Why Did Jesus Have to Die? (Hebrews 10:1-18)

As you read the events leading up to the death of Jesus, you feel like yelling out, "No!" You know what's about to happen. You know that one of his chosen friends is about to desert him. You know that the minute he steps into Jerusalem, he's on an irreversible course that will lead to his death. You wish that this time, the story could end up differently.

Jesus knew what was coming too. It wasn't a surprise to him. He knew it was going to happen, and he could have stopped it at any time. You have to wonder why he would subject himself to that, which leads to a bigger question. If Jesus truly was God, what's the deal with having to die anyway? Doesn't God make the rules? Couldn't he have found a different way if he wanted to forgive us? It seems strange that God made this requirement that we had to die for our sins, and then subjected his own Son to this punishment. Why couldn't he have just said, "Hey, it's okay, I'll forgive you." Why did Jesus have to die?

This is a pretty important question to answer, because the cross is so ugly and so central to what it means to be a Christian. The cross isn't a thing of beauty. It's an instrument of torture. It's about as glamorous as a firing squad or an electric chair. It's only because we haven't seen a crucifixion that we can think of the cross as a nice thing. It's ugly, but it's at the center. The Apostle Paul said, "For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified" (1 Corinthians 2:2 NIV).

Martin Luther called Christianity a theology of the cross. Why was the cross so necessary?

I want to look at a passage of Scripture that explains why the cross was so necessary, and what Jesus accomplished there. This passage is rooted in the Jewish faith. The readers would have been very familiar with the sacrifices that were taking place in the Temple, and they would have been familiar with a lot of the concepts that this passage talks about. This is a great passage to help us understand why the cross was so necessary.

It's probably helpful to begin with a few background concepts, though. Anyone who ever encountered God was scared - not scared by any negative character qualities so much, but scared because God is so other, so exalted. If God is scary to begin with, imagine God when he's angry. "It is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God" (Hebrews 10:31).

It's one thing for us to forgive others when they wrong us. An apology is really all that's necessary. It's different with God. His justice is so strong that he can't just say, "Hey, I understand, no problem." This creates a bit of a problem for God - one he chose to have - because he has a desire to forgive us. But he can't do this without compromising his justice, just as a judge couldn't say to a criminal, "Hey, no problem, forget about the law. I forgive you."

God didn't have to save us. He could have said, quite literally, "Go to hell." He did with the angels. "God did not spare even the angels when they sinned; he threw them into hell, in gloomy caves and darkness until the judgment day" (2 Peter 2:4). Once he decided to save us, two of his character qualities presented a problem. His justice demanded that sin have consequences. His love made him want to forgive us. He could have been just and condemned us, and he could have been loving and just forgiven us, but how could he be loving and just at the same time?

Hebrews 10:1-4 says:

The old system in the law of Moses was only a shadow of the things to come, not the reality of the good things Christ has done for us. The sacrifices under the old system were repeated again and again, year after year, but they were never able to provide perfect cleansing for those who came to worship. If they could have provided perfect cleansing, the sacrifices would have stopped, for the worshipers would have been purified once for all time, and their feelings of guilt would have disappeared.

But just the opposite happened. Those yearly sacrifices reminded them of their sins year after year. For it is not possible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.

We've just looked at God's side of the problem. He wants to be loving and just and the same time. Now, here's our side of the equation. We've offended God, actually made him angry - not a petulant anger, but a justified one. What do you bring a God that you've angered? What do you do to make things right? In the old Jewish system, you brought him a sacrifice. It's the way that God commanded people to approach him. But it still didn't work.

That's a little frustrating. It's like God has told us the only way that we can relate to him, and it's still not enough. God says, "Try this," and we try it, and God says, "No, that won't do." The problem with sacrifices is that they never do the job. If they did what we intended them to do, once would be enough. But it wasn't. What we thought would lead us to God instead became a reminder of our own sins.

The sacrifices weren't meant to do the job, it turns out. They were only meant to serve as a rough outline for what Jesus came to do. The writer calls it "a shadow of the things to come."

