Why Did Jesus Have to Suffer?
“And this is love, not that we loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the payment for our sin.” – 1 John 4:10
It’s an historical fact that Jesus Christ suffered. But the idea that His suffering was necessary—that He had to suffer–has often been the subject of scorn from those who have criticized and ridiculed Christianity through the centuries. It is also what sets Christianity apart.
Muslims, for example, show respect for the person of Christ, but see the cross of Christ as a stumbling block and regard the atonement through suffering as foolishness. Mahatma Ghandi wrote in his autobiography, “I could accept Jesus as a martyr. His death on the cross was certainly a good example. But that there was anything else to his suffering, mysterious or miraculous, this my heart can never accept.” German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche dismissed the concept of Christ’s suffering by ridiculing the “concept of God on a cross—preposterous!” Oxford scholar Alfred Heir, in a paper evaluating world religions, called Christianity “the worst of all because it rests on the idea of a suffering Savior and a substitutionary atonement, which is intellectually contemptible and morally outrageous.”
As believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, we stand resolutely in this derision and embrace the cross of Christ. “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:18)
But the question remains why couldn’t Jesus have just died for us; why was it essential that He suffered? And make no mistake about it, when the Bible says Jesus suffered for your sins, He suffered . . . at His trial, at His scourging, on the road to the cross, then of course on the cross itself.
Death by crucifixion includes all the horror that pain and death can offer. This ghastly execution, embraced by the Romans, involved dizziness, thirst, starvation, sleeplessness, traumatic fever, shame, publicity of shame, long continuance of torment, horror of anticipation, mortification of intended wounds, all intensified just up to the point at which the person could endure it but stopping just short of the point where unconsciousness would bring some relief. And it was designed to keep the person conscious and suffering.
First century executions were not like modern ones, for they did not seek a quick, painless death nor the preservation of any measure of dignity for the criminal. On the contrary, they sought an agonizing torture which completely humiliated the accused.
Let it never be in doubt, Jesus suffered.
Why did Jesus have to suffer?
Now the all-important question: Why did Jesus have to suffer? Why couldn’t God have just let Him die to pay for our sins?
First John 4:10 says, “And this is love, not that we loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the payment for our sin.” The key word here is payment. The Bible explains this payment in many different ways:
He died to give us life. (1 John 5:11)
He died to bring us to God. (1 Peter 3:18)
He died the just for the unjust. (1 Peter 3:18)
He died for our sins. (Hebrews 9:26)
He died to save us. (Romans 10:9)
He died to give us eternal life. (John 3:16)
It wasn’t enough for Him to die. Jesus had to pay a debt. Remember the old chorus?: “He paid a debt He did not owe. I owed a debt; I could not pay.”
Some would still ask, “What debt? What payment was owed?” He paid to satisfy the demands of God’s anger.
Peace with God is the absence of anger. As much as God loves you, He hates your sin with a holy, burning hatred that you cannot comprehend. But He does love you, and the only way that He could embrace you was to take His hatred for your sin and make someone else pay for it. (See Romans 5:1) And it couldn’t be just anyone—it had to be someone perfect. Since we’re all sinners, He came Himself.
Hear it again for the first time: You can be forgiven and washed clean. James 3:2 says we all fall in various ways. But we don’t have to carry that sin around—we can be forgiven. But God would not do that lightly. God wouldn’t say, “Oh, I see your sin, but never mind.” Someone had to pay for those sins that we chose for ourselves.
It was Jesus.
Willingly, He walked that road, suffered, and died upon that cross and God, somehow in His infiniteness, laid all of our sinfulness there upon His Son.
There was no other way. “There is no other name under heaven given to men whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)
So, here are four reasons that did Jesus had to suffer and what difference that must make in my life and yours:
To pay for the sins of mankind. Therefore, I should admit that I am a sinner.
To satisfy the demands of God’s wrath. Therefore, I should turn from my sin to Christ.
To purchase the opportunity of having our sins forgiven. Therefore, I should believe in Him.
To provide the way to eternal life. To get a gift, you must receive it. “The wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)
Have you received Jesus’ gift? Have you received Him—“whom to know is life eternal?” It’s as simple as that. John 1:12 says, “As many as received Him, to those He has given the authority to be called the children of God.” We’re not all God’s children—only the ones who have received Him. His suffering makes that gift possible.