PRESOV, Slovakia, January 6, 2011 – A reader posted the following questions under my Christmas column which talked about the birth of Jesus:
“What was the point of his life? To forgive us our sins? To bring us closer to him? What does it all mean?”
These are excellent questions, because they cut to the essence of Christ’s mission on earth.
In the third chapter of John’s Gospel we read: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.”
This verse encapsulates Christ’s mission: He came into this world to save people from divine judgment and condemnation.
Whether we like it or not, we are all subject to divine wrath, because we have transgressed against the moral law that God implanted in our conscience. Mankind’s culpability before God is as glaring as it is deplorable.
Each of us has told countless lies in violation of God’s injunction against lying. We have committed blasphemy by taking his name in vain. We have broken God’s command against covetousness by envying the good things and fortune of others. We have violated God’s prohibition of murder by harboring in our hearts hatred for our neighbor. We have broken Christ’s directive against adultery by having lustful thoughts toward persons other than our spouse.
In the mirror of God’s law, the human race is reduced to a collection of lying, blasphemous, murderous, covetous adulterers. Worse yet, we have sunk to this depth of depravity while our conscience kept telling us that lying, blasphemy, envy, murder and adultery are wrong.
Our willingness – our outright eagerness – to engage in behavior we know is wrong testifies to the moral corruption of the human heart.
Speaking of the human race, Romans chapter three says this: “There is no one righteous, not even one.” It then continues, “Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit. The poison of vipers is on their lips. Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and misery mark their ways, and the way of peace they do not know.”
This is a hard teaching, but it is true. All of human history – so rife with war, deception, murder, theft, pillage, rape and destruction – testifies to the rightness of this characterization.
We do not, however, have to go too far back in history to perceive the grim truth of the human condition. It is enough to look what is happening today around us as our society falls apart at the seams. The lies, the theft, the manipulation, the deception that are transpiring right before our eyes are truly staggering.
In any case, God’s law requires that those who break it be punished. That punishment is eternal death. “The soul who sins shall die,” we read in Ezekiel’s prophecy.
Since all have sinned, we all stand before God guilty and spiritually dead. And like a culpable criminal before a just judge, we have no excuse or ability to redeem ourselves.
This, it would appear, is a hopeless situation with seemingly no way out. Unless, of course, the judge himself chooses to grant mercy.
No good judge, however, can just let the guilty criminal go. That would make a mockery of justice, because justice demands that the penalty be paid.
It is here that Jesus Christ comes in. He is the one who paid the penalty for guilty sinners by taking upon himself the punishment due to those who transgressed against God’s law. He is “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”
His unique nature – being fully God while also being fully human – makes him capable of undertaking this momentous undertaking on behalf of man. But to obtain the benefit of Christ’s sacrificial atonement, one must appropriate it by faith. To be saved from God’s wrath, a person must believe that Christ indeed paid for his or her sins on the cross. This belief is what constitutes saving faith.
It is faith in the efficacy of Christ’s redemptive death that is the means through which God’s dispenses mercy to repentant sinners.
Serving the function of a propitiatory sacrifice, Christ is the centerpiece of God’s salvation plan for mankind. That – to answer my reader’s question – is the meaning of his life, death and resurrection. He rose from the dead and through his resurrection we, too, are raised to new life.
As this year gets underway let me make a suggestion for a resolution that may make an eternal difference. Let us take an honest view of our spiritual condition and consider God’s offer of forgiveness and life. It is embodied in the one whose birthday we recently celebrated and who can take away the guilt of our transgressions.
As he said himself, he came so that so that we may “have life, and have it abundantly.”
Born and raised under communism, Vasko Kohlmayer is a naturalized American citizen. He has lived in several countries under various forms of government, but he still marvels at the goodness of God and the wonder of life.
He has written for a number of newspapers, magazines and internet journals. Vasko currently lives in Europe with his long-suffering wife and two beautiful daughters. He is the founder of The Christian Writers Foundation.
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