Part 3 of a four-part series on the Good News.
Why did Jesus die on the cross? We know that the cross was an instrument of torture and oppression. Roman citizens could not be crucified; it was reserved for slaves and foreigners. Crucifixion was an agonizing public spectacle designed to send a strong message: rebel against us and we will torture you to death. But Jesus is the King of the Universe, the Son of God, and therefore all-powerful. He could have called ten thousand angels to destroy the world and set him free. Why would he let himself be killed? Christians have answered this question in three ways. First of all, God wants us to see in the flesh how much He loves us. “I asked Jesus, ‘How much do you love me?’ And Jesus said, ‘This much.’ Then he stretched out His arms and died.” (see John 3:16 and 15:13).
The second way is that Jesus shed his blood as atonement for our sins. The ancient world offered the sacrifice of animals to cleanse them of sins. But only a Sinless One could make a perfect offering to God. Evangelicals like to say, “Jesus paid a debt he didn’t owe, because we owed a debt we couldn’t pay.” (see Romans 6:23, II Corinthians 5:21 and I Peter 2:24).
The third way to see that Jesus’ death answers the problem we spoke of last week: “He disarmed the principalities and powers and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in him.” (Colossians 2:15). Principalities refers to ranks of angels and demons. Powers are Sin and Death and Hell. The ‘public spectacle’ refers to a Roman military parade. When they defeated foreign enemies, the leaders would be brought back in chains and paraded through the streets of Rome. Imagine a captured Osama Bin Laden, chained naked inside a cage, and carted through the streets of New York in a victory parade. That kind of public spectacle was a normal part of Roman life. St. Paul is using military language on purpose. When Jesus was born in Bethlehem, he was Almighty God smuggled into the enemy’s stronghold under cover of darkness. Jesus came to fulfill the ancient prophecy that the offspring of Eve would “crush the serpent’s head” (Genesis 3:15). Jesus, by his obedience even until death, won the victory over sin and death and struck a mortal blow to the Kingdom of Darkness. He chained the Devil and freed all of Satan’s captives.
So the short answer to the question is this: Jesus died on the cross because you matter, and you matter far more than you ever imagined. You were worth dying for. He saw you a powerless slave to sin and he came to set you free. “Jesus answered them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, every one who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not continue in the house for ever; the son continues for ever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:34-36) Praised be to God, who gives us the victory in Jesus Christ!
Part 4: New Life in Christ