The way Jesus suffered and died is the greatest revelation of the truth about God the universe will ever see or ever need. Correctly understood, it means defeat for the accuser of our Heavenly Father. No wonder Satan has sought to obscure, even pervert, the meaning of the cross! So why did Jesus have to die? Why was it not enough for Jesus simply to tell us the truth about His Father? Why couldn’t His own gracious treatment of sinners demonstrate that God is not the kind of person His enemies have made Him out to be? Why did Jesus also have to die? Why was there no other way?
The cross is “the most costly and convincing evidence” because the unique and awful way in which Jesus suffered and died reveals something about God and His government that had to be clarified before trust and peace could be restored again. Our God has been accused of being unworthy of the trust of His created beings, of being arbitrary, vengeful, and severe. He has particularly been accused of lying to His children, of lying about death being the result of sin. It does no good for God to simply deny such charges or to claim that He is speaking the truth. It is only by the demonstration of trustworthiness over a long period of time and under a great variety of difficult circumstances that trust can be re-established and confirmed.
There are three fundamental questions that were raised by Satan’s rebellion and the great controversy over the character and government of God. God could have answered these questions with assertions and arbitrary shows of force. But God values freedom so much, that the only way to answer these questions is through demonstration over a long period of time and in a wide variety of circumstances. At the heart of these “circumstances” is the cross. The suffering and death of Jesus answered the three great questions about God’s character:
1) Can we trust God to tell the truth about sin and death? If God does not tell the truth, then we can’t trust Him. In the Garden (Eden) God warned Adam and Eve that to eat of the Tree of Knowledge would cause their death. But the same adversary told Eve that God had lied (Gen 3:4-5). In the Word of God and His dealings in history, God provided abundant evidence that what He says can be trusted. But is sin really the cause of death, as God has claimed? In another Garden (Gethsemane), Jesus fell to the ground dying, a consequence of human sin. Already in Gethsemane, Jesus clearly demonstrated that sin leads to death, and that God was telling the truth about sin and death.
2) What is God’s role in the death of the sinner? Does justice demand that God
torture His children to death for refusing to love Him? The experience of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane also demonstrated that God was not killing his Son. To the contrary, God sent an angel to sustain Him (Luke 22:43). If Jesus had died in the Garden of Gethsemane, it would not have been because His Father had killed Him. He did not lay a hand on His Son. Many, nevertheless, believe that justice requires God to torture His children to death. But it was not God killing His Son in Gethsemane, Jesus was laying His own life down (John 10:18). Death is the result of sin, but it is not torture and execution at the hands of our gracious God. But there was a third question that also needed to be answered. Gethsemane by itself would not have been enough, the answer to the third question required the cross.
3) Why is it so important to understand that God does not execute his sinful
Children? The simple answer: Because obedience that springs from fear produces the character of a rebel. If God kills and tortures those who refuse to obey Him, even His followers will not serve Him out of love and trust, they will serve Him only out of fear. Obedience that springs from fear produces the heart of a rebel. This was clearly demonstrated at the cross, where Jesus not only died, but was also tortured and crucified. By whom? By the Father? Or by allies of the most devout group of Sabbath-keeping, tithe-paying, health-reforming, Bible-quoting “adventists” the world has ever known? The religious leaders who crucified Jesus were serving God out of fear. And the obedience that springs from fear produces the character of a rebel.