Why Did Jesus Have to Die?
It is, perhaps, the preeminent question of Christianity. Why did Jesus have to die? With many questions in theology, this question has numerous answers and infinite follow-up questions. The answers will always depend on how you approach the question. Do you answer it from the human perspective and total depravity of people? Do you attempt to probe the mind of God in an attempt to classify motive? Do you address the question philosophically and speak in terms of justice, forgiveness, or imputed substitutionary atonement? (see the embedded video)
How can we adequately answer the question on which all of Christianity balances?
Short answer: We can't
Better answer: While we can never fully answer the question, "Why did Jesus have to die?" our search for the answer unveils the massive depths of grace and love that God has for us and therefore it is worth constantly revisiting this question.
For this attempt at answering the question, we will look at the very beginning of the history of people and find a God who keeps his promises.
How Did we get here?
Adam and Eve, the parents of the human race messed up a good thing because they wanted to give up the good to get what looked like the better. The serpent tempted Eve, by offering something that she could only imagine - having the ability to think like God.
You will not surely die. 5For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."
Satan, that brilliant marketer, made Eve want something she never knew she wanted - the ability to know good and evil. The idea was so grand that she instantly shared it with Adam and he liked the idea so much he literally ate it up. Some say that the first sin was disobeying God's orders by eating the forbidden fruit. Not me. I say that the first sin was believing that we weren't good enough as God had said that we were, and that we could improve ourselves by our own strength and our own decision making.
That insecurity is what made the decision to disobey so appealing, so, enticing, so...easy.
And just like that, the course of humanity was eternally altered. Paradise was lost and we officially began our long history of hatred and general suckitude. In a moment we lost hope. In a promise, however, we regained it.
Click to listen to our discussion about Jesus
Don't worry. I got this.
Genesis 3 recounts how sin entered the world - the same sin that confounds and crushes us today. While we were momentarily hopeless in the new reality of a sin filled world, we were given a promise that we will be restored and our mistakes will be atoned for. God, speaking directly to the deceptive serpent, says this, "
God told the serpent: “Because you’ve done this, you’re cursed, cursed beyond all cattle and wild animals, Cursed to slink on your belly and eat dirt all your life.
I’m declaring war between you and the Woman, between your offspring and hers. He’ll wound your head, you’ll wound his heel.” - Genesis 3:14-15 - The Message
When looking specifically at the wounded ones, here we find the first promise of the coming Messiah. Theologians refer to this as the protoevangelium or the first gospel. That is, it is the first mention of God's plan to restore fallen humanity by way of a promised Messiah - the one that will ultimately wound the head of the Deceiver. It is the first appearance of the main character of the Redemption story and it is the first great promise of God to us as humans.
This answer to this promise is not seen for another 6,000ish years after it was made. God's response was to send his Son to be a stand in for the sins of mankind. The righteousness of God was willingly sacrificed - he who knew no sin, became sin, as the Apostle Paul tells us - in order that the promise made to the first people would be fulfilled.
Why did Jesus have to die? One reason is, simply, because God keeps his promises.
Why did Jesus have to die...for you?
The question, in a vacuum separated from people, is a worthy question to ponder. It has kept the philosopher going for thousands of years. But just as God directed the first post-sin question directly to Adam (as opposed to a general "What happened here?) the question of Jesus death must be directly applied to you as a person.
Why did Jesus have to die for you?
Because we have the same insecurity and we believe the same lie: that God is not enough and that we are not good enough. The sin of the garden plagues us today. And just like Adam and Eve's insecurity drove them to disobedience, our "wanting more" drives us to make some sinful choices. Adam and Eve were no longer content with paradise, they wanted more. Doesn't this ring true of our own lives?
If we could just have more sex, more cheeseburgers, more success, more things, more friends, more love from Dad, then I will finally be good enough. If I could get another promotion, have more people come to my church, look like a supermodel, run another faster mile then I will be good enough! And yet, it is never enough. We always want more.
The irony remains, despite your self-ascribed lack, God still deemed you "enough" to send his Son to die for you. He kept his promise for you. So the answer to our question, Why did Jesus have to die, at least from this perspective is this:
Jesus had to die, in our place, so that we could finally acknowledge that we are powerless to make ourselves any better in the sight of God. We can't save ourselves from the preeminent sin of massive insecurity. And because God promised to take care of us, despite our disbelief, he can know that all his other promises are, as the Apostle says, "Yes, and Amen."