Of all the questions that have ever been asked in the history of this universe, this must be one of the most important: Why did Jesus have to die? The little book of this name by Marcus Nodder gets to the very core of what matters matter most.
Other than the golden arches, the cross must be one of the world’s most recognisable and identifiable logos. It goes with church, and Christians, and God, and all that stuff. We know that. But why do Christians focus on the cross—a symbol of torture and capital punishment? It’s the belief that the death of Jesus Christ, by crucifixion, is indispensable and central to Christianity. It is the very means by which we can have a relationship with God at all. It provides the shape and direction for a life lived trusting and serving God.
The aim of Nodder’s book about the death of Jesus is that…
we would understand the cross more deeply, and treasure it more dearly. And that, as a result, we would live increasingly cross-centred and cross-shaped lives, and love and worship more the one who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all. (p8)
There are many profoundly important books that have been written on the death of Jesus over the centuries. In recent times books such as Leon Morris’s The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross or John Stott’s classic The Cross stand out. Serious followers of Jesus would do well to engage with these books. But if you’ve never opened a book that discusses the importance of the atoning death of Jesus, then Why did Jesus have to die? is an excellent place to begin.
Rather surprisingly, this book about Jesus begins in the Old rather than the New Testament. We’re invited to explore Isaiah’s wonderful vision of the Most Holy God. It is no simple thing for corrupt human beings to have a relationship with a pure and almighty God. We need to be cleansed for this to be possible. The following chapter invites us to ponder the promises of God to make people right with him—promises given hundreds of years before Jesus, through the prophet Isaiah. This was God’s plan all along to welcome people into his presence through the sacrificial death of his Son.
There is so much more to Jesus’ crucifixion than what we see on the surface. This wasn’t simply one tragic death among many. Jesus willingly gave his life as a substitute for us. He takes the punishment of God for our sins, experiences the full horror of spiritual suffering, so that we might be spared. The ideas of justification, redemption, grace, reconciliation, adoption, and justice are all shown to be more than abstract theological notions. They lie at the heart of the privilege of knowing God and being known by him. And none of this is possible without the death of Jesus.
The book closes with a chapter on how the cross gives our life direction. We don’t simply begin with the death of Jesus and then move on to other things. The Bible reminds us to keep our eyes on the cross always. We’re called to live a sacrificial life following Jesus—to give up our lives for his sake, that we might gain life eternal.
One of the things I especially appreciated about this book is the clarity and simplicity of illustrations helping us to grasp the significance of Jesus’ death. Nodder uses stories, images, and ideas to help us understand the importance of the cross. For some, like myself, who’ve heard about the death of Jesus again and again, this book will offer you a fresh insight into the absolute heart of God’s love. It’s only 92 pages long—so do yourself a favour, pick it up and read it.