Let me clarify: When God the Son became a man and was born to Mary (aka: Christmas, the Incarnation), He willingly submitted Himself to everything being a human meant… including death. Jesus died on the cross; and not just any death – he died a painful, agonizing death on the cross… it wasn’t pretty.
I know people who have never seen the movie “The Passion of the Christ” because they thought it was too gory to watch. It may be gory and painful to watch, but I assure you it was more painful to endure and experience!
So here’s my question: If Jesus’ death on the cross cost so much, why wouldn’t God have found another way to deal with our sin and reconcile us to Himself?
The Nicene Creed says, “We believe… in one Lord Jesus Christ, …who for us men, and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, and was made man, and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate. He suffered and was buried, and the third day he rose again according to the Scriptures….”
There are three emphases listed as crucial to understanding why Jesus is the cocal point of our Christian faith:
- Incarnation: Jesus’ Identity. If Jesus is not who He claimed to be (God the Son), then nothing about the Christian faith is useful or valid. Instead of summarizing myself, read my post about our last lesson on the Person of Christ.
- Crucifixion: Jesus’ Sacrifice. Because Jesus was fully human, when He suffered and died on the cross he served as our substitute and paid for our sin-debt so we don’t have to pay it for ourselves. Because Jesus was fully God, he had the authority to forgive our sins and to reconcile us to God. (more on this in a minute)
- Resurrection: Jesus’ Victory. If Jesus did not rise from the grave, then all our faith would be powerless. It would be like a beautiful classic car with a dead engine: impressive, but not useful. Every skeptic knows if they can disprove the Resurrection then they can disprove the whole of Christianity.
If you were asked to explain what Jesus accomplished by dying on the cross, what would you say? The following are four results of Jesus’ death (which is not an exhaustive list, but it’s a good start. I’m indebted to Millard Erickson’s “Christian Theology” for these categories):
- Jesus set an example for us to follow. Some people claim this is all Jesus accomplished through dying on the cross. This is the absolute “lowest common denominator” of what everyone can agree was accomplished through the cross. 1 Peter 2:21 says, “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.”
- Jesus showed us the extent of God’s love. Romans 5:8 boldly declares, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” God did not wait for us to love Him before loving us on the cross… He loved us first! The implications here are HUGE (predestination, sanctification, missions/evangelism, etc.)! Ultimately, this is one of my greatest comforts because I frequently find myself writing in my journal statements like this: “I’m just no good at being a Christian, God must want to give up on me!” This verse (and many others like it!) reminds me that I’m dead wrong – God loved me enough to die for me even before I cared about him, why would He give up on me now!
- Jesus demonstrated God’s justice. Good judges do not let the guilty off the hook, corrupt judges do. God is loving and good and compassionate, but He could not be unjust by overlooking the judgment our sin requires and deserves. So what does a loving and just God do when the people He loves are deserving of judgment: He takes the judgment upon Himself in order to set them free… and that’s exactly what happened on the cross.
- Jesus was victorious over evil! “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:56-57). Death and sin are always linked together in the Bible because death is the result of sin (they share a Cause/Result relationship: Sin/Death). Through his victory over sin he also claimed victory over all its affects. As Paul wrote in Romans 8:1, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
Because of all this, there is no need to live in hopelessness or to live in fear of death. Obviously, none of us “look forward” to dying (especially the process and experience of dying!), but we do look forward to being eternally with God.
Pastor John often says, “Our last breath in Earth is immediately followed by our first breath in Heaven.” What a wonderful reminder, what a wonderful Savior.