John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son….”
This is perhaps the best known verse of the bible. The teaching that this verse says two things straightforwardly, that God is love and that Jesus died. But why couldn’t, in his love, God have just snapped his fingers and said, “I want to save you and you and you,” and it be done? Or could he have just said, “Let’s forget about this whole sin thing and let bygones be bygones?”
The following two concepts are absolutely necessary to understand why Jesus had to die:
1. The Holiness of God. The phrase, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty” is found in both the Old Testament and the New (Isa. 6:3, Rev. 4:8). Because God is perfectly Holy, He requires perfect Holiness in those that would share His fellowship and abide in His presence.
2. The Sinfulness of Man. Romans 3:23 says that, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” This sin causes separation from God as Isaiah 59:2 says, “Your iniquities have separated you from God.”
It’s the unchanging nature of His holiness, and the unflinching demands of His justice that require God to punish sin. We must understand that God would cease to be righteous if he allowed wickedness and evil to go unpunished (Exodus 34:6-7; Proverbs 17:15).
The cross stands as the vindication of the love and justice of God. This is Paul’s argument in Romans 3:25-26: “[We] are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished – he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.”
But what happened at the cross when Jesus died? Well, the New Testament uses several different images to capture what happens to sinners when they turn to Christ in faith.
1. We are Redeemed (The Language of the Prison/Marketplace)
This theme in the New Testament captures the idea that people are slaves to sin, that a payment is required for freedom, and that Jesus paid the ransom for the sins of His people.
• Matthew 20:28 – “…The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.”
• Revelation 5:9 – “You were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God out of every tribe and language and people and nation.”
2. We are Reconciled (The Language of Relationship)
This language refers to the event through which God and human beings, previously estranged from one another, are made “at one” again.
• Romans 5:10 – “For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to Him through the death of His Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through His life!”
3.We are Justified (The Language of the Law Court)
This imagery underscores the gracious act of God by which he declares are sinner righteous only through faith in Christ.
• Romans 8:34 – “It is God who justifies; who is to condemn?”
• Acts 13:39 – “Through Him (i.e., Christ) everyone who believes is justified from everything you could not be justified from through the law of Moses.”
• 1 Corinthians 6:11 – “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified…”
4. We are Adopted (The Language of Family)
This beautiful image is the act of God in which he confers upon sinners the status of sons and the privilege of sonship.
• Romans 8:14-17 – “For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.”
• 1 John 3:1 – “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.”
It is out of His love that God reached out to us and brought us back into fellowship with Him from a place of guilt and condemnation. And he did it through the death of Jesus.