Why Did Jesus Have To Die? It’s a great question isn’t it? Why couldn’t God do something, well, different – easier, less painful, perhaps. Couldn’t He just wave a magic wand or something? Why did Jesus have to suffer and die? A lot of us wrestle with this question. I’ll provide a very brief overview of three reasons – a lot is borrowed from Tim Keller sermons.
The Bible tells us Jesus had to die for us Personally, Legally, and Cosmically. It’s a lot to take in. The most startling passages are what Jesus tells us. Jesus says he MUST die. It was absolutely necessary for him to die. Why?
The Gospel of Mark tells us this:
He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again.
He must suffer. He must be killed. He must die.
Point 1: Jesus dies for us Personally:
Paul tells us this in Romans chapter 5:
You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
The prophet Isaiah tells us this:
Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
Okay, okay, but, why? Why such a dramatic sacrifice?
I have a friend – years ago his dog was really sick. He spent a fortune trying to save him. One surgery was $3,000. Another was $1500. There was a lot of medicine, time, and trips to the vet. He sacrificed a lot for his dog. He did this even though his dog was over 10 years old, and only had 3 legs. He still made the sacrifice. Why?
A few years later, this same friend repeated this scenario, but the stakes were much higher – it was his wife – she had cancer. He burned through all the insurance money. He refinanced his home and sold his motorcycles and cars to pay for alternative therapies that the insurance company wouldn’t cover. He stayed up late – took care of his two young kids – he was always there to give his wife her injections. He must have aged 20 years in the 2 year battle. Why? Why did he do it?
He loved her.
True love is profoundly sacrificial. And we need true love – we’re built that way. Jesus loves us. Jesus loves us more than we can ever love – he loves us perfectly, unconditionally.
Remember the story of the Leper?
The Gospel of Mark tells us:
A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.”
Jesus was filled with compassion. He reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cleansed.
Why did Jesus touch him? Jesus didn’t need to touch him. Jesus can heal with a word, or a thought! Jesus touched him because he loved him – he wanted to heal him completely – not just from his leprosy, but from his isolation, his loneliness – in addition to healing him physically, Jesus was fulfilling a basic human need of touch. It was personal.
Jesus loves us completely. His love is the perfect love that we all crave. Jesus’ sacrificial love allows us to truly love.
If I had asked my friend why he was sacrificing so much for his dog, or his wife, he would have said – I have to. For him, there was no option. He must.
Jesus’ love is the only kind of love that allows us to live a life of love. Put another way, we’re saved by his love.
Jesus said, “I must die.”
Point 2: Jesus Died For Us Legally
In Romans, Paul tells us:
He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.
A lot of us are familiar with this teaching – Justification by faith – the Bible makes this very clear.
Here’s why. When somebody wrongs us – we can’t just shrug it off – right? That wouldn’t be just. Someone has to pay.
If I take your desk lamp and smash it on the ground, there are two options to repair the damage – and both are costly:
Option 1: You can absorb the cost and forgive me
Option 2: You can make me pay
If you forgive me, you will suffer – either with less light, or by incurring the expense of a new light.
If you make me pay, then I will suffer – less money in my bank account.
But that’s just a lamp. What if it was a serious personal wrong – a deep insult –or a broken trust? You could get angry and resentful at me, and try to make my life miserable, but obviously this would only lead to more suffering, and more pain – it would be a vicious cycle. Or, you could absorb the pain and forgive me. You could pay the cost.
Somebody has to pay.
Jesus pays the cost – he absorbs the injustice. Jesus stops the cycle, and pays the cost of our sin. He forgives us. Okay, okay, you might say – but forgive us from what?
In the passage from Isaiah, the word iniquity is used. The meaning of this word has lost some of its sting in our day, but iniquity is defined a number of ways – none of them flattering. Here are a few: Immoral or grossly unfair behavior. Gross injustice: wickedness. A wicked act or thing: sin.
Are we really this bad? Yes.
Jesus calls us a wicked and evil generation.
Again, from Isaiah – We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way.
We’ve turned away from God. The full extent of the damage is beyond our understanding, control, or repair. Our iniquities (our sin) can’t just be overlooked, that wouldn’t be just. It wouldn’t be fair, right? And God is just. Someone has to pay.
Forgiveness, even for small things is hard – agony even! Forgiveness always involves suffering. We’ve wronged God. God could have said PAY! – and wiped us all out. Instead, he wiped himself out.
Jesus paid for the lamp.
Jesus suffered and died to forgive us.
Jesus said he must die.
Point 3: Jesus had to die for us Cosmically:
Jesus tells us this:
the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law
Jesus was tried and found guilty by a corrupt court and religious establishment. In other words, the people that were supposed to protect his rights, had him crucified. The religious establishment, the government, “the systems,” were corrupt. Have you experienced corrupt systems?
How does Jesus suffering and dying under these corrupt systems help us? The answer is something bigger than the individual men involved was going on. Something darker (something demonic) was operating behind the scenes of these “systems.”
Paul tells us in Colossians 2
…having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.
How did Jesus (through weakness and humility and love) disarm these forces? How did Jesus strip them of their power, their grip (their hold) over us?
One of my favorite passages is at the end of Mark is the Roman Centurion. A centurion soldier – a seasoned, professional, and battled-hardened warrior pronounces Jesus the Son of God. Why? Why did this soldier switch his allegiance? Caesar was the Son of God for a Centurion – not a carpenter turned Rabbi. What did he see on the cross?
The Centurion saw Jesus at the worst and most difficult moment of his life. He saw Jesus’ response when they spit at him, when they beat him, when they nailed him to the cross, when they mocked him. He heard him praying – he heard him cry, intimately to his Father. Jesus’ crucifixion broke the Centurion’s heart – it transformed his heart.
Mark is showing us that the power structures have been reversed. The weak are strong. The humble are lifted up. The disenfranchised are empowered.
The powers of this world always hold something over us – money, advancement, career, status, and in some cases ultimately these powers can put us to death. This was certainly the case in Jesus’ day.
Jesus died at the hand of these powers. BUT – Jesus rose from the dead. In doing so, Jesus broke the powers – he broke the ultimate power – death!
In Jesus, we are free from these systems of bondage – from the might is right mentality – from the demonic power structures that lurk behind corporate, political, social, and economic power structures.
Death has no sting – it only brings us into the arms of Jesus – we’re free to live, FREE, in the Kingdom of God. This is what John the Baptist tells us right from the get go – “The time has come,” “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” God saved us!
When Jesus is our source of power, nothing can touch us. The power of death is broken. As Paul reminds us, If God is for us, who can be against us!
Jesus had to die for us personally, legally, and cosmically.
Paul sums these three reasons up Colossians 2.
When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. [God sought us out – he must – he loves us!]. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross [Jesus took care of the broken lamp]. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. [Jesus delivered the decisive blow to demonic forces and death. He freed us!]
- Personally – Jesus loves us completely, self-sacrificially so we can love like he does
- Legally – Jesus absorbed our iniquities, forgiving us – wiping the slate clean
- Cosmically – Jesus defeated the demonic forces and death – we have nothing to fear
Why did Jesus have to die? The Son of Man must die. He loves us.