It was nearly 2000 years ago. The religious leaders condemned Jesus to die by crucifixion. This marked the climax of their butting heads with Him throughout His public ministry. They regarded Him as nothing but trouble. So there He was, looking helpless, hanging on the cross, flanked by two sinners dying the same barbaric death He was. There was a big difference between Him and them, however. They were dying for their own sins, but Christ for the sins of the world. Yeah, He who knew no sin became sin for us.
The biblical term for what happened at Calvary is called redemption. In simplest terms, to redeem—as used in the Bible—means to release upon receipt of ransom. In effect, Christ satisfied the demands for our freedom by offering Himself as a ransom for us.
The roots of the concept of redemption, as found in the Bible, pertained to physical property. For instance, in the book of Leviticus God required that His people establish a law regarding the redemption of the land that He would give them when they reached the Promised Land (see Leviticus 25:23-25). In a nutshell, this law said that if a Hebrew fell on hard economic times and had to sell some of his land, he could redeem it—buy it back—when he became able to. If he could not redeem it, the next of kin could redeem the land for him. As we shall see, this Old Testament concept speaks to Christ’s redemptive work on the cross.
When God sent Jesus to die for our sins, the Bible says it was when the fullness of time had come (Galatians 4:4a). Think about it. Why would God send His Son to die for the world if it were not necessary? What pleasure would He have in seeing His only beloved die the hellish death of crucifixion? God is holy and righteous. There is no darkness in Him at all. Every move He makes stems from perfect judgment. That He sent Christ into the world to die for the same is testament that He had judged the time to be right. The truth is, had He not intervened by sending His Son, He would have had to rid the earth of humanity as He did during the days of Noah.
Did I mention that the reason Christ had to redeem us was because we were not capable of redeeming ourselves? Remember that the law of redemption which we touched on above required that when the victim was not able to redeem his property, the next of kin could. The same thing applied to our spiritual condition. Because the entire world was spiritually bankrupt, no one from the human race could redeem another. By the law, Christ could not redeem us because He was deity and, hence, was not kin to humanity. Another problem was that because Jesus was God He was above the law, meaning it did not apply to Him.
God did something drastic to overcome this obstacle: “God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law” (Galatians 4:4b). Drastic I say because in the person of Jesus, God became a member of the human race! From a legal standpoint, this placed Him under the law, and paved the way for Him to legally be our kinsman who could redeem us, which is what He did.
Christ redeemed us by dying in our stead and paying the price for our sins. When we personally accept His vicarious death on the cross, we become sons and daughters of God (verse 5).
When Jesus was on the cross, the Bible says God laid on Him the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53:6). I don’t know about you, but I have difficulty grasping this point. How could one person possibly bear all the sins of the world? Remember, on the cross He was fully human, though fully divine at the same time. That means He felt the burden of the weight of bearing the sins of the entire world.
Also, while Jesus was on the cross He experienced separation from God. This because Jesus had become a sin offering for us. God, being holy, could not look on Him at that point. The resulting separation Jesus could feel. He had always lived in perfect fellowship with His Father. Not one time before this had there ever been a break in their communion with each other. Jesus cried on the cross, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34). Perhaps this experience was more traumatic than a baby’s who had always lived in the bosom of his parents but was now being separated from them for the first time.
Finally, there was the actual crucifixion. Jesus was condemned by the Jews but crucified by the Romans. Crucifixion was the most barbaric form of death a person could die. The objective was not only to kill the victim but also to humiliate. As I write this article I can just imagine the pure and sinless blood of Jesus cascading down His nail-pierced body. So priceless was His blood that it was sufficient to pay the ransom for the whole world’s redemption. What an overwhelming thought of His love for you and me!
One of the most familiar verses in the Bible is John 3:16. It reads, “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). We usually associate this verse with Christ’s birth, and that is correct, but also this verse speaks to the cross as well. You see, God gave us His only Son, but also His Son in turn gave Himself for us so that we might have everlasting life in lieu of eternal damnation.
The question is, what does all this mean to us? How shall we respond to our Redeemer? I submit to you that there is but one correct answer. We should regard our lives as totally owed to Him. Think about it; He procured our life with His death, so we owe Him our life. As a hymnologist so appropriately wrote, “Jesus paid it all; all to Him I owe.”
At times I find myself complaining about what I go through as a Christian. And to tell you the truth, most of the time it has nothing to do with suffering, though I have had my share of that as well. But mostly I am griping because I seem to live in this very vicious cycle of having to juggle more things than I possibly can in a twenty-four-hour day. I seriously feel the pressure at times. But during such moments, I often think about what Jesus endured on the cross for my sins, and that puts it all in proper perspective. Anything you and I could possibly go through in His name pales in comparison to what He endured on the cross for us. So during this glorious time of the year, as we go about remembering His redemptive work on the cross, and we rejoice in His victory over the grave, let us not forget this one thing—for this we owe Him everything.