Last week we began a new series called, “What’s the Point?” The series is built around the idea that if we don’t understand the reason behind something or if we can’t see the value in something, then we are likely to dismiss it.
I used the example of Algebra class. Most of us sat in that class learning how to solve quadratic equations, the entire time wondering, “When will I ever use this?” The overarching question we were asking was what’s the point of this? And because we failed to see the point beyond the next test, we learned only what was necessary and quickly removed the information to make way for more exciting or entertaining things to fill our heads, something we believed to be important to our lives.
It is a silly example when we think of Algebra, but when it comes to matters of faith, when we wrestle with big questions, if we can’t see or understand the point, then we fail to make it a priority in our lives. Our faith gets deconstructed and devalued and oftentimes, if we ask “what’s the point of faith,” without a reasonable answer, our faith can eventually wither up and die.
Last week we began by looking at the point of Jesus’ life. Did he simply live to die? Or is there something about the way he lived that we need to pay attention to? Yes, there is. The thirty-three years he spent on this earth weren’t just for passing the time until he died. When we look at how he lived, we see three things: that he provided an example for us to follow, he revealed to us a God who is pursuing us, and it is in his life that he established the kingdom of God, or began the process of restoring all things, revealing what life in this kingdom would be like. We cannot miss the life of Jesus.
Today we continue our series by coming to what many people think of when they think of Jesus, but what I also think many fail to understand. What’s the point of Jesus’ death?
There are multiple ways we can ask this question and a multitude of other questions that come to mind when we dig deeper. Why did Jesus have to die? Was this the only way for God’s plan of salvation to come about? If he is God, couldn’t he just have forgiven without death? Pagan gods required sacrifice. How is the Christian God any different from them?
For some of us that grew up in a predominantly Christian culture, the idea of the death of Jesus can almost be routine. If we aren’t careful, we can spout off the facts of the end of his life with no emotion, no real thought to what his death meant and why he died. Like we read in the Apostle’s Creed last week, “I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and was buried..”
But I don’t want us to miss what happened at the cross. At one of the most pivotal, if not the most pivotal point in human history, Jesus died. But what’s the point of Jesus’ death?
An Unorthodox Plan
I think as we begin examining the cross, we need to understand that focusing on the death of Jesus, the death of the founder and central figure of our faith, is a little unorthodox. In fact, this idea sets Christianity apart from most, if not all other religions.
Most religions look to the teachings of the leaders, and when they die, they are just dead. Yet for Christians, the death and resurrection of Jesus is central to our faith. We look at what the first century Christians taught and we find the death of Jesus, the cross, to be front and center.
For instance, we read in Peter’s first sermon in the book of Acts,
Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.
And Paul in 1 Corinthians said,
For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures
—1 Corinthians 15:3
and even the Apostle John said,
This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.
—1 John 3:16
The death of Jesus is central to understanding why Jesus came. And even though I spent an entire message last week talking about the importance of his life, we must understand that it is in his death that we can have life. It is a paradox to speak and it reveals an incredibly unorthodox plan.
How is this possible? How can life come from death? To begin to unpack this, let’s look at what the Apostle Paul writes about it in Romans 5. We need to understand more of the story and specifically our condition to see why this was necessary.
You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and the death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned.
But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! Again, the gift of God is not like the result of the one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.
Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men. For just as though disobedience of the one man the many were made sinner, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.
The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death , so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
—Romans 5:6-12, 15-20.
Why death? Death was already here. Death was what humanity was under and suffering from because of sin. This problem of death goes back to the garden of Eden when Adam and Eve willingly disobeyed God. When Adam decided that he was no longer content being with God but that he should actually BE God. And as Paul tells us here in this passage, in that moment of Adam’s sin, death came to all people. Through the one man, everyone was affected.
In Adam’s sin, we all sinned. And Paul makes sure to use the word ALL. No one is exempt. Death was the consequence of our sin and rebellion against God. Spiritual death. So what may look like an unorthodox plan by God to have Jesus die on the cross actually wasn’t this brand new idea. Death was already here. Death existed. And Jesus stepped in and put himself in our place.
And just as the sin of one man brought sin and death to humanity, so the sacrifice of one man, Jesus Christ, one righteous act as Paul described it, brings life. Through Adam’s actions there was condemnation, but through Jesus there is justification. In Adam we see disobedience. In Jesus we see obedience. The consequences of Adam’s deed is destruction. The results of Jesus’ action is reconciliation. In this unorthodox plan, Jesus takes our place, is our stand-in, and he absorbs the consequences that should have been ours.
Now I realize this still doesn’t really answer “why death?” If God is God, couldn’t He have simply forgiven without all this death stuff? What we have to understand about forgiveness, is that when there is a debt, there is always a cost. Someone has to pay. And just because someone forgives, this cost is not removed.
In the book, “The Pursuing God,” the author gives a great example. It’s one I think we can all relate to. In 2008, the United States suffered the great recession. There was a housing crisis,, banks failed, and the government stepped in to save those banks that people called “too big to fail,” with the largest most expensive bailout in history. The debts of these banks were “forgiven.”
But forgiving the debt didn’t mean it went away. It meant that someone else covered it. And that someone else was you and me, the American people. Could God just forgive? He did. And he himself assumed the debt. He covers the cost. What you and I were unable to pay, in the death of Jesus, we
find the words “Forgiven.” But don’t for a minute think there could have been forgiveness without someone suffering. God decided to be the one to suffer in our place.
A Willing Savior
Not only in the death of Jesus do we see an unorthodox plan, but we also find a willing Savior. Often we hear the
question, “Why did Jesus have to die?” Let’s get something straight: He is God. He doesn’t have to do anything. He is in control.
