In a history of Western intellectual thought, author Richard Tarnas writes about how, in the modern world, the whole idea of Christianity is becoming less and less plausible. For Tarnas, the existence of Jesus of Nazareth, “taking place two millennia earlier in an obscure primitive nation,” can’t be taken seriously anymore. Talking about Jesus’ death, he says, “That such an undistinguished event should have any overwhelming or eternal meaning could no longer be a compelling belief for reasonable men.”
Richard Tarnas misses the point completely. Far from being an “undistinguished event,” the death of Jesus on the cross remains the most consequential act in the history of creation!
The Bible teaches that Jesus is God, the Creator. Speaking of Him, the Bible says, “All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made” (John 1:3).* What this means is that at the cross, God—the power of whom created everything in the universe—took upon Himself our human flesh, our humanity, and in that flesh, and in that humanity, offered Himself as a sacrifice for all the evil and immorality that has wreaked havoc in our world for thousands of years.
Hardly an “undistinguished event,” to say the least! On the contrary, the death of Jesus matters—and in big ways—to every human being.
Following are three reasons why.
Jesus bore our sins
Someone once said that the one biblical doctrine we don’t need to take on faith is human sinfulness. The apostle Paul wrote about humanity, saying that no one is good and that people’s throats are like “an open tomb” (Romans 3:13); we utter lies, deceit, and curses; we are violent, and swift to shed blood and to bring misery and destruction (verses 13–16). Again, who needs to take this view on faith? Every day the news tells us about war in a far-off land or of a corrupt politician, making it easy to see the reality of the biblical claim that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (verse 23).
And this is precisely why Jesus’ death matters, because as far as God is concerned, the sin and evil that each one of us has committed has automatically disqualified us for the hope of eternal life. It’s like taking a test that requires a perfect score to pass. Answer one question wrong, and you flunk. And, according to the Bible, we’ve all flunked, big-time—and no matter how hard we try, it’s far too late to pass.
However, Jesus was the only Person who ever lived a sinless life. He’s the only one who passed the test, because He alone had the perfect score. And the great news is that He promised to take upon Himself our failing grade and give us His perfect score!
Why, then, does Jesus’ death matter? It matters because there, at the cross, was God, bearing upon Himself the curse of our failing grade. The death that was to be ours is precisely what fell upon Him, so that we could enjoy His perfect grade. The grade that we deserve, that we earned by our sins, was credited to Him who didn’t deserve it, so that His perfect grade, His perfect righteousness, could be given to us. More than 600 years before the cross, the prophet Isaiah described what happened:
“Surely He has borne our griefs
And carried our sorrows;
Yet we esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten by God, and afflicted.
But He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him . . . .
All we like sheep have gone astray;
We have turned, every one, to his own way;
And the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:4–6).
The apostle Paul described Jesus’ death like this: “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
In both cases, the idea is the same: at the cross God suffered in Himself the penalty that otherwise would have been ours. And because of His death, not only did He wipe away our sin—our failing grade—but we are now offered His perfect score—His perfect righteousness—in place of our own failed sinfulness. And this grade, credited to us by faith, is our assurance of eternal life in Christ.
That’s why Jesus’ death matters.
Jesus defeated Satan
And there’s more. Astronomers have been scanning the heavens in the hope of discovering evidence of life in other parts of the universe. Meanwhile, for thousands of years, the Bible has not only talked about the existence of life in another part of the universe but has described aspects of it, including what could best be called a “cosmic conflict” that makes Star Wars look like the silliness that it really is.
The New Testament book of Revelation depicted the conflict like this: “And war broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels fought with the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought, but they did not prevail, nor was a place found for them in heaven any longer. So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him” (Revelation 12:7–9).
The existence of sin, evil, and suffering in the world started with this war in heaven, in which Satan and his angels came to Earth, where they have wreaked havoc ever since. Talking about Satan on Earth, the Bible says, “Rejoice, O heavens, and you who dwell in them! Woe to the inhabitants of the earth and the sea! For the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, because he knows that he has a short time” (verse 12).
Satan’s time is short because, at the cross, Christ’s death unmasked him as a liar and deceiver whose accusations against God were proved false. After all, the God who would take upon Himself and in Himself the sins of His own people was truly a God of love. Hence the famous verse, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).
The apostle Paul, in the context of the Cross, wrote about Jesus, saying that “having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it” (Colossians 2:15). The Greek word for “disarmed” can also mean “completely undressed,” in the sense of “expose.” By His death, Jesus exposed, not just to the world but to the universe, the true nature and character of Satan and the fallen angels and thus procured their ultimate defeat. At the cross, Satan was judged and condemned, once and for all—and his eventual doom is now certain. And with the destruction of Satan, sin, suffering, evil, and even death will be destroyed as well.
That’s why Jesus’ death matters.
A new existence
Finally, Jesus’ death matters because, through His death, we are given the assurance of His return to this world and the inauguration of a new one in which sin, evil, and death are forever eradicated.
Talking about His impending crucifixion, Jesus said, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45, emphasis added). The ransom Jesus paid for us was His own life. With such an expensive ransom paid in our behalf, we can be sure that He’s going to return and take us to Himself. If not, it would be like someone paying a hefty price for a kidnapped child—but then not retrieving the child after the ransom was paid!
No wonder Jesus said, “In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:2, 3). The certainty of Christ’s second coming is His death at His first coming. The first coming is the guarantor of the second.
That’s why Jesus’ death matters.
Christ’s death has opened a door that we could never open for ourselves. Through His sacrifice at Calvary, He has guaranteed to all who claim it by faith an eternal existence in a world without sin, without suffering, and without death.
Was Christ’s death an “undistinguished event”? Hardly.
With something so monumental done for you at the cross, why not accept Jesus and His righteousness for yourself—right now?
* All Bible texts are taken from the New King James Version®