SharperFocus “Why did Jesus have to die?”
By Lawrence Shiroma, Major
Clearly, the answer to the question of why Jesus had to die involves self-sacrifice, not self-preservation. In John 15:13, Jesus says, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (ASV).
Nowhere can we find better examples of this theology of self-sacrifice in practice than in the history of our movement. Many years ago, on a foggy night in 1914, the passenger ship Empress of Ireland collided with another ship on the St. Lawrence River in Canada. More than 1,000 men, women and children died; of these, 167 were Salvationists, many of them bandsmen en route to the International Congress in London. Survivors of the tragedy told how these Salvationists, seeing there were not enough life preservers, took off their own and gave them to others, saying, “I know Jesus, so I can die better than you can!” (Our Daily Bread, Fall 1980). This is the theology of self-sacrifice, of “doing the most good,” for the love of Christ compels us (2 Cor. 5:14). It was certainly not the thought of self-preservation that prompted the early Salvationists to give away their life preservers.
In National Geographic, a photo taken in 1918 during World War I depicted a Salvation Army officer writing a letter home for a wounded soldier. According to the report, the field commander repeatedly told the officer that she would be killed if she and the other Salvationists persisted in serving the men doughnuts and coffee and writing letters for them, while under heavy enemy fire. The officer replied, “We can die with the men, but we cannot leave them.” Again, it was not the thought of self-preservation that prompted the officer to stay on the battlefield with the soldiers.
How about today? Does doing God’s will in modern society involve the theology of self-sacrifice or are we more concerned with self-preservation? In our spiritual walk with the Lord Jesus Christ, in the effort to do the most good, are we willing to walk through the narrow gate of self-sacrifice (Matt. 7:14), or are we concerned about preserving our existence? Are we willing to give of our lives freely to the cause of Christ, or are we caught up with merely preserving our assets?
The Western Territory Social Service Response Team is tasked with “helping to shape the future of The Salvation Army Social Services with the intent of defining the contemporary signature of the Army’s practical theology.” What is the practical theology of The Salvation Army? I think it is found in sacrificial acts, like that of the 167 Canadian Salvationists on board the Empress of Ireland, who willingly gave their life jackets to others, or that of The Salvation Army officer in World War I, who would rather die with the men rather than leave them. This is the practical theology of The Salvation Army.
So why did Jesus have to die? I think there are two reasons. First, Jesus died to show us God’s power over death. We know that “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). We all die, because all of us are born with the sin DNA. But Jesus had no sin in his life. He was “truly and properly God and truly and properly man” (Salvation Army Doctrine four). He was sinless, the pure Lamb of God, and even though Jesus died upon the cross on Good Friday, death had no power over him—so he rose again on Easter morning.
Second, Jesus died to show us God’s love, as referenced in John 15:13.
May we give our lives willingly and not hold back when it is within our power to share, and may we have the spirit of self-sacrifice, so that others may see the love of Christ and experience the reality of a God incarnate who walked with us 2,000 years ago, and walks with us still.