38 Two rebels were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left. 39 Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads 40 and saying, “You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!” 41 In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. 42 “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! He’s the king of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. 43 He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” 44 In the same way the rebels who were crucified with him also heaped insults on him. (Matt. 27:38-44, NIV)
Jesus stayed on the cross despite indescribable physical agony, excruciating psychological torture and supernatural temptation. He stayed despite the jests of His mockers. He stayed despite the tears of His loved ones mingled in the dirt with his blood. He stayed despite the fact that He could have come down. He could have come down. He might have pulled the nails out like hair pins or passed right through their flimsy atoms, called a legion of angels to lift Him away or summoned fire from Heaven to destroy His tormentors. He is the One in whom all things hold together; He might just have let it all fly apart. If you have ever struggled to hold still while a needle pierced your vein, then perhaps you know an infinitesimal fragment of the courage and control it must have taken not to do the human thing.
He stayed on the cross to hold our sins there. Nailed firmly to Him, in Him and through Him were countless debts requiring infinite payment. Every tragic, evil and twisted thought, word or deed of every one of God’s children throughout time was fastened to the cross through the flesh of the Man who could have come down. He didn’t because to rip His flesh away from that unholy torture would have scattered all those sins homeward in the breeze, obligations owed and never credited, agonies of repayment waiting to afflict their rightful owners: you and me.
If Jesus had come down from the cross, perhaps Pilate might have believed. Possibly a few Pharisees would have owned Him the Christ. One or two Roman soldiers may have knelt before Him that day. And it would have done them no good. Because without the cross, there is nothing to believe in. There is no sin-eater, no forgiveness, no atonement. Without the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we are still in our sins, without hope, without help, without righteousness, without heaven. He could have saved Himself. Instead, He saved us.