Wednesday, 25 May, 2022

Why the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ?

Reverend Martin Adhikary

Everybody in the earth is born to live as long as God wills, but only one person was born to die: he is Jesus Christ. His death was the vicarious or substitutionary death for man. Because of sin and its pervasive and universal consequences no sacrifice, nor any good deed or anything on the part of man can be an acceptable sacrifice for the propitiation of his sin it was needed for sinless Christ to die. No amount of good works makes any man good enough before God to be able to offer a worthy sacrifice for the remission of sin. It is not what man can do or does, but what God, in his unmerited grace, has himself done in the sacrificial death of his Son for the salvation of man that counts. There are at least two hundred prophetic references to Christ’s sacrifice. Those prophecies were to be fulfilled in his death. His death was the main purpose of Christ’s incarnation.  Psalm 22:1 has the word from the mouth of Christ dying on the cross: “My God, my God, why have you   me? Why have you so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring?” God did not look at the sufferings of Jesus on the cross as he bore all our sins on him on the cross, and God cannot look at sin.  Apostle Paul said in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “He who knew no sin god made him sin for us.” This was his vicarious death on the cross.  The well-known 4th Servant Song in the book of the great prophet Isaiah records, “But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities, the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and by his wounds we are healed.” (53: 5). Here lies the uniqueness of Christianity as a religion of redemption from the curse or atonement for sin.

God does not die. He is immortal and eternal. Man Christ came to be born as a human person so that he could pay the penalty for human sin through his death. He died because he also had to be resurrected from the dead so that his authority and power over death could be manifested. That’s how and why Christ also can forgive our sins because he has victory over death, which is the wages of sin. We see in all these the two natures of Christ: his divinity and his humanity. Isaiah had prophesied about seven hundred years before Christ was born about his two distinctive natures in these words, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given;” (9:6). The Gospel according to Mark wrote: “For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister and to give his life a ransom for many” (10:45).

Christ’s death was a pre-determined plan of God for man’s salvation. It was no accidental death. It was a promise of and a plan of omniscient God for reconciling man to him. So Jesus Christ said to his disciples that he would lay down his life: “Therefore, my father loves me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man takes it from me, but I lay it down myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have the power to take it again; this commandment I have received from my father” (John 10 17-18). Therefore, Dr. Luke records in his Gospel what Christ said to some of his bewildered disciples after his resurrection: “O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken.  Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory” (Luke 24: 25-26). So Christ is not mere a martyr for a good cause; not he is merely a great man.

Christ’s death was necessary for the propitiation of God’s just wrath for human sin and disobedience. It has satisfactorily dealt with the sin-issue that alienated man from his Maker and Master. In the substitutionary death of Christ he has paid the ransom for sin. In faith and trust we have reconciliation and right relationship and fellowship with God, and also, ideally, with other people.  In Christ’s death we see the holiness of God and the sinfulness of man. It was part of God’s eternal plan that Man, the crown of creation may get access to him that he had planned the death of Christ. It was not an ordinary death. It was most degrading and horrible death that man could devise. It was so painful, sadistic and cruel a punishment that no Roman citizen was sentenced to death by crucifixion, and also that the only Roman officials could crucify their criminals. Again the cross of Christ points to the fact that God takes sin seriously because it mars every relationship: relationship with others, with nature, with God and our relationship within our own inner selves. God let his innocent son to lay his holy life to pay the penalty for the sin of man so that we may get acquitted of our sins and as such live lives of peace and harmony with all.  


The writer is a Christian theology teacher and church leader