The Unspeakable Gift
From Discover Your Destiny
Now comes the question.
The discovery that Jesus Christ is the Son of God immediately creates a question. After we recover from the astonishment of realizing that the eternal God has taken on the form of human flesh and become one of us, we ask, “Why is He doing all this?” And so the question centers upon Jesus Christ: Why did He come?
This is a fair question. If Jesus Christ is God, then He is omniscient. Knowing all things, He certainly would do nothing without a clear and eternal purpose. What, then, was the purpose, so sublime, so compelling, that would lead the God of heaven to become a man? What reason would be sufficient to bring God into this world?
These questions have been asked by sincere people throughout all the years of Christian history. On many a college platform which I have shared with various religionists I have heard that question, Why did Christ come? I have been astonished at the several answers.
“Christ came to be our example that we should follow in His steps.”
“He came to be an inspiration to mankind so that we could be motivated to live better lives.”
“He came to be a martyr for the cause of goodness so that we could be inspired to be willing to die for great purposes.”
There is some truth in each one of the answers, but none of them contains the essential reason why Christ came. Unquestionably He was our example and all of that, but there is danger in believing that this was His primary purpose.
If the whole purpose of the coming of Christ was to be an example to us, then He would have been the author of the world’s great despair rather than its grandest hope. Christ’s example was that of moral perfection. He did no sin and never in any way committed one thought or act in exception to the will of God.
In the face of such peerless perfection all of us would have been as starving beggars viewing the exquisite but unreachable food in the window, while perishing with hunger. Such a purpose, that of forcing sinful man to view moral purity, would have been cruel mockery on the part of God. No indeed, Jesus Christ must not merely make righteousness apparent; He must make it attainable. If He did not come with a gift of goodness, it would be better that He had never come.
But He did come! Why?
There is a deeper reason why He came into the world. It contains the very essence of Christianity.
My response to the question, Why did Jesus Christ come? is always, “Surely the best answer to the question of the coming of Christ is found in His own testimony.” Let’s ask Him!
While we may theorize in our answers to this question, and our theories may be interesting, the best source of authority to answer this important problem is the word of Jesus Christ Himself. He made a clear annunciation as to the purpose of His coming when He said,
The Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost (Luke 19:10).
The Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28).
Strangely, then, the purpose of the coming of Jesus Christ was not simply to live and be an example. By His own testimony the purpose of His coming was to die! Furthermore, He claimed that by so doing He would pay the moral debt of our impossibly bankrupt humanity. The purpose of the coming of Jesus Christ is not found by Bethlehem’s manger or by the pool of Siloam. The full reason for the coming of Jesus Christ is only discovered at the foot of a bloodstained hill called Calvary. There took place the ultimate act of all history—the suffering and death of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
Jesus Christ walked among men for thirty-three spotless years. In all of those years He never thought an evil thought or committed an evil act. He kept the moral law of God perfectly. The Scripture says, describing the example He set,
Who did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth: who, when He was reviled, reviled not again; when He suffered, He threatened not; but committed Himself to him that judgeth righteously (1 Peter 2:22-23).
This is the one who the Bible says is “holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners” (Hebrews 7:26).
In Jesus Christ the world received its opportunity to behold the towering personality of God. Here was an utterly pure, majestic person who stood above all mankind in His unbending moral perfection. Remembering that the basis of life is moral, we would not expect the God-man necessarily to be the most rich or the most famous, but He certainly must be the most good. In fact, He must be morally perfect.
The illustration of His life (and the life of Christ is an example to us in a number of ways) is that moral perfection is more important than riches or popularity. In fact, an examination of the life of Christ would lead one to suspect that it would be a wise course to sacrifice riches and popularity if, as a result, one could gain moral perfection. One would suspect that it is more important to obey the rules than it is to win the game. Indeed this suspicion is correct, for it is not possible to win the game without obeying the rules. Adam and Eve tried another way and lost heaven for themselves and us. Jesus Christ, through obeying the rules for Himself, and dying for us, became the way by which a man can approach the Father.
When Christ made fully clear to His disciples that the ultimate purpose of His coming would soon be fulfilled, namely that He would go to the cross and die for the sins of the world, they were astonished. They reeled in unbelief and said, “No, Lord.” But it was a supreme necessity, God bearing the moral responsibility for His universe must, in order to prove His right to rule, fulfill that responsibility by producing the sacrifice for sin that He alone could bring forth.
