What was the purpose of Jesus Christ's first coming? He entered our world for more than one reason--but perhaps His chief purpose was to save us from our sins, reconciling us to God the Father.
How much do we grasp the nature of His sacrifice for our sins? Do we deeply comprehend the sufferings and the agonies He endured for our sake?
Most believers comprehend something of Christ's sacrifice. But often real depth of understanding is missing. We can be thankful that the biblical writers can help us fill this gap.
Jesus Christ wants every Christian to fully appreciate what He went through so our sins could be forgiven. To help us grasp the supreme importance of His sacrifice, we are going to take Christ's journey to Jerusalem with Him. Not in a geographical or chronological sense, but mentally and emotionally, as He approached the time when He would fulfill the basic purpose of His humanity.
Subject to the human condition
But we should first understand one important principle derived primarily from the four Gospels, the biographical accounts of Christ's life. When Jesus entered our world as a human being, He did not rearrange the lives of others for His own convenience. Nor did He do so to suit His divine purposes, great and important though they were. True, certain Old Testament prophecies had to be fulfilled, but beyond these necessary occurrences He subjected Himself to the rough and tumble of "this present evil world."
He certainly possessed the divine power to constantly intervene in circumstances on His own behalf. But He did not, except for a few occasions when He miraculously escaped being seized and harmed because His time was not yet. The biblical record clearly shows that temptations, frustrations and obstacles regularly punctuated His ministry.
One of the most destructive first-century heresies was the false teaching that Jesus "did not come in the flesh" (1 John 4:1-3 1 John 4:1-3  Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.
 Hereby know you the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God:
 And every spirit that confesses not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof you have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world.
American King James Version×). Many adopted the belief that He was not really a human being in the fullest sense, that He didn't suffer the same temptations to sin that we all experience, that He was not really one of us.
Although the apostle John condemned this heresy in the strongest of terms and the biblical record repudiates it, sadly it persists to this day.
While clearly affirming His divinity, the Gospels also present a very human Jesus who continually had to cope with the frailties of other human beings. Time and time again Christ asked people whom He had healed not to say anything so as to avoid focusing attention on Himself in a nation where the religious establishment was hostile to His message. The Bible shows that in most instances their excitement and enthusiasm got the better of them and, against His wishes, they quickly spread the news of what had happened.
At times Jesus needed periods alone or with the 12 disciples, but the crowds usually managed to find Him. Again Jesus did not use His supernatural powers to manipulate people and events for His own purposes, however important they were. He generally responded to the needs of the people. Christ did not please Himself (Romans 15:3 Romans 15:3For even Christ pleased not himself; but, as it is written, The reproaches of them that reproached you fell on me.
American King James Version×).
A strong sense of mission
From early on Jesus had a strong sense of mission (Luke 2:49-52 Luke 2:49-52  And he said to them, How is it that you sought me? knew you not that I must be about my Father's business?
 And they understood not the saying which he spoke to them.
 And he went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject to them: but his mother kept all these sayings in her heart.
 And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.
American King James Version×). By age 12 He was speaking of God as His Father, and also showing a strong inward tendency to occupy Himself with His Father's will and desires. He knew He had a great purpose to fulfill.
Some 20 years later He was with His 12 disciples and Mark recorded that "He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again" (Mark 8:31 Mark 8:31And he began to teach them, that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders, and of the chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.
American King James Version×).
Christ soon discovered that the 12 were not fully able to grasp this knowledge. They were not yet converted; they apparently still looked to Him as the Messiah whom they thought would deliver the nation from Roman rule. In any event Jesus had to sternly rebuke Peter for unwittingly letting himself be used by Satan to try to divert the true Anointed One from His ultimate purpose (verses 32-33).
Jesus faced near-total rejection from the religious establishment of His day. "He came unto His own and His own did not receive Him" (John 1:11 John 1:11He came to his own, and his own received him not.
American King James Version×). Humanly, He would have liked to receive some empathy from those closest to Him.
Jesus repeated the certain prophecy of His upcoming death in Mark 9:31 Mark 9:31For he taught his disciples, and said to them, The Son of man is delivered into the hands of men, and they shall kill him; and after that he is killed, he shall rise the third day.
American King James Version×, "but the disciples did not understand this saying, and were afraid to ask Him" (verse 32, emphasis added throughout). In terms of understanding the purpose of His last visit to Jerusalem, He had to make that final journey to His beloved city virtually alone.
