Imagine the scene: a completely innocent man is condemned to suffer the death penalty while hundreds look on. The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.” The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar and said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.” There was a written notice above him, which read: this is the king of the jews. One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” Luke 23:35-39.
You have to hear Satan in those mocking questions. They sound just like his questions in the Garden of Eden: “Did God really say…” and just like the questions during Jesus’ fast in the wilderness, “If you are the Son of God…” But the temptation was a strong one: Save Yourself. Only the night before Jesus had been praying to have that cup of suffering removed from Him if there was any other way. But God confirmed that this was Plan A, and Jesus accepted God’s will as His final mission on earth.
Save Yourself. Of course Jesus could have. Earlier the night before, in the Garden of Gethsemane, right after He fully accepted His final mission, He said, “Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?” Matthew 26:53-54.
No, Jesus was the perfect, blameless, spotless Passover lamb that had to be sacrificed once and for all to pay the entire debt of sin and cancel the death sentence hanging over each of us as a punishment for it. God had spoken to Noah, Abraham and Moses. He had appointed Judges like Deborah, Gideon and Samson. He had anointed Kings like Saul, David and Solomon. He had sent Prophets like Elijah, Jeremiah and Isaiah. All of them were killed or ignored – they could not keep the Chosen People of God from sinning and turning away. What was needed was a New Covenant in blood that would allow people to reconcile with God and have the Holy Spirit indwell them to work on the sin problem from the inside out. Jesus is our New Covenant. His resurrection on the third day was the stamp of acceptance by God of the sacrifice and payment for the sin debt of the entire world, past and future. It was a big debt and it required the supreme sacrifice.
Jesus heard those mocking taunts of “Save yourself.” And he easily could have. He must have been tempted to stay. He loved Mary Magdalene and Lazarus, his mother and all his Apostles and disciples dearly. He loved the people of Jerusalem and wanted to console them. He loved all the peoples of the Holy Land and felt compassion for their oppression and hardships. But he was not meant to be a king on earth. His miracles here were limited to a lifetime. Even his resurrection of Lazarus only lasted for a time – eventually he died like we all will. Jesus’ mission was much bigger than healing some people, feeding some people, and teaching some people about God’s Kingdom. Those were part of His mission, and they should be part of our mission too.
But Jesus saw eternity from that Roman cross. He saw you and I, now, in the 21st Century. And he saw us with Him in Heaven for eternity, along with billions of others from all over the planet and throughout all times. For the joy of leading us all into the everlasting presence of His Father and joining us at the head of the table for the Wedding Supper of the Lamb, he was willing to choose to lay His life down. Make no mistake, neither Pontius Pilate, Herod, Caiaphas, Judas nor any other human took Jesus’ life. He affirmatively chose to give it up.
“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me—just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.” John 10:14-18
Once, and for All (all people for all time), Jesus gave His life so “that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16
PRAYER: King of Love, risen Christ, thank you, Lord, for your sacrifice. I’m overcome, I’m on my knees. How can I resist such love as this, King of Love? (from King of Love by Gary Sadler and Tom Howard).