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A Good Friday question I’ve never considered before

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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A close-up representation of Jesus' left hand nailed to the cross (Credit: Pearl via Lightstock)

I almost always begin my daily column by interacting with the day’s news. However, Good Friday is unlike any other day. And the two questions I’d like to explore with you this morning deserve our full attention. The first is one I’ve been asked often. The second is one I’ve never considered before today.

Our first question is both simple and profound: “Why did Jesus have to die?” The fact that he died to pay for our sins is not in question. Rather, why did God require that he do so? If I run into your car in the parking lot, I assume someone doesn’t have to die for my debt to be paid. Why did God require the death of his Son to pay ours?

The answer is that sin separates us from the holy God who is the only source of life (Isaiah 59:2; John 14:6). That’s why the Lord warned Adam that if he ate the forbidden fruit “you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:17). That’s why “the soul who sins shall die” (Ezekiel 18:20). That’s why “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).

Sin leads to death. It stands to reason, therefore, that the only one who could pay the debt sinners owe is someone who has never sinned. If I have a thousand dollars in my bank account and owe that amount to creditors, I cannot use that money to pay your debt as well as mine. Since Jesus was the only sinless person who has ever lived (Hebrews 4:15), he alone could pay our debt. As the chorus says, “He paid a debt he did not owe; I owed a debt I could not pay.”

So the logic of Good Friday makes sense. But here’s a second question, one I had never asked myself before today: Why did Jesus have to die by crucifixion?

The manner of Jesus’ death fulfilled the prophet’s prediction, “They will look on me, the one they have pierced” (Zechariah 12:10). It also matched David’s description, “They have pierced my hands and feet” (Psalm 22:16). But why did the Holy Spirit lead these writers to predict that Jesus would die in such a gruesome way?

The Jews executed by stoning (as with Stephen in Acts 7). Rome executed its citizens by beheading. Presumably, any form of death would pay the penalty for our sins. Why did Jesus have to suffer the most horrible, heinous form of execution ever invented?

Here’s my thought: The cross shows how horrible and heinous sin really is. If Jesus’ death had been painless and antiseptic, the sins for which he died could seem less catastrophic. As it is, every time we are tempted we can remember the thorns that lacerated our Savior’s scalp, the whip that scourged his back, the nails that pierced his wrists and feet, the spear that ruptured his heart. That’s what your sins and my sins did to Jesus. That’s what he chose to suffer for us.

No one watching Jesus writhe in horrible agony on the cross would have called today, “Good Friday.” The Germans get closer to the historic reality: They call this day “Karfreitag,” meaning “Sorrowful Friday.”

Take time on this somber day to remember what your sins cost Jesus. How will you respond to the temptations you face today?

Note: I invite you to join me for the seventh annual Easter Eve service at Dallas Baptist University. I will be speaking from Matthew 27:51–54 on the theme of “Easter Before Easter.” We will gather tomorrow at 6 PM in Pilgrim Chapel.