In the days of His flesh, Jesus Christ had successfully withstood essentially the same temptations that were offered Adam and Eve. Now Christ must do more. He must produce the ultimate act that would neutralize and then throw back the tidal wave of moral carnage that was unleashed on the world as a result of Adam’s disobedience. He must produce a new principle of life, a basis by which man could be transformed and build his eternal destiny on another foundation entirely. Since it is true that “in Adam all die” Christ must indeed produce a new race of men in the world, a race of men who share not basically the life of Adam but a new kind of life—the life of Christ.
So Christ gave Himself to be crucified!
On the human side, it was simply the death of a criminal. Jesus Christ was arrested by the rulers of the Jews and accused of breaking the laws of Israel and of sedition against Rome. At a mock trial in the middle of the night, He was brought before the ruling body of the Jews and then before Caesar’s representatives with the demand that He be crucified.
The sentence of death was extracted by the angry mob from a vacillating Pilate. Then this awesomely silent prisoner, after being flogged by the soldiers, was led out of the city of Jerusalem to a place which is called Calvary.
Upon arriving at this low hill beyond the city wall, the soldiers stripped Him of His garments and pressed Him upon two crossed pieces of wood. Nails were driven through first one hand and then the other and then through His feet. A crown of thorns had been placed upon His head. Then, bleeding from His many wounds, He was lifted up from the earth to endure the suffering and death of the cross.
For six hours He hung upon the tree, enduring indescribable pain. In the first three hours it was light. During these moments Christ endured the final insensate rejection of hateful men. They mocked Him, cursed Him, and spit upon Him so that “His visage was so marred more than any man, and His form more than the sons of men” (Isaiah 52:14).
The multitudes looked on this unforgettable scene: some with sorrow, some with perverse joy, some with simple curiosity.
And the people stood beholding. And the rulers also with them derided him, saying, he saved others; let him save himself, if he be Christ, the chosen of God. And the soldiers also mocked him, coming to him, and offering him vinegar, and saying, If thou be the king of the Jews, save thyself. And a superscription also was written over him in letters of Greek, and Latin, and Hebrew, THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS (Luke 23:35-38).
Even those in the crowd who knew Him—His mother and some of His disciples—saw in the event of the crucifixion merely the tragic death of a dear and noble friend. As yet limited understanding, they saw in the death of Christ a great human tragedy. Soon their understanding was to be broadened.
From the divine side the cross is a profound act of sacrifice and unspeakable love.
During the last three hours on the cross Christ hung in darkness. It was in these indescribable hours of desolation of soul that He cried, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? That is to say, My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). The only answer that could have come from this call was the voice of His father from heaven saying, “My Son, I have forsaken thee that I might take up a lost and dying world.” Here was the most awful abyss of spiritual death known in the history of the universe—God the Son separated from God the Father. Within His infinite capacity Jesus Christ bore the pains of eternal death in those fearful hours on the cross.
Here we see the utter perfection of the holiness of God. Here we understand why in the strictest sense no sin is ever forgiven but rather must be paid for. This is a moral universe: retribution must be made, or will be taken in one way or another. It was on the cross with the price of His own blood that Jesus Christ kept every promise, righted every wrong, and met every man’s bill of moral bankruptcy. All of this He did with that most precious entity know to man—the blood of His life.
He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed (Isaiah 53:5).
By his death, the perfect standard of the holiness of God is forever met by Jesus Christ on behalf of every man.
It pleased the Lord to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand. He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities (Isaiah 53:10-11).
Here Christ fulfilled the prophecy of John the Baptist and became the lamb of God slain as a sacrifice to take away the sins of the world. He who would foolishly suggest that Christianity presents a cheap answer to the problem of sin needs to consider again the work of Jesus Christ on the cross. Far from underestimating the fearful price of sin, the Christian points to the torn and bleeding body of Jesus Christ and says, “Look, that’s the penalty that sin works!”
From Satan’s point of view, the death of Christ on the cross must have been a satisfying experience to his sadistic and lecherous soul. Looking upon this event, doubtless the devil congratulated himself in perverse delight, “Now I’ve destroyed Him. I have done away with the best that heaven could produce. This is the end of God’s rule in the universe.” At this point the devil, being non-omniscient, did not realize his foolish mistake in crowding the priests and religious leaders, his partners in murder, into calling for the death of Jesus Christ. The devil was soon to learn that this sacrifice on the cross was the world’s greatest tragedy only in a superficial sense. The fact is that it was the triumph of God over the devil’s kingdom and his power. Something of this was implied in the words of Christ when, speaking “now is the judgment of this world” (John 12:31).
