Why did Jesus have to die? Why does the resurrection matter? What, if anything, actually hinges on believing Jesus was crucified and literally rose from the dead three days later? In this Easter message we explore these questions and other implications in believing and living out a resurrection centered faith.
The resurrection makes all the difference. In principle it means we live in a world that goes on forever because death doesn’t constrain us anymore. It’s also a big deal because it confirmed Jesus to be the Son of God and his work on the cross to be a sign of victory, and not just a first century Jewish rabbi heretic. It also gives reason to how a group of misfit cowards that were following Jesus became courageous evangelizers of the entire Roman world within a very short period of time following his death. The question that this history begs though, is why did Jesus have to die?
Most evangelicals grew up hearing some form of the penal substitution theory about Jesus’s death on the cross. It generally involved a depiction of God being perfect, holy, and not able to stand being around sin. It created an issue that needed to be solved by God being perfect love, but also perfect judgment. Sin had been committed by humanity and therefore justice needed to be served. This is where Jesus would enter in to the story and take the wrath of the Father upon himself to satisfy the judgment against us. There are several issues worth noting with the penal substitution theory:
- If it is correct, and God really does desire and require sacrifice, then the pagans have had it right for millennia with their practice of child sacrifice for atonement of sins.
- From the gospel accounts, Jesus, who is the perfect representation of God, clearly had no issues hanging out with sinners, prostitutes, and tax collectors.
- In this view of God, he doesn’t actually forgive. He just collects the debt owed from a different subject (Jesus).
- This view puts violence in a central position in God’s story. It basically says he killed his own son, so he doesn’t have to send humanity to Hell for eternal conscious torment and suffering. It justifies institutional violence from the church to get important tasks complete. If we think God used violence to solve the most important problem, humanity separated from him, then it perpetuates the myth of redemptive violence as a viable method to solve our problems.
- We see in 2 Corinthians 5:19 that God was reconciling the world to himself, not reconciling his love to his justice. Additionally, humans were not the only thing needing redemption. We see in Romans that all of creation was groaning for redemption. This is not addressed in the penal substitution theory.
So why did Jesus have to die? Jesus clearly believed in Satan and principalities and powers in the spiritual realm. Just as with humans, for spiritual created entities, love had to be chosen. This left open the possibility of rebellion, which we’re told occurred, and it seems humans were created at least in part to push back against these powers and take back what was God’s. Jesus and Paul say things of Satan like, “he is the principal power of the air,” “he is the god of this age,” “he comes only to steal kill and destroy,” “he holds the power of death,” and “he controls the entire world.” They clearly believed we live in a spiritually oppressed world. We are all broken, both physically and mentally. We seem to be fundamentally self-righteous and spiritually corrupt. We are dead in sin and we can’t repair ourselves.
The good news of the gospels is that through Jesus the source of the corruption itself is being destroyed. Jesus came to “destroy he who has the power of death” and “destroy the devil’s work.” A greater distance could not have been traveled and a greater sacrifice could not have been made than was made by God through Jesus. This is the power of the resurrection, to break the power of death and defeat Satan. All of our sin has been nailed to the cross with Jesus and God does not hold it against us. He does not accuse of trespass. The accuser is Satan, and he has in principle been defeated by Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection. But we live in an already but not yet era of the Kingdom. Our job is to bring in to reality the truth that we are free, and death no longer has a hold on us. We can live by grace and not fear. We won’t be able to fully see the new Kingdom until Christ returns, but the truth that Satan has in principle been defeated and we will live forever with Jesus should change our perspective on our present reality. We live in a longer narrative, a narrative that goes on forever.
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