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The Greatest Sacrifice

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The Greatest Sacrifice

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Have you ever been inspired by a story of great courage and conviction? Or stirred by an example of great personal sacrifice for the benefit of others?

We hear of such stories from time to time, and often they are truly inspiring. They can and often do move us to want to emulate such positive examples. They appeal to our better nature, as they should.

The Bible, too, records many such positive examples. Consider a few:

• The young shepherd David, who defied the Philistine army and common sense to do battle with the giant warrior Goliath.

• The young king Josiah who took on his nation’s religious and cultural establishment to rid the land of pagan idolatry and restore worship of the true God.

• John the Baptist, who stood up to a powerful ruling family and paid for it with his head on a platter.

• The apostle Paul, who first appears in the Bible as a persecutor of the Church but then dedicated his life to it, enduring such hardships as hunger, thirst, shipwreck, beatings and being stoned and left for dead.

And there are many more we could mention, faithful men and women who sacrificed greatly for a purpose greater than themselves.

The greatest sacrifice of all

But of all the examples of great personal courage and sacrifice found in the Bible—and indeed in all history—one stands immeasurably far above all the rest. It stands alone because it was the greatest sacrifice ever, the greatest of all time.

It stands alone because it involves One who gave up the most that has ever been given, and it involves One who gave the most to those who benefitted from that sacrifice.

It stands alone because it involves not just a great sacrifice that was remarkable enough in itself—but another, lesser-understood aspect of that sacrifice so great as to be almost beyond human comprehension.

I’m referring to the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, astounding on more than one level.

Why was Christ’s sacrificial death necessary?

Many people are likely already familiar with Jesus Christ’s death by crucifixion, in which He was executed as a criminal.

This is a major theme of the Christian religion, and rightfully so. It lies at the heart of biblical Christianity, although certainly not all who know of it understand it.

Many biblical passages tell us the importance of this sacrifice and why it was necessary. Let’s notice a few:

• “If we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7 1 John 1:7But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleans us from all sin.
American King James Version×
, New Living Translation used unless otherwise noted, emphasis added throughout).

• “[God] is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins” (Ephesians 1:7 Ephesians 1:7In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace;
American King James Version×
).

• “For you know that God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors. And it was not paid with mere gold or silver, which lose their value. It was the precious blood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God” (1 Peter 1:18-19 1 Peter 1:18-19 [18] For as much as you know that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; [19] But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot:
American King James Version×
).

“For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood” (Romans 3:23-25 Romans 3:23-25 [23] For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; [24] Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: [25] Whom God has set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God;
American King James Version×
).

• “And [Jesus] took a cup of wine and gave thanks to God for it. He gave it to them and said, ‘Each of you drink from it, for this is my blood, which confirms the covenant between God and his people. It is poured out as a sacrifice to forgive the sins of many’” (Matthew 26:27-28 Matthew 26:27-28 [27] And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink you all of it; [28] For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.
American King James Version×
).

These and many other similar passages tell us that Jesus Christ had to die as a sacrifice in our place so that our sins could be forgiven. He willingly took on Himself the death penalty that each of us deserved. As Hebrews 9:22 Hebrews 9:22And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission.
American King James Version×
tells us, “without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness.” Had Jesus Christ not died for us, we would all die guilty of our sins, forever cut off from God and any hope of life beyond this one.

This is of profound importance,because God’s plan for mankind revolves around giving every person the opportunity for eternal life! (More on this later.)

Jesus knew how He would die

Have you ever considered whether you’d want to know when, where and how you would die? Many have wondered about that over the years. For some, the thought of knowing when they might leave this life could be comforting. For others it might bring great anxiety.

Uniquely among human beings, Jesus of Nazareth knew exactly when, where and how He would die. And His death would not come peacefully. It would come through brutal, violent, premeditated murder.

Only a few months into His ministry Jesus told the Jewish religious leader Nicodemus, “As Moses lifted up the bronze snake on a pole in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life” (John 3:14-15 John 3:14-15 [14] And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: [15] That whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.
American King James Version×
). Here Jesus was comparing Himself to the bronze serpent Moses erected on a pole which, when people looked to it, spared them from death (Numbers 21:8-9 Numbers 21:8-9 [8] And the LORD said to Moses, Make you a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looks on it, shall live. [9] And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it on a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived.
American King James Version×
). Christ’s use of “lifted up” was a reference to His coming crucifixion, when He would be “lifted up” above the ground in this public execution.

