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(the question title isn't quite right; I welcome any better phrasing - it is not intended to sound inflammatory)

This is a genuine question, that regularly occurred to me during my youth, and was recently reminded to me by an answer fragment:

... However, the death of Christ on the Cross is such an infinite payment...

I always had trouble with this. It is honestly not intended to dismiss the suffering of someone being tortured to death, but in the context of Christ as an infinite being in the trinity, capable of miracles, healing, resurrection and immortal heavenly life, this seems... quite a minor event. And indeed, many many people have suffered similar treatment on all sides of religious quarrel (or non-religious, for that matter).

Likewise, the sacrifice of God in "giving up" the Son - again, in the context of a being that is either many thousands of years, or ageless (in that time cannot be applied), a 30-something year stint on the earth (where God is omnipresent anyway) before re-ascending seems... an inconvenient errand rather than truly giving something up.

It is probably way too late to save my wondering, but what is (/was) the reasoning that I missed on this?

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The state of humanity without Christ is so poor, that we require someone stronger than us to save us. This doesn't make the act of salvation any less "saving." When I help a child accomplish a small task, it's not the amount of my required effort that determines if my act is helpful. It's the fact that the child was incapable on his own to accomplish the task. –  Flimzy Sep 7 '11 at 23:15
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10 Answers 10

You are exactly right. The conclusion you have drawn is based on a commonly made premise. Far too many Christians do not even realize the non sequitur on which they based their understanding of Jesus's time on earth. It is however, a false premise. I hope I can explain why.

For someone with the power and strength that we claim Jesus commanded, the actual process of death on the cross was a small thing. Even ordinary men could and did endure that. It was a particularly arduous and painful death, but some of Christ's later followers were fed to lions or burned alive and did it with a song on their lips. Yet Jesus sweat blood just THINKING about the ordeal he was going to go through on the cross1. Does this mean that Christ's followers had more stamina than he did? That the creator of the universe was scared of a little physical pain? No. There was something else at work.

What made Christ's death different was what happened behind the scenes. While the Romans were busy crucifying his body to a cross, something much more serious was going on. As he hung there, God measured out on him the full force of his collected wrath against sin and sinners. This was the infinite wrath of an infinitely holy God against an infinitely great offence. With this wrath God CRUSHED his own Son2. No mere mortal could ever bear that wrath even pared down to the punishment for his own deeds, much less those of another. And another and another.

That's a lot of infinites I just used. The infinitely holy part is hard to even fathom, but that's what we say God is. Just as he is pure, holy, and 100% loving, he must be 100% hating of anything that is not worthy of love. We have committed an infinite sin because our offense in refusing to obey God is an offence against an infinitely good being, hence deserving the ultimate consequence.

However the value of the sacrifice offered was also infinite. The person that who bore the infinite wrath was himself of infinite value, making his death valuable enough to pay the debt. The very person of God himself give himself up to death. That death was not just a physical terminating of his bodily functions either. That part happened as well at the hands of the Romans, but much more importantly he was separated from the Father. On the cross he cried out that he had been forsaken3. In that moment he experienced the death (separation from God) we deserve.

In doing so he conquered it and in rising he demonstrated his power over it.4,5

As for the second part of your question, it wasn't the measly 30 something years that made it a big deal, it was his position and stature. If I give you an hour of my time that's not much to you. If a friend gives you an hour that's something more. If some celebrity gives you an hour that might mean something more. If the President of the US gives you an hour (however not hard that is for him) that becomes a significant event -- even if you don't like that president.

Now who this God is -- is nothing less than the King of kings and LORD of lords6. His time and attention are of infinite value.

  1. Luke 22:44 (ESV) And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.

  2. Isaiah 53:10a (ESV) Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt,...

  3. Matthew 27:46 (ESV) And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

  4. Romans 6:9 (ESV) We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him.

  5. Acts 2:24 (ESV) God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.

  6. Revelation 19:16 (ESV) On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.

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great answer, I think you covered some great points that really bring the infinitude of the event to light. It's incredibly hard for us to even fathom this, but you managed to put it to words in a way that made sense for me. –  Kyle C May 15 '12 at 6:23
    
This is good! You might find this to be some sprinkles on top. Cheers. Does Jesus's change in attitude about drinking wine on the cross relate to his statement ‘It is finished’? –  Mike Oct 5 '12 at 14:01
    
Where does the idea that death is separation from God come from? Is that a personal belief or understanding? Is it denominational? Is it a mis-statement? Is it intended literally or poetically in some way? Etc. ... I'm asking b/c it seems to partly be the fuel for this question. Perhaps you could provide an answer there -- since you probably know best what you really meant in stating it here! –  svidgen Apr 15 '13 at 16:16
    
