Why Would God Punish Jesus for My Sins?

You’re in a conversation and someone says “Why would God punish Jesus for what I  did? It’s barbaric and abusive for God to  require a blood sacrifice from his own  son for sins Jesus didn’t even commit. It sounds like cosmic child abuse.” 

What would you say?

Imagine your house was burglarized and  after catching the thief and obtaining a  confession, the authorities deliver him  to a magistrate. On the day of sentencing, as the guilty  man awaits his deserved fate, the judge  unexpectedly summons one of your  innocent neighbors and sentences them to  jail to serve the penalty that the thief  deserved. Would it be fair to punish one man for  the crimes of another? If it’s not, how can we call God loving  and just if he punished his son Jesus  for our sins?

To many, this sounds entirely unfair  and they’re right. While they’re absolutely correct about  the cruel injustice Jesus suffered on  the cross, they’re mistaken about the  identity of Jesus, the nature of his  sacrifice, and the love of God. The next time someone says the  sacrifice of Jesus on the cross sounds  like cosmic child abuse,  here are three things to  remember.

Number one.  Jesus was not a mere human. While it would be unfair to punish one man for  the crimes of another, Jesus was not a  mere man. Instead the New Testament gospels and  letters describe Jesus as God incarnate.  Jesus repeatedly identified himself as  God, even calling himself “I am”, the name  God used when identifying himself to  Moses in the Old Testament.  Jesus also spoke and taught with the  authority of God and demonstrated his  divine power to create,  forgive,  judge and grant eternal life. That’s why Paul described Jesus as the  image of the invisible God “for by him  all things were created in heaven and on  earth, visible and invisible, whether  thrones or dominions or rulers or  authorities, all things were created  through him and for him.” (Colossians 1:15-16) Jesus even demonstrated he was God by  rising from the grave and ascending into  heaven. While Jesus raised other humans from  death, like the widow’s son, Jjairus’ daughter and Lazarus, these  humans eventually died again. Only Jesus  rose from the grave and ascended into  heaven, never to die again. His resurrection and ascension  demonstrate he is more than a mere human.  

God, according to Christianity, is triune  in nature – one being and three persons:  God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the  Holy Spirit. This truth is important because it’s  impossible to understand what Jesus did  for us on the cross if we mistake Jesus  for a mere man.

Number two.  Jesus went to the cross voluntarily.  God did not force Jesus to suffer the  penalty for other humans. Instead, Jesus voluntarily took the form  of a human and chose the path of the  cross. Paul wrote that Jesus “emptied himself,  taking the form of a bond servant, and  being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, he  humbled himself by becoming obedient to  the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:7-8)  Jesus, as a member of the triune Godhead,  voluntarily submitted to the divine plan  to rescue us.  God did not inflict this plan on Jesus. Instead, all three members of the Godhead  acted in perfect unison to accomplish  for us what we could not accomplish for  ourselves. As Paul puts it  “God was in Christ reconciling the world  to himself, not counting their trespasses  against them.” (2 Cor 5:19) God knew what he was doing when he took  the form of a bond servant and  reconciled the world to himself. This was not an act of cruelty; it was an  act of love motivated by mercy and  grounded in grace.

Number three. The sacrifice of Jesus is not an act of  abuse but a gift of God. When Jesus submitted to the cross, he  displayed God’s concern and compassion  for us.  “God demonstrates his own love for us in  this while we were still sinners, Christ  died for us.” (Rom 5:8)  God was not acting abusively toward  Jesus; he was acting lovingly toward us. 

Let’s return to that courtroom where the  thief who burglarized your home is about  to be sentenced. This time the judge, rather than  summoning your innocent neighbor,  steps down from the bench and approaches  the burglar. He tells the thief that he, the judge,  will serve the penalty the thief  deserves. Then he hugs the pardoned man and tells  him he is free to go. This version of the sentencing hearing  sounds even crazier than the first  but it’s not crazy because it’s unfair,  it’s crazy because from the thief’s  perspective,  it’s too good to be true. That, my friends, is what God did for us  on the cross. Our situation is much like that of the  thief. We’re fallen human creatures  standing before a perfect, holy creator. We have repeatedly broken the moral law  in one way or the other, in small  missteps or in broader leaps. We deserve to be punished for our crimes  but our judge, the creator of the  universe, is willing to step down from  the bench  in the form of a bond servant  to pardon us,  taking the punishment we deserve on  himself. That’s not an example of cosmic child  abuse; it’s a gracious gift from God. 

So the next time someone says the  sacrifice of Jesus on the cross sounds  like cosmic child abuse,  remember these three things. Number one: Jesus was not a mere human. Number two:  Jesus went to the cross voluntarily. And  number three: the sacrifice of Jesus is  not an act of abuse but a gift of God.