From the series, Ten Turning Points That Make All the Difference
When Jesus died on the cross he did it for joy and for love. We saw that last time in this series. That doesn’t tell us much, though, about what was actually helpful about his dying..
Earlier in this series (here and here) we looked at humanity’s fundamental problem, our separation from God due to disobedience. This is a spiritual separation, a lack of relationship between us and God, and it plays out as well in
- separation and alienation from each other
- alienation from our own selves
- a disrupted natural order, and
- physical death.
All of that is death; for in biblical terms, death is never cessation (as the atheists/materialists think it is), it is separation: separation of soul from body, separation of us from God, and so on to the tragic end of it all.
“The wages of sin is death,” says Romans 6:23. It is a dismal pronouncement. For many of us a shadow of unreality has been cast over that message: we can almost see the dour preacher on the movie screen dismally intoning the words, sending young people in his congregation into titters of disbelieving humor. Try, however, to set that image aside for a moment, and think about the point instead: if we have turned our backs on God, why would there not be consequences? We have sought separation from God. We have gained what we have wanted, and lost what we should have loved. It is a just and right consequence.
So there is death, which is (again) a just and natural effect of our declaring independence from the One who is the source of life. Death is both physical and spiritual: the decay of the body and the severing of any relationship with God.
Yet that is not all: the rest of Romans 6:23 tells more of the story: “…but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Jesus came to give us life. He did it by freeing us from the just consequences of our wrongdoing.
But hold on one moment: if he released us from these just consequences, how can there be justice in the world? Couldn’t God simply say, “Aww, I understand, I make mistakes too, it doesn’t really matter”? No: his righteousness is perfect, his standard is holiness, and there is no sneaking any sin in through the door of eternal life with him. It must be dealt with justly. The penalty must be paid, and we must pay it. The death must be died, and we must die it.
We must pay it through death, that is, unless someone else pays it for us through his death on our behalf. No ordinary person could do that, because we all have more than enough penalty of our own to pay. It takes someone without such a load of his own to bear. And it takes someone who can pay not just for one or two, but for the whole world.
Jesus, God in the flesh (see part 6 in this series) was the only one who could do that. “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24, with an allusion to Isaiah 53:5).
He carried our sins on the cross. That’s what I was referring to last time, when I said the excruciating physical pain of his death was likely exceeded by a deeper emotional pain. The perfect Son of God was burdened with sin. He bore death, meaning that the first time in all eternity he bore the pain of separation from the Father and the Spirit. He cried out (Matthew 27:46), “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Thus he paid for our sins, and opened the way for us to enter back into relationship with God. He does not force us back into that relationship; we can still turn away. But why would we? God is all love, all joy: now and forever. He is all goodness. Jesus died so you could have all that from God, for the asking.
All he requires of you is that you not deny it, not spurn, it, not say, “Phooey, I don’t believe a word of that. I don’t believe in a God like that!” All God requires is that you believe it. That’s not much. It’s not all there is to it, because God does much more than that to make us prepared for relationship with him. It’s just all he asks of us.
As we’ll see next in this series, he is all power and all life, besides. This is why Jesus died for us: for the joy of making all this possible for us, whom he loves. Who would reject such a great gift?