Why Jesus Had to Die
Dr. Jim Denison
Jesus fulfilled all Old Testament prophecies about his death during Holy Week. Such fulfillment is a powerful argument for his divinity, and for the trustworthiness of Scripture. If any book makes promises it does not keep, we are justified in dismissing the rest of its truth claims. But if a book’s prophecies rendered centuries earlier are clearly fulfilled in history, we can consider the rest of its claims to be reliable as well.
So, what are the chances that one man could fulfill the promises Jesus kept? Mathematician Peter Stoner once calculated the odds of one man’s fulfillment of just eight of the Old Testament Messianic predictions: one in 10 to the 17th power (one followed by 17 zeroes). That number would fill the state of Texas two feet deep in silver dollars. Stoner then considered 48 of the Messianic prophecies, and determined their odds to be one in ten to the 157th power. Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection kept promises his Father made centuries earlier, demonstrating his divinity and his authority over time and eternity.
Now let’s ask one more question: why did he do it? Why did he have to die? Why did his Father have to make such a plan for his Son? This is a question and subject which have been discussed for 20 centuries. I am asked this question often. What difference did it make that someone died on a Roman cross 20 centuries ago? How could his death affect my life today? How is Good Friday relevant to this Friday? Let’s think about this issue together.
Why Jesus died
In short, Jesus died to solve a problem which we could not solve ourselves. The Bible says that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). All of us, no exceptions. Your last sin includes you in this group. The pack of gum I stole as a kid earned my membership into this society.
What happens to those who sin? “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23a). The penalty for the crime of sin is death. The Lord warned Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden: “You must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die” (Genesis 2:17). They did, and they did. When someone sins against the holy God of the universe, someone must die for that sin. That’s just how things are.
So God could watch his children spend eternity separated from him in spiritual death and hell. Or he could provide a sacrifice to take our place. But that sacrifice must be sinless, or his death would pay for his own sins. I cannot use the same money to pay your house note and mine as well. Only a sinless, perfect person could take our place, his death paying the penalty for our sins.
There’s been only one candidate for this job, only one Person in all of human history who never sinned–only one “who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet was without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). That Person was God’s own Son. So he and his Father decided before time began that he would come to our world and die in our place. He would “bear the sins of many” (Isaiah 53:12). That’s why he came, and why he died.
You and I were on Death Row for our sins. Jesus went to the execution chamber for us. He took the fatal injection we deserved, and died in our place. Now, what does his death mean for you and me today?
Why his death still matters
Jesus’ death is as relevant today as when it first occurred, for several reasons.
If you’re not a Christian, Jesus’ cross means that you can become a forgiven child of God today. You don’t have to find a church and join it, be baptized, turn over a new leaf, or try harder to do better. You don’t have to learn four noble truths, or practice five pillars, or wait through multiple reincarnated lives. You don’t have to learn and obey the Law, hoping to justify yourself before a holy God.
If you will turn from your mistakes and failures, asking God to forgive you for them, inviting Jesus Christ into your life as your Savior and Lord, he will answer your prayer. Guaranteed. There’s nothing else you have to do–it’s all been done. You can have the assurance of eternal life right now. Then you will worship with a church, read the Bible, pray, serve and give–because you are God’s child, not to become one. Because you are loved, not so you will be. Because you are forgiven and accepted–not to earn what Jesus has already purchased for you.
If you are a believer, Jesus’ cross has set you free from yours. You’re no longer on Death Row. You’re a free man or woman. The jury is in, the Judge has pronounced the verdict, and you’re freed from jail, free to go from death to life. Now when you turn from your sins and ask God to forgive them, he does. And he forgets them. He remembers your sins no more. As Corrie ten Boom put it, God buries your sins at the bottom of the sea and posts a sign over the spot which says, “No fishing.”
For us all, Jesus’ cross means that God loves us. How do I know? He must–he sent his only Son to die for us. He watched his Son’s tortured execution. He transferred our guilt and sin to his sinless Son. He did it all for us.
Think of it. Before God made you and me, he knew we’d sin. The Garden of Eden was no surprise to him at all. He made us, knowing that we would cost him the life of his Son. Would you do that? He sent his Son into the world they made together, knowing he’d die there. Would you do that?
He watched the religious leaders conspire to arrest him. He watched them parade into the Garden where his Son prayed, “Let this cup pass from me” as he sweated blood. He watched it all, and did nothing. Would you do that?
He heard the blasphemy of the religious authorities. He cringed as they tore open his Boy’s back with their whips and gouged his head with their thorns. He raged as they spit on his face and mocked his royalty. His heart was pierced as their nails pierced his Son. He wept as his Son wept the words, “Why have you forsaken me?” Would you do that?
The cross proves how much God loves us. Sacrificially, completely, without condition. As you are, where you are, no matter who you are. Right now.
Will you accept God’s love, or would you send his Son to the cross of rejection once again? Will you share his love? Never again see people through your eyes. See them through the eyes of God. See them as one for whom Jesus died. One for whom God killed his Son. Love them with his love. Tell them about his love.
And see yourself as one loved by his Father in heaven. Base your self-esteem on that fact only. One day your money will be gone–your car and clothes and house and work will be gone–your friends will be gone–the world will be gone. And when it’s all gone, God will love you still.
I must close this essay with the hardest story I’ve ever heard. But it may be that nothing else will make you feel the love of God as this true story does.
John Griffith grew up in Oklahoma with the dream of traveling to faraway places to see exotic sights. That dream crashed with the stock market in 1929, the Great Depression, and the Oklahoma “dust bowl.” He finally packed up his wife and tiny baby boy and their few meager belongings, and drove to the edge of the Mississippi River. There he got a job working at one of those great railway bridges that crossed the mighty Mississippi.
The year was now 1937. John brought his eight-year-old son, Greg, to work with him. His boy wanted to see what his daddy did. Greg was wide-eyed with excitement as he watched the gigantic bridge go up. He watched in wonder as huge boats steamed down the Mississippi.
At 12:00 noon his father put up the bridge. There were no trains due for a while. They went out together, a couple of hundred feet down the catwalk to the observation deck, and sat down. They opened their brown bags and began to eat their lunch. The time passed.
Suddenly they heard the shriek of a distant train whistle. John Griffith quickly looked at his watch and saw that it was time for the 107, the Memphis Express with 400 passengers. He knew he just had time to lower the bridge. He told his son to stay where he was, jumped up to the catwalk, ran back, climbed the ladder to the control room, and went to the lever which controlled the bridge. He looked up the river to be sure no boats were under it.
Suddenly he saw his son. He had tried to follow his father to the control room, and fell into the huge box which housed the giant gears operating the massive drawbridge. His left leg was caught in the gears. John knew that if he pushed the lever, Greg would be killed. What could he do?
He saw a rope in the control room. He could rush down the ladder, tie the rope, lower himself down, free his son, and lower the bridge. But he knew there wasn’t time. He would never make it back. And 400 people on the trail would die.
He heard the whistle again. He could hear the clicking of the train’s wheels on the track. He was a father, and this was his only son. But he knew what he had to do. He lowered the bridge.
Why does the cross matter? Because when the executioner stood over the body of God’s only Son, spikes in hand, his Father made the same decision. And he did it for you.
“For God so loved the world….” Are you grateful?