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Why Did Jesus Have to Die?

Author: Jonathan Pruitt, Ph.D., Contributing Author for Foundations by ICM

 

Sometime around 33 A.D., in the springtime, Jesus was crucified on a cross. He endured the most brutal and torturous form of capital punishment is perhaps all of human history. Today, many people throughout the world recognize the Cross as the symbol of the Christian faith. This is appropriate since the Bible clearly teaches that the death of Jesus is absolutely central to the gospel, the good news that Jesus tasked His followers to believe and proclaim. The Apostle Paul says, “that Christ died for our sins” is of “first importance.” But what is the meaning of the Cross? Why did Jesus have to die?

Christians have reflected on this question for nearly two thousand years. In that time, the church has uncovered several different reasons for the Atonement or death of Christ. These different reasons are ultimately harmonious and complementary; they are like the facets of a diamond. Each facet reveals something important and beautiful about the meaning and purpose of the Cross. 

 

Facet 1: Jesus’s Death as Ransom 

Key verse: “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mark 10:45 

The Bible tells us that Jesus’s death was a ransom. The Old Testament provides some context for the biblical notion of “ransom.” Perhaps the most vivid example comes in the book of Ruth. In this story, we meet Ruth and her mother-in-law, Naomi. Ruth’s husband had died, as well as her sons, and she was left alone and suffering. Fortunately, the law outlined the role of a “kinsman-redeemer,” who would be legally obligated to redeem by ransom a family member who had been sold into slavery (Lev. 25:47-55).  Boaz ransomed or redeemed Ruth, buying back her former husband’s property and marrying Ruth, saving her from a life of poverty and hunger. Throughout the Old Testament, “to ransom” often has the sense of “buying back.” 

In the New Testament, Jesus says that He has come to give his life as “ransom for many.” Paul says that Jesus “gave himself a ransom for all” (1 Tim. 2:5-6). But who did God pay ransom to? Some have suggested that God paid Satan the ransom, but that is not supported by the Bible. Instead, we should think of God as satisfying the demands of His own righteousness in order to be our redeemer; He “bought us back” so that we might be free. 

 

Facet 2: Jesus’s Death as Victory over Evil

Key verse: “And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” (Colossians 2:14). 

The Bible also tells us that by his death, Jesus gained victory over the powers of evil. The very first prophecy in the Bible foreshadows this victory. After God created Adam and Eve, they were tempted by the serpent, who is Satan (cf. Rev. 12:9). Though Adam and Eve sinned, in Genesis 3:15, God said that a descendant of Eve would someday “crush the head” of the serpent. God promised that He would decisively defeat the devil through a human person. Christ, who is both fully God and fully man brought this about. By his death, Jesus freed humanity from the power of Satan. But Christ also demonstrated his power over death itself. Though Christ died on the Cross, the Father raised Him again, proving that death itself is “swallowed up in victory” (1 Cor. 15:54). By the Cross, Christ defeats both sin and death; He crushes the head of the serpent. As the Bible says, “thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:57). 

 

Facet 3: Jesus’s Death as Moral Example 

Key verse: “To this, you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.” (1 Peter 2:21)

The Cross also shows us what God is like and how we should live. The Bible says that Jesus died for us because He loves us (cf. Rom. 5:8). In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus tells a parable about a shepherd who left his entire flock to seek and save a single lost sheep. The shepherd searches for the missing sheep until he finds it and he “joyfully puts it on his shoulders” (Luke 15:5). Like the shepherd, Jesus says that He has come to “seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:10). The Cross shows us the love of God. 

The Cross also shows us what sort of life we should live. By dying on the Cross, Jesus shows that He is obedient to God’s will. And Jesus shows us how we ought to love others. Love is not merely a feeling and godly love may require personal sacrifice. Like Jesus, we may need to give of ourselves, whether that be our money, time, or even our lives. But, we also know that God sees what we do, that He is a just God, and He will reward us for following his commandments (1 Pt. 1:4).  

 

Facet 4: Jesus’s Death as Substitutionary Atonement 

Key verse: “God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness…” (Romans 3:25a). 

Jesus also died as a substitute for sinners. In the Old Testament, Israel sacrificed animals to cover their sins. Once a year, on the Day of Atonement, the High Priest would slaughter a goat as a sin offering. This was for the “wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites–all their sins” (Lev. 16:21). This did not take away the guilt of sin (cf. Heb. 10:4), but it does show us that the “wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). 

Sin is a great offense to the holiness and justice of God (cf. Hab. 1:13). God could not simply forgive sin because He is a God of justice. He would be like a judge who let a convicted murderer go free. A judge that ignores the law would be no judge at all. But because God loves us, He paid the penalty of sin Himself by sending His Son to die in the place of sinners. In this way, God shows Himself to be “just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus” (Rom. 3:26). God is God of holiness and of love; both features of God’s character are seen in the Cross of Jesus Christ. 

