The right equipment
October’s devastating earthquake in Pakistan proved one thing – to save people from disaster you need the right equipment. As on countless previous occasions, the availability or absence of helicopters and heavy lifting equipment proved crucial, as did tents to shelter the homeless and medical supplies.
The same principle applies in the spiritual realm. To save people from their sins demands the right equipment. Yet the only one who cansave us from sin was not by natureequipped to perform his saving work!
That may sound horribly wrong but let me explain. I am not saying there was some deficiency in Jesus, but that before he could become our Saviour he had to have the right equipment for the job.
By nature Jesus was fully God and therefore perfect in every respect. Perfect in power. Perfect in wisdom. Perfect in righteousness. Perfect in mercy and grace!
But the plan of redemption required Christ – who was already perfect in all respects – to acquire certain additional ‘equipment’. So (says the Bible) it was necessary for God, ‘in bringing many sons to glory, to make the author of their salvation [that is, Jesus] perfect through sufferings’ (Hebrews 2:10). The words ‘make perfect’ mean ‘to fit or qualify for a task’. He qualified for the task of saving sinners ‘through suffering’.
The equipment needed
How, then, did Christ suffer? First, he had to take upon himself our frail and fallible humanity. He could not perform the work of redemption without it. It was humanity that sinned against God, and only humanity could pay the price for that sin.
The animal sacrifices of the Old Testament could not atone for sin. They could only foreshadow the atoning work of Jesus. Even angels could not do it. Humanity had to do it! So at Bethlehem, the Son of God took our humanity.
A second piece of equipment he needed was sinlessness as a man. Being human was not enough – he had to wear that humanity without sin. If he had, even for one moment, committed sin, he would have had to atone for his own sins – and could not, therefore, atone for the sins of anyone else.
It cost Jesus a great deal to live sinlessly in a sinful world. Because he resisted temptation he experienced its torment to the full.
Yet a third piece of the redemptive ‘equipment’ was full identification with sinners. He had to experience what sinners experience – including dreading the judgement of almighty God. So in Gethsemane, the Lord Jesus fully identified with us – he saw the judgement of God coming and pleaded, ‘Let this cup pass from me’.
The plan of God
But the heaviest piece of equipment Christ needed if he was to save us was a Roman gallows – the dreaded cross. That was where Jesus suffered God’s judgement in our place and completed the work of redemption.
The Bible verse I quoted earlier said that Jesus was made ‘perfect … through sufferings’. That verse explains why the cross of Christ was necessary. It begins by telling us that God has a tremendous plan and purpose – nothing less than ‘bringing many sons to glory’; that is, God conceived a plan to bring a multitude of sinful, rebellious humanity into the eternal glory of heaven to share it with him. Now, you might think that a simple matter. If God wanted to do that, surely all he had to do was throw open the doors of heaven and say, ‘You’re in!’
But what seems simple to us was anything but simple for God. A huge impediment stood in the way.
The cross of Christ
The impediment is sin. God is a holy and perfect God, and heaven is a holy and perfect place. We think God can let people into heaven by simply ignoring their sin. We think he can dismiss it with a wave of the hand.
But God can’t do that. If God ignored sin he would deny himself – he would compromise his holy character. God’s holiness demands that sin be dealt with. And the only way it can be dealt with is by its penalty being paid.
What is the penalty for sin? God makes it very clear. It is eternal condemnation – being separated for ever from God and all that is good. That penalty, I say, has to be paid before God can allow a single sinner into heaven.
This is what the cross is all about. There Jesus willingly paid the penalty for all who believe. Only one who had no sins of his own could pay for the sins of others.
His physical sufferings are graphically depicted in the recent film The Passion of the Christ. But the greatest suffering he endured on the cross was spiritual, as he bore the wrath of God against the sins of those he came to save.
There the Father hid his face and withdrew his presence from his Son. Why would he do such a thing? Because Christ was there to bear the penalty for sin – eternal separation from God! Hell came to Christ on Golgotha that day so that those for whom he died would never have to experience it themselves.
And when hell is removed, nothing remains but heaven for those whom he redeemed! As we trust in his atoning work, Jesus brings us to glory through his suffering on the cross.
It is life’s supreme mistake to think we can enter the presence of God through some door other than the one Jesus opened on the cross. Jesus said, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’ (John 14:6).
Nothing in all this life is more important than understanding what that cross is about and receiving what the Lord Jesus Christ accomplished there.