DID JESUS HAVE TO SUFFER TO SAVE MANKIND?
St. Peter's homily to the Jews on Pentecost 30AD: "Men
of Israel, listen to what I am going to say: Jesus the Nazarene was a man
commended to you by God by the miracles and portents and signs that God worked
through him when he was among you, as you know. This man, who was put into
your power by the deliberate intention and foreknowledge of God, you
took and had crucified and killed by men outside the Law. But God raised him
to life, freeing him from the pangs of Hades..."
For you know that the price of your ransom from the
futile way of life handed down from your ancestors was paid, not in anything
perishable like silver or gold, but in precious blood as of a blameless and
spotless lamb, Christ. He was marked out before the world was made and was
revealed at the final point of time for your sake. Through him you now
have faith in God, who raised him from the dead and gave his glory for this
very purpose " that your faith and hope should be in God.
1 Peter 1:18-21
...all have sinned and lack God's glory, and all are
justified by the free gift of his grace through being set free in Christ Jesus.
God appointed him as a sacrifice for reconciliation, through faith, by the
shedding of his blood, and so showed his justness; first for the past when
sins went unpunished because he held his hand; and now again for the present
age, to show how he is just and justifies everyone who has faith in Jesus.
Apart from the cross there is no other ladder by which we may get to heaven.
St. Rose of Lima, cf. P. Hansen, Vita mirabilis
Many people, both Christian and non-Christian, have been both moved and provoked by Mr. Mel Gibson's film "The Passion of the Christ." Was the violence necessary? Absolutely. Was the scourging "a bit over the top"? Maybe, but isn't that the point "to focus our attention completely on the unfathomable love of God for us in that He offered up His beloved Son who fully drank the suffering of "the cup of God's wrath" (Matthew 26:39; Mark 14:36; Luke 22:42) that should have been ours? For too long we have looked at the pristine bloodless crucifixes in our churches...to long have we ignored or forgotten the depth of His love. We Catholic are also ignoring the amazing reaction that our Protestant brothers and sisters have had to this film. At the very least we Catholics understand the necessity of Christ's suffering and sacrifice in the very sacrificial character of the Mass, but the Protestants have lost the connection between worship and sacrifice. Yet they have, for the most part, responded with amazing support for this very Catholic film in its treatment not only of the sacrificial nature of Christ's death but in the role of Mary as the model Christian uniting herself to Jesus' Passion. What a tremendous opportunity this film offers for dialogue between Catholics and Protestants!
During Jesus' three-year ministry, He taught love, justice and forgiveness, but the ultimate expression of His love, justice and forgiveness was expressed to the full in His self-sacrificial death for the sins of man on a Roman cross. The world had been asking God since the fall of Adam, "Lord, do you really love me...if you love me, Lord, how much can you love me?" and God sent His beloved Son to answer that question. As He was laid against the rough wood of the cross He stretched His arms wide and His answer was "I love you this much!"
Jesus affirms that is was God's plan for Him to suffer when He addressed His disciples on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24:26-27. Jesus told them "Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer before entering into his glory?" Then starting with Moses and going through all the prophets, he explained to them the passages throughout the Scriptures that were about himself." And later on that same Resurrection Sunday when Jesus came to the Apostles in the Upper Room He said to them: "This is what I meant when I said, while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses, in the Prophets and in the Psalms, was destined to be fulfilled." He then opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and he said to them, "So it is written that the Christ would suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that, in his name, repentance for the forgiveness of sins would be preached to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem" (Luke 24:44-47).
It has always been the teaching of the Church that Christ's atoning death was necessary to liberate man from slavery to sin and death and to restore perfect communion with God the Father. It is through Christ's death, burial and resurrection that we have been justified and born again to eternal life. In Romans 4:25 St Paul tells us ...our faith, too, will be reckoned because we believe in him who raised from the dead our Lord Jesus who was handed over to death for our sins and raised to life for our justification. St Paul never thinks of the death of Jesus as separated from His resurrection. "Justification" is the entering into the life of the risen Savior. In Romans 6:4-5 he writes: So by our baptism into his death we were buried with him, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the Father's glorious power, we too should begin living a new life. If we have been joined to him by dying a death like his, so we shall be by resurrection like his; realizing that our former self was crucified with him... (also see Romans 8:10). The sacrifice is the necessary first step - the desired result is the restoration of communion with God. It is a restoration that was completed upon His glorious Resurrection: You have been buried with him by your baptism; by which too, you have been raised up with him through your belief in the power of God who raised him from the dead. You were dead, because you were sinners and uncircumcised in body: he has brought you to life with him; he has forgiven us every one of our sins. He has wiped out the record of our debt to the Law, which stood against us; he has destroyed it by nailing it to the cross... (Colossians 2:12-14). The cross was Christ's baptism of blood (see Mark 10:38-39; 11:30; Luke 12:59; 20:4), and His baptism makes possible our baptism to new life in Christ: For all of you are the children of God, through faith in Christ Jesus, since every one of you that has been baptized has been clothed in Christ. There can be neither Jew nor Greek, there can be neither slave nor freeman, there can be neither male nor female for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:26-28).
