But Did He Have to DIE?

I have just returned from a service in which the focus was on a single event, and event that is at the heart of the Christian faith: the death of Jesus Christ.

A question haunts me.

Seems like every day I get some sort of advertisement for a way to become a better person. Richer, healthier, more positive, more focused, more successful, more loving. The self-help industry booms, and promises abound of the way to a new life, free of all the “negative energy” that weighs us down. The latest touts 11 Principles to get whatever you want in life and build a better world (in that order, I wonder?).

So, the question nags me: If we can make ourselves better on our own, did Jesus really have to die?

That question haunted Jesus himself, in a garden just before his horrific murder.

Alone in the Garden of Gethsemane (his disciples having fallen asleep, though he’d asked them to stay up with him and pray), he pleaded with his Father: “Isn’t there any other way? Do I really have to go through the horror ahead?”

He asked the question three times.

He knew the answer. He knew he had left the glories of heaven for this very purpose. Several times he told his disciples that he came to suffer and die. When Peter said, “That can’t happen to you,” Jesus turned and said to him, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me, you do not having in mind the things of God, but the things of men.”

Human perspective. Jesus fought hard to keep his eyes on not only his purpose–to die–but the ultimate goal–bringing those who would accept his sacrifice into the same glory he knew with the Father.

The glory he trusted was just on the other side of the tomb.

His divine nature kept his eyes on the prize. His human nature agonized over the suffering ahead. So, he asked the question, desperate for another way.

Jesus’ death attests that there is no other way. At least, that is what I can’t seem to get around. Twenty centuries of human history later, we still face death, disease, injustice, cruelty, and now, the ability to eradicate our own species.

Some of us believe, however–because we have experienced it–that heart change is possible. But not through our own means. Only through something somewhat mysterious, yet simple, called faith, can we begin to be changed. And it starts with this acceptance of the meaning of this death that history attests.

Yet, I am haunted, not just by the question, Did Jesus have to die?, but also by another question. Can people change their lives on their own? Can they become truly good from the inside out, simply by will power or some technique heretofore hidden from most people?

I’ve heard the Christian testimonies. Marveled at the many martyrs, past and present, who would rather suffer intense pain, even death, rather than deny their faith.

Now I’d like to hear testimonies on other perspectives. If you have found a way to make yourself better on your own–truly better, from the inside out–I’d like to hear about it. What was the key? Was it therapy, positive thinking, energy manipulation, meditation, some other new technique? How exactly did it change you?

This is not a trick question. I really want to know. I continue to be haunted by the question, “Did Jesus really have to die?” when I’m faced with evidence that people can change themselves without God. If you’ve ever seen the “The Passion of the Christ,” you like me probably gained a new appreciation for the cruelty of death by crucifixion. If it wasn’t really necessary, why did Jesus go through it?

So please, post your responses below. Let’s get some honest debate going. Did Jesus really have to die to save the world, or can people become good on their own? Thank you so much!

9 Replies to “But Did He Have to DIE?”

  1. Have I found a way to make myself better on my own? Well, I certainly tried — for 34 years, I tried. I found nothing and I remained miserable in the memories of my mistakes and sin. Then I heard the gospel in February of 1996 and my faith took root. Since then it has spouted, grown and flourished. It becomes stronger everyday like a sunflower in August. I am a new creation in Christ. The old is gone and the new has come! Yes, although I don’t fully understand God’s plan and why it had to be like this, Jesus had to die. This is the reason He came to this earth. On this Holy Saturday, I worship Him with gratitude overflowing that He would die for someone like me. I marvel at the new person He has made me.

  2. Although I truly don’t understand why Christ had to die, I know that His death gave me eternal life and that someday, I will be a resident with Him in Paradise. Only FAITH can change us. I grow in Christ everyday, because I stay in His Word and in Prayer. The only thing that I can really say is HE’S ALIVE, RISEN AND WITH ME DAILY. HALLELUJAH!!!! I can’t praise Him enough for my salvation and for changing my life. Again, HE IS RISEN!!!!!! BELIEVE!!!!!

  3. Thanks for your replies, Christy and Bitsy.

    I realize that, while there is much we may be able to do for ourselves, there is one thing that we can never do: make ourselves perfect, righteous enough to be acceptable to a holy and perfect God.

    And THAT is why Jesus had to die. The fact that he, Son of God, did it voluntarily blows me away. We couldn’t do it ourselves, so he did it for us.

    And–he didn’t stay dead, but ROSE and conquered sin!

    May your Easter be blessed as you ponder this marvelous truth.


  4. I feel people may be able to make some improvements on their own, but not from the inside out and not to the extent that our powerful Lord can when we accept Jesus & are filled with his Holy Spirit. I know that God loves us just the way we are, but he loves us too much to let us stay that way! With Jesus in our hearts we can begin our long journey, of true self-improvement, step-by-step, day-by-day, as we grow closer to him. Change from God is always from the inside out & it can be permanent if we let it. Unlike when we try to change our selves own way and always come up short, falling back into old patterns and habits. I pray all who read this will choose to take that journey too and begin to become all that HE wants us to be, whioh is more like him. After all, isn’t that what the word Christian means (Little Christ)?

  5. Diane,

    My sister is not a Christian. I posed your question to her and this is how she responded.

