The first four books of the New Testament (the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) tell us about the life of Jesus. There’s no doubt that it is an extraordinary life! He clearly has amazing power. For example, he can heal the sick, cast out demons and stop storms. He can also teach in astonishing ways. He cares about all people including the those who might be considered the least. And he has a habit of annoying the leaders, especially the religious leaders.
This shouldn’t surprise us, given who the gospels present Jesus as. One place where this is especially clear is in the trials of Jesus in Luke’s gospel. There he is described as:
- “the Son of Man” – Luke 22:69. See Daniel 7:1-14 especially v.13-14 for what an amazing authority figure the Son of Man is.
- “the Son of God” (Luke 22:70) which hints at divinity and authority (see for example Psalm 2:11-12)
- the “Messiah” which means God’s anointed “king of the Jews” (Luke 23:2-3).
The point is that he is the one who God has sent to fulfil his promise to send a king who will rescue his people and bring in an eternal kingdom (Genesis 3:15; 2 Samuel 7:11-16). Jesus is the one the prophets foretold, who would fulfil God’s promises and bring in a new covenant.
What makes the gospels so astonishing though, is that so much of them is concentrated on the death of Jesus. Each of them spends significant time describing and explaining the circumstances leading up to Jesus’ death from his triumphal entry into Jerusalem (for example Luke 19:28-48) through to his crucifixion (for example Luke 23:26-56). In fact, there is a sense in which the direction of Luke’s gospel towards Jesus’ death is set all the way back in chapter 9. As soon as the disciples have grasped who he is (Luke 9:18-20), he starts to tell them about his death (Luke 9:21-22). From that day he sets out on the journey to that death (Luke 9:51).
This should tell us that Jesus crucifixion is very important to who he is and the storyline of the whole Bible. In fact it should be understood as not just the central event of that storyline, but of all of the history of the world. Why is that?
Well we’ve seen all the way through the Old Testament that the problem Israel has faced, the problem of all humanity in fact, is our sin. As the apostle Paul puts it:
for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God(Rom. 3:23 ESV)
The road to the cross for Jesus demonstrates that in some detail as we see betrayal, denial, injustice and violence across the whole swathe of humanity. What’s especially interesting is to see it emphasised that Jesus is the one person who doesn’t sin. The Roman governor Pilate makes this very clear when he tries Jesus, repeating his innocence several times (Luke 23:4, 14-15, 22). The thief on the cross recognises it when he turns to Jesus (Luke 23:41). And the centurion see the same thing when at the cross he declares him to be “righteous” (Luke 23:47). As the Apostle Peter later puts it, quoting Isaiah:
He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth.(1 Peter 2:22 ESV)
So the sinless one comes to deal with our sin. Of course, this has all been prophesied in the Old Testament. Jesus is the perfect lamb for the sacrifice (Exodus 12:5; 1 Peter 1:18-19) who dies in our place, taking the punishment for our sins (Isaiah 53:4-6; 1Peter 2:24-25) so that we can receive his righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21). Jesus, himself sees the cross as the place where he drinks the cup of God’s anger at our sin (Luke 22:42; Psalm 75:8; Isaiah 51:17-18).
All of which is to explain why the cross is so significant. It is the turning point in history because it is the place where sin and the serpent Satan is finally defeated. The punishment is taken. And so righteousness and forgiveness are now available to all who repent (turn from sin to Jesus) and believe (in the good news of Jesus). Have you?
It is this message that Christians take to the whole world. As Jesus says near the end of Luke’s gospel:
that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.(Luke 24:47 ESV)
But of course, I’m jumping ahead. Something rather significant has to happen after the crucifixion before Jesus can say those words. But more of that next time…