The Most Evil Political Act - and the Greatest Triumph in History (Part 2)
This is the final part of a two-part series. Read part one.
What actually happened as Jesus hung on the Roman cross? Why is it the centerpiece of history?
First, it’s important to understand that Jesus willingly gave His life. In John 10, we read this statement of Jesus: “I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.” Or consider this passage from Matthew 20:17-19: “Now as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, He took the twelve disciples aside and said to them, ‘We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will turn him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life.’”
Jesus was in control — of His life, His death, and His resurrection. As He stood before the Roman governor, Jesus was silent. He didn’t want to dignify the false charges made against Him with a response. So, Pilate asked Him, “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?” To which Jesus answered, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above” (John 19).
This magnificent, defiant rebuke to a man who believed he had supreme power is striking. Pilate must have been stunned and more than a little irked. And this is one of the reasons the cross is so offensive. It is a constant and powerful reminder of our impotence before our Creator, of our inability to meet Him on our own terms or press Him into a form that comports with our desires.
God is not like us. He’s not a super-powered, invisible human being with whom we can reason and come to terms. He is infinitely pure and holy and therefore cannot countenance sin, which is infinitely offensive to Him. That’s why eternal destruction is our lot — unless we accept the way of escape the Father, in His infinite love and compassion, provided. As the apostle Paul explained, “He made Him Who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (II Corinthians 5:21).
Let’s unpack that: He (God the Father) made Him (Jesus, God in the flesh) Who knew no sin (Jesus was morally flawless) to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become righteous (morally perfect) in the sight of the Father. As horrible as was His physical suffering, how much more was the suffering of “becoming sin” for us and taking on the full weight of the Father’s wrath against the very essence of sin Jesus had become.
Only a sinless being has the right to stand in the presence of God. And only an eternal God can take in Himself all human sin and then experience the punishment that sin deserves. And that’s exactly what Jesus did on the cross.
This was a judicial act. In Colossians 2:13-14, Paul explains it this way: “And you, who were dead in your trespasses … God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.”
We were spiritually dead, trapped by our trespasses against God. But in Christ, we have been forgiven of our sins, past, present, and future. How can we be forgiven? By accepting what Christ did for us — by taking the punishment we deserve, He has paid the debt we owe. That “record of debt” is like a list of charges written on a legal document. That list now has a stamp on it — “paid in full” — and has been nailed to the cross for all the world to see.
The God Who spoke the universe into being loved you so much that He sent His Son to be the atoning sacrifice for your sins — He didn’t want you to suffer forever for your violations of His will but instead made a way for you to know Him. He loves you, and showed it in the greatest way imaginable. Even on a rainy Tuesday while you’re stuck in traffic, working in front of a computer, loading a truck, sitting by a window, or changing a diaper, that’s good news. It’s real. It’s true.
But there’s more good news. Jesus is alive. The body in the tomb was flooded with new life on Resurrection morning. Death is the consequence of sin. Jesus never sinned. After He declared, “It is finished,” He could not but have been raised. So, the greatest news in the history of the universe is that He promises to give us eternal life and to begin transforming our lives when we come to know Him.
The apostle Paul suffered greatly for the cross of Jesus Christ. Yet in the midst of all this, Paul retained a joyous, restful, confident hope. He knew that Christ’s victory over sin and death meant victory for him, as well. This is why he could write the church in Galatia, “May it never be that I should boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (6:14).
Can each of us say the same?
Rob Schwarzwalder is Senior Lecturer in Regent University's Honors College.