"Why is Jesus's death on a cross good news? Why should some man's death via crucifixion thousands of years ago matter to me today? I'm not that bad of a person. I mean, I've never killed someone! So, why would I need some Savior I've never met?"
These questions, among others, are common rebuttals to the Christian faith. Even within Christian circles, I have met or heard many that have a difficult time communicating why Jesus's death on the cross is the pinnacle and most central component to our faith; even more why it's the greatest news for all mankind. Either through an inaccurate view of our sinful nature or lack of recognition of our deprivation of having the ability to live a 'good' life apart from Christ, the thought of needing a Savior for anything we or others have done has become recognized as thoughts of lunacy for many in America. In addition, in an incredibly individualized culture with that as a basis for a worldview, a desperate need and dependence on another human, let alone God, is of absolute absurdity. An intolerance to the individualistic ideals in many ways is met with an intolerance to the idea of Jesus, the cross, and why it is good news.
Tim Keller puts this almost alternate reality for many like this, "We are far more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe." He goes on to say though that for those that place their faith in Jesus, "at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope."
Jesus's death on the cross is not just necessary for those who are 'really bad'. Rather, as Paul teaches us, we are all children of wrath without Jesus. In Ephesians 2:3, he states that "we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind." So whether your heart has been captured by God's grace, you don't believe in God at all, or you are somewhere in between, I want to help us all to understand why Jesus's death on the cross and then resurrection are the pinnacle of love and only solution to the evil and sin in and around us all.
Let's start with this question: When we as Christians tell others that Jesus died for our sins, why is that so significant for us and we pray becomes all together significant for them as well? For this, we will look at the way Jesus died, what Him coming to earth to die means, and why He had to die in order for justice to be fulfilled. This subject matter can feel difficult to grasp, but I pray we press into both the implicit and expressed truth of all these things in order to see our true hope is in Jesus alone.
"Have you heard about your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ?" Maybe that question brings up cringe-worthy and vivid memories, you've heard it asked in another way, or you've never been asked it at all. A common response to this in America is, "Yes, I've heard of Jesus and no I don't need a savior or lord over my life." Without the understanding of everyone's need not just for a savior of any kind but for Jesus alone, this question bears no need for either an answer or conversation for most. In America specifically, it is much less about a lack of utterances of God or Jesus and much more about correct or right descriptions and views of them. We don't lack information in the west, and oftentimes I think we are given an overload of data and information to our detriment. Through the muck of media, quick Google searches, and hyper-individualistic societal views, the truth of the Bible has become much of an afterthought or no thought at all for many. Moreover, if you ask those that are outside of your Christian circle how the world was created, why it was created, what the meaning of life is, and the constructs of morality, I've found both in my and other's studies most will fumble through regurgitated thoughts or answer with little to no forethought at all. A belief in God as the Creator of the world, the fallen nature of mankind, and all other passages in the Christian Bible have become in many ways, an absurdity, or at most a sometimes applicable folklore.
The majesty, glory, and goodness of Jesus have weathered all storms and seasons of the world. Whether those within the earth recognize Him for who He is or not, has no application to the reality of who He was and is still today. What I mean by this is, even as generations and groups of people have attempted to construct their own ideas on Jesus or God, the truth of the Bible has continued to maintain its' facts. Even more, as the evil of mankind has attempted to dismantle the God of the Bible and Savior Jesus, they [the triune God] have always escaped and remained exactly as they have always been. You might be saying, there is no actual proof for a resurrected Jesus or God the Creator of all things. Well, there is actually both expressed and implicit proof. Furthermore, there also has never been anyone to substantially refute their existence either. So if you step towards this subject with immense reproach or reluctance, I ask you to at least start there as you read forward.
Some of you might be reading all of this and simultaneously saying, "I know all of this, Mary. I don't need to be convinced of the truth of the Bible." I praise God for that, but I also press that as we aim to defend the hope we have in Jesus it is vitally important to remind ourselves of who He is in the midst of who we inherently are as mankind. It is by God's grace alone that you have any realization of these truths. The glory of the cross of Jesus Christ is the pinnacle of the Christian faith. It is far more than a legend, a blind faith, or a repetitive phrase you hear asked at church camps and conferences. Jesus Christ, the Savior King, is always worth understanding further and ultimately kneeling before with our utmost praise. Because of this, let us now look at the way Jesus died, what Him coming to earth to die means, and why He had to die in order for justice to be fulfilled; for without this, a proper Christian worldview is not proper at all.
