From a historical perspective, I suppose we would regard as the most notorious of criminals - the greatest sinner of them all - to be someone like Hitler or Stalin from modern-day history or Nero from ancient Roman history. It may then come as a shock to realize that the most notorious criminal as well as the greatest sinner of all time was actually Jesus of Nazareth. Sound appalling? Stunned to hear such an accusation? Nevertheless, it's true. God never turned his back on Jesus. At the cross, however, sin took precedence and for a few hours on a Friday afternoon God turned away from his Son (Habakkuk 1:13). From the standpoint of salvation, Jesus, for a moment in time, was the worst person that ever lived.
To the Jews, Jesus' sin consisted of what was to them the brazen, uncensored claim that he was the Son of God, something no Jew would ever claim to be and live to tell others! To the Romans, Jesus was simply a man detested by his own people. The Jews wanted him dead and offered him in the place of a robber and murderer named Barabbas. This first act of sin-transference initiated a chain reaction wherein all sin was determinedly placed on the head of Jesus. He became retribution for the sin of man for all time. The burden of this indictment and the separation it caused was so great that Jesus screamed out to the heavens, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"
Jesus' internal conflict at the cross accounts for his struggle in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus, the righteous one, is about to become Jesus, the most evil person that ever lived. Because he is marked by sin, Jesus must face a temporary dissolution from his Father. There is no way any of us can fathom the intensity of this moment for one who was as incredibly close to God as Jesus was. The Father must now turn his face away from the Son, the one who has experienced the Father's generous love and adoration for over thirty years. One cannot help but be deeply touched by the terrible anguish Jesus suffered. Imagine being the apple of your father's adoring eye and in a blink of that same eye you are in the throws of despair, rejected because of sins you never committed! This is what Jesus knows will happen to him and none, least of all his apostles, is close enough to God to comprehend the magnitude of his suffering. Gethsemane says it all (Matthew 26:36-46).
Reading the gospels, we learn that Jesus is the legitimate Son of God, but on the cross, he was, for a brief moment in time, the rogue Son of God. Jesus was illegitimatized in order to legitimize sonship status for all those that would one day seek reconciliation with God. Do not let such vigorous and descriptive language intimidate you. Instead, receive its full impact, as together we comprehend that moment in history when God disowned his Son, but would later reclaim him. This is the power of God! He can dismiss what is his and then reclaim it forever! Jesus' illegitimacy was only temporary, but so significant was his death in God's plan to save fallen man that Isaiah 53:10 in prophesying of this event states "Yet it was the Lord's will to crush him and cause him to suffer" (NIV).
In one fell swoop the righteousness of Jesus - before the cross - became the righteousness of future believers - after the cross - as well as vindicating faithful believers from past generations. Our legitimacy as sons of God was established at the cross. Jesus' legitimacy was reinstated after his death, for now the price had been paid in full for the sins of man. Jesus' resurrection from the dead is a permanent witness testifying to his sovereign place in eternity as the Christ (Romans 1:4). Thus, Christ's sonship is permanent and can never be taken away:
• At the cross, Jesus is the sinner; at his resurrection, Jesus is the Righteous One!
• At the cross, Jesus is a man; at his resurrection, Jesus is the Christ!
• At the cross, Jesus is the rejected teacher of the Jews; at his resurrection, Jesus is the accepted Teacher of all who will seek his wisdom!
• At the cross, Jesus is the pretentious son of God - a liar; at his resurrection, Jesus is the established and vindicated true Son of God!
• At the cross, Jesus is a soldier; at his resurrection, Jesus is the great Conqueror!
• At the cross, Jesus is the lamb of sacrifice; at his resurrection, Jesus is the Lamb that brings life!
• Before the cross, Jesus rode a donkey's colt into Jerusalem; after the tomb, Jesus rides a great white steed before all the nations of the earth!
We need to observe with great care the planning that went into the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. (As well, there is no shortfall of planning concerning his magnificent return into the earth). In Christ, all things are redefined in accordance with their true meaning. In view of such a lofty design, we need to see that the shallowness of our commitment to God along with our relentless pursuit of false religious works has placed us off guard. We are not ready for Christ's return! Have we forgotten that eternal life promises nothing for those who call on God yet remain immersed in the material contraband of this life? Do we not know that in order to truly know Christ we must totally rid ourselves of all worldliness, that we must be as Christ in order to be legitimate sons of God? Have we yet to learn that the act of Christ to save humankind is legitimized only in the believer's commitment to be as Jesus was?
We are crucified with Christ (Galatians 2:20). We died too.
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