I recently finished reading The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism by Tim Keller. The thought-provoking book is divided into two parts. The first tackles the reasons people have for rejecting Christianity and the second addresses these doubts and provides reasons for belief in the Christian faith. One of the questions Keller addresses is, “Why did Jesus have to die? Why couldn’t God just forgive everyone and move on?” On this Good Friday, as we think about Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, let’s consider Keller’s two very compelling reasons for the necessity of Jesus’ death:
Reason #1: Real forgiveness for real wrongs is costly
This first reason requires us to think about real wrongs. The example provided in the book goes like this: Someone runs a red light and smashes into your car. A real wrong has been done. Someone is going to have to pay. Either the person who hit you will pay for the damages, or you will pay. Sometimes both parties end up sharing the payment. But, there is no option that does not require a payment to make things right.
Now, let’s consider the world we live in. We don’t have to look very far to recognize that it’s altogether broken and sinful. There are real wrongs and real sins at every turn. So, someone has to pay for these sins. The Bible tells us that the wages of sin is death. Sin demands penalty because God is perfectly holy and perfectly just. He does not just shrug at sin and say, “Oh well, I guess all is forgiven.” Forgiveness means absorbing the punishment for all of the real wrongs. Keller says, “There was a debt to be paid – God Himself paid it. There was a penalty to be born – God Himself bore it.”
For it is written:
Psalm 14: 2-3 The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man,
to see if there are any who understand,
who seek after God.
They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt;
there is none who does good,
not even one.
Jesus had to die in order that real wrongs would be made right.
Reason #2: Real love is a personal exchange
Once we understand the necessity for the full atonement of sin (i.e. that God is just and therefore cannot let sin go unpunished) and acknowledge that we are all the the sinners deserving of the punishment for this sin, we see that in perfect love, Jesus traded places with us. Scripture doesn’t stop at, “the wages of sin is death.” Romans 6:23 goes on to say, “but, the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.” He was the only one capable of paying the penalty for us, for he lived a sinless life, completely keeping and fulfilling the Law of God. We deserved the cross, but he bore it.
I agree with Keller when he suggests that when we ask questions like, “Why did Jesus have to die?” we are missing the seriousness and weightiness of sin. We surely are not grasping the cosmic depth of His love and grace. Keller states the real question ought to be, “How does a completely just God forgive sin while still upholding the standard of justice He calls for?”
1 Peter 3:18 says,
For 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.
In Jesus, God became sin who knew no sin. He willingly died in our place so that we might have his reward. When real wrongs are done, real love is required. So, He made a way through a very costly and personal exchange. Simply put, the gospel is Jesus in our place.
On this solemn and sobering Friday, we bow our heads in awe and sincere thankfulness for Christ’s obedience to the point of death – even death on a cross.
Galatians 3: 13 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”— so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.