Jesus Was Born To Die

April 1, 2012

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I don’t know about you, but each year on Palm Sunday as we hear again a narrative of Jesus’ Passion, I am sobered by how much I can relate to the various characters.
I can relate to the fickle crowd who hailed Jesus on Palm Sunday, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” and only days later shouted, “Crucify him!  Crucify him!” because I too am that fickle sometimes. I can relate to Judas because at times in my life I have betrayed people. I can relate to Peter because in various ways I have denied Jesus.  I can relate to Pilate because at times in my life I have done what I knew was wrong in order to “satisfy the crowd.”
Perhaps you can relate to these characters as well.
In Mark’s moving account of Jesus’ passion the most important moment in all of history—the moment when Jesus Christ, the Son of God, died on the cross—is recounted with classic understatement, as Mark simply writes,  “Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last.”
Jesus was born to die.
Every time we recite the Nicene Creed we are reminded that Jesus was born to die, as the creed moves straight from Jesus’ birth to his death:
“…by the power of the Holy Spirit (Jesus) became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried” (BCP 326-7, 358).
It’s the same with the Apostles Creed as we state our belief that Jesus was “born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried.”
Neither the Nicene Creed nor the Apostles Creed includes anything about Jesus’ preaching or teaching, healings or miracles, or life-changing encounters with people.  In these creeds we move directly from the Virgin Mary to Pontius Pilate; we move directly from Jesus’ birth to His death.
Jesus was born to die.
Jesus’ death on the cross is the heart of the Gospel, and of first importance.
The Apostle Paul makes this crystal clear in his First Letter to the Corinthians, as he writes: “For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures” (15:3).
Christ died for our sins—and as we just heard in the passion narrative, what an awful, nightmarish, humiliating, excruciatingly painful death it was.  That day could not have been any worse for Jesus.
A couple illustrations from the world of music…
One of my favorite singer-songwriters is Virginia native Bill Mallonee.  In Farther Up the Road he sings:
“Now all those choices that you took asked more than you can give.
And all those worst case scenarios become your one life to live.”
Perhaps that has been the case in your life in one way or another—that the choices you have made seem to require more from you than you could ever give, that all the worst case scenarios seem to have become your one life to live.  This could be the case with your career or your health or your marriage or your family, or maybe something else.
The good news of the gospel is that Jesus understands; Jesus gets it.
We know from Jesus’ time in the Garden of Gethsemane, when He was so stressed He literally sweated blood—that the choice He made to die for us felt like more than He could give—as He asked God the Father multiple times, “Remove this cup from me.”
And in Jesus’ passion all the worst case scenarios of the world converged in that moment…and became His one life to live, and contributed to the one death He died—a death He died for our sins.
A week and a half ago I went with some of you to the Sons of Bill concert at the Paramount, one of the best concerts I’ve ever attended, a truly amazing experience.  One of the songs they performed, “Last Call at the Eschaton” (from their new album, Sirens) includes these lyrics:
“Manifest-predestination, we were bound to fall
But you can’t look behind you with your back against the wall.”
Brilliant lyrics that capture not only the plight of the human race which was bound to fall, but also the individual plight we all face when our sin catches up with us and we find ourselves with our back against the wall.
Again, the good news of the gospel is that Jesus understands; Jesus gets it.
And Jesus loves us in spite of the fact that we were bound to fall. In fact, He loves us so much that He joined us with His back against the wall when He prayed, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.”  In fact, Jesus not only found His beaten and bloody back figuratively against the wall, but also literally against the cross.
Jesus was born to die.  Christ died for our sins.
In his powerful book, Who Will Deliver Us? Paul Zahl describes what the phrase, “Christ died for our sins” means:
“Christianity…brings to the human situation the news that what we most need has been supplied: perfect atonement for guilt.  It declares that what we know to be true about ourselves has been responded to decisively and eternally from outside ourselves… This confidence that there is good news for humanity in the place of our solitude is summed up in the words ‘Christ died for our sins.’  What do they mean?  First, they refer to a man born in an obscure province of the Roman Empire during the reign of the Emperor Augustus, a man whose life was of such a character that he became known as the ‘Christ,’ that is, the ‘Chosen One’ or ‘Messiah’ who was to ‘save the people from their sins.’ Second, the words say that he died: he was crucified in humiliation by the Romans.  Third, the words link his death directly with our sins: he suffered because of them.  The implication of this is that he died in our place, in some sense standing in for us at the bar of judgment. Potentially at least, ‘Christ died for our sins’ is a statement of infinitely large value” (p. 38).
When Christ died for our sins He took your place and my place on the cross, and paid in full our penalty for us, which is indeed “of infinitely large value” for us.
The great Southern writer, Shelby Foote, who was good friends with another great Southern writer—Walker Percy, is best-known for his epic three-volume narrative history of the Civil War.  He also wrote several novels, one of which is entitled Love in a Dry Season, which recounts the story of a Mississippi family whose patriarch, Major Barcroft, endures the tragic death of his only beloved son, Malcolm.  Shelby Foote describes the impact Major Barcroft’s grief had on his two daughters, Amanda and Florence:
“What frightened (Amanda and Florence) was their father’s face. It showed through the succeeding months, at once stern and unyielding and yet at the same time ravaged—a surface whose changes could be remarked only in details, a certain redness rimming the eyes, a tremor at lip or eyelid in moments when he thought himself unobserved.  Florence and Amanda watched. Before this time, grief had been merely a word in the speller.  Now they knew its image.”
When, as Mark put it so succinctly, “Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last,” the sky grew dark, and there was an earthquake, which instead of redness of eyes and trembling lips and eyelids marked the image of grief of our Heavenly Father for the death of His only beloved Son.
And yet beneath the Father’s grief was something greater…love.
As dark as Jesus’ death on the cross is, God’s love is heart of the gospel, because as the Bible tells us: “God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
So today if you can relate the fickle crowd or the betraying Judas or the denying Peter or the crowd-pleasing Pilate—or if you are dealing with circumstances in which you feel like all the worst case scenarios have become your one life to live, like your back is against the wall—be encouraged.
The good news of the gospel is that Jesus understands; Jesus gets it.
And not only that, Jesus still loves you…so much so that he died for you.
Jesus was born to die… so that you could live.
Amen.

Bible References

  • Mark 15:37

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