How does Jesus change anything for me?
'Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.'
Pope Benedict XVI, Deus Cartias Est
Knowing the historical person of Jesus and the facts of his life is one thing, but how can someone from 2000 years ago change my life today? This is perhaps the critical question of the Christian faith in the twenty-first century. Well, this is wrapped up in his death and resurrection. Jesus went on to die for his claims and is arguably 'remembered for his death even more than for his life' (Nicky Gumbel, Questions of Meaning).
Why is his death such a big deal?
To prove the relevance of Jesus’s death, we kind of have to talk about sin. Sin is not a particularly popular idea, but it is evidenced all around. As St. Paul writes:
‘For God loved the world so much that he gave his only son.’
This means that Our Father, in his great wisdom, had his son offer everything to give us the best opportunity to have a relationship with Him. Later Jesus says this again in stronger terms, stating that ‘a man can have no greater love than to lay down his life for his friends’ (John 15:13). The cross is our ultimate example of divine love. As the Youth Catechism puts it, ‘Christians believe that human dignity is, in the first place, the result of God’s respect for us. He looks at every person and loves them as though they were the only creature in the world.’
But why did it have to be like this? Surely an easier method is for God to just forgive us from the heavens – why even come down? Bishop Robert Barron once said this in answer to that very fair question:
God chose to prove to us His love through Jesus’ death on the cross; so that we might have a really concrete way to see how far God would go to welcome us into His family. Bishop Barron also talks about how the nature of Jesus, God made man, is the perfect means to fulfil this mission of salvation. ‘Jesus being truly human means he can represent fallen humanity, the fact that he’s truly divine means that he can pay the full price.’
But, it is not just in His death that Jesus changes our lives, it is also with His resurrection. St. Paul writes that, ‘When he died, he died, once for all, to sin, so his life now is life with God; and in that way, you too must consider yourselves to be dead to sin but alive for God in Christ Jesus’ (Romans 6:10-11).
St. Pope John Paul II writes in 'Crossing the Threshold of Hope' that, ‘In this realm the destructive power of sin is defeated. Indestructible life, revealed in the Resurrection of Christ, “swallows,” so to speak, death. “Where, O death is your victory?” asks the apostle Paul, with his eyes fixed on the Risen Christ ’. As he points out, Jesus' resurrection is the proof of his teachings on the heavenly destiny of those who try to do God’s will. It is this belief that gives the Christian a fearless approach to death, that Jesus has conquered death too. This is the good news. This is the phenomenon that swept the world then and created the early Church, and it is the same good news that brings people into his Church today. And it is worth saying: we did nothing to earn it, and never can.
'The salvation which God offers us is the work of his mercy. No human efforts, however good they may be, can enable us to merit so great a gift. God, by his sheer grace, draws us to himself and makes us one with him.’ Pope Francis, Evangelli Gaudium
‘God, as it were, had to enter
like a warrior into sin
so as to break it
and conqueror it
from the inside.
A word of forgiveness blithely offered from a distance is not going to effect what has to be effected.’
Bishop Robert Barron
‘I cannot understand my own behaviour.
I fail to carry out the things I want to do,
and I find myself doing the very thing I hate.’
There is something timeless to that sentiment, that for all our great human achievements, it seems that as people, we have this self-destructive tendency that is not from God. Christians (and Jesus) call this fault sin. The Hebrew meaning of sin comes from an archery term. Sin was when an archer aimed for the target but missed the mark. So in our own lives sin is when we aim for the target but miss the mark, it is a misdirection of our truest desire. The Christian belief is that sin makes it a lot harder for us to move towards God. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it, ‘Sin sets itself against God's love for us and turns our hearts away from it. … Sin is thus "love of oneself even to contempt of God’ (CC 1850 122-124). As it draws us away from God, sin also draws us away from true happiness and fulfilment. Jesus is God’s way of fixing this part of the human condition, especially through his death on the cross.
But why a cross? Crucifixion was and still is one of the most barbaric forms of killing, it was the most dehumanizing and humiliating way to kill someone in the time of Jesus. St. Paul writes that Jesus was, ‘humbler yet, even to accepting death, death on a cross’ (Philippians 2:8). His readers would have understood him better than we do, Paul means that there was no lower to go, no more brutal form of torture. Why on earth did God choose this?
It’s important to say that God the Father did not do this to his son out of anger. At the core of the Christian faith is the statement: