“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1). We talked about this last Tuesday at the Porch, and it is GOOD NEWS. Since this is Easter weekend, there’s a solid chance that you’re planning on going to church on Sunday. Wherever you attend, hopefully you’ll be reminded of the incredible truth that trusting in Christ’s death and resurrection sets you free from the penalty of your sins – which is death.
But Easter Sunday doesn’t happen without Good Friday. Your sins deserve condemnation, and freeing you from that didn’t come cheap, because in God’s perfect justice system, blood has to be shed in order for there to be forgiveness (Hebrews 9:22). So to get us to the awesome message in Romans 8:1, we first have to ask a really important question:
“Why did Jesus have to die?”
I remember asking that question when I was a kid. I knew the Easter story: that Jesus was God’s Son, who lived as a human, died on a cross, and rose from the dead on the third day. I believed that as a historical fact. But why did that happen? What was the point?
See, I grew up quite religious. I went to a religious school, and literally won the “Religion Award” eight of the nine years I attended. To me, being a Christian meant following all the rules: not doing anything bad, and trying to do or be good. But that didn’t explain why Jesus would willingly die on a cross (which is the most painful form of execution ever invented). Couldn’t He just tell us to “be good” and then be done with it?
There was another aspect of being the “good kid” that troubled me. It’s that I wasn’t actually very good. I knew enough about the “rules” to understand that I was breaking them regularly.
It got worse as I grew older, until eventually I gave up any pretense of even trying. Odds are, whatever you’ve done, I’ve probably done it too. Sex, pornography, alcohol, drugs, materialism, arrest record—all the usual suspects.
As a young adult living in Dallas, I would still go to church occasionally. I was almost always hung over from the night before, and felt terrible—both because of the hangover, and because it was a reminder of how hopelessly far I had fallen. If Jesus was perfect and yet was crucified, what kind of punishment did I deserve?
But there was that question again. Why did Jesus die?
I mean, as God, He had the power to stop it. The crucifixion wasn’t a surprise to Him; it was all part of the plan. But what was the point of the plan? If our role is just to “be good,” what does His death have to do with anything?
And again, He was perfect. Jesus went through six legal trials in one night, with people willing to say or do anything to get Him convicted, and yet still the judges couldn’t even find a reason to charge Him with anything. And they still sentenced Him to death, knowing He was innocent. That just doesn’t happen. People officially declared to be innocent don’t die torturous deaths at the hand of government for no reason. The very fact that Jesus was killed seems to be a supernatural event. It was part of God’s plan.
Though it had probably been explained to me before, I never quite got it until I was in church, hung over, and feeling at the end of my rope, knowing there was absolutely no way I could be good on my own. And a man I didn’t really know explained to me the Good News. Which I’ll share with you now, in writing, because it is the most important message in history and I want to tell it to as many people as possible.
First, the stories about Jesus are true. He was the Son of God, He did do all those miracles to prove it, He did die on a cross, and He did come back to life to prove His power over death. The people who knew Him, saw all these things, told others and wrote them down for us—they all died because they saw it and knew it was true (except for one, who was exiled). They were given the choice to either be quiet about it or be executed, and they chose execution.
What they knew was that there was no possible way to be “good enough.” Jesus had spent a lot of His time explaining how even those who seemed to do everything right—the rule-following Pharisees, for instance—were still not perfect. Nobody is perfect. And yet perfection is the standard a perfect God requires.
The punishment for sin against a perfect God is not penance or prayers, but death and eternal punishment. It had been that way from the start, where animals were sacrificed as a picture of the death produced by sin. That was especially the case with the annual Passover sacrifice—the very festival being celebrated when Jesus was killed. The sacrifices showed that something or someone else could take on the punishment each person deserved.
And that’s why Jesus died: He was the perfect sacrifice. Since He had done nothing wrong, He wasn’t due the punishment of death. But He took on that punishment in our place. Only an eternal, infinite God could take on an eternal punishment for everyone, so that’s what He did. Because God is love, and there’s nothing more loving you can do than willingly dying to save someone else.
And when Jesus came back to life, it proved He had power over death, and showed what happens to all whom He saves: we may die on earth, but we are given eternal life through Jesus.
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. – John 3:16-18
So it’s not about being good enough. You can never be good enough. If you think you can be good enough, then you are trusting in yourself—not in Jesus. That’s the danger with religion, and that’s why I would say today that I am not “religious”—I’m a hopeless sinner who is saved from myself by the miracle of Easter.
If God can change me—a great Pharisee and a great sinner—He can change anyone. Do you believe God can change you? How has He changed you?
Why the Resurrection Matters