    [And the answer to your wonderful question is YES and No…Jesus spelled it out quite clearly, unfortunately in my humble opinion, the messages have become tangled in so many cultural and social dramas that the practice of being like Jesus is not the focus. What is the practice of being like Jesus? Love, Oneness, Compassion , Nonjudging…you know the drill…but how to practice this with every breath, in every moment, every day? This to me is where Buddhism has a great deal to share (with Christians) that supports what Jesus preached…it’s the practice. God made each and every one complete-there is no changing of the internal Self that could improve upon that, perio d. We each are completely prosperous thanks to HIS Boundless Abundance. What Jesus and other great spiritual teachers are trying to get across (again, as I humbly understand) is that ALLOWING (of the good, the bad, the suffering, the joy), is exactly the unfolding of God’s Diviness, and that the PRACTICE of non-judging (everything) is a big part of our work in this life….our lessons are in how we handle things, especially in our SERVICE to others…it’s when our EGO steps in and says, “I don’t like this_______. ” or “If I just can eat this chocolate or take this pill everything will be____” ,”I fear _____” or the lists go on and on…..listen to the chatter of your mind for one day….your EGO, dispite all that you may have learned from the Bible, etc, is still probably running the ship. The practice of melting the EGO and Allowing the Higher Self to shine is a practice that takes work…and only YOU can do thi s WORK…so yes, YOU alone are the only one who can do this (not Jesus the Savior), but HIS teachings along with past and present teachers can help you with the practice. Dr. Wayne Dyer does an excellent job of explaining the pitfalls of an EGO driven life and how to let your Higher Self (what God intends us to BE!) shine…once you get it FLOWING…the work is easy, but the lessons still come…it’s all in the practice! (Go sit on a rock and be still-I know this is in the Bible somewhere!) ]

  6. I’m a bit frustrated with Andrea’s sister’s comment. It seems to ignore the central question, which is common when people rely on their own
    understanding of what the Bible (or any other book) says rather than actually reading it. (That’s why I won’t say anything about The DaVinci Code. I may be one of the few people on earth who hasn’t read it, so I don’t feel I can comment on it at all.)

    Jesus was very clear that his mission was to
    suffer, die, and rise again. He did not consider
    himself primarily to be a teacher. Following his
    “way” was not the point; He Hinself was the Way
    (John 14:6)–also the truth, and the life. Not
    his teachings, but he himself.

    As we accept him, identify with him, then we
    become new creatures, and begin to partake of
    that new, unique, divine life.

    When I said, “I am haunted by the question of
    why Jesus had to die,” what I meant was that every
    time I am confronted with some other claim to a
    changed life, it makes me wonder if it works, then
    why did Jesus have to die?

    But so far, no one has convinced me that there is
    any other way to create lasting change from the
    inside out, apart from accepting Christ’s death
    (he, the innocent, was punished in place of me,
    the guilty), resurrection (his triumph over sin
    and death), and the new life mysteriously imparted
    through the Holy Spirit, once I do accept these things.

    I don’t think meditation can do it.

    I don’t believe will power can do it.

    These things may be able to bring some measure of healing, of change, but can anyone convince me that they are a new person because of some system?

    And while we are to work in conjunction with the
    Holy Spirit (we do have our part), it is not
    ultimately our work. It’s not up to us to conquer
    EGO. I simply have no evidence, so far, that anyone
    can do it on his or her own.

    Who is the most “morally good” human being you can
    point to? How about Mother Teresa? But she herself
    attested that she did all she did, not on her own,
    but only through Jesus Christ.

    Can anyone think of anyone else? Come on, convince me
    that people can become good on their own! I don’t
    believe it yet….

    [By the way, the Bible doesn’t say “go sit on a rock
    and be still.” It says, “Be still and know that I am
    God” in Psalm 46:10. It adds, “I will be exalted among
    the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” A very
    good addition to the discussion: God is exalted most
    by Christ’s being lifted up on the cross. Jesus said
    in John 12:32, “But I, when I am lifted up from the
    earth, will draw all men to myself.” John adds in the
    next verse, “He said this to show the kind of death he
    was going to die.” Again my point: This was Jesus’
    whole reason for coming to earth: “Now my heart is
    troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me
    from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason
    I came to this hour.” (John 12:27)]

  7. Diane,

    As we love Jesus, we can’t stand the images of his beatings, the brutality of His death. I believe that is at the source of us allowing Satan inside just enough to ask, ‘Did He have to suffer and die?’. However, it is those images that keep my mind focused on that suffering, beating and true abuse of an innocent man – I caused. It is my fault. I can only deeply enjoy the resurrection knowing that! I am sorry, Jesus, for my daily contribution to your suffering. I am ever thankful that each day brings me new mercy and grace in You!


  8. One more thing: Let us never forget that the cross was not the final image, the last word with Jesus. The cross was Good Friday. Then came … Easter! Resurrection! The coronation of Jesus Christ, Son of God as King of Kings and Lord of Lords!
    And that is what he is, where he is today.

  9. It depends on what you mean by have to die. If you mean did he have to die for himself…I would think not but am unsure. If you mean did he have to die for creation…only if he wanted to redeem without destroying. My guess is your question really is … Did Jesus really have to die for us, wasn’t there some other way?

    The only other way was to allow all of creation to be destroyed and start over. To ask the question points to a conclusion that if there was another way then God is a villan for putting his Son through torture, death, and separation.

    Another question arises…are we in need of redemption or just a bit of correction? With pain and suffering in this world even as our technology increases it points to the need for meaning beyond ourselves. It also points to the need of forgiveness in our lives.

    So my ultimate answer to your question is…Of course He had to die and on this Good Friday, thank God that He did!

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