@svidgen: There is actually already a link in this answer to a question on that subject that has an answer from me about that view. It's not a personal view. In fact any other view doesn't show up as a major force in Christian history until the year I was born. Which wasn't so very long ago in the grand scheme of things. I don't have time or energy to answer the question you linked to because it's loaded down with all kinds of baggage and would take quite a lot of sorting out just to start saying anything useful. –  Caleb Apr 15 '13 at 19:13
    
@Caleb I just glanced at that answer, but it doesn't seem to answer the question. It, like this answer, states the belief as though it's common and widespread. But, I'm not sure that's the case. What's the origin? What denominations hold it? Who says death = separation from God? Etc. –  svidgen Apr 15 '13 at 19:21

The biggest reason the death of Christ is so significant is because he absolutely did not deserve to die. If the first Adam had remained free of sin, he also would not have died, but by sinning he allowed death into our world.

When Jesus came into our world as fully human, he still remained sin free (despite temptations). There was no reason for him to die since he was as God had intended for men to be. Even though he did not need to die from sin, he still offered himself as a sacrifice. Even though he knew he was to come again, he still had to endure punishment for our sins.

Another thing I've considered is that since God exists outside of time, anything which happens to him (death on a cross, punishment for our sins), happens to him for eternity. If one day is like a thousand years to him (and I'd argue it would be more), how long has he been suffering for every sin I've committed?

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How can you say he's outside of time in one sentence, and speak of him (rightly so) in terms of time in the next? He created time, yes. But don't assume that he kept himself outside of it. "by his own blood he entered in ONCE into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us." (emphasis mine). When he said "it is finished," that was it. –  The Preacher Sep 8 '11 at 2:40
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I have long mused on what it means for an eternal God to enter into our temporal existence and die; in some mysterious way it seems he is eternally experiencing the cross. And, unlike us, who quickly forget pain, he never forgets. –  Lawrence Dol Sep 8 '11 at 7:07
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Also, don't forget Gethsemane, where he sweat blood as the guilt of the world was laid on his shoulders and he wrestled with submitting his will to his Father's. –  Lawrence Dol Sep 8 '11 at 7:09

I think his resurrection is a lot more important than the mere fact that he died.

Death proved his humanity.

Resurrection proved his divinity.

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It's important yet, but Lazarus was also resurrected, and I hope that you and I both are someday as well. It proves divinity, but does not by itself prove divinity of Jesus. There is more going on here. –  Joel Coehoorn Sep 9 '11 at 21:05
    
Here is a article about the two types of resurrection. I'm talking about Jesus resurrection into glory and immortality not of the resurrection that we find in the old testament where people are brought back from the dead, but ultimately die again. Here is the link it is a bit long to quote on a comment letusreason.org/Biblexp101.htm –  Neil Meyer Sep 10 '11 at 8:37
    
His death was about far more than proving his humanity. I think you might have completely missed how significant it was. His physical human body being bled out pales in significance to the creator and sustainer of the universe being accursed and cut off from the living. That in itself accomplished something. Yes the resurrection is important, but don't discount the importance of his death. –  Caleb Oct 5 '12 at 11:56

You are nothing

You have been created for Christ, a gift from the Father to the Son. And you have turned your back on your creator and become His enemy. You would rather love this world and everything in it then even show respect to your creator.

James 4:4 NIV

You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.

You are a filthy. You drink down iniquity like it was water. Spitting your filthy language at every passer by. You stink of iniquity like one who has just soiled himself. You are nothing.

Isaiah 64:6 NIV

All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.

Job 15:16 NKJV

How much less man, who is abominable and filthy, Who drinks iniquity like water!

Christ is Everything

Jesus Christ is the Word of God. From the depths of ones heart comes the language to show who that person really is. God is Love and so from the depths of God's heart, He has spoken Jesus to the World.

Colossians 1 NKJV

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. 17 And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. 18 And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence.

Psalm 147:5 NKJV

Great is our Lord, and mighty in power;His understanding is infinite.

You cannot begin to fathom the supremacy and the value that Christ has over all of creation. Everything that has been created does not stand up to the value of Christ. As all of creation is a mere gift from the father to the Son.

And Yet Christ Died

You being worth nothing and Christ being worth everything, and yet, Christ died for you. As a King would throw himself to wolves in order to save a slave. As the Holiest of Hollies would even consider to think of your existence, Christ has humbled Himself and was lead to the cross to die for a filthy people.

Hebrews 10:12 KJV

But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God,

You were on a path to destruction, having stored up Gods wrath for yourself on the day of judgement. Yet Christ died for you. He took your law-place and stands at the foot of God being subjected to all of the curses and all of the damnation and all of the full wrath of God. For you. An unclean man.

