Why Did Jesus Have to Die?

When I was a young Christian in college, I had a lot of questions regarding the hows and whys of everything from creation to redemption. I knew Christ died for the sins of the world. What I didn’t understand is why. Because he loved us, of course. I knew that. What I was unclear about was why the problem of humanity’s sin couldn’t be dealt with in another way? I mean, why couldn’t God just forgive everyone with one sweeping judicial pardon? He was God, wasn’t He? He could do whatever He wanted, couldn’t He? But if for some reason He couldn’t do that, why then couldn’t He have just swept everyone away in judgment and simply start over again?

I can’t remember specifically asking God to help me find an answer to that question, but maybe the Spirit of God translated those unspoken concerns into words and breathed them as a prayer on my behalf. Who knows? But dim the lights and draw the curtains, and I will show you how God answered those questions.

*****

Two of the greatest love stories ever told. The one, at Camelot; the other, at Calvary. Two of the noblest kings ever to live. The one, King Arthur; the other, King of the Jews. The one is adorned with a jewelled crown; the other, with a crown of thorns. The one is staged in elaborate settings and costumes with scenes of pomp and pageantry; the other, shrouded in darkness, with scenes of hair matted from dried blood, of wounds throbbing with fever, of bones disjointed from the pendulous slump of weight that did not resist. The one is poetically carried along by musical interludes; the other, prosed in broken fragments of conversations, punctuated by the guttered tauntings of a mob thirsting for blood. The one is a stage and film masterpiece, play and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner, music by Frederick Loewe; the other, a dark page from history, written simply by a few inarticulate friends of the deceased.

The comparisons and contrasts between Camelot and Calvary are many, but one scene from Camelot illustrates a great theological dilemma that only the Cross could resolve. Was there no other path than the rocky incline that led to Calvary?

A King’s Request Denied

Prior to his appointment with destiny on the brow of that fateful hill, Jesus agonized in the garden of Gethsemane: “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.”

The emotional atmosphere surrounding those words is heavy with sweat and tears. The verses following tell of Jesus “being in agony” and “praying very fervently.” So exhausting was the ordeal that afterward it was necessary for an angel to come and strengthen him.

Understand, on an emotional level, that this is the pleading of a son to his father. If your child came to you in such agony, asking, begging, and pleading with such a submissive heart, wouldn’t you do everything within your power to grant the request? “Which of you,” Jesus himself taught, “if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?” Wouldn’t you give food to one of your children who came to you with such hunger? Certainly you would. “If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”

But this Father, this time, didn’t. And that’s the theological rub. He denied the request of His son, His only son, His beloved son. In Gethsemane that son was asking: “Is there no other way?” The Father’s answer is found in the paragraphs following the request. The son is betrayed, arrested, deserted, denied, beaten, tried, mocked, and finally crucified. Tacitly the Father answers: “No, there is no other way.”

Instead of the removal of suffering’s cup, Jesus is given sour wine upon the Cross. An apparent stone for the requested loaf. A snake for a fish.

But why? Why was there no other way?

The Execution Scene at Camelot

I found the answer to that question in a scene from Camelot, where the adulterous relationship between Queen Guenevere and Arthur’s most trusted knight, Sir Lancelot, has divided the Round Table. When the scheming Mordred catches them in a clandestine encounter, Lancelot escapes. Guenevere is not so fortunate. The chorus sings her fate:

On a day, dark and drear,
Came to trial Guenevere.
Ruled the jury for her shame
She be sentenced to the flame.

As the day of execution nears, people come from miles around with one question in their minds:

Would the King let her die?
Would the King let her die?
There was wonder far and near:
Would the King burn Guenevere?

After the chorus posed the question, Mordred enters the scene:

Arthur! What a magnificent dilemma!
Let her die, your life is over;
Let her live, your life’s a fraud.
Which will it be Arthur? Do you kill
the Queen or kill the law?

The fact that Arthur was Guenevere’s husband, and, at the same time, her king, created the dilemma. If he carries out the sentence, he upholds the law and validates himself to be a just and impartial king. Yet, in doing so, he calls into question his love. “Would the King burn Guenevere?” His tender wife whom he affectionately called Jenny? Jenny, who gave sparkle to his eyes? Jenny, who gave joy to his heart?

His heart tells him to set her free. If he did, it would certainly remove any doubt of his love. But by bending justice and showing partiality, he would call into question his right to rule.

Tragically but resolutely, Arthur decides:

Treason has been committed! The jury has ruled!
Let justice be done!

The chorus continues:

She must burn. She must burn.
Spoke the king: She must burn.
And the moment now was here
For the end of Guenevere.

High from the castle window stands Arthur as Guenevere enters the courtyard. Accompanying her are two guards and a priest. She walks to her unlit stake, where the executioner stands with waiting torch. Arthur turns away, emotion brimming in his eyes, as the chorus continues:

Slow her walk, bowed her head,
To the stake she was led…

A herald mounts the tower where Arthur has withdrawn:

The Queen is at the stake, Your Majesty.
Shall I signal the torch?

Arthur is devastated. Again the herald calls, this time with greater urgency:

Your Majesty…! Your Majesty…!

But the King cannot answer. In the background the chorus adds:

In his grief, so alone
From the King came a moan…

Arthur’s love for Jenny spills from his broken heart:

I can’t! I can’t! I can’t let her die!

Seeing Arthur crumble, Mordred relishes the moment:

Well, you’re human after all, aren’t you,
Arthur? Human and helpless.

Tragically, Arthur realizes the truth of Mordred’s remark. Being only human, he is indeed helpless. But where this story ends, the greatest story ever told just begins.

The Execution Scene at Calvary

Another time. Another place. Another king.

The setting: a world lies estranged from the God who loves it. Like Guenevere, an unfaithful humanity stands guilty and in bondage, awaiting judgment’s torch.

Could God turn His head from the righteous demands of the law and simply excuse the world’s sin? If not, then could He turn his head from the world he loved? “Would the King burn Guenevere?”

Like the wicked Mordred, Satan must have looked on in delight:

God! What a magnificent dilemma!
Let them die, your life is over;
Let them live, your life’s a fraud;
Which will it be God? Do you kill your
world or do you kill the law?

Without even waiting for his Guenevere to look up in repentance, this King stepped down from his throne, took off his crown, laid aside his royal robes, and descended his castle’s polished steps into humanity’s pot-marked streets. Paul’s words in Philippians are thought by some scholars to be the lyrics of an ancient hymn, singing about the King of Kings…

Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God
something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself,
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross!

God became a man so that Jesus, unlike Arthur, would be neither simply human nor helpless. He stepped down from his throne, giving up the luxury of the castle to live on earth. We were his Guenevere. He was both our king and the lover of our soul. And he gave up his Camelot for our cross. When he did, God satisfied both his love for us and the righteous demands of his law.

For me that scene in the movie was an epiphany of understanding. Suddenly it all made sense. I knew now why he had to die, why there was no other way.

I learned that when I was a freshman in college.

Not from college.

Not even from church.

From a movie.

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November 25, 2013 · 5:43 pm

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