Originally published May 1, 2018
We have a sinfully low view of sin.
We cannot overestimate the weight of sin when we see the cost of sin on the cross.
None of us lives up even to our own moral standards. Do you ever get mad and you regret it? Ever yell at someone and wish you hadn’t? Ever look at something and feel shame for it? Ever tell a lie or bend the truth and wish you could have it back? Ever manipulate people to get your own way? Ever do something where you know deep down it’s not what you should have done?
Of course you have.
We don’t live up to our own standards.
And if we can’t do that, how on earth do we live up to the standards of a holy God? We don’t and we can’t. We have nothing to go to God with on our own and say “you have to accept me. You have to love me. You have to let me into heaven.” On what grounds? We sin.
And it’s not just “well nobody is perfect.” But that we sin. We rebel against God. In our thoughts, in our hearts, in our actions, in our inactions.
Our view of sin is so low that we think we can master it on our own. Our view of sin is so low that we think we can do enough good to outweigh our sin.
Then why the cross at all? Why did Jesus die?
The world likes to judge God. Likes to say what he should do if he really were loving. That he’d just wipe the slate clean. That that would be love.
We like to tell God what love is. Because we have a sinfully low view of sin.
Because the reality is that God SHOWS US what love is. On the cross. That’s what love is. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friend (John 15:13). Jesus shows us what love is when he lays down his life for you. When he endures the penalty of your sin for you. When he bears the wrath of God for you.
And again that’s a message that many find offensive. That many hate. But that again shows our sinfulness when we try to judge God. We try to tell the God who made us what really would be just or holy or good.
We can’t earn God but he freely gives himself. On the cross. We might debate sin. Just how big of a deal it really is. Just how much it really matters. But Jesus shows us how big of a deal sin is on the cross. He shows us how imperfect we are on the cross, how sinful we are on the cross. Because he bears the weight of our sins.
We have a sinfully low view of sin.
We cannot overestimate the weight of sin when we look at the price Jesus paid for sin. Jesus didn’t die for you because your sins weren’t that bad. He did it because of the holiness of God and our inability to live up to that. But rather than to just have us languish with no hope, he gave us hope. On the cross.
Jesus is God. And because he’s God, he was a worthy sacrifice for our sins. For all of eternity, Jesus is God.
God came into the world. The word became flesh and dwelled among us (John 1:14). Born of a virgin at his incarnation, Jesus is fully man. And because he’s fully man, he is like us in our human nature. He lived the holy life we could not. The sinless life we could not. And he died for you.
Jesus goes to the cross and in going to the cross, he doesn’t simply die for us. He’s tortured for us. It’s not like our day and age where methods of execution are designed to be relatively painless. Crucifixion was designed to humiliate and maximize the torture and pain.
It was designed to prolong suffering. After being flogged to within an inch of your life, a person would have to carry the top part of the cross beam, which weighed upwards of 125 pounds to the place of his or her death.
Nails would have been driven through the wrists and feet. Just imagine the agony of that. And the cross beam would be hoisted up with the condemned person attached.
Struggling to breath, their body sagging down on the weight of their legs. Then pushing up somewhat to get more oxygen. And repeating this horrid cycle until a person died from asphyxiation or exposure to the elements.
But there we have God on earth. Dying in the most agonizing way. The most humiliating way. In a public way. But it was for the sins of the world. It was so we could be forgiven. Because as he was nailed to the cross, so was our sin.
We have a sinfully low view of sin.
That that was the price to be paid for it. God on earth dying for it. But he did it willingly. Not because he had to. But because of his love for you. That’s what love is.
Jesus never leaves us, he never forsakes us. His disciples let him down. Three times they fell asleep in the garden. Three times Peter denies Jesus. Judas leads the party who arrests Jesus. Judas walked with the Lord for three years. And betrayed him.
Jesus is brought before the Jewish ruling council. They’re not out for the truth, they’re trying to find any charges that will stick. They take his words out of context and bring him before Pilate, saying he should be crucified.
Pilate is an earthly authority, the governor. Pilate knows he can find no fault in Jesus. He sees the innocence of Jesus.
Pilate symbolically tries to cleanse himself: he took water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves.”
In the face of intense pressure, Pilate can’t bring himself to do the right thing.
He offers up an option. Pilate has a custom of annually releasing one prisoner. There is Barabbas who is a killer and an instigator of insurrection. Or they can have Jesus who is totally innocent. And they select Barabbas.
The Roman guards later mock Jesus. They make a crown of thorns, they hand him a reed as a makeshift scepter, they put a robe on him. They bow down and say “Hail, king of the Jews.” But again they play into the irony. Because Jesus IS the king. He’s the king of kings.
While he’s on the cross, the mocking continues. Jesus is crucified with two men who are guilty. And they too join in the mocking. The guilty mocking an innocent man. Dying people mocking the Lord. Crucified men who can’t even show humility for another man who is dying the same gruesome death.
The priests, scribes, and elders continue mocking Jesus, beginning in 27:42, “he saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him.”
It’s because Jesus didn’t come down from the cross that we CAN believe in him. Because Jesus died on that cross that day.
The mocking continues in 27:43 “he trusts in God, let God deliver him now, if he desires him.” Again they miss the point. God did not spare his son so that he could spare you.
The followers of Jesus, the betrayer of Jesus, the ruling Jewish authorities, the ruling Roman authorities. All contributing in various ways to Jesus’ death.
This isn’t the isolated failing of one person. It’s not a lone wolf assassin who takes out Jesus. If that had been the case, maybe we could chalk it up to one bad egg.
But in the passion narrative, it’s everyone. Everyone’s failures and sins lead to the cross. But even in spite of that, God is working it for his own glory.
In spite of that, God had planned throughout all eternity to actually use that evil and wickedness for our salvation. Because even though it was sin and evil that brought Jesus to the cross, it’s because Jesus went to the cross that he was able to die to sin for all who believe in him.
We see the sinfulness of humanity in Christ’s passion. We can’t downplay the sinfulness of humanity when Jesus came into our world and we killed him. The righteous and holy God who made the world came into the world and we crucified him. We can’t downplay the severity of our sinfulness with that one.
The most atrocious way that humanity has ever conceived of to end a person’s life, crucifixion is what is used against the righteous savior of the world.
But in spite of all of that, we again see the grace of the Lord on the cross.
Because Jesus bore infinite wrath for sin. There is infinite grace when we turn to him. There is no sin he is unable to forgive. It’s not that he died and can forgive every sin, but he can’t forgive that one, or this one, or what you did, or what you’re struggling with.
Infinite wrath because of our sin. But infinite mercy on the cross because of his grace.
Josh Benner is the associate pastor at Cornerstone Evangelical Free Church in Fergus Falls, Minnesota and has a Master of Divinity from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He enjoys writing about faith and culture. He lives with his wife Kari in Minnesota.