Thursday, April 2, 2015

Why Did Jesus Have to Die on the Cross?


 
This post is actually a response to two questions, and as such it is organized into two parts:  First, why did Jesus have to die for the atonement to work? Second, why did Jesus have to die on the cross, as opposed to some other way? 

Q1: Did Jesus need to die on the cross? Had he already paid for our sins at this point or was it part of the atonement? And in what way?

A1:  Jesus did indeed need to die for our sins.  While Christ had made an atonement offering in the garden by His suffering and by shedding his own blood (acting in his capacity as the great high priest), the atonement was not yet finished.

The law of justice says that if a man sins somebody has to pay the price.  Fortunately, Christ paid the price for us, but the price is very high.

Alma 34: 9-12  For it is expedient that an atonement should be made; for according to the great plan of the Eternal God there must be an atonement made, or else all mankind must unavoidably perish; yea, all are hardened; yea, all are fallen and are lost, and must perish except it be through the atonement which it is expedient should be made.  For it is expedient that there should be a great and last sacrifice; yea, not a sacrifice of man, neither of beast, neither of any manner of fowl; for it shall not be a human sacrifice; but it must be an infinite and eternal sacrifice.  Now there is not any man that can sacrifice his own blood which will atone for the sins of another.  Now, if a man murdereth, behold will our law, which is just, take the life of his brother?  I say unto you, Nay.  But the law requireth the life of him who hath murdered; therefore there can be nothing which is short of an infinite atonement which will suffice for the sins of the world.

The author of Hebrews is more direct and states that without the shedding of blood there can be no forgiveness of sin, and that Christ’s blood was shed as part of the atonement offering on our behalf.  He goes on to state that in order for the new covenant (of the gospel) to be in force, it requires the life of the testator.

Hebrews 9:22  And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission.

Hebrews 9:11-17  But Christ being come an high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building; Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us.  For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh:  How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?  And for this cause he is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance.  For where a testament is, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator.  For a testament is of force after men are dead: otherwise it is of no strength at all while the testator liveth.  Whereupon neither the first testament was dedicated without blood.

In the Bible (see 1 John 2:1-2 and Romans 3:23-26) Christ is referred to as being the propitiation for our sins.  This isn’t a word that you hear much in modern English, but it is crucial to help us to understand why His death was required. 

We do not have the ability to pay the price for our own sins. No worldly wealth or power can right the wrongs which we have committed against God.

Psalm 49:6-8  They that trust in their wealth, and boast themselves in the multitude of their riches; None of them can by any means redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him: (For the redemption of their soul is precious, and it ceaseth for ever:)

Alma 34:11-12   Now there is not any man that can sacrifice his own blood which will atone for the sins of another.  Now, if a man murdereth, behold will our law, which is just, take the life of his brother?  I say unto you, Nay.  But the law requireth the life of him who hath murdered; therefore there can be nothing which is short of an infinite atonement which will suffice for the sins of the world.

“Not the labors of my hands
Can fill all thy law's demands;
Could my zeal no respite know,
Could my tears forever flow,
All for sin could not atone;
Thou must save, and thou alone.”
(Rock of Ages, Hymn No. 111, Hymns of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints)

When Christ is called the propitiation for our sins, it means that only He could be given as a ransom for us, because His life was the required price in order to redeem us from the curse of sin and death, and to reclaim us from the demands of justice.  He paid the price we could never pay so that we, who were estranged through sin and transgression, might be reconciled once again with God our father.

Romans 5:6-11  For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.  For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die.  But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.  Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him.  For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.  And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement.

Because we are imperfect, and because we have been tainted by sin, our lives are insufficient to pay the price for our own sins, let alone the sins of anyone else.  Christ is perfect and sinless, and He led a sinless life.  Thus Christ is the only one who can pay the price for our sins and transgressions, because He kept the whole law, and He is therefore the only one whose life satisfied the whole law of justice, and the only one who can be said to have earned salvation.  Fortunately for us, Christ graciously agrees to cover us (an additional meaning of propitiation, as well as the Old Testament word for atonement) with His righteousness before God.

Romans 3:23-26  For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.

Thus, Christ can be said to have borne our sins on the cross (or the tree, as Peter liked to call it).

1 Peter 2:21-25  For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously: Who 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. For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.

Christ, who was perfectly innocent, and who did no wrong, was made to suffer the consequences of our sins and our mistakes.  He freely chose to make this sacrifice in order to redeem us and to save us, because He loves us.

Isaiah 53:4-12  Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.  But 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.  All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.  He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth.  He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation?  for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken. And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth.  Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.  He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities.  Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.

