Lenten Meditations will be published every Saturday throughout the season, featuring daily devotions for the coming week.
As Christians, we believe that the most significant events in human history occurred on Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Jesus died for our sins, according to the scriptures, and then rose from the grave on the third day. These colossal events led to the formation of our faith tradition. We believe that Jesus died for our sins. What are the implications of the death of the son of God for believers? The New Testament offers readers a number of images associated with the crucifixion of Christ — justice, sacrifice, victory and love. By delving into this imagery invoked in the “Passion Narratives”, we can uncover hidden nuggets of truth about what Christ’s death means for all of us.
Romans 3:21-26 — The Apostle Paul invokes Hebrew lawcourt imagery to describe the atoning work of Jesus on the Cross. He uses legal language like “justice” and “righteousness”. In the ancient Hebrew courtroom, there were two parties, an accuser and a defendant, who appeared before a judge, usually a patriarch of the clan or tribe. Following the trial, the judge would rule in favor of either the accuser or the accused. The judge would then deem one of the parties as justified or righteous. That is not to suggest that the one declared righteous or justified is morally perfect. Instead, their actions are legally vindicated, and there is no condemnation for their actions. It is through the death of Jesus that we are justified and made righteous in God’s courtroom.
Hebrews 10:1-18 — The Day of Atonement was an extremely important Holy Day for the Hebrew people in the Ancient Near East. On this day, the high priest was to sacrifice a bull for himself and his family. Next, he then cast lots over two goats — one goat would be sacrificed to God as a sin offering for the people, and the other goat, known as the scapegoat, was blessed and sent out into the wilderness. The slaughtered goat provides atonement for sins, and the other goat carries the sins far away. The author of Hebrews suggests that Christ was offered as a perfect sacrifice, which is ultimately sufficient for all sin. Symbolically, Jesus serves as the sin offering and the scapegoat.
John 19:12-16 — On the night that He was betrayed, Jesus celebrated the Passover meal with his closest friends. This celebration instituted what we call Communion, Eucharist or the Lord’s Supper by acknowledging the sacrifice of the Lamb of God. We read in John’s Passion Narrative that Jesus is crucified at precisely the same time the lambs are being slaughtered for the Passover Feast. This is not a mere coincidence. The author is conveying an important message — Jesus is our Passover lamb. After the first Passover celebration, recorded in Exodus, God delivered his people from the oppression of Egyptian slavery. When the Messiah lays his life down for us, Jesus liberates us from the sin that enslaves us.
Romans 6:5-11 — During the Patristic Era of the church, the church fathers understood Christ’s death as a payment to the devil. They believed that sin enslaved the human race to Satan. When the innocent Son of God offered himself to Satan, he devoured Jesus, or at least he thought he did. When Christ was dead and buried, Satan could not contain the power of the Messiah; therefore, Christ burst forth to life and victory on Easter morning. Not only did Jesus win a one-on-one victory over Satan, but the Savior brought victory and life to those who found themselves trapped in Satan’s domain. Early Christians understood the death of Jesus to be decisive victory over the evils and forces of darkness in our world.
Colossians 2:13-15 — The early church fathers considered the death of Jesus to be a victory over the forces of evil. I believe that the death of Jesus creates victory in us. Those responsible for crucifying Jesus undoubtedly did so to silence him. The women and men who were so quiet while Christ was hanging on the cross, ironically would later live out the teachings of Jesus and boldly proclaim the gospel story in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. Therefore, when we speak out against injustice or show kindness to a stranger, Christ’s victory shines through us. As the Apostle Paul says, “Thanks be to God who gives us victory through Christ our Lord.”
We read in Romans that “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners; Christ died for us.” The Apostle Paul suggests, as did Plato, that one might “dare to die” for a loved one. We might even conclude that sacrificing your life for a loved one is a noble or honorable act. However noble dying for a loved one might seem, very few people would consider taking a bullet for an enemy. I certainly wouldn’t. Jesus, essentially, does this. He dies for people like me, who are unworthy. The death of Jesus is a deep demonstration of love, for he died for humanity even though our capacity to do evil is so great.