How to Face the Future

Topical Scripture: Psalm 22

I recently came across a list of ninety-eight of our most common phobias. I didn’t know about “ephebiphobia,” a “fear of teenagers” (though I understand it, having raised two of them). I’m glad not to have “glossophobia,” a “fear of speaking in public,” or “gynophobia,” a “fear of women.”

It turns out, experts have ranked the top ten phobias of all time. Our number one fear is arachnophobia, the fear of spiders. This despite the fact that only four people each year die from spider bites in the US. (By contrast, six people die each year from their pajamas catching fire.)

What about the future is worrying you today? What problem, decision, or challenge are you facing?

You’re right to be concerned. No financial professional can guarantee that their advice will keep you from losing your savings. No physician can be sure their medical practice will preserve your health. No one can guarantee that you will have even another day beyond today.

So, if you’re looking for faith to face the future, there’s only one source you should trust.

How David predicted Jesus’ death

As you know, Jesus cried from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). His words are a direct quotation from the first verse of our text.

Since books (papyrus scrolls) were rare and very expensive, the culture of his day was oral, meaning that people were able to remember and recite large quantities of literature from memory. When Jesus called out this verse, those at the cross would remember the rest of the psalm, just as if I were to quote in a sermon, “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound,” the congregation could finish the lyric, “that saved a wretch like me.”

As we will see, Psalm 22 is a remarkable foreshadowing of Jesus’ crucifixion, with stunning detail and descriptions rendered a thousand years before Calvary. I believe that Jesus caused the crowd to call this psalm to mind so they would be able to see the degree to which his death fulfilled biblical prophecy.

Here are some of the scenes they would have seen as they remembered David’s prediction from a thousand years earlier.

Mocked by the people

“All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads; ‘He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him; let him rescue him, for he delights in him!'” (Psalm 22:7–8). In Matthew 27 we read of Jesus’ crucifixion: “The chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked him, saying, ‘He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God; let God deliver him now'” (vv. 41–43).

None of the religious leaders would have intentionally fulfilled Scripture in this way, making David’s prediction even more remarkable.

The manner of his crucifixion

David continued: “For dogs encompass me; a company of evildoers encircles me; they have pierced my hands and feet” (Psalm 22:16). He could not have been speaking of crucifixion, since this gruesome form of execution was first employed by the Persians five centuries after he wrote this psalm. He probably described “dogs” who attacked his hands and feet with their teeth or spears. But his picture describes Jesus’ crucifixion perfectly.

The next verse: “I can count all my bones—they stare and gloat over me” (v. 17).

Since Roman crucifixion typically led to asphyxiation as the body’s weight crushed down on the lungs, the victim would use his arms to pull up his body. However, nails driven through the wrists (the more typical form of crucifixion) severed the nerves, making such relief impossible.

The victim would then use his legs to support his body. When the soldiers were ready for the victims to die, they would break their legs with a heavy mallet called the “crucifragium.”

This is the practice behind John’s record:

Since it was the day of Preparation, and so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken and that they might be taken away. So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first, and of the other who had been crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs (John 19:31–33).

His clothes divided by soldiers

In another detail that was fulfilled at Calvary, David wrote, “They divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots” (Psalm 22:18). The soldiers fulfilled this declaration at the cross: “When they had crucified him, they divided his garments among them by casting lots” (Matthew 27:35). Again, the soldiers would never have intentionally fulfilled David’s prediction, making it even more astounding.

Nor could Jesus have arranged for these fulfillments. He could not have persuaded the religious authorities to mock him or the Romans to leave his bones intact or divide his garments while he was on the cross. These actions clearly demonstrate the prophetic nature of his death and the fact that God knew a thousand years before Calvary how his Son would die for us.

It is no surprise that David would end his remarkable psalm this way: “Posterity shall serve him; it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation; they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn, that he has done it” (vv. 30–31).

David was more right than he could know. One day every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:10–11). And the God who is sovereign over the future will be sovereign forever.

