It wasn't that long ago that The Passion of the Christ came out in movie theaters. Lots of people liked it and were moved by the brutal trials that Jesus faced at the end of his life. They were certainly the focus of the film. For that reason, there were others who felt the movie went too far. It seemed to some that the message of the movie said that we were forgiven only because Jesus bruised, broken, and bloodied. It was as if we were saved because Jesus was willing to be tortured.
For centuries, people have wondered what Jesus accomplished on the cross. We know that we find in him the forgiveness of our sins in his blood, but why? There have been a couple of major ideas about this over the years that have often competed with one another. The first one uses words like substitution and satisfaction. The other one uses words like example and model.
Some people look at Old Testament sacrifices and see similar ideas in Jesus' death. That is, people break God's law and sin, God is angry, and sacrifices remove the guilt of sin from them. Despite those sacrifices, however, people continued to break God's law. Jesus became the final sacrifice. God sent Jesus as a "substitute" to die in our place. This "satisfied" God's justice and the requirements of the law so that God could show us mercy. This has often confused people and it's even been called "divine child abuse."
For that reason, others came up with a different idea. They thought of Jesus as the perfect "model" for faith, hope, and love. Jesus showed us what it is like to live a life of faithfulness before God. For these people, the cross is the clearest sign of that. Rather than fighting back, Jesus laid down his life and forgave his enemies. God rewarded him for it with a resurrection. If we will simply follow his "example" we will receive the same reward.
In the first idea, or theory, Jesus had to die to satisfy God's righteousness. In the second, theory Jesus didn't have to die, but did because humanity rejected him. The first theory highlights God's justice. The second theory highlights God's mercy. The first theory says that salvation is something God does for us. The second theory says that salvation is something that God invites us to but that we must join. How do we make sense of all of this?
Well, you'll have to come to church to hear more. Otherwise, this could get real long. Here's the short version:
Did Jesus have to die? That's the question most people want to make sense of. It is uncomfortable for many to say that God made his Son die for us. Either way, God needed someone to die and that seems cruel. On the other hand, if Jesus didn't have to die then the cross seems to lose it's power. It is certainly meaningful and moving that Jesus would go through that, but somehow not as far reaching. Besides, there are plenty of verses in the Bible that say the cross is really important. Here's my take:
Jesus had to die. Not because God made him do it, but because death holds such power over us. The reason that sin has such a tight grip on our lives is because we are fragile creatures. Rather than trust God, we tend to take life in to our own hands and grab what we can while we can. That's sin. Jesus died so that we could see that God is stronger than death. Jesus died such a brutal and shameful death so that we could know that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.