Several days before His death, Jesus used the same expression when He told a group of people, “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.” The apostle John then adds parenthetically, “He said this to indicate how he was going to die” (John 12:30-32 John 12:30-32 [30] Jesus answered and said, This voice came not because of me, but for your sakes. [31] Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out. [32] And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to me.
American King James Version×
, see also John 8:28 John 8:28Then said Jesus to them, When you have lifted up the Son of man, then shall you know that I am he, and that I do nothing of myself; but as my Father has taught me, I speak these things.
American King James Version×
).

Can you imagine what it would be like to live with that knowledge? How would it impact your life to know that, in a few short years, on a particular day of the year, you would suffer a horrible and bloody death? And to know that you would face that fate abandoned by your closest friends?

Yet in spite of this knowledge, Jesus unhesitatingly carried out His mission. Luke 9:51 Luke 9:51And it came to pass, when the time was come that he should be received up, he steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem,
American King James Version×
tells us, “As the time drew near . . . Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.” He was determined to finish the mission for which He had come to earth.

As He traveled the roads of Judea and Galilee, He no doubt had seen men crucified. Crucifixion was meant to be a public spectacle, a warning to potential wrongdoers. He knew exactly what awaited Him. He knew He would suffer the same horrible fate.

The excruciating pain of scourging and crucifixion

Crucifixion may well be the most horrible form of execution ever devised. An early form of it was practiced among the ancient Assyrians, who impaled defeated enemies on wooden poles. From there it passed to other ancient cultures, and eventually to the Greeks and finally the Romans, where it gained widespread use.

This form of execution was bloody, ugly and humiliating—exactly as it was intended to be. Victims were often crucified naked, the more to add to their humiliation and shame. These public executions were typically carried out along the main roads or outside city gates to send a very public message: Defy the might and power of Rome and this is what will happen to you.

Except Jesus had never defied Rome. The Roman governor of Judea at the time, Pontius Pilate, could find “no fault” in Him, no crime deserving of death (Luke 23:4 Luke 23:4Then said Pilate to the chief priests and to the people, I find no fault in this man.
American King James Version×
, Luke 23:14 Luke 23:14Said to them, You have brought this man to me, as one that perverts the people: and, behold, I, having examined him before you, have found no fault in this man touching those things whereof you accuse him:
American King James Version×
; John 18:38 John 18:38Pilate said to him, What is truth? And when he had said this, he went out again to the Jews, and said to them, I find in him no fault at all.
American King James Version×
; John 19:4-6 John 19:4-6 [4] Pilate therefore went forth again, and said to them, Behold, I bring him forth to you, that you may know that I find no fault in him. [5] Then came Jesus forth, wearing the crown of thorns, and the purple robe. And Pilate said to them, Behold the man! [6] When the chief priests therefore and officers saw him, they cried out, saying, Crucify him, crucify him. Pilate said to them, Take you him, and crucify him: for I find no fault in him.
American King James Version×
). The Jewish religious establishment that demanded Jesus be crucified had to change the charges. They initially accused Him of blasphemy (Matthew 26:65 Matthew 26:65Then the high priest rent his clothes, saying, He has spoken blasphemy; what further need have we of witnesses? behold, now you have heard his blasphemy.
American King James Version×
), but since that wasn’t a capital offense under Roman law, they changed the charges to sedition, rebellion and treason (Luke 23:2 Luke 23:2And they began to accuse him, saying, We found this fellow perverting the nation, and forbidding to give tribute to Caesar, saying that he himself is Christ a King.
American King James Version×
), crimes for which the punishment was execution by crucifixion.

They also weren’t above blackmailing Pilate into carrying out an underserved death sentence against this innocent man (John 19:12 John 19:12And from thereafter Pilate sought to release him: but the Jews cried out, saying, If you let this man go, you are not Caesar's friend: whoever makes himself a king speaks against Caesar.
American King James Version×
). Pilate bowed to the pressure and approved punishment by scourging, then a sentence of crucifixion.

Scourging involved lashing the victim with a whip formed of multiple leather strips in which were imbedded pieces of metal or bone. These literally ripped the victim’s flesh to shreds. Many scourging victims died from this punishment before they could be crucified.

A prophecy in Isaiah 52:14 Isaiah 52:14As many were astonished at you; his visage was so marred more than any man, and his form more than the sons of men:
American King James Version×
described what Jesus’ ravaged body would be like after His bloody scourging: “His face was so disfigured he seemed hardly human, and from his appearance, one would scarcely know he was a man.” Let that sink in. He was so badly maimed that He was barely recognizable as a human being.

