Why Was The Cross Necessary?

I used to ask myself why Jesus had to die such a brutal death. It is hard to imagine a death more cruel than this one. If a death were required in order for humanity to be redeemed, why couldn’t it be more like a lethal injection, or why couldn’t he simply drink hemlock?

I think Christ’s death had to be brutal in order for human beings to take it seriously. After all, Bible could have said, “Jesus fell asleep one Friday afternoon, and he was declared to be dead, so they put his body in a cave. Then on Sunday morning, they discovered it was gone. Christ had risen from the dead.” This story might be the truth, but who would believe it? Who would take it seriously as a sacrifice for all of us? Even if God did not require blood, people do. Plenty of people doubt the death and resurrection of Christ to this day. The story would be even less compelling if the death had been painless and comfortable.

There is more. Christ’s death had to be brutal, because Satan had to be shamed. Satan is, above all things, proud. There would be no way to defeat him with finality without shame. The brutality and inhumanity of Christ’s death was among other things shameful. It was intended by the Romans to be shameful. Humiliating. Cruel. Satan needed to know that God cared for humanity so much that God himself would lovingly endure this shameful death to set people free from Satan’s grip.

And the resurrection? Without the brutality of the death, the resurrection would have meant little. Jesus brought people to life many times during his ministry, but none of those resurrections did anything for humanity. The deaths may have been painful and miserable, but when those people came back to life, Satan simply grinned. When Christ endured the horror of crucifixion and then took up his life again, Satan was done. He still had his freedom to afflict us here in time and space, but that freedom has limits. The world where Satan runs free will come to an end, but Christ’s kingdom has no end. The resurrection promises us that life here and now is changed forever by the resurrection. Those who follow Christ live in time and space, but they live at the intersection where eternity pierces the envelope and redeems creation.

Mike Glenn writes, “In the resurrection Christ brought into reality all the promises God had given to his people.”

What promises is Mike talking about?

Start with Abram in Genesis 21:2-3

I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.

The deaf shall hear and the blind shall see Isaiah 29:18

On that day the deaf shall hear the words of a scroll, and out of their gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind shall see.

Nobody needs to go hungry any more 

Isaiah 55:2 Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?

John 6:35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry.

God is the God of life

For thus says the LORD to the house of Israel: Seek me and live.

God will never leave us here at the mercy of evil, all alone

To Joshua in Joshua 1:5, I will not fail you or forsake you

To Joseph in a dream foretelling Jesus’ birth Matthew 1:22 All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.”

And many more.

Some people say that Jesus was a great teacher just like other great teachers. However, if he rose from the dead, then he is very different from all the other teachers. He knows things no other teacher knows. If he says we must love our enemies, then we need to listen. A man who suffered on the cross, died and rose again, knows things about both enemies and love that we need to learn. The beautiful thing about the resurrection is that it not only showed us that Christ has power over physical death, but he also has power over “all other forms of death in [our] lives, such as relationships … and opportunities.” Furthermore, “the Risen Christ is not limited by time and space, so he is with us in the present, and he waits for us in the future.”

Some might try to argue that God could have arranged for Christ to die a less brutal death than the crucifixion, and I won’t argue, but I will say that anything less would not get our attention. Human beings are cruel. We don’t like wimps. Jesus was no wimp. He faced death in the most brutal fashion, and then he overcame it. He faced Satan, with love and grace, and then he overcame Satan. From the moment the first nail was hammered into Christ’s body, Satan’s last days were begun. The image of the great dragon lashing his tail and sweeping stars out of the sky in the book of Revelation reminds me of a three-year-old’s tantrum. Satan is much more dangerous and vicious than any toddler, but he felt as impotent as a toddler when Christ faced the brutality of the cross, and won. Because he did that, we all can join in that great crowd of people, myriads and myriads of people in the new heaven and the new earth at the wedding feast of the slaughtered lamb, the One who suffered shame, excruciating pain and death in order that we might live with him forever and ever.

Jesus said “Yes” to death in order that he might say “Yes” to life, “Yes” to redemption, “Yes” to transformation. Without the cruel cross and the resurrection, we would all be subject to Satan’s permanent “No.”

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