Christ Died For Our Sins

Christ Died For Our Sins

Last week I asked a question to our Sunday School, expecting a particular answer: "What do you think Easter is about?" Experience tells me that the usual answers first off the tongue are ‘chocolate,’ or ‘Easter eggs.’ I should have elevated my expectations. "It’s about the resurrection from the dead of Jesus," came the first reply. "Jesus dying on the cross for our sins" came the second. 

Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings’ (Ma. 21:16) came a most theological response, which in itself is a summary of 1 Corinthians 15:3-4: 'For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures.’ For these three days of ‘Easter,’ I want to consider the three vital gospel truths that Paul identifies, which in turn relate to each of the three days–Christ died, Christ was buried, and Christ rose again.

But first, let's note four relative statements Paul makes about the gospel. In introduction, he casts their memories back to the past: ’I declare unto you the gospel, which I preached unto you’ (15:1). We should take note–the gospel did not arrive in Corinth by any other means than its public proclamation, and as a result, he states, ‘which also ye have received.’ Once the preacher had discharged his responsibility to preach, the hearer had a responsibility to receive. Having reminded them of the past, he moves into the present; ‘and wherein ye stand’ (15:2). The current position of the Corinthians was that their standing was as a result of the gospel. They were established by the gospel. He concludes with another present blessing; ‘By which also ye are saved.’ It might seem almost too obvious to state, but Paul keeps it to the end. Like the Corinthians, we are present possessors of salvation. Having reminded them of how they received it, and what it is doing for them, he is now ready to launch into an explanation of the vital components of the gospel.

Even the most ardent of rationalists will accept that ‘Christ died’ (15:3). It takes a brave person to put their intellectual credibility on the line and deny the early historical records that explicitly mention the death of a man called Jesus from Nazareth, in the city of Jerusalem. Josephus, who is just one among many, states;

“Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.” [1]

Historian, Michael grant, summarises;

“If we apply to the New Testament, as we should, the same sort of criteria as we should apply to other ancient writings containing historical material, we can no more reject Jesus' existence than we can reject the existence of a mass of pagan personages whose reality as historical figures is never questioned.” [2]

On this ‘Good Friday,’ we should take time just to thank God for the moment in history, when ‘Christ died.’

But, that is not all that the verse says. It goes on to move beyond the historical to make two further assertions, one about theology and another about prophecy.

When the rationalists depart from this verse is when we note the purpose, or the theology of His death–‘for our sins.’ To say that Christ's death was 'for our sins' is to agree that there is such a thing as sins, and this is unpalatable. But the believer delights in this prepositional phrase, because it informs us of the reason that He died, and also the manner in which He died. It was ‘for’ (huper) 'our sins.’ This little preposition denotes the scope of His death–it was on behalf of sins, but also the specificity of His death–those sins were ours. In this phrase Paul is simultaneously stating that Christ’s death was because of sins; thus it was propitiatory in nature, but also it was for ‘our sins’, and so it is substitutionary in its application. A believer moves beyond the truth that Christ died for sins and appreciates that it was for their own sins. Jack Hunter puts it succinctly in his commentary;

‘He took the sinner's place and died the sinner's death, bearing the sinner's judgment.’

But beyond theology is prophecy; it was ‘according to the scriptures.’ I suspect this is the often overlooked aspect of the verse, even by believers. The rationalist rejects the authority of scripture, but everything that took place in those hours upon the cross was ‘according to,’ or ‘goverened by,’ the scriptures. It is likely that the plural form of the word means that Paul has no particular scripture in mind, but that it was the overarching theme of the Old Testament that Christ should die for sins. From Genesis to Malachi there are types and figures, allusions and pictures to bring this singular act of history over the horizon of time: ‘Christ died for our sins.’ It is no wonder that when we come to Luke’s gospel the Lord Himself says to two disconsolate disciples; ‘Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory?’ (Lk. 24:26). And then ‘beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.’ The suffering was prior to the glory, and it was also on account of our sins. During that journey I wonder if the Lord came to Isaiah 53; 'He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities.' Thus Paul states: ‘Christ died for our sins.’

[2] Michael Grant (1977), Jesus: An Historian's Review of the Gospels

And Was Buried

And Was Buried

Hebrews Bible Class: We have a High Priest

Hebrews Bible Class: We have a High Priest