In the Bible (and in the biblical era), the concept of “sonship” is an important one. A son is more than an heir to the possessions of his father – there are titles, rights, and responsibilities that come particularly to a firstborn (or only) son. The understanding or claim that Jesus was (is) the only begotten Son of God puts Jesus on equal footing with God – and to many of his first century audience, this was a scandalous claim. Judaism has an understanding of the sacred that may seem foreign to many Christians – they treat even God’s name with the utmost care and respect. For a living, breathing human being to claim to be God’s Son was blasphemy, and those who called for Jesus’ execution did so with the intention of safeguarding that which is sacred:
“We have a law, and by that law he ought to die, because he has made himself the Son of God.” -John 19:7
While on the one hand, Jesus’ death came about for these very real reasons, the fact is that those who made up the mob crying out crucify him! couldn’t possibly have understood what was happening. Certainly, Jesus was sentenced to death on a cross for claiming to be God’s son – but He died for a much bigger reason – one which dramatically impacts our claim to live as God’s children.
You may have heard tell of something called “original sin.” The sequence of events narrated in Genesis 3 tell us of original sin – when human beings decided a) that God couldn’t be trusted, and b) that we needed to claim control over our own destinies, regardless of the consequences. Original sin is the “…’reverse side’ of the Good News that Jesus is the Savior of all men, that all need salvation and that salvation is offered to all through Christ” (CCC 389). Essentially, in eating the fruit God had asked us not to eat, we chose ourselves over God. This would not be the last time we would make such a choice – one of the effects of this original sin is that we carry within us a tendency to desire the wrong things (the technical term we use for this is ‘concupiscence.’)
The Old Testament narrates just how lost we get due to our concupiscence. It tells the story of a people who, in spite of miraculous and dramatic interventions by God, just can’t seem to get things right. It tells of us story after story of sincere women and men who at times want live according to their calling as God’s children, but can’t… and at times don’t even want to try.
The funny thing about reading about various stories from scripture is you or I could be any of these people… and at certain times, our stories mirror theirs. There are times where we are drawn – sometimes powerfully – towards things that aren’t good for us. There are moments where we know what we should do, but can’t find the strength or the will to do it. We are the people who want to live our calling as God’s children, but can’t. The choices we make which harm our relationship with God, our relationships with others, and even our very selves all end with the same consequence: death (Genesis 2:17, Romans 6:23).
This is why we need a Savior.
Jesus died because the choices of humanity – throughout history, and presently – all deserve the same sentence: death. In choosing sin we reject God, but God does not reject us: “God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). What we celebrate in the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus shows us just how far God is willing to go out of love for us. His death reconciles God’s family – it brings us lost children home again. Jesus’ death and resurrection (coupled with the gift of the Holy Spirit) bring us beyond our fallen nature, and make possible what had previously been impossible: to live as God has always intended us to. But it is a struggle.
A number of years ago, Mel Gibson did our faith a great service when he produced the movie The Passion of the Christ, a Hollywood caliber representation of Jesus’ last hours before his death. Though it is a movie marked by its brutality, I have always found it to be an incredible experience to watch at this time of year. You may know that Mel Gibson has publicly battled alcoholism for many years. It would seem that Mr. Gibson has long been aware that his battle has done harm to others. During the filming of the movie, Gibson chose to play one part himself: it is he who holds the hammer and pounds the nails in as Jesus is crucified.
It is a painful reminder to me, a sinner like everyone else, that Jesus died for me – the consequence of my choices to sin. It’s a strange irony that the historical crime for which Jesus was executed was His claim of divine sonship – because it’s by Jesus’ death that I can now be called a child of God… and what a gift this is.
But he was wounded for our transgressions,
he was bruised for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that made us whole,
and with his stripes we are healed. -Isaiah 53:5
See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. -1 John 3:1