It was a warm, heavy-aired Saturday morning. The men who gathered at the synagogue for worship chose seats along its inner walls, avoiding the benches in the hot sunshine that streamed through the barred windows. While pressing their backs against the cool stone, they chit- chatted among themselves.
“Is your wife still sick, Mordecai?” asks Thaddaeus.
“She’s better, God be praised. I hear your daughter is getting married.”
“Yes, to Eliezer’s son, the stone mason.”
Most knew one another, but there were a few strangers, travelers who had interrupted their journey for the Sabbath rest. “How are things in Jerusalem, stranger?” one might hear. Or, “What are the Romans doing now to make our lives more difficult?”
One young man sat quietly, alone, eyes closed in weariness or prayer—it was difficult to tell which.
“And you, stranger,” a gray-haired man said to him. “Where are you from?”
The stranger opened deep, sad eyes. “I was born here, in Nazareth. I am Jesus, son of Joseph the carpenter.”
Those who heard His introduction looked at one another with subtly raised eyebrows. They recognized Him now—remembered Him as a boy working in His father’s carpenter shop. They’d heard that He’d left to become an itinerant preacher, that He called Himself the Messiah. There’d been rumors of miracles.
Suspicious though they may have been, no one objected when He volunteered to stand up and read the day’s Scripture passage. It was refreshing to hear a voice and a point of view other than the familiar ones.
Jesus walked up to a small table, placed one of the handwritten scrolls on the cloth that covered the tabletop, and unrolled it. He found the passage He wanted, then closed His eyes and prayed silently. An intense, electric expression animated His face as He began to read: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18, 19; Isaiah 61:1, 2).
He handed the scroll to the attendant, sat down, and closed His eyes again.
The silence that followed seemed to deepen as the moments passed. Eventually, a voice tense with frustration rang out. “Is that all you’re going to say? Isn’t it customary that the reader speak to us about what the prophet means?”
Jesus lifted His head and scanned the congregation. Then He spoke, “Ah, yes; of course. Here is the meaning: today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing. I am the One who will do just what Isaiah prophesied.”
In that Nazareth synagogue, Jesus stated that His life’s purpose was to release captives and to give sight to the blind and liberty to the oppressed. In short, Jesus said that His mission was to solve the problem of sin. He gave the world a taste of that purpose by doing some very good things during His life. And then He died.
Imagine Mordecai and Thaddaeus meeting in the temple in Jerusalem a couple of years later on a cool spring Sabbath morning. They had come to celebrate the Passover.
“What’s going on?” Mordecai asks. “The whole city’s in an uproar.”
“You haven’t heard?” replies Thaddaeus. “Just yesterday Jesus, the son of Joseph the carpenter, was executed by the Romans at the request of the Sanhedrin.”
No doubt there actually were those in Jerusalem that weekend who remembered the day Jesus read in the Nazareth synagogue. They remembered that He said the text He read predicted that He was to bring an end to sin. But from the looks of things, He’d failed miserably.
How little they knew—for what looked like a defeat was the greatest spiritual victory in all of history! Jesus’ death was the trumpet sound that announced to the universe the end of sin.
Jesus’ death ended Satan’s reign of selfishness
Satan has a longstanding misconception about God. He thinks that it is God’s power that makes God who He is. Consequently, Satan covets God’s power. In fact, it was Lucifer’s attempt to take the place of God on His throne that turned him into Satan, the devil. He said, “I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God. . . . I will make myself like the Most High” (Isaiah 14:13, 14). In that act of selfishness, in wanting to have the power and privileges of God, he proved that he is an enemy to goodness. That’s why sin is, in its very nature, selfishness. For although God is indeed infinitely powerful, it is His love, not His power, that qualifies Him to be God.
The selfishness that has infected our world could be overcome only by Someone with the courage to carry God’s infinite love to its ultimate conclusion. Someone who would live out in His life the very opposite of Satan’s selfishness. Someone who had everything, who could do anything, yet voluntarily chose sacrifice.
The apostle Paul wrote that though Jesus was “in very nature God, [He] did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:6–8).
Jesus’ death was precisely the opposite of Satan’s self-exaltation. And by doing the most unselfish thing the world has ever seen, He won a complete moral triumph over the author of selfishness.
Jesus’ death paid the price for sin
You might logically wonder, Why is there a price for sin, anyway? And the answer is simple: God hates sin. Sin is the only thing God hates, for He loves His sin-infected creation, and He loves sinners. But because He knows how much unhappiness sin brings—because He knows its huge and terrible consequences—He cannot but pass sentence on willful sin and unrepentant sinners.
That’s why God set such a terrible penalty for sin. The Bible says that “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). And since “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), you and I face a rather bleak future.
Yet there was a way to end sin without destroying sinners. Someone with the highest position and greatest authority in the universe could pay the ransom for everyone else. God sent a Member of His own family to pay that price. Rather than you and me paying the death penalty for our sins, God’s Son “sacrificed [Himself for our] sins once for all when he offered himself” (Hebrews 7:27).
And so we can, right here and right now, claim as our own the “eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” that God offers us as a gift (Romans 6:23).
Jesus’ resurrection proved that God is more powerful than sin
The story of Jesus did not end with His crucifixion. The news of the strange events at the garden tomb outside Jerusalem must have spread like fire in dry brush throughout Judea, Samaria, and Galilee. Before a century had passed, nearly the entire world had heard that though the good God-man Jesus Christ was murdered on a Friday afternoon, early the next Sunday morning God brought Him back to life.
If the death of God’s Son proved God’s love and unselfishness, if His death paid the price for our sins, His resurrection showed that God has power to overcome sin. Completely. Once and for all. Forever. In me. In you. And in the world around us.
Death is the worst, most horrible result of sin. It is the most final of all of life’s passages. And it is the one experience that no one—no matter how rich or wise or powerful—can escape. Except for Jesus. On that Sunday morning 2,000 years ago, death was “swallowed up in victory.” Paul could ask, “Where, O grave, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:54, 55).
Since sin was “the sting of death” (verse 56), the overcoming of death represents the defeat of all the ways that sin can hurt us—which is why Paul exclaimed, “Thanks be to God” who gives us the victory “through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 7:25).
He gives us not only victory over death but victory over temptation as well. And ultimately, God will annihilate all the things that cause us unhappiness. Then there will be no more terrorism, no AIDS, no nuclear bombs, no broken families, no depression.
Let us return once more to the synagogue in Nazareth, this time a week after Jesus’ death. Now, the room is not quiet, not relaxed. People are engaged in intense conversation. “Have you heard?” folks are saying to one another. “He did it! He actually did it!”
“Did what?” asks one who hasn’t heard.
“He did what He told us He was going to do,” someone replies. “He brought good news to the poor, release to the captives, sight for blind eyes, liberty for the oppressed. Jesus actually overcame death! He did what He said He would do: He has proclaimed the year of the Lord’s victory!”
He did that for all who love Him, for all who accept Him—for me, for you! There can be no greater gift than that!