Divine sovereignty and human freedom

As we have seen, Psalm 22 precisely predicted and pictured Jesus’ death a thousand years later. It foresaw crucifixion, a manner of execution that had not even been invented. It foresaw actions that Jesus’ enemies would never have taken to fulfill its predictions, behavior he could never have arranged beforehand.

If the Lord knew such details a thousand years ahead of time, can we trust that he knows our future as well? Consider these statements from God himself:

  • “I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11).
  • “Behold, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth I tell you of them” (Isaiah 42:9).
  • “I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come” (Isaiah 46:10).

You may be wondering: If God knows the future, do I have freedom to choose? Am I a robot subjected to his sovereignty with no free will of my own?

The fact that God knows the future does not mean that he chooses it. He is not bound by time. “Tomorrow” is as real to him as “today” is to us. The fact that he can see something does not mean that he always chooses it.

You can watch people acting around you today, but that doesn’t mean that you chose their behavior. You can watch people sit down in a restaurant, for instance, but that doesn’t mean that you chose their seats.

God sees tomorrow as we see today. That doesn’t mean that he always chooses all that happens. For instance, he is “not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). But clearly, not all “reach repentance” (cf. Revelation 20:15).

God’s will is best for our future

The fact that God knows the future does not mean that we have no freedom. But it does mean that God’s will is the best path to our ultimate destination. He knows where he is leading us and uses every day to prepare us for his purpose. His Spirit is something like a GPS system that leads you turn by turn in ways you may not understand at the time. But it is taking you the best way to your destination. You may not understand his leadership at the time, but you can trust that it is always for your best.

That’s why Scripture encourages us to “trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths” (Proverbs 3:5–6).

God’s will is best for our present

And his omniscience means that his will for the future is best for the present as well. Every step we take toward our ultimate destination is the best step for us today.

Remember the Macedonian vision by which God called Paul westward to Philippi. The apostle had no idea he was bringing the gospel to what we call the “Western world.” He didn’t know that he was evangelizing what we know as “Europe.” He didn’t even know that the church he would start at Philippi would become his favorite congregation and the recipient of the timeless letter we know as the Book of Philippians.

He just knew that God was calling him. Every step he took was the best step for that day and the best step for eternity.

In the same way, God will lead us through Scripture, reason, circumstances, other people, and our own intuition. He will lead if we will follow. In fact, he wants us to know his will even more than we do. If we’re not sure what he wants us to do, we may simply ask him. If we don’t receive an answer, it’s because we’re not willing to obey what we hear.

When I was a youth minister in my first church, one of my jobs was changing the church sign beside the road. I have no idea why this was my responsibility, but it was. The pastor would come up with a short, pithy statement I was to put up in six-inch letters.

I’ll always remember this one: “If you don’t feel close to God, guess who moved.”


What about tomorrow worries you today? What decision, challenge, or opportunity do you need help in facing? The God who knew every detail of his Son’s death a thousand years before it happens loves you so much that he sent that Son to die for you. Jesus would do it all over again, just for you.

Henry Blackaby: “If you know that God loves you, you should never question a directive from him.”

Do you know that God loves you?

I Am the Good Shepherd

Topical Scripture: John 10:11-15

The 2018 NFL draft has dominated sports headlines this week. My favorite story involves a linebacker named Shaquem Griffin. He played at Central Florida, where he was named the American Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Year. He ran for NFL scouts last month, posting the fastest forty-yard time by a linebacker since 2003.

He also has only one hand. His left hand was amputated when he was four years old due to a birth defect.

As inspiring as his story is, the bottom line is still the bottom line. Shaquem Griffin will succeed or fail in the NFL the same way every other player does: by his performance on the field. In football, and in much of life, you are what you do.

With Christianity, it’s exactly the opposite. Your status and identity are based not on what you do but on what Jesus has done. Let’s learn why that is true and what it means for our souls today.

Why did Jesus have to die for us?

This week we’re continuing Jesus’ “I am” statements, coming now to his fourth claim: “I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11). Our Lord calls himself the “good” shepherd, distinguishing himself from a shepherd who cares little for his sheep. As he explained, “He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them” (v. 12).

