“But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
Rembrandt, the seventeenth-century Dutch painter, centered one of his paintings on the crucifixion. A careful observation of the figures in the shadows behind the cross will show that one of the men helping to crucify Jesus is Rembrandt himself. He was honest enough to admit that because of his own failures he was like those of old who put the master to death. Many people in the world believe that a man called Jesus was crucified 2000 years ago just outside of Jerusalem. This is a historical fact. Very few really understand or appreciate just what the death of Jesus means for them and the eternal ramifications that proceed from it. The death of the Lord Jesus Christ is directly mentioned more than 175 times in the New Testament and there are many references to it prophetically and typologically in the Old Testament. All the sacrifices mentioned in the Old Testament point to the death of Jesus Christ. Why did Jesus die? Why is His death so important for us to understand today? The Bible is very clear on this subject.
A. The Importance of the Lord Jesus’ death.
1. The death of the Lord Jesus is important because God Himself ordained it according to His will and foreknowledge.
“This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put Him to death by nailing Him to the cross” (Acts 2:23).
On the Day of Pentecost Peter stood up and preached to the crowd. He clearly proclaimed that Jesus’ death was not an accident but an event foreknown and planned by God. For centuries the Jews primarily have been blamed for the death of Jesus. Ultimately God Himself is responsible for Jesus death yet if Adam had not sinned then Jesus would not have had to die at all. The Jews were involved in condemning Jesus to death but it was the Romans who actually crucified Him. God never cursed the Jews and Jesus even prayed for them on the cross. The Jews cursed themselves when they said at His trial before Pilate, “Let his blood be on us and on our children” (Matthew 27:25).
History has shown the power of the curse in the terrible things that have happened to the Jews from the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in 70 AD down to the Holocaust perpetuated on them by the Nazis during WW2. However, all of us are responsible for the death of Jesus. It was our sin and rebellion that put Him on the cross even though God ordained Jesus death from the foundation of the world. (Revelation 13:8) Compare: (Isaiah 53:10)
2. The death of the Lord Jesus’ death is important because it was the only way for God to reconcile us to Himself.
“God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself” (2 Corinthians 5:19).
Jesus was God revealed in flesh. Even though God was still in heaven He was fully present in Jesus Christ. God himself was incarnated in Jesus Christ. The incarnation was for the purpose of the death. Jesus death was not a mere incident of His human life; it was its supreme purpose. He became man so that He might die as man and for man. (Hebrews 2:14) (Matthew 20:28) (John 3:16-18)
3. The death of the Lord Jesus is important because it is one of the three fundamental truths of the gospel.
“Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:1,3-4).
There is only one foundation for the gospel upon which all other Biblical truth stands and that is Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the scriptures. These great truths stand as the pillars and foundation of the message of the gospel. Every truth in the Bible must be seen through the prism of these three great truths. Any other gospel that bypasses the work of the cross or teaches another way to be saved is a false gospel and places under a curse all those who preach it. (Galatians 1:8-9)
4. The death of the Lord Jesus is important because it is the central theme of worship in heaven.
“When He (The Lord Jesus-The Lamb) had taken the book, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each one holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they *sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. “You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.” Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne and the living creatures and the elders; and the number of them was myriads of myriads, and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honour and glory and blessing.” And every created thing which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all things in them, I heard saying, “To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honour and glory and dominion forever and ever.” And the four living creatures kept saying, “Amen.” And the elders fell down and worshiped” (Revelation 5:7-14).
B. Why Did the Lord Jesus Die?
1. The Lord Jesus died to pay the price for our sin and rebellion against God.
“But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way: and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:5-6).
When you look at the Ten Commandments every one of us has failed to keep them. God requires perfection from us but we have failed to meet His standards of righteousness consequently we have forfeited any rights to go to heaven when we die. We are under sentence of eternal damnation and conscious separation from God because of our sins and offences against Him. At the cross the penalty for our violations of God’s perfect law were laid upon our substitute the Lord Jesus Christ. When Jesus died He was not bearing in His body His own sin but the sin of the world. John the Baptist said, “Behold the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.” All of our sin, all of our rebellion, all of our violations of God’s Law and there penalty was poured out upon Jesus Christ, our substitute. “He himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by His wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2: 24).
Imagine if you were standing before a judge in a court of law because you had committed a very serious crime and broken the law. You know you are guilty because the law of the land has been read out to you in the courtroom and you are without excuse and you must pay the penalty but it is beyond your means to pay. At the last minute someone comes forward who has paid the penalty as your substitute and you are free to go. How would you feel? Well God punished Jesus as if He were a sinner in our place even though He was not so that He might treat us as sons and daughters who by birth and by nature are sinners. Next time you are tempted to sin stop and visualize the bleeding and torn body of the Lord Jesus Christ dying as your substitute and then see if you can still go ahead and sin!
