At the start of Easter week we are conscious of Jesus' death. The Cross that hung over him since birth is now a looming shadow that will soon blot out all light in the darkness of that Friday afternoon. A classic interpretation of Jesus' death is found in Rom. 3:21-26. It can be summarised in terms of our problem, God's solution and our response.
Our problem: Our problem is that we are made to live in God's world and in God's way but that we do not. Paul looked at the whole of humanity and declared that none of us lives lives worthy of God; none of us lives in the light of what we know about God - be it great or small (Rom. 1: 18 - 3: 20).
Our failure leaves us with a problem. We have fallen short before God (3:23). We do not measure up to his standards and deserve to be removed from his presence in judgement, just as Adam and Eve were expelled from God's presence in the garden.
God's solution: The solution does not come from our own hands. It comes by God's gift. It is the gift of righteousness from God (3: 21). This is a right standing before God that is given by God to believers in Jesus.
This righteousness is given through the death of Jesus at Easter. Paul uses three images to help us understand the significance of Jesus' death.
Jesus is our justification (3:24). What matters in a law court is the judge's verdict. if the judge announces us to be 'not guilty' that is our legal standing. The person who has faith in Jesus is announced to be 'not guilty'. But how is this verdict achieved? The next two terms help us.
Jesus is also our redemption (3:24). If you leave property with a moneylender as security for a loan, you have to pay for the return of the goods. This payment is a 'redemption' or a 'ransom'. Jesus is the ransom payment who sets believers free from the penalty and power of sin.
Finally, Jesus is a sacrifice of atonement (3:25). This imagery is drawn from ancient temples where blood sacrifice was offered. The blood symbolised life and the sacrificed animal stood for the one offering it. By sacrificing his perfect life, Jesus was able to make effective representation for sin and so satisfy justice. By making the sacrifice in the person of his own Son, God acted with remarkable grace.
Our response: Our part in all this is simple: Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to thy Cross I cling; Naked, come to thee for dress, helpless look to thee for grace