After this, Jesus was taken away to be crucified. Victims of crucifixion hung by nails or ropes for hours—and often for several days—before succumbing to the release of death.

The agony of crucifixion was so horrible that the Romans invented a new Latin term to describe it, giving us the word excruciating, the roots of which literally mean “from the cross.” The word continues in our English language today to describe pain that brings near-unbearable torment.

How did Jesus die?

The process of scourging and crucifixion could result in painful death from several causes—blood loss from scourging, shock due to the overall massive trauma to the body, suffocation from the victim no longer having the strength to raise himself up on his nail-pierced wrists and feet to breathe, or any combination of these.

In the case of Jesus Christ, His death had been foreshadowed by the sacrifice of literally millions of sheep, goats, lambs, birds and cattle that had been previously offered over the centuries in Israel, including millions of Passover lambs. The apostle Paul, writing that “Christ, our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed for us” (1 Corinthians 5:7 1 Corinthians 5:7Purge out therefore the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, as you are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us:
American King James Version×
), knew this is what those pointed to.

Hebrews 10:4 Hebrews 10:4For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins.
American King James Version×
similarly tells us that it was impossible for the blood of those sacrificed animals to take away sins; that can only be accomplished by what they all ultimately represented—Christ’s sacrificial death in our place (Hebrews 10:5-10 Hebrews 10:5-10 [5] Why when he comes into the world, he said, Sacrifice and offering you would not, but a body have you prepared me: [6] In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin you have had no pleasure. [7] Then said I, See, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me,) to do your will, O God. [8] Above when he said, Sacrifice and offering and burnt offerings and offering for sin you would not, neither had pleasure therein; which are offered by the law; [9] Then said he, See, I come to do your will, O God. He takes away the first, that he may establish the second. [10] By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
American King James Version×
; Hebrews 9:11-14 Hebrews 9:11-14 [11] But Christ being come an high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building; [12] Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us. [13] For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies to the purifying of the flesh: [14] How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?
American King James Version×
).

How did those many sacrificial animals die? They all died by shedding of blood. Their throats were slit, meaning they died quickly and relatively painlessly. Jesus Christ also died by shedding His blood, but His death was anything but quick and painless. After being scourged, He hung painfully from about 9:00 a.m. until His death at about 3:00 p.m. in the afternoon (Mark 15:25 Mark 15:25And it was the third hour, and they crucified him.
American King James Version×
; Mark 15:34-37 Mark 15:34-37 [34] And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? which is, being interpreted, My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? [35] And some of them that stood by, when they heard it, said, Behold, he calls Elias. [36] And one ran and filled a sponge full of vinegar, and put it on a reed, and gave him to drink, saying, Let alone; let us see whether Elias will come to take him down. [37] And Jesus cried with a loud voice, and gave up the ghost.
American King James Version×
).

The final blow ensuring Christ’s death came from the spear of a Roman soldier (John 19:34 John 19:34But one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and immediately came there out blood and water.
American King James Version×
). The prophecy from Zechariah 12:10 Zechariah 12:10And I will pour on the house of David, and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look on me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn.
American King James Version×
was fulfilled, that “they will look on the one they pierced” (John 19:37 John 19:37And again another scripture said, They shall look on him whom they pierced.
American King James Version×
).

With His death, this part of His mission was ended. In His dying breath He could rightly exclaim, “It is finished!” (John 19:30 John 19:30When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost.
American King James Version×
). The Greek here is tetelestai, which was written on receipts of that time to indicate “paid in full.”

His sacrifice was complete. This part of His mission, which He had previously described as “to give his life as a ransom for many,” was over. His bloody, lifeless body was lowered to the ground and taken to a nearby tomb, where it would lay for the next three days and three nights until His resurrection (Matthew 20:28 Matthew 20:28Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered to, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.
American King James Version×
; Matthew 12:40 Matthew 12:40For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale's belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.
American King James Version×
).

Jesus Christ’s preexistence

There is a missing dimension to this story that many don’t understand. And that is the little-understood previous sacrifice that set the stage for the one just described.

Understanding the depth of this sacrifice requires grasping who and what Jesus Christ was before His human birth.

Most people assume the biblical story begins in Genesis 1:1 Genesis 1:1In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
American King James Version×
, which tells us, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” But the biblical story actually begins before that with the opening verses of John’s Gospel: “In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. He existed in the beginning with God. God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him” (John 1:1-3 John 1:1-3 [1] In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. [2] The same was in the beginning with God. [3] All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.
American King James Version×
).

