The ancient philosopher Aristotle once wrote, “By nature, all men long to know.” There is an inherent curiosity hardwired into our human nature. We want to know more. Our pursuits are boundless and are often ignited by that three-letter word “why”. Our instinctual curiosity does not dissipate when we come across the Bible. There are so many excellent questions that erupt from our lips. But one of the most basic questions of the Christian faith can often times be overlooked: Why did Jesus have to die?
Death, of course is unnatural, though its prevalence and regularity in our world would deceive many into believing the contrary. Death is unnatural. Death is a reminder of the effects of sin which permeate beyond the realm of ideas and emotions, and into the realm of the material and thereafter. The Apostle Paul writes, “For the wages of sin is death…” (Romans 6:23 ESV)
But according to the Bible, Jesus was without sin. He is described as “one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15 ESV) If Christ was sinless, and only sinners die, then why did He die?
Jesus died to satisfy the justice of God. That statement may seem counter intuitive for many. Why would God the Son need to satisfy God the Father? Couldn’t there have been a different way to accomplish this plan of salvation?
We do well to heed the wisdom of those who’ve come before us. We turn to Charles Hodge (AD 1797-1878), the premier theologian of Old Princeton Seminary. Hodge wrote, “It is inconceivable that God should send his only begotten Son into the world to suffer and die if the same end could have been accomplished in any other way.”
We find in Hodge a careful reflection of Christ’s own words as He prayed the night before His own crucifixion. There our Lord prayed, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup [of your judgment] pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39 ESV) The cup did not disappear; it remained because salvation could only come by Christ’s death.
If the salvation of the world could come by any other means than the perfect life and death of the Lord Jesus Christ, it would have. There is a divine necessity to the death of Christ. Paul, as he reflected on the death of our Lord framed it in light of the curse of sin. “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us . . . so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.” (Galatians 3:13-14 ESV)
The book of Hebrews as well sheds further light on our question. The entirety of the book portrays the substance of the new covenant ratified by the life and death of Christ Jesus as not only better than the old covenant of Moses, but as the goal of the old covenant. Part of that connection highlights the sacrificial nature of the death of Christ (Hebrews 9-10). We are able to see Christ’s death as the only means of procuring pardon from the penalty of perdition. We read in Hebrews 9:22, “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” (ESV)
Why did Jesus die? Because there was no other way for Christ to conquer Sin than by defanging Death from the inside out. Practically, this means either His blood will cover our sins and satisfy the wrath of God against evil, or our blood will one day be shed in righteous judgment.
Jesus came to die to perfectly satisfy God’s just penalty for sin and procure our reconciliation to Him. The book of Romans is a most useful guide in helping to clarify the significance of Christ’s death and resurrection. There Paul the Apostle writes, “while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son…” (Romans 5:10 ESV) Man’s reconciliation with God can only come by means of the death of the Son of God. But that death must be not be the end of the matter for Christ “was delivered up for our trespassed AND RAISED for our justification.” (Romans 4:5 ESV)
The death of the Son of God is sweet to Christians today because it is a clear testimony of the depths of God’s love for His people, the church. The Father willingly gives His Son. The Son willingly surrenders His life unto the Father. The Spirit willingly takes the benefits of redemption and applies them to us O Christian. We have been made the recipients of God’s mercy by Christ by faith in Him alone. This should cause us to sing and have hope. For every drop of the Father’s wrath against us who believe has been absorbed in the death of Christ. “Sealed my pardon with His blood. Hallelujah! What a Savior!”