By contrast, Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father” (vv. 14–15a). Then comes the proof: “and I lay down my life for the sheep” (v. 15b).

Scripture consistently repeats his assertion:

  • “Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit” (1 Peter 3:18).
  • “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24).
  • “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree'” (Galatians 3:13).
  • “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
  • “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25).

So, we know that Jesus died for us to pay our debt and purchase our salvation. The question is, why did he have to do so? Why couldn’t God have forgiven our sins without calling his Son to die on the cross?

If I run into your car in the parking lot, I assume someone doesn’t have to die for my debt to be paid. Why did God require the death of his Son to pay ours?

The answer is that sin separates us from the holy God who is the only source of life (Isaiah 59:2; John 14:6). That’s why the Lord warned Adam that if he ate the forbidden fruit “you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:17). That’s why “the soul who sins shall die” (Ezekiel 18:20). That’s why “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).

Sin leads to death. It stands to reason, therefore, that the only one who could pay the debt sinners owe is someone who has never sinned. If I have a thousand dollars in my bank account and owe that amount to creditors, I cannot use that money to pay your debt as well as mine. Since Jesus was the only sinless person who has ever lived (Hebrews 4:15), he alone could pay our debt.

As the chorus says, “He paid a debt he did not owe; I owed a debt I could not pay.”

Why did he have to die by crucifixion?

So the logic of Good Friday makes sense. Now let’s consider a second question: Why did Jesus have to die by crucifixion?

The manner of Jesus’ death fulfilled the prophet’s prediction, “They will look on me, the one they have pierced” (Zechariah 12:10). It also matched David’s description, “They have pierced my hands and feet” (Psalm 22:16). But why did the Holy Spirit lead these writers to predict that Jesus would die in such a gruesome way?

The Jews executed by stoning (as with Stephen in Acts 7). Rome executed its citizens by beheading. Presumably, any form of death would pay the penalty for our sins. Why did Jesus have to suffer the most horrible, heinous form of execution ever invented?

I have two answers.

First: The cross shows how horrible sin really is.

If Jesus’ death had been painless and antiseptic, the sins for which he died could seem less catastrophic. As it is, every time we are tempted we can remember the thorns that lacerated our Savior’s scalp, the whip that scourged his back, the nails that pierced his wrists and feet, the spear that ruptured his heart. That’s what your sins and my sins did to Jesus. That’s what he chose to suffer for us.

No one watching Jesus writhe in horrible agony on the cross would have called the day of Jesus’ death, “Good Friday.” The Germans get closer to the historic reality: They call it “Karfreitag,” meaning “Sorrowful Friday.”

Second: The cross shows how great God’s love really is.

If Jesus had died in an antiseptic, painless way, we would still be grateful for his atoning sacrifice. But his death in the most horrific manner possible shows the depth of his sacrificial love as nothing else could.

Know that this love is shared not only by the Son, but also by his Father: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but eternal life” (John 3:16). As a father and grandfather, I cannot begin to imagine the pain our Father felt as he watched his Son be whipped, tortured, and crucified.

He did all of that for you. He would do it all over again, just for you.

Know that you are loved

You and I live in a culture that measures us by the Three P’s: performance, possessions, and popularity. We are taught from infancy that we are what we own, what we do, and what others think of what we own and do.

It’s easy to import this thinking into our theology, assuming that God loves us more if we are righteous and less if we are sinful, that there are things we can do to make him love us more or less.

The cross proves that it’s not so. If the Father could love you even though your sins nailed his Son to the cross, what else could you do to lose his love? If he could love you before you became his child through faith, what could you do now that you are his child to lose his love?

My sons will forever be my sons because they were born as my sons. They may not want to be my sons or act like my sons, but they will always be my sons by birth. In the same way, you and I are the children of God by the “second birth.” We will always be his sons. There is nothing we can do to lose a love we did nothing to gain.

At the end of the day, God loves us because he is love (1 John 4:8). He loves us because his character is to love us. Not because of anything we can do. Not because of anything we have done.

The next time you’re facing a tough place and wonder if God loves you, remember the cross. Remember that your “good shepherd” laid down his life for you. And be grateful.


