I’ve recently found myself defending the idea of lent, as it has a number of negative connotations in Nicaragua. I believe Lent is important because it is a time to prepare for celebrating the greatest gift we have ever received: the sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The events of Good Friday and Easter are so important that it’s not enough to celebrate them for only a day or two. As we head into Easter, I want to encourage us to spend time preparing to celebrate the atoning death and victorious resurrection of Christ Jesus. In my devotions during this season I’m going to focus on the final words of Jesus on the Cross, as I feel reflecting on them will help us begin grasping the greatness of the gift Jesus’ has mercifully given us.
The first phrase I want us to reflect on comes from Matthew 27:46:
And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
We can get hung up here on why Jesus would ask this question. Let me offer two possibilities. First, Jesus was actually experiencing pain on the cross. Yes, Jesus was God in human form, but he could also experience pain and suffering. His crying out shows that he actually suffered on our behalf. Second, the question he asked is (in my opinion) as much for us as it was for God. Why did Jesus have to die? Allow me to explain in the form of a story (which I long ago borrowed from a source I can no longer remember).
Imagine you have come to the end of your life and you awake to find yourself being taken into a giant celestial courtroom. You’re seated at the defense table, while to one side of you is an impeccably dressed prosecutor. Over many days this prosecutor describes each and every one of your sins, leaving not the slightest misstep unmentioned. As the hours and days drag on you become ever more hopeless, realizing that you are indeed guilty of each and every sin you are accused of. After days of accusations, the prosecutor rests his case, and the judge raises his gavel to make his decision. He quickly and authoritatively declares you guilty. But then something strange happens. The judge steps down from his podium and walks towards you. He rather forcefully pushes you out of the way and declares “this person is guilty, but I will take their punishment.” He then turns to you, points towards heaven, and says “child, you are now free to enjoy eternity in my Father’s House.”
Why did Jesus have to die? Because only the judge can be judged for the sins of the world. Jesus is the Judge who is judged in our place. He alone can judge the world, and He chooses to step in and take our punishment because of His love and grace. Thanks be to Christ, who loving chooses to be judged in our place.