Aware that God fully takes on our human nature in Jesus Christ while remaining fully God, we move to the central truth of this Incarnation of God: that He comes to save us. That we had sinned left us separated from Him. In His plan, the Lord willed to redeem us and restore to us a sharing in His divine life that He desired for us from the beginning. In the next four segments, we will look at the very work of redemption by which this salvation and its benefits are accomplished.
In the last installment, we considered Jesus’ life in the world and His revealing of God and the Kingdom through His words and works. More properly, however, when Jesus came in the flesh, He came to do battle with sin and with the power of death over humanity through His own acceptance of death as one who was without sin, and therefore as one over whom death would have no power. Therefore, while revealing God to the world through His preaching, through healings, and in the overall manner of His life, it is ultimately in His loving acceptance of suffering and death, brought upon Him mainly through His being rejected by those to whom He came (which means all of us, in our sins, and not just those who were in Jerusalem), that all that He came to reveal would be accomplished to set us free from sin and death.
Thus, in considering the suffering and death of Jesus as the way of redeeming us all from sin and death, all of history is to be taken into proper account. That Jesus came to Israel whom God had chosen as his own special possession, He fulfills all that was set forth by the Law of Moses and proclaimed by the prophets. That Jesus was rejected is understood to include all who have sinned, and especially we Christians (as said in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 598) “who continue to relapse into [our] sins,” all while knowing that it was for sin that Christ died. Still, in His perfect love for us Jesus willingly accepts this suffering and death – as his single desire (in keeping with the will of the Father) is that we would not die but live – and not just us, but all of humanity, even those who do not believe in or even know Jesus. Thus, as St. Paul says in Romans 5:20, “where sin increased, grace overflowed all the more,” indicating that by Jesus’ death, eternal life is made available to us who have sinned. It was for this very purpose that Jesus came.
Finally, it is important to acknowledge that Jesus’ saving death was offered as a perfect sacrifice. It is perfect insofar as Jesus Christ was without any stain of sin and therefore as an “unblemished lamb,” by whose blood we are redeemed. That it is a sacrifice is evident in His free offering of Himself in acceptance of and obedience to the Father’s will so that we (again, who are sinners) could be reconciled to the God. In offering Himself, Jesus undergoes death on behalf of us all, entering fully into death (including being buried in a tomb), that even in death Christ would have the victory. In the next installment, we will consider the resurrection as manifesting the victory over sin and death.
For further reading: In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 571-630 gives significant detail to Jesus’ saving death – including the plain truth that the sin of all humanity is responsible, and that His death is above all the work of freely offered divine love on our behalf in which we too are invited to participate: through “death to self.”