The Amazing Sacrifice of Christ
When the risen Christ appeared to His disciples in Jerusalem, He said to them: “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and in the prophets and psalms must be fulfilled.” Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. And He said to them, “Thus it is written that the Christ would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. (Luke 24:44-47)
The question is often asked: Why did Jesus have to suffer greatly and die on the Cross?
An important point to note is that Jesus’ violent death by crucifixion was not the result of chance in an unfortunate turn of events, but is part of the mystery of God’s plan, as St. Peter states in the Acts of the Apostles: “This Jesus was delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God.” (Acts 2:23) (CCC 599) As God sees the past, present and future all at once, God takes into account each person’s response to His grace in His divine plan. St. Peter attested that God’s plan of salvation unfolded according to the prophecies of prophets when the Jews denied Jesus at His trial and demanded that a murderer be released to them. (Acts 3:17-18) (CCC 600)
The Scriptures foretold God’s plan of salvation through the death of His Servant, as a ransom that would free men from the slavery of sin. (Isaiah 53:7-8, 11) Therefore, did Jesus suffer greatly and die on the Cross merely to fulfill the prophets? Definitely, there has to be a deeper answer than that.
God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him might not perish, but might have eternal life. (John 3:16) Jesus embraced the Father’s love for men in His human heart (John 13:1), and in His Suffering and Death on the Cross, Christ’s humanity became the perfect instrument of His divine love which desires the salvation of men. (CCC 609)
Jesus’ Sacrifice on the Cross produced many effects:
- It redeemed man from the sin that held them in bondage. (CCC 1741)
- No man, not even the holiest man, can ever be able to take on himself the sins of all men and offer himself as a sacrifice for all. Jesus Christ alone, as truly man and truly the Son of God, surpasses and embraces all human persons, and as the Head of all mankind, makes possible the redemptive Sacrifice for all. (CCC 616)
- Only the perfect, willing and loving Sacrifice of the Son of God could atone for sin and bridge the gap between man and God. Christ’s Death on the Cross, atoned for the sins of mankind once and for all.
- Christ’s Death on the Cross was an act of the purest love, for His Death and Resurrection allowed those who believe in Him to die to sin and rise with Him in the new life of grace.
- It merited justification for us. (CCC 617, 1992)
- Justification has been merited for us by the Passion of Christ who offered himself on the Cross; His blood is the instrument of atonement for the sins of all men. (CCC 1992)
- Justification is the gracious action of God which frees us from sin and passes on the righteousness of God through faith in Christ. (Romans 3:22)
- Justification establishes cooperation between God’s grace and man’s free will. Man’s part is to assent in faith to the Word of God, and to cooperate with the prompting of the Holy Spirit to works of charity. (CCC 1993)
- Justification is conferred in Baptism. It conforms us to the righteousness of God, who makes us inwardly just by the power of His mercy. Its purpose is the glory of God and of Christ, and the gift of eternal life. (CCC 1992)
- Those who fall into grave sin lose their baptismal grace. Christ instituted the Sacrament of Penance so that they may recover the grace of justification. (CCC 1446)
- It gave a new meaning to suffering. (CCC 1505)
- Jesus did not heal all the sick; His healings were signs of the coming of the Kingdom of God, and they announced a more radical healing: the victory over sin and death through His Death and Resurrection. (CCC 1505)
- On the Cross, Jesus took upon Himself the whole weight of evil and took away the sin of the world (John 1:29). By His Passion and Death on the Cross, Christ gave a new meaning to suffering – it can configure us to Him and unite us with His redemptive Suffering and Death. (CCC 1505)
- Our pains and suffering on earth is a participation in Christ’s Sacrifice on the Cross.
The Death of Christ on the Cross opened the gates of heaven so that all people might be saved, but because of each person’s free will, one can choose to reject Christ’s free gift of redemption. Christ’s Death on the Cross does not force anyone into heaven; those who desire to enter God’s Kingdom in heaven cooperate with His grace by believing in Him and obeying His commandments.