Are We Missing the Message of God?

by John Ross Schroeder Estimated reading time: 10 minutes. Posted on 24-Apr-2002
How well do we understand the meaning behind Christ's sufferings? Do we appreciate the sacrifice of Jesus Christ?

Why did Christ come? Jesus entered our world for more than one reason, but perhaps His chief purpose was to save us from our sins, reconciling us to God the Father.

Most believers comprehend something of Christ’s sacrifice. But, often, real depth of understanding is missing. We can be thankful that the biblical writers can help us fill this gap.

How well do we grasp the nature of Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins? Do we deeply comprehend the suffering and the agony He endured for our sake? Christ wants every Christian to fully appreciate what He went through for our sins to be forgiven. To help us grasp the supreme importance of His sacrifice, let us accompany Jesus on His journey to Jerusalem—not in a geographical or chronological sense, but mentally and emotionally, as He approached the time when He would complete the fulfillment of the basic purpose of His humanity.

Subject to the human condition

But we should first understand an important principle derived primarily from the four Gospels, the biographical accounts of Christ’s life. When Jesus entered the world as a human being, He did not rearrange the lives of others for His own convenience. Nor did He do so to suit His divine purposes, great and important though they were. True, certain Old Testament prophecies had to be fulfilled, but beyond these necessary occurrences He subjected Himself to the rough and tumble of “this present evil age” (Galatians 1:4).

He undoubtedly could have asked His Father to repeatedly intervene in circumstances on His own behalf (compare Matthew 26:53). But He did not. The biblical record shows that temptations, frustrations and obstacles punctuated His ministry.

One of the most destructive first-century errors was the false teaching that Jesus “did not come in the flesh” (1 John 4:1-3). Many adopted the belief that Christ was not really a human being in the fullest sense, that He didn’t suffer the temptations to sin that we all experience, that He was not really one of us.

Although the apostle John condemned this heresy in the strongest of terms and the biblical record repudiates it, sadly it persists to this day.

While unequivocally affirming His divine identity, the Gospels also present

a very human Jesus who continually had to deal with the frailties of other human beings. Time and time again Christ asked people whom He had healed not to say anything that would focus attention on Himself in a nation in which the religious establishment was hostile to His message. The Bible shows that in most instances their excitement and enthusiasm got the better of them and, against His wishes, they quickly spread the news of what had happened.

At times Jesus needed periods alone or with His closest disciples, but the crowds usually managed to find Him. Again Jesus did not use the miracle-working power His Father gave Him to manipulate people and events for His own purposes, however important they were. He almost always responded to the needs of the people.

He did not seek to please Himself (Romans 15:3).

A strong sense of mission

From early in His ministry Jesus had a strong sense of mission (Luke 2:49-52). By age 12 He was speaking of God as His Father and showing a strong conviction to occupy Himself with His Father’s will. He knew He had a great purpose.

Some 20 years later, when He was with His 12 disciples, Mark recorded that “He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again” (Mark 8:31).

Christ soon discovered that the 12 were not fully able to grasp this knowledge. They were not yet converted. They apparently still looked to Him as one who, as the Messiah, would immediately deliver the nation from Roman rule. In any event, Jesus had to rebuke Peter for letting himself be used by Satan to try to divert the true Anointed One from His ultimate purpose (verses 32-33).

Jesus faced near-total rejection from the religious establishment. “He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him” (John 1:11). Humanly, He would have liked to receive some empathetic encouragement from those closest to Him.

Jesus repeated the prophecy of His approaching death in Mark 9:31, “but they [the disciples] did not understand this saying, and were afraid to ask Him” (verse 32, emphasis added throughout). Because of His acute understanding of the purpose of His last visit to Jerusalem, He had to make that final journey to His beloved city virtually alone.

The last journey to Jerusalem

“Now it came to pass that when the [general] time had come for Him to be received up [crucified], that He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51). Jesus was determined to carry out His mission. Nothing and no one would deflect Him from His purpose.

Satan had already tried and failed (Matthew 4:7-11), but now the pressure would increase. It would be in this city that Christ would allow Himself to be put to death for our many sins, making it possible for us to be reconciled to God the Father.

Jesus’ final date with destiny as a human being had been much on His mind throughout His ministry.

Yet even His own brothers could not grasp His situation. When He was in mortal danger from the religious authorities, His brothers foolishly advised Him to show Himself “openly ... to the world” (John 7:4). Then John noted that “even His brothers did not believe in Him” (verse 5).

