We are coming up to Holy Week and Christians spend Holy Week thinking again of the events from Palm sunday to Easter Day.
The hardest to grasp is Good Friday
Why did Jesus die?
I am quite often asked “Why did Jesus die?” One churchmember tackled me after church and I offer this as a very brief reply
It is not easy to answer and a short answer can be very trite. Yet Jesus’s death and the symbol of the cross has a very strong emotive power. (To some that weakens as humans are supposed to be rational not emotional. That is not true as we all have emotions, whether or not we wear them on our sleeves. We show our emotions over different things.) This can be seen in the symbol of the Red Cross and many World War graves.
We could answer the question medically, but that does not explain why Jesus’s death has meaning for so many.
In a sense there is a simple answer, summed up in the hymn “There is a green hill far away”;
He died that we might be forgiven
He died to make us good
In its simplicity this brings out two main things, first there is something wrong with humans as we are not good and need forgiving and Jesus enables that. This is summed up in the devalued word “sin”, which has lost its currency. However we need to consider human nature and sin. Francis Spufford in his excellent book Unapologetic sums this up as “the Human Propensity to **** things UP”. Earthy though that is, it is better than popular ideas which trivialise human badness as a “moment of madness” or similar euphemisms, or old ideas of breaking rules. There is something about all of us in that we have a knack of getting things wrong, even when we try to do them right. Unless we are self-righteous prigs we are aware that there is a sense of FAIL about us. Simply trying harder doesn’t seem to work.
So what about Jesus? Few would disagree that he was a good man and a great moral teacher, but the four gospels spend more words on his actual death and the main symbol of Christianity is the cross – one of the most ghastly means of execution ever devised. In a sense the Four Gospels do not tell us why Jesus died, but the accounts are incredibly moving and may reduce us to silence. Many composers have put them to music, and none are better than Bach with his St Matthew Passion and St John Passion.
At times explanations can be crude as with the view that God punished Jesus instead of us. This comes out with some popular preaching, but it makes God seem unreasonable. Far better is to see Jesus submitting to injustice on our behalf and showing that the way of suffering for and serving others is the way of hope..
Thus Paul in Philippians chap 2 vs 5-11.
1 If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, 2 make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, 8 he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Another one by Paul is to see Jesus as the reconciler and thus in 2 Corinthians 5 vs 16-21.
15 And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them. 16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. 17 So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. 20 So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
These are two excellent passages to read.
Above all we see in the death of Jesus his sacrificial love for us and that we are to share that love. At best we only partially understand why Jesus died for us.