you changed your mind about something?


Read Isaiah 52:13-53:12 slowly. Prayerfully reflect on how this passage helps us understand the mission of Jesus.


Gracious God, again we thank you for the story of the people on the road to Emmaus. Such a touching story!

Lord Jesus, thank you for helping these two disciples understand you and your work in light of the Old Testament. Thank you for the ways you speak to us through Scripture today.

I’m sure there are times, Lord, when, like the two people on the road, I am also “foolish” and “slow of heart to believe” what is found in Scripture. Teach me, I pray, what is true. Show me where I have misunderstood or misconstrued your truth. Give me humility as I open my mind and heart to be instructed by your Spirit. Amen.

Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the High Calling archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Best of Daily Reflections: Finding God in All the Wrong Places: In the Midst of Hopelessness

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Mark D. Roberts

Senior Strategist

Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders,...

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