Here we see several remarkable truths revealed:

• “In the beginning” there were two divine Beings—one here called “the Word” and the other referred to as “God.”

• Along with the Being referred to as God, “the Word” also was God.

• Both Beings existed in the beginning —neither was created; neither created the other. Since “in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1 Genesis 1:1In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
American King James Version×
), both of these Beings existed before the creation of the physical universe.

• The Being referred to as God “created everything through” the One called “the Word.”

The Word became a human being

In John 1:14 John 1:14And the Word was made flesh, and dwelled among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.
American King James Version×
we see another remarkable truth: “The Word became human and dwelt among us . . . and we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.” The Word who existed with God in the beginning as God, and who “became human and dwelt among us,” and who was seen by John and the other disciples, was the One we know as Jesus Christ.

In John 1:10 John 1:10He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not.
American King James Version×
we’re also told that “He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him.” Both here and in John 1:3 John 1:3All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.
American King James Version×
, we’re told that He was the One who created the world and the entire universe!

Hebrews 1:2 Hebrews 1:2Has in these last days spoken to us by his Son, whom he has appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds;
American King James Version×
confirms this when it states that “through the Son he [God the Father] created the universe.”

Paul give us additional details about this amazing truth in Colossians 1:15-16 Colossians 1:15-16 [15] Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: [16] For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him:
American King James Version×
: “Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation, for through him God created everything in the heavenly realms and on earth. He made the things we can see and the things we can’t see—such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world. Everything was created through him and for him.”

Paul adds here that the Being who came in the flesh as Jesus Christ created not just the physical universe we know and see around us, but also “the heavenly realms”—a spiritual universe of angelic spirit beings “in the unseen world” that exists beyond the natural perception of human beings.

What are God the Father and Jesus like in Their divine state?

As physical human beings limited to our physical senses, such as sight, sound, smell, taste and touch, it’s hard for us to imagine a spiritual existence beyond what we can perceive through them. How can we grasp a God who describes Himself in Isaiah 57:15 Isaiah 57:15For thus said the high and lofty One that inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.
American King James Version×
as “the High and Lofty One who inhabits eternity”? (New King James Version). God the Father and Jesus Christ His Son live beyond the physical universe of time and space, with no beginning and no end!

Daniel 7:9-10 Daniel 7:9-10 [9] I beheld till the thrones were cast down, and the Ancient of days did sit, whose garment was white as snow, and the hair of his head like the pure wool: his throne was like the fiery flame, and his wheels as burning fire. [10] A fiery stream issued and came forth from before him: thousand thousands ministered to him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him: the judgment was set, and the books were opened.
American King James Version×
records a similar description of God the Father that Daniel saw in vision: “His clothing was as white as snow, his hair like purest wool. He sat on a fiery throne with wheels of blazing fire, and a river of fire was pouring out, flowing from his presence. Millions of angels ministered to him; many millions stood to attend him.”

The same apostle John who told us about Jesus Christ’s preexistence with God the Father also saw a vision of Jesus in His resurrected, glorified state. He describes this glorified appearance as best he can put it into words in Revelation 1:14-18 Revelation 1:14-18 [14] His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and his eyes were as a flame of fire; [15] And his feet like to fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace; and his voice as the sound of many waters. [16] And he had in his right hand seven stars: and out of his mouth went a sharp two edged sword: and his countenance was as the sun shines in his strength. [17] And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead. And he laid his right hand on me, saying to me, Fear not; I am the first and the last: [18] I am he that lives, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for ever more, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death.
American King James Version×
:

“His head and his hair were . . . as white as snow. And his eyes were like flames of fire. His feet were like polished bronze refined in a furnace, and his voice thundered like mighty ocean waves . . . And his face was like the sun in all its brilliance. When I saw him, I fell at his feet as if I were dead. But he laid his right hand on me and said, ‘Don’t be afraid! I am the First and the Last. I am the living one. I died, but look—I am alive forever and ever!’”

This is what the One who became Jesus Christ existed like before coming in human flesh. This was His glorified divine existence. This is the existence He asked to be restored to when He prayed on the last night of His human life, “And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was” (John 17:5 John 17:5And now, O Father, glorify you me with your own self with the glory which I had with you before the world was.
American King James Version×
, NKJV).

And He was restored. Hebrews 12:2 Hebrews 12:2Looking to Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.
American King James Version×
tells us: “Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.”