At the cross Jesus exchanged places with us. (2 Corinthians 5:21) (1 Peter 3:18) When we genuinely and thoroughly repent of our sins and receive God’s Salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. What God has already provided for us through the cross becomes ours experientially. It is not automatic we must personally respond to the Lord Jesus Christ individually for ourselves. Why was Abel’s offering accepted by God and Cain’s offering rejected? Because Abel knew that he could only approach God through the shed blood of a lawful substitute. Cain thought he could approach God on the basis of his own works and was rejected. Compare: (Isaiah 53:8, 11-12) (Romans 4:25)
2. The Lord Jesus died to bring us pardon for sin and deliverance from guilt.
“Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush Him and cause Him to suffer and through the Lord makes His life a guilt offering” (Isaiah 53:10).
It is only on the basis of Jesus’ death that God grants pardon to sinners. Once we have knelt at the foot of the cross and accepted what Jesus has done on our behalf at that moment experientially we are reconciled to God and made one with Him. “He who unites himself with the Lord is one spirit with Him” (1 Corinthians 6:17).
Jesus sacrifice does not only provide pardon for sin but also delivers the sinner from guilt. If we really understand God’s grace and mercy given to us through the cross then we would be free from guilt. Whatever has happened to us in the past, whatever we have done in the past it is dealt a deathblow at the cross. When God pardons us He does it freely and with great generosity. (Isaiah 55:6-7) If we have thoroughly repented and turned away from all known sin in our lives then we no longer need to feel guilty.
When Isaiah the prophet was confronted with his personal sinfulness he cried out in anguish at his discovery and was overwhelmed with a deep sense of guilt. However through the eternal work of the cross his burden of guilt was lifted when a live coal from the Alter was applied to his lips. The angel who had the live coal said to Isaiah, “See this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for” (Isaiah 6:7). True righteousness is the God-given ability to stand in God’s presence without any sense of condemnation, guilt or inferiority and if we have been to the cross and laid the burden of our sin and rebellion at Jesus feet then we are “accepted in the beloved.”
3. The Lord Jesus died to appease God’s wrath upon sin.
“The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are: and when I see the blood I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt” (Exodus 12:13). Read (Exodus 12:7-13) for the context.
The Lord Jesus Himself is our Passover lamb. (1 Corinthians 5:7) When God poured out his wrath upon Egypt the Israelites were spared because they were sheltering under the blood of the sacrificial lamb that had been without spot or blemish. This became known as the Passover. The Israelites did three things that kept them safe. Firstly, they applied the blood to the doorposts of their houses and sheltered under that blood by faith. Secondly, they fed themselves upon the lamb, i.e., they actually ate all the flesh of the sacrificed animal along with bitter herbs and unleavened bread. Thirdly, they were ready to leave Egypt at any moment. What happened to Egypt teaches us what will happen in the last days. Egypt is a type of the world and the plagues described in Exodus are replayed at the end of the age.
If we want to escape the wrath of God then we need to be sheltering under the blood of Jesus by faith. His blood must be upon us. (Romans 5:9) We must be “feeding on the lamb” by keeping our personal relationship fresh with Jesus and by feeding on the pure grain of God’s word typified by the unleavened bread. Furthermore, we need to be always aware of the great cost to God when he offered up his Son. This is typified by the Israelites eating bitter herbs on the night of the Passover. We must be ready to leave this world at any moment by living only for God’s will and by not being at home in this world or attached to the things of this world. We must be studying God’s word, praying, cultivating fellowship with other believers and telling others about Jesus and looking for the eternal city whose architect and builder is God.
God is holy and hates sin. His holiness reveals itself in punishing all evil and wrongdoing. His wrath at sin must strike somewhere, on the sinner himself or upon a lawful substitute. Jesus was that substitute. (Isaiah 53:6) The phrase “laid upon him” in Hebrew literally means “made to strike upon.” It is seen in the way the Israelites struck the doorposts with the animal’s blood on the hyssop just before the destroying angel passed over them. Compare: (Hebrews 9:22, 28) (1 John 4:10)
4. The Lord Jesus died to redeem us from the curse of the law by bearing that curse Himself.
“All who rely upon observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the book of the law.’ Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (Galatians 3:10,13).
