Did Jesus Really Have to Die?


In the early 1990s, Bob was coming to our Friday night "Worship and the Word" service. I had begun teaching a series on "The Work of the Cross and the Power of the Resurrection" out of the book of Leviticus.

I wanted to shed some light on some truths that seemed difficult and concealed in "the Old Covenant," and to bring simplicity and understanding to what is revealed in "the New Covenant." By weaving together the Old and New Testaments, we see a wonderful tapestry of all that Jesus Christ did for us through His life, death and resurrection. I wanted believers and unbelievers alike to get a revelation of the high cost of love displayed on the cross.

Bob owned an independent wrecker truck service, but also had been a 19-year heroin and methadone addict. Initially, he came to our services to rescue some friends he thought were getting involved in a cult.

Curiosity and intrigue gripped Bob, so reluctantly and cautiously he came each week to hear the message of the cross. I titled the final message, "Mission Accomplished." Bob had been a skeptic, but now, with tears in his eyes, he enthusiastically came down the aisle. He came to the cross with a revelation that the God of the Bible is real today.

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Who would have thought that a study on the book of Leviticus could so profoundly change a man's life? But that is the beauty of the Word of God from Genesis to Revelation. It never goes forth void. Unfathomable treasures of truth lie in the pages of God's Word, revealing that the God of the Scriptures is real!

The Significance of 3 Gifts

We all know the song. It might even be one of your favorite Christmas carols: "We three kings of the Orient are / bearing gifts we traverse afar." This is about the part of the Christmas story in which men came from the East to find the Christ child. Although Scripture does not specifically refer to kings but rather to "magi" or "wise men," and we are not given a head count as to how many there actually were, we do know they bore gifts—gold, frankincense and myrrh.

The significance of these gifts is not only that they were gifts fit for a king, but they were also fitting for a king's burial. Gold is for the King of all kings, frankincense is for the Priest of all priests and myrrh is for the Sacrifice of all sacrifices.

Nestled in the middle of the Christmas story was the mystery of Jesus' life. Even though He was a king, he had been born to die.

In 2003, many of us saw the movie The Passion of the Christ, and saw the story of the crucifixion displayed around the world from a surprising source: Hollywood. With the movie's graphic depiction of the suffering Jesus endured for us, we came to a realization of the high cost of His love and the brutality by which He paid the price for our sins.

Even with the controversy concerning the violence involved in the scourging and death of Christ, an "R" rating would not have been sufficient for an accurate portrayal of the extent He suffered. Crucifixion was a form of capital punishment and considered the most humiliating and excruciating way to die. It is said that even the word "excruciating" did not exist until a word was needed to describe the pain of death by crucifixion. The movie generated questions by many, including one national magazine that boldly inquired on its cover, "Did Jesus really have to die?"

Did Jesus Really Have to Die?

I remember reading a medical description of what Christ most likely would have gone through from a medical perspective, written by the late Dr. C. Truman Davis. Each time I read it, I am gripped and moved to tears with the revelation of Christ's love and sacrifice. Graciously, a few years ago, Jean Davis granted me permission to print her late husband's full medical description in my book Born to Die.

The description also gives me a greater understanding of Psalm 22, the prophetic chapter of Christ's passion and suffering. Here is just a short portion extrapolated from the beginning of Dr. Davis' medical description that starts in the Garden of Gethsemane at the foot of the Mount of Olives: "The physical trauma of Christ begins with one of the initial aspects of His suffering, the bloody sweat. It's interesting that the physician of the group, St. Luke, is the only one to mention this. Though very rare, the phenomenon of hematidrosis, or bloody sweat, is well-documented. Under great emotional stress, tiny capillaries in the sweat glands can break, thus mixing blood with sweat."

The complete ramifications of Jesus' passion begin to unfold when we look at the five basic sacrifices or offerings listed in the first seven chapters of Leviticus. Each of these sacrifices points to Jesus and teaches us about a unique facet of His perfect sacrificial work. Many do not fully realize how Jesus fulfills all the Levitical sacrifices. The entire Bible meticulously points us to Jesus. The purpose of studying the Bible is more than just learning a set of religious or historical facts! Scripture study brings us into a vital relationship with our Lord Jesus.

