And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.
(Colossians 2:13-14 ESV)
That word is not a positive word in our culture. It brings to mind captivity, threats, and ultimatums. For the follower of Christ, though, it’s one of the sweetest words known, for the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Mark 10:45)
The problem is sin. Our separation from the God who created us; the One who spoke into existence mountains and atoms, stars and slugs. The One who knit us together with love and grace is the One for whom our hearts desperately long, and the One from whom we are separated. Despite the malady of mankind in trying to earn the favor of God, we are stuck and broken apart from Him. This is no small problem. It’s a problem of monumental proportions for our souls that blinds our eyes and darkens our hearts, as we were created with an explicit purpose in mind. We were created to worship God, and when we are separated from Him, the trajectory of our lives will be to replace our soul’s longing with lesser, and ultimately unsatisfying things.
There are many reasons that Jesus came to die, and they are all precious to the inheritors of the promises of God.* One of the main reasons is that Jesus paid the ransom due to buy us back from our captivity to sin. He fulfills the legal demands of the law and its corresponding punishment and Colossians 2:13-14 says. Jesus is the ultimate scapegoat, to borrow language from Leviticus 16. The scapegoat was not guilty, but it was nonetheless credited with the sins of the people and sent away. The Holiness of God demands that payment be made for the sins of the people. Jesus Christ was the only person to ever live without sin, but He was nonetheless credited with our sin as if He had committed them and was then punished for them.
On Good Friday we celebrate that sacrifice and punishment, because the Son of God has paid the ransom to set us free. It seems strange at times to celebrate the punishment of another, especially when it’s a punishment we are due. But we celebrate because the death of Christ has redeemed us; bought us back from our bondage and separation. The fog has lifted. The dawn has broken. The veil is torn.
It’s a bittersweet celebration, but only in the narrowest sense. Bitter for a moment, yet sweet for an eternity. In trusting in Christ’s death, we are entering into the unfathomable and eternal joy that has always existed between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
*A great resource unpacking the many reasons behind the death of Christ is John Piper’s “50 Reasons Why Jesus Came to Die"