The Crucifixion of Jesus
During the time of Jesus's life, death, and resurrection, the Romans were known for being really good at killing people. Death by crucifixion was not only permitted but often used on those who committed murder, theft, piracy, the rebellion of a slave against their master, sedition against Rome... among others. Well known for executing prisoners and criminals by crucifixion, they [Romans] were not lacking in wretched designs for the execution of others. According to both the Christian Bible and many accredited historians, Jesus died by crucifixion. As we read in the gospels, Pontius Pilate himself did not actually find Jesus guilty. Rather, He released the prisoner and robber Barabbas instead of Jesus to the Jews in a customary pardon before the feast of Passover. Jesus remained then the prisoner to be killed as a result of Jewish people shouting and demanding His crucifixion. When asked by Pilate what evil Jesus had done, their answer remained, "Crucify Him!" (Matthew 27:23, Mark 15:14a, Luke 23:23, John 19:15)
Both lacking in sin and wholly perfect, Jesus was sentenced to and died by crucifixion. Many have died horrendous deaths over the course of all time (all of his [Jesus] disciples except John died martyr's deaths themselves). So then, why was/is Jesus's death and resurrection the solid rock upon which Christianity stands?
In Isaiah 53, we see one of the most beautiful prophecies of who the Messiah and Savior of mankind would be and what He would go through. In verses 4-6 it says, "Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep, have gone astray; we have turned --- everyone --- to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all."
By His wounds, we are healed. Through his chastisement, we may have peace. We all have gone astray, but through God's grace and abundant love, He laid on him [Jesus] the iniquity of us all.
It is a common thought and idea that we see the depths of a person when they are under immense stress, visceral hardship, or extreme pain (both emotional or physical). For many, it is not a pretty side of themselves that comes out during these conditions or circumstances. For Christ, as He experienced the most immense pain and hardship for all mankind as He bore the wrath of God Almighty, we see Him react with mercy, love, and forgiveness. He was mocked by the chief priests, elders, and scribes saying, "He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the king of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe him. He trusts in God; let God deliver him now if he desires for him. For he said I am the Son of God" (Matthew 27:42-43). As they mocked Him, Jesus remained on the cross taking the punishment we not He deserved. Even as He was God in the flesh and could have saved Himself and took Himself down from the cross, He remained; He remained not simply to prove mockers wrong. Instead, with the heart of love beyond our comprehension, God in the flesh [Jesus] responded by showing that He would rather die with His children than leave His children to die eternally just so that He could save Himself.
As Jesus was dying and taking on the wrath of God, He was loving and caring for others. As he hung on the cross, He ensured His mother Mary would be cared for by His disciple John declaring they were now mother and son.
In the moment of utmost pain and suffering, Jesus chose to forgive. We see this both through His words to God, "Father forgive them for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34), and his interaction with the criminal being crucified by him as he said, "We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong." Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:41-43)
Before Jesus breathed His last breath and yielded His spirit, He showed mercy, love, and forgiveness. As the Roman centurion watched how He died and witnessed the earthquake and all that occurred right after, we read that "they were filled with awe and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!” (Matthew 27:54b)
Why Did Jesus Come to Earth and Die for Our Sins?
The story of Jesus's death would be to most at least both moving and solemn. Even as the descriptions of Jesus's crucifixion seen in all four of the gospel accounts are agreeably very sad and gruesome, many still do not see as to why His death matters; or moreover, if He indeed is God in the flesh, why He would have to come to earth and die at all.
You, and I, are sinners. Whether we recognize it as such or not, we are all sinful and fall short of the glory of the Lord. (Romans 3:23) Sin entered into the world when Adam and Eve chose to rebel against God in the garden of Eden. Although in perfect relationship with God and creation, when told that they were forbidden from eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they chose to disobey God. Before they sinned, they were given the stark warning that if they did eat from it, death would surely fall upon them. Although physical death did not happen immediately upon their decision to eat from the tree, it would happen to them later in life. More importantly, though, eternal death and separation from the infinitely holy and perfectly loving God became a reality for mankind as sin entered into the world. It is of utmost importance to note that before God even rebuked both Adam and Eve for their disobedience against Him, He spoke of His plan for redeeming and restoring the relationship between creation and Creator. In Genesis 3:15, God says to the serpent (Satan), "I will put enmity between you and the woman (Eve), and between your offspring and her offspring; he (Jesus) shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel." God's plan of restoration of relationship between Him and mankind was from the beginning. His plan for Jesus to utterly crush Satan's head and ultimately eternal death for all was not an afterthought but presented even before he rebuked Adam and Eve for what they had done.