What have we learned about God’s love today?

One: God’s love is inspiring.

The Bible says, “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). We are to love God, not so he will love us but because he already does. We worship and pray and serve out of gratitude, not guilt. We love him because he loves us, at the cross and every day of our lives.

Two: God’s love is inclusive.

Scripture adds: “Whoever loves God must also love his brother” (v. 21). When we see the depth of God’s love for us, we are called to love others in the same way, to “pay it forward.” Jesus died for you; if you’re good enough for him, you’re good enough for me.

Three: God’s love is unchanging.

There is nothing we can do to lose or gain it. No matter what happens in your life, God still loves you.

Charles Spurgeon was out hiking one day and came across a windmill with the words “God Is Love” turning in the breeze. He asked the farmer, “Do you mean that God’s love is as shifting as the wind?” The farmer smiled and explained, “Not at all. I mean that no matter how the wind blows, God is still love.”

What winds are blowing in your soul today?

I Am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life

Topical Scripture: John 14:1-6

Today is Mother’s Day. If you still need to get a gift, take heart…number one on the list of gifts most moms want may surprise you, and can be provided at low cost. According to a recent survey, a whopping 52% of moms want more sleep. Next to more sleep on the list, moms wanted a spa day. Who wouldn’t? Third was a great day out with family. Jewelry ranked lowest on the list.

The answers shouldn’t come as a great surprise. A poll of over 1000 new moms showed that 90% said they feel tired or exhausted on most days. There are no days off for mothers, and research shows that the average hours moms work per week is 98, the equivalent of 2.5 full-time jobs. No wonder they want more sleep.

On April 13, 1989, in Los Angeles, California, a little girl named Tiffany Schaffer was walking home from school clutching her teddy bear. Mrs. Johnnie Matheston, mother of one, was waiting at a red light where Tiffany was crossing the street.

All at once a man turned right on red and headed right for little Tiffany. Mrs. Matheston blew her horn, but it was too late. She watched in horror as the blue Datsun ran over the little girl. The car stopped, with Tiffany directly under the motor. Before anyone could react, Johnnie Matheston got out of her car, ran to the twenty-six-hundred-pound car and picked up the front end four inches while someone pulled Tiffany out.

Tiffany escaped with only two broken bones and some abrasions. Mrs. Matheston pulled two muscles but was otherwise unhurt. Though six months pregnant, she dead-lifted over one thousand pounds—something no man has ever done, but one mother did.

Today we come to our sixth “I Am” statement of Jesus, one that offers us a remarkable promise. After we explore our Lord’s words, we will apply them to this special and sacred day. And we will learn that, next to our Lord, we owe our mothers an incalculable debt for their faith, hope, and love.

Truth is now tolerance

A friend once told me this less than spiritual story. It seems a lady called a Baptist pastor to say that she’d been visiting and wanted to join. “That’s wonderful,” he replied. “Yes, but first I’d like to ask you something. My dog just died, and I’d like to bury him at the church.”

The pastor was shocked: “Ma’am, we don’t do such things in the Baptist church. Maybe the Methodist church down the street would do that for you.” “I’m so sorry,” she replied. “I was thinking of giving half a million dollars to the church.” The pastor immediately answered, “Oh, you didn’t tell me it was a Baptist dog.”

Being Baptist or Methodist has never mattered less than it does today. For the first time in American history, Protestants comprise less than 50 percent of the total population. The proportion of Roman Catholics in the general population is 20 percent. The group growing the most quickly is composed of those who declare no religious affiliation at all.

The watchword in our culture today is “tolerance.” Only 35 percent of Americans believe that moral truth is absolute. It is conventional wisdom today that truth is personal and subjective. To claim objective truth is to be insensitive and intolerant.

Four claims of Jesus

In light of this “new” morality, consider Jesus’ statements to his followers on the night before his crucifixion.

Our text begins: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me” (John 14:1). The Greek syntax indicates the stopping of an action currently in progress; the phrase could be rendered, “Stop letting your hearts be troubled . . ..”

