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Why Did Jesus Have To Die?

By Michael Lane, Executive Director, Delve Christian Ministries

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When we sin, God's perfect justice requires that we pay the price. This price is too high for any man to pay for it would require perfect sacrifice, which we cannot do. Jesus Christ took our place and died on the cross to pay the debt because He loves us.
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"Christ took our sins and the sins of the whole world as well as the Father's wrath on his shoulders, and he has drowned them both in himself so that we are thereby reconciled to God and become completely righteous". - Martin Luther


As much as it is true that God is love, it is also true that God is justice and judgment. We may initially have a negative view of this quality, for it comes with the image of God high in the clouds, watching our every move and sending fire and brimstone to consume those who step out of line. In reality, justice is what makes it possible for there to be a sharp line between good and evil. It's what makes the distinction real, for without it, the two will blur and become meaningless. Without justice, we will fail to even comprehend what goodness is.

For me, the hardest part of understanding God's plan of salvation is simply this - why did Jesus have to die? If I cry out to God to be forgiven of my sins, why can that not simply be done and over with? Why did Jesus have to suffer and die? On the surface, it seems horribly unfair. Jesus was the most perfect person who ever lived, yet he suffered unimaginable pain and agony for my sins. Why did God allow this? Why not just make my sin vanish away?

Imagine this idea in your own home, if you have any young children. Every time your child does something wrong, let's pretend you will simply forgive them, clean up the mess and say nothing. There will be no punishment and no cleaning of their own mess so long as they ask for forgiveness. If they hurt you then say sorry, you must forgive and say nothing else. You must not hurt them or upset them in any way. If they destroy something but then apologize, you must replace it without saying another word. There will be no punishment or judgment for this child so long as they ask for your forgiveness. You will still have to try to do your best to teach them right and wrong, but there will never be a consequence for bad behavior. In this scenario, it's easy to see that your child will learn to do what feels best for them, for they cannot possibly have a sense of other people's needs and feelings. Without consequence and punishment, they will become ultimately selfish because it is impossible for them to know what it feels like to hurt another person - we have taken this away from them. There is no doubting that this child will become a terror and a monster, even though we have tried to teach them right from wrong in our own way. You see, it's justice and judgment that are missing from this example and without these, a sense of right and wrong can never fully develop. You can love a child all you want but if you take justice and discipline away from them, your love will not be able to save them.

And so it is with sin in our lives. If there is no consequence for sin, then how can we truly repent? If God redeems me for a time until I sin again, I am not truly forgiven, I am only forgiven until the next time I sin, which is sure to be very soon. But worse still, how could I ever really be sorry? Like the child who utters a quick, "sorry" with no thought or feeling, our cries for forgiveness will be hollow and automatic. We know that God will forgive us no matter what, so why bother getting all upset and emotional about it? Soon, it will not matter anyway. We will truly be bad and will seek forgiveness as a ritual for no other reason than to avoid punishment. We will not just do evil, we will be evil.

No, the consequences for sin must be real, and as much as it seems objectionable on the surface, the punishment must be real. It is consequence and punishment which makes good really good, and evil really evil. Without it, we could never hope to know the difference. As hard and potentially unfair as it may seem, the debt we incur for sin is death. If we have sinned, we can never be with God in Heaven. We will be eternally separated from Him unless the debt is paid.

And here we find yet another dilemma. We cannot pay the debt, for it is too much and we are not good enough. Yet no matter how much God loves us, He cannot simply ignore the debt, otherwise there will not be any justice in the universe. As we have seen, without justice there can be no appreciation of right and wrong and there can be no redemption.  The answer, of course, is that another can pay that debt for us if we will permit Him to. 

Jesus Took Your Place.

I am indebted to Pastor Leroy Pennell for the following illustration, which I have found incredibly helpful. 

There was once a tribe where the chief was a wise and powerful man. He was respected for his physical strength as well as his tough and fair laws which everyone respected and obeyed. However, one day, it was discovered that someone was sneaking into the tents and stealing. The chief ordered that this person be found and that the punishment for this crime would be 40 lashes with the whip. "No one is exempt!" he declared. "This punishment must be served." The tribe agreed that it was a fair punishment. However, the chief was devastated when he discovered that it was his frail old mother who was the thief. "Surely in her old age, she will never survive 40 lashes," he thought, "but I cannot change the punishment, for it is fair and just and has already been announced." At the thought of losing his mother whom he loved, he was heart-broken. When the time came for the punishment to be administered, the chief gave the order to begin and at once, his mother cried out, "Save me my son!"  Immediately, the chief ran and embraced his mother, shielding her entire body from the whips. As the whips came down upon his back again and again and the pain filled him, he quietly whispered to his mother that he loved her.

