Why Did Jesus Have To Die?

Published by Chet Kennedy on

I remember one time at Camp Nakamun I had poured my heart and soul into a camp fire talk on Jesus’ death. I talked about the last supper and the garden of Gethsemane. I talked about Judas’ betrayal and Peter’s denials. I talked about how Jesus was beaten and whipped and mocked by the soldiers. I talked about his trial and the crowd and his sentence. I talked about the road to the cross and how the onlookers jeered and mocked and spit on him while he carried his cross. 

I spoke at great length about the nails and the wood and the hammers and the torture. I focused on the pain he would have felt as both man and God struggled to achieve this sacrifice for the sake of the people he loved. I talked about the pull of gravity on his wracked body and how he would use those nails to pull himself up to breathe. I talked about how this went on and on for hours. I knew I was having an impact when I saw young girls crying and I knew that I had had the desired effect when little hands went up all around the campfire when I asked if anyone wanted to give their hearts to Jesus. 

Feeling quite satisfied with myself, although I can remember very clearly that I had forgotten to mention the crown of thorns, I was walking back from the campfire and I was stopped by a very small girl. It was a Junior high camp and this girl was not small for her age, she was tiny. I began to wonder if that talk was a little too graphic for someone so small. 

Her eyes were big and you could tell she had been crying. She looked up at me like a child who had lost a puppy and said, “I know that Jesus died, I know that he died for my sins, I understand all that… but why did Jesus have to die?”

How can I explain the sacrificial system to such a small human?

Before Jesus died they spent the last hours of the evening celebrating the passover meal. We now call it the last supper because it was the last time the disciples ate with Jesus before he died. They were celebrating the Passover which had been an annual celebration for the Jews since a time when God did a brutal thing to teach a wicked and stubborn ruler a very dark lesson. 

Creeping Death

In Exodus chapter 12 we find one of the most frightening scenarios in the bible. It is made out to be cute in children’s books but it is most certainly not. God was waging war on Egypt’s supreme commander Pharaoh. Moses and Aaron had performed many miracles which had released plagues on the land of Egypt. The plagues ruined the lives and livelihoods of the Egyptians but did not seem to be affecting the Hebrews in the same way. God had shown his protection for his people in that way but in Exodus 12 God changes his tactics. He gives strict instructions about how this next judgement will go. The people are to pick a lamb and care for it. Then at the appointed time they are to kill it and eat it but, one more rule. An odd rule, a disturbing rule, but following this rule is the difference between life and death. They are to then paint the sides of their doorways with the blood of that lamb. 

Why? Because God declared that he would go throughout the land in one evening and kill the first born of every human and animal. No matter who you were your first born would die, which meant that every family would experience loss. But, if your doorway was painted with the blood of a lamb your child and livestock would be spared. 

Moses’ laws and Rules and Sacrifices

Later in the bible we find Moses up on a mountain speaking to God about rules and sacrifices, it’s a crazy dizzying list of means and ways to deal with sin. Many of the methods that God chooses to deal with sin is through the blood of animals. The entire book of Leviticus is full of sacrifices to deal with all kinds of lawlessness. 

Later in the bible you find King Solomon celebrating the passover and the blood that he sheds for the sake of his nation is astounding. Blood is the established process for dealing with sin. 

Where did this all begin? Was it the passover? Actually NO. it wasn’t.

Abraham and Isaac

Much much earlier in Genesis 22 you have this story of How God tested Abraham by asking him to sacrifice his son Isaac. Sacrificing ones children and animals was not unusual in those days. In the end God provided a Ram for the sacrifice and Abraham sacrificed it on the altar he had made for his son.  

Was this the beginning of the sacrifices? Actually NO. it wasn’t.

Abraham’s first sacrifice

This is an incredibly bizarre story that almost never shows up in your sunday school teaching. So… I think it’s my job to let you in on it. 

In Genesis 15 Abraham complains to the Lord because he does not have any children. He has land, and riches but no one to give it to as an heir. That’s when God takes him outside and shows him the stars and tells him to count them. He then tells him, that his offspring will be like those stars. So many it can’t be counted. 

Then God tells him he will get land. When Abraham asks how he will acquire this land God tells him to go get a heifer, a goat, a ram and a dove and a pigeon. Abraham goes and gets these animals, he cuts the animals in half but not the birds then arranges them to be sacrificed. Then Abraham falls into a deep sleep. 

When the sun had set and darkness covered the land a smoking firepot with a torch in it appears and passes between the pieces of animal. Super creepy stuff. 

Was this the beginning of the sacrifices? Actually NO. it wasn’t.

Noah’s Sacrifice

After the ark was built and the rains fell. After the earth was flooded and everything died. After the birds flew away, and flew back and flew away and flew back and flew away and stayed… 

In Genesis 8:20 it says that Noah built an altar to the Lord. He took some of the clean animals and clean birds and he sacrificed burnt offerings on the altar to the Lord. Verse 21 says that the aroma was pleasing to God.  

Was this the beginning of the sacrifices? Actually NO. it wasn’t.

Cain and Abel

The story of Cain and Abel is so simple and yet for years and years and years our sunday school teachers have screwed it up. 

In Genesis 4 it tells us that Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. In time they both brought sacrifices to the Lord. Abel brought fat portions from the first born of his animals. Cain brought gardening, as if God is a vegetarian. The bible clearly states that God was pleased with Abel’s sacrifice and not with Cains.

Thousands of Sunday School teachers over the years have made up all kinds of reasons why God was unimpressed with Cain’s sacrifice. Those reasons range from God looks at the heart, to Cain was a glutton to those were not the first fruits, to God appreciates everything you bring to him even if it’s just your talents, and your happy pretty smiles. 

The real reason God was not impressed with the sacrifice? Nothing died. Even in Cain and Abels day they new that the only way to atone for sin was to kill something. Blood must be shed. Not vegetable blood. 

Why? How did they know this? It doesn’t seem fair. There was no bible back then, no Moses, no burning bushes. How would Cain know that God demanded blood for the forgiveness of sin? That seems brutally unfair that God would make such a demand on Cain and not even tell him what was expected. People feel this way because they assume that this is the first time an animal sacrifice was ever demanded by God.

Was this the beginning of the sacrifices? Actually NO. it wasn’t.

Adam and Eve and the Garments of skin. 

In Genesis 3 we have Adam and Eve in the garden of Eve. They are wrestling with matters of life and death while having a conversation with a snake. The bible tells us that they ate the forbidden fruit and immediately their eyes were open and they felt shame and desired to cover themselves for they were naked. 

When God entered the garden to speak with them they were hiding for they knew they had sinned. No one had to declare that they had broken their covenants with God they knew it in their hearts and they were ashamed. 

God declared in Genesis 3:16 – 19 his judgement over the man and the woman. Then he showed them how he would atone for their sins. He showed them what he expected to happen when humans need forgiveness. He established the sacrificial system in the garden of Eden when he killed an animal and made garments for them out of its hide. 

Why did Jesus have to die? 

Jesus had to die because a long time ago in a garden far far away God showed us that the punishment for sin is death. He showed us that something or someone must die for us to experience freedom from sin and freedom from death. 

Jesus chose to be that sacrificial lamb for us, so that we didn’t have to and so that no more lambs needed to be destroyed for the sake of a system that had become broken, and tarnished, and ridiculed and abused. 

How will you respond to Jesus’ death?

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