And I really don’t like this question because it distorts what really happened on the cross. Look with me at Mark 10:45. In a moment of teaching to his disciples about serving and disciples who wanted positions of power instead, Jesus made this statement,
“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” —Mark 10:45
In this one statement we see the heart of one who loves so deeply he is willing to do whatever it takes to reconcile humanity to God. Why did Jesus have to die? He didn’t. He didn’t have to die. He chose to. No one
took his life. He willingly laid it down.
In Christian circles there is a story that often gets circulated and even posted on Facebook. It is the story of a man who was a railroad drawbridge operator. One day the man took his young son with him to work. Realizing that it was time for the bridge to be lowered for an oncoming train, the man moved to the control room to perform his job. But the man realized that his son was playing below the gears and if the man lowered the bridge, his son would be crushed. But, if he didn’t lower the bridge, the people on the train would careen to their deaths.
With all the pain and agony possible, the man knew the right thing to do was to sacrifice his son for the life of those on the train. And so, the train went by, with the people completely unaware of what had happened. It’s a touching story, but a completely inaccurate story in how it relates to Jesus.
Jesus was not some hapless victim playing under the train tracks and he didn’t just happen to be killed because his father pulled a lever. Not at all. He was a willing Savior. Jesus even said so in John 10:18,
“No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord…”
Even as Jesus laid down his own life, what about this question: Doesn’t the cross just show a God taking his anger at the world out on his son? Isn’t this just divine child abuse? Is God taking out his anger on his son, Jesus? I can certainly see where some might draw this conclusion. But it breaks down if you see Jesus for who he is. It’s not just that he is the Son of God. He is God!
God isn’t inflicting pain on someone else. He is taking it on himself. He’s not demanding blood like the pagan gods of the Old Testament. He is giving his very own blood. God is taking the cost of forgiveness upon himself.
And what we find in this unorthodox plan carried out by a willing Savior are absolutely amazing results.
Please realize that we could spend a week talking about each of these things. We are going for an overview today so that we walk away with an understanding of the point of Jesus’ death.
What are some of the results of the cross?
First we find salvation. This is where most people start and stop when we think about Jesus’ death. We are saved from the penalty of sin. That’s where we get what’s called the Penal-Substitutionary Atonement theory. He took my place, our punishment.
NT Sholar John Stott put it this way, “The essence of sin is we human beings substituting ourselves for God, while the essence of salvation is God substituting himself for us. We… put ourselves where only God deserves to be; God… puts himself where we deserve to be.”
Probably the most familiar verse in the Bible, John 3:16-17, says,
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
Unfortunately for many of us, we see the death of Jesus stopping there. But like many things in life, his death isn’t all about us. In fact, it is much bigger than just our salvation.
Because in his death he also brought victory. He brought victory over Satan, victory over evil, victory over death and hell. For you theologians out there, this is called the Christus Victor view of atonement. His death on the cross brought to realization the plan of God that he had from the beginning to defeat satan and bring about deliverance for humanity from his oppression, to bring an end to the cosmic war that had been raging since the Garden of Eden and bring to fulfillment Genesis 3:15 where God said,
“And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”
The cross is Jesus crushing the devil’s head and bringing victory. The cross also brought about restoration. It was in his life that he inaugurated or launched the kingdom of God, but it was on the cross that he was crowned the king of this new kingdom. And it was from this moment on, tied together with the resurrection, that the world was forever changed. The new citizens of the kingdom started living differently and were accused of turning the world upside down.
Even though Jesus started it during his life, it was his death that was the line in the sand moment. Even in their preaching, the apostles talked about Jesus, who was crucified, being both Messiah, the promised one, and Lord.
And there is one final result of Jesus’ death. In his death we see the revelation of God’s Love. I could take us to verse after verse for this one, but John said it very well when he wrote,
This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. —1 John 4:10
What better thing could God have done to show us how much he loves us than looking at us and saying, “I know you can’t do it. The price is too much. The debt is too large. But don’t worry. I’ve got this. I will forgive. I will cover
the cost myself so that you can know me, so that you can have life.”
This is just a glimpse of the results of the death of Jesus. We could go on and talk about how his death is an example, how it paid a ransom, how he was a sacrifice and fulfilled the Old Testament sacrificial system with a once and for all sacrifice. However, I hope you’ve seen that there is a point to the death of Jesus. He didn’t die for no reason. In fact, the point of Jesus’ death was to bring victory, salvation, and life.
What we are talking about here in the death of Jesus and the cross is brought together in the word atonement. Atonement literally means “At One Ment,” bringing that which is divided back together again, bringing us and God together again. And God does this through the death of Jesus on the cross.
For some, this may seem foolish. Death. Sacrifice. Victory. All could be see as a waste. Because the cross is not necessary if we don’t see our sin as a problem. If we don’t see ourselves and our condition, the cost of our sin properly, we will never understand why Jesus had to die.
But if we see our sin, if we understand the power of death and the grave, then we not only see, we understand the necessity and our great need for Jesus to die.
The death of Jesus was God’s plan of restoration and salvation…If you reject that, can I ask then, what’s your plan of salvation? What’s your plan to restore? Christ has done what is necessary. God has taken upon himself the penalty of sin. Do you see the point of Jesus’ death? And will you receive the life that awaits, the life that Jesus came to bring?
One of our core values is movement. We are always encouraging people to take steps in their faith. Maybe the step you need to take today is that first step of belief and repentance. Stop denying or running, and instead see the death of Jesus as necessary. Today, may you take a first step in trusting him as your Lord and Savior.