Jesus has just instituted the Lord’s Supper, at which he told his disciples again of his impending death (13:33). Imagine a loved one who just told you that he or she would die tomorrow—it is no wonder that they were “troubled” (the same word used for the “troubling” of the waters at Bethesda, John 5:7).

If anyone deserved to be comforted while facing his own “troubled heart,” it was Jesus on this night. Soon he would suffer the worst torture and execution humans can invent. And yet he is the one comforting them!

Jesus will soon die for their sins, abandoned by them at the cross. Imagine a victim comforting her murderer, a Jew comforting a Nazi, a black slave comforting a lynch mob. And so, Jesus comforts us still with these precious words.

Consider four claims by our Lord:

First, Jesus claimed that he is God.

“Trust in God; trust also in me” (v. 1). The Greek construction makes clear that the first and second phrase are parallel, equating the two. In this brief sentence Jesus clearly defined himself as divine. In verse 9 he added, “Anyone who has seen me as seen the Father.” Earlier the authorities tried to stone him to death “because you claim to be God” (John 10:33). Other religious leaders claim to reveal God; Jesus claims to be God.

Second, he is preparing heaven for us.

“I am going there to prepare a place for you” (v. 2). Earlier, Peter had asked him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus replied, “Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later” (John 13:36). Now he fulfills that promise with this one.

“Prepare” means to go before and make ready for the arrival of others (cf. Hebrews 6:19–20). This word was used for the “preparations” made by Peter and John for the Passover meal just completed (Mark 14:12). Other religious leaders told their followers how to get to heaven; Jesus is preparing heaven for us.

Third, he will take us there himself (v. 3).

“Take you to be with me” means “to walk alongside of.” Jesus didn’t return home after leaving directions for finding our way there—he promised to come back and lead us there personally. Other religious leaders pointed the way to heaven; Jesus will take us there personally.

Fourth, he is the only way to God (v. 6).

His Greek was emphatic: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” Still later, Jesus was even more emphatic: “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18). No one in all of human history ever made this claim. Other religious leaders said, “I know the way, truth, life”; Jesus claimed to be the way, truth, and life.

We need to be clear on these claims to absolute truth. Jesus said in essence: I am God; I am preparing your place in heaven; I will take you there; I alone can take you there. Acts 4:12 asserts, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” The Bible clearly claims that Jesus Christ is the only way, the only truth, the only life.

Gratitude for godly mothers

How is this text relevant to Mother’s Day?

First, if your mother is no longer living but made Christ her Lord, she is in heaven with him right now. Your mother did not die when her physical life ended. She stepped from time into eternity, from death into life, from this fallen world into God’s glorious paradise.

I remember my mother’s homegoing as if it were last week. She had been ill for years and in rapidly declining health for several days. It was a Sunday. My brother and I were with her in her hospice room. We were talking together and looked over to check on her when we discovered that she had died.

In that moment, something died inside of me. There is something we cannot fully explain about the death of the person who gave us life. My mind flashed back to so many moments when her love was so real for me. It was impossible to imagine a world without her in it. But I knew in my soul that I would see her again, that she was home and she was well. And that fact gave me the comfort I needed.

Two days later, I was alone with her body at the funeral home, and the finality of her death became real for me in an even deeper way. Once again, the fact of her eternal life with Jesus enabled me to stand beside her dead body and know that she was alive.

Because Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, our mothers who trust in him are with him forever. As we will be one day.

Second, if your mother helped you know Jesus, you owe her an unpayable debt.

The courage of Moses’ mother saved his life and gave the world all that he did. Hannah’s godly faith gave us Samuel, the last judge and first prophet of Israel. Elizabeth’s faith gave us John the Baptist. Mary’s sacrificial surrender made her the mother of our Lord.

The great expositor G. Campbell Morgan said, “My sermons were Bible stories which I had first learned from my mother.” The remarkable evangelist Dwight L. Moody admitted, “All that I am or hope to be, I owe to my angel mother.”

The greatest Baptist preacher ever, Charles Spurgeon, agreed, “I cannot tell how much I owe to the solemn words of my good mother.” The mother of John Newton’s final prayer for her young son before she died was that he become a minister. He led a wayward life of sin before he came to the Amazing Grace of which his hymn testifies.

