Through Mel Gibson's movie, The Passion Of The Christ, millions of people are encountering the sufferings and death of Jesus in a new, deep, and personal way. No doubt many are asking, "What does it all mean? How does it affect me personally? And how should I respond?" Here are answers to these questions.
THE MEANING OF THE PASSION OF CHRIST
By Dr. J. W. Jepson
A red traffic light means stop, and most of us are careful not to run through it.
We might kill somebody or get killed ourselves. Also, that traffic signal has a penalty behind it, and it is the penalty that makes it a law. Without a penalty that stop light would be only very good advice. But because it is backed up by a penalty, people take it seriously. People pay more attention to penalties than to advice. And the greater the penalty, the more seriously they regard the law.
Now, God is not dealing with minor infractions. Planet Earth is in open mutiny. God is dealing with open, total rebellion in the human heart.
The fact of sin needs no proof. A drowning man needs no proof of the existence of water. He is surrounded by it and it is fast choking the life out of him. So it is with sin. It is everywhere, and billions of people are drowning in it.
If a person sins only three sins a day (and some people sin three sins in three minutes!), at the end of fifty years of sinning there would be against that person's record in the court of Heaven no fewer than 54,786 sins!
Who can truthfully say "I have never sinned?" None! All of us have sinned (Romans 3:23), and this fact alone completely cuts the ground from under all self-righteousness. We have all sinned, and the soul that sins shall die (Ezekiel 18:4). The broken law demands the penalty. Justice demands that God impose the penalty, and this He will do because He is just.
Nothing is nearly as destructive as sin. The whole creation must be protected against it at all costs. The moral law, supported by the most horrible penalty possible, stands as the universal bulwark against sin.
Yes, God has a world of guilty sinners on His hands; and as the moral Governor of the universe He is obligated to uphold moral law and moral order. That means the execution of the penalty on those who have broken the moral law. And that includes all of us..
But God is not willing that any should perish (2 Peter 3:9). God wants to forgive if possible, not punish.
So here is the problem. How can God exercise mercy safely? Forgiving sin is the most dangerous thing God can do. It means setting aside the penalty for someone who has broken the universal moral law. The most terrible penalty possible has not prevented people from sinning, and now should God remove even that deterrent? It would be wrong for God to do so. If even one person can get by with doing wrong, the basic integrity of moral law is violated. God cannot remove the penalty without acting in reckless disregard for the well-being of the entire creation.
If God is going to forgive sin--that is, set aside the penalty for someone who has sinned--something must be put in the place of the penalty that will do what the penalty is intended to do It must say to all once and for all that mercy must not be misunderstood as laxity.
If God is going to forgive sin and still be just, something must be done so the offer of mercy and pardon will not lead people to think, "That was easy. God must not be very serious about sin after all."
Well, what can that be? Repentance?
Repentance is a necessary condition of forgiveness. Unless we repent, we cannot be forgiven. But repentance alone is not enough. It is too easy in the sense that it promotes the "I-can-do-it-myself-whenever-I-get-ready" notion. No, our repentance alone will not save us. We have sinned against the holy Lord God of the universe, and only He can forgive us.
Then, why doesn't God just go ahead and forgive everybody? Because God is no fool. We would not respect Him if He did, just as we would not respect a judge or a governor who opened up all the prisons and turned all the inmates loose.
Well, then, what about a substitute? Let an animal be sacrificed as a substitute for the punishment of the guilty person. No, because the sufferings and death of a mere animal would not have nearly enough influence to turn people to God. They cannot satisfy the demands of the broken moral law.
A substitute is the right idea. But who shall it be?
Another mere human being cannot do it. For one thing, all of us have sinned. We would have to suffer the penalty for our own sins, and so we could not do it for someone else.
Shall an angel come from Heaven and become the sacrifice? No, because even the sufferings and death of an angel (were that even possible) would not have sufficient influence to be an effective preventive of sin and to break the power of sin in our hearts.
They could not satisfy the demands of the broken moral law.
Humanity has sinned, and humanity is accountable. Man must bear the penalty.
Who, then, can make the required sacrifice? Who can be our Substitute? Who can take our place and satisfy the demands of the moral law, that we have broken? Who can make a sacrifice of such magnitude and influence that, once it is clearly seen and understood, will do what even the penalty itself has not done? Who can take our place and redeem us from our sin and its horrific consequences?
