James R. Aist
“Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.” Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” (John 6:27-29)
Salvation is free to us, but it cost Jesus His life. Is there a special relationship of the life that Jesus lived to the death that He died? It seems to me that, in the Christian church, we put major and primary emphasis on the fact that Jesus suffered and then died on a cruel cross to pay the penalty for our sins. And, that’s as it should be, for, apart from that, none of us would have any valid hope of escaping an eternity in hell and spending our forever with God in heaven. But, lately, I have been pondering the fact that Jesus managed to live for 21 years as a morally responsible adult in a terribly fallen world – a world not all that different from ours today, where sin and evil abound – without even once committing a sin. So, one day an interesting question occurred to me: Which was the more difficult thing that Jesus did for us: being tempted in every way as we are for 21 years without sinning, or dying on the cross to pay for our sins? Let’s take a few moments to explore the two aspects of this question a little further and see where it leads us.
The Sinless Life of Jesus
The Bible says that Jesus was tempted in every way, just as we are, but was without sin (Hebrews 4:15). Now, I don’t know about you, but I’m not convinced that I have been able to live even one day without sinning! So, it’s hard for me to imagine how hard it must have been for Jesus, who was fully man (and fully God), to live 21 years (that’s 7,665 straight days) without sinning even once, when He was being tempted in every way as I have been. Add to that the facts that 1) Jesus was hated and hunted by His own people, and 2) as the Son of God, He was tempted in three ways that neither you nor I even could be tempted (Matthew 4:1-11), and it’s easy to see that His sin-free life was truly remarkable and extraordinary.
The Sacrificial Death of Jesus
After Jesus was arrested, He was shamelessly and publicly mocked and brutally beaten before He was convicted of a capital crime and taken away to be put to death on a cross (John 19:1-3). Much has been said and written about the intense pain and agony inflicted by the beating and the cruel invention referred to as “crucifixion” (click HERE). Now, a literal lamb that was led to slaughter in those days had no idea what awaited him, and his demise was relatively quick and painless. But Jesus, the very human Lamb of God, would have been well aware of the kinds and intensity of pain and agony inflicted by crucifixion, as the Jews were given many opportunities by the Romans to witness this public display of punishment, as a means to dissuade other would-be law-breakers. Yet He willingly subjected Himself to this slow and unspeakably painful and undeserved death, in order to pay the price for our sins. The difficulty of actually bringing oneself to submit to such a cruel and painful death cannot be overstated.
So, His Life or His Death: Which Was the More Difficult Accomplishment?
By this time you may be thinking that, perhaps, I have posed a moot question, and you would be right. But I did so to make a couple of critical points. First, we should be quick to remember and appreciate the difficulty of the sinless life that Jesus lived, and not just the difficulty of His willfully enduring death on a cross for our sake. And second, let us remember that both His sinless life and His sacrificial death were necessary in order for Him be the Savior of the world. If Jesus had committed even one sin during those 21 years, then His death on a cross would have been payment for His own sin, not ours. That would have left us with no hope of escaping hell and qualifying for heaven. In other words, Jesus’ sinless life wasn’t just an amazing accomplishment that we all can and should admire from a distance; it was an absolute necessity in God’s one-and-only plan for our salvation that powerfully impacts our lives “up close and personal”, forever.
As the saying goes, “He lived the life we could not live to pay the ransom we could not pay.”
Some would say that the most difficult thing that Jesus did for us was to allow the full weight of the evil of all of our sins to fall upon His shoulders, and that’s why He said in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me” (Matthew 26:39). Still others suggest that it was the separation from His Father that was the worst part of it all, causing Him to cry out from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34). In any case, we know that all of these things had to happen in order for His salvation to be complete and effective. And finally, what we can be absolutely sure of is this: in Jesus, we have a truly awesome Redeemer!
(For more articles on biblical teachings, click HERE)