God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21)
At the core of the “good news” of Jesus Christ, there is this fantastic exchange where Jesus takes on our sin, and we get his righteousness.
If you have been a churchgoer for a considerable length of time, this is a teaching you have likely heard dozens, if not hundreds, if not thousands of times.
But here’s the thing. While we can believe this to be true in our minds, it’s very easy for this teaching, as profound and beautiful as it is, to stay in our heads and not penetrate the soul where it actually can transform the way we live on a moment-by-moment basis.
For one thing, to a lot of people, this whole message of salvation just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Even if a person intellectually assents to this belief and begins following Jesus, there can still be nagging questions.
“Why did Jesus have to die for me to be saved? How does his death save me?”
Many have trouble connecting the dots. And for some people, because they can’t understand what happened on the cross, it makes it harder for the beauty of Calvary to get on the inside and feel like a real thing.
The ancient first-century Jews were looking for a Messiah who would liberate them from Roman oppression. For hundreds of years they had been ruled over by pagan, enemy nations. First, the Assyrians, then the Babylonians, then the Persians, then the Greeks, then the Syrians, then finally the Romans. And the Romans, in particular, had a tendency to be rather violent and oppressive.
And the Jewish people were sick and tired of it, to put it mildly. Over the course of several centuries, the prophets had promised them that God was going to raise up a Messiah, a coming King who would deliver them and establish his kingdom, reigning forever. And they were desperately longing for this Messiah.
The moment Jesus announced the Beatitudes in “the Sermon on the Mount” and began to live by them in a public manner, he was launched on a course that would inevitably lead him to Good Friday.
The Beatitudes themselves are found at Calvary. All eight of them are on full display. Here’s a famous painting of the crucifixion that Andrea Mantegna painted in 1459. It hangs in the Louvre in Paris. Just look at it for a moment.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
In this scene, where do we find the poor in spirit receiving the kingdom of heaven? The thief on the cross – who at first joins in the taunts of those who are mocking Jesus, but later thinks better of it, repents, and scolds his compatriot who is being crucified with him and says, “We are receiving what we deserve, but this man has done nothing wrong.” And then he turns to Jesus and says, “Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”