Posts Tagged ‘substitutionary death’

In Easter We Can Know That God Loves Us With His Life

April 4, 2010

What is the message of Easter?  It is that Jesus of Nazareth conquered death.  It is that “He is risen, just as He said” (Matthew 28:6).  And in rising bodily from the grave, it is that Jesus was vindicated in everything He said about Himself.  The One who said, “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25) put to the lie the Pharisee’s mockery that “He saved others, but He can’t save Himself” (Matthew 27:42).  In rising from the dead, Jesus demonstrated that He is indeed “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).

Over the centuries, Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike have provided many arguments for the existence of God.  But the Bible never makes any such attempt.  God’s existence is as much assumed as is our existence; and to question one’s existence would be as silly as to question one’s own existence.  Thus, the first words of the Bible are, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1).  We are told, “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God'” (Psalm 14:1).  Paul says in Romans:

“The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse” (Romans 1:18-20).

And James tells us, “You believe that there is one God.  Good!  Even the demons believe that – and shudder” (James 2:19).

There is clearly a great deal more to the Christian faith than merely believing in the existence of God.

On my view, in agreement with St. Paul above, I believe that the existence of God has been made plain.  It is no amazing thing to believe in God; and as Alvin Plantinga has pointed out, such belief is properly basic.

Believing in God is not the “hard part” about being a Christian.  You want to know what is?  Believing that God – the creator of space and time, energy and matter – loves me and cares about meTHAT’S the hard part.

And that’s exactly the part that Easter morning speaks to.

Take a look at Eli Weisel’s Night, written from the vantage point of a Holocaust death camp survivor:

The first night in camp turned Elie’s life completely. It was the first time he learned how people could be so cruel to the others, it was the night that turned his dream to dust, and it was the night he lost the faith in God. From that day on, although many people believed the concentration camp is where the God tests them, judges their characters, and proves that God loved them, Elie doubted the God’s absolute justice. As time went by, Elie became accustomed to all the horrors he had experienced. Unlike the beginning of the book, which he take care the neighbors with all he can do for them, now he cared only the food but no one else. He was numb to the burning body, to the beating and to the hard works. But one day, the last hope was torn away from Elie when he had to witness the hanging of a small boy. “For more than half an hour he stayed there, struggling between life and death, dying in slow agony under our eyes.” (62) A man behind Elie asked, “Where is God? Where is He?….Where is God now?”  A voice inside Elie answered, “Where is He? Here He is-He is hanging here on this gallows…” (62) At this moment, Elie’s world was collapsed, and the God was murdered.

In this account, God hanging on the gallows represents the death of God, in the sense of extinction.  But there is another side to this story.  Because God Himself – in the form of the Son of God who had assumed a human nature so that He could live a perfect human life and die a substitutionary death for the sins of mankind – actually DID hang on a cross.

Our suffering certainly doesn’t prove the death of God when God Himself has entered into our suffering.  Rather, God suffered so that He could ultimately put an end to suffering.

God is not dead.  He did die for us.  But death could not keep Him down.  He rose from the grave.  He conquered death.  And He is now gloriously alive forevermore as the first fruits of resurrection life that one day every believer will experience.

Easter assures us that God did not create planet earth to serve as His fishbowl.  He is not looking dispassionately down at earth.  In the Incarnation of the Son of God, God demonstrated that He not only cared about His creation, but was willing to go to the farthest possible lengths to save His wayward creation and win it back to Himself.

The Incarnation of God is the greatest love story ever told.  The Son of God – God Himself in every way – chose to temporarily set aside key attributes of deity and assume a human nature.  God created man in His own image (Genesis 1:26-27) so that one day He could become a man.

And so God came into the world, born of a humble virgin into a carpenter’s family.  Perfect God became a perfect man; Jesus obeyed His Father perfectly, and never sinned even once, so that He could be “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).  Jesus said of His own purpose, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).

Jesus said, “No one can take my life from me.  I sacrifice it voluntarily.  For I have the authority to lay it down when I want to and also to take it up again. For this is what my Father has commanded” (John 10:18, NLT).  And Jesus allowed His life to become a sacrifice in such a terrible, humiliating, painful manner that no decent human being could have been able to even look upon His death, let alone endured it.  He allowed men who were literally filled with demons to unleash their rabid hatred upon Him.  And He demonstrated His compassion, love, and mercy even for those who were torturing Him when He said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).

Before He was crucified, Jesus was flogged in a manner that literally stripped Him to the bone, and ripped out chunks of flesh and muscle.  His body was very likely already dying.  A jagged crown of thorns was shoved onto His head as a form of further mockery.  And then He was forced to carry His own instrument of execution as He stumbled agonizingly along the Via Dolorosa (Latin for “the way of grief”) while jeering crowds mocked Him.

“And they crucified Him” (Mark 15:24).