 

Conclusion

Jesus died on the cross for many reasons. Each of these reasons reveals something about who God is and why Jesus’ death was necessary. Jesus died to ransom and redeem us from death. He died to demonstrate His power and ultimate victory over sin and death. The Cross shows us that God loves us and wants us to live a life of obedience to God and love for others. Finally, Jesus’s death makes atonement for our sin so that we can be right with God. Without the Cross, we would be doomed to suffering and death. But because of it, we can live forever with God. 

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Is God an Egomaniac?

Author: Patrick Krentz Th.M., Managing Editor for Foundations by ICM

 

There is a common objection to the existence of God that has become popular on the internet and across social media. It goes something like this: A perfect, all-powerful, self-sufficient God would not need to create worshippers and demand that people worship him. The kind of God who does this is an egomaniac, and not actually worthy of worship at all. This may seem like a powerful argument when you first hear it, but let’s take a moment to analyze the question. We will quickly find that it makes assumptions that are not justified. Most importantly, it critiques a God that the Bible does not describe.

So, let’s answer not by reacting to the question, but by cutting away the very foundations of the objection.

 

God Is…

Before the beginning, there was Father, Son, and Spirit. Three persons sharing one essence. This relationship of three persons is God – or put another, God is a relationship of three equal but distinct persons. When we say God in a general sense, this is what we mean. From eternity past, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit exists in a relationship of mutual, self-giving love. Each person loves and exalts the others.

In Scripture, we see that it is the Father’s role to send the Son and the Son’s role to reveal the Father. Similarly, the Son sends the Spirit and the Spirit exalts the Son. Each person points to the others. You don’t see Jesus exalting himself in the New Testament. In fact, you see the opposite – Jesus humbled himself to the greatest possible degree, and fully submitted himself to the Father.

 

Humble God

Consider Philippians 2:5-9:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name.

Jesus began in the highest position of total equality with the Father but lowered himself to the lowest position humanity has to offer. He could have exalted himself at any time, restoring his equality, but he chose humility and submission instead. As a result, verse 9 says, “God has highly exalted him.”

Why does this matter for answering the objection? Because a relationship of three other-exalting persons is quite different from a single self-exalting deity. To illustrate, let’s move from talking about pre-creation to creation itself.

 

Why did God create anything?

If God is self-sufficient, why did he create people to worship him? What is creation in the first place? A key clue to answering this question lies in the sort of creational power God gave to his creatures – procreation. In both a physical and a philosophical sense, procreation (having babies) happens as a result of self-giving love. Each person involved gives of themself in a unifying act that results in the creation of something new.

If we relate this idea to the God who is three-in-one, we can also say that creation itself is the outpouring or overflow of trinitarian, self-giving love. God’s love is unlimited and unbound. Creation was meant to grow the family of God; to create a vast multitude of persons who could experience the joyful union of the Trinity. These creatures were made like their creator in that they could willingly give of themselves in love for others, though they did not share in the perfection or equality with God.

 

God of Relationship

In our present condition, humanity experiences only a minute fraction of the relationship for which we were made. In Eternity, we will enter into that relationship in an ever-expanding, always increasing capacity. Even though this relationship will be enjoyed in eternity with God, distinction remains between God and humanity, God is the Creator and we the creature. This distinction is essential to answering the initial objection of egoism.

A simple answer to the question, “why did God create anything,” would be: To enter into relationship with more people. But did God create us so that we would worship him? No.

God does not need our worship in any sense. He doesn’t need us to say nice things about him so that he can feel better about himself. This is not why he demands that we worship him. Instead, he demands that we worship him because he wants us to enter into the perfect, joyful relationship that he created us to experience.

 

What is Worship?

Let’s pause here and ask, what is worship anyway? If someone objects to a deity who demands worship, it might be good to know the meaning of the word before answering. Worship, by its non-theological, simple dictionary definition, means to express respect and reverence for a deity. So, God demands that we express respect and reverence for him.

Now, let’s think about this in reverse. The objection states that a deity should not require that creatures show respect or reverence for it. If you think about it, that’s absurd. If a perfect, holy, and loving God exists, the only correct response to him would be respect and reverence.

We even understand this from a human perspective. Imagine your boss, or even the leader of your country (assume for a moment that he is a great leader) shows up at your house for dinner. How should you react? Will you casually go about your business, perhaps go out of your way to microwave some leftovers for his dinner? Of course not, you will show respect according to what he deserves.

So, worshipping God is merely the natural reaction we should have toward him. If we are not acting respectfully and reverently toward him then there is something terribly wrong. God, for his part, does not desire worship for worship’ sake, but because he desires that we be in right-relation to him.

 

Conclusion

The God who demands worship gave everything to reunite us to himself. He no more needs our worship than he needs our company, but he desires (and requires) our worship because it is a prerequisite for entering into true relationship with an Almighty God. If we are to be with him for all eternity, then we will worship him for all eternity. That is merely the natural and right response to being in his presence. It is something that anyone who experiences his love will do without question.

Is God an egomaniac? Quite the opposite. He simply wants us to respond appropriately when he pours out his love on us.