Why did Jesus Have to Die?
The message of the gospel is that of reconciliation. It is reconciliation that has been made possible through Christ.“All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Corinthians 5:18-21). Reconciliation is the end of the estrangement, caused by original sin, between God and humanity.
Reconciliation has to be initiated by the offended party. Our sin is an offence against God. As hopeless sinners we suppress the truth and love what we ought to hate and hate what we ought to love. "Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight; so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge" (Psalm 51:4). The good news is that God; the offended party, has decided He does want to reconcile with His creation. A great parable demonstrating God’s joy for reconciliation with sinners is in the Parable of the Lost Son (Luke 15:11-32). The hero of the parable is the father, when the father is looking off waiting for his wretched lost son who took the families estate money and spent it on prostitutes and wild living. The father is looking for him to come back, and the moment he sees him - the father runs to meet his son. When the son gets there, he is not punished or shamed as expected, but embraced with full reconciliation and restoration to sonship. That's the nature of God, that's the joy of heaven over one sinner coming home to the Father.
Reconciliation is by the act of forgiveness but only if the one who has been offended is willing to forgive. The barrier to forgiveness, sin, must be removed. “Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord will never count against them" (Romans 4:8). The only way reconciliation can happen is when he wipes out the offence, the sin issue. "Who is a God like you,who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy" (Micah 7:18). That is the glorious gospel message - sin and forgiveness. Its not about being a better person, living our best life now, or being successful - its about forgiveness. Lastly, reconciliation must happen through obedience of faith. God makes the appeal through Christians for the unsaved to be reconciled to Him, it is not us begging, but Him through us.
So how can God be fully just, and still able to justify unbelievers? “However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness"(Romans 4:5). Christians often use the analogy of a judge and a criminal at a court case. The criminal says he is sorry for his crimes and he asks for forgiveness. If the judge said, "sure I feel compassion for you - you’re free to go", they wouldn’t be a just judge anymore. A judge's responsibility is to uphold the law, so they cannot let a criminal go without punishment, or that would be unjust. So how could God do the same to us, as sinners who have broken his law? The only man who has not broken God's law is without sin; Jesus: “but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect" (1 Peter 1:19).
When Jesus died on the cross, it did not mean that Jesus became a sinner, but that he was treated like one. On the cross, God poured out on His son all the wrath and all the judgement of all the sinners who would ever come to believe in Jesus. Jesus was wounded for our transgressions, and by His blood we are saved. “He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. For “you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” (1 Peter 2:24-25). Jesus was our substitute, on our behalf, for all those who believe - a complete atonement provided by the Saviour.
Those who repent and trust in Christ are clothed in His righteousness, and God treats us as righteous, even though we are sinners. Our sins imputed to Him, His righteousness imputed to us. A complete sinless life of 33 years that is credited to our account. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathise with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin" (Hebrews 4:15). God looked at Jesus on the cross and saw us, now He looks at us and sees Jesus.
Jesus hinted at His death and departure on numerous occasions in the Bible, and He’s even stated it plainly once. Jesus said He would be delivered into the hands of men to be killed but then be raised again on the third day, "And while they were gathering together in Galilee, Jesus said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men; and they will kill Him, and He will be raised on the third day.” And they were deeply grieved" (Matt. 17:22-23). When Jesus told the disciples this, they must have asked themselves who could harm God’s anointed? How could God send a Deliverer only to have Him killed by those He came to save? In fact, if their Messiah could be killed, it would seem to argue against Jesus’ claims to be the Son of God. The plan becomes clearer when we understand the significance of Jesus’ death.
Jesus came to die because God was making a way for us to be forgiven for our sin. That’s what Jesus means when He says He will be delivered. We know Jesus was delivered by Judas and the Jewish authorities over to the Romans for crucifixion. It wasn’t merely Judas or the Jews or even Pilate who delivered Jesus over to death. It was the Father in Heaven Who delivered His own Son over to death for our sake, and Jesus willingly obeyed. "But the LORD was pleased To crush Him, putting Him to grief; If He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, And the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand" (Isaiah 53:10).
Jesus’ resurrection – His return to life after three days – is evidence that He died to pay for our sins, not His own, and that God had accepted His sacrifice. Anyone who dies because of his own sin never returns to live life on earth. The death of the ungodly results in a permanent separation from God in a terrible place called hell; God's prison without parole, and from all opportunity to enjoy Him and His creation. But Jesus, having no sin of His own, could return from the dead because He was not under the penalty of sin. His resurrection proved that His death was not for His own sake. Therefore, it has become a payment for us, for all who receive it by trusting in Him for their salvation. That’s the gospel; that we can be forgiven of all our sin by placing our faith in Jesus Christ and trusting that He is able to save us from our default position as sinners heading for the default destination of hell.
Jesus being both fully God and fully man are essential to the Gospel, for without both Jesus cannot be our Saviour. I too struggle at times to appreciate what it means that God became man. If Jesus wasn’t fully man then His death couldn’t pay the price for our sin as He would be unqualified to be the perfect representative all of mankind, if He was not fully the everlasting and infinite God, then He never could have borne the everlasting and infinite wrath of God. God requires a person’s life for the sin of a person, so Jesus had to be fully human to serve as a substitute for us. However, if Jesus wasn’t also fully God, sinless and perfect, then He wouldn’t have been qualified to be our substitute. Jesus in His divinity, entered the world without any sin of His own and therefore His life was available as an acceptable payment for our sin. If Jesus is going to be able to save anyone, He must be both fully God and fully man; this is referred to as the hypostatic union. That’s why Christians maintain that no one may enter Heaven except by faith in Jesus. No one else could do what is required to reconcile us with God.
We hear it preached today as history, but those during the Old and New Testament times heard it preached as a prophecy, Christ was only revealed through types and shadows (Hebrews 10:1, Colossians 2:16-17). As hard as it is for some today to believe in the historical resurrection of Jesus Christ, it was perhaps even harder for them to understand it in advance. The disciples of Jesus became deeply grieved by the news that Jesus was going to die (Matt 17: 23), but they were grieving because they didn’t yet understand why He had to die, “But they did not understand this statement, and they were afraid to ask Him” (Mark 9:32). The disciples were confused because they didn’t understand what it meant for the incarnation of God becoming man, nor did they understand God’s self-sacrificial love.
Jesus dying wasn’t a failure of the plan, it was the plan. Jesus’ death was the plan of God to save you and I from eternal punishment. We accept this gift by believing that He did this for us, “That if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom. 10:9). Perhaps the hardest thing for Peter and the other disciples to accept was not that a man could be God, but that God should be willing to become a man “Just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28).
God did not come to earth as a man to show off His power and authority, He came to show us His love and mercy, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). He could have left us to die and would have been justified in doing so, but instead He chose to die for us. Jesus paid a debt He didn’t owe and that we could never repay. He fulfilled His mission in putting Himself in our place which was the greatest act of love and humility that the world has ever known.
The love that Jesus showed us is the same kind of self-sacrificial love we are called to show toward every human being, who each is an image-bearer of God. The incarnation of God is both the means by which we are saved and the example by which we are to serve and love others. We receive the payment Jesus made on our behalf recognising that He made the ultimate sacrifice for us, and it is from that understanding that we seek to serve Him selflessly by following His example of humility in our own work.