When Jesus showed up on the scene around 2000 years ago, He was stepping into a religious system where people were distant from God. The religious rulers (the Pharisees) had established law after law after law that had to be adhered to for a person to find favor with God. These laws had their origins from the time of Moses, but the Pharisees took the laws to a new level by making laws to keep a person from breaking other ones. There was class warfare going on, and the non-religious people knew they were hopeless because of their inability to live up to the standards.
But then Jesus came. Upon His arrival, the people were reminded that God isn’t as much about rules as He is about relationship (after all, the Ten Commandments weren’t given to the Israelites until after God had led them out of Egyptian slavery and reestablished a relationship with them). Jesus brought a renewed hope that the people hadn’t experienced in years and years: that God loves all people, and He desires a relationship with each person. So after Zacchaeus placed his trust in Jesus, that’s why Jesus proclaimed, “the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost,” (Luke 19:10).
Until Jesus’ death, however, the legal case between sinful man and holy God hadn’t been settled. Since we are all offenders, no one had any hope. God demands blood for blood – sin brings death, and death of something whole and pure is the only way to pay the debt. That was until Jesus died on the cross. But death couldn’t hold Him. He took the wrath of God that we deserved and bore it upon His own shoulders. Why? John 3:16 says because God loved the world, He sent Jesus to die for us.
The dead religious system of the Pharisees was pushed to the wayside, and a new system began: one of trust; one of faith; one of love. A promise was made that whoever places his or her trust in what Jesus did on the cross receives a new birth. Jesus came that all might have the opportunity to experience this new birth. And the great news is that it’s not about performance or living up to a standard. The door is open to everyone; it simply requires holding to what Jesus did as your means of reconciliation with the Holy God.