Why Did Jesus Die?

An Easter sermon on Revelation 5:9-13 by Coty Pinckney, Desiring God Community Church, Charlotte, NC, 3/27/2005

Why did Jesus die? Why did the cross have to happen?

Why didn’t God just take Jesus up to heaven in a fiery chariot, like Elijah? Or why didn’t he treat him like Enoch, who “walked with God and was not, for God took him” (Genesis 5:24). Why instead was he flogged? Why was He spit upon? Why was He hung on a cross with nails through his hands? Why was he mocked? Why was He left to die a horrible death?

Many thoughts may come to your mind, many ideas in answer to this question. Indeed, John Piper’s book The Passion of Jesus Christ lists 50 biblical reasons why Jesus had to suffer and die.

But what does our text today tell us? In our journey thru Revelation, we’re jumping ahead to 5:9-13 as we celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus this weekend. We’ll look at these verses as part of their larger context in a few weeks. But today: Why did Jesus die, according to these verses?

Chapter 5 opens with God the Father seated on the throne, surrounded by four living creatures who are praising Him continually. Further away from the throne is a circle of 24 smaller thrones for 24 elders. God the Father has a scroll in His hand, which seems to be the scroll of history, or the scroll concerning the end of history, the scroll that brings to completion all God’s plans for this world.

An angel then cries out, “Who is worthy to open the scroll?” But no one in all creation is worthy to do this. John then weeps at his own unworthiness, and at the unworthiness of the entire created order. One of the 24 elders tells him, “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll” (Revelation 5:5).

Then John looks and sees not a lion but a Lamb, as if He was slain, standing in the midst of the central throne. The Lamb takes the scroll.

This takes us to today’s text. In verses 9-10, the 24 elders and the four living creatures sing new song to the Lamb, Jesus, saying:

“Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”

So why did Jesus die according to this text? Do you see? We could render the first part of verse 9, “Because you were slain, you are worthy to take the scroll.” Jesus’ death is an important factor in His being worthy to take the scroll.

We’ll consider this text under three headings, three questions:

Why is Jesus Worthy?

The text tells us, “Worthy is the lamb who was slain”. But many people have been killed in the history of the world. That doesn’t make them worthy to take the scroll and open it! Consider just some of the horrific mass deaths that took place in the 20th century:

But the elders don’t say, “Worthy is the Soviet kulak who was slain in 1937!” Being killed unjustly in and of itself does not make you worthy of anything.

So Jesus is not worthy because He was killed unjustly. The specific nature of His death makes Him worthy. The next phrase in verse 10 specifies this:

by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.

Jesus Ransomed His People

This is why Jesus is worthy. What does it mean? Let’s look at the idea behind this word “ransom”:

In your different Bible translations, you’ll see this word translated as “ransomed”, “purchased”, or “redeemed”. In what sense did Jesus purchase us, or redeem us, or ransom us at the cross?

This is a common biblical word picture in both the Old and New Testaments. Let me give you some examples:

You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you.

How does a slave gain freedom? By being purchased. Someone needs to pay the price of redemption. The Israelites were slaves; God redeems them, He purchases them, He ransoms them so that they are free.

·        Furthermore, Old Testament uses the “ransom” word picture in the case of an individual facing death:

Truly no man can ransom another, or give to God the price of his life, for the ransom of their life is costly and can never suffice. . . . But God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol, for he will receive me. (Psalm 49:7-8, 15, emphasis added) 

Here the psalmist pictures himself as lost to death, enslaved to death apart from God. He needs a ransom, he needs the price of redemption – but no man is able to pay it. The price of redemption is higher than even the richest of all men could pay. Thus, it seems that there is no hope. But God has all wealth! God can the pay ransom!

The psalmist doesn’t say how God would do this. Indeed, living before the Cross, he didn’t know how. But his hope is in God. He knows a ransom is necessary, a price must be paid, and God is able to pay it. So the psalmist instructs others to say,

Hope in the LORD! For with the LORD there is steadfast love, and with him is plentiful redemption. (Psalm 130:7, emphasis added)

The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Mark 10:45, emphasis added) 

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace. (Ephesians 1:7, emphasis added)

You are not your own,  for you were bought with a price. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20, emphasis added) 

Many of you have memorized Romans 3:23:

All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God . . .

What’s the next verse? How does the sentence continue?

and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.

