Why did Jesus HAVE to die?
I am asked at times (thankfully) “Why did Jesus die?” and not just Why did he die but ‘Why did he HAVE to die? ‘Surely, God could just forgive people if he wanted’ goes the reasoning.
The Christian superficial (and insufficient) answer? Because he loves us. The Christian proceeds to give John 3:16 and there you go but that does not really answer the question.
Why does a guy, one guy among literally millions upon millions matter to me and the way God relates to me?
The issue really is not simply of Love, though that is what motivates God, it is of sin, consequence and our inability. All of which I will attempt to address. There are a number of key questions that come from this one including ‘Who did Jesus die for?’ that I will address in my next blog but for the moment...
Why did Jesus HAVE to die?
The answer – OUR SIN – HIS JUSTICE – HIS MERCY
Sin is anything and everything that offends the just nature of God. 1 John 3:4 says “Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness”. When we break the law of God we sin. Sin is rebelling against God (Deut 9:7, Josh 1:18)
There is no finger pointing in this, there is not one person who has not sinned, all are in fact ‘sinners’.
"for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” Romans 3:23
What is important here is that it is not the robber or the murder, it is not Adolf Hitler you are being compared to but the perfect law and glory of God. We can often delude ourselves into thinking we are ‘pretty good’ when we compare ourselves to someone we think is ‘worse’ then us but we are being compared to perfection. In the light of perfection, we are filthy, even our greatest ‘goodness’ is like ‘filthy rags’ (Isaiah 64:6) compared to Gods glory.
That means we are in trouble, it means no amount of ‘doing good’ can outweigh our sin, no amount of praying can make it better.
The simple reality is sin causes death, devastation, separation.
Genesis 2:17 in talking of the result of disobeying God says
“but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”
The phrase “you shall surely die” can be literally translated from the Hebrew Biblical text as “dying you shall die.” We are now in a constant state of dying, not just physically but in every area of life.
Romans 6:23 says
“the wages of sin is death” Rom 6:23
Romans 5:8 says
“...God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Rom 5:8
We not only see this death as an ultimate sense of separation from God but we see it constantly in every area of life. Our bodies are decaying, families break down, selfishness reigns from our politics to our economics. The most constant reality in our world right now is brokenness everywhere. That is not to say there is no beauty, that is everywhere also, but the natural inclination is toward chaos, selfishness and brokenness.
Death is the necessary result of Sin. Without death, evil could rule without end.
The response to this situation from people is ‘surely God could just forgive sins, everyone gets saved, wouldn’t a loving God do that?’
This idea is broadly called universalism. Universalism sounds REALLY GOOD, lets be straight, wouldn’t it be better if God overlooked every misgiving and sin and just ‘let everybody in’.
The crucial problem here is that God is infinitely JUST and infinitely MERCIFUL. For God to be consistent to himself and to us both must be completely fulfilled. It is UNJUST to allow sin and rebellion to continue without payment.
I want you to imagine a judge that has his own son come before him. His son has raped a young woman. It is a clear breach of the law, it is an entirely evil act. The father, however, loves his son, so he just ‘forgives’ him then and there and lets him 'off' for raping her. Someone might understand that such an action is 'loving' toward his son but it certainly is not just.
We would all rightly think that judge was corrupt, we would all be outraged.
BUT... we are all sinners, we have all broken the law of God, we all deserve judgement, our default direction is hell. God, however, is not just judge but father, his mercy demands a way of salvation. There is a tension created here that must be resolved.
Sacrifice is needed for forgiveness
Gods answer from the very beginning was sacrifice, a recognition that our sin causes death.
From the earliest pages of scripture in Genesis 4:3 with Cain and Abel (Genesis 4), through to the sacrifice of the ram replacing Abraham’s son (Genesis 22), onto the sacrifices under Moses in Israel (Leviticus 14) and ultimately to Christ (John 1:29, 1 John 2:2) sacrifice has been established as the place of forgiveness of sin and salvation.
Hebrews 9:22 says that
“…without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin”.
Everything in the New Covenant is founded on the pattern of the Old Covenant – there is one key problem in the world, the same as all time, sin. There is one unfolding plan of redemption, of Gods plan and provision for salvation.
In Leviticus 1 and Exodus 25 we see specific instructions as to how every detail of sacrifice was to be done. Every detail of the tabernacle was vitally important and every step in the process of sacrifice spoke specifically of the heavenly tabernacle.
Old Testament Pattern of Sacrifice
“The point of what we are saying is this: We do have such a high priest, who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, 2 and who serves in the sanctuary, the true tabernacle set up by the Lord, not by man.
3 Every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices, and so it was necessary for this one also to have something to offer. 4 If he were on earth, he would not be a priest, for there are already men who offer the gifts prescribed by the law. 5 They serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven. This is why Moses was warned when he was about to build the tabernacle: "See to it that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain." 6 But the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, and it is founded on better promises. Heb 8:1 - 6
The entire Old Testament establishes patterns, shadows of the reality found in the coming of Christ and heaven itself.
In the Old Testament tabernacle and temple a person would come through the east gate turning their back on the way of the world, they would bring their sacrifice (usually a lamb), laying their hands upon it as it was slaughtered knowing the death of that innocent lamb was because of them. On their behalf the priest would offer this sacrifice to God, forgiveness was given upon that understanding, the sacrifice symbolically took their punishment. (I really encourage you to read Hebrews 9 – 10, Exodus 25 - 30) These are long but significant.
This sacrifice would happen time and time again, year in, year out but the prophets of Israel spoke of a day coming which would change everything.
Jesus was the fulfillment to those prophecies.
Jesus came as the eternal lamb of God (Is 53, 1 Peter 1:10 – 11, Matt 20:28, John 3:14, Matt 16:21, Luke 17:25, Luke 24:7)
Speaking prophetically about the coming messiah Is 53:7 says...
“He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.” Is 53:7
Heb 2:14 – 15 says
“Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.”
Hebrews 9:23 - 26a says
“For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made with human hands that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence. 25 Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own. 26 Otherwise Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But he has appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27 Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, 28 so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him” Heb 9:23- 26
The holy, just, God could not simply forgive because that would contradict his justice, however, his mercy and love moved him to take the punishment for our sin. It is only in the cross that the perfect justice of God and the perfect infinite mercy of God are both satisfied.
“Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” John 1:29
“For you know that … you were redeemed … with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.” (1 Peter 1:18-19)
Jesus died as a substitution for you and I. He paid the penalty for our sins expressing the infinite justice and mercy of God.
The question that then arises is ‘If Jesus died for our sins, why isn’t everyone Christian? Who did Jesus die for? Check out the next BLOG POST - WHO DID JESUS DIE FOR?