Death by crucifixion was the most extreme Roman penalty.  Crucifixion is without question the most painful and humiliating form of official death penalty ever devised.  The word “excruciating” was Latin, and means, “out of the cross.”  The victim was displayed naked, and his slow death by suffering available for all to see as a warning to any who would dare to threaten the supremacy of Rome.

Here is a medical account of the suffering inflicted by crucifixion:

Jesus is quickly thrown backward with His shoulders against the wood.  The legionnaire feels for the depression at the front of the wrist.  He drives a heavy, square, wrought-iron nail through the wrist and deep into the wood.  Quickly, he moves to the other side and repeats the action, being careful not to pull the arms too tightly, but to allow some flexibility and movement.  The patibulum is then lifted in place at the top of the stipes and the titulus reading “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews” is nailed in place.

The left foot is pressed backward against the right foot, and with both feet extended, toes down, a nail is driven through the arch of each, leaving the knees moderately flexed.  The victim is now crucified.  As He slowly sags down with more weight on the nails in the wrists, excruciating, fiery pain shoots along the fingers and up the arms to explode in the brain – the nails in the wrists are putting pressure on the median nerves.  As He pushes Himself upward to avoid this wrenching torment, He places His full weight on the nail through His feet.  Again there is the searing agony of the the tearing through the nerves between the metatarsal bones of the feet.

At this point, another phenomenon occurs.  As the arms fatigue, great waves of cramps sweep over the muscles, knotting them in deep, relentless, throbbing pain.  With these cramps comes the inability to push Himself upward.  Hanging by His arms, the pectoral muscles are paralyzed and the intercostal muscles are unable to act.  Air can be drawn into the lungs, but cannot be exhaled.  Jesus fights to raise Himself in order to get even one short breath.  Finally carbon dioxide builds up in the lungs and in the blood stream and the cramps partially subside.  Spasmodically, He is able to push Himself upward to exhale and bring in the life-giving oxygen.

Jesus’ suffering was not merely physical.  His emotional and spiritual suffering were as unparalleled in human history as was his bodily suffering.  The Son of God had known eternal loving relationship with the Father.  But on the cross, Christ became a sin offering – And in His agony His Father was forced to turn away from Him.  Galatians 3:13 tells us, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.”

Jesus suffered as no human being has ever suffered.  And yet Jesus wasn’t a helpless victim.  We have heard Jesus say prior to His crucifixion that He would sacrifice His life voluntarily (John 10:18).  As the soldiers, priests, and mob came to arrest Him at Gethsemane, Jesus said to His disciples who tried to protect Him, “Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matthew 26:52).  A legion was 6,000, meaning 72,000 angels would have come to save the Son of God at His bidding.

For the record, ONE angel put one hundred and eighty-five thousand Assyrian warriors to death in one night (2 Kings 19:35).

So why on earth would Jesus have allowed Himself to be so horribly tortured and killed when He could have stopped it?

Because of His love for me.  And for you.

We talk about love all the time.  But we can’t even begin to fathom the depths of Christ’s love for us.

The last recorded word from Jesus on the cross was “Tetelestai.”  It is usually translated, “It is finished.”  But there is so much that we can learn from how that word was used in Roman culture at the time of Christ.  “Tetelestai” was used to stamp “paid” upon a receipt, and it was also the stamp put on a criminal’s charges once he had completed his sentence.  Paid in full.

In His substitutionary death, Christ paid the price for our sins.  All of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).  The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23).  But Christ paid the price for us in full.

As I said earlier, “the hard part” of Christianity is believing the incredible concept that the Creator of the entire universe actually loves and cares about me.  There’s your real miracle.  It’s believing that no matter what my temporary situation might look like, I’m NOT alone and unloved; rather, I am loved by a God who literally loves Me with His life!  But there is more.  There is more than we could ever imagine.

What is the meaning of Easter?

It is summed up in Philippians 2:5-11:

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

And because Christ was raised from the dead to glory, so also will those who love Him.

1 Corinthians 15: 50-57:

I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
“Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”
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.

What is the meaning of Easter?  On Easter morning, after loving humanity with His life, Christ was raised from the dead.  The Resurrection and the Life conquered death once and for all.  And He paid for our sins so that we could share eternal life in heaven with God. That’s good news indeed to anyone who wants to go to heaven rather than hell, but who isn’t as righteous and sinless and perfect as God.

Before He was taken away to be beaten, flogged and crucified, Christ assured His first followers:

“In my Father’s house are many rooms;
if it were not so, I would have told you.
I am going there to prepare a place for you.
And if I go and prepare a place for you,
I will come back and take you to be with me
that you also may be where I am” (John 14:2-3).

And Jesus’ bodily resurrection from the dead is all I need to know to believe that a beautiful room in the very house of the Father awaits me.  What incomprehensible joy awaits those who love Christ!

Christ loved us with His life (past tense); He now loves us with eternal life in Him and with Him.

And so every Easter, Christians from all over the world joyfully greet one another and say, “He is risen!”  “He is risen indeed!”


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