For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures. (1 Corinthians 15:3)
THE CROSS IS CENTRAL in the apostolic proclamation of the gospel. Paul said to the Corinthians, “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). To the Galatians, he wrote: “But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gal. 6:14).
When we meditate on the cross, our thoughts are often taken up with the details of Jesus’ physical suffering. This is not inappropriate, but neither is it Paul’s principal focus. When he rehearses the essential components of his message in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul highlights not the manner of Christ’s death with a gory description of its violence and shame, but the meaning— its theological significance. “He died for our sins” (v. 4).
Jesus did not die for his own sins, for he had none. He had committed no crime. “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit” (1 Peter 3:18). The cross was more than just the execution of a Jewish prophet. It was a substitution. Jesus died in our place. As J. Oswald Sanders says in The Incomparable Christ:
By substitution we do not mean the saving of a life by mere assistance, as in the throwing of a rope to a drowning man; or by the mere risking of one life to save another; it is the saving of one life by the loss of another. As substitute, Christ took on Himself the sinner’s guilt and bore its penalty in the sinner’s place.
Bearing shame and scoffing rude
In my place condemned he stood
Sealed my pardon with his blood
Hallelujah! What a Savior!
“In my place condemned he stood.” This is substitution. This is the meaning of the cross.
- Why did Paul’s message focus on the cross?
- Have you ever recognized your need for a substitute?
- Have you confessed your sins to God and placed your trust in Christ alone?
- Can you say with confidence, “In my place condemned he stood, Hallelujah! What a Savior!”?
Father, I have sinned and am not worthy to be called your child. But you have sent Christ Jesus into the world to save sinners. And I’m a sinner. And I now come to you, believing that Jesus took my place, bearing my sin, guilt, and shame on the cross. Receive me now, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
From To Be Like Jesus: 40 Meditations for Your Journey Toward Christlikeness by Brian G. Hedges