photo © 2010 David Brewster | more info (via: Wylio)
(Originally posted on my blog.)
A few weeks ago I read John Piper's book The Passion of Jesus Christ. He wrote it around the time Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ came out (can't blame a guy for wanting the cash in!). In the book, Piper gives 50 reasons why Jesus had to die. I'm pretty sure he wrote it for people unfamiliar with Christianity, because it's basically Penal Substitutionary Atonement 101. It's not a bad book, mind you; I just think Piper could have gone a little bit deeper.
I like to think that the atonement is like a puzzle: you have to put all the pieces together to get the full picture. If you focus only on one specific atonement theory--Penal Substitutionary, Christus Victor, Ransom, etc.--then you're only looking one little corner of the picture. From what I read of the Bible, the cross is way too big to be crammed inside our neat and tidy little theological explanations.
So why did Jesus have to die? Why does the cross matter so much? I'm only an amateur theologian at best, but here are some reasons why I think the cross still matters:
-Because on the cross Jesus paid the debt of our sin. Paul writes in the book of Romans that "the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus, our Lord" (Romans 6:23). Because of early mankind's disobedience, we all suffer death. Thankfully "just as one trespass [Adam's sin] resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act [the cross] resulted in justification and life for all people" (5:18). God Himself became a (hu)man to experience the pains of death so that we may have life.
-Because the cross defeats worldly and demonic powers. Jesus began His ministry by reading from Isaiah: "The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners" (61:1, emphasis mine). Okay, so what are we prisoners of? According to Jesus, "everyone who sins is a slave to sin" (John 8:34). He had to become captive to the worldly and demonic powers so that we, like Barabbas the violent radical, could go free.
-Because the cross puts to death our old selves. Paul says that "our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with,[a] that we should no longer be slaves to sin" (Romans 6:6). In other words, the part of you that wanted to the do the opposite of what God wanted, the part of you full of malice, greed, hatred, apathy, etc? That part is now dead. No, not weakened . . . DEAD!
The cross changes everything. And yet, it's still not the end of the story.
What does the cross mean for you?