William Wallace was right: “The hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world.”

If your mother helped you trust in Jesus as your way, truth, and life, thank her today. If she is with the Lord, thank him today.

Third, if you have been given the privilege of motherhood, lead your children to your Lord.

Your influence in their lives cannot be overstated. What you do and say will be with them forever. You are truly writing on the clay of their souls. You have the eternal privilege of helping them receive eternal life.

If they are already believers, continue to help them follow their Lord. You are never too young or too old to minister to them. What Jesus has done in you, he wants to do through you. And your family is your first kingdom assignment.


Since my mother is with Jesus today, I’m remembering her with great gratitude. I’m remembering her courage, her intellect, her unconditional love for me. I’m remembering all the ways God used her to bless me and to draw me to himself.

How would you express your gratitude to or for your mother today?

Let’s close with Peter Marshall’s beautiful Mother’s Day prayer and express in its words our commitment:

“On this day of sacred memories, our Father, we would thank Thee for our mothers who gave us life, who surrounded us early and late with love and care, whose prayers on our behalf still cling around the Throne of Grace, a haunting perfume of love’s petitions.

“Help us, their children, to be more worthy of their love. We know that no sentimentality on this day, no material gifts—no flowers or boxes of candy can atone for our neglect during the rest of the year. So, in the days ahead, may our love speak to the hearts of those who know love best—by kindness, by compassion, by simple courtesy and daily thoughtfulness.

“Bless her whose name we whisper before Thee, and keep her in Thy perfect peace, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

Why Did Jesus Have to Die on the Cross?

Topical Scripture: Acts 10:38–41

Dirk Nowitzki of the Dallas Mavericks told a capacity crowd at the American Airlines Center last Wednesday night that he is retiring the NBA.

Nowitzki was undoubtedly one of the greatest players in NBA history: a league champion and Finals MVP, league MVP, fourteen-time all-star, and the sixth-leading scorer of all time. He played twenty-one years with the same franchise, which is a record as well.

But the adulation he has received in Dallas and across basketball is about much more than what he did on the court.

While Dirk’s salary was lucrative, he took pay cuts so his team could try to sign other players. He cared about the locker room attendants wherever the Mavericks played. His many unpublicized hospital trips to visit children (who called him “Uncle Dirk”) were just part of his commitment to his community.

At his last home game, five of his basketball heroes came to Dallas to pay him homage. The standing-room-only crowd showered him with ovation after ovation. Owner Mark Cuban promised him a job for life and a huge statue in front of the arena.

For all he has meant to basketball and to our community, we hope he will never wonder if the community loves him in return.

Today is Palm Sunday. We’re one week from Easter. Each week we’ve been asking the “whys” of this season. Why was Jesus born as a baby rather than merely coming to earth as an adult? Why did he have to die for us? Next week we’ll ask, why did he have to be raised from the dead?

Our question today is: Why did Jesus have to die on the cross? Of all the ways he could have died for our sins, why the cruelest, most horrible form of torture ever devised?

When we understand the answer, no matter who we are and what we’ve done, we’ll never again need to wonder if God loves us.

Why did Jesus have to die?

Let’s begin by remembering why he had to die at all.

Last week, we learned that because God is holy and heaven is perfect, the debt of our sins must be paid before we can enter his paradise. Since sin removes us from God, the only source of eternal life, the consequence of sin is death. Thus, someone must die to pay our debt.

But since we’re all sinners, we cannot pay each other’s debt. Only a sinless person could do that. And Jesus is the only sinless person who has ever lived (Hebrews 4:15).

Thus, he had to die to pay the debt we owed in order for us to be forgiven and given eternal life with God. As the chorus says, “He paid a debt he did not owe; I owed a debt I could not pay.”

But why did Jesus have to die in the way he did? The Jews executed by stoning, as we see with Stephen; the Romans executed their citizens by beheading, as with Paul.

Why did Jesus have to suffer the cruelest, most horrific form of death ever devised?

Jesus’ death fulfilled prophecy

The word of God predicted the manner of Jesus’ death a thousand years before it happened.

