And Pilate again said to them, “Then what shall I do with the man you call the King of the Jews?” And they cried out again, “Crucify him.” And Pilate said to them, “Why? What evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Crucify him.” So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified. (Mark 15:13-15 ESV)
Jesus had been betrayed, beaten, mocked, and was now before the Jewish people in a Roman court. Those of us who have heard the story know what was about to happen. Jesus would be beaten more, whipped brutally, given a crown of thorns, and forced to march with His cross to the place of His death. There, His hands and feet would be nailed to His cross, and He would slowly suffocate to death over several hours. So Jesus’s suffering was only about to increase.
Now, Jesus suffered all this for us, to pay the penalty of our sin that we deserved. And yet, that a man would take all this suffering for others, however unspeakable, only gives us part of the picture of the price of our sin.
If we pause and think about Pilate’s words just before he hands Jesus over, you’ll understand. After examining Jesus, Pilate could only say one thing to the crowd demanding His execution:
“Why? What evil has he done?”
What Pilate’s words show is that it’s not a mere matter of Christian doctrine to consider Jesus as sinless, for the Roman governor himself found no fault in Jesus. It was apparent to Pilate that Jesus had done nothing wrong and that His execution was being demanded not for the sake of justice, but as a grave injustice for evil men to secure their own earthly power.
So Jesus was not only paying for the sins of others, He was paying only for the sins of others. He had in fact done nothing wrong to merit suffering at all. Though He lived perfectly in accordance with God’s law and was in every sense of the word innocent, He was killed as one who was guilty. So our sin cost the innocent one His life.
But to only consider what our sin cost Jesus would still not be the whole story. Let’s consider one of the many titles God’s people had given Jesus: the Lamb of God. John the Baptist used it most plainly:
The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1:29 ESV)
Have you ever stopped and asked why we call Him that, aside from it being in the Bible?
The title starts to make sense when we look at the Old Testament system of sacrifices for the sins of Israel. Every year, each family had to present and slaughter an unblemished young lamb before God. While for us today the idea of the unblemished lamb might not mean much, especially if we aren’t making our living from livestock, it sure meant something to the Israelites.
Sheep, to the average Israelite family back then, were not simply a nice thing to have to harvest milk and wool. Israel was an agrarian society, and the sheep demanded in this sacrifice represented people’s very livelihoods. Giving up an unblemished lamb would not have been taken lightly, for the pure lamb was the very best of the flock and meant better odds of breeding more pure sheep, and thus a healthier, more gainful flock.
God, likewise, in giving Jesus to die for sin, was giving something costly.
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God. (John 3:16-21 ESV)
So by presenting Jesus to us as an unblemished lamb to be slaughtered for our sin, God the Father was showing us how much it cost Him. And by how much it cost Him, how much He loved us. In order for us to be reconciled back to God, His best and most pure and most cherished had to die. Jesus was the Lamb of God, the best one, the unblemished one. We must see that His death cost God dearly and therefore that God loves us, more than we can imagine.