This is what Jesus Christ has done for us. As we cry out for mercy at the moment at which we understand that we cannot save ourselves, Jesus takes our place upon the cross and pays the debt on our behalf. It is a sacrifice that He alone can make, for He is God - he is perfect and has never sinned. Yet at the same time, Jesus was fully man and understood what it meant to live, to love, to truly feel pain and to freely and completely surrender his will to the Father. It was not a sacrifice which God demanded and took, rather, it was a loving and merciful gesture by Jesus as part of his Father's plan. Jesus freely gave himself to take your place, suffer on the cross and free you from your sin.

For those of us who have accepted Christ's sacrifice, we know that although we did not literally share his pain on the cross, this does not mean that it was not real for us. This is not the same as the parent who fixes the mess and replaces the broken furniture. Jesus' pain and death were a real event and His suffering will be felt for all time. Each of us will carry a piece of that memory with us as we understand that every time we sin, that sin was in part responsible for the agony he endured that day. We know that our sin has real consequence and knowing that this consequence was suffered by someone totally innocent makes it all the more real. As Christians we still stumble and sin from time to time, yet we know that the Holy Spirit is working to purify us and make us holy. Each time we sin, the Holy Spirit convicts us and reminds us of what Jesus did for us, so that we do not fall back into our old ways.

To be saved from sin, you must accept what He has done and express to Him that He is our Lord and Savior, for God will not force you to accept his offer of salvation. Once you have made this choice, when God looks upon you, he will no longer see the stain of your sin. He will see only the righteousness of His Son who clothes and surrounds you. With the holiness of Jesus in your life, you can stand before God and He will accept you because of the sacrifice His perfect Son has made. That is God's plan for salvation and that is how we can truly be saved.


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wow that was a lot and made my eyes hurt but it was good
3/26/2008 5:26:46 PM - anonymous

this article is just what i need. Thank you.
4/1/2008 5:05:48 PM - anonymous

I have tears streaming down my face after reading that. It's just amazing how God can love us so much. But I am still very disheartened for others who do not believe in Jesus. How can I go on through life knowing that so many people are not going to heaven?
5/2/2008 12:51:02 AM - anonymous

gives a very good perspective on why Jesus had to die for us...Really goes even further to demonstrate how much Jesus really loves us.....
5/26/2008 6:43:30 AM - petzz, Member of Delve into Jesus since 5/22/2008

My own son and I have had much conflict in our relationship,yet I know he loves me the way the Chief in the story loved his mother. I need to ask God how to change my relationship with my son,for I do believe he would endure a beating for me. Thanks for helping us understand who Jesus is, and what he did for us!
7/29/2008 4:37:47 PM - anonymous

If God can here me i want to thank him for letting us live for a reson!!
10/7/2008 12:05:22 PM - anonymous

The Almighty allowed man to come to a crossroad. He vowed to never again invoke his wrath upon the Earth. It was the crossroad that we still face today. Will you take the road to the right or the left? It's your free choice granted by the Almighty, but the price of the toll must be paid by you. If you have even a remote belief in rebirth, don't think Jesus ''Died''.
On the contrary, it was the first rebirth (paying the toll to GOD). All you have to do is follow (the toll has bee paid) the right road.
12/28/2008 3:32:23 PM - anonymous

I am moved. I really don't know what to say. Just that I asked Jesus, "How much you love me". He streched his hand and said "this much" and died. thank you Jesus for loving me so much, that you suffered for my sins.
3/19/2009 6:15:02 AM - anonymous

2/5/2010 9:15:33 AM - emoni, Member of Delve into Jesus since 11/17/2009

This article presents perfectly the problem I have understanding the paradigm of Jesus's vicarious suffering.

In the first part of the discussion, Mr. Lane presents the case for a world without punishment. There is of course consequence, as every "sinful" behavior results in an outcome, ie, if something is broken it must be replaced or forfeited, etc. In this situation, even though there is a cost incurred, the article suggests that the "sinner" will not feel the gravity of the consequence because there was no finger wagging, and they personally don't bear the cost. He suggests that without punishment, the child would never learn.