The last journey to Jerusalem
"Now it came to pass that when the [general] time had come for Him to be received up [crucified], that He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem" (Luke 9:51 Luke 9:51And it came to pass, when the time was come that he should be received up, he steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem,
American King James Version×). Jesus was absolutely determined to carry out His mission. Nothing and no one would deter or deflect Him from that purpose.
Satan had already tried and failed (Matthew 4:7-11 Matthew 4:7-11  Jesus said to him, It is written again, You shall not tempt the Lord your God.
 Again, the devil takes him up into an exceeding high mountain, and shows him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them;
 And said to him, All these things will I give you, if you will fall down and worship me.
 Then said Jesus to him, Get you hence, Satan: for it is written, You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.
 Then the devil leaves him, and, behold, angels came and ministered to him.
American King James Version×), but now the pressures would increase. It would be in this city that Christ would allow Himself to be put to death for our many sins--making it possible for us to be reconciled to God the Father.
From fairly early in His ministry, several passages in the book of John reveal that His final date with destiny as a human being was very much on His mind.
Consider the account of Christ's very first miracle, when He turned water into wine. When His mother told Him that they had run out of wine at the wedding feast, He replied: "What does your concern have to do with Me? My hour has not come" (John 2:4 John 2:4Jesus said to her, Woman, what have I to do with you? my hour is not yet come.
American King James Version×). Even while attending a wedding in Galilee, His great purpose at Jerusalem would suddenly surface in a conversation with His mother about wine. Along with His own disciples, she, too, did not fully grasp what He would do for mankind.
Neither did His brothers. At the very time when He was in mortal danger from the religious authorities, they foolishly advised Him to "show Himself openly to the world" (John 7:4 John 7:4For there is no man that does any thing in secret, and he himself seeks to be known openly. If you do these things, show yourself to the world.
American King James Version×). Then John noted that "even His brothers did not believe in Him" (verse 5).
Jesus' reply to them is very instructive. "My time has not yet come, but your time is always ready. The world cannot hate you, but it hates Me because I testify of it that its works are evil" (verses 6-7). This world, He said, breaks God's holy law with impunity and does not like to be reminded of its sins.
Yet this Gospel account tells us that no one up to that time had been successful in arresting or harming Him "for His hour had not yet come" (John 8:20 John 8:20These words spoke Jesus in the treasury, as he taught in the temple: and no man laid hands on him; for his hour was not yet come.
American King James Version×). But Jesus knew full well that when the appointed time did arrive, He would experience a violent, premature death--and yet one that had great purpose and meaning for all mankind.
A fate known well in advance
Humanly, Jesus was no different from the rest of us. He didn't want to die (Matthew 26:39 Matthew 26:39And he went a little farther, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as you will.
American King James Version×). But unlike most of us, He knew well in advance the time and circumstances that would surround His death. He knew the exact mode of execution-one of the most cruel and painful methods ever devised by men-the Roman crucifixion (John 12:32-33 John 12:32-33  And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to me.  This he said, signifying what death he should die.
American King James Version×). In His travels He had no doubt seen the gruesome spectacle of men dying by crucifixion. Such executions were intended to be a public deterrent to challenging Roman authority.
Psychologically, this advance knowledge was no comfort at all. In fact, it was the opposite. He lamented: " Now My soul is troubled, and what shall I say, 'Father, save Me from this hour?' But for this purpose I came to this hour" (verse 27).
Do we, some 2,000 years later, truly grasp the depth of Christ's sufferings for our sake? Do we realize what our sins, collectively and individually, did to this sinless and vibrant young man, our Savior, in the prime of His human life?
Not only the humiliation, the terrible beatings and the crucifixion itself, but also the mental anguish He suffered were agonizing. This was to be no ordinary death. Jesus Christ knew He had to take the sins of the whole world--past, present and future--on Himself. He did for us what we could never do for ourselves.
Christ's agony at Gethsemane
Arriving at the garden of Gethsemane and taking Peter, James and John with Him, He asked the other disciples to wait while He prayed. "Then He said to them: 'My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death. Stay here and watch.' He went a little farther, and fell on the ground, and prayed that if it were possible, the hour might pass from Him. And He said, 'Abba Father, all things are possible for You. Take this cup away from Me; nevertheless, not what I will, but what You will'" (Mark 14:34-36 Mark 14:34-36  And said to them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful to death: tarry you here, and watch.
