So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the Council and said, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all. Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. So from that day on they made plans to put him to death. (John 11:47-53, ESV)
Why did Jesus have to die? (From an outline by Rev. Thomas Manteufel, CJ Vol 31, 1)
Grace and peace to you from Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
“Papa,” the inquisitive young boy said to his father, as they paged through a picture book together, “why is that man bleeding? And what is he doing on that piece of wood?” (from a story by Søren Kierkegaard) He’s asking a good question. But he’s not the only one. Look at the beautiful stain glass window there. John the disciple of Jesus and Mary Jesus mother, stand close enough to be spattered with his blood. Can you see the question in their eyes? “Why do you have to die?” Peter said as much also when Jesus informed him of his upcoming suffering and death. Jesus told Peter about his coming death in Jerusalem. Peter took Jesus aside and said, “This shall never happen to you!” he said, meaning, “Why would you have to die?” Jesus rebuked him in the strongest terms. Saying Peter’s words were the work of Satan. As for us, today we continue our push through the season of Lent. It’s a time when we focus specifically on the Crucified Christ. We have less than two weeks before we gather in the darkness of Good Friday and at the glow of a single candle ask that very question again. “Why did Jesus have to die?” It is an important question; some might argue the most important question that any person can ask. That’s because knowing the answer to that question and clinging to it in faith is the difference between life and death, the difference between spending eternity with God among the praises of His angels, or suffering for eternity in the presence of Satan and his demons.
The question of why Jesus must die, is also being discussed by Jesus’ enemies in the Gospel reading for today. The Sanhedrin, the church council, gathered to discuss “the problem of Jesus.”
“What are we to do?” They asked. “If we don’t do something it’s all going to end very badly. Everyone is going to believe in Jesus and the Romans will destroy us.” Their fears are based on unbelief and misunderstanding. They see Jesus as a threat to the nation and more specifically their political power. So from that day on they made plans to put him to death. In their minds, Jesus had to die for the sake of the peace, to protect them from the realities of Roman occupation. There unbelief leads them to their plot. Jesus gave them many signs of who he was. He healed, preached and even raised the dead. They don’t see it. They refuse to acknowledge that Jesus is from God. St. Paul describes their unbelief in his letter to the Corinthians:
None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. (1 Corinthians 2:8, ESV)
You might say that on the surface, Jesus had to die, because people plotted to kill him. But there is a deeper truth. It is spoken unknowingly by Caiaphas. He speaks better than he knows. He declares exactly why Jesus must die but he means it for his own purposes and his own benefit.
You know nothing at all. Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish. (49-50)
The Gospel writer John tells us that in spite of himself, Caiaphas speaks the truth for God. He unwittingly prophesies about Jesus. When Caiaphas speaks God is speaking, too, even though they are saying different things. Jesus indeed dies for the people. But it isn’t as the Chief Priest thinks, Jesus gives up his own life, I lay down my life for the sheep. (John 10:15b, ESV) Jesus is the man who gives His life for all people. He goes to the cross in their place. He suffers the punishment that sin deserves. And through His punishment and death all people have everything they need to avoid an eternity in hell.
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16, ESV)
Martin Luther says it like this:
Our sins must be either upon our own necks or upon Christ. If they remain upon us, we are lost forever, but if they be upon Christ, we are saved.
…and St. Peter like this:
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, (1 Peter 3:18, ESV)
“Why did Jesus have to die?” He died to guarantee that you and I could live with God forever. He was “railroaded” into death by jealous human beings to be the unfailing source of forgiveness of sins that all people need, you and me, the boy and his father, and even the ones who made the plans that led to his death.
Caiaphas said that Jesus should die for the nation. Once again he understates the truth. According to St. John there is still more to Jesus death. As he tells us, Jesus died to gather into one the children of God. Caiaphas knew Jesus had to die, but he refuses to believe that Jesus’ death is for him. Knowing about Jesus death isn’t enough. Satan himself believes that Jesus died. Faith in Jesus is believing that he died for you. Faith in Jesus is trusting his death on the cross to remove your sin. Faith in Jesus is holding on to the promises of eternal life that Jesus earned for you on that cross. That’s what it means to be a child of God, having that kind of faith in Jesus. It is through that faith we are made one family in Christ.
for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:26-28, ESV)
Why did Jesus have to die? He died to gather his people into his family the church. Picture the scene in your mind. Jesus, dead on the cross, a soldier pushes a spear into his side to assure that he is dead. Out pours blood and water. When we gather here to worship, we begin in the name of God. The very same name is spoken over us and connected to us through water. We just heard Paul tell us that in Baptism we put on Christ. Jesus’ death brings us together. No matter who we are or where we come from Jesus’ death for our sin is our common ground. We say as much when we gather around the Lord’s altar to eat and drink the bread and wine that is his body and his blood. When we eat and drink we say that no matter what has happened between us, Jesus’ death forgives it all.
Maybe we take it for granted Sunday after Sunday. It is tempting after all to look past his death it to something else that seems to be more important. “I know Jesus died for me now tell me something I can use in my everyday life.” But there is nothing more important that I can tell you. As Paul said to the Corinthians we preach Christ crucified… to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. (1 Cor 1:23,25, ESV)
Sin separates us from God; all sin is ultimately against him, a rejection of his ownership of us. But sin also affects our relationships with other people. You know how difficult it is to talk with people you’ve hurt. You’ve seen it on talk shows; the host brings together victims of violent crime and the ones who committed the crime. The pain is evident. The difficulty of the confrontation makes for dramatic television. The offenders seek forgiveness; the offended seek closure and restoration. But sin doesn’t have to be violent to cause separation, even the smallest sins causes disruption of our relationships. That’s the reality of every day of our lives. Our sins push people away. Their sins turn us away from them. The forgiveness we receive through faith in Jesus death ends our separation from God and one another. It makes us one in Jesus.
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. (Ephesians 4:1-7, ESV)
“Why is that man bleeding? What is he doing on that wood?” The boy asked his father. In the story the father has an answer for his son. Now you have an answer to. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.