The Greatest Victory in All of History
Why did Jesus die? You might have your favorite answer or verse.
He was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5)
We live by and for Christ and him crucified. But have you ever thought about reasons he didn’t die? What are really bad answers to the question? The truth is there are answers — lots of them — that sadly and subtly undermine what Christ came to do.
If we want to preserve the precious truths and realities of the cross, we have to identify its enemies, especially those that claim to understand it better than the Bible. With beauty and clarity, John Stott has portrayed and defended the one, true gospel against dangerous compromises. In The Cross of Christ, he writes,
It is the Judge himself who in holy love assumed the role of innocent victim, for in and through the person of his Son he himself bore the penalty that he himself inflicted. As Dale put it, “The mysterious unity of the Father and the Son rendered it possible for God at once to endure and to inflict penal suffering.” There is neither harsh injustice nor unprincipled love nor Christological heresy in that; there is only unfathomable mercy. For in order to save us in such a way as to satisfy himself, God through Christ substituted himself for us. Divine love triumphed over divine wrath by divine self-sacrifice. The cross was an act simultaneously of punishment and amnesty, severity and grace, justice and mercy (158–159).
Satisfaction Through Substitution
Calvary was the greatest victory in history, and we win with him by faith in the good news he preached about his death. It’s a message worth guarding with everything we have. Therefore, Stott continues,
We strongly reject, therefore, every explanation of the death of Christ that does not have at its center the principle of “satisfaction through substitution,” indeed divine self-satisfaction through divine self-substitution. The cross was not a commercial bargain with the devil, let alone one that tricked and trapped him; nor an exact equivalent, a quid pro quo to satisfy a code of honor or technical point of law; nor a compulsory submission by God to some moral authority above him from which he could not otherwise escape; nor a punishment of a meek Christ by a harsh and punitive Father; nor a procurement of salvation by a loving Christ from a mean and reluctant Father, nor an action of the Father which bypassed Christ as Mediator.
The Right Answer
Jesus’s death was not a bargain, trap, formality, concession, incident of child abuse, or defeat. Our souls and the universe hang on the hope that Christ died for more than that. No, the cross was the coming together of God’s perfect love and perfect justice. It was conceived in the mind of God before the world began (Revelation 13:8) and will be rejoiced in for eternity (5:12).
Why did Jesus die? Stott answers,
Instead, the righteous, loving Father humbled himself to become in and through his only Son flesh, sin and curse for us, in order to redeem us without compromising his own character. The theological words satisfaction and substitution need to be carefully defined and safeguarded, but they cannot in any circumstance be given up. The biblical gospel of atonement is of God satisfying himself by substituting himself for us.
Related resources from Desiring God:
Fifty Reasons Why Jesus Came to Die by John Piper
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