Why Did Jesus Die?


You doubtless remember many figures from history, Socrates, Plato, Albert Einstein, George Washington, the list goes on. These individuals, who influenced nations or impacted the world, are remembered because of the impact that of their lives. Jesus, who more than any one other person changed the face of world history, is remembered not so much for His life but for His death!

Why do you suppose that is? Why is Christ’s death any more interesting than Socrates, or Plato, or Einstein, or Mr. Washington’s? What does the bible mean when it states that He died for our sins? What did His death really achieve?

Prerequisite Reading: Who Is Jesus?

Christ died as the atonement for our sins. Wayne Grudem defined atonement, in Bible Doctrine as follows: "The atonement is the work Christ did in His life and death to earn our salvation." This definition indicates that we are using the word atonement in a broader sense than it is sometimes used. Sometimes it is only used to refer to Jesus’ dying and paying for our sins on the cross – but since saving benefits also come to us from Christ’s life, it is included in the definition as well.

The Problem

This begs the question, "Why did Christ have to earn our salvation?" Can’t we each earn our own salvation? The short answer is no, you can not earn your own salvation – Christ, through the life He lived, was the only one capable of that. Why? What makes Christ capable of purchasing our salvation where we can not do it ourselves? Herein lies the problem – All have sinned! Romans 3:23 None are righteous! Romans 3:10

But, you say, I am a good person. Well, good as compared to a rapist, or a murderer, or a thief, or whatever person you find morally more offensive than yourself. I ask you this, are you perfect? Have you never, and I mean never, done any one thing that you know was wrong? Can you read the Ten Commandments and truthfully say you never broke one of them? And that is only ten rules, not even the whole of God’s Law, who but Christ ever managed to live their life by these ten simple rules, much less to the perfection of the entire law canonized in the Old Testament!

Our problem is that we are sinners! Only one without sin, without blemish, only a perfect life could possibly earn our salvation, and we can not lay claim to such a life. The Law of the Old Testament condemns us, it stands before us as a mirror, and when we look into that mirror our sins stare back out at us. Every flaw, every blemish, every stigma, every stain, every single imperfection stares back out at us like the hideous face of the Grim Reaper himself!

But Christ could lay claim to such a life because He alone could look into the mirror of the Law and see no flaw, no blemish, no stigma, no stain, and no imperfection whatsoever! Here, in the Life of Christ, was one who could stand before God. Let’s look at four aspects of sin in our lives.

Pollution of Sin

Sin pollutes us! We are defiled. Defile means- to debase the pureness or excellence of; corrupt. Humans were created pure and excellent; however, once Adam sinned in the Garden of Eden we became corrupt, debased, and defiled. Mark 7:20-23 tells us, "What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person"

Perhaps you say, "I don’t do most of those things." But only one of them is more than enough to mess up our lives. I meet people everyday that wish that the Ten Commandments were like an examination paper in which you only have to "attempt any three" or score seventy-percent or higher. But it’s not, you either score a perfect score on the whole of it, or you fail. James 2:10, in the New Testament tells us plainly that if we break any part of the Law we are guilty of breaking all of it.

Power of Sin

The things that we do wrong have an addictive power. Jesus said, "Everyone who sins is a slave to sin (John 8:34)." It is a lot easier to see this in some areas of our wrongdoing than in others. For example, everybody knows that if you start doing crack it soon becomes an addiction.

But it is also possible to be addicted to a bad temper, envy, lust, arrogance, pride, selfishness, slander, or sexual immorality. We can very easily become addicted to patterns of thought or behavior which, on our own, we can not break. This is precisely the slavery that Jesus spoke about, and which has such a destructive power in our lives.

J.C Ryle, a former bishop of Liverpool, once wrote:

Each and all [sins] have crowds of unhappy prisoners bound hand and foot in their chains The wretched prisoners boast sometimes that they are eminently free There is no slavery like this. Sin is indeed the hardest of all task-masters. Misery and disappointment by the way, despair and hell in the end — these are the only wages that sin pays to its servants.

