Jesus is the central figure in our faith. There’s no doubt about that. But why? What’s the reason for placing such prime importance on Him? This question isn’t a pointless philosophical reflection. It’s the core concern of Christianity.
Why is Jesus necessary? To answer it simply, Jesus is the substitute who was punished on our behalf and satisfied God’s justice.
Every person on the planet is guilty of committing crimes against God. Because God loves us, He offers us the option to accept Jesus’ punishment in our place. That’s how Jesus is our substitute. He lived the perfect life we couldn’t live and then paid the penalty we owed.
You see, we live in God’s jurisdiction—the universe. It’s His kingdom. He’s the King, and it’s His domain. God has set laws for the territory He governs. His principle is simple: Guilty people are punished.
This is just like an earthly government that sets laws for the territory it controls. The governing body has a system of punishments (and pardons) for criminals who break its laws. When a person is found guilty of violating the law, he is punished, often with time in prison. Occasionally, the government will offer a pardon to a criminal for a chance to go free. If so, it’s the government that sets the terms of the pardon, not the criminal.
In the same way, God has a system to deal with those who break His laws. That’s because He’s in charge, not us. If there’s a chance for clemency, He decides the terms. We don’t get to make the rules for reconciliation. God does. That’s why thinking we’re a “good person” doesn’t matter. Seeking to be “sincere” is irrelevant. Trying to be “true to yourself” won’t help. In God’s kingdom, He decides the terms for acquittal.
The great news is that God doesn’t want us to be punished. The reason is simple: He made us. He created our creaturely bodies with His own hands. He breathed in us a spirit. He fashioned our souls. We are His handiwork! He loves us...because we are His creation. That’s what motivates His mercy.
He also shows no partiality towards those whom He’s willing to pardon. A churchgoer has no advantage over a cheater or child killer. Clemency is equally available to each, no matter what they’ve done. This is great news.
Therefore, God is willing to grant us a pardon for our criminal behavior. We can accept His offer and go free or pay the penalty ourselves. It’s our choice.
Although it sounds too good to be true, people who are exonerated know it’s anything but easy. The process involves an important trade: We hand over the ownership of our life to God in return for amnesty. That means we’re no longer the absolute arbiter of our life. Rather, we hand over that privilege to the Judge who negotiated our freedom.
Fortunately, the Judge is good and looks after us, but His provision came at a price. In order for us to be absolved from our crimes and freed from our punishment, justice had to be completed. If our guilt was to be lifted from us, it needed to be placed on another. So, the Judge made an arrangement with a willing substitute to bear the blame: His Son.
This substitute agreed to trade His innocence for our guilt. He was able to make the trade because the Judge sanctioned the deal. The deal was fair because the substitute was willing, and He was willing because He’s part of the Judge’s family. It’s a family affair.
By agreeing to this trade, we are adopted by the Judge who negotiated our freedom. We become part of His family and, therefore, heirs. We can rightfully claim our inheritance.
Knowing all that this Judge has done, who wouldn’t take Him up on His offer? Who wouldn’t want to trade away their guilt? Who wouldn’t want to be free of punishment? Who wouldn’t be grateful to the Son for His trade?
Notice, God has done everything possible to keep people from being punished. Some people, though, rebel and refuse to meet God on His terms. They’re guilty of breaking laws and refuse to cooperate with the Power who offered them a pardon. They’ll end up paying for their crimes and getting what they deserve.
Those who accept God’s offer to be pardoned have much to be thankful for. That’s why Jesus is necessary. Our freedom comes at a cost, one that Christ was willing to pay. Without Him, we’d be justly punished, because without Him, we remain guilty.