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Today, we discuss what theologians call the “humiliation” of Jesus. That is all of the work Jesus accomplished in coming to earth, taking a human body, living a perfect life, and dying the death planned for him by his Heavenly Father. As we focus today on his death, we must do so in the matrix of all of what Scripture teaches. With that in mind, there are two preliminary truths, or “primers” that we must lay out before we can understand Jesus’ work on the cross:
1. God must punish sin, and this is our biggest problem
Because God is holy, his reaction to sin must be the outpouring of his wrath. The Scripture is clear that God is not a God who extends the full extent of his blessings to all, but all unrepentant sinners will face his wrath and curse for all eternity. This, rightly, should make us uncomfortable. For, we are all sinners! Lest God provide some substitute for us, we are lost.
2. Jesus’ death was an historical event that actually accomplished something
Our faith does not “make” the crucifixion real, nor does it assign meaning to an otherwise unremarkable execution. Instead, we confess Jesus died on the cross at a certain time and in a certain place. And, when that death occurred, the wrath of God was truly poured out on him for all who would believe.
Those considerations are foundational for understanding what we confess. So, now we look to the death of Jesus in our creed and ask, so what?
Jesus was a Substitutionary, Atoning Sacrifice
Our Isaiah passage has a common theme running through it. This “Suffering Servant” of Israel would do all that he was charged to do not for himself, but for, “us.” God would punish him for the wrath that our iniquities deserved.
This substitutionary sacrifice was no mystery to the Old Testament believer. God instituted the slaying of animals in Israelite worship to show that the people required someone to stand in their place if their sins were to be forgiven.
This is exactly what Jesus does for us in his death, he takes the penalty as our substitute. That in and of itself should cause us to rejoice, yet Jesus does even more than that.
The death of animals in the Old Testament taught that the people needed not only a sacrifice that was substitutionary, but also atoning. That is, they needed more than just the penalty to be paid, they needed to be reconciled to their Holy God. God taught this by means of the blood of the sacrifice. The blood was the atoning force. The animal, who had borne the death they deserved, shed blood which allowed Israel to come before their God. The High Priest, representing all the people, would enter the Holy of Holies sprinkling (what else?) blood! The blood covered the people, and allowed them safe passage before a Holy, good, and wrathful God. The point was not only forgiveness, but reconciliation.
Jesus not only removes our punishment, he gives us right standing before God. Our salvation is not “getting away with” our sin, but receiving the greatest blessing of all: living and thriving before the face of God. Jesus Bore the Curse
Jesus Bore the Curse of God
Jesus died under the judgment of Pilate: a signal from God that he died “outside the camp” of God’s people. A crystal clear sign of curse. Not only that, but Jesus was crucified, another Old Testament sign that the one dying was cursed by God.
All this points out that the horror of the cross was not that Jesus hurt more than anyone else, or that the way he died was particularly humiliating. We confess that Jesus, “descended into hell,” because on the cross Jesus bore hell for God’s people: the wrath of a holy God.
The joy in Jesus’ death is that it was accomplished for us. That the seemingly irreconcilable distance between a Holy God and sinful creatures has been bridged. In Jesus, we have been set free, may we live as those made holy, who stand before God both now and forever.
1. Why is it so important that Jesus’ death actually happened? If it is only a myth, or it’s significance was exaggerated by earth Christians, what would that mean for us?
2.Discuss the relationship between God’s love and his wrath. Does one cancel out the other? Could it be that, from one perspective, his wrath is actually the outworking of his love against sin?
3.Why are substitution and atonement both such crucial concepts? How can we live like people who have just “gotten away with it,” instead of people who have been made able to stand before a holy God?
4.What was so bad about the cross? What does our general fixation on the physical pain of the cross tell us about what we believe our biggest need to be?