Many believe behavior determines one’s eternal destination, and by being “good enough” they can earn their heavenly home. But they have not grasped the crucial nature of Christ’s death on the cross. Jesus came to end our frustrated and inadequate self-efforts, and offer us not only a better way, but the best. In this message, Dr. Stanley examines the full meaning of Christ’s sacrifice and all that it makes possible for those who believe. As we understand more about His substitutionary death on our behalf, our hearts will be filled with gratitude and the recognition of His abundant blessings.
“Let him be crucified” (Matt. 27:22 KJV). That’s what the religious leaders of Israel demanded the Romans do with Jesus, and crucifixion was the worst kind of death imaginable. It was a practice that originated with barbarians centuries earlier and was handed down to the Persians, Greeks, and eventually the Romans, who refined it, causing the longest possible suffering for the victim. The reason the Jewish leaders demanded the execution of Jesus was because they wanted to get rid of Him once and for all. And that is still the wish of many people today who want nothing to do with the man called Jesus. But those of us who know and love Him want people to know that Jesus came to save sinners.
When Jesus entered the scene as an itinerate preacher proclaiming a new message, the religious leaders of the day hated Him for disrupting their religious system. They didn’t approve of His teaching and were afraid of losing control of the people. Yet the cross upon which they demanded He die became the means by which salvation was offered to all who would believe in Him.
First Corinthians 1:18, 22-24 contrasts two different perspectives of the cross—that of the saved and the unsaved. “The word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God … For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks … Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”
Jesus’ message was different from that of the Jewish leaders because He offered a whole new life. He told Nicodemus, a Pharisee and teacher in Israel, that no one can see the kingdom of God without being born again of the Spirit (John 3:3). In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus described a lifestyle pleasing to God that was different from what the Pharisees taught. It included love of enemies, the forgiveness of offenders, and trust in the heavenly Father to provide for needs.
In addition, Jesus performed amazing miracles that further upset the religious establishment. He went about healing the sick and even raised the dead. The crowds who followed Him were increasing, yet despite all the evidence of His deity, the religious leaders turned against Him and used their authority to bring about His death. They were angered by Jesus’ claim to be the eternal Son of God and the only way of salvation.
Although we may wonder how anyone could feel such animosity toward Jesus Christ, there are many people today who hate even the mention of His name because He presents a narrow way of salvation. They are willing to accept the general term God because every religion has a god of some kind, but Jesus’ claim to be the only way to the God offends them.
What we believe about Jesus is a critical issue. The Bible says Jesus is the only begotten of the Father, the Son of God. His coming was predicted by Old Testament prophets as the one who would set people free from sin and rebellion against God. Yet this belief is becoming less popular in our day because it threatens a society that desires freedom to do whatever it wants. They resent anyone, especially Christians, who tells them how to live. And the more believers obey, worship, and live for Christ, the more uncomfortable those around them become.
Jesus’ substitutionary death on the cross is at the heart of Christianity. This was the primary reason the Son of God came to earth—to die as a substitute for us. Because He was divine and lived a perfect life, He was the only possible candidate to pay for mankind’s sin. Therefore, He was born of a virgin and became human in order to die on the cross for us. God the Father placed our sins on Him, and Jesus suffered the wrath we deserved. Without His atoning death on our behalf, there would be no salvation, and we would all die in our sins and be forever under God’s wrath.
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