If one contemplates it, even for a few moments, a truth about our faith stands out as something truly remarkable. The Creator of all things, the Ever-Living One, became flesh and blood just like us and died to pay for our sins. His sacrifice was prophesied to our first parents (Genesis 3:15). And it is pictured by Passover, the very first of the seven Festivals God uses to explain His plan of salvation (1 Corinthians 5:7).
The price paid on our behalf, to cover our sins, should highlight to us the truly terrible nature of sin. Our Father wants us to fully and deeply understand the connection between sin and its consequences. Jesus Christ led a pure and sinless life—a life of loving obedience and unwavering devotion to God—and it is not a stretch of the imagination to believe that one factor in that feat was the Savior's perfect understanding of the terrible price sin exacts of the sinner. He had to know that price, because it is a price He had committed from the foundation of the world to pay in full (Revelation 13:8).
When we consider carefully the final events of the last Passover of Jesus' earthly ministry, almost two millennia ago, we see displayed multiple elements of the price of sin. And we see a Savior who was willing to pay the full price for those He loved.
Let's take some time to review three of those elements and their reflection in Jesus' sacrifice, and let's seek to come closer to God's own perspective on the consequences of sin.
Sin Causes Death
Death is the most obvious consequence of sin that many associate with Jesus Christ's sacrifice. And Scripture is certainly clear about it.
Romans 6:23 declares that "the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." And those wages have been earned by each and every one of us (Romans 3:23). Death is a natural consequence of sin. The Lord's brother, James, details very plainly the pathway we tread to sin: "But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death" (James 1:14–15). It is not sin to be tempted—even Jesus Christ faced temptation (Hebrews 4:15). That is part of what makes Him our compassionate High Priest. But He did not entertain the thoughts that temptation engenders.
Had He, even once in His 33½ years of life, committed a single sin, then He, too, would have earned death.
But His death was to be reserved to pay ourdebt, not His own.
Jesus Christ, the most innocent Man ever to walk the earth, was nailed to a piece of wood—crucified like a despised and hated criminal—and died. While most modern translations make the exact events less obvious than they should be, an accurate account of His death is supported by some of the oldest extant copies of the New Testament. Motivated by unknown reasons, but certainly in fulfillment of prophecy, a Roman soldier approached the Son of God—already hanging helpless and in agony—and rammed a spear into His exposed side (John 19:34), spilling His blood and fulfilling what was predicted of Him (vv. 35–37). Upon being stabbed, He cried out with a loud voice and died (Matthew 27:50; Mark 15:37; Luke 23:46).
For those who are new to this understanding of Jesus' death, I highly recommend the article "How Did Jesus Die?" by Mr. Peter Nathan in the March-April 2015 Living Church News. He makes the case plainly, simply and solidly. In the same issue, a letter from our Personal Correspondence Department also goes into detail on the matter, using multiple translations and references to ancient copies of the New Testament.
And it is important. In Hebrews we learn that it is only through the spilling of Jesus' blood—shed for us—that remission of our sins is possible (Hebrews 9:12–14, 22).
But what does this price Jesus was willing to pay teach us about the price of sin?
The profound and unalterable connection between sin and death is easy for us to miss in our day-to-day lives. When sin presents itself as an option, it is usually quite tempting. Even God's word affirms that the choice to sin can bring momentary pleasure and satisfaction—can feel right—though it is pleasure that, ultimately, does not last (Hebrews 11:25).
When making a choice to sin, we are choosing death over life, however deceptively it may be disguised. Solomon tries to make such a connection in the Proverbs, for example, explaining that the home of an immoral seductress promises to be a source of pleasure and delight, but it is quite the opposite. "For her house leads down to death, and her paths to the dead" (Proverbs 2:18). Who would go to the dwelling of a loose woman if they saw adultery and fornication as God does and perceived her home as one filled with corpses?
The price Jesus paid by sacrificing His own life for our sins makes that connection between death and sin very clear. It demands that we recognize the truth that the only death significant enough to free us from the debt we owe was the death of our own Eternal Creator. All other payments would fall short. Only the death of the Ever-Living One was sufficient to pay the price for the sins of all mankind and redeem us from the fate we earned.
The Eternal had to die like the finite, that the finite might have the opportunity to live for eternity. No other payment would suffice to remove the curse that our sins have brought upon us. And He was willing to pay that price.
Sin Causes Physical Suffering, Sickness and Broken Bodies
But Christ's death was more than simply a cessation of life. In the United States, convicts who have been sentenced to death are executed in a manner designed to reflect inherent human dignity and avoid being "cruel and unusual." Most commonly today, the prisoner is given a sequence of chemical injections designed to first render him unconscious, then to paralyze his muscles so that no spasmodic movements diminish the dignity of his death, and then to stop his heart.
