Expert Answer Forum
Crucifixion QUESTION from Janis April 20, 1999 I have been Catholic for 1 year now and I still don't completely understand why Jesus Christ had to die in this fashion in order to wipe away our sins. I have tried to understand why he had to go through this in order to redeem all of us. Why would a merciful God require this? I really can't figure out the reason and I'd like help in understanding why he couldn't have just lived longer, reached many more people and die a natural death and still accomplish the same mission?
ANSWER by John-Paul Ignatius on May 6, 1999 Dear Janis:
Thanks for your question and welcome to the Church. You ask why he couldn’t have lived longer and reached more people that he might have still accomplished his mission?
The answer to that is no, that wasn’t his mission. His mission was neither to teach a philosophy to mankind nor to convince people merely of a way of life. His mission was to redeem man, to bring the hope of salvation. To do that He had to pay the penalty of sin for us, so we wouldn’t have to.
And in fact, unless Jesus died on the Cross to redeem man and to bring salvation, the philosophy part of the Christian message would never be understood. The Bible tells us no one understands God (Romans 3:11, 23) and thus spiritual things of God are not understood by the flesh and its nature, but only by the spirit and its nature (Romans 8:5).
How do we attain this spirit that allows us to understand the Christian way of life in its fullest? Through Baptism and Confirmation. In Baptism and Confirmation the Holy Spirit comes into our lives. The Holy Spirit could not come in this way until Jesus fulfilled His mission of redemption, defeated death, and went back to the Father:
This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. I am going to send you what my Father promised… (the Holy Spirit) –Luke 24:46-49 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever – The Spirit of truth….I will not leave your orphans…..All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. -- John 14:16-17, 18a, 25-25
Predicting his own death: I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seed. – John 12:24
On this last verse, in nature we see that the kernel of wheat must die for the wheat to live. It is through death that the crops may continue (produce seed for more crops). Jesus uses this analogy for himself and we can see this analogy with human beings. Whether we are talking about religion or not, there is something progenitive about a martyr, that is, a martyr tends to be a progenitor, the fertile ground in which the movement can grow and flourish. Throughout history movements became successful only upon the martyrdom of their leaders. Martyrdom seems to be a catalyst. It is from the blood of martyrs that nourishes the movement. This is found to be true among any movement, and it was certainly true in Christianity – not only with Christ, but with all the martyrs throughout the ages.
Martin Luther King Jr. once said, If a man has not found something worth dying for, he isn’t fit to live. Jesus said, If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. (Matthew 16:24-25)
God requires this of us, does he not require it of himself? What greater love has any man that he lay down his life for a friend:
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. God is a merciful God, but he is also a just God. Mercy cannot exist without justice. Love cannot exist without justice. Truth cannot exist with justice. Without justice we tell a lie about reality of the consequences of our actions. All actions have consequences. We must tell the truth about those consequences. Thus God, who is Truth, is also Just. Therefore, the penalty for sin (the consequence) must be satisfied.
Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned. -- Romans 5:12 The sting of death is sin … But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. -- 1 Corinthians 15:56a, 57
Why did Christ die on that Cross?
For our sins! But what does that mean?
When we sin we take something that does not belong to us. If we have sex outside of marriage, we take something that does not belong to us. If we take a gold coin from a neighbor, it does not belong to us. If we lie, we have stolen something that does not belong to us – the truth. Jesus said, I am the truth, the way, and the life. When we lie, we rob the truth, and thus rob our neighbor of Jesus.
So we owe a debt. Every debt must be paid; justice demands it. If we don’t pay the debt then we are a thieve. However, another person may pay the debt for us (if we let him).
Because God loves us so much and did not want to see us pay the penalty of sin, He sent His Son to pay the penalty for us – to pay the debt caused by sin.
We stand condemned in sin. We are before the Judge. The penalty of sin is death. The sentence is passed. It is a just sentence. We deserve death because we have sinned, because we are sinners. But just then Someone steps up and says, I will die in this person’s place. I will take this person’s penalty upon myself. Let him go, I will pay the debt.
That person was and is Jesus Christ. In return for this, Jesus asks us to believe in him and to follow his commandments.
By Jesus paying the debt on the Cross justice is served and we are able to live. By Jesus dying on the Cross, and coming to life again, death (which is a result of sin) is defeated and thus not only are our sins (debts) paid for, but sin and death itself is defeated allowing us the hope of eternal life.
We can partake in this victory over sin and death, when we come to Jesus. We proclaim this victory every time we come to Jesus in the Eucharist.
There is a LOT more that could be said here – an entire theology. I would recommend that you read the Catechism, especially paragraphs 571 – 682.
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