In the second part of the discussion we are told that in regards to sin, we are personally incapable of paying the cost defined by the laws of Eternal Justice. Jesus then comes to our aid and offers to pay the price for us, in exchange for our faith or devotion.

This is where things then get tricky. We are then told that when Christ bears the cost for us, again protecting us from the consequence, this is different from the examples in the first part of the discussion. I don't feel however that it has ever been adequately explained why? After all, if I break something that doesn't belong to me, and I don't bear the consequence, that does not mean there is no consequence. Nor does it mean that consequence goes unfelt by another. Rather, in this scenario, without the justice that requires me to replace/fix/etc. that which I broke, the items true owner must then bear the cost. Yet, we assume that this observation will not be enough to compel me improve. Instead it will foster an attitude of recklessness where I become a careless net-cost to society. However, if Jesus bears the cost, the effect will be different. In that case, the understanding that Jesus paid the price for me should give me reason to share in the dislike for the consequence and justice. There appears to be a logical disconnect between these two circumstances.

As a final note - and perhaps the biggest issue I have in understanding the Jesus paradigm, is whether this truly is justice? Is requisite punishment a tradable commodity. Is punishment an "object" that must be doled out in consequence of sin? Or is it a necessary action that must be taken against a "sinner" in response to their behavior. It seems rather odd that the ends of justice can be satisfied through the punishment of a surrogate, or in other words - the wrong person. I am not comparing myself to Christ - but perhaps a practical example. I have a brother is heavily addicted to drugs. He is constantly in and out of prison/Jail/court for petty crimes. He is a menace to society. I on the other hand, am not a perfect person - but I've never committed a serious crime (speeding violations, etc - but nothing serious). I am a contributing member of society, and by comparison I am more perfect than he is (I do love my brother by the way, this is just an analogy). He is currently in jail awaiting a court date in the next few months, where he will likely serve several years in prison. Because I love my brother, can I approach the court and offer to pay his sentence? In other words, what if I were to offer to go to prison for him? Should that satisfy the court, and societies demand for justice? OF COURSE NOT! It would be assinine to think that the demands of societies justice have been fulfilled through my surrogacy. By comparison, I just don't get how Jesus's vicarious payment for our sin actually serves justice.
3/1/2011 8:24:29 AM - generalbrown, Member of Delve into Jesus since 3/1/2011

This is as good a discussion of the doctrine of substitutionary atonement as I have read, but I do not think it is a full answer to the question why Jesus had to die. The missing piece is what the Gospel narratives describe in great detail: how Jesus died in the process of challenging the Jewish religious establishment. Unlike the prophets who warned Israel that it was in danger of losing God's blessing, Jesus announced the end of the temple cult. He knew full well that no person could invade the temple and challenge the establishment and live.

This is consistent with the notion that Jesus made the decision to die on our behalf, but its implications are wider. Of greatest importance is that this version of Jesus' death is consistent with the Biblical explanation of his resurrection and exaltation: "God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified!"

Therefore, the death of Jesus accomplishes not only the forgiveness of our sin, but opens the door to an entirely new way of life and relationship with God, a new creation in which Jesus' prayer "Thy Kingdom Come" will be answered on earth.
10/9/2011 5:31:43 AM - David123, Member of Delve into Jesus since 10/9/2011

The problem with the analogy of a parent and child is this. God created all humans. He is supposed to be perfect and omniscient. If that is the case, then when he created humans, he created them imperfectly. Because if they were perfect, then they would not sin. Yes, I have to do my best to teach my child right from wrong, that's because I'm not GOD. If I were, I would simply make them have the understanding, and strength to do right. That's because I really truly do love my children, and If I could make them perfect, I would. Also, if God wanted to give Humans free will, that's fine. Then don't punish them and cause them anguish when they don't act perfectly. The idea is that you punish your imperfect children so that they will learn to act more perfectly. Sending the one's you created into a post life hell, doesn't have that same corrective intention. It would be like creating a rabid dog to have as a pet. Then kicking the dog into oblivion when it attempted to bite you. It just doesn't make sense.
6/13/2013 11:07:56 AM - wilkypoo, Member of Delve into Jesus since 6/13/2013

If Jesus had to die to save us from our sins, does that mean all sinners (all of man) who died before the crucifixion of Jesus went to hell?
6/19/2017 8:01:54 PM - ������, Member of Delve into Jesus since 3/26/2017

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