Recently, I got a text message from a young person I know which contained a number of good though tough questions. One in particular was about Jesus dying on the cross: why did He have to die? Why doesn’t God just pardon sins? After all, He’s God! Much ink has been devoted to the question “Why the cross?” While there are a couple explanations, what seems best to me is what I call “perfect necessity.” In other words, the shed blood of the Lord of glory was perfectly necessary for atonement of sin.
Remember that it is impossible for God to redeem sinners without vicarious sacrifice (see Hebrews 9.22). Vicarious sacrifice is necessary for God to accomplish atonement. This is the necessity part. In addition, this is the only way God could accomplish human redemption; there is no other way in the mind of God that atonement for sin could happen. There are some theologians who argue that God could have redeemed man without the atoning death of God since with God all things are possible. Upon closer examination, though, Jesus Himself says, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will” (Mark 14.36). Were there other options? According to Jesus, apparently not. Thus, God could not save man without the atoning death of Christ. This is the perfect part. Hence, perfect necessity.
When it comes to human redemption, there’s something about it which could only happen in Christ and the cross. Christ dying in our stead is the perfect and best means of accomplishing our salvation. If there were another way, a more perfect and better way, God would have done that. Since He it did the way in which it is accomplished – the atoning death of Christ on the cross – it must be the only and perfect means to accomplish redemption.
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