This is a continuation of my previous post.
Two days before the opening of The Passion of the Christ, I sat in front of the television, wide-eyed, anxiously awaiting Diane Sawyer’s prime-time special – an interview with Mel Gibson, the film’s director. At the crux of the interview, Sawyer squinted her eyes, tilted her head, and asked Mel Gibson the big question: “Who killed Jesus? Was it the Jews? The Romans?”
I leaned forward, curious what Gibson would say.
“The big news is, we all did,” said Gibson. “I’ll be the first in the culpability stakes here.”
I initially liked Gibson’s answer, but something about his “we killed Jesus” verbiage didn’t sound right, and I didn’t know why.
The next day, I sat down on the front porch at my friend Brannon’s house, where we were meeting to do a Bible study. I told him about the Gibson interview and said, “I don’t know why, but something about us being the ones who killed Jesus doesn’t seem right.”
Despite both of us growing up in Christian homes, neither of us were certain who was ultimately responsible, and solely blaming the Jews and Romans seemed to be an exaggeration of their power over deity.
We figured the answer ought to be easy to find in scripture. So we started thumbing through our Bibles, looking at the references to the death of Jesus. One bizarre verse caught my attention: “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him, we might become the righteousness of God . . . ” (2 Cor. 5:21) (emphasis added).
I reread it. Was that right? Jesus actually became our sin? I had heard preachers say He “took the blame for our sins” or “carried our sins to the cross” or “died for our sins.” But this verse described a Savior who did more than just haul our garbage to the dump. This verse described a Savior who became the garbage, an unnerving thought.
I read the scripture out loud to Brannon and said, “Maybe God is the one who killed Jesus. I mean, it says Jesus became sin, and God hates sin. Maybe God took out all His rage on Jesus instead of us.”
Brannon furrowed his brow.
“I don’t know about that,” he said. “It sounds like an interesting idea, but that’s pretty controversial to say that God the Father killed His Son.”
I started to argue back, pushing for my odd theory, but Brannon waved me off, saying he needed to see it in black and white before he would believe it. He continued flipping through the pages of his Bible until he reached Isaiah 53, a detailed, blow-by-blow prophecy of Christ’s death. Surely, this would tell us who killed Jesus.
But the chapter was riddled with passive verbs that described Christ’s violent treatment without revealing who actually carried out the violence. The verses said He “was stricken … was smitten … was afflicted … was wounded … was crushed … was oppressed … was cut off.” But by whom? It wasn’t clear. And then we came to verse ten, which said, “But the Lord was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief” (emphasis added).
We looked at each other, speechless. Mel Gibson was wrong – we didn’t kill Jesus; God, the Father, did it. In fact, it actually pleased Him to crush Christ, the one who had become our sin.
I wasn’t trying to beat Mel Gibson in a game of Bible Trivia. I just wanted to know whether I was secure in my salvation. Some people could read John 3:16 and believe they were saved forever – I needed a provocative, biblical road map to my salvation that made sense, that showed me the deal was done. This was it.
I had heard plenty of sermons on eternal salvation, but they left me with the impression that Jesus had just taken the fall for my sins. I needed more than a Savior who would say, “Yeah, yeah, you can blame Me for your sins.” I didn’t want someone to blame. I wanted my sins dead and buried, and Jesus had accomplished that. He had become my sin, and when He died, all my sins died – even the ones in the future (Galatians 5:22-24).
I had spent so many years running from God’s wrath, afraid of Him electrocuting me with His holy rage. But then I realized God had already poured out His wrath on Christ. His judgment was satisfied when He executed His Son, who had become the very face of our sin (John 3:14, Romans 8:3-4).
I had spent so many years trying to make myself righteous, but there was no need. Christ had already given His righteousness to me as a gift – now I just had to work it out “with fear and trembling,” knowing that God is the one doing the work anyway (Philippians 2:12-13).
The deal was done, and now I had something to say for myself on Judgment Day when God asked me to answer for my sins: “What sins, Lord? They’re dead. All I have left to give You is the righteousness of Christ. You gave it to me on Good Friday. I’m alive in Christ now. I was a part of His body which rose from the grave on Resurrection Sunday.”
The battle for freedom wasn’t over; but that day, I finally realized God had won the war, that I didn’t have to do His job for Him, that I had something to stand upon on Judgment Day – I could stand on His love.
As I meditated on God’s extraordinary interruption in the affairs of our broken planet, obedience to God seemed more like an opportunity to love and less like a divine obligation. I now realized I could revere God without having to be terrorized by the thought of Him.
And rather than hide from Him, I was now free to hide in Him (Colossians 3:3). Thanks to scripture, the Holy Spirit’s leading, years of exhausting legalism, and a shot of bad theology from Mel Gibson, I saw the beautiful truth . . .
My sin – dead.
God’s wrath – satisfied.
His righteousness – mine forever.
Freedom – finally.