The What and Why of the Death of Jesus

Easter is the highlight of the Christian year; together with believers all over the world we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. But the reason there is resurrection is because there was a death. Good Friday is the day we remember the death of Christ on the cross for our sins.

1. What happened: Crucifixion.

From arrest to trial to beating and mocking and scourging and carrying the cross, the events leading up to the death of Jesus are recorded in all four gospels. Luke describes the key moment like this:

When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified him. Luke 23.33

Note the brevity and lack of sensationalism: they crucified him. Luke’s readers would not have needed much detail; crucifixion was a common means of execution in the Roman Empire. It was a gruesome, humiliating way to die in which the victim was stripped naked, scourged from the top of the bare back to the souls of the feet, bringing them to the edge of hypovolemic shock. They would then be made to carry the horizontal beam of the cross through public and crowded streets to the place of execution. The cross would bear a titulus – a sign board - indicating their crime. After being stripped of any remaining clothes, their wrists would be nailed into the cross beam, their feet into the vertical beam, and sometimes their privates were impaled, and their were left to die a slow, agonising death. All of it was designed to make both suffering and humiliation as extreme as possible.

This would all have been common knowledge to Luke’s audience, and so there was not need to expand or explain: they crucified him is a shorthand way of saying that Jesus was subjected to an extreme method of painful, humiliating execution.

2. Why it did NOT happen.

Before we consider why Jesus died, let’s note why the crucifixion did not happen.

1) It didn’t happen by accident.
In preaching on the day of Pentecost, Peter explained that this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men (Acts 2.23). Notice the phrase: definite plan and foreknowledge of God. This was all according to plan – God’s plan – to save people from their sins.

2) It wasn’t cosmic child abuse.
The death of Jesus has been mischaracterised as cosmic child abuse by people who don’t like the idea that God the Father would offer his Son to die for the sins of the world. They make it sound like this version of events involves a bad father mistreating his son. But Jesus himself said ‘For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father’ (John 10.17-18).

Jesus willingly laid down his life to save us.

3. Why it happened

So then, why did Jesus died?

1) Why did Jesus die? Jesus died because God loves us.
This is what Paul wrote to the Romans: but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5.8). When we look at the cross we see the love of God extended to us.

2) Why did Jesus die? Jesus died as a substitute for our sin.
As our substitute, Jesus bore the penalty that should have come to us. This is what Paul reminds us:

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures (1 Cor. 15.3).

Remember: Reflection on the gruesomeness reminds us about the gruesomeness of our sin

3) Why did Jesus die? To redeem us from bondage to sin.
The word redemption refers to a practice during the Roman Empire by which a slave could be redeemed from his slavery and given freedom – for a price. We are born slaves of sin; Jesus paid the price for our freedom. Paul describes it like this: The redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood (Romans 3.24-25).

6) Why did Jesus die?  To reconcile us to God.
In Isaiah 59.2 we read that your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God. Sin is anything that is wrong from God’s perspective; it is breaking God’s law, it is rebellion, it is refusing to submit to his Lordship. But the good news for us is that Jesus heal the separation:

And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death. Colossians 1.21-22:

6) Why did Jesus die?  So we can be forgiven.
Forgiveness is God wiping away the guilt of our sin. He washes it away as if we had never sinned. Paul points out that this forgiveness comes through the blood of Jesus.

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace. Ephesians 1.7

3. How do we participate?

In short, we enjoy the benefits Christ obtained for us through his death on the cross by believing that these benefits are available through him and by him. In short, we receive these benefits by faith:

In him we have redemption, propitiation by his blood … to be received by faith (Rom. 3.25)

By believing the promises associated with the crucifixion of Jesus we come to possess the benefits God offers.

4. Conclusion

So when you see a cross, remember 1) the price Jesus paid, and 2) the benefits he purchased.

One of my pet peeves is food wasting. Both for financial and moral reasons, the act of throwing food away is atrocious. If we have bought it, we should eat it; we should buy more than what we can use. If we are going to pay the price for it, we should get maximum benefit from it.

If that’s true of something like food, how much more should that be true of the salvation Christ purchased. Don’t let it go to waste; the benefit has already been purchased. Believe the promise and enjoy the benefit.