Why did Jesus Have to Die to Save Us? Mark 15:33-41
Death brings an ending:
The first thing we notice about death is that it brings an ending. In our society we use the phrase “Dead End”. What do you think of when you hear this phrase? Do you see the street sign at the end of the road? Did you hear this phrase from a friend or co-working comment on a project or trying to solve a problem and they are frustrated because it feels like they are at a dead end? In the case of humans, death means the end of life on this plane and the old way of being. Death means you cease to exist in your current form. This person no longer works, plays music, or creates art. They no longer interact with their family members or neighbors or community. When a person dies their participation in the community of life ends and with that end comes the end of their unique way of life.
When my father died it ended a unique time in his and my life. In my adult life my father was the family communicator. As my sister, brother, and I left home, dad was the one who kept us all up to date on each other’s lives and what was going on in his life and the life of the family. He organized all the holidays at his house and we all know what time to be there and what we were bringing. He was also the communicator in his community. He organized the booth for street fairs and participated in community events. When he died, his unique way of doing and being died with him.
Jesus had to die to end the cycle of sin that weighed on the world from the time of Adam till Jesus’s death. From the time of Moses, God was trying to repair the tear of sin. He established something called Atonement. In Lev 4:25-26 Moses lays out what is to be sacrificed and how the ritual is to go for atonement from sin. The sacrifice could be food, often wheat or flour, but usually they were animals, birds of some type or goats or calves. It was the latter sacrifices that were thought to bring the most relief from the guilt of sin and renewing a relationship with God. When we read through the Old Testament we see the ineffectiveness of this type of sacrifice for the long term. Something had to change. Using animals as a means of Atonement was ultimately not working and never would. There needed to be a way to teach the people about God’s love and how to be God’s love. There needed to be a final ultimate death or sacrifice to end the weight of sin and reconcile God with his creation. Jesus is understood to be the ultimate sacrifice. It is through the concept of Atonement we see a line from the Old Testament to the New Testament, from Adam to Jesus.
Death brings an in between space
Death also has finality to it in a way that forces the space around the death to have to change. For those of us left behind, death forces us into what I refer to as “an in between space”. This is a space in which you feel and experience the full force of death as an end. It starts right after the death and lasts till the grieving begins. This in between space feels surreal and discombobulating. When you experience this, you are not sure what is real and what isn’t. Sometimes the in between space is momentarily paralyzing. It makes you feel like you are not sure what to do next. Sometimes you just have to be still for a moment to get your bearings before you can move to the next thing.
When my father died I knew about the in between space but I had never personally experienced it. I had seen people experience the in between space in my Hospice work. As I was with the loved ones of the patient, I noticed right after the death this sense of everything stopping for a moment. Sometimes this moment felt like forever and sometimes it moves by quickly. When my father died the moment felt like forever, it wasn’t till my husband put his hand on my shoulder that I felt some sense of grounding and awareness of what had just happened.
I can only imagine how the disciples and the women that tended Jesus felt as they entered this in between space. They must have felt sad, their hearts heavy and frighten. Some of the disciples must have wondered if they were going to die next. The woman may have wondered what would be come of them. How would they go on without their Rabbi? They walked away from their families, their lives, and everything they knew, to learn Jesus’s message of love. He taught them a new way to look at their lives and act out their laws. They did this because they knew this was the way to make a difference. Jesus’s mother, Mary, in her pain and sadness must have wondered if this is what Simone meant at the temple in Mark 2:35b when he said “…And a sword will pierce your soul as well.” For these people the in between space was not private; it was very public at the foot of the cross
Death creates a new beginning.
Death not only ends something and creates a in between space it also leaves room for new life, for a new beginning and a new understanding. Death allows for new possibilities with in the family and community at large. Death could bring a long needed ending to something or an exciting beginning.
