“Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures.”—1 Corinthians 15:3
In the first part of this verse, Paul states his method and manner of preaching, and incidentally reveals the source and character of the ideal Gospel sermon. It is a transmitted message. “I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received.” The preacher does not originate it, he does not plagiarize it, he simply receives it from the risen Christ and delivers it to the waiting people. He cannot get it up. He has to pray it down.
Christianity is a historic religion. It is founded on certain authentic facts. Paul recites these facts in the order of their occurrence. The first great fundamental fact is the atoning death of Christ. “Christ died for our sins.”
It was an actual death. “Christ died.” It was a sacrificial death. “For our sins.” It was a predicted death. “According to the Scripture.” We are impressed first by the marvel of it, then by the meaning of it, and finally by the manner of it. We must admit that He really died. His resurrection requires it. Had He merely swooned upon the cross, there might have been resuscitation, but that is quite a different thing from resurrection. The record is unmistakable. John 19:33.
The Roman soldiers were familiar enough with death to recognize it when they saw it and they forebore the useless mutilation of a lifeless body. Men do not faint away when a Roman spear is thrust into a vital part. Indeed, the issue of blood and water from the ruptured pericardium showed that death had already taken place.
The marvel is that Jesus being what He was, could have died at all. It is appointed unto man once to die but death is the result of sin, but here is a man who never sinned. He was holy, harmless, undefiled and separate from sinners. It is not incredible that He should be brought under the power of death?
Would it not have seemed fitting that He should have gone to Heaven from the Mount of Transfiguration at the climax of His earthly ministry? Had He done so, however, He would have gone alone. Assuming that any one had been admitted to Heaven on the ground of His prospective sacrifice, every one would have been turned out from Abel down, and Heaven would have been depopulated to all eternity. He chose rather to come down from the Mount of Transfiguration and pass through the gates of death that when He did at last return to Heaven He might take with Him the hosts of the redeemed.
Translation, or a violent death, seem to have been the only ways in which He could have left the world. He could never have died a so-called natural death either from sickness or decay. The Cross was His objective from the first. Other men come into the world to live. He came into the world to die. His death was voluntary. “No man taketh my life from me. I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down and I have power to take it again.”
When the question is raised why it was necessary for the Saviour to suffer and die, the answer must be sought and found in the revelation of Holy Writ.
Reason is helpless and useless in the presence of this stupendous problem. Scripture teaches that Christ obeyed, suffered and died in our stead to satisfy an imminent demand of Divine holiness and thus remove an obstacle in the Divine mind to the pardon and restoration of the guilty.
Sin is intrinsically ill-deserving and God’s holiness requires its punishment. The love of God which desires and seeks the salvation of the sinner can only secure this end by satisfying the holiness of which penalty is the proper and necessary expression. This satisfaction can only be rendered by the one who unites with a human nature responsible to law, yet personally pure, the same Divine holiness that must be satisfied. The satisfaction, therefore, becomes a substitution as respects man and a self-oblation as respects God.
Jesus satisfies the claims of justice against humanity by voluntarily bearing the physical and spiritual death which is the penalty of sin. Since He is the embodied reconciliation and union of man and God, He offers the salvation He has wrought to all who will ratify His work by accepting Him as their Saviour.
For all such His atonement provides complete deliverance from the penalty of sin and emancipation from its power.
Two things are necessary to make the sacrifice of Christ a satisfaction for human guilt. There must be equivalence to the punishment which the sinner deserves and would have received. One hundred dollars in gold is the equivalent in value of one hundred dollars in copper, though by no means equal in bulk and weight. He is the gold, we are the copper.
There must also be a union between Christ and the sinner to establish the propriety of his being accepted as the representative of the sinner. This union is created by the Holy Spirit in the act of regeneration. Christ the sinless One consented to be treated as a sinner, that we, the sinners, might be treated as if we were sinless.
Death is the fruit of sin. Physical death is the separation of soul and body. Spiritual death is the separation of the soul from God. Eternal death is spiritual death perpetuated. Jesus suffered both physical and spiritual death. The immediate cause of His physical death was a broken heart. This may explain His dying so soon. Sometimes one condemned to crucifixion lingered several days before death brought release.
No single preliminary of the Cross nor indeed all together is sufficient to explain it, although victims sometimes died under the Roman scourge. Did not the spiritual death precede the physical and are they not related as cause and effect?
Consider what it must have meant to the only begotten Son of God to be forsaken by the Father! When that scream of agony rent the heavens, “My God, My God, why has thou forsaken me?” it was not the utterance of delirium. The dying Saviour was not the victim of a hallucination. It was a terrible reality. “Thou has made him to be sin for us who knew no sin.” God is of purer eye than to look upon iniquity.
Christ was the anti-type of the sin-offering. God was obliged to turn His face away from his well-beloved Son. It was the inevitable reaction of Divine holiness against sin. The Saviour had been forsaken by His disciples. He was now forsaken by His God. He trod the winepress alone.
Nevertheless, the manner in which he finally yielded up His life is most significant. It was far from the usual way in which men die. The strength slowly and gradually fails. The voice sinks to a whisper. At last, articulation fails through weakness and the breath stops with a faint expiring sigh and all is over.
“Jesus, when He had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost,” Matthew 27:50. What is the meaning of this cry? It is the battle cry of victory. It is the shout of triumph which bursts from the lips of a victorious warrior as he turns the tide of battle from defeat to victory and hurls his opponent to the dust. This was the outcome of the age-long conflict between the seed of the woman and the serpent.
Does Satan have the power of death? Has he at last succeeded in bringing the Son of Man beneath his scepter? His triumph was only temporary and apparent at the most. Through death the Saviour destroyed him that had the power of death, Hebrews 2:14, even as David cut off the head of Goliath with the giant’s own sword. Then and there the promised Seed of the woman placed His pierced heel upon the hissing serpent’s head and ground it into hell.
Thus He cancelled the handwriting of ordinance that was against us, taking it out of the way by nailing it to His Cross (Colossians 2:14).
This separation from God, through but momentary, was real and was spiritual death. His heart broke under the stress and strain of the incomprehensible anguish and physical death immediately followed. Since Christ is a Divine being, this sacrifice has infinite value and He would not need to suffer again nor to shed another drop of His blood to redeem then thousand worlds like this.
His atonement has not only infinite and eternal value but a cosmic application. Sin and salvation both begin in Heaven and so the heavenly things themselves require purification. Hebrews 9:23. “He comes to make His blessings flow, far as the curse is found.” O my soul, what a magnificent salvation! High as Heaven, deep as Hell and lasting as Eternity! Only an act of personal appropriating faith, just a word of open glad confession (Romans 10:9) and it is ours forevermore.