Easter is a wonderful time to take some time aside and think about what Jesus has done for us. It is amazing that God should become a man and die for us, but have you ever wondered why he needed to die for us and why it had to be in such a horrific way?
When somebody writes a biography, they usually write the vast majority about the person’s life and very little about their death. In a biography of Winston Churchill’s life, the British prime minister, there are only 3 pages out of 300 that are devoted to his death. That’s just 1% of the book. However, when we look at the New Testament we see that approximately 33% of each gospel is devoted to the death and resurrection of Jesus. The reason for this is that His death and resurrection are absolutely vital to the gospel message. Indeed, the main reason why Jesus came to earth was not just to give us a good example of how to live, or provide us with moral teaching, but to die and rise again!
The cross of Christ lies at the heart of Christianity, to not understand it means we have missed the very reason why Jesus had to die. The death of Christ was no accident, it was foretold in many places throughout scripture.
Some would ask “So why couldn’t God just forgive sin without Jesus having to die?” To ask this question demonstrates a lack of understanding of the holiness of God and also the severity of sin which undermines it. The holiness of God means that God cannot just sweep sin under the carpet, it must be punished. The true and just punishment of sin is death. The other side of God’s character is love and mercy and that is what happens at the cross; God’s holiness and judgement meet His love and mercy, in a ‘once for all’ sacrifice. It was once for all because only a perfect person could meet the full criteria. If we had died on the cross it would simply have been a just punishment because we are all sinful, but because it was Jesus, the perfect substitute, God’s judgement is satisfied. Jesus died in our place.
There are 4 main things that happened at the cross and we will look at each of them briefly;
Justification – to be declared ‘just’ (or not guilty)
Because of what Jesus did on the cross, we are declared not guilty by God. Christ died for us to pay our debt. How amazing, the God whom we have offended is the one who comes to our rescue!
For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21)
The Apostle Peter also speaks of Christ’s death in this way:
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)
An easy way to remember this concept is to break the word justified up into ‘Just as if I’d never sinned’ not great English but a great truth!
Redeemed – to be bought out of slavery
To redeem means to ‘buy back’. The bible shows that we were slaves to sin and death, but now we have been bought back at a very high price, the death of Jesus. Slaves were sometimes redeemed in ancient times, if they had enough money they could redeem themselves by buying their freedom for a price. The bible is clear that we would never have had enough ‘money’ to free ourselves, we were morally bankrupt. The only person who could buy our freedom was Jesus and He paid the ultimate price with His own life.
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace (Ephesians 1:7)
Substitution – to have someone take our place
Anyone who knows me, knows I am a big follower of football. Oftentimes in football, when somebody is having a bad game, or is injured a substitute will come on in their place. One person is replaced for another. Jesus was our substitute. In the Old Testament a lamb was substituted for the sinner and was killed instead of the person. A death had to occur and it was better that it was the lamb’s. In the same way Jesus was our substitute, He took our place on the cross and bore our punishment. He was saying to the father “Father, punish me instead of them”
but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)
Jesus was willing to be our substitute to bear our punishment so that we could be spared.
Reconciliation – the healing of a broken relationship
All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18)
The bible makes it clear that even from birth we are alienated from God, we were born in sin because of our first parents – Adam & Eve. Every human being since has started life separated from God because of that sin. We don’t start life with a clean slate, it is already tainted. This prevented us ever having a relationship with him.
But on the cross Jesus restored that broken relationship by removing God’s wrath and anger from the sinner and taking it upon himself. With the barrier of sin removed, it is now possible to have peace with God. A relationship restored and not only that but adoption into God’s own family.
But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. (John 1:12)
These 4 things mean the following wonderful truths:
- We know God’s forgiveness– God chooses to forgive and not remember our sin anymore
- We have access to God – We can now enter right into God’s presence, free from guilt and fear. When Jesus died, the temple curtain was torn from top to bottom (Mark 15:38) signifying the separation has been completely taken away.
- We have peace with God– we are no longer enemies of God but have now become friends
- We are adopted into God’s family– God has adopted us into his family and we are now sons and heirs.
- We have eternal life – The fear of death is gone because Jesus has defeated it. When we die in this life, we just pass on to a better life forever with Him.
So how do we know that Jesus succeeded in what he set out to do on the cross?
We know He succeeded because He rose again. We can so easily purely focus on the cross, but His death and resurrection go hand in hand. In fact, if Jesus had not raised to life on the third day our faith would be pretty meaningless. But the very fact that he did rise shows that his mission was completed and his death on the cross was a success. He rose because death no longer had a hold on Him and everything He said about himself, including His divinity was true.
And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:14)
And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. (1 Corinthians 15:17)
So in conclusion, there was no other way for our sins to be dealt with. The cross shows us the seriousness of sin before a Holy God and that a death had to occur. It shows how rebellious mankind can be and it also shows us the amazing love that God has for us and the beautiful obedience of the son who would go to any lengths to rescue us.
The fact that Jesus died though, demands a response. It is not enough just to know that it happened. The bible makes it clear that we need to take some action in response. To fully experience God’s forgiveness and have a right relationship with Him you need to;
- Repenting of your sins, admit that you have done wrong in your life and that you need Jesus’ forgiveness.
- Believe that Jesus is the Son of God and died on the cross bearing the full penalty your sins deserved. That He rose again from the grave and has conquered death as the risen Lord.
- Commit your life into his hands. He is now Lord of your life and with the power of His Holy Spirit, you can now live a life that pleases Him.
That is the gospel in a ‘nutshell’ and it is no wonder they call it good news!