by Johnathan Arnold
When reading the New Testament, we are brought back to the death of Jesus again and again. There are scores of verses that tell us why Jesus died. We read phrases like, “He died so that…” or “For this reason he died….” Sometimes the reasons given for his death are noticeably connected from one verse to the next, but not always. This much is certain: Christ accomplished more in his death than we can ever imagine. On that old rugged cross, there was so much more going on than any one onlooker could have possibly pieced together.
Christians are in a school of the cross, ever seeing more deeply into the meaning of the death. The death stands at the center of our theology. If Good Friday lasted for ten or even ten thousand years, we would still have more on which to meditate.
Christians are in a school of the cross, ever seeing more deeply into the meaning of the death.
Albert Barnes poses a practical challenge: “I entreat you to devote one solemn hour of thought to a crucified Savior—a Savior expiring in the bitterest agony. Think of the cross, the nails, the open wounds, the anguish of His soul. Think how the Son of God became a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, that you might live forever. Think as you lie down upon your bed to rest, how your Savior was lifted up from the earth to die. Think amid your plans and anticipations of future gaiety what the redemption of your soul has cost, and how the dying Savior would wish you to act. His wounds plead that you will live for better things.”
Here are four reasons why Jesus died, according to the Scriptures — reasons for thankfulness and meditation on Good Friday and every day throughout the year.
1. Jesus Died to Make Forgiveness Possible
Jesus paid the legal penalty for sin, which is death (Romans 3:23), so that God has a basis on which to forgive us. If the legal penalty had not been paid, God would have to ignore his justice and overlook our sins in order to forgive, which is impossible since God cannot change. Justice is a perfection of God’s character, and therefore, forgiveness is not possible until justice is satisfied. Hebrews 9:22 confirms that without the shedding of blood is no forgiveness of sins.
If the legal penalty had not been paid, God would have to ignore his justice and overlook our sins in order to forgive.
Since we cannot pay the penalty for sin — since the price is too high — Jesus stepped in and paid it on our behalf. This was acceptable in the sight of God the Father. Jesus told his disciples, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:28, ESV), and it is in these terms that Ephesians 1:7 describes the position of those who are in Christ by faith: “In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace.” “He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).
2. Jesus Died to Absorb the Wrath of God
“Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree” (Galatians 3:13). We know well the benediction, “May the Lord bless you and keep you and make his face to shine upon you.” To be blessed is to have God’s face of shining approval upon you; conversely, to be cursed is to have God’s face of divine displeasure — Jehovah’s dread frown — set against you.
To absorb the curse of God’s wrath, Jesus died a cursed death. The Heidelberg Catechism asks, “Is there anything more in His having been 'crucified' than if He had suffered some other death?” and answers, “Yes, for thereby I am assured that He took upon Himself the curse which lay upon me, because the death of the cross was accursed of God.” On the cross, Jesus absorbed the wrath of God.
We should not think that God’s wrath is merely appeased, as if He needed to be pacified. God's wrath is poured out on a substitute, since His justice must be satisfied.
According to 1 John 4:10, “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” For “God put [Christ] 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” (Romans 3:25, ESV). It would not have been wrong for God to utterly destroy sinful humanity in swift and unsparing judgment, but He held back and stored up his wrath until it could be poured out on Christ in our place.
The word “propitiation” refers to the removal of God’s wrath. But we should not think that God’s wrath is merely appeased, as if He needed to be pacified; instead, His wrath is poured out on a substitute, since God’s justice must be satisfied. The substitute is Jesus—a substitute that God Himself provided. The cup that Jesus feared in Gethsemane and drank on the cross is the cup of the Lord’s wrath (Matthew 26:39, cf. Jeremiah 25:15); the moment that he drank it, He was utterly abandoned and let out that bitter wail, “My God! My God! why hast Thou forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46).
3. Jesus Died to Set Us Free from Sin
We need sin-breaking power. At the church where I pastor, the children love to request the song “There Is Power in the Blood.” It is a regular reminder that “There is power, power, wonder-working power in the precious blood of the Lamb.” “For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18). We say with Paul, “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth” (Romans 1:16). “Would you be free from the burden of sin? There’s power in the blood, power in the blood.” And “The blood that Jesus shed for me, way back on Calvary…It will never lose its power” (The Blood Will Never Lose Its Power).
The test of experience confirms the words of Jesus that “everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin” (John 8:34, NASB). The glorious message of the Bible is the message of Charles Wesley when he wrote, “my chains fell off!” This chain-breaking, sin-crushing, life-changing power is unleashed by the blood of Jesus. John writes, “To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever” (Revelation 1:5-6, ESV).
In order for the creatures to die to sin — both inwardly and outwardly — Jesus first had to die for sin. For “his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed” (1 Peter 2:24). On the cross, he paid the penalty for our sins, setting us free from its claim to our lives. Since the oppressive yoke no longer hangs over our head, we can shake loose our guilty fears and willingly submit to the yoke of righteousness — a comparatively light and infinitely more joyful burden.
The chain-breaking, sin-crushing, life-changing power of God is unleashed by the blood of Jesus.
4. Jesus Died to Make Us Holy
No degree of ceremonial cleanness makes us suitable for the immediate presence of God; we need a perfect atonement. Jesus made a way through His perfect sacrifice for our sins to be forgiven and permanently removed. God’s wrath is propitiated because sin is actually taken away — we are actually made holy. For “by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified” (Hebrews 10:14). Hebrews 13:12 confirms, “Wherefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate.”
We are told in 1 Corinthians 5:7 to “purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us.” The motivating reason for us to live as clean dough, free from the yeast of sin, is that Christ became our Passover sacrifice — a holy lamb without spot or blemish, crushed for the sins of the people. He had this purpose in mind, for “you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled in the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight” (Colossians 1:21-22).
Barnes, Albert. Quoted in Forty Thousand Sublime and Beautiful Thoughts (NY: The Christian Herald, 1915).
Crouch, Andrae. "438, The Blood Will Never Lose Its Power." Sing to the Lord (Kansas City, MO: Lillenas Publishing Co., 1993).
Jones, Lewis E. "449, There is Power in the Blood." Sing to the Lord (Kansas City, MO: Lillenas Publishing Co., 1993).
The Heidelberg Catechism: Modern English Version, 450th Anniversary Edition (The Reformed Church in the United States, 2013).
Wesley, Charles. "225, And Can It Be?" Sing to the Lord (Kansas City, MO: Lillenas Publishing Co., 1993).
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