"From that time on Jesus began to explain to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that He must be killed and on the third day be raised to life." Matthew 16:21
The question as we approach Holy Week is, "Why?"
Why the cross? Why "must" He go?
Hebrews 12:2 gives us a hint, "Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, ...who for the joy set before Him endured the cross..."
For Jesus there was something beyond the cross, that meant going through the cross, that was worth enduring the cross. "For the joy set before Him" He endured the cross.
What was "the joy" that made the cross worth it?
If we're going to understand the cross we need to understand the mission of Jesus. The cross was a means to accomplishing Jesus' mission. The path to "the joy set before Him" went through the cross. Understand what Jesus came for (His mission) and we will understand the cross (and why we are then invited to also take up our own cross).
We commonly think of Jesus' mission as making disciples (Matthew 28) or seeking and saving the lost (Luke 19) or saving us from our sins (1 Timothy 1:15).
But to what end?
Why are we forgiven?
What are we saved for?
Why did Jesus take away our sins by dying on the cross and rising again? To what end?
The answer to that question is the mission of Jesus. The answer to that question is why Jesus went to the cross.
So what's the answer?
"For God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in Jesus, and through Jesus to reconcile to Himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through Jesus' blood, shed on the cross." Colossians 1:20
The mission of Jesus was to redeem and restore (reconcile) human beings to the Kingdom of His Father.
"For the Father has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the Kingdom of the Son He loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins." Colossians 1:13-14.
That was "the joy set before Him". Rescuing us from the darkness we had chosen. Restoring everything to rightness. Redeeming all that is ruined. Resurrecting all that is dead... beginning with human beings and extending out to all creation. That is what the cross unleashed. That is what happens when sin is forgiven and taken away: Redemption. Restoration. Reconciliation. Renewal.
"Behold, I am making everything new!" Revelation 21:5
"I have come that they may have life (again), and have it to abundance!" John 10:10
Can't you just see the big smile spreading across Jesus' face?
For Jesus that made suffering "many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law" worth it. That made being killed worth it. That made enduring the cross worth it... for the joy He would have seeing you and me and all creation restored to His Father and His abundant life... to see everything made new again.
That's why the cross.