In Psalm 22, David wrote these words: “Dogs encompass me; a company of evildoers encircles me; they have pierced my hands and feet” (Psalm 22:16). Note that he made this statement five centuries before the Persians invented crucifixion.

So, Jesus died on the cross to fulfill prophecy. But why did the Spirit author this prophecy?

Why did the Father decide that his Son must die in this way? If he simply needed to die for our sins, the Lord could have predicted his death by stoning, beheading, or any number of other means. Why this?

The nature of crucifixion

Research has revealed much about the manner of Jesus’ death.

We know that he was scourged, a whipping that tore flesh from bones and caused many victims to die.

The victim was then taken to the place of crucifixion. This was intended to shame the victim as he was paraded through the streets, stripped of most of his clothes, and executed in such a public and violent way.

Victims were typically nailed to the cross through their wrists, as nails through the hands could not support the weight of the victim. For instance, in 1968, archaeologists discovered the remains of one Johanan, a victim of Roman crucifixion during the Jewish uprisings of AD 70. A nail seven inches long was still embedded in his heel bones.

If the Romans wanted the person to suffer longer, they could tie the arms to the crossbeam with ropes. They would then nail the hands to the cross, as the ropes would support the body’s weight.

Since Passover was coming, the Jews wanted Jesus to die as quickly as possible. Thus, spikes were driven through his wrists into the cross and through his heels. The body weight of the victim crushed his lungs, forcing him to pull himself up on his crucified wrists to breathe. Eventually, he lost use of his arms and had to push upon his crucified heels.

The Romans would then break the legs of the victim, who would die shortly of suffocation. But Jesus chose to die before the Romans took his life from him.

Crucifixion is so horrific that it has been outlawed in nearly every country on earth. Why did Jesus die in this way? Any death would have paid the debt for our sins. He needed to die publicly so the world would know what he did for us, but stoning or beheading could have been just as public.

If there was an easier, less horrible way to die, don’t you think he would have chosen it? Don’t you think his Father would have chosen it for him?

If you could choose between lethal injection and crucifixion for your child, which would you choose?

Why Jesus chose the cross

I can think of only one reason why the Father and the Son chose the cross: to show us their solidarity with our most horrific, indescribable pain and shame.

There is no physical pain we can feel that is worse than his. No pain from disease or disaster, war or criminal attack or accident. The worst that can happen to us is no worse than what happened to him.

There is no shame we can feel that is worse than his. We know the shame of our individual sins; he took the shame of the entire human race on himself. Then he demonstrated that fact by dying in the most shameful manner possible—paraded through the streets, stripped to all but a loincloth, and executed before his mother, his best friend, and his enemies.

None of this was necessary for Jesus to understand our pain and shame. He was and is omniscient. He did not learn something about us at Calvary that he did not know beforehand.

But we learned something about him at Calvary we did not know beforehand. We now know that the God of the universe is not a Zeus atop Mt. Olympus, impervious to our needs; he is not an Allah, removed from our sufferings; he is not an impersonal force like the Hindu Brahman; he is not simply a judge of right and wrong as some in Judaism picture him.

The Son felt the worst we can feel. His Father watched his Son suffer in such pain and shame, proving that he understands all we feel for those we love.

The bottom line: Jesus chose the cross to show us that he will help us bear our cross, whatever it is.


Name your suffering or shame. Bring it to Calvary. Know that Jesus died to pay your debt, to forgive your sin, to bear your cross. Trust your need to his grace, your pain to his love. On this Palm Sunday, know that he came to the Holy City to die for you. And that he would do it all again, just for you.

One of my favorite stories of the year is about a mother who heard a commotion in her back yard. She rushed outside to find a cougar attacking her son. She started “crying out the Lord,” she says, as she grabbed the wild animal and tried to pry its mouth open.

“Three sentences into me praying, it released and it ran away,” she said later. Her son is expected to make a full recovery.

That mother’s love, as powerful as it is, cannot compare to your Father’s love. He proved it on the cross and is ready to prove it again in this chapel.

Who or what is attacking you today?