The fact that God decided to interact with us in and of itself is remarkable. The fact that God, the Creator of all things, makes Himself knowable to us is at times unfathomable. Amy Orr-Ewing says it this way, "God within working in history at all, is accomodating himself, in order to make Himself known to human beings." One of the many ways we see Him do this in the Old Testament is through His relationship with the people of Israel. Throughout the Old Testament, we see the Israelites fail time and time again to uphold the perfect laws which pointed to the holiness of God. Even at their best, they continually disobeyed God's perfect, holy, and loving commands for them to be set apart. All of what they were doing, as we now know, was to point to the Messiah (Jesus) to come. Their inability to uphold all that God commanded them was not because God wanted to set them up to fail. Rather, it was because they, like us, are imperfect and sinful humans. So, if we as inherently fallen humans are unable to even uphold varying statutes perfectly, why would we then look to ourselves for the solution to the sin and evil both in and around us? Furthermore, why couldn't God just decide to forgive all of us instead of requiring a perfect sacrifice for the sin of the world?
We can all admit that there is evil around us. The world in which we and all of history have resided in has been accompanied by atrocities and horrors. I think for most, we can all agree upon this. Where most start to differ in this thought is the solution to the evil around us. Some believe it is up to the shifting and evolving societies to manifest solutions. Others believe it is upon the individual to do their part to combat it. There are also many who believe there is no meaning or hope in life so no need to try and combat any of it to any serious degree. I will argue concisely that if God doesn't exist, then we have nowhere to find an absolute moral law to draw the conclusion that there is evil in the world, no ability to point towards one meaning for life itself that begs for justice to be served to the evil, no hope beyond the continuing evil of this world, and no ultimate solution and resolution for the sin in and around us all. With God, though, we have all of these. We have a divine and infinitely wise Creator of all things, an objective morality to look to in order to even understand what is sin and evil, meaning to life that includes justice for evil, hope beyond death, and ultimately a solution for the evil which plagues each generation. God's perfect character and plan for the fallenness of this world is seen in His son, Jesus.
Jesus, the only perfect human to ever walk the earth, came to earth not because it was a plan B to Israel's inability to glorify and honor God in all they did. The plan of Jesus, God in human flesh, was before Israel, you, or I fell short of God's glory. With both full knowledge and authority of all the evil mankind would commit, He came to earth as God in the flesh because He alone is the perfect solution for the evil which is in all of us. Jesus alone is the route to which we can have restored relationship with the Creator God. As God created man and woman in His image separately from one another, we see God's desire to be in an intimate relationship with each of us first and His glorious image to be displayed through us. Through this, we see that the true purpose and nature of us as humans is to bring God glory and be in a relationship with Him forever. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life to which we now have and do that. No one comes to the Father except through Him. (John 14:6)
Jesus is not merely just a man though to which we look to for moral advice and teaching. Jesus is God in the flesh. Jesus is the beautiful and perfect depiction of God accommodating His perfectly holy self to His creation in order to love, redeem, and give us new life. God, the Creator of the entire universe did not have to accommodate Himself to us. We have a God, though, that through Jesus Christ chose to suffer with us instead of letting us suffer without Him forever. This is why the Christian faith cannot be reduced down to a system of thoughts, feelings, or a list of dos and don'ts. This is because the Christian faith is far deeper than these things. The Christian faith is rooted in Being.
Jesus didn’t come to earth just to give us more thoughts about God, exciting experiences with the Creator of the universe, or a new list of things we have to do to get to God. Jesus came to the earth as God in the flesh. He accommodated His perfectly holy self that was seated in Heaven with God for all time in order that we would not suffer apart from God for all time. Jesus is the Being in which the Christian faith is centered on. The Being that entered into the evil in the world in order to give the undeserving gift of salvation and relationship with God. Jesus took on all the wrong thinking/thoughts of ours, all the hardships and painful experiences, and the evil and terrible things we have done; Jesus took on all the consequences that flow from those terrible things and all the right punishment and judgment from God they deserve. All of that, he took on onto himself. As Michael Ramsden puts it, "He literally took on into His being that which has gone wrong in ours."
So, why did Jesus have to come to the earth and die? For as we all fall short of the glory of God, we all desperately need a perfect and spotless Savior to take upon the judgment of God in which all of us deserve. Sin is not something we merely do, but it is who we are. And yet, Jesus came to the earth as God in the flesh in order to die so that we may have eternal life, restored relationship with the holy God, and new life found in Him alone. Jesus speaking about Himself, says it like this, "I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die." (John 11:25-26)
We will never be able to earn our way into Heaven. We will always fall short of God's glory and holiness, and yet, "because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:4-10)