Indeed we now can understand that from His cross the Lord Jesus dealt a lightning stroke of judgment and destruction against the devil. How encouraged the sorrowing onlookers might have been if they could have understood in that moment the point of view of the writer of Hebrews:
Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; And deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage (Hebrews 2:14-15).
Christ by His death ended the reign of Satan in the world and destroyed the rule of death itself. Again Satan has outwitted himself, for the cross that was to be his symbol of conquest has become rather an emblem of hope for lost humanity.
The true purpose of the cross, then, can only be understood when one observes the suffering and death of Jesus Christ from the point of view of the eternal God. Being deficient in this insight, the members of the multitude that gathered about the cross could hardly comprehend the deadly struggle between good and evil that was taking place there. They could not know how it was that their own souls’ eternal destinies were at stake in the result of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
The apostle Paul gives us a word of insight into the reason and results of Calvary. He makes the remarkable statement:
For he [God the Father] hath made him [Christ the Son] to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him (2 Corinthians 5:21).
Here Paul clearly explains that Jesus Christ died, not as a hopeless martyr for a lost cause, but rather to cancel the deadly virulence of the world’s sin. Therefore individuals who would believe would not merely repossess the innocence of Adam but would receive the maturity of the moral capability (holiness) of Jesus Christ. God reached out into every dark heart, every lost life, every shattered spirit and despairing soul to gather that awful package of human sin and place it on His Son, the Lord Jesus. As determined from eternity, “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures (I Corinthians 15:3).
So the death of Jesus Christ was no accident, but rather He was specifically “delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23).
It is apparent, then, that Jesus Christ, in His death on the cross, stood astride the river of death that swept throughout history from the bitter fountain of Adam’s sin. This venomous tide flowed into the infinite capacity of the person of Jesus Christ as He hung on that cross, bearing the moral guilt for the sins of all the world. There the Saviour of men drank the last drop of the condemnation of sin forever. Now, there is no more. Death expired when Jesus died. The devil’s power was destroyed, the serpent rendered impotent! Clearly, then, Jesus Christ died not to do an abstract “something” for us, but rather He died specifically to “put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself” (Hebrews 9:26). The judgment of God against all the world’s sin was spent upon His Son on that fearful day on Calvary’s cross.
A wagon train was one day making its way across the western plains of our United States. The trip had been pleasant, and the travelers were filled with hopes of a new day in Oregon and California homesteads. One fateful afternoon they looked with mounting terror at the onrushing scourge of the western traveler, a prairie fire. They watched, numb with fear, as the distant flames roared down upon them, fanned by the west wind, leaping dozens of feet into the air. The cry went up, “We are lost, what shall we do?”
One of the guides, seeing the looming peril, ran quickly and planted several fires in the grass downwind from the location of the wagon train. The same brisk western breeze that was blowing the larger fire soon fanned the smaller fires into flame and they swept onward away from the helpless wagon. The second fire left a large area of burned ground. The guide quickly called all of the people, saying, “Come into the place where the fire has already burned. Bring your wagons; bring your children and your animals.” Seeing the wisdom of this move, the crowd quickly followed.
Standing in the burned out area they watched the onrushing flames of the larger fire roar upon them and then part to the left and the right, unable to move into the already burned ground on which they stood. They soon rejoiced in the salvation which was theirs because they went to stand in the place where the fire had already burned.
So it is that the judgment of God has already burned across the hill which is called Calvary. The death of Jesus Christ has created a place of refuge for every man.
God sent not his son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved (John 3:17).
The death of Jesus Christ is the ultimate act of God in His universe. The largest investment that was ever made to accomplish a given result in the history of the world was the investment of the blood of Jesus Christ expended on the cross. When God made the sun and the moon and the stars, and created with His hands the beauties of nature, this was done without cost to Himself. All of his creation was produced by the work of His hands. The cost of creation to God was negligible.
The cost of redemption is another story. It cost God the life of His Son. The implications of the cross to the human soul are simply fantastic. This is what led C. T. Studd in irrefutable logic to say, “If Jesus Christ be God, and He died for me, then no sacrifice is too great for me to make for Him.”
The cross of Christ towers above the wrecks of time. It is the eternal proof of the love of God, the sole bridge between the Creator and His rebellious creation. The cross, and the sacrifice there presented, have become both the only way of salvation and the destruction of all other ways. The road to heaven is the way of the cross. To pass by the sacrifice of Christ means to move beyond hope, forever lost. Apart from the cross but one thing remains, “a fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation” (Hebrews 10:27).
The road to heaven is the way of the cross.
Discover Your Destiny