Penalty of Sin

Something within human nature cries out for justice. When we hear of children being molested, old people attacked in their homes, or babies battered, we long for the people who have done these things to be caught and punished. Our motives may be mixed; there may be an element of revenge. But there is such a thing as justifiable anger. We are right to feel that sins should be punished; that people who do such things should not get away with them.

But it’s not just other people’s sins that deserve punishment. It is our own as well. One day, we will all be subject to the judgment of God. Paul tells us plainly in Romans 6:23 that the wages of sin is death!

Partition of Sin

The death that Paul is speaking of is not just a physical death. It is a spiritual death that results in eternal isolation from God. This cutting off from God begins now. The prophet Isaiah proclaimed, " the Lords hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or His ear dull, that it can not hear; but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear (Isaiah 59:1-2)." The things we do cause this barrier between ourselves and God.

The Solution

We all, each and every one, have a need to deal with the problem of sin in our lives. The greater our understanding of the need the more we will appreciate what God has done.

Self-Substitution of God

The good news is that God loves us! He did not simply turn His back and leave us in the mess that we make of our own lives. God Himself came to earth, in the Person of His Son Jesus Christ, in order to die for us. "For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21)." "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 (Galatians 3:13)." This is what John Stott calls the "self-substitution of God." In the words of the apostle Peter, "He [Jesus] Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree by His wounds you have been healed (I Peter 2:24)

What does self-substitution mean? In his book Miracle on the River Kwai, Ernest Gordon tells the true story of a group of POWs working on the Burma Railway during World War II. At the end of each day the tools were collected from the work party. On one occasion, a Japanese guard shouted that a shovel was missing and demanded to know which man had taken it. He began to rant and rave, working himself up into a paranoid fury and ordered whoever was guilty to step forward. No one moved. "All die! All die!" he shrieked, cocking and aiming his rifle at the prisoners. At that moment one man stepped forward and the guard clubbed him to death with his rifle while the man stood silently at attention. When they returned to the camp, the tools were counted again and no shovel was missing. That one man went forward as a substitute for the others.

<h4>Agony of the Cross</h4> In the same way Jesus came as our substitute. He endured crucifixion for us. Cicero described crucifixion as "the most cruel and hideous of tortures." Jesus was stripped and tied to a whipping post. He was flogged with four or five thongs of leather interwoven with sharp jagged bone and lead. Eusebius, the third-century historian, described Roman flogging in these terms: the sufferer’s "veins were laid bare, and the very muscles, sinews and bowels of the victim were open to exposure." Jesus was then taken to the Praetorium where a crown of thorns was thrust onto His head. He as mocked by a battalion of six hundred men and hit about the face and head. He was then forced to carry a heavy cross bar on His bleeding shoulders until He collapsed, and Simon of Cyrene was forced into carrying it for Him.

When they reached the site of crucifixion, He was again stripped naked. He was laid on the cross, and six-inch nails were driven into His forearms, just above the wrist. His knees were twisted sideways so that the ankles could be nailed between the tibia and Achilles’ tendon. He was lifted up on the cross, which was then dropped into a socket in the ground. There He was left to hang in intense heat and unbearable thirst, exposed to the ridicule of the crowd. He hung in unthinkable pain for six hours while His life slowly drained away.

But this wasn’t even the worst part of His suffering! The worst part of His suffering was not the physical trauma or torture of crucifixion nor even the emotional pain of being rejected by the world and deserted by His friends, but the spiritual agony of being cut off from His Father – for us – as He carried our sins.

The Result

Like a beautiful gem the cross has many facets. On the cross, the powers of evil were disarmed (Colossians 2:15). Death and demonic powers were defeated. On the cross, God revealed His love for us. He showed that He is not a God who is aloof from suffering. He is "the crucified God". He has entered our world and knows and understands all about suffering. On the cross, Jesus sets us an example of self-sacrificial love (I Peter 2:21). Each of these aspects deserves a sermon on its own, which time does not allow. I want to concentrate on four images that the New Testament uses to describe what Jesus did on the cross for us. As John Stott points out, each of them is taken from a different area of day-to-day life.

Pollution of Sin Removed (The Temple)

The first image comes from the temple. The Old Testament laid down very careful laws as to how sin was to be dealt with. A whole system of sacrifices demonstrated the seriousness of sin and the need for being cleansed.

