Why Did Christ Need to Die?

Title: Why Did Christ Need to Die?

[Audio http://ab86qw.bay.livefilestore.com/y1p2k8baasm-9OAyt5bL3wKywCvYxZcWkCugi9f0dGcvBYPIpMZ7HPBA4IGfoYX6eG9oOeItkVfAnJNpLIO3A2-3ZhRr9-SFwVK/4-5-09whydidchristneedtodie.mp3%5D

Text: Matthew 20:17-19, Isaiah 53:4-6, 11-12, John 3:16, Hebrews 10:11-12

Date: April 5th, 2009

This is now the last Sunday before Easter. It’s traditionally called Palms Sunday in remembrance of the palm branches the people placed in front of Jesus Christ as he rode into Jerusalem at the start of Holy Week. In the past few Sundays I’ve talked about who killed Christ and why Judas betrayed Christ, but today I’d like to ask and answer the question, “Why did Jesus Christ need to die?” Or better yet, “Was Christ’s death necessary?” As Christians we’ve been taught that Jesus died for our sins in order to win us salvation. This is true, but was the death of Jesus Christ entirely necessary in order for our sins to be paid, for us to escape judgment and for us to receive eternal life? Wasn’t there any other way? This is the same question Jesus asked God the Father in the Garden of Gethsemane in Matthew 26:39, “Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.’” Or as the King James Version says, “Nevertheless, not my will but thy will be done.” He got no reply from heaven, meaning, there is no alternative way; it is necessary to die on the cross as an atonement for sin. Today, it’s a popular thing to claim that all religions in one way or another save people. It’s politically correct and polite to grant all religions saving power because to not do so smacks of narrow-mindedness or arrogance. It’s very rude to assert that Christianity is the only way or that Christ is the only one who saves. But if we take seriously the account of Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane we must conclude that if there had been any other way to atone for sin God the Father would have spared Jesus the Son from death on the cross and utilized some other way. But there was no other way; there was no alternative. Christ needed to die as an atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world because he was the only who could die for sins. Under the Old Testament covenant, the Jews were required to offer sacrifices of animals for the atonement of sin, but these activities were always seen as having a temporary character to them, just as the author of the Book of Hebrews describes in the New Testament: “But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins, because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins,” Hebrews 10:3. The Jewish animal sacrifices for sin atonement only temporarily covered over the sins of the people, but never really did cleanse them of their sins, only covered over them. But when Jesus offered himself on the cross as the ultimate and final sacrifice for sins, he not only covered the sins of his people but he also cleansed their sins as well. The atonement of Christ on the cross for sins is at the very heart of the Christian gospel message. There is nothing more important in all of Christ’s life than his atoning death for our sins. Even Christ’s resurrection on Easter morning is secondary to his sacrificial death on Good Friday. Next week I’ll talk about why Christ needed to rise from the dead, and it’s very important that he did so, but it’s not nearly as important as him dying on the cross to pay for our sins and win us eternal salvation in heaven. So there is no question that Christ needed to die, but let’s learn more about why he needed to die. Matthew 20:17-19, “Now as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside and said to them, ‘We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will turn him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day his will be raised to life.’” There are at least three reasons why Christ had to die.

First, Jesus Christ had to die in order to fulfill prophecy. Isaiah 53: 4-6, 12, “Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. . . . because he poured his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.” Long before the 1st century, long before the time of Christ, it was prophesied that the Messiah would appear and make atonement for sins. It’s impossible to read Isaiah 53 without seeing that the “Righteous Servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities,” verse 11 – clearly a reference to sacrificial atonement. According to Old Testament prophecy the Suffering Servant, the Messiah, the Righteous One, would one day come and make atonement for the sins of the people. Incredibly though, most Jews at the time of Christ were so focused on the coming Messiah delivering them from foreign powers as a political and military leader that they missed his suffering, sacrificial work on their behalf. Most Jews rejected Jesus as the Messiah because he didn’t fulfill their political expectations, but if they had taken the Isaiah 53 prophecy seriously they would have realized that Jesus was indeed the Messiah because of his atoning, sacrificial work on the cross. Jesus as the Messiah had to die because it was prophesied that he would die, but due to a misinterpretation of the Isaiah 53 prophecy most of the Jews didn’t recognize their Messiah nor did they benefit from his atonement on their behalf because they didn’t believe. I’ve had the opportunity to talk about Isaiah 53 with an orthodox Jew but I could tell that his mind was closed to the possibility that it was Jesus who it described. It was back in the early 1980s when I was taking a course at a small Catholic liberal arts school called Sienna Heights College. This orthodox Jew, who had the curly hair and clothing style of an orthodox Jews, and I got into a conversation about Jesus. I can’t even remember how we got onto the topic, but it was probably because I might have asked him if he was an orthodox Jew. If I remember correctly he got really defensive and responded something like, “Why do you want to know?” I was just curious because I hadn’t ever met a traditional Jewish person before because most Jews are thoroughly secular and many even atheistic or skeptical about all religion. So we started talking. We found we had a lot in common because we were truly believers in God, but when I started talking about Jesus, especially the Isaiah 53 prophecy, his mind closed and he refused to consider the possibility it was referring to Jesus as Messiah. Pray for the Jews because they are so close, but also so far away from the Kingdom of God. But the point is, Jesus had to die as Messiah because God’s eternal Word had decreed it hundreds of years before through the prophet Isaiah.

