The gap was unbridgeable. There was nothing to be done to unite filth and brokenness with complete beauty, purity and perfection; that is, until Jesus Christ. God sent His Son to earth to die on the cross and atone for our sins and grace catapulted from disastrous separation all the way to glorious perfection. The problem of atonement can only be addressed by this glorious impossibility: God is wholly graceful and wholly just at the same time. Many ask, “How could an innocent man—indeed, one of God’s prophets—be punished for what you deserve? Is that not unjust (Boyd & Eddy, 131)?” Jesus Christ’s death on the cross fulfilled multiple purposes. Just a few of the propositions are that Jesus died in our place, that He died to destroy Satan and his works, and that He died to display God’s wrath against sin. While there is merit to each of these truths, I believe, ultimately, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ was intended to reconcile humanity to Himself—this falls in line wholly with the grace of salvation and relationship with our Creator.
A popular view, famous in Church tradition, is the “Christus Victor” view, which focuses on Christ’s victory over Satan as the key purpose of the atonement. Another common view is that Jesus served as a sacrifice to show God’s wrath against sin, known as the “Moral Government” view. There is great truth in both of these alternative mainstream views; however, apart from grace and desire for relationship with His creation, there is no purpose for God to exercise such authority and display His perfection. All of what God does is done because of the foundational undertone of grace. Thus, the “Penal Substitution” view, I believe, is God’s primary motivation behind the death and resurrection of His one and only Son, Jesus Christ. Our sinful nature poses a humanly unbridgeable dilemma, as Romans 3:23 tells us, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Then, God’s love came bursting through, shattering the long-established pillars of religion and sending the earth into a paradigm shift called grace: “But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Rom. 5:8)”
This falls directly in line with the view that Jesus came as a substitute for our sin. God has such a passionate love for His people and He makes that clear through the entire story of atonement, salvation and redemption. Romans 8:37-39 says this:
“But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
The story of Christ’s sacrifice solidifies the fact that God desperately desires relationship with His children. Upon Jesus Christ’s death on the cross, sin no longer reigns, is incapable of binding us and nothing—“neither death nor life”—can separate us from intimate relationship with the Creator. Gregory Boyd and Paul Eddy, in their book Across the Spectrum, assert, “The only stance an all-holy God can have toward sin is one of holy rage (Boyd & Eddy, 133). The authors of Across the Spectrum are drawn to this conclusion because of Paul’s words in Romans 1:18, revealing that God’s wrath is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness. This perspective proves the necessity of atonement for our sins so that the bridge to relationship can be crossed. God, knowing we are incapable of bearing the weight of our own sinful nature, sent His perfect Son, Jesus, to take on the burden of our sins for us, to bridge the gap and make relationship possible—this is the picture of perfect grace juxtaposed with perfect justice. Jesus Christ came to provide the eternal sacrifice, unattainable through Old Testament sacrificial rituals. We see through the Old Testament that, like in Ezekiel 46:13, offerings were a crucial part of the daily life of the Jewish believer: “You shall provide a lamb a year old without blemish for a burnt offering to the Lord daily; morning by morning you shall provide it.” This could not eternally satisfy the wrath of the Father, yet He so passionately yearned for connection with His creation that He allowed this until He sent His Son, Jesus and the Holy Spirit, our new Comforter.
This sacrificial love is wholly a result of God’s indelible grace. The love of Jesus Christ is one of the many glorious impossibilities of our faith. When looking at other religions of the world, you soon comprehend that the God of Jacob, Isaac and Abraham is the only God that not only says “you are mine,” but also reaches down, romantically wraps His arms around His creation, and echoes deep into the corridors of our hearts, “I am yours.” The sacrifice had to be made—because of the Father’s love for us—by someone who was not in need of sacrifice. As John 1:29 says, “The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.’” God sent pure beauty into filthy destruction. The Lamb of God came to reconcile creation to the Creator. This glorious love was displayed on a tree with nails driven into His hands and feet. The atonement came when He defeated Satan and death. Jesus Christ took on our sin—as our substitute. Our Savior now dances on graves, shouts life into death, and sends earthquakes of grace into a land firmly rooted in the foundation of sin. Humanist author, William Hazlitt, once said, “Death cancels everything but truth.”