‘Jesus died, and we crucified him’; ‘if Christ is who he says he is, and if his sacrifice on the cross was necessitated by the problem of sin that we all share, then whether we were there pounding the nails or not, we are still responsible’ (The way of Jesus, by Rebecca Manley Pippert).
Which of the two following thoughts sounds most familiar to you: ‘Jesus gave his life on the cross for me’ or ‘Through my sin I crucified Christ’?
It becomes easy for us to say that Christ died to pay the penalty for our sin when we think of it as a voluntary gift on his part, but have you ever thought of the crucifixion in these terms: that you are responsible for the death of another person, an innocent person?
Matthew 20:28 says that Jesus ‘came … to give his life [as] a ransom for many’, but Acts 2:23 clearly states that Jesus, ‘being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death’ (emphasis added).
These are difficult concepts to understand in connection with each other. On the one hand, we have the fact that Jesus died on the cross voluntarily, because it was the will of his Father. On the other, it was our sin that nailed Jesus to the cross and brought about his death.
Rebecca Manley Pippert resolves it in this way: ‘It was God’s choice to send his Son to our planet and, through the mystery of the sacrifice of the cross, to offer us a bridge back to God … [but] we must acknowledge that it was our sin — as well as the sin of the whole planet — that led Christ to the cross’.
John Newton’s hymn also explains it well:
In evil long I took delight,
Unawed by shame or fear,
Till a new object struck my sight,
And stopped my wild career.
I saw One hanging on a tree,
In agony and blood,
Who fixed his languid eyes on me,
As near his cross I stood.
Sure, never to my latest breath,
Can I forget that look;
It seemed to charge me with his death,
Though not a word he spoke.
My conscience felt and owned the guilt,
And plunged me in despair,
I saw my sins his blood had spilt,
And helped to nail him there.
A second look he gave, which said,
‘I freely all forgive;
This blood is for thy ransom paid;
I die that thou mayest live.’
Thus, while his death my sin displays
In all its blackest hue,
Such is the mystery of grace,
It seals my pardon too.
Though we should praise God for his grace to us in sending the gift of salvation through the death of his Son, we must be careful not to forget the awful consequences of the sins we commit, and remember that we are responsible to God for each one.