In the chapter 1 of the Gospel of John, Jesus is introduced by John the Baptist to the crowds of people who are accepting John's baptism of repentance in verse 29 when St. John says: "Look, there is the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world." and again in verse 36 John identifies Jesus when he says: "Look, there is the Lamb of God!" John the Baptist is identifying Jesus of Nazareth as a pure and holy sacrifice sent to remove the stain of sin and the sentence of death from humanity. From the time of the Fall from grace of our first parents a remedy had to be offered to keep humanity from eternal death "eternal separation from God. That temporary remedy was the sacrifice of animals whose blood temporarily offered forgiveness for sins: For the life of the creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you for performing the rite of expiation on the altar for your lives, for blood is what expiates for a life (Leviticus 17:11). The inspired author of the Book of Hebrews also writes: In fact, according to the Law, practically every purification takes place by means of blood; and if there is no shedding of blood, there is no remission [of sins] (Hebrews 9:22).
But the Old Covenant sacrifices were imperfect "no animal could be perfect enough to remove the stain of sin and fully restore man to fellowship with God (Catechism of the Catholic Church # 1963). It was therefore necessary that a perfect sacrifice be provided to restore man to that condition of grace that was enjoyed by our original parents when they were created in the "image and likeness of God" and crowned with His glory and honor (Gen 1:27; CCC 225, 1701) "in a state of perfection of grace, and in that state of grace in which man enjoyed perfect communion with God. It was God's plan from the beginning that Christ would be offered as that perfect sacrifice which every Old Covenant animal of sacrifice was only a symbol and a promise of the "True Lamb of God" (see 1Peter 1:18-20; Acts 2:22-24). Christ's perfect sacrifice would not only be enough to redeem mankind and atone for sin but in God's love for us the sacrifice of His Son was in fact superabundant because the positive value of Christ's expiation is actually greater than the negative value of human sin. It is only through the atoning work of Christ in His suffering, death, and resurrection that we become justified " or made right with God and which removes the barrier of sin which had separated man from perfect communion with the Father. But we are more than restored "we are reborn, no longer children in the family of Adam but as true sons and daughters in God's Covenant family (CCC 705, 2809, 2813).
It is only in dying to sin through Christ's baptism (His sacrificial death) that we can be resurrected to new life in Christ through our baptism. His death, burial, and resurrection were absolutely necessary for our "new life" as sons of daughters born anew into God's New Covenant family. This is the promise Jesus made when He told Nicodemus "In all truth [Amen, amen] I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above ... In all truth [Amen, amen] I tell you, on one can enter the kingdom of God without being born through water and the Spirit ..." (John 3:3, 5). Pope John Paul II reflects in Dominum et Vivificantem that Jesus can only give us the Spirit through His death and Resurrection. Pope John Paul II writes that Christ brings Him [the Spirit] at the price of His own "departure" (Luke 9:31); He gives them this spirit as it were through the wounds of His crucifixion... It is in the power of this Crucifixion that He says to them: "Receive the Holy Spirit" (encyclical The Lord and Giver of Life, Dominum et Vivificantem, 24, 1986).
