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Why Did Jesus Have to Die?

“Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.”  One of the most popular passages in the Bible is the story of the woman caught in adultery in John 8:1-11.  Here’s why.

As the adulterous woman stands before her rock-wielding, murder-breathing, self-righteously condemning accusers, Jesus stops them dead in their tracks with this witty, cut-to-the heart line.  One by one, they reluctantly loosen their stony grips, drop their rocks, and walk away.  Then, as the woman stands alone before Jesus, He asks her where her accusers have gone: “Has no one condemned you?”  “No one, sir.”  Then, as the only one who is without sin, the only one who can cast a stone, Jesus delivers a line that warms our hearts and sets us free too: “Neither do I condemn you.  Go, but from now on avoid this sin.”  Facing certain death, Jesus saves her.  She is free to go.  Free from the awful consequences of her sin.  Free from condemnation.  And vicariously, so are we.

The breadth and depth of the mercy Jesus shows a sinner like this—like us—takes our breath away.  It is what makes this scene so moving.  But as beautiful and captivating as we find it, we have no idea how radical Jesus’ act of mercy was.     

Along with murder and blasphemy, Jews in Jesus’ day considered adultery a capital offense.  The reason they took it so seriously is because it threatened to unravel the fragile fabric of society.  Because it undermined the stability everyone depended upon, Jews in Jesus’ day would never say that what you do in your bedroom is no one else’s business but your own.  Much like our attitude toward murder, adultery was considered a crime against society.  Adultery constituted a grave threat to all.  Adultery harmed everyone. 

We don’t take adultery as seriously.  We don’t consider what this woman did as anywhere close to deserving capital punishment.  We’d be aghast if the death penalty were ever applied to a case of adultery.  What makes this story so moving to us is how easily we can put ourselves into the scene.  We imagine Jesus tenderly forgiving what we consider our “lesser” sins in a similar way. 

But, when Jesus forgives this woman, it was the equivalent of letting a murderer off of death row.  That’s how radical His mercy is.  It doesn’t just extend to the kind of “lesser” sins we think we commit.  It extends to every sin, even the ones we consider most heinous.  We’re fine with Jesus forgiving indiscretions and mistakes, what we equate as our adulteries.  However, we go ballistic over the mere suggestion that Jesus’ mercy extends to someone like Osama bin Laden or Adolf Hitler in the same way—provided they were to repent, of course. 

But this isn’t even the most radical part.  Jesus freely forgives this woman, just as He freely forgives every other sinner He encounters.  But for Jesus, this forgiveness isn’t free at all.  It costs Him dearly.  It costs Him everything. 

I’m writing this blog because someone recently submitted a great comment that I’ve often found myself agreeing with.  She shared how the idea of Jesus’ death on the Cross being “for our sins” makes no sense.  It’s not necessary.  God can simply forgive us without it.  Just say the word, and we’re forgiven. 

Instead, she recommended that it makes far more sense to view the Cross as an example.  Through it, Jesus shows that God will get us through any trial we have to go through.  Seeing the Cross this way inspires and deepens our faith so that God can enable us to triumph over our suffering too. 

The problem I’ve always run up against in thinking of the Cross this way, though, is that Scripture consistently says that the Cross is much more than an example.  It consistently says that Jesus did die for ours sins.  It consistently says that the Cross does matter.  The Cross is absolutely necessary in order for God to forgive us.    

See, if God really is a God of love, He can’t just declare us forgiven and let that be the end of it.  Think about it: When we sin, we hurt someone else—or, ourselves at times.  We inflict real damage and harm.  To someone God loves.  Dearly.  The only way God can create and love a world of free and fallen creatures, the only way He can forgive us when we inflict harm to the ones He loves so dearly, is if He is willing to suffer the effect of our sin.  

To love sinners like us, Jesus can’t just tell the woman caught in adultery she’s forgiven.  He also has to suffer with the victims of her sin as well.  With her husband and children.  With the wife and children of the man she committed adultery with.  They are suffering real pain.  Real agony.  In order to love them too, in order to be a loving God, Jesus must be willing to personally absorb the pain her adultery causes them. 

This is what our sin does to God.  This is what forgiving free and fallen creatures involves: God must make Himself vulnerable to the pain our sin creates.  He must allow sin to cost Him personally.  If God wasn’t willing to do this, He couldn’t love sinners.  If God wasn’t willing to do this, He would be indifferent to sin’s victims.  If God wasn’t willing to do this, He wouldn’t be a God of love. 

The only way God can truly love free and fallen creatures like us is if He is willing to absorb and endure the pain inflicted by every sin ever committed.  This is the only way He can truly love both the sinner and the victim of their sin.

Next week, I’ll explain how the Cross works to make this possible.

Do you think the Cross matters?  I’d love to hear your comments!  You can go to the “Contact E.J.” page of the Raising Jesus website and leave them there.

About Me

E.J. Sweeney is a true skeptic. He needs to see to believe. Hard Evidence. Compelling Proof. Solid Logic. This is what he believes in. In college, he encountered questions that the superficial faith he was raised on couldn’t handle. So he began a quest for Truth, a quest for the answers to life’s ultimate questions.

EJ Sweeney

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