But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.
(Isaiah 53:5, NIV)
One theological term is historically center in Evangelical circles: penal substitutionary atonement. The idea is that Jesus exchanged his life in order to satisfy the penalty of sin that I would have had to pay. Jesus could pay it because he lived without sin. He was not just divine, but fully human. So, the cross is where the debt of the lineage I inherited from Adam is ended and a wealth of the lineage of being a son of God inherits life.
Many feel this is overemphasized. Why? Because we focus so much on this central issue to the degree that we forget the whole life of Jesus? All the other recorded actions, statements, and miracles performed in the gospels matter. Yes! In fact, they are what makes the substitutionary atonement the highest on the hierarchy of all the acts of atonement. It is right to know that his life as lived saves us. It is even more so to be sure of this because of his death.
The example of Jesus shows us that Christ walks into death as a servant-king, lowering himself from heaven to come to earth. Jesus stood up to the system of the world. Yes. But, instead of trying to shatter it and perform a coup he created a new system–the Kingdom of Heaven. When Jesus taught us, he did not give us trite answers and five-point sermon fill-ins. He challenged with questions. He words make listeners think. In fact, sometimes he simply frustrates every one of us–especially the most religious ones.
Good Friday remembers the suffering and the death of Jesus. It is literally seeing an innocent man executed for your crime. Barabus was supposed to be on that cross. We are Barabus. That injustice should be felt. The fact of our fallen nature being punished should be felt as well as God’s objection to sin. Only out of the darkness can light be seen. The first verse for a song I recently wrote says this:
The suffering on the cross was cruel, I’m told Punishment for someone else’s crime Three days in the tomb he laid there cold But in the darkness his light came In a moment history was changed
Paying the debt of sin was so important that it was put before social justice. In fact, there is no justice without the issue of our relationship with God being repaired and redeemed. When we are justified the ability to repair and redeem the ills of our surroundings come to view. Not only is it the impetus for the inner life to be holy, it is the only way I can truly love others. The paying of our debt is indeed central to our faith.
Happy Good Friday!