This isn't a new thought. It's actually part of the old Jewish system, already hinted at in the Scriptures. Hebrews 10:5-10 quotes Psalm 40, and puts the words into Jesus' mouth before he came to earth:

That is why Christ, when he came into the world, said,

"You did not want animal sacrifices and grain offerings.
But you have given me a body so that I may obey you.
No, you were not pleased with animals burned on the altar
or with other offerings for sin.
Then I said, 'Look, I have come to do your will, O God-
just as it is written about me in the Scriptures.'"

Christ said, "You did not want animal sacrifices or grain offerings or animals burned on the altar or other offerings for sin, nor were you pleased with them" (though they are required by the law of Moses). Then he added, "Look, I have come to do your will." He cancels the first covenant in order to establish the second. And what God wants is for us to be made holy by the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all time.

Even back in the middle of offering sacrifices to God - even in the glory days - people realized it wasn't enough. One of the problems with sacrifices is that imperfect people bring them. They could never do what needed to be done to satisfy God's love and justice, or to allow us to approach God.

That's where Jesus changed things. Jesus came to offer himself as a sacrifice. He came out of love to satisfy God's justice. He cancelled the old sacrificial system (which was probably still going on at the Temple when this letter was written) and with one act dealt with our sins.

Hebrews 10:11-18 says:

Under the old covenant, the priest stands before the altar day after day, offering sacrifices that can never take away sins. But our High Priest offered himself to God as one sacrifice for sins, good for all time. Then he sat down at the place of highest honor at God's right hand. There he waits until his enemies are humbled as a footstool under his feet. For by that one offering he perfected forever all those whom he is making holy.

And the Holy Spirit also testifies that this is so. First he says,

"This is the new covenant I will make
with my people on that day, says the Lord:
I will put my laws in their hearts
so they will understand them,
and I will write them on their minds
so they will obey them."

Then he adds,

"I will never again remember
their sins and lawless deeds."

Now when sins have been forgiven, there is no need to offer any more sacrifices.

Under the old system, sacrifices were made daily. With Christ, one sacrifice was offered for all time. When the priests offered the sacr ifices under the old system, they remained standing. When Christ offered himself as a sacrifice, he returned and sat at the right hand of God, because the work was done. No more sacrifices were required. Under the old system, sins weren't taken away; they were just covered over. With Christ's sacrifice, sin wasn't just covered. It was removed. Our sins have been completely forgiven because of the one, decisive act of Jesus Christ. He doesn't even remember our sins.

That's something we can build our lives on. Here, we find answers to our inadequacies. It's not up to us. Christ has already dealt with our inadequacies. They've been forgiven.

Christ has dealt with our insecurity. We don't have to worry about our future offenses. They've already been dealt with.

We're safe here. There really isn't a place in this world in which we're completely safe. There's no person who is completely safe, no matter how close a relationship we may have with them. We can never let our defenses down completely - except at the cross. The cross is the one place where we've been completely forgiven, where we're completely safe.

Here we find a solution to our nagging, debilitating guilt. Here we find a place of permanence, stability in which we will always be "home" - we find our presence of rest in the presence of God himself.

Romans 8:1 says, "So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus." Why did Jesus have to die? It was the only way God could save us while maintaining both his love and his justice. It's the only way we could approach him. It's the only way we could be safe with God.


Praise for Christ's work

"My sins not in part but the whole, are nailed to the cross and I bear them no more"

Invitation to receive Christ's work of forgiveness


Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash is a graduate of the University of Waterloo, Heritage Theological Seminary, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He’s married to Charlene, and has two children, Christina and Josiah. Darryl is currently planting Liberty Grace Church in Liberty Village, Toronto. He previously served as pastor of Richview Baptist Church and Park Lawn Baptist Church, both in west Toronto.

