“Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem; and the Son of Man will be delivered up to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn Him to death, and will deliver Him up to the Gentiles to mock and scourge and crucify Him, and on the third day He will be raised up” (Matthew 20-18-19).
Many years ago I studied the four gospels very carefully with one question in mind. Why did Jesus die? What do the gospel writers actually say about the reason for his dying? Being from a conservative background, I had always been taught that Jesus died as a sacrifice for our sins, and that on the cross he suffered the wrath of God in our place. Although most of the Western world has been taught a variation on this theme, it is utter nonsense, if not blasphemy against the sheer oneness and love of the Father, Son and Spirit. The clear teaching of the gospels is that it was the human race, not the Father, who cursed Jesus. It was the Jews and the Gentiles, not the Holy Spirit, who abandoned him. We rejected Jesus. We condemned him. We poured our wrath upon him and made him a scapegoat. The astonishing fact is that instead of retaliating, which he could have easily done, Jesus deliberately submitted himself to our profoundly broken judgment. He, the Father’s Son and the anointed One, willfully bowed to suffer our disdain and contempt. We ridiculed him, mocked him and murdered him.
Either our bitter rejection and condemnation of Jesus caught the Father, Son and Spirit by surprise, or it was part of the reconciling plan all along. Jesus did not come to balance a legal ledger, but to reconcile us. He came to establish a real relationship with the human race in all of its sin and terrible brokenness. And how did Jesus establish a real relationship with us in our sin? First, he became one of us, a human being, bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh. Second, he accepted and bore our darkened, abominable condemnation. Jesus did not die to suffer from his Father. Jesus died to meet us at our absolute worst, and dying in the arms of our scorn he did just that. Jesus bore our sin, not figuratively, but literally. We despised him, as Isaiah prophesied. We hated him and crucified him. As he accepted our derision and hatred, as he suffered our sin personally, as we beat him, spit upon him, cursed him and crucified him, he was meeting sinners in their dark, gnarled and twisted world—and he brought his Father and the Holy Spirit with him. This is real reconciliation.
Hallelujah. What astonishing and determined love.