Why Did Jesus Die: Reflections from A Christ-Centered, God-Glorifying, God’s-Story Perspective
Posted on 8 Apr 2020 by Daniel Lu
Good Friday is approaching, and all Christians around the world will be celebrating this event again! As a way of commemorating Christ’s death for us, let me take this opportunity to share my recent reflections on why Christ came to die for us, especially from a big picture, God’s story perspective (if you want to learn more about the big picture story of the Bible, check out our sermon series here!).
It might be surprising at first to think that Christians would “celebrate” someone’s death. After all, deaths are usually associated with solemnity and sadness, with black expressing the color of the mood. So why do Christians celebrate the death of Christ, who allegedly died as a serious criminal of the nation?
It is because his death was no ordinary death. His death was part of a larger plan of the Triune God that started even before the creation of the world to 1) save His people and 2) to glorify His Son.
“It is because his death was no ordinary death. His death was part of a larger plan of the Triune God that started even before the creation of the world to 1) save His people and 2) to glorify His Son.”
His Death was Planned Before the Creation of the World to Save His People
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.
Before the creation of the world, God the Father had already decided that Jesus Christ would be the one through whom His people would be saved and adopted into His family, and this could only happen ultimately through his death on the cross and resurrection three days later (cf Acts 2:23-24). As Paul continues to explain in Ephesians 1, his death purchased for His people “redemption”, the “forgiveness of our trespasses” against God, bringing us into a right relationship with God (cf. Romans 5:10; Ephesians 2:13) as reconciled sinners. We don’t and never will deserve this gift, but it is given to us out of the Father’s grace and mercy on us (reason 1) and out of His love for His Beloved Son (reason 2).
His Death was Planned to Glorify the Son As Lord, Savior and the True Son We Should Be
making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
This point is something that we rarely speak about. Yet it is an important point worth mentioning again and again, especially in our current climate of a me-centered Christianity. God didn’t just send Christ to die for our sins as if we were the center of His world, but He sent Christ to die for our sins and to make Him the ruler and Lord of our lives. Christ’s death was ultimately for himself — it was to enable him to unite all things in him, things in heaven and on earth (Ephesians 2:10). It was to make HIM Lord, to make HIM the ruler of our lives, and to make HIM the ruler of the new creation.
And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.
This Christ-centered (as opposed to man-centered) understanding of the cross and resurrection is also reflected in John’s Gospel:
For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing. And greater works than these will he show him, so that you may marvel. For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will. For the Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him.
The ultimate reason why the Father sent His Son on earth to die and resurrect was to give HIM the power to give life to whom he will, and to give judgment to whom he will, so that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father — not that the Son had no power over life and death before (cf. Colossians 1:15-17; John 1:1-3 — He created all things and has power over life and death), but that through his incarnation, death and resurrection, he was able to save those whom he has chosen to save (Ephesians 1:3-4; John 10:14-17; 15:16) and conform them to be like him, the true image, the last Adam, the true Son of God (2 Corinthians 3:18; 1 Corinthians 15:45-49; Matthew 3:17-4:11).
This is ultimately the reason why Christians celebrate Good Friday: not just that he died for sins, but also that through his death and resurrection, he has been crowned our Savior, Lord, King and example. The mystery that has been hidden for ages (Ephesians 1:8-10; 3:4-6; Romans 16:25) of how the Father was going to glorify the Son and establish a kingdom of people like His Son has been revealed on the cross and in the resurrection. It was a plan laid out since the Old Testament, when God promised Adam and Eve that one of their offspring would defeat Satan, reverse the effects of the fall and fulfill His plans to establish His kingdom on earth (Genesis 3:15). This offspring is revealed to be the Davidic King who is perfectly obedient to the Father and shows us what it means to be God’s obedient Son and makes us like Him (2 Samuel 7:12-16; John 15:9-10)
If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.
It is this obedient Son, this perfect image of God, who God wants to glorify, who God loves ultimately, and creates us and conforms us to (Romans 8:29-30; Colossians 3:10; 2 Corinthians 3:18). It is through his death and resurrection that we have been forgiven and set free from our bondage to sin to be obedient like him forever and ever (Romans 6:1-14; 1 Corinthians 15:46-49).
Thank God for the cross. Thank God for loving His Son and wanting to make us like Him.
Recommended reading on God’s love for His Son:
The Church and The Surprising Offence of God’s Loveby Jonathan Leeman, pages 94-107
The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of Godby D. A. Carson, pages 25-43 (available free here)
Recommended reading on the big picture of God’s story as being centered on Christ as God’s beloved Son:
God the Son Incarnate: The Doctrine of Christby Stephen Wellum, Chapter Three