It is in our baptism in His blood that all sin is removed, both original sin (CCC 215, 397-99) and personal sin. At the moment of our baptism we become infused with sanctifying grace and are incorporated into the Body of Christ " the Church. St Paul writes in You cannot have forgotten that all of us, when we were baptized into Christ Jesus, were baptized into his death. So by our baptism into his death we were buried with him, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the Father's glorious power, we too should begin living a new life. If we have been joined to him by dying a death like his, so we shall be by a resurrection like his; realizing that our former self was crucified with him, so that the self which belonged to sin should be destroyed and we should be freed from the slavery of sin (Romans 6:3-6). To remain free of sin, of course, we must, when we sin again, seek forgiveness in the Penitential Rite of the Mass and the Most Holy Eucharist to be forgiven venial sin and through the Sacrament of Reconciliation for the forgiveness of mortal sin (1 John 5:16-17; CCC# 1854-64). Jesus' suffering and sacrificial death was a necessary gift for the sake of our salvation! The Catechism of the Catholic Church affirms this teaching in CCC# 613-630.
The Council of Trent in 1529 affirmed that the unique character of Christ's sacrifice was the source of eternal salvation, and His most holy Passion on the wood of the cross merited justification for us. In other words, there is no salvation without the atoning work of Christ. Christ's suffering and death was completely necessary just as it is necessary for us to unite ourselves to His sacrifice and to preach the Gospel message "not only through the glorified resurrected Christ but through the crucified Savior who died that we might be resurrected with Him to eternal life. St. Paul expressed the necessity of this Gospel message when he wrote the Corinthians: Do you not see how God has shown up human wisdom as folly? Since in the wisdom of God the world was unable to recognize God through wisdom, it was God's own pleasure to save believers through the folly of the gospel. While Jews demand miracles and the Greeks look for wisdom, we are preaching a crucified Christ... ( 1 Corinthians 1:20-22). The Catechism of the Catholic Church affirms this teaching in CCC #618: The cross is the unique sacrifice of Christ, the one mediator between God and men' (1Timothy 2:5). But because in his incarnate divine person he has in some way united himself to every man, the possibility of being made partners, in a way known to God, in the paschal mystery' is offered to all men. He calls his disciples to take up [their] cross and follow [him]' (Matthew 16:24], for Christ also suffered for [us], leaving [us] an example so that [we] should follow in his steps' (1 Peter 2:21). In fact Jesus desires to associate with his redeeming sacrifice those who were to be its first beneficiaries. This is achieved supremely in the case of his mother, who was associated more intimately than any other person in the mystery of his redemptive suffering. Apart from the cross there is no other ladder by which we may get to heaven.' (St. Rose of Lima)
God's Covenant with Adam gave the blessings of fertility and dominion over the earth and at the same time asked for obedience while offering God's love in perfect communion. To abuse God's blessings and to become disobedient would result in death (Genesis 2:17). Actually, the literal translation of Genesis 2:17 is: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you are not to eat; for, the day you eat of that, you are doomed to die die. In the Hebrew a doubled word expresses intensity of meaning, but for us this doubled word has a deeper theological meaning. In His perfect love God gave man free will to love Him in return, but disobedience would result in a double death " physical and spiritual death (eternal separation from fellowship with God). God's love is not ethereal or philosophical; His love is real and eternal. He does not call us to natural goodness that is a general kind of love of fellow man; instead He calls us to supernatural love and a supernatural goodness that so unites us to Him through His Son that the very love of God can flow through us to others. This kind of love can only come through a fully redeemed believer born from above through Christ's death, burial, and resurrection into the family of the Eternal Loving God. It is through Christ that ... the greatest and priceless promises have been lavished on us, that through them you should share the divine nature and escape the corruption rife in the world through disorded passion. With this view, do your utmost to support your faith with goodness, goodness with understanding, understanding with self-control, self-control with perseverance, perseverance with devotion, devotion with kindness to the brothers, and kindness to the brothers with love. The possession and growth of these qualities will prevent your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ from being ineffectual or unproductive. But without them, a person is blind or short sighted, forgetting how the sins of the pasts were washed away. Instead of this, brothers, never allow your choice or calling to waver; then there will be no danger of your stumbling, for in this way you will be given the generous gift of entry to the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Peter 1:4-11). And until He comes again, that is Christ's message to all of us "Follow me, keeping your eyes on the Cross least you stumble!" In the name of my Redeemer and Savior, God bless you all.
Feast of the Ascension,
Michal Hunt, Copyright © May 2004; revised April 2013 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.
New Jerusalem Bible translation
Dominum et Vivificantem
Documents from the Council of Trent
Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC)
You may also be interested in the Agape Bible Study documents:
How Should the Christian Respond to Personal Suffering?
Was it God's Plan That Jesus Should Suffer and Die for the Salvation of Man?