Christ died and was subjected to the punishment that you were doomed to receive. He shed tears of blood knowing the kind of wrath that He was to bear on your behalf.

..And yet you continue to sin, as if Christ died in vain, as if what Christ did was worth nothing. As if you had a chance to discharge the wrath of God yourself.

You are worth nothing, but Christ stood under the pillar of God and was crushed in your place.

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Thank you for taking the time for this answer. You already know where my beliefs lie, but I'm pretty sure that this question has occurred to many many Christians, so I hope the answer is useful for them (more than for me). –  Marc Gravell Sep 8 '11 at 15:40
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@MarcGravell, I understand and appreciate the question. I always answer my questions as if I'm talking to the whole world. Honestly I didn't even look to see that you were the one who posted it :) –  Jonathon Byrd Sep 8 '11 at 15:43
    
Jonathon, @Marc: What we have done is truly despicable, but even such despicable behavior doesn't make us worth nothing. A thing's worth is defined by its value to someone. We are still of tremendous value to God even if we live as his enemy. Every one of us was his enemy at the time he died for us...yet he did die for us as his enemy, because he loves us so very much. He came from heaven to earth on history's greatest rescue mission precisely because we are worth so much to him. "But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." Rom 5:8 –  RSW Aug 8 '13 at 12:34

It is significant because He personally took the punishment you deserved. Suppose He just waved his hand and said, "be forgiven." If that could have worked (it could not, because sin absolutely must be punished - Ezekiel 18:4), it would have made the whole affair a bit less personal. No,

Jesus paid it all
All to Him I owe

Sin had left a crimson stain
He washed it white as snow

Isa 53:5-6 KJV 5But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. 6All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.

Not only that, but consider this:

Isa 53:10 KJV Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him;

That is a concept I find difficult to understand. Yet, apparently God the Father understood that in order to communicate His love for the sinner (Romans 5:8), this Sacrifice was the only way. Though it cost Him so much, He was happy to do it.

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God is holy, God is perfect, and will not suffer to be associated with sin (imperfection), in any form. This is something that is hard to express accurately, but is at the core of what happened: sin must be paid for, and the price is death, or, more accurately, complete and final separation from God. Doing good does not make up for the sin (bad) that is done.

You have sinned, and someone has to die for it. Your body will die anyway, whether you sin or not, and because you have sinned you would be an imperfect sacrifice. You're own death isn't good enough to avoid the final separation from God. Without intervention, your soul will be demanded of you at judgement.

Only a completely sinless person could choose to die and intervene for you. Only an eternal being could choose to die for everyone. So Jesus Christ is the only possible sacrifice... unless you know another sinless, eternal being available to do the job.

For a perspective more directly from scripture, a careful reading of the first 6 or 8 chapters of Romans is great, and can be done in 15 minutes.

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"sin must be paid for, and the price is death, or, more accurately, complete and final separation from God." FWIW, I've never understood the concept as sin as a debt that one can "pay", particularly for someone else. Also, if the price is death as you define it, Jesus hasn't paid it, as he did not remain separated from God. –  Chelonian Sep 9 '11 at 21:43

Hebrews 9 answers your question directly. The death of Christ is required, because "without the shedding of blood, there is no remission of sins."

For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.

In the case of a will, it is necessary to prove the death of the one who made it, because a will is in force only when somebody has died; it never takes effect while the one who made it is living. This is why even the first covenant was not put into effect without blood.

When Moses had proclaimed every commandment of the law to all the people, he took the blood of calves, together with water, scarlet wool and branches of hyssop, and sprinkled the scroll and all the people. He said, “This is the blood of the covenant, which God has commanded you to keep.” In the same way, he sprinkled with the blood both the tabernacle and everything used in its ceremonies. In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.

Using a legal metaphor (and the doctrine of substitutionary atonement is nothing if not a legal metaphor), the transaction that Jesus makes is literally a blood covenant.

Because "the wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23), there must be a death to pay the wage of that sin.

The "blood of Christ" (and trust me, you can't have a Baptist song without the blood of Christ!) pays that wage.

The power of Christ overcomes death (1 Cor 15:54) because Jesus first died and then overcame death. Without death, there cannot be resurrection.

In short Christ's death pays the penalty. Christ's resurrection gives us power to overcome death.

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From my understanding of various Catholic explanations of The Incarnation.

Firstly, let's acknowledge the mystery. We can talk somewhat intelligently about it. But, the real mechanics, the true significance, the fullness of the sacrifice -- mystery.

That said ...

It's important to remember that Christ is the hypostatic union of God and man. Any interpretation of Christ that doesn't acknowledge that He is both fully human and fully God is not a Christian interpretation. And this hypostatic union is important in every detail of Christ's life. Because Christ is God, anything and everything that Christ does is Godly. And, everything that is done to Christ is done to God.

