There has never been a message so amazing as the gospel. No religion offers anything like it. Its astonishing gift of grace sets the gospel of Jesus in a class by itself. Paul summarized the gospel in one sentence, so simple we easily overlook its riches:
“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,” 1 Corinthians 15:3, 4, NAS95.
This gospel ranks highest on our list of biblical truths; it is “of first importance.” There is no truth in Scripture more important for Christians to comprehend, cherish, rest upon, and communicate to a needy world.
The core of the gospel lies in five monosyllables: Christ died for our sins.
Let’s chew on this one grammatically…
The Subject: Christ. The subject of a sentence performs the action of a sentence. Any right understanding of the gospel recognizes Jesus as the central actor in a cosmic drama that spans the ages. Christ goes to war against Sin, Satan, and Death. He does this singlehandedly, without aid from me or you. He is the focal point of the gospel’s attention, and to divert attention to anyone else’s performance shatters the gospel.
The full name and title of Christ would be Our Lord Jesus Christ. It’s not a hard and fast rule, but each word emphasizes something different about him.
- When Scripture writers wish to emphasize his human nature, they call him Jesus.
- When they wish to emphasize his divine nature, they call him Lord.
- When they wish to emphasize his unique personhood as the God-man who came forth on a mission from God, they call him Christ, the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew term, Messiah.
Any accurate communication of the gospel will make Christ central. He is the sun, and all other truths orbit him. I get jittery whenever I hear a “gospel presentation” that makes US central, our works, our response, our efforts, our self-reformation, our act of giving something to God. No way! Christ is the great subject of salvation, and any gospel that doesn’t preach Christ is no gospel at all.
The Verb: died. The Greek verb is in a tense we don’t have in English: the aorist tense (say AIR-ist). It’s a simple past tense, with a slight twist. Grammarians might call this a punctiliar aorist, meaning he died one, and he died once for all. HIS WORK IS FINISHED, and it was finished one dark day, two thousand years ago.
The terms of the Crucifixion are brutal, and worth remembering on Good Friday. Here is a medical look at Christ’s scourging:
“The heavy whip is brought down with full force again and again across the shoulders, back and legs. At first the heavy thongs cut through the skin only. Then, as the blows continue, they cut deeper into the subcutaneous tissues, producing first an oozing of blood from the capillaries and veins of the skin, and finally spurting arterial bleeding from vessels in the underlying muscles. The small balls of lead first produce large, deep bruises which are broken open by subsequent blows. Finally the skin is hanging in long ribbons and the entire area is an unrecognizable mass of torn, bleeding tissues. When it is determined by the centurion in charge that the prisoner is near death, the beating is finally stopped.” [Truman Davis, “The Crucifixion of Jesus” Arizona Medicine, March, 1965, p. 185]
On this Good Friday, it’s good to remember the death Jesus died. Please don’t turn away from this, today of all days. Here is a doctor’s description of the medical effects the crucifixion:
Most commonly, the feet were fixed to the front of the stipes by means of an iron spike driven through the first or second inter metatarsal space, just distal to the tarsometatarsal joint. It is likely that the deep peroneal nerve and branches of the medial and lateral plantar nerves would have been injured by the nails. Although scourging may have resulted in considerable blood loss, crucifixion per se was a relatively bloodless procedure, since no major arteries, other than perhaps the deep plantar arch, pass through the favored anatomic sites of transfixion.
The major pathophysiologic effect of crucifixion, beyond the excruciating pain, was a marked interference with normal respiration, particularly exhalation. The weight of the body, pulling down on the outstretched arms and shoulders, would tend to fix the intercostal muscles in an inhalation state and thereby hinder passive exhalation. Accordingly, exhalation was primarily diaphragmatic, and breathing was shallow. It is likely that this form of respiration would not suffice and that hypercarbia would soon result. The onset of muscle cramps or tetanic contractions, due to fatigue and hypercarbia, would hinder respiration even further.
Adequate exhalation required lifting the body by pushing up on the feet and by flexing the elbows and adducting the shoulders. However, this maneuver would place the entire weight of the body on the tarsals and would produce searing pain. Furthermore, flexion of the elbows would cause rotation of the wrists about the iron nails and cause fiery pain along the damaged median nerves. Lifting of the body would also painfully scrape the scourged back against the rough wooden stipes. Muscle cramps and paresthesias of the outstretched and uplifted arms would add to the discomfort. As a result, each respiratory effort would become agonizing and tiring and lead eventually to asphyxia.
The actual cause of death by crucifixion was multifactorial and varied somewhat with each ease, but the two most prominent causes probably were hypovolemie shock and exhaustion asphyxia. Other possible contributing factors included dehydration, stress-induced arrhythmias, and congestive heart failure with the rapid accumulation of pericardial and perhaps pleural effusions. Crucifracture (breaking the legs below the knees), if performed, led to an asphyxic death within minutes.
Death by crucifixion was, in every sense of the word, excruciating (Latin, excruciatus, or “out of the cross”).
It’s easy to emotionally sanitize the Cross. It’s so easy to read, “Christ died…” and forget the awfulness of it. What Scriptures describe in two little words, all the words ever spoken or written could never do justice to. It was a real death, in a real body, of a real person, in real history. This is the heart of the gospel. Christ died…
The Prepositional Phrase: for our sins. The first two words of the gospel are history. These next three represent theology. We state this so casually that we can easily overlook its meaning.
The Greek construction here consists of the preposition huper (“for”, say HU-pair) plus the plural noun (sins) spelled a certain way. This spelling makes it a grammatical form called the genitive case. Huper plus the genitive indicates SUBSTITUTION. We could translate this: Christ died AS A SUBSTITUTE FOR our sins.
This is the biblical emphasis of the message of the Cross. Christ did not die simply as our moral example. He did not die simply to prove his love. He did not die simply to topple Satan. He did not die simply to advance God’s kingdom and cause in the world.
He died SUPREMELY, and above all other reasons, as a substitutionary sacrifice for our sins. God punished him for our sins instead of punishing us. God laid our sins on him. God executed him. Whatever condemnation, wrath, punishment, hell, and agony our sins deserved, Christ endured in full measure.
What great love! Who can comprehend such a sacrifice? Who could fathom the agony of the Cross and the love that motivated it?
This is the gospel; it is the only gospel worth the name. It is the only gospel the Bible knows. It is the only gospel that makes the Christian’s heart skip a beat. It is the only gospel that saves a soul.
Do you believe?
Bible scholars call this the vicarious atonement, or the substitutionary atonement for sin. Christ died for our sins, as our subsitute, in our place.
He left his Father’s throne above
(so free, so infinite his grace!),
emptied himself of all but love,
and bled for Adam’s helpless race.
‘Tis mercy all, immense and free,
for O my God, it found out me!
No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus, and all in him, is mine;
alive in him, my living Head,
and clothed in righteousness divine,
bold I approach th’ eternal throne,
and claim the crown, through Christ my own.
Bold I approach th’ eternal throne,
and claim the crown, through Christ my own.
Amazing love, how can it be,
That Thou, My God, shouldst die for me. (Charles Wesley)
Thank God for Good Friday. Thank God for the Cross. Thank God for Jesus. Thank God for a gospel so rich we can never fathom it, but so simple we can say it in five monosyllables: Christ died for our sins.