Why Did Jesus Have to Die?

Read Matthew 21:1-11, 27.15-23
Two crowd scenes. One grand and glorious. The other terrifying and tragic.

First, Jesus rides into Jerusalem on an ass. The people gather about, shout and sing, “Glory to God.” There is hopeful expectancy. Could this be the great leader, chosen by God to liberate the people Israel from Roman oppression. There is joyous anticipation.  Hosanna in the highest. 

The celebration is short lived. Jesus does not meet the expectations of the people. Judas, trying to force the hand of Jesus, calls in the authorities. In the short span of a week, even less than a week, the joyous crowd of Palm Sunday singing “Hosanna in the highest!” becomes the angry and vicious crowd shouting, “Crucify him!”

Why did Jesus have to die?

The answer is neither easy to understand nor accept. Not if we consider the events that lead up to the cross. Jesus died for our sins. We confess this and believe it with our whole hearts. How difficult a truth this is! It is for our sins that Jesus goes to the cross.

Looking back, we understand the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem as a triumphant event.

These two crowd scenes, as Jesus enters into Jerusalem and as he stands before Pilate, represent our greatest hope and our most wicked instincts as human beings. I wrestle with this passages greatly, particularly for what it says about the nature of human beings and how we behave in crowds.

At the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, it’s easy to get caught up in the joy of our coming Savior. Waving palms, singing, and shouting. This is how we want to be perceived as Christians — joyful, delighting in our Lord.

But these same crowd celebrants transform their songs of “Hosanna” to screams “Crucify him.” It is a disturbing image. And, if we are honest with ourselves, we are part of that same crowd as well.

We might object and say, “We weren’t there when they crucified the Lord.”

It may be true from an historical perspective were not alive then, but the Bible says that every time we sin against God, we crucify the Lord Jesus all over again. It pains our Savior not only in the sense of disappointment, but also in carrying our sin to the cross. When Jesus bore the weight of the world’s sin, ours was included, those we commit and those we have yet to commit.

What hope, then, is there?

From a human perspective, there is no hope. It is only when we consider the events leading up to the cross from the perspective of God that light shines in the darkness. Jesus willingly goes to the cross. He does not resist. He is obedient to God even unto death. He accepts the shame, the ridicule, the persecution not because he deserves it but because it is part of God’s plan. God’s mysterious plan to redeem humanity by coming in human form and accepting the worst punishment we have to offer. Even unto death.

Jesus humbles himself, taking the form of a servant, a suffering servant, and, as Paul writes in Philippians 2, Jesus, “became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.” Jesus could have gone along with the crowd.

He could have used his popularity to organize the Jewish people in revolt against the Roman oppressors. Instead he cleansed the temple.

He could have limited his teaching to only that which helped the people feel good about themselves, winning himself praise. Instead, he confronted the people with his authoritative teaching, challenging them to reshape their lives.

He could have defended himself against the onslaught of the crowd, convinced them that he was a harmless prophet and that he didn’t’ mean to stir up such a fuss, but he didn’t. He took up his cross and died. For our sins.

Jesus died for our sins. This is the most difficult truth we Christians have to accept. We so separated ourselves from God, going along with the crowds following after death, that God needed to come to us as a victim, as a suffering servant, to grab our attention and lead us home.

Jesus died for our sins. This is also the greatest truth we Christians have to offer. Though we turn away from God and follow the crowds toward death, God offers us new life. Jesus willingly obeys God to the cross and restores our relationship to God.

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