So far, we have said what is only history. We have not found anything of spiritual significance in this. The apostle’s creed, a creed that dates from about the second century, leaves out all reference to Jesus’s life. It skips from Jesus’s birth to his death, inferring that the death of Jesus is of utmost importance. We are told that the apostles and early Christians were concerned mostly with Jesus’s death, so much so that the Gospels were not written filling in Jesus’s life until some years after his death.
Why did Christ have to die, and why did he die a criminal’s death? He died to atone for the sins of the world. One may ask how another can atone or expiate the sins of another. We are familiar with atonement. The most familiar to us is the expiation of his sins that a husband secures by bringing home flowers or candy to his wife. Warden Laws, who wrote “20,000 Years in Sing Sing,” tells about the bank robber who shot his friend. This is atonement for our sins. There are two reasons to believe that Jesus can atone for our sins. The first might be called because of the solidarity of the human race or body. Because each part is connected and related, each part is responsible for the acts of the other parts. Jesus is the Son of Man, and as such, is part of man, bearing the responsibility for sin, although committing no sin. If he can bear the responsibility, he can atone for it.
Christ can also atone for our sins because of his love for us. Picture a criminal about to be executed. His head is shaven, strapped in the chair, electrodes attached. Who can help him? A millionaire? A philosopher? A doctor? A lawyer? Then picture the thief on the cross beside Jesus who was told, “Today thou shalt be with me in Paradise.” Who could have saved this thief except someone on the cross beside him? Jesus can also atone for our sins, because of the judicial characteristics of his judgment and execution. Neither the Sanhedrin nor Pilate was able to find any criminal action jesus was guilty of. If he was not guilty of any crimes, whose crimes did he die for? Jesus died for your sins and my sins and the world’s sins.
If Jesus could atone for our sins by dying, why not a death by riot or by an assasin or by some accidental means? Jesus could atone for our sins by only two ways. The first qualification was that it must be by an unjustified execution. The other qualification was that he must sink to a level equal to the lowest sinner that he would save. For example, to save a drowning man, one must go as deep as he is.
Previously, we studied about the forgiveness of sins. Without the crucifixion, there can be no atonement. Without atonement, there can be forgiveness. Without forgiveness, there can be no everlasting life because the wages of sin are death.