Ordinarily, I respond to this objection by pointing out the “what’s in it for us” lessons so many of us have experienced: how the Lord often uses sorrow or pain to get our attention, to draw us to Himself, to usher us through the narrow gate to eternal life. And how it's not always our direct suffering, but the suffering of a loved one, that causes us to seek Him, to cry out to Him, to find comfort and truth in His response to us, and ultimately to repent and trust in His sacrifice to have paid for our sins.
And of course this is all true enough. I’m living proof. And I’ll bet it’s been true of the majority of born-again believers over the last 2000 years.
But I’ve been thinking lately about how this is only a very partial answer to this critical question. Shouldn’t we instead be looking at this singular event in human history from His perspective?
So I recently returned to the cross and thought again about the three hours He hung there. After all, the Romans crucified thousands, and many of these victims suffered a lot longer than three hours. How can Christ’s anguish compare to theirs?
The answer is in what He bore on that cross: “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21). He bore all mankind’s sin – past, present and future – in the process paying its penalty in full, for all time. And as a result, His beloved Father actually turned away from Him in revulsion: “My God, My God,” He cried, “why have You forsaken Me?" (Matthew 27:46).
Think for a moment about how we react when we’ve been falsely accused of even the most minor offense. We won’t rest until our good names have been cleared, right?
And yet in going to the cross, Jesus not only took the full blame for every sin that will ever be committed on this earth – so that He actually became our sin – but He also paid sin’s penalty in full.
Think again, this time about the earthly consequences of some sinful act – something as simple as uttering a lie or speaking a few words of gossip. Then multiply those consequences by a number approaching infinity, and consider what it might be like to suffer them not just temporally but for all eternity.
Can we even begin to imagine what this cost the Lord? Can we possibly fathom what He suffered?
What’s more, His ordeal lasted for far more than just a few hours. He had known for a long time – perhaps since childhood – precisely why He had come to earth fully God and fully man. He knew how it would end. Witness this scene in Gesthemane: “And being in agony, He prayed more earnestly. Then His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22:44). Luke was describing a very rare condition known as hematidrosis, thought to be caused by extreme stress and anxiety.
These are important truths, I think – truths that should give us an even greater appreciation for what the Lord of glory did for each and every one of us on that cross, nearly 2000 years ago.