Does Jesus match your definition of a hero? Heroes save people - does Jesus?
True heroism is remarkably sober. . . . It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost.Arthur Ashe
On November 7, 1907, one split-second decision by a man named Jesus Garcia Corona changed the course of history and defined him as a true hero. The young man noticed a train catch fire from the sparks of a passing locomotive. Loaded with dynamite, the train would blow his hometown of Nacozari, Mexico, to pieces.
Without hesitation, Garcia jumped in and drove the train full-throttle away from town until it exploded. Witnesses said it rained gravel and metal fragments for several minutes following the explosion. All that remained of Garcia were his boots. Garcia’s heroism is remembered annually on the Day of the Railroad Worker.1
The Ultimate Hero
Garcia made a remarkable decision to give his life in order to save the lives of hundreds. True heroes like Garcia have emerged in every country and culture throughout time. They all share similar characteristics: They are selfless and courageous. They have great compassion for others. They are willing to sacrifice everything for a greater purpose.
Some people believe a man named Jesus of Nazareth is the ultimate hero of all time. They say he, like Garcia, was a selfless, courageous, and compassionate man. He, too, sacrificed his own life so others could live.
However, there are some distinctions. Unlike Garcia, Jesus had time to consider and prepare for the sacrifice he would make. And unlike Garcia, he intended to save more than a small town. He set out to save the whole world. Some people believe he continues to save people even today.
But how can this be? How does Jesus save us? To answer this, we must first answer another question.
Why Do We Need to Be Saved?
Within the Christian worldview, the short answer is this: In spite of their best efforts, people fall short of God’s standards for right living. And the consequences for living below God’s standards are punishment and separation from God.
Do those two sentences really just rub you the wrong way? If so, you’re definitely not alone. Here are three common objections to this worldview that make it hard to understand.
1) “I’m a good person.”
When comparing themselves to the rest of the world, people want to think of themselves as good. After all, our world is filled with disturbing scenes of war, corruption, and social injustice. The world falls terribly short of the standards of most people.
However, God has even higher standards than we do. Two principles sum up God’s expectations of us: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. . . . And . . . ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”2
When I evaluate myself according to these instructions, I’m not nearly as good as I’d like to believe. If I’m honest with myself, I can admit that I don’t always love God above others or myself. I don’t love him with my whole being. I sometimes put my significant other, my children, or even my work ahead of him. I certainly don’t always love others as myself. I can hold a grudge with the best of them. I can be inconsiderate or even hateful with my words and actions.
I may be acceptable or even “good” when compared to many things that happen in this world, but I don’t live up to God’s standards.
2) “If I make bad choices, it’s because God created me this way.”
Some people assume that if God created them, he also created their selfish desires. There is some truth to that. When God created people, he created their ability to choose to love him.
I’ll illustrate with my own child. As a parent, I created my son, gave birth to him, and passed on my genes. Now I am raising him and teaching him. My expectation is that he will love, respect, and obey me because I have his best interests in mind. However, the choice is his. When he is disobedient and chooses a harmful path, I may feel angry and hurt that he did not trust me. But I will definitely be concerned for his well-being.
Likewise, God grieves with people when they suffer the consequences of poor choices. He doesn’t want us to make bad choices; he wants us to trust him and live in obedience to him. But ultimately, we’re responsible for our own decisions.3
3) “I don’t deserve these consequences.”
Punishment and eternal separation may seem like harsh, undeserved consequences for people’s shortcomings. However, God is perfect and just. He must be counted on to deliver justice with perfect integrity. Most people don’t want a justice system that allows injustices to go unnoticed.
I don’t want God to turn a blind eye to the ways that a person wrongs me. However, his integrity demands he not turn a blind eye to the ways I wrong others, either. To compromise his integrity, even for his children, would be to compromise the perfect character of God himself.
Jesus and Salvation
But people are not perfect. We say and do things that fall short of God’s expectations every day—we sin.4 And like it or not, we need to be saved from the consequences of living below God’s standards.
Since ancient times, people across cultures have attempted to reconcile the gap between themselves and their gods. They sacrificed animals and belongings to appease the gods. Ancient Hebrews, for example, carefully selected animals without blemishes for their sacrifices in order to replace their own imperfections.
The problem was that no single sacrifice could ever be enough to cover a lifetime of mistakes. As people continued to live below God’s ideals, they continued to make regular sacrifices. They knew they’d never be able to establish a right relationship with God on their own.5 They could never bridge the gap.
Christians believe that in his great love for his people, God came up with a plan to save them. They believe he sent Jesus as the perfect, ultimate, and final sacrifice for people’s failure to meet God’s standards. Through his life, death, and resurrection, Jesus opened the pathway for each of us to have a direct, personal relationship with God—a relationship filled with God’s grace.
God’s plan is laid out in the book of John: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”6
Jesus demonstrated true love for people through his obedience. Although Jesus lived a perfect, sinless life, he willingly died a brutal death for all of us. Publius Tacitus, a Roman senator, acknowledged in his Annals, Book IV that Jesus “suffered the extreme penalty.”7 Jesus gave his life as a substitute for our own, saving us from the consequences of our sins.8 He said himself, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”9
Through his sacrificial death, Jesus offers to save us from punishment and separation from God. He wants to show us God’s mercy by sparing us from the penalties for disobedience. He wants to show us God’s grace by giving us the opportunity to have a lasting relationship with God. Jesus said that people who accept him as their Savior will receive an everlasting life of love, hope, and joy.
Like the young locomotive driver, Jesus willingly died to save the lives of others. And like the unsuspecting people of Garcia’s hometown, we’ve been freely given another chance at life. The Mexican people have chosen to honor Garcia faithfully.
What is your response to the sacrificial death of Jesus, who claims to have died for you?