In a typical case the sinner would take an animal. The animal was to be as near perfection as possible. The sinner would lay his hands on the animal and confess his sins. Thus the sins were seen to pass from the sinner to the animal, which was then killed.

The writer of Hebrews points out that it is "impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins (Hebrew 10:4)." It was only a picture, or "shadow" (Hebrews 10:1). The reality came with the sacrifice of Jesus. Only the blood of Christ, our substitute, can take away our sins, because He alone was the perfect sacrifice, since He alone lived a perfect life. His blood "purifies us from all sin" (I John 1:7) and removes the pollution of sin.

Power of Sin Broken (The Marketplace)

The second image comes from the marketplace. Debt is not a problem confined to the present day. It was a problem in the ancient world as well. If someone had serious debts he might be forced to sell himself into slavery in order to pay them off. Suppose a man was standing in the market place, offering himself as a slave. Someone might have pity on him and ask, "How much do you owe?" The debtor might say, "Ten thousand". Suppose the customer offers to pay the ten thousand and then lets him go free. In doing so, he would be "redeeming him" by paying a "ransom price".

In a similar way, for us "redemption … came by Christ Jesus" (Romans 3:24). Jesus, by His death on the cross, paid the ransom price (Mark 10:45). In this way, we are set free from the power of sin. This is true freedom. Jesus said, "If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed" (John 8:36). It is not that we never sin again, but that sin’s hold over us is broken. This is the power of sin broken.

Penalty of Sin Paid (The Court of Law)

The third image comes from the court of law. Paul says that through Christ’s death "we have been justified" (Romans 5:1). Justification is a legal term. If you went to a court and were legally acquitted, you would be justified.

Two young men went through school and college together and developed a very close friendship. Life went on and they went their different ways and lost contact. One went on to become a judge, while the other one went down and down and ended up a criminal. One day the criminal appeared before the judge. He had committed a crime to which he pleaded guilty. The judge recognized his old friend and faced a dilemma. He was a judge, so he had to be just; he couldn’t just let the man off. On the other hand, he didn’t want to punish the man because he loved him. So he told the man that he would fine him the correct penalty for the offense. That is justice. Then he came down from his position as judge and wrote a check for the amount of the fine. He gave the check to his friend, saying that he would pay the penalty for him. That is love.

This is an illustration of what God has done for us. In His justice, He judges us because we are guilty, but then, in His love, the came down in the person of His Son Jesus Christ and paid the penalty for us. In this way He is both just (in that He does not allow the guilty to go unpunished) and "the one who justifies" (Romans 3:26, in that by taking the penalty Himself, in the person of His son, He enables us to go free.) He is both our Judge and our Savior. It is not an innocent third party but God Himself who saves us. In effect, He gives us a check and says we have a choice: do we want Him to pay it for us, or are we going to face the judgment of God for our own wrong doing?

Now, the illustration that I used is not an exact one for three reasons. First, our plight is much worse. The penalty we are facing is not just a fine, but death. Second, the relationship is closer. This is not just two friends: it is our Father in heaven who loves us more than any earthly father loves his own child. Thirdly, the cost was greater: It cost God no money, but His one and only Son, who paid the penalty of sin.

Partition of Sin Destroyed (The Home)

The fourth image comes from the home. We saw that both the root and the result of sin was a broken relationship with God. The result of the Cross is the possibility of a restored relationship with God. Paul says that, "God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ" (2 Corinthians 5:19). Some people caricature the New Testament teaching and would dare suggest that God is unjust because He punished Jesus, an innocent third party, instead of us. This is not what the New Testament says. Rather, Paul says, "God was in Christ." God was Himself the substitute in the person of His Son. God made it possible for us to be restored to a relationship with Him. The partition of sin has been destroyed.


What happened to the prodigal son can happen to us! We can come back to the Father and experience His love and blessing. The relationship is not only for this life: it is eternal. One day we will be with the Father in heaven; we will be free; not only from the pollution of sin, the power of sin, the penalty of sin and the partition of sin, but also from the presence of sin. God has made this possible through His self-substitution on the cross.

