Why Did Jesus Have to Suffer and Die?

We all are familiar with suffering. We have all, at some time, felt pain in our body through a wound, an illness, an accident, or a headache. We hear more and more about mood disorders, mental illnesses, psychosomatic disorders, depression, and the like. Suffering is a reality everyone deals with in one way or another. 

In Matthew 16:21, Jesus talks about the suffering He was soon going to face. We read: “From that time Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day.”

Why did Jesus have to suffer?

The passion or suffering of Jesus was foretold by the prophets. In Psalm 22, David spoke of the suffering Messiah, and, as well, Isaiah chapter 53 gives us a clear account of Jesus’ suffering. His suffering fulfilled the prophecies foretold in the Holy Scriptures and was part of the plan of salvation. It was necessary in order that the Scriptures be fulfilled (Matthew 25:54). 

Jesus was the sacrificial Lamb of God for us

In the Old Testament, an animal sacrifice for human sins needed to be without flaw. It was a ceremonial cleansing at that time, “the cleansing of the flesh” (Hebrews 9:13). But the blood of Jesus removes guilt from the conscience and cleanses the heart from all sin. In contrast to ceremonial cleansing, “how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” (Hebrews 9:14) 

Christ carried the sins of all people of all times in His body to the cross. The Apostle Peter had this in mind when he noted that Jesus “Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness—by whose stripes you were healed” (1 Peter 2:24). 

The suffering of Christ was necessary in order to pardon sinners. He died in our stead in order to reconcile us to God. In this way, the wrath of God has turned away from us, who were guilty in His sight.

Since Christ suffered for us, He can sympathize with us when we suffer, and He helps us in temptation. We read in Hebrews 2:18, “For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted.” What a comfort this is for all who suffer and are tempted! Even if you have nobody who understands you and nobody with whom you can share your suffering, the Lord understands you well. 

Jesus is our High Priest and the Son of God. Because of His suffering, He has compassion with us. He knows our present weaknesses and temptations. Therefore, you can come with confidence to Him in prayer and receive His grace for full victory. The Lord always helps at the right time. 

What did Christ have to suffer?

First of all, He suffered greatly in His soul both tremendous emotional and psychological stress. He said to the three disciples who accompanied Him in Gethsemane: “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death” (Matthew 26:28). 

He was praying so desperately, yet His disciples slept. No doubt, the feeling of abandonment and being alone was acute. He heard no word of encouragement, support, or solidarity from His disciples – nothing! Fatigue overpowered them. 

And then He was betrayed by a friend. If that happened to us, no doubt, we would be overwhelmed by inner turmoil. This painful situation was also a fulfillment of prophecy, because Psalm 41:10 says that “even my own familiar friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted up his heel against me.” Then, shortly before His arrest, all the disciples abandoned Him and fled. He was left alone in the hands of the evildoers and enemies.

At the judicial hearing of our dear Lord, the religious leaders presented false accusations. They sought false blame against Him in order to condemn Him to death. When He was finally brought to trial, the crowd shouted: “Crucify Him, crucify Him.” The Lord stood despised and rejected by the people to whom He had showed such love and compassion, and who only days before had called out: Hosanna to the Son of David. “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord” (Mark 11:9). How quickly the opinion of people can change! Have you experienced this as well? In difficult situations, look up to the Lord. God was with His beloved Son, and He will also help everyone who stays true to Him.

After Jesus endured such mental and psychological turmoil, there was still the horrible physical abuse and pain that followed. They punched Him and spit Him in the face. Others “struck Him on the face and asked Him, saying, ‘Prophesy! Who is the one who struck You?’” (Luke 22:64) They mocked the One who took their sin upon Himself! And that was not all. They put on His head a crown of thorns and beat Him on the head. The King of Kings was humbled and despised by giving Him a crown of thorns and making fun of Him. The thorns growing on the bushes in Israel are much larger than the thorns we are familiar with, and they inflict much greater pain than the prickles of our thorns. 

In his well-known song, Paul Gerhardt wrote:

O sacred Head, now wounded,

With grief and shame weighed down,

Now scornfully surrounded

With thorns, Thine only crown!

O sacred Head, what glory,

What bliss till now was thine!

Yet, though despised and gory,

I joy to call Thee mine.

Then came the greatest of all His suffering: the crucifixion. His hands and feet were nailed to the cross, and the weight of His whole body hung on those raw, painful wounds. The Scriptures describe a steady increase of suffering. The sorrow and pain heightened to an unimaginable level. Jesus continued to drink that bitter cup of suffering until He at last called out: “It is finished!” (John 19:30) Can a heart remain cold and untouched by Christ’s passion? Paul Gerhardt’s song continues:

What Thou, my Lord, hast suffered

Was all for sinners’ gain.

Mine, mine was the transgression,

But Thine the deadly pain.

Lo, here I fall, my Savior!

‘Tis I deserve Thy place.

Look on me with Thy favor,

And grant to me Thy grace.

Christ needed to suffer all these things and die on the cross (Luke 24:26ff). He did it for us. Have you given your heart to the Lord, who died for you? Or are you still without peace in this sinful world? Come to the cross and leave your burden of sin there, and you will walk the path of life with joy. On the third day, a cry of triumph was heard: He lives! Jesus lives, and you too shall live! He offers you eternal life. Come to Him in faith today.  

Herbert Kowalski

Hamm, Germany

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