Written by Rev. Nicholas Davelaar
Published in the Courier of Russellville, Arkansas
It’s been observed that millions saw the apple fall, but Isaac Newton was the one who asked why. That question—why—was a critical step toward understanding gravity.
That question—why—remains a critical step toward understanding, as the teachers in our midst will testify. And that’s true not only for gravity, but also the person and work of Jesus Christ.
Why did Jesus suffer and die? We have ample evidence that he did suffer and die, not only in the Bible, but also in other ancient sources, some of them written by people we would call hostile witnesses. The question is not whether he suffered and died—the question is why.
We sometimes hear people say that Jesus died to show sinners God’s love for them. And that’s all they say. But is that all? That seems too steep a price merely for a Valentine’s card.
Why did Jesus suffer and die? What did Jesus say? In Mark 10:45 we hear him explain that he came to “give his life as a ransom for many.” Similarly, in John 10:11 we hear him declare that he came to lay down his life for his sheep.
Why was that necessary? It was necessary because we by nature are God’s enemies, objects of his wrath. We could be reconciled to God only by the death of his Son in our place, “the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God,” in the words of 1 Peter 3:18.
So, yes, Jesus certainly did suffer and die out of love, but that love had a purpose: to pay the wages due his people for their sin and give them a new life, a life of fellowship with the God of heaven and earth (to rephrase Romans 6:23).
The story is told of a man in Nashville, shortly after the end of the War between the States. He looked out of place: a man in farm clothes, kneeling at a gravestone in a soldiers’ cemetery, writing something.
An observer came up and asked, “Is that the grave of your son?”
The farmer replied, “No, I have seven children, all of them young, and a wife on my poor farm in Illinois. I was drafted and, despite the great hardship it would cause, I was required to join the Army. But on the morning I was to depart this man, my neighbor’s older son, came over and offered to take my place in the war.”
The observer solemnly asked, “What is that you are writing on his grave?”
The farmer replied, “I am writing, ‘He died for me.’”
Can you say that about Jesus? Is that your testimony, your joy?
Think about that.
For further study, read John 10:11-18, 27-30.