A few days after my father died I could feel changes welling up inside me. Three months after my father died during my prayer/meditation time, I heard God tell me I would no longer share his word through music. I thought, wait, what? Could that be true? I’ve been sharing your word through music for more than forty years. My father started me in church choir before I could read or write and now you want me to stop sharing through music? Yes, came the answer. I have a new why for you to share my word. When I told the church Music Director what I heard and was thinking of doing he said I needed to follow God’s calling for me. I remember the last time I sang with my group, I went to my car and cried. I asked God of he was sure I needed to walk away from music and a gentle yes came through. One year after my father died I would discover God’s new beginning for me. It is a new beginning that has led me to this exact moment in time, here in front of you. Standing here, in front of you is the new way God wants me to share is word and his love. God has led me through seminary to prepare me for this new beginning, right here, starting now with this message to you.
Jesus had to die so there could be a once-and-for-end to sin. His death lifted the burden of guilt, shame, and sin for all those past, present, and future. He had to die so there would be an in between space for him to conquer evil, for the people at the cross, and for us today to reflect on death and dying and what it means to be a part of someone’s life and community. But most importantly, Jesus had to die so there could be a new way of being with our Creator, a new beginning filled with hope, love and grace. He had to die so we could cleansed and connected more deeply with our God. M.D. Baker and C.C. Le Bruyn writes in the Global Dictionary of Theology about Jesus death, “Christ’s death can be celebrated as meaningful and effective in life and in death: The Cross draws attention to factors and conditions that brought it about … It underlines the role Christ plays in the bond of the human community. It became the critical basis for the formation of a new community… There can be no church and no new community without the Cross of Christ”. Here Baker and Le Bruyn point out we should be celebrating Jesus death instead of mourning it, for without his death there can be no end or in between space and no new beginning. Jesus had to die so the temple curtain would be torn and it would eventual come down to make space for a new way to worship God, from the inside out. Jesus had to die to make space for hope, the resurrection, and a new way of living.
I would like to take you to the cross. You can listen to my voice as I describe the scene of the cross, with your eyes opened or closed. Come with me now to the cross of Jesus.
Before we go to the cross it’s important to decide whose eyes you will look through to see what is happening. Will it be the disciple John, the Roman Soldiers, the bandits on the crosses next to Jesus, the people passing by taunting Jesus, the women on the hill or do you dare to be Jesus on the cross.
The Bible tells us that the day of Jesus death starts at nine in the morning. It is a hot Middle East desert morning very similar to our Santa Ana mornings, so hot and dry. You have followed Jesus with the crowds and you hear a loud thump as the cross lands in the whole in the ground. You hear a groan from Jesus and the bandits crucified with him.
You can hear the soldiers mocking and tormenting him. You see them drawing lots for his cloak as if this is some sort of game to them. You hear the people passing by yelling at him
‘He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! He’s the
King of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” In the same way the rebels who were crucified with him also heaped insults on him.
Then you see Jesus talking but you cannot make out what he is saying. Someone runs over to tell you he offered forgiveness to one of the bandits and to the Roman soldiers. You cannot believe what you have just heard. You are shocked that he continues to forgive even as he is dying.
It is noon and you can hear the mumbling amongst the people about the dark clouds have come over the land and how unusual that is for this time of year. I imagine this would look and feel like a summer storm coming across the plains as the clouds roll over the sky going from light to cloudy and dark like a mid west storm rolling in. As you look at Jesus body slumping down the cross and his labored breathing you realize it will not be long before Jesus is dead. Then you see Jesus talking. Did he just tell John that Mary is not his mother and John her son?
It is three in the afternoon and you are wondering how much longer can Jesus take this when you hear him cry out “My God, My God why have you forsaken me!” Then you see his body go limp and his head fall down towards his chest and you know he is dead. You are now propelled into the in between space and you are momentarily paralyzed unsure what to do next. You see Jesus body sagging and his chin on his chest and you are still in disbelief of all that has happen to this point. You begin to wonder what will happen next. If you are the disciples, you may be wondering if you will be the next to die. If you are the women, you may be wondering where or if you will ever be safe. If you are the Roman soldier you may be wondering what have you just done as you are now convinced this was the Son of God.
SING: Where you there when they crucified my Lord? Where you there when they crucified my Lord? Whoa, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble. Where you there when they crucified my Lord?
My prayer for you this Good Friday is that you feel the death of Jesus as it propels you into the in between space we call the Easter Vigil and during this vigil you allow Jesus to tear down the temple curtain and walls that are in your heart to make space for the new beginning of Easter. Amen.