As millions of Christians worldwide stop to remember the sacrifice today that Jesus Christ made over two-millennia ago, do we fully understand why this had to happen? Why does innocent blood need to be shed to make amends, or atone, for sin?
What we must understand first, at a deeper level, is the character and attributes of God, the creator of all that exists. God is holy, which has many meanings: he is good, sinless, pure, all knowing, ever-present, all powerful, a divine Spirit, and the very essence of what is true love. This is not a complete list of who God is; we will never have an exhaustive knowledge of Him since He is infinite. What we do know, we have learned from the Bible, theologians, and personal experience. God is perfection defined.
When humanity rebelled against God’s authority by going our own way and wanting to be our own “gods,” so to speak, this was an offense against Him, a perfect being. Why must this be punished? Why couldn’t God just let us go without setting up blood sacrifices, and the final sacrifice of His Son?
Since God is holy, sin must be punished because justice is a mode of holiness. True holiness includes justice; that sense of right and wrong we all have inside us, put there by our Creator. If we have this sense, how much more does God have it? God sets the moral laws to live by, and He must follow through with justice.
This holy justice is what has been called “Retributive Justice,” a term often used in a court room. Some define this as “let the punishment fit the crime.” This theory of justice considers punishment, if proportionate, to the be the best response to the crime. When an offender breaks the law, justice requires that they forfeit something in return. It is not a form of vengeance. Unlike revenge, retribution is directed only at the wrongs, and it involves no pleasure of the suffering of others.¹
Retributive justice is an attribute necessary in the case of an act against the moral law—there will be consequences! A penalty must be inflicted on the transgressor personally or vicariously on a substitute. The most amazing thing God has ever done for us is to become that substitute! In His trinal being, one God expressed in three persons of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, He chose to send Himself in Christ to earth to become a human, and to die in our place to serve this holy justice. This is a most compassionate act with the safety of the universe at stake!
What would have happened if He did not punish sin? We can only speculate, but it would not go well with the world, or the universe for that matter. Punishing sin is a form of purification, or ridding the world of evil. Sin brings death and all kinds of evil with it. Life is in the blood, which is why innocent blood must be shed as the punishment for evil. Some theologians trust this is the process by which God will ultimately rid the entire universe of evil while keeping humanity’s free will. He wants people to choose Him freely, and will have a world full of beings who are delighted to spend eternity with Him.
People who choose Him freely are somehow made innocent by Jesus’ blood. This is a mystery, and theologians wrestle with how precisely this occurs in the spiritual realm. The Bible does gives us a hint how this could happen, as stated in Titus 3:6, “…by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior.”
Once we accept Jesus into our lives, the Holy Spirit moves in, and begins His work of regenerating our spiritual being. He moves us along the renewal process of becoming less sinful and more holy, as was God’s first intention when He created mankind. We were meant to be Sons and Daughters of the Living God, holy and in constant communion with His Spirit. When we went our own way, that communion was broken. God, in His omniscience, knew this would happen and had a plan to offer Himself as a human, humble sacrifice to bridge the gap that sin caused when it entered our souls. This is how much He wants relationship with us — that He would chose to become a man and suffer the tortuous death of crucifixion at the hands of those He designed. God made man with a free will to reject Him, but made a way for us to return to Him if we so choose. This is true love. This is Good Friday.