As we pray for our nation through this Resurrection Weekend (see An Easter Prayer for America), it’s important to consider the full sacrifice of Jesus. Was His sacrifice really just a physical one? His death on the cross certainly fulfilled the requirements of the Law for redemption, but Christ’s sacrifice went even deeper than what He endured on the cross.
Did you see Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ? If you haven’t seen it yet, let me warn you, I wouldn’t rate it among the top ten date movies in history. You’d be better off going with The Vow or even Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter [Editor’s Note: Since this site leans heavily on the genre of history, it should be pointed out that Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter may contain historical inaccuracies]. Back to The Passion; Gibson’s goal in The Passion was to offend your senses. The film was so violent and so graphic that it’s difficult to imagine anyone going through that much suffering for anyone else. I literally thought I’d throw-up during the flogging scene and found myself surprisingly glad when Jesus finally died so His suffering would stop. It was horrific. Gibson undoubtedly accomplished his goal, but by concentrating on those few terrible moments the movie completely missed the real sacrifice of Christ. After all, others had been crucified and still more suffered other terrible deaths to bring God’s glory to the people. Bartholomew was skinned alive. Christ, of course, was the only one worthy to act as a physical sacrifice for us, but His real sacrifice—the one Gibson’s movie missed—was His emotional sacrifice.
BEFORE THE BEGINNING:
Christ’s sacrifice didn’t begin with His emotional prayer at Gethsemane or with His arrest in the garden. His sacrifice started before the beginning of time when He and the Father made a single remarkable choice. Jesus’ story doesn’t begin in a manger. Scripture tells us all of creation is created for and by the Son. It was Christ at the burning bush; it was Christ who loved us in the moments man was being created.
He had two choices as he breathed life into Adam’s lungs. He could create a slave-like race of followers (a perfect world but without the possibility of love) or He could give us free-will. Love cannot exists without choice and God so intensely wanted a relationship with us that He put all of creation at risk to give us the opportunity to love Him back. This is where Christ’s sacrifice began. Imagine that moment when God breathed life into Adam. The world was perfect and Adam loved his Lord with everything that he was. But God knew the cost of what he had given man from the beginning. Those He loved would only repay Him with hate, and would choose to worship the creation they themselves had brought imperfection to above their Father.
He watched as humanity took His gift of perfect love and rejected it.
He watched, knowing that the cross would now be waiting for him to reclaim us.
He watched, knowing most would still reject him even after the cross and
He watched as the highest of Angels, whom He loved, made it his eternal mission to destroy us.
All this for Love to exist. This is where Christ’s sacrifice began.
GIVING UP EVERYTHING:
What do you do when your child is lost? You find them… no matter the cost, and you never give up the hope of finding them. You will give up everything and go anywhere to find them. That’s what Christ did next. We can’t imagine the perfection of Heaven or the glory of God’s thrown, but we know it’s greater than our own comprehension and we know Christ left it to come find us. Our Christmas displays often portray a quaint if not beautiful display of the manger, but there was nothing quaint about it. The Creator of humanity came into the darkest and most lowly of positions to find us exactly where we were lost. But even if Jesus had come into the world as a child in a palace of gold, it still would have paled in comparison to what he gave up in His Heavenly home. Those who hated Him were no longer at a distance but would have direct access to him. He would be surrounded by the corruption of those who rejected Him, but still he pressed on to find His lost children. Still he was willing to sacrifice more for them. Imagine leaving your home and going to the darkest most dangerous city in the middle of the night to find your lost children… the stench, hate, and fear on every street corner. But if you knew you could get them back… or that there was a chance you could get them back, you would go. And so His emotional sacrifice for love continued on Earth for 33 years.
THE TRUE SACRIFICE OF THE CROSS:
Now we come to it… The part of the story so well covered by the media of God’s church; the cross. Christ’s physical death is a fulfillment of the Law and His resurrection the guarantee of eternal life. It was the moment when death was defeated and the eventual destruction of evil revealed. I do not mean to downplay the importance of Christ’s physical sacrifice or suggest that His pain was not more than I can imagine. It was, but Christ suffered an even greater sacrifice on that cross—a pain greater than what any man was capable of inflicting on Him. There are hundreds of songs and scriptures describing how Christ took our place; how He took the punishment for our sin. We think of that sacrifice as the pain of the cross. We think of that sacrifice as the nails in His hands but there was a bigger price to be paid. As Jesus, the creator of the world, hung from that cross bleeding and beaten to fulfill His Word, He took our sins and placed them on His own shoulders. In that moment, he took on the real sacrifice for our sin. The Son, who had lived His existence to please the Father from before the beginning of time, now found Himself completely alone. For the first time, Christ found He could not call Him “Father,” and Jesus called out “My God, my God! Why have you abandoned me?!” (NLT) The Father could not look at the sin upon Jesus—He turned away from His son; Jesus was completely separated from God. He was alone.
My dad is one of my heroes and even with all my imperfections, I can not imagine the pain of seeing him turn away from me in disgust. I can not imagine the inconsolable pain and darkness I would feel. I can’t imagine him saying we were no longer family.
Jesus took our place, but it wasn’t the cross He saved us from. The cost of sin is not just a physical death but an eternal one. The cost of unrighteousness is being forever separated from God with the knowledge of His glory. The price is being completely alone and without hope forever. That’s what Christ was willing to take on for us. That’s the price that needed to be paid—and it was paid in full when the Messiah called out, “It is finished.”
We’re called to tell the Good News by the way we live our lives. Do we live our lives like we’ve been delivered from this darkness or do we get mired down by the annoyances of every day life? Do we remember the emptiness we’ve been spared? I am so thankful… but to be honest, so ashamed of the way I sometimes present myself. Do non-believers see a freedom in our lives—even in times of trouble? They should, because we have been freed from more than the cross. We’ve been freed from hopelessness and fear. We are the lost children who have been rescued.
Please see the Condition of Use for this blog.
© Joshua J. Masters and American Psalms, 2013.
Image by Doug1021, Flickr Commons.