Christ’s death was an absolute requirement to appease the demands of justice and bring about “the bowels of mercy.”

Alma 34:12-16  But the law requireth the life of him who hath murdered; therefore there can be nothing which is short of an infinite atonement which will suffice for the sins of the world.  Therefore, it is expedient that there should be a great and last sacrifice, and then shall there be, or it is expedient there should be, a stop to the shedding of blood; then shall the law of Moses be fulfilled; yea, it shall be all fulfilled, every jot and tittle, and none shall have passed away.  And behold, this is the whole meaning of the law, every whit pointing to that great and last sacrifice; and that great and last sacrifice will be the Son of God, yea, infinite and eternal.  And thus he shall bring salvation to all those who shall believe on his name; this being the intent of this last sacrifice, to bring about the bowels of mercy, which overpowereth justice, and bringeth about means unto men that they may have faith unto repentance.  And thus mercy can satisfy the demands of justice, and encircles them in the arms of safety, while he that exercises no faith unto repentance is exposed to the whole law of the demands of justice; therefore only unto him that has faith unto repentance is brought about the great and eternal plan of redemption.

Thus it was only in the moment that He finally gave up the ghost and died on the cross that Christ could lift his head and declare to the Father: “It is finished.” (see John 19:30).

The atonement includes Christ’s suffering in the Garden as well as His sufferings and death on the cross, and was completed when Christ rose from the grave after three days.  If any of these things had not been completed, then the atonement would have been incomplete.  The shedding of Christ’s blood was required for the remission of our sins, His suffering and death was what was required to ransom us from death and sin, and His resurrection is what finally broke the bands of death so that we might be free forever to choose for ourselves to follow Christ and His gospel.  If we will repent through faith in His name, we can be cleansed by the power of His atoning sacrifice, through covenant.  If we will endure to the end in righteousness He will grant us the gift of eternal life.

D&C 14:7  And, if you keep my commandments and endure to the end you shall have eternal life, which gift is the greatest of all the gifts of God.

**On a related note, Brigham Young taught that while the shedding of the blood of Christ is what cleanses “from all sin [all those] who are disposed to act their part by repentance, and faith in his name,” Christ’s death is what atones for original sin.

“The original sin was atoned for by the death of Christ, although its effects we still see in the diseases, distempers, and every species of wickedness with which the human family is afflicted.”  (Brigham Young, in Widstoe, Discourses of Brigham Young, 153).

Q2:  So dying was part of it. Was it just by happenstance it was on the cross? Meaning if he was mugged and died that would have satisfied as well?

A2:  Paul explained that Christ dying on the cross (or the tree, as it is often called in the Bible) had special significance, as it was a fulfillment of the requirements set forth in the law.

Deuteronomy 21:22-23  And if a man have committed a sin worthy of death, and he be to be put to death, and thou hang him on a tree:  His body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but thou shalt in any wise bury him that day; (for he that is hanged is accursed of God;) that thy land be not defiled, which the LORD thy God giveth thee for an inheritance.

As Paul explained to the Galatians, we are all under the curse of the law because we have all failed to keep the law in some point or another. Christ was able to redeem us from the curse of the law because he was perfect, and he kept the whole law. However, he chose to answer for our transgressions in order to redeem us from the curse of the law. He who was perfectly righteous took the stain of our unrighteousness upon Him in order that we might be made righteous.

2 Corinthians 5:19&21 To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.

Christ's death on the cross was a symbol of Christ's taking the stain and curse of our sins upon himself so that we might be redeemed from the effects of sin, and so the demands of the law might be satisfied, as Paul explained in Galatians 3:13:

"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"

Thus Christ's death on the cross was no accident, and in fact was part of a direct fulfillment of the stipulations and requirements of the law (specifically as they are contained in Deuteronomy 21:23).

How fortunate for you and I that Christ chose to take upon him our sins and mistakes, sicknesses, and afflictions.  Though He did no evil, he chose to suffer as an evildoer, for our sakes.  I can scarcely believe that the King of Kings would so freely and graciously offer Himself in my place.  How great the mercy and grace of the Lord Jesus Christ!  I lack the ability to truly express my gratitude to Him for his life, and for His incredible sacrifice which he made for all men.

Isaiah 53:3-12  He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.  Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.  But 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.  All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.  He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth.  He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation?  for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken.  And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth.  Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.  He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities.  Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.

This article is part of a series on the atonement.  Check out these related articles to gain a complete picture of the atonement of Jesus Christ: 

Why Gethsemane is as Important as Calvary

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