The Easter season is upon us, but what does it mean? How do you describe to your friends the significance of this holiday? Why did Jesus have to die, and what happened on that Cross?
1) Jesus endures a painful, physical, human death.
Jesus—the fullness of God in human flesh—comes to earth to experience the depth of what it means to be human. Hebrews 4:15 says that Jesus did this so that we could have someone who goes before God that actually understands what it is like to live our lives. A significant part of human life is death, and Jesus dies a painful, physical, human death so that God can understand yet another aspect of human life firsthand.
In the Roman world, hanging someone on a Cross was considered the worst way to die, a punishment reserved for the worst of criminals. The Romans were meticulous about making sure that every element of this execution method sucked the life from the victim while prolonging his suffering. It began with a brutal, sometimes-fatal scourging with metal-laden whips that often left internal organs exposed.
Next, the agonizing victim was literally nailed to some variety of wooden post. Jesus was nailed to a t-shaped cross, His arms stretched out over the crossbeam and His legs nailed to the post at His ankles. Then the cross was lifted upright and dropped into a hole, suspending the victim in the air.
According to Scripture, Jesus hung on the Cross for six hours before finally dying. Crucifixion was a death designed to last for days as the victim was slowly asphyxiated. Each breath was an excruciating process, as the victim would pull his entire body up off the beam just to be able to inhale. When Jesus had finally died, a soldier reached up and ran a spear through Jesus’ side to ensure that He was dead.
It is important to contemplate the physical suffering that Jesus endured on the Cross. That incredible death of a perfect, innocent man reveals the depth of God’s love for humanity. God sent His only Son to come to earth and endure life as a human, to spend 33 years as one of us, and then to die at our hands by one of the most brutal methods ever developed. What manner of love He has shown!
2) Jesus is lifted up as the Messiah.
On the Cross, Jesus makes a bold statement about who He is to the Jews and to all those who crucified Him. He quotes a powerful psalm about the ruler that God will establish to lead His people to a new kingdom. Only instead of talking about this ruler as someone who will come, He talks about him as if the ruler had already come.
With this quotation, Jesus powerfully implies, “I am the Messiah that you have been waiting for!” And He is the Messiah who will one day return to reign over His people again.
3) Jesus provides a demonstration of God’s perfect love.
On the Cross, Jesus dies in place of all of us, paying the price for humanity’s wickedness. Paul says in Romans that, just as Adam’s sin in the Garden of Eden served as a representation for all of humanity’s guilt, Jesus’ perfect, righteous life serves as a representation for all of humanity, opening the doors for anyone who believes to be saved from the eternal consequences of sin.
Remember Jesus’ words to His disciples? “Greater love has no man than that He lay down His life for His friends.” On the Cross, Jesus lays down His life for each one of us, giving us a gift of love we could never repay. Paul points out the significance of God’s gift when he writes how rare it is for someone to lay down his life for a good man, let alone a bad one. “And yet God demonstrates His love for us in that, while we were still sinners,” Jesus died in our place.
What does Jesus’ death do for us? It secures the possibility of a real relationship with God. In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve squandered the gift of a fulfilling relationship with God—and they did it on our behalf. Our sin makes it impossible to have a relationship with God. And yet, when Jesus died on the Cross, He paid the price for all of those sins. Because Jesus paid that price, we have the chance to return to God on Jesus’ behalf.
4) Jesus provides a demonstration of God’s perfect justice.
Why did Jesus have to die? Because God is perfectly holy, and a holy God cannot stand the presence of sin. Since the Fall in the Garden of Eden, the relationship between God and humanity was broken. Yet, in His wonderful grace and forbearance, God provided ways for humanity to draw near to Him. For this reason, many who believed in God in the Old Testament will be in heaven, even though they did not know Jesus personally.
If God were to simply wipe away the sins of humanity, He would not be a just God. How could you and I trust God to avenge the wrong in our lives if God permitted evil in His presence? For this reason, the debt of our sin had to be paid. The wages of humanity’s sin is death—someone had to pay that price.
But who could pay that price on humanity’s behalf? The only acceptable substitute would be a perfectly righteous man, Jesus. The only way that the debt could be paid would be if God paid it Himself. For this reason, He sent Jesus to live among us and to die for us. Jesus served as the perfect sacrifice who could atone for the sins of humanity, paying the price for our sin once and for all.
by Jeffrey White