Such a respectfully managed death was the exact opposite of what Jesus Christ experienced.
The Scriptures make clear that first His body was brutally and painfully broken for us. Explaining the symbol of the bread at the Passover the night before He died, Jesus said to His disciples, "Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you" (1 Corinthians 11:24). And His body was broken, indeed. Pontius Pilate had Jesus Christ scourged before His crucifixion (Matthew 27:26; Mark 15:15; John 19:1).
Roman scourging was a horrific practice, in which a person—generally with his hands tied above his head and stripped, exposing his body—was whipped by one or two lictors. The whipping instrument was usually a specially designed leather whip of multiple strips of varied lengths, in which were embedded small iron balls or sharp pieces of animal bone that would tear and rip at the flesh. In its famous 1986 publication, "On the Physical Death of Jesus Christ," the Journal of the American Medical Association described the scourging from a physiological point of view:
As the Roman soldiers repeatedly struck the victim's back with full force, the iron balls would cause deep contusions, and the leather thongs and sheep bones would cut into the skin and subcutaneous tissues. Then, as the flogging continued, the lacerations would tear into the underlying skeletal muscles and produce quivering ribbons of bleeding flesh. Pain and blood loss generally set the stage for circulatory shock (JAMA, March 21, 1986, Vol 255, No. 11).
Such a terrible treatment calls to mind the prophecy that "His visage was marred more than any man, and His form more than the sons of men" (Isaiah 52:14).
In addition, we are told that a garrison of Roman soldiers created a crown of thorns for Him to wear, spat on Him and beat Him in the head with a reed (Matthew 27:29–30; Mark 15:16–19).
If Christ's death was the only goal, why did it have to be a brutal death involving the mutilation of His body?
There are a number of benefits we, as His people, gain from His willingness to experience such horrors. For instance, when we ourselves suffer, we can look to Him who went through great suffering so faithfully, and find encouragement to face our own trials. One of the keys to suffering in this world with faith intact is to recognize that our Creator was willing, Himself, to become flesh and blood and personally experience suffering—to share in our severe trials with us, so that we might share eternity with Him.
However, Scripture records a very specific role that Christ's stripes, cuts, wounds and bruises serve, described by the Apostle Peter. In his first letter, he speaks of the Messiah "who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness—by whose stripes you were healed" (1 Peter 2:24). Here, the Apostle is referring to the messianic prophecy of Isaiah 53:5, which says that "He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed."
How does this price Jesus paid relate to sin?
Take the time to reflect: What is the source of sickness? Disease? Injury? Infirmities?
Such physical afflictions are present in the world due to sin. It is part of the price that is paid for a world in which sin is a frequently chosen option. God speaks of diseases and afflictions as being part of what comes on a people who reject their Creator's commands (Deuteronomy 28:27, 60), and He similarly associates obeying Him with freedom from sickness and with healing (Exodus 23:25). He declares Himself the God "who forgives all your iniquities, who heals all your diseases" (Psalm 103:3). In James' instruction to request anointing from the elders of the Church when we are sick, there is a connection suggested between illness and sin: "Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven" (James 5:14–15).
This does not mean that we are always the ones who have sinned when we become ill—after all, if a sick coworker ignores the biblical principle of quarantine (e.g., Numbers 19:13, 20), we may become sick, too! But the cause is still sin. (See also John 9:2–3.)
God did not create a world destined to be infected with disease, sickness and disability. Such conditions in our world are the result of the presence of sin. Broken bodies are part of the price we pay in this world for sin. And Jesus bore that price on Himself as well, in His own broken body. He Himself broke none of the laws of God that are meant to protect our health. He ate no unclean thing. He would have treated His body with the respect God expects (cf. 1 Corinthians 6:19). The gluttony and abuse of drink and other substances that destroy our bodies would have been foreign to Him. And yet His body was broken beyond what most of us can even imagine.
As we read earlier from Peter: It is by His stripes that we are healed (1 Peter 2:24). This physical price that is exacted by sin, He paid in full, as well.
Yes, God sometimes allows our sickness or infirmity to continue for His own purposes, just as He did in the case of the Apostle Paul (2 Corinthians 12:7–10). God has our salvation in mind—with glorious bodies that will last forever—and these relatively few years we now live in these temporary dwellings here on earth (2 Corinthians 5:1–4) are training and preparation for that eternal good.