Second, Jesus Christ had to die in order to make a public demonstration of God’s love. John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.” For God the Father so loved the world that he gave – gave what? Gave his Son Jesus as an atoning sacrifice for sins. Now it was very important that Jesus as Messiah give up his life in an open and public way because, as I’ll talk more about next week in the importance of the resurrection, we the people, the objects of God’s love, and the beneficiaries of the atoning sacrifice, we need to be aware of this important event. It wouldn’t do us any good for such a thing to take place in secret, out of our notice, because then we couldn’t learn of it, understand it, and then believe in it by faith for salvation. It needed to be a public atonement for sin. Now when you think about it, why did it have to be public? If Jesus had to die for our sins as an atoning sacrifice, why couldn’t it have been in some private setting? Why couldn’t the Jews or soldiers or whomever, why couldn’t they have killed Jesus in some way hidden from public view? If the mere fact of Jesus dying was enough then it didn’t have to be a death in any certain way. Jesus could have died for us when the soldiers came to arrest him in the Garden of Gethsemane, or Jesus could have died when he was beaten by the soldiers before he was officially condemned by Pilate, or Jesus could have died at the hands of the Jews as they beat him or roughed him up before, during, and after the night trial before the Jewish Council. But no, Jesus had to die as an atoning sacrifice in a public ceremony because we needed to know about it in order to benefit from it. We needed to be able to know how Jesus died and that he died in the manner that he did because we needed to see that it truly was “as a lamb led to the slaughter.” Isaiah 53:7, “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.” Also, the manner in which Jesus died is so dramatic and riveting it imprints an indelible mark on the memory of everyone who learns of it. That’s what was so powerful about the Mel Gibson movie The Passion of the Christ. It isn’t solely that Jesus died for our sins as an atoning sacrifice for us, but it is also the manner in which he died that is important too. Jesus died in such a unique and moving way so as to grab the attention of even the hardest hearted. You simply can’t ignore the death of Christ on the cross for the sins of the world. John 3:16, which by the way is the world’s most popular Bible verse, is certainly demonstrated on the cross – “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son. . . .” Christ was given over as the sacrificial lamb of atonement in such a moving way that nobody can ignore it; they can reject it ultimately, but they can’t ignore it. It draws you attention whether you want it or not. So then, Christ needed to die in order to give a public demonstration of God’s love.

Third, Christ had to die, like I said before, to pay the penalty for our sins. Hebrews 10:11-12, “Day after day every (Old Testament) priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God.” Jesus was the great high priest who not only offered the final sacrifice for sins, but also was the final sacrifice for sins by offering himself on our behalf. Why is this important? Because as sinners, that is, as law-breakers of God’s commands, we deserve punishment for our sins which is separation from God. No sinful thing can enter into eternal life with God. No sinful person can enter into eternal fellowship with God. So then being sinners, being law-breakers, being disobedient children of God, that excludes us from fellowship with Him. Instead of eternal life with God we deserve eternal wrath and damnation for our willful rebellion and disobedience. If left to ourselves that’s what we’ll receive. But God in his great mercy and love formulated a plan of salvation that involved sending Jesus Christ the Son to earth to make payment for helpless sinners like you, me and everyone. We can’t make payment for our own sins because our payment, our atonement, is the punishment we deserve. Yes, we can make payment for our own sins, but in involves the damnation of our soul in hell, which certainly would satisfy the justice of God but it wouldn’t satisfy the love of God. God formulated a loving alternative for us sinners that involved his Son Jesus dying on the cross in our place, on our behalf. Our sins placed on Jesus, our guilt attributed to Jesus, our punishment taken by Jesus in order that we might be forgiven, released from guilt and saved from punishment. Only Jesus could make such a payment because only Jesus was personally sinless. Nobody else could pay for our sins because everybody else can’t make any other payment except for him or her self, and then, self-payment is not the answer anyway because it costs us our soul in hell. So Jesus really is the only one who can pay for our sins and provide a way of salvation for everyone who believes. Do you accept Christ’s death for you on the cross as an atoning sacrifice for your sins? Are you willing to give Christ your sins and are you willing to receive his righteousness as a free gift? Can you admit that no good you have done or no good you are doing now or no good you ever will do, can earn you the righteousness required of God? Can you acknowledge that only through the righteousness of Christ can you experience fellowship with God now and in eternity? If you haven’t done so, entrust your life into the hands of God the Father through the Lord Jesus today. Embrace the cross of Christ. Cling to the cross of Jesus as your only hope of salvation – because it really is your only hope. Let’s pray.

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