Carson first addresses the reason for why the Bible insists that Jesus was born in order to die. When we read biographies, never do we see, regardless of the person and their import; never is it emphasized that they were born to die. Not Buddha, not Muhammad even though their deaths were recorded, it’s not the purpose for why they were born. But the Gospel accounts are different.
In these biographies of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ it’s clear that his disciples did not understand why he insisted that he had to die; that Jesus understood that the Father’s purpose in him was to die; that his death was on his own initiative and that his death was not that of a martyr, but that of one willing to sacrifice (Jn. 10:17-18)
“For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life so that I may take it again. 18 No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father.”
In Paul’s account, the apostle makes clear that which is of first importance in (1 Cor.15:1-4ff.,) specifically that Christ died according to the Scriptures, He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures. Miss this, and we strip Christianity of its substance. It’s the doing away of our basis for belief, conduct, and understanding.
Secondly, Carson speaks of the ironies of the Cross. An irony is a word in its context that means exactly the opposite of what is said. This section is very sobering and penetrating to my soul for it deals with the cross. First, Carson relates that the man who is mocked as king, is King (Mt. 27:27-31)
“Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole Roman cohort around Him. They stripped Him and put a scarlet robe on Him. 29And after twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on His head, and a reed in His right hand; and they knelt down before Him and mocked Him, saying, ” Hail, King of the Jews!” 30They spat on Him, and took the reed and began to beat Him on the head. 31After they had mocked Him, they took the scarlet robe off Him and put His own garments back on Him, and led Him away to crucify Him.’
Jesus is not just the king of the Jews, but also of the universe, and yet he humbly served his persecutors rather than exercise his power to destroy them (Mt. 20:25-28).
The second irony is that the man who is utterly powerless is transcendentally powerful (Mt. 27: 32-40)
“As they were coming out, they found a man of Cyrene named Simon, whom they pressed into service to bear His cross. 33And when they came to a place called Golgotha, which means Place of a Skull, 34they gave Him wine to drink mixed with gall; and after tasting it, He was unwilling to drink. 35And when they had crucified Him, they divided up His garments among themselves by casting lots. 36And sitting down, they began to keep watch over Him there. 37And above His head they put up the charge against Him which read, “THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS.” 38At that time two robbers were crucified with Him, one on the right and one on the left. 39And those passing by were hurling abuse at Him, wagging their heads 40and saying, “You who are going to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save Yourself! If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross.”
Jesus became the great meeting place between God and man—He is the temple of meeting. He’s the temple of the living God.
The third irony is that the man who can’t save himself saves others (Mt. 27:41-42)
“In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders, were mocking Him and saying, 42“He saved others; He cannot save Himself He is the King of Israel; let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe in Him.”
“Saving” in this gospel refers to saving people from their sin: from its guilt, its consequences, its eternal effects, and its power in this life. Thus, the ultimate meaning behind physical healing, is the eternal effects of Christ’ rescue in this fallen evil age. Had he saved himself, we would be lost. It’s the very purpose for hanging on that cross so that he may bear the iniquity of us all in his body. Had he saved himself, I would be damned!
Fourth, the man who cries in despair trusts God (Mt.27:43-51)
43“HE TRUSTS IN GOD; LET GOD RESCUE Him now, IF HE DELIGHTS IN HIM; for He said, ‘I am the Son of God.'” 44The robbers who had been crucified with Him were also insulting Him with the same words. 45Now from the sixth hour darkness fell upon all the land until the ninth hour. 46About the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “ELI, ELI, LAMA SABACHTHANI?” that is, “MY GOD, MY GOD, WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME?” 47And some of those who were standing there, when they heard it, began saying, “This man is calling for Elijah.” 48Immediately one of them ran, and taking a sponge, he filled it with sour wine and put it on a reed, and gave Him a drink. 49But the rest of them said, “Let us see whether Elijah will come to save Him.” 50And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit. 51And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth shook and the rocks were split.
Access to the holiest place has been purchased only because the son was in the darkest place for us. That’s amazing grace indeed.
Thirdly, Carson unpacks the issue of God dying. In one sense it’s incorrect to say that God died, but Jesus is the one who died, not God the Father. Thus the reason for some texts in the New Testament to warrant the truth that in one sense, when Jesus died, God died is to accentuate the cost that was paid for my ransom (Acts 20:28; Rom.5:8). The truth is that you can trust a God who is not only sovereign, but One who also bleeds for you!
Fourthly, Carson unfolds the reason for why Thomas doubts that Jesus had risen from the dead. This disciple did not want to be duped. Can you blame him…no?! He believed that Jesus was the Messiah and all his hopes were dashed to the ground. That’s a lot of pain. He wanted to be sure that the body that died on the cross was the same body he would handle.
When Jesus appeared and Thomas saw he exclaimed, “My Lord and My God!” Why does he say so much, rather than a smaller and weaker—you are alive! Perhaps because of all that Jesus had said and taught privately to the disciples; (e.g., before Abraham was I am, he who has seen me has seen the Father,). It’s quite possible that the elation and utter joy expressed the overflow of the revelation of Christ and his previously spoken words pointing to himself, that Thomas exclaimed, “My Lord, and My God.” How utterly personal is that?!
Lastly, Carson tackles the issue of why it is that in the ultimate sense God alone can forgive sins. This is because only the offended party can forgive. According to Scripture God is always the most offended party (Ps. 51:4; Mk. 2:5, 7) David and the paralytic. “Who can forgive sins but God?”