Today's Broadcast

Why Did Jesus Have to Die?

A Message by John MacArthur

Many skeptics have argued that the Christian doctrine of the atonement is inherently unjust. How is it just, they say, for an innocent man like Jesus to be punished for the sins of another? Even professing evangelicals have questioned the doctrine of substitutionary atonement, with one going so far as to call it "cosmic child abuse." In this lecture, Dr. John MacArthur looks at the biblical doctrine of the atonement showing how the righteousness and holiness of God are upheld in it.

From the series: Tough Questions Christians Face: 2010 National Conference

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Further Study On This Topic

  1. devotional

    The Need for Atonement

  2. devotional

    Living in Christ's Death

  3. article

    A Sinless Life

The Need for Atonement

Our study of Isaiah for the past few weeks has looked closely at the Suffering Servant, His work on behalf of His people, and the results of that work in their lives. In short, we have been discussing atonement. Of course, the teaching that the Suffering Servant—the Davidic Messiah—must atone for the sins of His people fits into a broader theological and biblical context that establishes the need for an atonement, describes what it accomplishes, and explains the Lord's intent in it. To help us get a better understanding of the atonement and its context, we will now pause our study of Isaiah for a few days and look more closely at what the rest of Scripture says about the atonement. Dr. R.C. Sproul's teaching series The Cross of Christ will guide us.

Something of the necessity of the atonement can be inferred from etymology, for the Latin word we translate as "cross" is the root term behind the English words crux and crucial, both of which are used to refer to that which is essential. Clearly, Christianity is a faith grounded in the cross, for without the crucifixion and the resurrection, we have no gospel (1 Cor. 15:1–4). Today's passage indicates that the crucifixion—the Messiah's atoning death—is a non-negotiable when it comes to the Christian faith, but this idea is found throughout the Bible (Gen. 3:15; Matt. 16:21; Rev. 5). In fact, if the central message of Scripture is the kingdom of God inaugurated and consummated in Christ Jesus, then the entire Bible is concerned primarily with explaining the significance of the cross.

Despite the centrality of the cross and the atonement, the preaching of the cross is neglected in many churches today. In the wider culture, we could say that most people believe in "justification by death," the idea that all people are going to heaven unless they are really, really bad (like Adolf Hitler), and that we all get there simply by dying. But the neglect of the cross in the church and popular views of the afterlife indicate that too many lack an understanding of the absolute necessity of the atonement in God's plan. We forget that there is something intrinsic to the character of God that requires death as a payment for sin. Because of the Lord's holiness and the cosmic treason that is sin, an atonement is required for us to be reconciled to God and see Him in heaven. Our Father condemned sin in the flesh of His Son because it was the only way He could rescue us without compromising His holy justice (Rom. 3:21–26; 8:3).

Living in Christ's Death

The Christian has a sure and certain hope of glory in Christ, but often we don't hold firmly to that hope. Paul says that God's way to strengthen hope is by taking us through suffering. We have the privilege of union with Christ, and in this union, we are privileged to suffer as He did. Such suffering produces perseverance, as we remain faithful in the midst of the strong temptation to depart from Him. This perseverance refines our character, creating stability and integrity, and such stability strengthens our hope. When we see God's faithfulness to us through our periods of suffering, we are encouraged to grasp the hope of glory.

Such suffering is an experience of the death of Christ, and Paul says that we who have died in Christ must also live in Him daily (Romans 6). We are to count ourselves dead to sin and to the world, and count ourselves alive to a new life in Him. Death, the original judgment for Adam's sin, is what works sin in us. We love death because we hate God, who is life itself (Proverbs 8:35–36). Adam's sin produces death in us, and our inner death produces sin in us, and this sin leads to the wages of more death (Romans 9:23) and more sin and more death and more sin. If we consider ourselves as already dead and judged, we cripple the inner wellspring of the cycle of sin and death. Thus, according to Paul, because Christ has broken the power of death in us, we never have any reason to sin.

Sin is never necessary, but it is inevitable. It is possible that we will live a perfect life in the Spirit, but it is a fact that none of us will do so. Thus, we must always flee back to the Cross for forgiveness, and we must always appropriate anew the power of the Resurrection to live new lives.

