The Heart of the Christian Message

Why do we have Christmas? In other words, why did Jesus have to be born? Why not just Easter? Why did Jesus, as the eternal God, have to enter this world as a human child and live thirty-three years before going to the cross?

The simple answer is that Jesus came to be a substitute.  He came to live as one of us, in our place. You see, Jesus was not born merely to be a great moral teacher (although he was) or a spiritual Mr. Rogers who could sweetly guide us into being good boys and girls. No, my need is not for a teacher or even a moral example to follow. I need a substitute Savior. I need someone to take my place and do for me what I can’t do form myself. I don't need a helper. I need a hero.

To substitute simply means to replace one thing for something else. Sometimes we substitute artificial sweetener for real sugar in certain recipes. In professional baseball, the American League allows for a stronger slugger, called a pinch, or designated, hitter, to replace a weaker batter in the batting lineup. In Hollywood, a stunt double often replaces a lead actor in performing a dangerous scene. Of course, we’re not talking about recipes, baseball or Hollywood. But the concept is similar.

Jesus put himself in my place, taking the consequences for my sin so that I could receive the benefits of his obedience. He bore my guilt so that I could receive his grace.

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When Jesus went to the cross, he went as a substitute for sinners who had failed the exam. That is why 2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “For our sake [God] made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” This is also the idea in Galatians 3:13, where Paul says, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us...’” Or as 1 Peter 2:24 says, “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross.”

What Paul is saying is that Jesus put himself in my place, taking the consequences for my sin so that I could receive the benefits of his obedience. He bore my guilt so that I could receive his grace. He took my F so that I could receive his A+.

And you know, my guilt is not primarily because I have broken a list of rules. My guilt centers on the fact that I have not loved God, nor have I really loved my neighbor—and certainly not my enemies. I am a self-consumed idolater who seeks to create a man-made righteousness (i.e., praiseworthy reputation) through being good, being right, being successful, etc., rather than a repentant sinner who simply receives and rests in the gift-righteousness of Jesus.

In light of the exam, I have failed on every count. And when I really think about the depth of my sin patterns and how often I am ruled by my sin nature, I can’t help but identify with the apostle Paul, who in Romans 7 cries out, “What a wretched man I am! Who will save me from this body of death?”  

We will find out in the next post.

Dr. McKay Caston

McKay Caston's passion is to help people live all of life in view of the cross.