Summary: Jesus had to die because He was fulfilling the covenant promise made to our father in faith, Abraham.
Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion 2013
One of the great questions Christians ask, once they understand the true horror of Jesus’s death on the cross, is “why did Jesus have to die?” Yes, God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, but why such a gruesome death? St. Paul gives us the best, and probably the oldest, explanation in his letter to the Philippians. Jesus, out of love for us, emptied Himself of His glory, and assumed the lowest state of humans–a slave-like state–and even died the death of a convicted slave. But then the Holy Trinity raised Him from death because He did not deserve that death, and now a divine person with a human nature is the second person of the Trinity, and has enabled us to aspire to a sharing in that divine nature ourselves.
You see, God made a covenant with Abraham, our father in faith, as is related in Genesis. He made a series of covenants with Abraham because of his uncommon faith. The last covenant was made by God with Abraham after Abraham proved himself so loyal to God that he was willing to give his only son, Isaac, in sacrifice. God stopped him from doing so, but that action so sealed the bond that God made an incredible kind of covenant with him. Every covenant has penalty clauses–all you lawyers will understand that–for breaching the contract. The covenant God made was one-sided. It said that if Abraham’s descendants ever violated it, God, not they, would pay the price–death. So the Son of God became man exactly so that He might make good on the promise. We sinned; He pays the price.
Just imagine making that kind of agreement with any human being. It’s unthinkable: we make a deal, and you break it. So I pay the debt. Who in his right mind would enter into such a deal? But God loved the world so much that He not only made the agreement, He also kept it.
There’s more, of course. Later this week we will hear some of the instructions Jesus left for His survivors–His Church. If we are to enjoy the benefits of Christ’s sacrifice, we have to act as He did–love each other as Jesus loves us. That means, as Dominic Savio once said, preferring death to even the smallest sin. It also means giving of ourselves to the point of pain. Each of us has some challenge in that area. But the meaning of this week is that Christ went before us in pain and self-giving, and He gives us what we need to imitate His example. Bless God for that.