Why Did Jesus Die?
On Good Friday I gather with family and friends at church. On this peculiar evening, we’ll remember, even celebrate, the death of a man who lived 2,000 years ago, half a world away. Weird.
Why would millions of people gather to celebrate the death of a blue-collar carpenter’s son from a backwater town in a tiny Middle-Eastern nation? The answer, of course, is that Jesus of Nazareth was no ordinary man.
Why did Jesus die? The answer is found in the claims He made about his own identity. In short, Jesus claimed to be God. He said so in crystal clear language, in context that every Jew would easily understand.
There is a great deal of confusion, even misinformation, surrounding just who Jesus was.
I’ve heard people say Jesus was:
- a good man
- a teacher
- a healer
- a prophet
Some even go so far as to claim he was an antagonistic troublemaker, misleading people.
How can we know for sure who Jesus was?
There’s no better way to discover who someone is than by examining what they said about themselves. Jesus’ claims about Himself are either 100% ludicrous or 100% true. Either way, our opinions of who Jesus was have to be reconciled with his own statements of identity.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus said:
“I am the bread of life.” (John 6:35)
“I am the light of the world.” (John 8:12)
“I am the good shepherd.” (John 10:11)
“I am the resurrection and the life.” (John 11:25-26)
“I am the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6)
No sane person would make these claims about themselves.
Each of these statements begins with “I am“, the very words God used to describe Himself to Moses (Exodus 3:14). Using these particular words for “I am” made Jesus’ claims unmistakably God-sized. Seven separate times he claimed, “I am ________”, and then filled in the blank with another depiction of His deity.
Each of these statements were loaded with meaning. They reached back to the depths of Israel’s storied past, pointed forward to the ultimate fulfillment of the promises God had made, and located themselves presently in the person of Jesus, son of Joseph. This teacher, healer, prophet of no account would be ushered into Jerusalem, hailed as the coming king, riding on the praise of men and a humble donkey. Days later he would suffer indescribable pain, crucified among criminals.
Why did Jesus die? He never committed a crime. He never incited a riot. He refused to speak out against the government. He didn’t even answer his accusers. He laid down his perfect, sinless life, as God laying Himself down for sinful people. He died to take the punishment that was coming to me. He didn’t deserve it. I did. But he took it.
Jesus died because of what He said about Himself. His words incited such passionate reactions from some of His hearers that they tried to throw him off a cliff (Luke 4:29).
Bottom line: Jesus’ words were so revolutionary, so outrageous, they got him killed.
If He wanted to, he could have laid low, flying under the radar of the religious and civil leaders of the day. Why did this man of peace insist on being noticed? Why did He go to Jerusalem at all? Why didn’t He use his following, his apparent influence, to make Himself comfortable and secure? Why did He walk right into the heart of the lion’s den?
Jesus’ message was more compelling than the miracles he performed. His mission went far beyond filling the bellies of 4 or 5,000 people. He was the Messiah, the coming Savior of the world, and He would be heard.
- To those who truly understood Him, Jesus’ words were the fulfillment of all of God’s promises. They still are.
- To those who misunderstood Him, Jesus’ words were crazy talk, and could not go unpunished. They still are.
Either Jesus was right, and He was God, or He was wrong, and He was nuts.
There is no middle ground.
Who do you say Jesus was?