If you or anyone else on Planet Earth decided to start a religion and create a god to be worshiped; if you desired to make a god that was awesome in every way, a god that would demand respect and adoration, a god that would require total obedience and servitude; would the god you created ever die? Who, in their finite, earthbound minds, would even imagine that the god they created would be a god who died—and not just died a natural death, but died the most cruel and shameful death ever devised?
Yet, of course, that is exactly what we find out about the God of the Bible, the God of creation, the only true and eternal God! That God condescended to take on the form of a person—a man, and spend thirty-three years on this planet, before suffering the curse of death on a cross. If someone is immortal, they are by definition not subject to death. Yet, the Immortal God, the Word that became flesh and dwelt among us, chose to subject himself to death in obedience to His Father God.
It should be stated that death does not mean we cease to exist. Physical death is where the soul and spirit depart from the body and the body is no longer alive. That is what we think of when we talk about dying. But our spirit and soul never cease to exist. There is spiritual death, which the Apostle Paul refers to in his letter to the Ephesian Christians:
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air. (Ephesians 2:1-2)
Obviously these believers were still conscious and alive when they were, as Paul described, dead in their sins. This was before they were born from above through faith in Jesus Christ. A person can be dead in sin without ceasing to exist. Spiritual death means you are separated from God. The Bible refers to two kinds of death: spiritual death and physical death. Jesus experienced both for us on the cross, but it was the separation from God that caused his greatest suffering.
Some years ago I invited some international students to have dinner at my home. They were from China and, like most international students, they were very happy to have an opportunity to be in an American home and learn more about life in this country. As we sat around the dinner table, I began to explain to them what it means to be a Christ-follower. These young people had truly never heard the Gospel clearly explained. As I began to tell them why we believe in Jesus and worship him as our Savior, I retold the story of Good Friday and Easter. We worship a Savior who died for us and then who rose from the dead!
I could see astonishment on their faces—disbelief even. How does God die? It was more than their minds could take in at one time, no doubt because they had never heard such a story. I could almost read their puzzled thoughts: God dies? Why do you worship a God who died? If he was God, why would he have to die? Much more, why would he allow anyone to kill him? My words of explanation seemed feeble and inadequate. I think that was, perhaps, the first time I had thought deeply about the unbelievable truth—truly unbelievable from a human perspective—that my God died and, more unbelievable than that, he died for me!
The mystery can only be understood to the degree that we know why Jesus died, as we find that explained in the Bible. Hebrews 2:9 says, “But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.” This is the heart of the Gospel: Jesus tasted death so that you and I would not have to suffer eternal spiritual death.
You may be thinking, But people die. What do you mean that Jesus suffered death so we won’t have to? Yes, of course, there is physical death all around us, and it is sorrowful and dreaded. That is the point when we leave this mortal body behind. But it is not the end for anyone. If we have placed our trust in the risen Savior, Jesus Christ, by confessing our own sins and accepting his forgiveness and redemption, then leaving this mortal body simply means we will enter into that life which Jesus came to give us—eternal life.
For those who are unconverted in heart, the Bible says they are already dead in their transgressions and sins, and leaving their mortal bodies means entering more deeply into the state of death. And that eternal death is separation from God and from the life that Jesus died to give us.
If you were in a Good Friday worship service, no doubt you were reminded of Jesus’ cry from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He was telling those bystanders at the cross, and all of us in the ages to come, that he was undergoing that deep death during those dark hours, and that death was being forsaken by God. As J. I. Packer states, “God-forsakenness was the hell into which Jesus entered on the cross.” That will be the hell for anyone who does not come into a saving relationship with the risen Savior, the only One who has ever conquered death.
Even now, as I try to find the best words to explain how God can die, I recognize again that there are no earthly words to adequately explain this mystery. I think of the great Charles Wesley hymn, “And Can It Be?” which comes close to the right words. He wrote the following:
Tis mystery all! The Immortal dies:
Who can explore his strange design?
In vain the first-born seraph tries
To sound the depths of love divine.
Tis mercy all! Let earth adore,
Let angel minds inquire no more
Amazing love! How can it be
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?
Who indeed can explore the “strange design,” as Wesley puts it—the unheard of truth that God put this plan in place before the worlds were made! This plan that a fallen race of humans—you and me—could be set free from our sins and made righteous in only one way, that way being through the sacrificial death of the perfect One—God in the flesh—who tasted eternal death so that you and I would never have to taste it . . . certainly no human mind would ever devise such a “strange design”!
Wesley says that even if the greatest of angels tried to sound the depths of this kind of divine love, it would be in vain. It is mercy and grace. There are no other explanations. Our human minds come to a dead-end here; we just have to give it up and say, “Tis mystery all!” It’s a mystery beyond our minds to grasp, but it’s not beyond our hearts to accept and celebrate. Let earth adore this God who died for us. There is where we must come—to the foot of the cross and the empty tomb—and just adore and worship our risen Savior. “Amazing love! How can it be that Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?”
Death is our enemy. Who doesn’t fear death, at least to some degree? Hebrews 2:14-15 gives us further understanding of this enemy, death:
Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.
Jesus took the power of death away from the devil. But here’s the ironic truth: Christ’s victory over the devil and the power of death was accomplished by his death. It is Jesus’ death and resurrection from the dead that gives us hope and assurance that we too will have victory over eternal death. Death could not hold him!
Here is an incredible explanation of what Jesus has done for us through his death, from 1 Corinthians 15:55-57:
“Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Jesus’ victory over death is now our victory over death. God gave us this incredible gift of victory over death, and he did this through the death of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. God died for you and me so that you and I would never have to experience eternal separation from God.
In the next verse, the Apostle Paul says this to the Corinthian Christians:
Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:58)
Therefore—that word is important because it refers back to the victory over death that we have through Jesus. Therefore, since we have this incredible gift, “stand firm! Let nothing move you!”
This is our solid rock, our sure foundation—the victory that Jesus purchased for us through his death. So, the question is, are you standing firm? Has anything moved you lately away from this glorious truth? You may be going through some very deep waters even now. Your heart may be troubled, your health may be broken, your finances may be dire, or whatever terrible circumstances you’re going through may have shaken your faith. Will you, this day, go back to the cross and hear the final cry from the Savior, the God who died for you? It was a simple statement: “It is finished.” Jesus completed his part of redemption by dying in your place.
Stand firm, then, and don’t give in to the devil’s attempts to defeat you. If you have been born again through faith in Christ, you already have the victory. Jesus paid it all for you. Claim it again today as your own and live in the glorious truth of Resurrection Sunday! Christ is risen indeed!
If you’re not certain that you’re ready to face death, would you come now to God in faith, believe that Jesus did pay it all for you, and accept his free gift of eternal life? And it’s all because God in Christ died for you.
There’s another well-known hymn that comes to my mind at this Easter time, “How Great Thou Art”:
And when I think that God His Son not sparing
Sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in
That on the cross my burdens gladly bearing
He bled and died to take away my sin,
Then sings my soul, my Savior God to Thee,
How great Thou art, how great Thou art.
Dear friends, don’t let the busyness of this Easter season steal from you the great joy and incredible truth that God died for you. Let your soul, and your lips as well, sing and praise God for this mysterious but marvelous truth: The God of the universe loved you so much that he was willing to pay the horrible penalty that you deserve—spiritual death, separation from God—so that you would never have to taste that death. What great news! How great Thou art!
I want to close with this final thought from 2 Corinthians 5:21 and leave it in your mind:
God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
Ask God to make this more real to you this Easter season than ever before. Don’t let anything distract you from the joyful celebration that the Son of God, God incarnate, was willing to die for you!