But this does not take away from the fact that Christ's broken body does thoroughly reflect the consequences of sin that manifest in our flesh and that it represents an important part of the price He paid. Paul told the Corinthians at the Passover season, "many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep [have died]" due to a failure to eat and drink of the Passover bread and wine in a worthy manner. Among the unworthy elements he identifies? They were "not discerning the Lord's body" (1 Corinthians 11:29–30).
It is interesting that the Old Testament, as well, describes individuals in need of physical healing due to keeping the Passover in a manner unworthy for the times (2 Chronicles 30:18–20).
Jesus Christ did not deserve to have His body ravaged. But ravaged it was. He was willing to pay that price.
Sin Causes Separation from God
A third unavoidable cost associated with sin is separation from God. It is expressed, perhaps, most simply in Isaiah 59, where the prophet warns the house of Jacob, "Behold, the Lord's hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; nor His ear heavy, that it cannot hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear" (vv. 1–2).
If we refuse to separate ourselves from sin, sin separates us from God.
The purity and holiness of God is clearly and unmistakably taught throughout Scripture. Psalm 5:4 tells us that God will not dwell alongside evil, and after fire struck down Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, for their disregard of His holiness, He warned, "By those who come near Me I must be regarded as holy" (Leviticus 10:3).
We are assured that, at the completion of His plan for mankind's salvation, He will ensure that His glorious Kingdom and Family are forever separated from evil (Revelation 22:15). He dwells in "unapproachable light" (1 Timothy 6:16), and there is no place for wickedness and unrighteousness—sin—in His presence.
Again, in the words of Isaiah, our sins separate us from God. It is part of the price.
And Jesus Christ paid that price, as well.
While hanging there, crucified like a criminal for our sins and not His own, the Savior cried out loudly, "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?" which Mark 15:34 tells us is translated, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" Jesus was quoting Psalm 22: "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me? Why are You so far from helping Me, and from the words of My groaning?" (v. 1).
We need not presume that Christ was in confusion as to why He was in such a state, but His cry does reveal the burden of that state: He was, at that point, forsaken by God.
It was not that He was not loved by the Father—the One who had known and loved Him from eternity past, in a relationship of intimacy and trust that we mere mortals can scarcely imagine. He was loved dearly. But that distance in that moment was part of the plan. For that distance is part of the price of sin.
Some theologians have resisted the idea that God would abandon Jesus in that moment, saying that it removes from us the confidence we should have that God would never abandon us, with an eye to the promise He will never leave us and never forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). However, they miss the point. We can trust that promise all the more because Jesus Christ paid that part of the price of sin.
On this point, the Apostle Paul uses clarity of words that offend many, but which are true nonetheless: "For He [God] made Him [Christ] who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him" (2 Corinthians 5:21). This doesn't mean that sin is some sort of "substance" that Christ was changed into—which is, of course, patently absurd. But at that moment, on that stake of torture and death, Jesus Christ represented all of our sins. And because sin separates from God, that separation became yet one more aspect of our penalty that the Son of God willingly bore for us, so that those who turn to God need not bear it themselves.
Paul explains in Galatians 3:13 that Christ became a curse on our behalf, taking our curse upon Himself, since "Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree." Paul was referring to Deuteronomy 21:23, which says of those who are put to death and hanged on a tree that "he who is hanged is accursed of God."
Jesus Christ did nothing to deserve being accursed. He did nothing to deserve separation from God. The profound loneliness He bore in those final moments of His suffering—when He no longer felt the presence of the One He had never been without—was a loneliness He did not earn. We earn it. Our sins separate us from God. It is part of the price, and He took on that price willingly so that those who turn to Him need never have to suffer that price, themselves.
Paid in Full
We don't always appreciate the price that sin exacts. But in His final moments during the last Passover of His earthly life, Jesus Christ illustrated the terrible fullness of that cost. Sin earns for us nothing but death. It destroys us physically. And it separates us from our Creator.
Yet the Son of God faced those consequences and willingly paid in full the price exacted by sin. He did so in order to open the door for us to an eternal future in His Family, in which we will never know sin again. Instead of death, we can enjoy eternal, unending life (John 3:16). Instead of the suffering of sick and broken bodies, we can access healing in this life and, ultimately, enjoy bodies of power and glory that will never know pain (1 Corinthians 15:42–44; Revelation 21:4). And instead of separation, we can enjoy dwelling in God's loving family, alongside Him forever (Revelation 21:3).
This spring, let's remember and reflect on this remarkable truth. For those willing to repent, turn aside from sin and turn toward their Creator, there remains the opportunity to experience the joy of knowing the debt of their sins has been completely removed. Because that Creator, Jesus Christ, was willing to pay the price of sin—and to pay it in full.