Why did Jesus die? Part 1: Reconciliation
Windows on the Cross
This week, I was asked by a young person, why did Jesus have to die? It is a big question, but an important one. When asked, Christians typically give vague answers such as, “Because it shows how much God loves us,” and although this is undoubtedly true, it does not answer why God should prove his love in such a peculiar way, i.e. by sending his Son to be crucified on a Roman cross.
Tom Smail, in his book, Windows on the Cross, describes understanding the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus as a cross standing in a courtyard surrounded by buildings. Each window in the buildings gives a different perspective of the cross, but not the whole cross, and to gain the bigger picture of the whole cross requires looking through many windows.
In this insight, we are going to look through the first window, and this is viewing the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, as an act of reconciliation between us and God.
Have you ever fallen out with a friend, either because you have wronged them or they have wronged you? The first thing that happens when two parties fall out is they distance themselves from each other, and that distance does not make anything easier. If anything, communications cease, hearts harden, and bitterness and resentment increase. The only way peace can be restored is if the two parties are reconciled, and reconciliation can only come if the two parties meet, and this will inevitably mean one party will have to take the risk and go to the other.
In the same way, Christians assert that there is not peace between humans and God, that we have wronged God. Our pride — this putting of ourselves first, before God, others, and the environment — has led to us being distanced from God. The overarching name for this is sin, and sin is that which separates us from God.
If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. (1 John 1:8)
I remember leading an Introduction to Christianity Course, for people interested in Christianity, and during the first session, this concept was mooted, that, before God, we are all ‘sinners’. A gentleman stood up, and with a loud, angry voice proclaimed, “I’m not a sinner, I’m a good person!” and he stormed out. The idea that we might not be perfect is a hard pill to swallow for many, and the last person that should ever claim to be ‘perfect’ is a Christian. Our faith is based upon the premise that we cannot live, even for a single day, up to our own standards, let alone God’s!
And so, this gap remains between us and God, and for reconciliation to take place will require one of the parties to take the initiative, take the risk, and go to the other. And this is exactly what God did.
For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! (Romans 5:10)
There is such a rift between us and God that it takes nothing less than the death of God’s Son to bring us together again, but why does God take the initiative? Why not leave things as they are?
In all quarrels, the initiative for reconciliation will always come from one side, not always the party that caused the quarrel in the first place, but often from the party that has the most love. Who has more love, us or God? The answer is, of course, God, and it should come as no surprise that it is God that takes the initiative. God does this because God loves us.
God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)
This window on the cross, this seeing the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus as an act of reconciliation is important because it stops us being complacent. We see, illuminated by God’s light, the things we have done and the things we have failed to do, we recognise our own faults and failures and our need for reconciliation and for peace.
You may have heard the phrase, ‘the wrath of God,’ as if God is vengeful and angry, yet the death of Jesus was not to reconcile an angry God to us but the other way around. We are the ones being reconciled to God!
God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. (2 Corinthians 5:19)
The reconciliation between us and God is entirely God’s initiative. God takes all the risk. God makes all the moves. God pays all the cost. All we have to do is respond — to accept and receive that peace and reconciliation.
As a flawed human being, incapable of perfect love, I find it remarkable and astonishing that God does not wait for us to find him or her in our deep thinking, our good living, our prayers, or our piety. God does not respond to any level of goodness, acceptability, or holiness on our part, but took the initiative and came to meet us in his Son, Jesus Christ. This is what perfect love looks like.
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)
God came to us in Jesus, to meet us face-to-face, to take all the wrongs we had committed and swamp them with his love. He dealt with our sin, that which had broken our relationship with God, by taking it upon himself. He extended his arms wide upon the cross to welcome us home, that we and God may become friends again.
I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. (John 15:15b)