- The law points out our sin, because we cannot keep the whole law as commanded.
- The law, because of its authority as an arbiter of justice, thus has a claim on us to exact appropriate punishment, so that justice can be served.
- The law demands our death.
- We can only be free from the law's claim if we can pay that penalty.
One of the excellent benefits of being an English major and an avid reader is having a thousand ready illustrations. All of a sudden, a literary motif made perfect sense of the verse. Literary characters all across the spectrum have wrestled with this same dilemma. *Warning, spoilers.*
...Think of the original Zorro (Anthony Hopkins) in the movie The Mask of Zorro. He is imprisoned, albeit unjustly. There is no way out unless he is dead.
...Think of Edmond Dantes in the book The Count of Monte Cristo. He is imprisoned, and no one leaves the Chateau D'If alive.
...Think of Charles Darnay in A Tale of Two Cities. He is imprisoned in a place where the only exit was en route to the guillotine.
...Think of Jean Valjean in Les Miserables. He was convicted for breaking a minor point of the law, but which rendered him guilty nonetheless. He would bear the law's stamp (the convict's stamp on his passport) until he died.
The answer for each of these men came in an exchange or apparent death.
A dead guard in The Mask of Zorro permitted Don Diego de la Vega to feign death and be carried out of the prison to be buried. The death of Edmond's friend Faria allowed Edmond to be carried out of the prison and thrown into the sea in a body bag. Even after his flight was discovered, he was presumed dead from the fall.
Charles Darnay was given the clothes of his look-alike Sidney Carton and allowed to leave the prison as Carton, while Carton went to the guillotine in the likeness of Darnay. For Jean Valjean, re-imprisoned on the ship Orion, escape from the life of a convict came only when he fell into the sea and was reported drowned.
Feigning death allowed Valjean and Dantes to temporarily escape the physical representation of the law. But what about God's law, which is not fooled by disguises or pretenses, and under which all of us are condemned justly?
The only answer is that a real death has to take place. Someone has to die, so the law's demand is paid in full, not postponed. Enter Jesus.
What makes Jesus' sacrifice so much greater than Sidney Carton's is the fact of the resurrection. By paying the price of the law and then being raised to life again, Jesus broke the power of sin, which was to make death the end and the ultimate consequence.
So what changes afterward? What is the new end consequence?
The effect of sacrificial death is that someone bears your sin (your being, your name) to the death you deserved. Edmond Dantes couldn't simply return to Paris and announce himself as Edmond Dantes, because "Edmond Dantes" was presumed dead. Jean Valjean couldn't re-establish himself as Jean Valjean, because "Jean Valjean" had died.
Their new, free life had to come with a new name - a new persona. As a Christian, that new persona is just as integral. "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me" (Galatians 2:20).
There is nothing new, nothing revelatory, nothing ephiphanological (even if there was such a word) about my musings.
It's like the tiny window of brilliant, crystalline colors in the sky right before the sun rises. It's impossible to capture in fabric or paint, but in that instant, I catch a glimpse of something amazing beyond the power of expression.
So that's why I share, even knowing the inadequacy of words, especially mine.