"Since that day (Jesus' death) countless men and women in the history of Christianity have died for their faith. Some of them were not just hung on crosses; they were burned there. Many of them went to their crosses singing." David Platt, Radical pg 35.
People have died gruesome deaths, because of what Christ Jesus did for them. However the death of Christ Jesus wasn't their salvation and it isn't ours. These others who have died for their faith could not save us. Jesus' death on the cross wasn't just death, it was so much more. It was taking on the cup of holy wrath, divine judgement, hatred toward sin, your sin, my sin. A cup pour out, emptied, to the last drop upon Jesus' own soul, that is our salvation. Jesus took the holy justice of our punishment.
We ponder on the death of Jesus, the bloodied face from the crown of thorns, the raw, torn flesh of the whipped back and sides, the severed tendons of the nailed wrists and feet. We remember, communion, the bread, the wine, we remember his death.
We tend to focus on this excruciating physical pain, I propose, for two reasons: firstly we understand physical pain, we have hurt before. We can relate, on a very small scale - if you have had a thorn in your finger you can at least try to imagine have thorns pushed into your head. If you have stood on a nail, you can at least try to imagine having nails driven into your feet. We can understand, and somewhat relate, so we focus on that physical pain.
The second reason is that, I think we would prefer to think upon Christ Jesus' physical pain, as it draws us away from the punishment of our sins. Who, given the option would dwell on their sins, and the cost of those being thrust upon another person? That person, who in no way, deserved to take our punishment? I wonder if we avoid thinking about the holy wrath of God toward sin, because it was our sin.
Growing up in a middle class, Christian home, I was a good kid, I told the odd lie, partied a little as a teenager, did some silly things, but really, nothing too bad. I've never done drugs. I wasn't sexually promiscuous. I went to church most weeks. I didn't often get drunk. I never was too bad. ... Carry that mindset over to my adult status, when I was meant to actually have a clue about life, and what do you get? A deluded Christian.
About 2 years ago, I began asking God to highlight my sin, as I was totally ignorant of it, I asked him to go gently, I was well aware that my spiritual maturity was infantile. He did, He pulled out a bright yellow highlighter and started slowly. Fear. Anger. Jealously. Bitterness. Hatred. Pride. Selfishness. Filth, filth, filth.
Now, I think about Jesus taking my punishment for my sins, my filth, my disgusting attitude and heart, and I can see why Jesus dying wasn't the deal breaker, or my salvation. Jesus took what I should have taken for all I have done, and he took it, willingly, lovingly, passionately. He took it - my sin upon his soul. He did that, on the day he died, he did that, for me and you. And although the cross was gruesome, it wasn't what freed us. Don't misunderstand me, I know Jesus chose die and through his death and resurrection, he won the battle against sin and death. I'm pushing the point of the cup of wrath he had to bear, because often, we don't, we chose to miss it, and focus on his death.
"In that holy moment, all the righteous wrath and justice of God due us came rushing down like a torrent on Christ himself. Some say, "God looked down and could not bear to see the suffering that the soldiers were inflicting on Jesus, so he turned away." But this is not true. God turned away because he could not bear to see your sin and my sin on his Son." David Platt, Radical, pg 36.
We can not get to God through our own efforts, goodness, trying hard, ticking boxes, attending church or even pastoring a church. We all get to God through Jesus, and through the cup he chose to bear for us. The cup that had our name on it, yet, he took it from us, for love, for obedience, for his Father, for his glory.
Jesus is my salvation. Praise his name.