The five sacrifices Jesus fulfilled (as described in Born to Die):

  • Total Surrender to the Father's Will. The first sacrifice described in Leviticus is the burnt sacrifice or burnt offering, illustrating a total surrender to the Father's will. This is the essence of true worship: a heart that is in total surrender to God. Jesus also prayed this in the Garden of Gethsemane: "Not My will, but Thy will be done." Likewise, Jesus gives us instruction by word and example that as Christ followers, we too are to offer ourselves in total surrender to the Father's will. There comes a time in our lives when the revelation of Jesus and His work on the cross become so real that we desire to yield in total surrender to His will. Perhaps we once recited the Lord's prayer with shallow platitudes and religious incantations, but then the words began to take life within us. Our fleshly creed of "my kingdom come, my will be done" was replaced with "Your kingdom come, Your will be done."
  • Jesus' Sinless Service. The second sacrifice was the grain offering, which is also referred to as the meal or meat offering. The grain offering represents the obedience of sinless service (grain without leaven), which naturally flows out of a surrendered life. Through Jesus' sinless service, He became our grain offering so that we too could freely commune with the Father. As with the other offerings, the grain offering also points to the way we should live through Christ. Salt was a crucial element of the grain offerings, as seen in Leviticus 2:13: "You shall season all your grain offerings with salt. You shall not fail to use the salt of the covenant of your God on your grain offering. With all your offerings you shall offer salt." The salt used in the grain offering points to Jesus as the salt of the earth, who came to cover and preserve us throughout eternity. Likewise, God wants us to be salty Christians! In a world filled with corruption and decay, we are to bring preservation, healing and flavor.
  • Sweet Communion. The third sacrifice listed is the peace offering, also known as the fellowship offering. This offering is a symbol of intimate friendship and reconciliation. It's a spontaneous offering that expresses one's gratitude and commitment to the Lord. Praise, vow and freewill offerings are represented in the peace offering. What a great picture of Jesus' unbroken fellowship with the Father, which we can experience through the work of the cross. Not only does Jesus give us His peace, He is our peace! This gives us reason to show spontaneous adoration, praise, commitment and worship to the Lord, because of who He is and what He has done for us. True peace seems to be one of the rarest of human experiences. People seek it in material prosperity or other fleeting pleasures, but it is not found there. Although many may chase for inner peace, in Christ it is readily available. Jesus offers a peace that is beyond human comprehension or capacity to mentally understand. He reminds us in John 14:27, "Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid." Peace, fellowship, communion, completeness, wholeness and well-being are just some of the amazing benefits granted to us through Jesus, our peace offering.
  • Our Expunger, Purifier, Guilt-Bearer. The fourth sacrifice is the sin offering. The sin offering depicts Jesus as our expunger, purifier and guilt-bearer. To "expunge" means to erase or strike out, to eliminate completely, to annihilate. It was a mandatory offering that typified Jesus as the guilt substitute for our sins. He, and He alone, is our guilt-bearer. As our sin offering, Jesus paid the debt that He did not owe because we owed a debt we could not pay. He took away our guilt and paid sin's penalty, which is death (Rom. 6:23). Isaiah 1:18 makes it clear, "Come now, and let us reason together, says the Lord. Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool." Jesus secured the forgiveness of our sins. He came as the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29). He took the place we deserved, the place of condemnation and death, and exchanged His righteousness for our unrighteousness.
  • Payment for the Damage of Sin. The fifth and final sacrifice was known as the trespass offering. This offering represents our need for Jesus to heal the damage done by sin. From Adam's sin (Genesis) to our own sin and acts of rebellion, sin has always caused damage. But Jesus, our Savior, Healer and Deliverer, heals us and cleanses us of the damage of our sin.

Jesus was the perfect sacrifice. He was without sin and yet still took the punishment for our sins. He became the doorway to salvation and eternal life that we could not have accessed without Him. His perfect sacrifice provided our passage from penalty to pardon and from death to life. Yet so many are unaware of the life of freedom that can be theirs. By faith in Him, they can overcome the power of sin and death and find victory and life. Perhaps even some reading this are still asking: Is what Jesus did on the cross 2,000 years ago really pertinent to me today?

Even professing Christians struggle with fully understanding and appreciating the high cost of love that Jesus paid for us. It is difficult to have a strong foundation as a Christian without a revelation of the work of the cross and the power of the resurrection. Living a life that is pleasing to God is not about religious rules but about desiring a heart that is fully surrendered to Him. More than anything, God desires our hearts. Our willingness to take part in this covenant relationship with Him attracts His presence and brings His abounding grace upon our lives.

When we consider all the festivities of the Christmas season and as we celebrate the birth of Christ, it's hard to consider that the purpose of His birth was also connected to His death. While many today pursue exalted and high places, Jesus, The Exalted One, left His highest place to pursue us.

Why would He endure a life that would lead Him to the cross?

Hebrews 12:2-3 says it beautifully and clearly: He was willing to give Himself for us, to suffer shame and brutality and to endure the cross, for the joy set before Him. What was His joy beyond the cross? His joy was us and all those who through Him are reconciled to God, our Father and Creator of heaven and earth!

In Jesus' own words, "Greater love has no man than this: that a man lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13). Yes, from the manger to the cross, Jesus was born to die that we may live.

Doug Stringer is the founder and president of Somebody Cares America / International. You can find him online at dougstringer.com.

Marilyn Hickey makes the book of Leviticus come alive by showing how it reveals Jesus as the High Priest at highpriest.charismamag.com.

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