God loves each one of us so much and longs to be in a personal relationship with us as a human father longs to be in a relationship with each of his children. It is not just that Jesus died for everyone. He died for me! He died for you! It is very personal. Paul writes of "the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me" (Galatians 2:20). If you had been the only person in the world, Jesus would have died for you. Once we see the Cross in these personal terms, our lives will be transformed.

John Wimber, a pastor and church leader, describes how the Cross became a personal reality for him:

After I had studied the Bible for about three months I could have passed an elementary exam on the cross. I understood there is one God who could be known in three Persons. I understood Jesus is fully God and fully man and he died on the cross for the sins of the world. But I didn’t understand that I was a sinner. I thought I was a good guy. I knew I had messed up here and there but I didn’t realize how serious my condition was. But one evening around this time Carol [his wife] said, "I think it is time to do something about all that we’ve been learning." Then, as I looked on in utter amazement, she knelt down on the floor and started praying to what seemed to me to be the ceiling plaster. "Oh God," she said, "I am sorry for my sin." I couldn’t believe it. Carol was a better person than I, yet she thought she was sinner. I could feel her pain and the depth of her prayers. Soon she was weeping and repeating, "I’m sorry for my sins." There were six or seven people in the room, all with their eyes closed. I looked at them and then it hit me: They’ve all prayed this prayer too! I started sweating bullets. I thought I was going to die. The perspiration ran down my face and I thought, "I’m not going to do this. This is dumb. I’m a good guy." Then is struck me. Carol wasn’t praying to the plaster; she was praying to a person, to a God who could hear her. In comparison to Him she knew she was a sinner in need of forgiveness. In a flash, the cross made personal sense to me. Suddenly I knew something that I had never known before; I had hurt God’s feelings. He loved me, and in His love for me He had sent Jesus. But I had turned away from that love; I had shunned it all my life. I was a sinner, desperately in need of the cross. Then I too was kneeling on the floor, sobbing, nose running, eyes watering, every square inch of my flesh perspiring profusely. I had this overwhelming sense that I was talking to someone who had been with me all of my life, but whom I had failed to recognize. Like Carol, I began talking to the living God, telling him that I was a sinner — but the only words I could say aloud were, "Oh God, Oh God". I knew something revolutionary was going on inside of me. I thought, "I hope this works because I’m making a complete fool of myself." Then the Lord brought to mind a man I had seen in Pershing Square in Los Angeles a number of years before. He was wearing a sign that said, "I’m a fool for Christ. Whose fool are you?" I thought at the time, "That’s the most stupid thing I’ve ever seen." But as I kneeled on the floor I realized the truth of the odd sign: the cross is foolishness "to those who are perishing" ([[http://www.gnpcb.org/esv/search/?q=I+Corinthians+1%3A18|I Corinthians 1:18]]). That night I knelt at the cross and believed in Jesus. I’ve been a fool for Christ ever since.

Life is like a test, an exam that you must score perfectly on. If you fail to so much as dot a single i or cross a single t you fail. Seventy percent will not get you a passing grade; ninety nine point nine nine nine will not get you a passing grade. You can’t simple pick three and try. You must ace it or face the penalty. I could not ace it, you can not ace it. Only Jesus Christ aced it. So you are faced with a choice do you continue to try to pass a test you have already failed – or have you accepted that Jesus passed the test for you. All you have to do is repent of your sins and believe.

If you are unsure about whether you have ever believed in Jesus, here is a prayer that you can pray as a way of starting the Christian life and receiving all the benefits that Christ died to make possible. Let’s pray.

Heavenly Father, I am sorry for the things that I have done wrong in my life. (Take a few moments to ask His Forgiveness for anything in particular that is on your conscience.) Please forgive me. I now turn from everything I know is wrong. Thank you that you sent Your Son, Jesus, to die on the cross for me so that I could be forgiven and set free. From now on I will follow and obey Christ as my Lord. Thank you that you now offer me this gift of forgiveness and Your Spirit. I now receive that gift. Please come into my life by Your Holy Spirit to be with me forever. Through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

If you prayed this prayer, please let me know – I would love the opportunity to celebrate with you.


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