Holy Saturday. Jesus rests in the tomb, and we must further explore why He had to die. Yesterday, we saw how the world was broken, and how blame for the brokenness rests upon the desire of humankind to be our own God. Instead of choosing God, we chose ourselves. This had consequences--ones of particular severity. Consequences that ultimately lead us to the death of Jesus.
One might wonder why God did not simply forgive humankind for its transgression. After all, God can do whatever He wants, correct? God can just let things slide. Forgive and forget, right?
That would be prudent except for one little fact: God is a God of justice as well as mercy. It is not just for a debt to remain unpaid.
(I am indebted to Timothy Keller for providing the illustration that follows. It is fully fleshed out in his book: The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism.)
Think of it in this way. Let us say that you own a nice house with a gated entrance. One day, for a reason still unknown, your neighbor backs his car into your gate and causes hundreds of dollars worth of damage. What are your choices?
Well, first, you could make your neighbor pay for the damages. Hopefully, he or she is willing to do so since the accident was his or her fault. After all, this person is the one who is responsible. It would be right for the person to take care of the mistake. If the person is unwilling to pay, you could accuse him/her in a court of law and demand restitution. Of course, such litigation would also cause a rift between you and your neighbor. It would be pretty safe to say that the two of you wouldn't be inviting each other over for tea anytime soon. In fact, your neighbor might actually seek retribution for your actions--which might lead to even more retribution on your part. A never ending circle of retribution would ensue. (This is how feuds get started.) Of course, this is a worst case scenario, but we know that such scenarios happen, and they are usually based upon someone demanding payment for a wrong committed.
If you did not want to travel down this road, you could choose to pay for the damages yourself. This would be called forgiveness. You would pay the debt instead of the responsible party. Perhaps you might feel a little anger and animosity toward your neighbor for a time, but because this was your choice and decision, those feelings would wane over time.
What is important is that in order to repair the damage, someone had to pay. Someone had to incur the cost of mending what was broken.
In the damage which was wrought by humankind's sin, who would pay?
Initially, God worked with humanity to see if they could incur the cost, but the results were not good. God worked through a chosen people giving them the Law and asking them to fulfill its demands so that humanity and creation could once again live in harmony with God. God chose a special people to carry out this task--the Jews would be blessed to be a blessing.
Yet, as scripture reveals to us, it was not to be. The sin of humanity was too strong. We could not overcome it. Some were better than others in fulfilling the Law's demands, but ultimately, it was an impossible task for humanity to collectively follow God's commands. We could not pay the price for reconciliation.
Enter Jesus. He would pay the penalty.
A couple of questions might arise here. First, why death? Couldn't there have been another payment?
Think about this for a moment. Remember what Jesus was taking upon Himself. He was taking upon himself all of the things that we have done which are contrary to the commands of Christ. All of our hatred toward each other. Every murder. Every theft. Every word spoken in anger. Every injustice. All this and more, He took upon Himself--AND MORE! Jesus also took the sinful nature lurking within us. Our selfishness and desire to be our own, little gods. This Jesus took too. Imagine offering restitution for all of that. Is there enough money in the world to cover it? Are there enough apologies that could be offered?
Not a chance. The cumulative debt incurred by all of this can only be paid with death. Justice must be served.
But why human sacrifice? Couldn't there be a better way?
Ah, but now comes the crux of the matter.
Christian doctrine states Jesus is fully human and fully divine. Jesus is part of the Holy Trinity--God the Father, SON, and Holy Spirit. In effect God condemns a part of Himself to die to pay the penalty of our sin. God does not sacrifice one of us to make Himself feel better. God does not need a human sacrifice to atone for sin. God sacrifices Himself to pay, to make atonement, to reconcile humankind and creation unto Himself. God Himself dies so that justice and mercy are shown. Jesus dies so that justice and mercy are shown.