It is popular today to say that God didn’t need Jesus to die in order to forgive us. If God loved us so much why didn’t he merely wave his hand and say all was forgiven? What kind of vengeful Father would demand the blood of his innocent Son in order to forgive sinners?
I respond to this in DSB: “forgiveness requires satisfaction. While a legal or financial debt may not be satisfied by the person who is forgiven, it will be borne by someone. Someone always pays, whether it is the crime victim who absorbs injustice or the bank’s shareholders who write off the bad loan. There is no free lunch, either in economics or salvation” (p. 92).
“Sin must receive its due, and its payment is death. We know that God believes this, for when Jesus asked the Father if there was any other way to save us than the cross, he received a resounding no” (p. 91).
Jesus’ death on the cross was either absolutely necessary for our salvation or he and the Father are well-meaning fools. They’re not stupid, so we may safely assume that Jesus had to die to save us, which implies that our sin goes all the way to the bone (if we are merely victims of a bad environment then Jesus could have found a less intrusive way to save us).
On this holiest of holy days, we thank God for paying the ultimate price—our ultimate price—to save us. This is the day that Jesus went to hell. As his bewildered cries bounced off his Father’s back, it was only the straining grip of the Holy Spirit which kept the Trinity from flying apart. We will never comprehend the agony and betrayal in that eternal moment, but we know enough to realize that we are the recipients of history’s most lopsided trade: God sacrificed himself for us.
We can never pay that back, and we shouldn’t even try, but it’s probably not asking too much for us to return the favor. There is no free lunch. Our salvation cost Jesus his life, and if we accept his gift, it will cost ours.