Why Was Christ's Passion Necessary?
by Steven R. Hemler
Like most people, I had many different feelings after first seeing Mel Gibson's powerful movie The Passion of the Christ. I felt gratitude that Jesus suffered so much on my behalf. I also felt deep sadness because my sins and shortcomings helped do that to Him. However, I also came away trying to understand more fully why a loving and merciful God would require such brutality. After seeing such a realistic depiction of Christ's scourging and crucifixion, I had to ask myself why all that was really necessary. This seemed to me to be more like what would be done to appease an angry God - not a loving and merciful One. Why couldn't God just be merciful and forgive our sins without needing all that torture and horrific pain?
So, I bought several books on the topic of Christ's passion. My favorite was The Passion of Jesus Christ: Fifty Reasons Why Jesus Came to Die by John Piper.
My reading reaffirmed and deepened what I already knew. Namely, that God is perfectly loving, but He is also perfectly just. Since God is just, he cannot merely sweep our sins "under the rug." God's justice demands that our sins be punished. Not to punish would be unjust.
What loving parent would not punish their children when they do something wrong? The punishment is a sign of love. It's the right thing to do.
Similarly, what criminal court judge would let all contrite felons who come before his bench go "Scot Free" without any imprisonment? That would make a mockery of our legal justice system and would not be tolerated. In the same way, God's justice cannot be a mockery. We all deserve divine retribution because of our many sins. None of us deserve, on our own, the rewards of Heaven. We will never fully feel the love of God until we realize the seriousness of our sin and the justice of His retribution towards us.
We deserve divine punishment, not divine sacrifice. However, for our sake God did the impossible: He poured out His divine punishment on His own Son. For as the prophet Isaiah wrote 700 years before: "He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our inequities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his stripes we are healed… and the Lord has laid upon him the iniquity of us all."
If God were not just, there would be no demand for His Son to suffer and die. Yet, if God were not loving, there would be no willingness for His Son to suffer and die. But, God is both just and loving. Therefore, God's love is willing to meet the demands of His justice.
For Jesus, out of perfect love for us, took upon Himself the punishment that we all are due. His willingness to suffer in our place balanced the divine "scales of justice." The debt was now paid. His love paid the price.
Jesus freely accepted the cruelest of human sufferings to save us from our sins and win eternal life for us. Christ paid the highest price possible to give us the greatest gift possible. His passion and death atoned for our sins and redeemed us. He humbly and obediently chose to rescue us at the cost of His own life.
God is now offering that payment to us as a pure gift - one that we are free to accept or reject. If we believe in and follow Christ as His disciple, God no longer holds our sins against us and offers us the gift of eternal life. That is indeed really good news!
Furthermore, by dying on the cross Jesus did not obliterate human suffering. Rather, He embraced it. Jesus told us, "If you want to be my disciple, take up your cross and follow me." By His suffering He shares in our own. He knows and understands our pain. So, when we are troubled and in distress, we can turn to Him in confidence that He will be with us. If we trust in Him, Jesus will help us bear our burdens with deep peace and joy. Jesus unites His cross in solidarity with our own. Similarly, Jesus calls upon us to share in the sufferings of others. Simply put, we are to bear the burdens of one another just as Christ carried our burdens. We are to be Christ for one another. In our gratitude, we are to be God with skin on. That's one way we can show we've accepted Christ's precious gift.
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Copyright © Steve Hemler. Steve Hemler has been involved in youth ministry, pro-life political activism and religious education. His articles have been published in America, Liguorian, Church, Modern Liturgy, Religion Teacher's Journal, Liturgical Catechesis, and National Review.