Hence, we can speak about the significance of Christ's death in two meaningful ways (and probably more).

Firstly, Christ brings God into human judgement, rejection, hate, mockery, suffering, and death. Hence, God is present as God in all of these human experiences, including death. Thus, a human death is "no longer" simply to die, it is to be like God. And since God never dies, neither then do we fully die. And if that isn't enough, in the resurrection, God brings life back into death in a physical manner by rising bodily from the dead.

Secondly, Christ turns God into the very real and incarnate target of our judgement, rejection, hate, mockery, suffering, and murder. Therefore, in judging, rejecting, hating, mocking, torturing, and murdering Christ, we are doing so to God Himself. Christ makes our hate for God a physical manifestation. The passion and death of Christ is the visible and sanctifying incarnation of God's choice to let us hate Him to the greatest extent possible -- unto death. And the resurrection, of course, is God's visible, incarnate choice to return to us, despite our very real hate.

So, what is God sacrificing? He's literally sacrificing Himself. The human aspect of this, which can be reasonably equated with the suffering and death of any other human, isn't really the significant part of this event in and of itself. The human aspect is "merely" the incarnation of a more significant, spiritual reality. God, the creator of all things and our Father, willingly puts Himself at our mercy. He sacrifices His rightful role as the God we love and becomes the God we hate in the very same act by which He brings His own divinity to our suffering and death.

(I suspect most parents (and grown-up children) readily recognize this sacrifice in a limited, imperfect fashion.)

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The significance of Christ's death is everything. Everything that came before and everything that followed revolves around Jesus and his death. When I think about what true love is I think of the cross.

“Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things.” 1 Corinthians 13:7

“Greater love has no one than this: that someone lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:13

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16

The main significance of the death of Jesus is love. Jesus sacrificed himself and God sacrificed his son, because they love us.

I think the real question you’re getting at is how is Jesus’ death an actual sacrifice? Since God and Jesus are powerful deities this can seem like a fairly minor sacrifice especially after Jesus’ rose from the dead. When I think of the blunt of Jesus’ suffering I think the worst of it came after his death and during the three days he remained that day. I think Jesus’ spent those 3 days in ‘Hell’(separation from God). When Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” In Matthew 27:46 I think he was crying out more from the separation then the pain of the crucifixion. You have to understand how much pain that this would have been for both Jesus and God. You have to realize also that God is not an unfeeling God and the amount of pain it would have been for him to do this. You also have to realize that God has been in pain for us since the fall of Adam and Eve. In the lyrics of All I can say by David Crowder, he sings:

I didn't notice you were standing here. I didn't know that was you holding me. I didn't notice you were crying too. I didn't know that You were washing my feet.

Jesus’ death was a symbol of God’s love and sacrifice for us. God’s love does not start and end with Jesus, it is eternal.

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” Hebrews 4:15

"after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you." 1 Peter 5:10

There are other reasons the death of Jesus' is significant and others have covered some of those.

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It is a fulfilling of many old testament prophecies, laws and promises. But here is a partial answer.

Jesus' death released his congregation from obligations of the law.

1 Know ye not, brethren, (for I speak to them that know the law,) how that the law hath dominion over a man as long as he liveth? 2 For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband. 3 So then if, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man. 4 Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God. Romans 7:1-4

It fulfilled the atonement obtained through sacrifice. See Leviticus 16

And he shall make an atonement for the holy place, because of the uncleanness of the children of Israel, and because of their transgressions in all their sins: and so shall he do for the tabernacle of the congregation, that remaineth among them in the midst of their uncleanness. Leviticus 16:16

(The elect are heirs through Christ of Israel.)

11 But Christ being come an high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building; 12 Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us. 13 For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh: 14 How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? 15 And for this cause he is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance. Hebrews 7:11-15

His death also obtains the passover promise.

Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us: 1 Corinthians 5:7

The passover was one of the festivals in memory of the first passover. God passed over the houses of those who kept the passover when he was visiting plagues on the Egyptians. The passover required killing a lamb. See Exodus 12

11 And thus shall ye eat it; with your loins girded, your shoes on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and ye shall eat it in haste: it is the Lord's passover. 12 For I will pass through the land of Egypt this night, and will smite all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment: I am the Lord. 13 And the blood shall be to you for a token upon the houses where ye are: and when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and the plague shall not be upon you to destroy you, when I smite the land of Egypt. 14 And this day shall be unto you for a memorial; and ye shall keep it a feast to the Lord throughout your generations; ye shall keep it a feast by an ordinance for ever. Exodus 12:11-14

Hence the saying that Jesus is the Lamb of God.

The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world. John 1:29

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