It must be someone who is innocent, who can take the place of the guilty, demonstrating to all that in the exercise of mercy the moral law is not being compromised. Mercy is free, but it is not cheap. It cost the innocent substitute everything.
It would have to be someone who would do it solely out of supreme love, because he certainly would not owe it to us.
It would have to be someone of the highest status, position, and authority, because his sufferings and death would have to have utmost and universal influence. When people understood what he had done for them, it would have to affect them powerfully enough to turn their hearts to God and cause them to hate sin and forsake it.
But who? There is only one--God Himself!
But how can God do that? God is God, and not man. How can He be a substitute for us?
But who is this leaving the throne of eternal majesty, laying aside His divine prerogatives, taking on Himself full humanity, entering and developing in the womb of a virgin named Mary, and then as a new-born baby lying in a manger as the universe watched in wonder?
It is God Almighty in the Second Person of His eternal Trinity. His name is JESUS! God took upon Himself human flesh. He became one of us to save us.
The scene changes. We come now to Calvary. The sight shocks us. Jesus is hanging on a Roman cross. We stare at the blood that gushes from His wounds. We remember what God said in Leviticus 17:11, "The life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes an atonement for the soul." The truth hits us like a sledge hammer--that is the life of the Son of God being poured out for our sins!
How great is the guilt of sin? How great is God's commitment to provide the one and only way to forgive our sin without doing immeasurable harm by destroying respect for the moral law? How great is God's love, grace, and mercy? LOOK AT OUR SUFFERING, DYING SUBSTITUTE!
It is the spectacle of the ages. The great offended Lawgiver once and for all upholding the honor and integrity of the moral law by personally suffering under its penalty on behalf of us who violated it. He fully satisfied the demands of Divine justice and so made mercy possible. If the offender ever thought that his or her sins were not so bad after all, that God is not really serious in His pronouncements against evil--all he or she has to do is to look at the suffering, dying Savior for a correct view of the matter. We look and see our Substitute dying in agony and blood, and immediately we realize "that suffering and death is because of my sins; it cost God everything so I could be forgiven."
With one last heave of His holy soul, our Savior cries out, "It is finished!" He dies under the weight of our sins. He bridges the unbridgeable chasm between God and man, and brings us together.
In the death of Christ on the cross, God shows us several things.
He shows us how valuable we are. We are created in His own image and capable of endless joy or misery.
He shows us how much He loves us."For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life" (John 3:16).
He shows us the seriousness and the wickedness of our sins, how much we hurt Him by our pride, rebellion, and blasphemy; by the way we have ignored, rejected, and abused Him in our cruel selfishness. It shows us the guilt of the way we have treated others in our selfishness.
We see God's determination to forgive us only on conditions that would satisfy the demands of the moral law and effectively break the power of sin in our hearts and lives.
If the sight of Almighty God, our Creator and lawful Sovereign, taking on Himself full humanity to die in agony and blood on an old rugged cross, under the weight of our sins--if that does not break our stubborn hearts, make us love God and hate sin, then nothing will!
Now we see our sin in all of its ugly reality. How detestable, how repulsive it is! How can we even think of holding on to or going back to the sins that nailed Jesus Christ to the cross?
Isaac Watts expressed it so powerfully in a hymn:
"When I survey the wond'rous cross on which the Prince of glory died, my richest gain I count but loss, and pour contempt on all my pride.
"Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast save in the death of Christ my God; all the vain things that charmed me most I sacrifice them to His blood.
"See, from His head, His hands, His feet, sorrow and love flow mingled down; did e'er such love and sorrow meet, or thorns compose so rich a crown?
"Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were a present far too small; love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all."
The Bible says that Jesus "gave Himself for us that He might redeem us from all iniquity" (Titus 2:14). "He died for all, that they who live should not henceforth live to themselves, but to Him who died for them, and rose again" (2 Corinthians 5:15).
Let us go once more to Calvary. You are standing at the foot of the cross. Jesus is dying. The weight of your sins is pressing down upon Him.
Suddenly, the Savior looks up. His eyes meet yours. He calls you by name. He says, "I am doing this for you--because I love you."
Can you turn around, walk away, and go on living the life and doing the things that nailed Him there?
Doesn't everything in you move you to fall on your knees and cry out, "My Savior and my God, I didn't know you love me this much! Jesus, I give myself to You. I'm through with sin! Forgive me! I receive You as my personal Savior. I love You and I will live for You now and forever!"
Come. He is waiting for you.
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