I’m not sure why I read the comments under Christian YouTube videos because more often than not they’re malicious. But I ran across one a few months ago that interested me.
The comment said something to the effect of: “Why are Christians so happy that Jesus died? I mean, an innocent person dying because of something someone else did wrong? That’s not justice. That’s disgusting. Am I missing something?”
It’s a valid question. An innocent person dying for a guilty person isn’t justice. So why can we rejoice about it?
I pondered that, and it didn’t take me long to come to a conclusion.
Jesus loved us. That’s why He died to redeem us. He wanted to do it. So we rejoice in the depth of His love.
As I continued to think about it, planning a blog post on the subject, you can imagine my consternation when I ran across this post on Facebook a few weeks later:
“It wasn’t because Christ loved us that He died, He was being obedient to the Father.”
A comment on the post added, “We never said Jesus didn’t love us only that His love didn’t take Him to the cross.”
So, if that’s true and Christ died out of mere obedience to His Father, then my whole argument for the righteousness of Jesus’ death kinda falls apart. At supper that night, I alternated holding a spoon and a pencil as I worked through some of my thoughts on the subject. I read some stuff online, talked to my family about it (because I have some great theological arguers in my family), and this blog post is the result.
I’m still going to argue that Jesus died for us because He loved us. Here’s why.
We know that obedience is born of love, respect, or fear. We can rule out fear because we know Jesus and the Father love one another perfectly.
There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment.
-1 John 4:18a
So if Jesus died primarily out of obedience to the Father, He must have died because He loved and respected the Father.
And there are many verses that speak of God sending Jesus to die for us. The famous John 3:16–“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son…” That could give a person the idea that it was God’s love that motivated Him to redeem us, and Jesus’ love didn’t enter the equation.
And this one:
In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him.
In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
-1 John 4:9-10 NKJV (emphasis mine)
But to claim that these verses say only the Father’s love motivated Jesus’ death is to, at least partially, divorce Jesus from the Trinity.
When Jesus came to the earth, He was the one and only God-Man. He was fully Man, yes, but also fully God. The Father’s motivations were His motivations.
Then Jesus answered and said to them, “Most assuredly I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner.
-John 5:19 NKJV
The Son of God on earth did exactly what He saw the Father do. The love the Father has for us is the same love Jesus has for us because the Two of them, with the Holy Spirit, are One.
(Do we comprehend that fully? No. If God didn’t blow our minds sometimes, He wouldn’t be worth worshiping.)
But to make a distinction between the Father’s love and Jesus’ love is hardly worthwhile. The Father was willing to let His Son suffer because He loved us. The Son was willing to suffer because He loved us.
[Jesus said:] “I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own.
“As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. …
“Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again.
“No one 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 command I have received from My Father.”
-John 10:14-15, 17-18 NKJV
Jesus didn’t have to die. The Father commanded Him, but He “laid it down of Himself” because He wanted the same thing as His Father.
Jesus IS the Good Shepherd, so He lays down His life for His sheep.
Now what about that verse that says Jesus “learned obedience”? Well, let’s have a look at it.
[Jesus], in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death, and was heard because of His godly fear,
though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered.
-Hebrews 5: 7-8 NKJV (emphasis mine)
This was “in the days of Jesus’ flesh.” Jesus hadn’t been a Man before; that was new. Before this, He had always experienced perfect communion, perfect unity with His Father.
Now Jesus had become the God-Man. And the Man-part of Him had to learn obedience. While the God-part of Him was still fully aligned with His Father’s will, the Man-part of Him cried out in anguish, pleading that the pain be taken away.
And Jesus’ Man-part, like all other men and women, had to learn obedience. When our wills pull us away from God’s will—when we want something contrary to what God wants—we have to choose to obey.
So did Jesus.
Now as a writer I fully embrace the notion of multiple motivations. We humans are complex creatures. How much more complex is the God-Man!
So I believe Jesus died for us because He loved us. But when it came down to facing the cross, His flesh did what any flesh would do—it cowered away from the prospect of such unfathomable pain. And thus, when His flesh tried for the upper hand, He had to learn obedience.
But His heart was fully motivated by love.
As my dad so succinctly put it:
Why would Jesus’ primary motivation be something He had to learn (obedience) rather than something that was part of His essence (love)?
As I read a few online articles on this subject, I ran across one on Desiring God. It brought out another interesting point, saying that Jesus’ death was about vindicating God’s righteousness. See, for millennia “in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed” (Romans 3:25).
God’s righteousness was at stake because He’d been letting sin slide by unpunished.
Now the easiest way to vindicate His righteousness would be to say, “That’s it. From now on all humans pay for their own sin. Those who were previously kind of righteous that I let slide by, well, they all go to hell now. They can count themselves blessed that they had several hundred years’ delay before their punishment.”
But God didn’t do that.
God vindicated His righteousness by paying for all those sins Himself.
Because He loved us.
Truly, Christ’s cross is the most powerful picture of pure love anywhere in earth below or heaven above.