What Jesus Christ gave up for us

Now we are gaining much more insight into the magnitude of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice. Yes, He sacrificed greatly when He gave His life as an offering for our sins in our place. But He also sacrificed greatly when He gave up His glorified immortal spirit existence as God to become a lowly flesh-and-blood human being so He could die for our sins. As God in divine power and glory, He could never die because He was spirit and immortal. But by becoming flesh, He could die for us. And this is exactly what He did.

Paul holds out the humility and and self-sacrifice in what Christ did as an example to all of us in Philippians 2:5-8 Philippians 2:5-8 [5] Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: [6] Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: [7] But made himself of no reputation, and took on him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: [8] And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient to death, even the death of the cross.
American King James Version×
: “You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.”

What we are told here is profound. When this Being who had been God with God the Father came to earth—the same earth He had created—how did He come? He didn’t come in glory in a blaze of light so all people would recognize Him as divine and worship Him. He didn’t appear as a celebrated philosopher of worldly renown such as Plato and Aristotle. He didn’t appear as a great general like Caesar at the head of armies marching to take over Rome and its mighty empire.

He could have done any of these, but He chose to do none of them. Instead He laid aside His glory, splendor, majesty and power and came to earth as a mortal human being subject to death and dying. And He did that to carry out the plan that had been worked out between Him and the Father from before the world and the universe were created (see 1 Peter 1:20 1 Peter 1:20Who truly was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you,
American King James Version×
; Revelation 13:8 Revelation 13:8And all that dwell on the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.
American King James Version×
).

No one forced Him to make this decision. In John 10:15-18 John 10:15-18 [15] As the Father knows me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep. [16] And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd. [17] Therefore does my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. [18] No man takes it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father.
American King James Version×
He repeatedly emphasized that this was His own voluntary choice: “I sacrifice my life for the sheep . . . I sacrifice my life so I may take it back again. No one can take my life from me. I sacrifice it voluntarily.”

Why did He have to die?

Now we have a much more complete picture of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. As God with the Father He was eternal and could never die. But because of mankind’s sin—the sin of each and every one of us—we needed a Savior, a sacrifice to pay the full penalty for all of it.

And this is why no other sacrifice would be sufficient. Only the life of Jesus Christ, as the One who created all things including the human race, could pay that penalty. It took the life of the Creator of all human life, of all who have lived or would ever live, to pay the death penalty for all the sins of all who have lived or would ever live.

Had Jesus been only a mere man, His sacrifice could only pay the death penalty for Himself—and if somehow sinless then perhaps for another if that could even be acceptable before God. But Jesus was no mere man. He was God the Creator in the flesh, the only life that was more valuable than all other lives of all humanity throughout all time.

The great goal of God’s plan

Behind all of this is a plan few understand. It’s not just a matter of Jesus Christ dying so we can be forgiven. There is a great purpose behind our need for forgiveness. And that purpose is for God to “bring many children to glory” as part of His family!

Notice how this is beautifully spelled out in Hebrews 2:9-12 Hebrews 2:9-12 [9] But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honor; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man. [10] For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings. [11] For both he that sanctifies and they who are sanctified are all of one: for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brothers, [12] Saying, I will declare your name to my brothers, in the middle of the church will I sing praise to you.
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“What we do see is Jesus, who for a little while was given a position ‘a little lower than the angels’; and because he suffered death for us, he is now ‘crowned with glory and honor.’ Yes, by God’s grace, Jesus tasted death for everyone. God, for whom and through whom everything was made, chose to bring many children into glory. And it was only right that he should make Jesus, through his suffering, a perfect leader, fit to bring them into their salvation.

“So now Jesus and the ones he makes holy have the same Father. That is why Jesus is not ashamed to call them his brothers and sisters. For he said to God, ‘I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters. I will praise you among your assembled people’” (Hebrews 2:9-12 Hebrews 2:9-12 [9] But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honor; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man. [10] For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings. [11] For both he that sanctifies and they who are sanctified are all of one: for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brothers, [12] Saying, I will declare your name to my brothers, in the middle of the church will I sing praise to you.
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There is a reason Paul calls Jesus “the firstborn among many brethren” (Romans 8:29 Romans 8:29For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.
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, NKJV). In 2 Corinthians 6:18 2 Corinthians 6:18And will be a Father to you, and you shall be my sons and daughters, said the Lord Almighty.
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Paul similarly writes of God the Father telling His people, “I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty” (NKJV).