Compelled by Love (2 Corinthians 5:10-6:2)

So what gets you up in the morning? Babies get up because they're hungry or they need to be changed. Kids wake up because they hate sleeping, and they've got energy to burn. That changes when they go to school. Then you can't get kids out of bed for school, until the weekend. They don't have any troubles waking up on the weekends. When we're older, we get up because we have to go to work, or we'll get fired. If you're lucky, you get up because you love to work. When you're retired, well, I haven't reached that point, so I'm not sure what gets you up in the morning. But something has to.For most of us, we're motivated by obligations and duties, at least most of the time. We're also motivated by love to look after kids and spend time with family. Motivation makes a big difference in our energy levels and dedication, especially when the tough is task.The Apostle Paul stayed motivated. He went from city to city, without a home to call his own. He was persecuted and mocked, sometimes even by those within the church who believed what he did. He never made a lot of money, and eventually was killed for his faith. You've got to wonder what could motivate a guy like that.Paul was able to explain what motivated him in very clear terms. What we're about to read isn't just a statement of personal motivation, it's also one of the most profound statements of the Gospel. It's a motivation that has changed millions of lives, right to today. If you have a Bible with you, let's look together at his explanation of what motivated him, found in 2 Corinthians 5.Paul's writing to a church, and explaining (sometimes defending) his ministry. He's just finished talking about heaven, but then begins to explain why he continues what he does, despite the personal cost. One of the reasons is one we don't hear a lot about today, in verses 9 to 11:
So our aim is to please him always, whether we are here in this body or away from this body. For we must all stand before Christ to be judged. We will each receive whatever we deserve for the good or evil we have done in our bodies. It is because we know this solemn fear of the Lord that we work so hard to persuade others. God knows we are sincere, and I hope you know this, too.
It almost sounds strange to talk about a "solemn fear of the Lord," but anyone who ever saw the Lord, or even an angel, knew about this fear. They'd always have to be told, "Fear not." I'm not sure that would work for me. I'd be pretty scared anyway. If we could see God for who he is, that would keep us motivated in itself.I don't think Paul's talking about an irrational fear of a terrible being. It's not like my kids last night, who saw a spider before they went to bed and woke up three times in the night terrified of that spider. I think he's talking about living life shaped by the reality of who God is, and the reality of what happens after our lives are over.What made the difference in Paul's life - and in our own - is knowing that every person will have to stand before Christ one day and be judged. That makes what we do eternally significant. If you really believe in heaven and hell, and if you believe that every person is going to stand before Christ's throne one day, then introducing people to Jesus Christ is most eternally significant thing that we can do. If you really believe that this life isn't everything, and that there is an eternity beyond the grave, then spiritual issues become much more significant.Paul continues by defending his ministry against critics in verses 12 and 13. He even admits that some might consider him crazy. We don't know why - it could have been because of his lifestyle, or because he wasn't a polished speaker, or because of what he did in his private worship of God. But in verses 14 and 15, he gives a second reason - an even more compelling reason - for his ministry:
Whatever we do, it is because Christ's love controls us. Since we believe that Christ died for everyone, we also believe that we have all died to the old life we used to live. He died for everyone so that those who receive his new life will no longer live to please themselves. Instead, they will live to please Christ, who died and was raised for them.
Christ's love wasn't a theoretical fact for Paul. It was made tangible through his death - not the death of a mere human, but the death of God. "Christ died for everyone." Jesus isn't just the Judge that he talked about in verse 10. He's also the one who died so that we don't have to fear judgment. When Christ died, he involved us in his death. Something was made available to everyone when Jesus died.When Jesus died, our old sinful natures died. We all have one. We were born with them. We all like to do what we know we shouldn't do. When we come to Christ, our old sinful nature dies on the cross with him. We no longer have the right to live the way that we used to. Our lives are no longer our own. We're made new. Paul says in verse 17, "What this means is that those who become Christians become new persons. They are not the same anymore, for the old life is gone. A new life has begun!"This changes everything. It changes the way we look at people. "So we have stopped evaluating others by what the world thinks about them. Once I mistakenly thought of Christ that way, as though he were merely a human being. How differently I think about him now!" (2 Corinthians 5:16). We normally evaluate people by their looks, money, possessions, personality. We judge them by how they make us feel. Christ's death changes this. Now, we look at people and think about them as souls. We see their relationship with Jesus Christ, or their potential relationship with Christ, as one of the primary things about them.Paul uses the picture of reconciliation - removing an offense between two parties - as a picture of what he's called to do. In Paul's picture, it's God who takes the initiative in removing the offense, even though we're the ones who caused the offense. He also gives a picture of his role as ambassador, representing God to people who need to be introduced to what Jesus did for them:
All this newness of life is from God, who brought us back to himself through what Christ did. And God has given us the task of reconciling people to him. For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people's sins against them. This is the wonderful message he has given us to tell others. We are Christ's ambassadors, and God is using us to speak to you. We urge you, as though Christ himself were here pleading with you, "Be reconciled to God!" (2 Corinthians 5:18-20)
And the message, according to Paul, that drives his life, is this: "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Corinthians 5:21 NIV).Here's the message of what happened at the cross. All the wrong that we've done, all the mistakes that we've made, all the regrets for things that we wish we could take back, all of that was transferred to Jesus Christ, the only person who ever lived without sin. He was punished for all that we've done wrong. In return, God transferred his righteousness to us, so that all God sees when he looks at us isn't the wrong we've done.God looks at us, and doesn't see the words we wish we hadn't spoken, the mistakes and the sins that are so obvious to us. He sees the righteousness of Jesus Christ. We didn't do our devotions this morning? God doesn't look at us with disgust. He sees the righteousness of Christ. We fought with our families on the way here? God sees the righteousness of Christ. We messed up this week? If we're in Christ, God sees the righteousness of Jesus Christ. God made Jesus our substitute. He got our sin and we got his righteousness.I read a story this week that helps me understand what happened. The second daughter of Queen Victoria was Princess Alice. Princess Alice had a son, who at the age of four, was infected with the horrible affliction known as black diphtheria. The condition was highly contagious and Alice was cautioned to stay away from her son.She tried, but she couldn't. One day she overheard him whisper to the nurse, "Why doesn't my mother kiss me anymore?" The words were more than she could bear. She ran to her son and smothered him with kisses. The mother contracted the disease and within a few days, both died and were buried.In a sense, that's what happened at the cross. Jesus came near enough to us that he willingly became infected with the sin that we had committed. He didn't sin himself, but he took our sin upon him. The only difference is that we were healed through what Jesus did. We became well because of the cross.That's a pretty compelling reason to serve. As we approach Easter, as we see what Jesus did just for us, it changes our perspective. It changes that way we want to live.Paul's thoughts continue in the first couple of verses of chapter 6:
As God's partners, we beg you not to reject this marvelous message of God's great kindness. For God says,
"At just the right time, I heard you. On the day of salvation, I helped you."
Indeed, God is ready to help you right now. Today is the day of salvation. (2 Corinthians 6:1-2)
Paul concludes by turning to us and asking, "Okay, how is it going to change your life?" If you've never received this grace, the amazing forgiveness of Christ, it's obvious what needs to happen. You have to give up your life to Christ. It costs you all that you've done. You die with Christ - you do lose the right to live your life by yourself, outside of Christ's control. But he takes all your junk, all your sins, and makes you a new person. You're forgiven, and you receive your righteousness. That's what happens when you accept this message of God's great kindness.If you have already accepted this message, it should factor in on the way I live my life. The love of Jesus should compel us to live differently too. I heard of someone who wasn't a follower of Christ, but he said, "I've discovered I'm enough of a Christian for most churches." What does it mean to be a follower of Jesus Christ? What's the minimum standard? Its not that we change a little. It's that we give up everything, deny ourselves, and follow him. It's that we die to ourselves, and begin to see ourselves as ambassadors, wherever we are, who want to introduce others to what Jesus did for them.Prayer:
To receive God's grace; to live our lives compelled by Christ's love

Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash is a graduate of the University of Waterloo, Heritage Theological Seminary, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He’s married to Charlene, and has two children, Christina and Josiah. Darryl is currently planting Liberty Grace Church in Liberty Village, Toronto. He previously served as pastor of Richview Baptist Church and Park Lawn Baptist Church, both in west Toronto.