As we have already seen no one is capable of keeping all of God’s law. When we look at the Ten Commandments we can clearly see that there is no way we can keep all of them perfectly. We may think that we are not a bad person but by God’s standards of righteousness there is no one that does good. No not one! (Romans 3:10-18) When we try to justify ourselves before God who is holy and righteous by works we bring ourselves under a curse. That curse is sin and death and an eternal separation from God in the lake of fire. Jesus redeemed us from all of these by becoming the curse for us. He went into hell itself on our behalf. Just before he died on the cross Jesus said, “It is finished.” The work of Salvation was complete. The curse had been born by him. Now people have access into God’s presence in heaven for time and eternity. This was visibly demonstrated when the veil of the curtain in the temple was torn from top to bottom at the moment Jesus died.
The Bible also lists other curses such as sickness and poverty. Jesus bore these as well and this will be our final experience in the resurrection. In this life we cannot always avoid sickness, poverty and certainly we cannot avoid death but in the resurrection and the Millennial Kingdom we will be redeemed from all of them. (Revelation 22:3) (Galatians 4:4-7)
5. The Lord Jesus died to deliver us from this present evil age.
“Who gave Himself for our sins to rescue us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen” (Galatians 1:4-5).
When we repent and believe in Jesus we are transferred from Satan’s kingdom into the Kingdom of God. (Colossians 1:13) Satan is no longer our god or overlord because we have changed masters. We have become sons and daughters of God and citizens of heaven. (Philippians 3:20) Before we were saved we were citizens of Satan’s domain and under his law of sin and death however when we were saved we came out from under that law and came under the new law of a personal relationship with God through the Lord Jesus Christ. The law of God no longer condemns us because we are under the law of Christ that is expressed by faith and by living in righteousness, joy and peace in the Holy Spirit.
By way of an illustration: If you were living in Australia you would be under its laws, however, it you were to go to America you would come under the laws of America and no longer be under the laws of Australia. Before we were saved we were under the law of sin and death and hell bound! However, in the Lord Jesus Christ we come out from under the old law of sin and death and are translated into the new Kingdom of life and peace under the authority of the Lord Jesus. We change lords. Instead of Satan being our lord and master the Lord Jesus becomes our Lord and Master.
If we really belong to the Lord Jesus then the world will begin to loose its fascination and hold over us. Our desires will change. We will have new spiritual taste buds for the things of God. We will want to pray, study the Bible and have fellowship with other believers. The desires to fulfill the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh and the pride of life will diminish and through the Spirit’s power we will be able to love the Lord with all of our heart, with all of our soul, with all of our strength and with all of our mind and our neighbor as ourselves. We can do this because the Holy Spirit has shed the love of God abroad in our hearts. (Romans 5:5) By faith we release that love to God and to others, especially towards our brothers and sisters in Christ. Our faith works by love. It is the royal law of heaven.
When we walk in God’s love and under its controlling power we fulfill all the law and there is no longer any condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus who do not walk after the flesh but the Spirit. In fact the Spirit of Life that is in Christ Jesus sets us free from the downward pull of the law of sin and death. If we have really encountered the work of the cross in our life then we will be crucified to the world and the world will be crucified to us. (Galatians 2:20 5:24 6:14) The late Derek Prince said that “the cross is the place where our will and God’s will cross.”
As another illustration for example if you fill a balloon with air it will eventually fall to the ground again because the law of gravity is stronger than the law of lift. However if you fill the balloon with helium then it will defy the law of gravity as the law of lift will be greater than the law of gravity. This illustrates how the Holy Spirit in the born again believer enables them to rise above the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh and the pride of life. The law of lift in the Holy Spirit is greater than the gravity of the law of sin and death. Just as the fuel in the plane enables it to defy the law of gravity and stay in the sky so the Holy Spirit controlling the life of the believer enables that believer to overcome the downward gravitational pull of the law of sin and death. Without the spiritual fuel of the Holy Spirit the believer would soon succumb to the world the flesh and the devil!
6. The Lord Jesus died to bring us to God.
“For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18).
The cross of Jesus Christ bridges the gap between sinful man and God. His sacrifice was once for all time and never to be repeated again. In the Roman Catholic Mass Jesus is offered again and again. This has no Biblical basis in scripture. This is why the Roman Catholic Church always shows a figure of Jesus on a cross in their churches. There is nothing that can be added to what Christ has done. His sacrificial work is perfect and complete in every way. There is no other way of approaching God other than through the blood of Jesus. (Hebrews 1:3 7:27 9:26) He is our great High Priest who has passed through the curtain of the heavens to appear before God on our behalf. (Hebrews 4:14-16 9:12 10:19-23) Therefore let us come boldly to the throne of grace that we might receive mercy and grace to help us in our time of need.