God put [Christ Jesus] forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.The answer is startling and mind boggling! God's righteousness was the central issue at stake! The primary problem God was solving with the cross was his ability to be just, while declaring those who were inherently unjust as being just. God's primary purpose with the cross was not the salvation of sinners by providing them the righteousness needed to be declared just, but it was keeping himself righteous in the process!
God was at the center of his redemptive acts in Christ. Now this is not the typical perspective of the cross. Often when we hear about the cross, we are told that it is somehow a statement of our value; it is a statement about how lovable we are; it is a statement about how God loves us more than anything else. But this man-centered perspective of the cross is flipped on its head by this passage in Romans.
I had an email exchange with a member of the church where I have been elected as Pastor about God's God-centeredness. We typically like to put ourselves at the center of things because we believe that it is the way to secure our good. But did you realize that we can practice this idolatry even when it comes to our understanding of the cross? We turn something that is centrally about God into something completely about us.
But what we fail to realize is that if God is not primarily in focus with regards to the cross, then there would be no benefit for us in the cross. If God does not first and foremost take care of the problem of securing his own righteousness in being able to declare the unjust as just, then he would be unjust, and unable to declare us as just. The whole system, the whole universe would fall apart . . . if, God was not God-centered. If God is not God-centered (another way to say this is "self-centered"), then we could not receive salvation from him.
On this Good Friday, then, we should keep in mind that the cross is first and foremost about God. Jesus died primarily for God. The cross speaks of his value and how important he is. And the benefit of that self-centered act is that now he is able to love the church by declaring her just. God's care for his own righteousness secures his giving that righteousness to us who have no righteousness of our own. As God fixes his problem, he is able to fix ours.
What an amazing gospel! God gave himself on the cross for himself in order that we too might be accounted as righteous as him and, therefore, enter in to his love for himself. The cross that is good for God is the cross that is good for us. Today truly is a "Good Friday," but more importantly, everyday is now good for those who receive the cross work of Christ and his glorious resurrection by faith.
I remember first being confronted with this perspective in the writings of Jonathan Edwards. If you want to hear a great sermon by one who also was effected by Edwards teaching, then listen to this sermon on Romans 3:25-26 by John Piper.