Practical Christianity

…training in godliness

Reflecting on the Death of Christ

This coming weekend is Easter weekend. It is a time to reflect and perhaps in a way celebrate the death of Jesus Christ on the cross so many years ago. What is the cross of Jesus Christ all about? In history, many people have died on a cross. History records a time when about a thousand slaves were crucified at one time when they revolted against Roman rule those many centuries ago. So, what makes the death of Christ on the cross unique?

In order to see what is unique about the death of Jesus, we must travel back in time, a long while ago. We must travel to a garden where two people, a man, and a woman, were standing by a tree and talking to someone else. That other person was making them question whether or not they would actually die if they took of the fruit of the nearby tree and ate. They decided that the tree did look good for food and that the fruit was desirable, so they took the fruit off the tree and ate.

Everything changed

In that garden, called Eden, Adam and Eve did something that they had never done before. They disobeyed God. Instead of being like God knowing good and evil, like that other person, Satan had promised, they knew that they were naked, and they felt ashamed. They hid from God because they were afraid of him.

God had made them glorious, in his image, in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness with dominion over the earth. He had spared nothing for their good making all of the trees in the garden for their pleasure, enjoyment, and sustenance. All the trees except one. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil was the only tree out of the countless in the garden of which they could not eat. There was nothing special about the tree, nothing magical. Rather, it was a test of their obedience, thankfulness, and love to God. It was a test that they failed.

When Adam, who represented the whole human race, sinned his posterity sinned in him (Romans 5:12). The taint and corruption of his fallen nature and the lack of original righteousness now infests all people. All sin and fall short of the glory of God.

As a result of the fall men and women sin. Outside of the regenerating grace of God, the desire in all people is to sin. It is not just the act of sin; it is the desire to sin, the delight in sin, which shows the level of corruption to which humanity sank. David summarizes this fallen condition in Psalm 14:2-3, “The LORD looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.”(1) James tells us, “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death”(James 1:14-15) Sin is not merely outward action; sin has become part of the fabric of the human soul: mind, will, and affections.

The Uncomfortable Reality of Sin

Dear reader, do you not see this within yourself? The quick flash of uncontrolled anger, lashing out at your loved ones in unchecked pride (Proverbs 29:22 & 23). Even while walking beside your spouse, the extra-long glance at another person walking nearby, committing adultery at that moment in your heart (Matthew 5:28). The regular habit of looking at online pornography causing the images to burn into your memory, an easy target for Satan to lure you back with time and time again (Proverbs 7). The unthankfulness for a job that doesn’t quite provide the respect in others you had hoped for (1 Thess 5:18). The habit of twisting the truth to downplay your situation when in trouble, or to make yourself look good when the opportunity comes (Exodus 20:16). Dear friend, this is only a tiny list of some possible sins we commit against our neighbor and in our hearts.

What about our sins committed directly against the person and character of God? How often do we justify our sins to ourselves and in this very act attempt to remove God from his throne placing ourselves there in his stead? How often have we made a false image of God in our minds by suggesting to ourselves that our transgression was just a small one? We think, “everyone does it”, and God will simply let it pass, thereby denying his justice. How often have we blasphemed the name of God, especially if we are Christians bearing his name in our identity when we sin in front of others who ask themselves, “Is that how Christians act and speak”? These examples do not even mention the fact that, “…man’s nature, so to speak, is a perpetual factory of idols.”(2) Must we not cry out with Paul in Romans 7:24, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” We must confess that compared to God’s law, summarized in the ten commandments, we fail miserably. Our failure is not only in our outwardly disobeying God’s commandments and failing to conform to them, our failure is also our natural attraction to that which is evil.

We are sinners.

Our Only Source of Hope

When crying out regarding his wretched sinful state the apostle Paul did not leave his readers in a hopeless situation in Romans 7. He followed that declaration of self loathing in verse 24 with these marvelous words, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:25a). Dear sinner, Jesus Christ came into this world in order to save sinners like the people described a moment ago, people like you and me. “…God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Jesus came to die for sinners.

Jesus Christ, who the Bible declares to be both eternal and true God and true man, did die on a cross about two thousand years ago. His death is most extraordinary. In dying on the cross, he humbled himself and became a curse as Galatians 3:13 says, “…Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree” (See also Deuteronomy 21:22&23). Remember that an element of the curse of sin was weeds and thorns being brought into this world and another aspect of Jesus Christ becoming a curse is that he had a crown of thorns painfully placed on his head in mockery by the soldiers who crucified him. Indeed, the physical suffering of Christ was horrific.

To add to the horrific physical torment which Christ suffered was the unspeakable nature of his spiritual suffering. Before he was even arrested, we read in Matthew 26 that Jesus was suffering so greatly that his soul was, “very sorrowful, even to death” (vs 38). Luke describes Christ’s suffering as being so intense and so agony-filled that he was sweating great drops of blood (Luke 22:44). What was the nature of this suffering? He had not yet been arrested, scourged, and crucified yet and we read of great suffering by Christ. This great suffering was as a result of the wrath of God being poured out on him. Jesus was rejected by God and crushed in soul as well as crucified in body.

This great suffering and death of Christ was vitally necessary for sinners. Through it he paid the penalty of guilt for all the terrible transgressions of those who put their trust in him, no matter their past sins. When Jesus cried out “It is finished!” he declared that his atoning work was complete. All the sins of those who put their trust in him had been paid for; they had been washed clean! This is the uniqueness of the crucifixion of Christ. He merited salvation for all those who have faith in him.

Paul gives us wonderful assurance if we place our trust in this great Saviour, “…if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” and, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame” (Romans 10:9,11). Jesus Christ is a suitable and sufficient Saviour and is worthy of our trust, worship, and obedience.

As we approach Easter let us consider our unworthiness as sinners. If you are a Christian today, trusting in Christ Jesus for your faith and life, let your mind be filled with joy and wonder at the grace of our loving heavenly Father. It is he who sent Jesus Christ to live a righteous life for us and to die on the cross, suffering the wrath of God in our place, so we would never have to endure an eternity of punishment which our sins deserve.

Who was the guilty? Who brought this upon thee?
Alas, my treason, Jesus, hath undone thee!
‘Twas I, Lord Jesus, I it was denied Thee;
I crucified thee.
 
For me, dear Jesus, was Thine incarnation,
Thy mortal sorrow, and Thy life’s oblation;
Thy death of anguish and thy bitter passion,
For my salvation.
 
Therefore, dear Jesus, since I cannot pay Thee.
I do adore Thee, and will ever pray Thee,
Think on Thy pity and Thy love unswerving.
Not my deserving.(3)

(written by Johann Heermann, 1630)

  1.  Scripture Quotations Are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), Copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a Publishing Ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by Permission. All Rights Reserved., n.d.
  2.  John Calvin, Calvin: Institutes of the Christian Religion, Volume 1, ed. John T. McNeill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles, 1559 translation edition. (Westminster John Knox Press, 1960), p 108.
  3.  Boards Of Publications Of The Christian Reformed Church, PSALTER HYMNAL Doctrinal Standards and Liturgy of the Christian Reformed Church (Boards of Publications of the Christian Reformed Church, 1976).

John Nymann

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