The Innocent for the Guilty


Have you ever stopped to consider the strangeness of what happened on the cross for your sake?

I used to think that the gospel was absurdly irrational. You're probably used to it if you've grown up in a Christian family, but put yourself back in the mind of an unsaved friend. (They often ask great questions.)

How does it work—Jesus' death and resurrection? Have you ever wondered how anyone can be saved from God's wrath by what Jesus did on the cross?

You know the basic plot of salvation: Christ comes to earth as a man. He lives a sinless life, teaches and performs miracles, is hung on a cross, dies in the place of sinners, and is raised to life three days later. The Bible informs us that He bore the wrath of God so we could become one with Christ—God's own children.

So how does the innocent Man's death make us righteous before the Father? Jesus is punished instead of me—and I'm somehow forgiven. Christ dies so we can live eternally. How is that even... right?

Here's what I mean. We often talk about how our sin is like a massive debt that Jesus steps in to pay for us. But it isn't that simple, is it? If a dad punishes his son when the neighbor kid breaks his garage window, we wouldn't call that a beautiful picture of love. We'd call that messed up. I don't know anyone who would shrug and say, "Well, someone needed to be punished"—as if simply doling out a ration of punishment, never mind to whom, is ever how justice works.

In all other areas of life, we know instinctively that the offender is the one who must pay, not a guiltless party. Justice isn't a random punishment quota that simply needs to be filled by someone at the end of the day: the criminals on death row are the always the ones who go to the chair, not sympathetic spouses or parents who would gladly take their place.

And yet Jesus did take our place. "But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed." Isaiah 53:5 prophesied of it and Jesus fulfilled it. First Peter 3:18 says, "For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God."

He, the Holy One, willingly drank down the full cup of God's wrath for sins we committed. And if we respond to Him in faith, we enjoy the benefits of His righteous life; we're made joint heirs with Jesus, sons and daughters of the Most High, partakers of eternal life.

How is this even possible?

Questions for Discussion:

  • Why was it just for God to punish Jesus instead of you?
  • How is it that Jesus' death 3,000 years ago can make you and me righteous before God today?
  • If you had to describe how Jesus makes you righteous to an unbelieving friend, what would you say?
  • Why does understanding the gospel on this level matter?

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