Christ Died for our Sins in Accordance with the Scriptures
Now I would remind you brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you – unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve (I Cor. 15:1-5).
In this second Easter-week meditation, I want to unpack with you the riches of Paul’s reminder that “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scripture.” To do this, we will linger over one word at a time.
Christ. So right away we have to do with a person. There is a person of first importance. The heart of the gospel, the heart of Christianity is the Person of Christ. So we should ask, “who is this One who stands as the Subject of the gospel?” We ask this because the power and the precious value of what He has done depends on who He is.
Despite the fact that he is writing here to Gentiles, Paul calls him by his Jewish title, He is the Christ. He is the anointed one. He is the one anointed by God, in Isaiah’s words, to bring good news to the poor, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the year of the Lord’s favor. He is the one anointed, in John’s words, to make the Father known. Grace and truth have come through Jesus the Christ. The Word has become flesh to make known the fullness of the Father.
This is the One who stands as the center and Subject of the Gospel. He is the Christ, the one in whom the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily. He is one foreknown and loved by the Father before the foundation of the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature. In other words, as the Jews themselves were to recognize, He is equal with God. To say the gospel begins with Christ is to say it begins with God. The Christ is the one sent by God. The Christ is the Son of God. The Christ is Himself equal with God.
Died. And the gospel proclaims that it is none other than this God who has died. Christ died. This death is an indisputable historical fact. Jesus of Nazareth lived, ministered, and as a result of that ministry was crucified by the Romans. What should we see in this death?
We should see that the Focus of our faith is not only God, but also man. Jesus is God. God cannot die because He has life in Himself. But Jesus died. Therefore in the one Person of Christ there is the fullness of deity and the fullness of humanity. This means as God He is fully able to bring the Father to us. And as Man he is fully able to bring us to the Father.
In Philippians 2, Paul put the relationship between these two natures like this: though he was in the form of God, he emptied himself, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself to the point of death, even death on a cross (Phil 2:6-8). So you hear the point. The Word, equal with God, took on flesh to do what God could not do. Jesus came to die. This death, this cross, is why God became Man.
For Sins. This little phrase holds the key to the glory of the cross. We know history – Christ died. But for history to be good news, we must let theology speak! What is the purpose of this majestic death in the plan of God? The purpose, Paul says, is that He died “for sins.” What can this mean, that the death of Christ was “for” sins?
Listen to the way the rest of Scripture fills this out: His death made purification for sins (Heb 1:3). His death puts away or takes away sins (Heb 9:26; Jn 1:29; Rm 11:27; I Jn 3:5). His death covers sins (Rm 4:7). His death makes propitiation for sins (Rm 3:25; I Jn 2:2; 4:10). We could summarize it this way: his death provides an atonement for sins. The guilt of sin, the power of sin, the punishment of sin, the wrath of God against sin – was placed on Him at the cross. It was exhausted in Him when He died. This is what His death was “for”. He died to deal with sin.
Our Sins. But whose sin? Peter tells us that He had committed no sin (I Pt. 2:22). Paul tells us that He who knew no sin was made sin (II Cor. 5:21). Where did the sin come from that was placed on Christ and dealt with at his death?
Listen to Isaiah’s answer, prophesied some 700 years before the cross: 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 (Is 53:4-6). The transgression was mine. The iniquity was mine. It was yours. He bore the wrath of God against my sin in my place. His atoning death was offered as a substitute for me, and for you.
In Accordance with the Scripture. This is perhaps the most amazing statement of all. What it tells us is that this whole program was sovereignly orchestrated by the Father.The God who gave the Law to Moses, the God who spoke to our fathers through the Prophets, the God who inspired the wisdom of the Writings, this God had a plan, in the fullness of time, to send His own Son to deal with our sin.
Jesus was sent as the Messiah according to the word of God. Jesus was crucified in fulfillment of the Father’s word. The death of Christ was given its sin-removing and guilt-breaking power by the word of God. His death made a substitutionary atonement for your sins, according to the plan of God.
Here is at least one thing we should take away from this truth: God’s design for you means that God’s desire is for you! The purpose of God, promised in His word and expressed in the fullness of time, reveals the passion of God! So know yourself loved today, before the foundation of the world. This is the connection Paul encourages us to make in Romans 5:8, God shows His love for us in this, that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
This is the good news of the love of God that you have received, and in which you stand, and by which you are being saved. Hold it fast in your hearts today. And as you hold fast the word of the gospel, feel yourself held fast by the love of God.