Why did Jesus have to die?
This question is central to how we understand the Christian faith. It is also a helpful question, as it helps us to correctly ground our Christian beliefs.
In this series, we’ve already explored the problem of human sin, and how God dealt with this through the Cross of Jesus Christ. In this post, we will explore why Christians claim that Jesus is the only way back to God. The next post will look at what Jesus’ death achieves for us. If you want an answer to the question, “Why did Jesus have to die?” you will need to read both posts together!
Jesus made this extraordinary claim during His ministry:
Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?’
Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.’ (John 14:5-7)
Jesus Himself claimed that He was the only way back to God. This profound statement of Jesus’ self understanding has become somewhat controversial in our current culture.
In Western culture, we are told that all views and beliefs are equal and should be equally respected (this becomes problematic when two views directly contradict one another… but I cannot deal with that obvious issue here!). In such a context, it sounds dreadfully arrogant for Christians to claim that it is only Jesus who is the “Way, Truth and Life”.
The following quotation from N. T. Wright (a favourite author of mine) in his book John for Everyone: Part 2 explains why this becomes particularly problematic:
The trouble with this is that it doesn’t work. If you dethrone Jesus, you enthrone something, or someone, else instead. The belief that ‘all religions are really the same’ sounds nice and democratic – though the study of religions quickly shows that it isn’t true. What you are really saying if you claim that they’re all the same is that none of them are more than distant echoes, distorted images, of reality. You’re saying that ‘reality’, God, ‘the divine’ is remote and unknowable, and that neither Jesus, nor Buddha, not Moses nor Krishna gives us direct access to it. They all provide a way towards the foothills of the mountain, not the way to the summit. (Wright, 2002:59)
This hints at one of the reasons why I think Christianity is the True faith, and has real power to change people. As Wright says, if you compare religions, you will see that they not simply different facets of the same diamond: they are radically different! Each has a different view of reality, of humanity, of God and (perhaps most importantly), how humanity and God relate to one another.
The Christian view of how God and humanity interact is unique. While many religions focus on how we can work to reach God, in Christianity God reached down to us!!
This, for me, is the power of the Christian faith, and part of the reason why Jesus had to die. Jesus did so, because it is through Him that God reaches down to us and invites us, through faith, to be reunited with Him.
As a minister, it is my responsibility to convey to people that God loved them enough to reach down to them in Jesus Christ, and that only through Him can they have a right relationship with God and with other people.
How this works is also important…but that’s a topic for another post!