Astonishing as it may sound, this is the goal of God’s plan. This is why Jesus Christ emptied Himself of His glory, splendor and majesty that He shared with the Father as God in heaven. This is why He came to earth to live as a human being—and to give His life as a sacrifice for our sins. And this is why the Father resurrected Him to return Him to His previous glorious state as “the firstborn among many brethren.” Those “many brethren” are destined to be the very sons and daughters of God!

What will you do?

Jesus Christ exchanged His life for the lives of many. As God, He became man so that man—all who are willing to unreservedly give their lives to Him as He gave His life for us— could become God, as part of the divine family. That is the astounding truth of the Scriptures!

God’s plan is to “bring many children to glory” through Jesus Christ, “the firstborn of many brethren.” That plan and purpose includes you! You weren’t created for an empty and meaningless life, but for the greatest purpose imaginable—to become part of the family of God, one of God’s own children!

As we have seen, Jesus Christ offered the greatest sacrifice of all time. And He did it for you! Why don’t you commit today to making God’s purpose for you a reality by acknowledging the purpose for Jesus Christ’s suffering and death in your place, and committing your life to Him as He gave His life for you?

 


 

Why Was It Necessary for Jesus Christ to Suffer?

Most believers understand, at least on an intellectual level if not a personal one, the reasons for Jesus Christ’s death. But do we, and do you, understand the bigger picture of His death?

Jesus did not merely die for our sins. Had dying been all that was necessary, He could’ve died much more quickly and less painfully. He could’ve been stoned to death, a common method of execution in that day that brought quick unconsciousness before the victim died. He could’ve been stabbed or speared by a Roman soldier, and it would’ve been over in a few minutes at most. Or He could’ve been beheaded and death would have been instantaneous.

But His sacrifice required much more than simply dying. It required a great deal of suffering. Why? The simple answer is that sin brings suffering. Jesus never sinned (Hebrews 4:15 Hebrews 4:15For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.
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), so as a human being He never should’ve suffered. But He came into the human condition—into a world of suffering caused by sin. He had to suffer so that He might be our High Priest who “understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do” (same verse).

He also had to suffer because His suffering was and is part of the high price that must be paid for sin. Notice that His suffering was foretold by the prophet Isaiah in considerable detail:

“He was despised and rejected—a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief . . . He was despised, and we did not care. Yet it was our weaknesses he carried; it was our sorrows that weighed him down . . . But he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed . . . The Lord laid on him the sins of us all.

“He was oppressed and treated harshly, yet he never said a word. He was led like a lamb to the slaughter. And as a sheep is silent before the shearers, he did not open his mouth. Unjustly condemned, he was led away. No one cared that he died without descendants, that his life was cut short in midstream. But he was struck down for the rebellion of my people . . .

“When he sees all that is accomplished by his anguish, he will be satisfied. And because of his experience, my righteous servant will make it possible for many to be counted righteous, for he will bear all their sins” (Isaiah 53:3-11 Isaiah 53:3-11 [3] He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. [4] Surely he has borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. [5] But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was on him; and with his stripes we are healed. [6] All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. [7] He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he opens not his mouth. [8] He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken. [9] And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth. [10] Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he has put him to grief: when you shall make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. [11] He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities.
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, New Living Translation throughout).

Jesus knew such suffering would be part of the heavy price He would pay for humanity’s sins. Well before His final journey to Jerusalem, “Jesus began to tell his disciples plainly that it was necessary for him to go to Jerusalem, and that he would suffer many terrible things . . . [and] He would be killed” (Matthew 16:21 Matthew 16:21From that time forth began Jesus to show to his disciples, how that he must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day.
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; Mark 8:31 Mark 8:31And he began to teach them, that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders, and of the chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.
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; Luke 9:22 Luke 9:22Saying, The Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be slain, and be raised the third day.
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Not long after, He repeated to His disciples that He “must suffer greatly and be treated with utter contempt” (Mark 9:12 Mark 9:12And he answered and told them, Elias truly comes first, and restores all things; and how it is written of the Son of man, that he must suffer many things, and be set at nothing.
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). Then on His final journey to Jerusalem, He told His disciples that He “must suffer terribly and be rejected by this generation” (Luke 17:25 Luke 17:25But first must he suffer many things, and be rejected of this generation.
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The suffering that Jesus endured was an integral part of His sacrifice on our behalf. Suffering is the bitter fruit of our sins, and “He bore the sins of many” (Isaiah 53:12 Isaiah 53:12Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he has poured out his soul to death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.
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).

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