It is the law that shows us our sin (Romans 7). Because we are still sinners, we need the law to point out our failings and drive us back to Christ. Indeed, our sinfulness continues to run down so deep, that the law has the effect of sparking rebellion in us. When God tells us not to do something, we are inclined to defy Him and do it anyway. Realizing this, we are more desperate for His grace, and we run to Him as never before.

A Sinless Life

Nicholas Batzig

“And being found in human form, He humbled Hi mself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death of the cross” (Phil. 2:8). I have long wished that, in heaven, I might get to see the entire history of Christ’s earthly life, from Hi s birth to Hi s ascension — viewing each and every act of obedience. The reason is simple. Jesus lived a representative life. Jesus lived a sinless life, and it was, therefore, a life of representative sinlessness. Our Lord’s obedience stands in the place of His people’s sin. His law-keeping is counted as the law-keeping of those who have faith in Him.

Christ’s sinless life is set against the background of the scriptural testimony to the sinfulness of man. Job declared that man is “abominable and corrupt,” one who “drinks injustice like water” (Job 15:16). Solomon acknowledged, “there is no one who does not sin” (1 Kings 8:46). The apostle John warned, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves” and “make Him a liar” (1 John 1:8, 10). The apostle Paul summed it all up when he said, “none is righteous, no, not one” (Rom. 3:10). Yet, when the Son of God took to Himself a human nature, a sinless man entered into time and space.

In a life that spanned three decades, our Lord never entertained a thought, never uttered a word, and never carried out an action that was defiled by impure motives. He always honored His Father in heaven, always honored His earthly father and mother, never lusted, never uttered a word in sinful anger, never gossiped about or slandered His neighbor. He never stole, never lied, and never coveted. In short, He submitted to every commandment of the law of God without wavering. He loved the Lord with all His heart, soul, mind and strength, and He loved His neighbor as Himself. The Scriptures bear manifold witness to this truth, and it is one of the most profitable truths upon which we ought to meditate.

The Bible expressly declares that Jesus was sinless. The writer of Hebrews tells us that He was “holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners” (Heb. 7:26, NASB). The apostle Paul boldly asserts that He “knew no sin” (2 Cor. 5:21). At the announcement of His birth, an angel called Him “that Holy One who is to be born.” Pilate’s wife told her husband: “Have nothing to do with that just man.” Pilate himself said, “I find no fault in Him.” The dying thief acknowledged the innocence of Jesus when he said, “this Man had done nothing wrong.” The centurion, at the foot of the cross, said, “Certainly this was a righteous man” (Luke 23:47). Even the demons recognized that Jesus was “the Holy One of God” (4:34).

If external testimony was not enough, Christ bore witness to His sinlessness when He said, “the one who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and in him there is no falsehood” (John 7:18). Add to this the fact that He had said almost a thousand years earlier (through the psalmist): “Behold, I have come to do Your will, O God, and Your law is within my heart.” Jesus’ life was a life of perfect conformity to the will of God.

In regard to the commands that God gave to the covenant people, we find that Christ began to fulfill them when He was circumcised on the eighth day. He was the only one who did not need what circumcision signified. At the beginning of His public ministry, He underwent a baptism “of repentance,” though He needed no repentance. When John tried to stop Him from being baptized, He said, “permit it to be so now, for thus is it fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (Matt. 3:15). Jesus was obeying as the representative of His people.

Christ’s obedience, however, can sometimes mistakenly be reduced to His obedience only to the moral law. While it is certainly true that He obeyed all those commands that are binding on all men for all time, He also fulfilled the ceremonial laws given to the Jews. There is, however, another dimension of the obedience of Christ. Jonathan Edwards observed that Jesus obeyed the mediatorial commands that the Father specifically gave to Him — commands that were more difficult than any given to us. Besides those moral and ceremonial laws, Jesus was commanded to “lay down His life willingly, and take it again.” “This command,” He said, “I have received from My Father” (John 10:17).

Our redemption rests upon Christ’s sinless life and substitutionary death. When we see the corruption of our minds, hearts, and wills, we must look at the One who knew no sin and yet was made sin for us. When we long to know Christ in a deeper and more intimate way, it is good for us to meditate on Scripture’s teaching concerning His representative perfection. Are you laboring under the weight of your sin before the presence of God? We must remember the One who was obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.

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