There are so many different ways to answer such a huge and complex question. So many different angles we could take to explain why Jesus came to die. I am not adequate or delusional enough to think that I can exhaust this question in one short blog post. At the end of this post I have a few book recommendations if you wish to study further on the subject. For this post I’d like to try to answer these questions:
Why did God have to come in the flesh and die on a cross in order to save us? Why didn’t he choose a different way?
The Just and the Unjust
God is infinitely holy. He always does what is right and his judgements are perfect. He must punish sin, otherwise he would cease to be holy. He does not act contrary to who he is and won’t negotiate his character for the likes of you and me. The same way that an earthly judge is good by punishing wrongdoers and upholding the law, God’s justice demands that every last sin is fully paid for. He cannot simply brush off our offenses and forget about them without payment. This poses a massive problem for people who have broken his law and continually offend him with sin and are accountable to the all knowing, all powerful judge of the earth.
What we have earned from the hand of our Creator is not good news. Ever since the fall of Adam, the entire human race has been under a much deserved death sentence. He warned Adam and Eve that if they ate the forbidden fruit they would surely die. Every sin against God is a capital offense that is deserving of death. Plus, we not only deserve death in the here and now, but everlastingly. Because God is infinitely holy, any offense against him is an infinite offense that requires infinite punishment.
A Qualified Substitute
With these things in mind (God’s holiness and our unholiness), we must look for a substitute with the following qualifications:
- Since human beings are the guilty party, a human being must be held responsible. The life of any other creature cannot pay for the sins of man.
- And not only a human being, but a sinless one. A sinner has to answer for their own sin and couldn’t possibly pay for anyone else’s.
- Since we are due an infinite punishment, in order to escape we also need a sacrifice who is able to bear the weight of God’s wrath against us. That is to say, an infinite person.
So where can we find a sinless man who is also God himself? Where do we find such a person willing to voluntarily lay down his life to save sinners from the wrath of God? He is found only in the God-Man, Jesus Christ. If Jesus was not fully human, we are still in our sins. If Jesus wasn’t God, the payment wasn’t made in full.
In order for God to maintain his holiness and save his people, he had to find a way to satisfy his own justice and yet not let his wrath fall on the one’s who truly deserved it. God accomplishes our salvation by taking on a human nature in the person of Jesus, living a sinless life in our place and having his own wrath poured out on himself instead of us. The reason why he had to do it this way is because there was no other way. There is no shelter from God’s wrath outside of the person and work of Jesus Christ.
No other sacrifice is worthy. No other way would deal with our real problem. No good works, no promises to do better next time, no striving, no tears, no penance on our part could ever satisfy God’s holy wrath against us. Salvation is found in Jesus Christ alone and it is to be received through faith alone.
One last thing must be said. God didn’t have to do this at all. He was not obligated to save anybody. He could have let the entire human race perish and it would do no damage to his justice. It is only by his amazing love and abundant grace that he sent Jesus into this fallen world to die our death. May it never cease to amaze us that God is who he is and that he has made a way of salvation through the blood of his only begotten son.
“But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” – Romans 3:21-26
For further study on this all important topic, I strongly recommend:
The Holiness of God by R.C. Sproul
Cur Deus Homo: Why the God-Man by Anslem of Canterbury
Fifty Reasons Why Jesus Came To Die by John Piper