In a certain improper sense, I know what is meant by such a statement. I am sinful, and Jesus suffered the death of the cross to pay for my sins. Nonetheless, the statement that my sins nailed Jesus to the cross is not really accurate, and in an important way.
The Gospels never present Jesus as a helpless victim. Quite to the contrary, at every step of the process, Jesus is presented as clearly in control of the situation. He could have called down legions of angels to defend Himself, and yet forbade even His disciples from any attempt to save Him. He knew Judas was betraying Him, and yet went to the spot where Judas knew He liked to go. Pilate and the Jews hated each other, and Pilate was practically begging for a reason to let Jesus go. Surely it would have been child’s play for a man of Jesus’ human ability to play these enemies against each other, secure Pilate’s favor and be released. Instead, He did not offer a word in His own defense. Like a sheep to the shearers, He was mute.
Jesus said that no man could take His life from Him, that He lay it down of His own accord (John 10:17-18). Giving us the reason why this matters, He goes on to say, “This command I have received from My Father.” In the Garden of Gethsemane, even as He was struggling to conform His human will to the Divine will, sweating great drops of blood, He said, “Nevertheless, not my will but yours be done.” (Luke 22;42) Paul also said that Jesus obeyed throughout His life, even to the cross (Phil. 2:8). He went to the cross freely and willingly, not as a helpless victim.
The importance of this is that Jesus’ death on the cross was an act of willing obedience to His Father. In doing so, Jesus completed the purpose for man’s creation, to be God’s faithful servant. As He said, He came to fulfill the law of God, and He did, at the cross. He obeyed the requirements of God’s holy justice entirely.
If Christ was a helpless victim of my sin, it calls into question the justice of God that would inflict the penalty of my sin on someone else. Further, if Christ’s fully voluntary obedience even to the cross is downplayed or de-emphasized, then Christ’s death at best removes my state of condemnation but leaves the positive demands of God’s law yet unfulfilled. In other words, I may be freed from the wrath of God for sins, but the fulfillment of God’s law is yet left for me to do. But if we see that Christ’s death on the cross fulfilled all the requirements of God’s law, then, in union with Him, there is no requirement left for me to fulfill. I am completely and fully righteous in Him. All my works of repentance and obedience then are acts of thankfulness and of experiencing the fullness of salvation in Christ, and in no way merit me anything before God, since Christ’s perfect righteousness merits me every good thing. I can say fully with Paul, “There is therefore no condemnation to them that are in Christ (Romans 8:1).”
By all means, let us reflect on the truth that Jesus went to the cross in order to pay for my sins. But let us remember that He was not compelled to do so by anything outside of His perfect obedience to His Father and His perfect love for His people. He put Himself on the cross.