Jesus’ reply to them is instructive. “My time has not yet come, but your time is always ready. The world cannot hate you, but it hates Me because I testify of it that its works are evil” (verses 6-7). This world, He said, breaks God’s holy law with impunity and does not like to be reminded of its sins.

Yet this Gospel account tells us that no one up to that time had been successful in arresting or harming Him “for His hour had not yet come” (John 8:20). But Jesus knew full well that when the appointed time did arrive He would experience a violent, premature death—yet a death that was profoundly significant for the future of all mankind.

A fate foretold

Humanly, Jesus was no different from the rest of us. He didn’t want to die (Matthew 26:39). But, unlike most of us, He knew well in advance the time and circumstances that would surround His death.

He knew the exact mode of execution —one of the most cruel and painful methods ever devised by men, the Roman crucifixion (John 12:32-33). In His travels He had no doubt seen the gruesome spectacle of men dying by crucifixion. Such executions were intended to be a public deterrent to challenging Roman authority.

Psychologically, this advance knowledge was no comfort to Jesus. In fact, it had the opposite effect. As His fate drew near He lamented: “Now My soul is troubled, and what shall I say, ‘Father, save Me from this hour?’ But for this purpose I came to this hour” (verse 27).

Do we, 2,000 years later, truly grasp the depth of Christ’s sufferings for our sake? Do we realize what our sins, collectively and individually, did to this sinless and vibrant young man, our Savior, in the prime of His human life?

Not only the humiliation, the terrible beatings and the crucifixion itself, but the mental anguish He suffered was agonizing. This was to be no ordinary death. Jesus knew He had to take the sins of the whole world—past, present and future—on Himself. He did for us what we could never do for ourselves.

Christ’s agony at Gethsemane

Arriving at the Garden of Gethsemane and taking Peter, James and John with Him, Jesus asked the other disciples to wait while He prayed. “Then He said to them: ‘My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch.’

He went a little farther, and fell on the ground, and prayed that if it were possible, the hour might pass from Him. And He said, ‘Abba, Father, all things are possible for You. Take this cup away from Me; nevertheless, not what I will, but what You will’ ” (Mark 14:34-36).

At the time of His greatest agony up to that time, His most trusted friends could not even stay awake. They were not much help, but the Father strengthened Him by sending an angel (Luke 22:43). Then, with fixed determination and renewed resolve, He said to the disciples, “Rise, let us be going. See, My betrayer [Judas Iscariot] is at hand” (Mark 14:42). His suffering continued with the humiliation and scourging that soon followed.

Later, in the last few moments of His human life, “Jesus cried out with a loud voice ... , ‘My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?’” (Matthew 27:46). Though sinless, Jesus at His death took on Himself all the sin of all humanity for all time. The awful penalty had to be paid. In the end of this great trial, Christ had to bear the weight of our sins absolutely alone.

Christ’s sacrifice was an act of supreme selflessness under the most difficult of circumstances. He willingly chose to give His life for us. This was heroism in the highest degree possible. That is why Christians must never take His sacrifice for granted. We must not forget the ultimate price Jesus paid to blot out our sins. Our appreciation for His sacrifice must endure forever.

Annual reminder of Christ’s sacrifice

How important does God the Father consider Jesus’ sacrifice? The Scriptures tell us that He has worked out a marvelous plan to remind us year by year of this most important act in all history. The explicit instructions Jesus Himself gave, along with those of the apostle Paul, show that the annual Passover should be one of the most significant dates on the calendar of every Christian. When we observe it, as Paul wrote, we “proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26).

In a figurative and spiritual sense and to a small degree, Christians have to walk the path to Jerusalem with Jesus every year. We are reminded of the part our own sins played in His death by crucifixion.Paul tells us that, before we participate in this annual reminder, we must examine ourselves (1 Corinthians 11:28; 2 Corinthians 13:5), knowing we must grapple with “the sin which so easily ensnares us” (Hebrews 12:1).

Following Christ’s example and instructions, Christians partake of a small piece of unleavened bread followed by a sip of wine, the symbols Christ gave to remind us of His sacrificed body and shed blood (Matthew 26:26-28; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26).

The annual Passover observance is also a reminder of our sacred covenant with God—that, as He willingly gave His only begotten Son as a sacrifice for our sins (John 3:16-17), so we have willingly surrendered our lives to Him to obey His will (Romans 6:6-13).

As the year progresses, other articles in The Good News will provide instruction on other observances rehearsing the steps that follow in God’s plan.

But the reminder of and acceptance of Christ’s sacrifice, marked by the annual Passover, will always be the crucial first step. GN

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