Why Jesus Died on the Cross

It was the ultimate sacrifice. 

While on a mission in Baghdad to find an area suitable for housing a generator to provide power to local residents, Army Spc. Ross McGinnis saved the lives of at least four of his fellow soldiers by smothering a grenade thrown into their Humvee with his body. This act of bravery cost him his life, but saved the lives of everyone else inside the Humvee.

Recollecting Spc. McGinnis’ courage, Army Staff Sgt. Newland said that Spc. McGinnis sacrificed his life, “Because we were his brothers. He loved us.” McGinnis was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously for his on the battlefield.

Such acts of valor are uncommon. People typically don’t sacrifice their lives for others, even their loved ones.

While We Were Still Enemies

Though it’s uncommon for someone to sacrifice his or her life for a friend, as we see with the story of Spc. McGinnis, it does happen. But it would be nearly impossible to find examples of people sacrificing their life for an enemy.

Amazingly enough, Jesus made such a sacrifice. Nearly 2,000 years ago, the Apostle Paul wrote the following in Romans:

For while were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person – though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die – but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Regardless if we admit it or not, as sinners, we’re all enemies of God, deserving death and God’s wrath. Yet, Jesus died for us. He made the ultimate sacrifice with his life for you and me.

The Implications of the Cross

Why did Jesus die? Why did he sacrifice his life for his enemies? What did his death on the cross accomplish for you and me? 

To understand the significance of Jesus’ death on the cross, also known as the atonement, we must connect it to the doctrines of God’s character, God’s creation, human sin, and God’s responses to sin and sinners. To do this, we need to briefly examine eight truths that are absolutely essential to understanding why Jesus died on the cross and what his death means for us.

8 Truths about Jesus and the Cross

1.     God is holy and without any sin.

God is holy, without sin, and altogether good. As such, he can’t be in the presence of sin, and as a just God, must judge sin and sinners (Leviticus 11:44; Isaiah 6:3; 1 Peter 1:15–16).

2.     God made the world and us as good.

Not only is God good, but also everything he made was originally good, including human beings, who were made in his image and likeness (Genesis 1:31; Ecclesiastes 7:29).

3.     We rebelled against God.

Though God made the world and us as good, our first father and mother rebelled against God, bringing sin into the world. This first sin was trying to become the God of our own lives by doing the one thing we were asked not to do. Ever since, we have sought to remove God from his throne and place ourselves on the throne instead (Genesis 3:1–7; Romans 3:10–12; 5:12).

4.     We are sinful.

Despite the fact that God made humans sinless, we’re now sinners both by nature and by choice due to the actions of our first parents. Anyone who says they’re not a sinner is in fact proud, and according to the church father Augustine, pride is the worst of sins and was the cause of Satan’s fall from heaven. Even non-Christians tend to agree that everyone is sinful when they declare often, “Nobody is perfect,” which agrees with Scripture (Psalm 53:3, 6; Isaiah 64:6; Romans 3:23; 1 John 1:8).

5.     Sin results in death.

God is the source of all life, and our sin results in our separation from him and death. Just as a piece of technology unplugged from its power source continues to exist but is functionally dead, so are we dead in our sin. The Bible says that because of sin we are physically alive but spiritually dead (Genesis 2:16–17; Romans 6:23; Ephesians 2:1; Colossians 2:13).

6.     Jesus is sinless.

Jesus is the only person who has or will ever live without sin (John 8:46; Hebrews 4:15; 7:26; 1 Peter 2:22).

7.     Jesus became our sin.

On the cross as our substitute, Jesus willfully became the worst of what we are. This does not mean that Jesus sinned. Rather, it means that he took our sins on as his responsibility and paid the price for them that we should have paid—death. Martin Luther is one of the few theologians who does not lessen the blow of this truth and calls it the “great exchange.”

Scripture declares that on the cross Jesus exchanged his perfection for our imperfection, his obedience for our disobedience, his intimacy with God the Father for our distance from God the Father, his blessing for our cursing, and his life for our death (Isaiah 53:6; 2 Corinthians 5:21).

8.     Jesus died for us.

The Bible teaches that in perfect justice, because Jesus was made to be our sin, he died for us. The little word “for” has big implications.

In theological terms, it means that Jesus’ death was substitutionary. His death was in our place, solely for our benefit, and without benefit for himself. He took the penalty for our sins so that we don’t have to suffer that penalty. The wrath of God that should’ve fallen on us and the death that our sins merit instead fell on Jesus.

This wasn’t something forced on him. Rather, he took it willingly (John 10:18; Philippians 2:8; Hebrews 12:2). And Scripture repeatedly stresses this point, which theologians call “penal substitutionary atonement” (Isaiah 53:5, 12; Romans 4:25; 5:8; 1 Corinthians 15:3; Galatians 3:13; 1 Peter 3:8; 1 John 2:2). The sinless Jesus literally stood in our place to suffer and die for us.

A Final Word

Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice for you and me.

Jesus is our Savior who alone can take away the punishment we deserve because of our sin. Jesus is our Savior who died in our place, bearing our punishment and taking away our sin—past, present, and future.

Though we will have consequences for committing sin on earth, Jesus has completely, once and for all, bore the eternal penalty for our sins. This means that through Jesus there are no more penalties that need to be paid for sins we commit. This is what Jesus meant when he said, “It is finished” (John 19:30; Hebrews 9:25–28).

Jesus has paid the penalty for your sins regardless of what you’ve done. There’s nothing more you have to do on top of what he has already done for you.

Stop working to try and earn God’s love, and start living out of thankfulness that God already loves you and paid the ultimate sacrifice to draw you near to him. Trust Jesus with your life.

Join Us for Good Friday and Easter

Good Friday is set aside as a day for us to remember the Jesus’ death on the cross. It’s a day to be reminded that our sins drove Jesus to the cross. On Good Friday we recall that, out of God’s deep love for us, he willingly came as a man to die for us.

Come and join us at one of 14 Mars Hill churches as we reflect upon Jesus’ death for us through Scripture readings, prayer, and songs.

I encourage you to join us and invite a friend as we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus on Easter.