It is basic to Christian thought to herald the Savior’s death as a substitute for ours. He died in our stead. Had He not died, there would have been no eternal life for you and I. This much we can accept as an irrefutable and basic truth. Jesus’s death was a requisite for our salvation—a necessary part of the divine plan to provide for that salvation. Mark records, “Then he began to teach them that it was necessary for the Son of Man to suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, be killed, and rise after three days.” (Mark 8:31)
The necessity of Jesus’s crucifixion was tied to prophecy, as we know, “He was pierced because of our rebellion,” (Isaiah 53:5) but atonement theory proffers a judicial necessity in postulating His death as a penal substitution, i.e. The penalty for our sins in our place. Luther called it a wondrous exchange: “He made the one who did not know sin to be sin[offering] for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)
But the question, did Jesus have to die for our sins, remained an open one throughout church history. Saint Anselm of Canterbury (1033/4–1109) in particular has argued that if God is to save, that He has to choose between satisfaction or punishment. Due to His justice. But what does it take to appease an offended God or satisfy His justice when the crime was our sinning and the penalty should be death?
According to the theologians, it becomes a debate within God, Himself, between His attributes and His nature. Between His love and his holiness, between a need for mercy and retribution. Even John Calvin argued for what scholars call, God’s “inner necessity.” Calvin argued that Jesus could not die just any death (disease, a street assassination) It had to be the Cross because He had to be sentenced and executed by a criminal court. His death was a “penal substitution” to satisfy the justice inherent in divine law.
Nor can He die in secret, in a quiet and peaceful death in old age in His own bed. When God gave His Son, He offered Him to a depraved and hateful creation. His death became a public event burned into our memories forever. The fact that dozens of prophesies foretold it only discloses the Divine heart while He, hanging there, proclaimed to fallen man what must inevitably come to pass because He couldn’t “unlove” them. (John 3:16)
Two disciples were meandering down a country road to Emmaus, two disciples despondent beyond words for He was the promise of Israel now thought buried and forgotten. But here He comes along side, though, their grief did not allow them to see Him. Ever so slowly as He spoke He ignited once again that eternal hope that excites pure joy in the soul. So when they reached Emmaus, they could not sleep but had to return to Jerusalem with the news.
How can the Day of Pentecost top this!!??