Jesus’ death is the good news but also the scandal at the heart of Christian faith. Jesus died for me? Can He really know and love me so much that He was willing to die for me? Jesus died for me? Am I truly in such danger, otherwise so hopeless, that He had to die to rescue me? As the hymn puts the question:
‘Died He for me,
Who caused His pain,
For me, who Him, to death pursued?’
Christianity is the only religion which worships God in the form of a crucified man. Stop to think about it and this is the opposite of what we expect religion to be about. The weak and suffering Jesus is not what we would like God to be. We want a God who will raise our spirits, set our imagination on fire, and provide us with a good basis for the moral life. We want a powerful God who’s on our side. Instead, at the centre of the Christian good news is the Son of God’s humiliation, suffering and immoral death at the hands of a Godless world.
How can Christians give so much importance to one death? Christians, like every human being, know that everyone dies eventually. They know that there are thousands of other famous deaths – tragic deaths like Lady Diana’s, Eva Peron’s or John Lennon’s; martyrs’ deaths like Martin Luther King Jr., Dietrich Bonhoeffer or Jim Elliot. They know the deep, personal significance of the death of loved ones among family and friends. Yet, for Christians, there is one death that has a meaning above and beyond all others. It is not just that Jesus dies but that He chooses to die. It is not just that He chooses to die but that He is willing to die a degrading and disgraceful death because of His love for the world. Jesus chose to know human life at its most brutal and awful. He hid not His face from shame and spitting (Isaiah 50:6). Jesus comes to meet us how we are, not how we would like to be.
But, more than that, Jesus’ death on the Cross also shows us that God is lovingly willing to endure the consequences of being rejected by His own creation. Jesus’ death shows the full extent of human God-lessness. Writing a few months before his own death at the hands of the Nazis, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote about Jesus’ death: ‘God lets Himself be pushed out of the world on to the cross.’ The Cross shows us that there is a deathly desire in every age, in every human being, to push God out of our world. We all prefer to keep God at arms’ length. Jesus’ death confronts us with the fact that there is something terribly wrong in our relationship with God.
Jesus’ sacrificial death provides the way for that relationship to be repaired. Jesus suffers the consequences of humanity’s rejection of God, while bearing the justice of God which means that sin cannot be forgiven with impunity. Death was not the end for Jesus, because God raised Him triumphantly back to life. God promises that His death and life becomes ours through faith. Through trusting that Jesus died for them, Christians find victory over sin, death and hell and find God’s gift of eternal life, righteousness and salvation.