 And he went forward a little, and fell on the ground, and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him.
 And he said, Abba, Father, all things are possible to you; take away this cup from me: nevertheless not what I will, but what you will.
American King James Version×).
At the time of His greatest agony to date, His most trusted friends could not even stay awake. They were not much help, but the Father strengthened Him by sending an angel (Luke 22:43 Luke 22:43And there appeared an angel to him from heaven, strengthening him.
American King James Version×). Then, with fixed determination and renewed resolve, He said to the disciples, "Rise, let us be going. See, My betrayer [Judas Iscariot] is at hand" (Mark 14:42 Mark 14:42Rise up, let us go; see, he that betrays me is at hand.
American King James Version×). The humiliation, scourging and suffering soon followed.
Later, in the last few moments of His human life, "Jesus cried out with a loud voice . . . , 'My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?'" (Matthew 27:46 Matthew 27:46And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
American King James Version×). Though personally sinless, Jesus at His death took on Himself all the sin of all humanity for all time. Christ had to bear the weight of our sins absolutely alone. This He did completely by Himself!
It was an act of total selflessness done under the most difficult of circumstances. It was true heroism to the highest degree possible. That is why Christians must never take His sacrifice for granted. We must never forget that ultimate price Jesus paid in order to blot out our sins.
Our appreciation for that sacrifice must endure for a lifetime!
An annual reminder of Christ's sacrifice
Does God think Jesus Christ's sacrifice is important? He certainly does. In fact, He has worked out a marvelous plan to remind us year by year of that most important act in all human history. The annual Passover is a vitally significant date on the calendar for Christ's followers. When we observe it, we "proclaim the Lord's death till He comes" Paul wrote (1 Corinthians 11:26 1 Corinthians 11:26For as often as you eat this bread, and drink this cup, you do show the Lord's death till he come.
American King James Version×).
In a figurative and spiritual sense, to a small degree, Christians have to walk that path to Jerusalem with Jesus every single year. We are reminded of our own part in His death by crucifixion.
Paul tells us that, before we participate in this annual reminder, we must examine ourselves (1 Corinthians 11:28 1 Corinthians 11:28But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup.
American King James Version×; 2 Corinthians 13:5 2 Corinthians 13:5Examine yourselves, whether you be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know you not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except you be reprobates?
American King James Version×), knowing we must grapple with "the sin which so easily ensnares us" (Hebrews 12:1 Hebrews 12:1Why seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which does so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us,
American King James Version×).
Following Christ's example and instructions, Christians partake of a small piece of unleavened bread, followed by a tiny cup of wine--the symbols Christ gave us to remind us of His sacrificed body and shed blood, respectively (Matthew 26:26-28 Matthew 26:26-28  And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and broke it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body.
 And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink you all of it;
 For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.
American King James Version×; 1 Corinthians 11:23-25 1 Corinthians 11:23-25  For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered to you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread:  And when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me.  After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do you, as oft as you drink it, in remembrance of me.
American King James Version×).
The annual Passover observance is also a reminder of our sacred covenant with God-that as He willingly gave His only Son as a sacrifice for our sins (John 3:16-17 John 3:16-17  For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.
American King James Version×), so we willingly have surrendered our lives to Him, to carry out His will in our lives (Romans 6:6-13 Romans 6:6-13  Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that from now on we should not serve sin.  For he that is dead is freed from sin.  Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him:  Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dies no more; death has no more dominion over him.  For in that he died, he died to sin once: but in that he lives, he lives to God.  Likewise reckon you also yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in the lusts thereof.  Neither yield you your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin: but yield yourselves to God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.
American King James Version×). For another year we can proceed to observe the other festivals of God that portray the succeeding steps in God's plan. But the reminder of and acceptance of Christ's sacrifice, marked by the annual Passover, will always be the first and most important step.
Many of our readers may not have heard much about the Passover and its enormous significance. If you would like to learn more, we offer the free booklet God's Holy Day Plan: The Promise of Hope for All Mankind to any who are interested. It includes a comprehensive chapter about the Passover, followed by other chapters thoroughly explaining all God's other annual festivals.
The United Church of God also offers two supplementary booklets, Transforming Your Life: The Process of Conversion and The Road to Eternal Life, that discuss the significance of Christ's sacrifice and what it means for you.