Jesus Christ - Suffered Under Pontius Pilate, Was Crucified, Dead and Buried
Sunday, January 4, 2009 -
“We believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth: And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, Suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; He descended into hades; the third day He rose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty; from thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead. We believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of the saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen”
In our second point in our last study we began unpacking the meaning of Christ’s death. The first point we made was Christ’s death was a divinely planned event, not an unfortunately accident of history. Today we consider other aspects of the meaning of the cross of Christ. This follows logically because if the cross was a divinely planned event, what was God planing to do? We will continue with the number from the last study. We concluded point 2(a), so the next point is (2(b):
2) b) The cross was God’s plan for being just in dealing with sin, while being merciful in dealing with sinners. Perhaps the clearest statement of this is found coming from the pen of the apostle Paul: Romans 3:23-26 - “....for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,  and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,  whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.  It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”
Notice those words about Jesus Christ, “Whom God put forward as a propitiation in His blood...” Why the display? Why couldn’t Jesus just die privately for my sins? Why is there so much lingering attention on the gory details of the cross? I mean, if this were a Hollywood movie and, out of two hours, sixty minutes focused on the actual violence of the death on the cross, we would say this was gratuitous violence. We don’t need such an emphasis to know that Jesus died for our sins.
The answer to the question, “Why the public display of Jesus death?” is found in the words of Paul that we read from Romans chapter 3. If all that was needed was forgiveness then a private death on the cross would do. The price of our atonement would be paid.
But our forgiveness is not the only reason for the cross. And the reason the death of Jesus is made such a display is so the whole world can see the full wrath of God against sin. Because God is just and holy, forgiveness can’t be cheap or pretty. We learn something about sin when we see the cross. And we learn that God would rather expose the radical nature of the price paid than have us think He is somehow casual about dealing with our sin.
c) Jesus died on the cross as our substitute. That is, He didn’t die for anything He had done wrong. He was not guilty of any sin. The Bible says He died the “just for the unjust.” And what is mean in that small phrase is huge. The whole Old Testament sacrificial system foreshadowed this truth. People often cringe at the thought of an innocent lamb or dove being so violently killed in all those sacrifices. And that’s the whole point. We’re meant to feel the innocence of those offerings. We’re meant to cringe at the thought of them having to die for sins they didn’t commit.
Isaiah prophesied that Jesus would fall right into line with these guiltless offerings for sin, only in a more complete, final, and comprehensive way:
Isaiah 53:5-6 - “But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.  All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
Five times in two verses we are reminded that the essence of Jesus’ death was a great substitution. It took some time for even Jesus’ disciples to fully grasp this truth. We can all envision Peter’s early response to the news that it was necessary for Jesus to die on the cross - Matthew 16:21-22 - “From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.  And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, "Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you."
There is something wonderful that isn’t seen just on the surface of the cross of Jesus. Peter first saw it all as a disaster. It made no sense. But, like many of us, he came later on to understand what God was doing in the great substitution. Peter, like billions of others since, came to understand the true accomplishment of Jesus, God the Son, on the cross: 1 Peter 2:24 - “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.”