All of us human beings fall short of both God’s glory and the glory of what God intends us to be.
On August 16, 1987, Northwest Airlines Flight 255 crashed shortly after takeoff from Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport killing 154 of the 155 people on board. The only survivor of the crash was four-year-old Cecelia Cichan, whose married name is now Crocker. She was discovered by fireman John Thiede. She was still belted to her seat just feet from the bodies of her mother Paula, her father Michael, and her 6-year-old brother David. ABC News reported it is believed that Cecelia’s mother, Paula, shielded her in the crash.
One story is that Cecilia’s mother unbuckled her own seat belt right before the crash and knelt in front of Cecilia with her arms wrapped around her daughter. Paula took the devastation of the crash and Cecilia lived. In other words, Paula took the fall for her daughter that she loved.
This story of sacrifice and hope particularly resonates with us today, Good Friday. In a similar way to how Paula took the brunt of the crash for her daughter Cecelia, Jesus took the brunt of sin for us.
In Matthew 27: 41-42, we read, “… the chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders, were mocking [Jesus], saying, ‘He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him.’”
This evaluation of Jesus’ death on the cross by the religious leaders was essentially correct: “Jesus saved others, but he cannot save himself.” You see, Jesus could not have both saved himself and us at the same time. It had to be one or the other. Either he could have saved himself that day and left us in eternal peril, or he could save us and lose his own life on the cross.
Why is that? Of course, there is not a simple answer. However, the one big problem that Jesus dealt with on the cross was sin.
Sin is a word we don’t like to talk about much in our world today. Just what is sin? We often think of sin as committing some specific “bad” act like lying or stealing, etc. However, the Greek word used for sin in the New Testament is “harmartia.” The root meaning of that word is “not hitting the target” or “missing the mark.” When an arrow would miss its mark, it was said to “harmartia,” or “sin.”
In Romans 3: 23, the Apostle Paul tells us, “… all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” In others words, all of us human beings fall short of both God’s glory and the glory of what God intends us to be. We miss the mark.
Now, the Bible makes is clear to us that God is holy. The word holy means “set apart.” If we miss the mark of the glory of God, and God is set apart from us, then that “missing the mark,” or sin, keeps us from God.
In the Old Testament, God had provided for the bridging of that gap by setting up a system of sacrifices. It goes back to the time when the Children of Israel were slaves in Egypt.
The Pharaoh of Egypt would not let the Israelites go free. So, God told Moses to let the people know that God would send the Angel of Death throughout Egypt to bring death into the land. However, the Israelites were to sacrifice a lamb and place its blood on the doorposts of their homes. Then, as the Angel of Death would see the blood on the doorposts, the Angel would “pass over” those homes of the Israelites.
It happened just as God had promised, and the Children of Israel were allowed to go free. Each year after that, they celebrated “Passover” to remember that sacrifice and deliverance. Later on, each year, on the Day of Atonement, a special sacrifice was made for the sins of the whole Israelite nation.
On that first Good Friday, Jesus was crucified during the week of Passover. Like the lamb of Passover and the sacrifice of Atonement, Jesus took on the sins of all humanity once and for all. He took the fall for us whom he loves. He could not save himself in order that he might save us.
Let us remember and be thankful.
(The Rev. Al Henager is pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Heber Springs, Arkansas. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)