Jesus gave up his physical life to give you the righteousness of his life so that you could have eternal life.
Christians really like to say that Jesus gave his life for us. It is absolutely true that he did, and it’s an amazing truth, but I don’t know if we really spend enough time thinking about what that means.
When we really examine what Jesus did for us, we see that he gave his life in three incredible ways. He gave up his physical life (that’s the obvious one), he shared the righteousness of his life with us, and he promised eternal life.
He Gave His Life
Jesus gave his life, first of all, by giving up his physical life when he died on the cross. It’s important to talk about this first, because this physical sacrifice was the means by which Jesus gave his life in the other two ways we’ll talk about later.
The crucial thing to understand about Jesus’s death on the cross is that he endured it voluntarily. We can’t let ourselves believe that Jesus’s arrest and crucifixion came as a surprise to him, and we can’t let ourselves believe that there was nothing he could have done to prevent his own death. If we believe that, then we lead ourselves to believe that Jesus’s death was not a sacrificial act of love, but simply an unfortunate turn of events for Jesus. The truth is that Jesus anticipated his death, and he willingly gave up his earthly life out of love for us.
We see proof of this multiple times throughout the four gospels. In Mark 10:32-34, he predicts his death.
And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. And they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. And taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him, saying, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.”
The context here makes Jesus’s voluntary sacrifice even clearer. Not only did Jesus predict his death, but he did it on the way to the place where he he knew he was going to die! He knew exactly what he was walking into. He knew about the betrayal, the mocking, and the pain, and he approached it willingly.
That Jesus would accept such a painful and disgraceful death voluntarily is amazing. What’s even more amazing is that he did it for some pretty awful people. Paul points out why this is so amazing in Romans 5:7-8.
For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Look at it this way. Imagine a person with no redeeming qualities whatsoever. Imagine that this person wakes up every morning thinking of new ways to hurt you. Imagine that this person spits in your face, mocks you, beats you up, breaks your stuff, and just generally makes a point of ruining your day in every way possible.
Now imagine dying for that person.
You can’t, can you? I mean, maybe you can imagine it in a purely hypothetical sense, but you’d never actually do it. Neither would I, and neither would anyone else, because it would be crazy.
Well, that’s exactly what Jesus did, but on a far greater scale. Jesus didn’t just die for one horrible person; he died for millions of horrible people. I’m one of those horrible people, and so are you.
Jesus willingly suffered and died, and he did it for dirty, broken sinners like you and me.
He Gave His Righteousness
When Jesus gave his physical life for us, he also gave his life in another way. Jesus’s life was defined by his righteousness, and he gave us his righteousness.
For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
When Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:21 that Jesus “knew no sin,” he means exactly what he says. Jesus never sinned once, despite enduring all the trials and temptations that you and I do every day (Hebrews 4:15). Jesus is completely perfect, and that perfection showed during his life on earth. Living a sinless life, he became the perfect and spotless sacrifice necessary to atone for the sins of the world.
Jesus’s status as the perfect sacrifice is the point where Jesus’s gift of righteousness connects with his physical death. Because we have sinned, we deserve death, because death is the penalty for sin (see Romans 6:23). When sin occurs, blood must be shed in atonement. Period. Under the Old Covenant, the agreement between God and the Israelites in the Old Testament, this requirement was satisfied with animal sacrifices. This wasn’t good enough, because while the animal sacrifices did fulfill the immediate requirement of bloodshed, they had no lasting effect on the people themselves (see Hebrews 10:1-4).
That’s where Jesus comes in. As the perfect sacrifice, Jesus offers atonement and sanctification. With his death on the cross, he paid the debt for our sins, wiping those sins away forever and establishing the New Covenant, making those who believe in him pure and righteous in the eyes of God. Doug will take a closer look at this in next week’s sermon.
Jesus is not going to take back his gift of righteousness. We know this because when Jesus took away our sins, he did it in a permanent and perfect way (Colossians 2:13-14).
And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.
The image of Jesus nailing our sins to the cross is a powerful one. It reminds us that we have been separated from our sin and from our sinful nature, and that our sinful selves are dead and gone. Because our sins are nailed to the cross, we have, in a way, shared in the death of Christ. We have also shared in his resurrection, being reborn as new creations (see Romans 6:5-8).
He Gave Eternal Life
By giving up his physical life and giving us the righteousness of his life, Jesus gives us eternal life. We can see this gift in John 3:16.
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
The phrase “eternal life” gets thrown around a lot. John 3:16 is probably the most famous and most frequently quoted verse in the Bible. As often as we reference this gift, it’s important to be sure that we don’t lose sight of its magnitude.
The gift of eternal life isn’t just a promise that we won’t die. Physically, we will die, unless we’re still alive when Jesus comes back. And that’s actually a good thing. When we consider the pain, the suffering, the depravity, and even just the monotony of this world, it becomes clear that life forever on this planet as we know it would be more of a curse than a blessing. The eternal life that Jesus offered is completely different. We can see this in Revelation 21:1-4.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
Eternal life isn’t just about living forever. It’s about living forever in a completely new world, free from all the destructive effects of sin. Most importantly, it’s about living forever in the glorious presence of God himself, our Father and King. Even a glimpse of this glorious presence was enough to make prophets in the Old Testament fall to their knees in awe, fear, and worship, and we get to experience it for all of eternity. That makes the gift of eternal life with Jesus greater than we can fathom.
Jesus has given us life in three astounding ways. Now we must respond to the gift. But how?
We respond in the only way that makes sense (Romans 6:13-14).
Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.
Because Jesus has given us freedom from sin by taking the death penalty for us and giving us his righteousness, we must take hold of that freedom, turn away from sin, and give ourselves up in total worship to God. Note that this isn’t something we have to do. It’s something we get to do, because God chose us to give us life under his grace. This should be a joyful process, because it’s all about Jesus, who he is, and the amazing gifts of life he has given us.
You can read more about God’s commitment to our salvation in tomorrow’s post, “God Sought, God Bought.”