Some preachers say that humanity in general and each of us personally is responsible for the death of Jesus Christ. Many sincere Christians have believed this. As a result, many labor under a huge burden of guilt. Particularly in the spring of each year, near the anniversary of his death, the burden is remembered anew.
But are we responsible for the death of Jesus? If we aren’t, then who is?
Only one set of shoulders is broad enough and strong enough to bear that burden of responsibility. Those shoulders are not human, but divine. We are responsible for our own deaths: by our sins we have brought death upon ourselves. Our own deaths (Ezekiel 18:4, 20) are the wages we have earned by our sins (Romans 6:23). “You shall surely die!” is what God said (Genesis 2:17).
But Jesus has chosen to die in our place, to make us free from the penalty of our own sins. “I lay down my life for the sheep,” he said (John 10:15). He was under no external compulsion to die for us. “I lay down my life…. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord” (John 10:17-18). We did not force him to die for us. We did not even ask him to die for us. We were bound up in sin, and we did not know enough to ask for it.
The sacrifice was made at God’s initiative. Nothing outside of Jesus compelled him. Only his own nature, his own love, compelled him. The self-sacrifice of Jesus on the cross was the expression within time of the self-giving love that is the nature of God in eternity. Jesus “loved us and gave himself up for us” (Ephesians 5:2)—he gave his life as a sign of his love. His act was designed to create in us a response of love and gratitude and wonder. It was not intended to make us feel guilty every time we think about it.
Consider this: If I were guilty for causing the death of Jesus, what could erase that guilt? To claim the blood of Christ to cover it would incur the same guilt again! I would be forced to the conclusion that the only way to be free of the guilt of Christ’s sacrifice would be to die for my own sins, rather than bear the burden of responsibility and guilt that comes along with having him die for them.
Here is a paradox: When we receive his sacrifice as a gift, we are free from responsibility for his death. Our merciful God did not intend that we, his children, carry a burden of guilt through our lives today, or through life everlasting, based on our mistaken notion that by accepting his gift we bear the responsibility for Jesus’ death. God intended that we be freed from and remain free from such a sense of condemnation and guilt (Romans 8:5).
Praise God, and thank him that he took the responsibility of giving his Son for us! Praise Jesus, and thank him that he willingly laid down his life for us, and rejoice that he invites us to take advantage of his gift of love without guilt, without reluctance and without condemnation.
Author: Don Mears