For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. (Hebrews 10:4)

So the picture of redemption is biblical. We could sum up the biblical idea like this:

We are slaves to sin, and consequently slaves to death. Like any slave, we cannot simply choose to walk away.  – we are bound. Furthermore, there is no underground railroad; there is no chance for escape. The only way out is to pay the price of our redemption. But the price is set at 100 trillion dollars! The price is way beyond us, way beyond what any man can pay. We could work and work and work, and skimp and save. Even if we become the most successful entrepreneurs in the world, even if we found a Microsoft and have 40 billion dollars worth of stock options, we can hardly make a dent in the price. If we go to redeem ourselves with our $40 billion, the clerk will say, “OK, the price was $100 trillion. You’ve now paid $40 billion; that leaves 99 trillion, 960 billion dollars. Keep working!”

No man can pay the price of redemption! Not all men in the world pooling all their resources can pay the redemption price of one man!

But Jesus paid! The blood of Jesus paid the price! $100 trillion times all those He saved! Why? Because His blood is infinitely precious. Because He is the perfect, sinless Son of God. Death had no claim on Him. His suffering and death is sufficient so that – as Paul says in Romans 3:26 - God is both just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. Just, in that every sin is paid for – either through Jesus’ death on the cross or by the suffering of the sinner for an eternity in hell. Justifier, in that He Himself is the One who declares sinners righteous by faith in Jesus    

Do you see this? Can you comprehend it?

What can you do to make yourself right in God’s eyes? The biblical answer is: NOTHING!

NOTHING you do will make you right in God’s eyes. You cannot pay the price of redemption!

Furthermore, NO ONE else can do anything for you either! Contrary to Roman Catholic teaching, there is no store of accumulated merit from a special class of people called saints that you can tap into.

But the Good News is that Jesus has paid the price! He has redeemed His people! You could never pay the price – but He has paid it all! And your part is to fall down on your knees and say, “Could this be true – even of me, a terrible sinner? Lord, I am unworthy – You are worthy! So will You take even me?”

Many people mock this idea of Jesus’ blood paying the penalty for the sins of His people. Just day before yesterday, Good Friday, on National Public Radio’s All Things Considered, in an otherwise thoughtful commentary on the public suffering of the Pope, a Jesuit priest named James Martin said this:

Theologians in the Middle Ages believed that the suffering of Jesus was also redemptive. That is, it paid the price that humanity had incurred for its sinfulness. Many contemporary Christians, though, find that explanation unsatisfying, for it makes God into a demanding and bloodthirsty tyrant.

And it’s not only in the 21st century that people have been repelled by the cross! Many Jews and Gentiles in the first century found the biblical explanation for the cross “unsatisfying”. The cross is now and always has been an offense! As Paul writes,

we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles,  but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. (1 Corinthians 1:23-24) 

The message of the cross has always appeared as folly, the message of the cross has always seemed foolish to those who are wise in their own eyes.

My friends, it makes no difference what theologians in the Middle Ages believed, or what many people in the 21st century who call themselves Christian believe, or what erudite radio commentators say. The question is: What does Scripture teach? Does the Bible teach that Jesus redeems sinners by His blood? We have seen than it does, in both the Old Testament and the New Testament.

This is a precious truth. Ponder it. Meditate on it. Jesus is your redeemer, if you trust in Him alone.

So the first reason Jesus’ death makes Him worthy is that He paid a ransom. To explore the second reason, let me read an incorrect version of Revelation 5:9-10. For once I don’t want you to look at your Bibles while I read. See if you can just listen and tell me what I say incorrectly:

"Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests, and they shall reign on the earth."

Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? But what is wrong with that version? What is incorrect?

Listen carefully: If you think what I read sounds fine, you’re missing the most important aspect of redemption. Indeed, you’re missing the whole point of the cross, of the resurrection. Do you need me to read it again?

And they sang a new song, saying, "Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth." Revelation 5:9-10 (emphasis added)

Jesus Ransomed His People FOR GOD!

So often when we read verses like this we skip past the main point: Jesus ransomed us FOR GOD!

The point of redemption is to purchase a people FOR GOD - a people who will live TO HIS GLORY, a people who will DELIGHT IN HIM ABOVE ALL ELSE,  a people who will MAGNIFY HIS NAME.

Indeed, if we leave out anything from Revelation 5:9, we should leave out the word “people”, for it is not in the Greek text. A literal translation would read, “by your blood you ransomed for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.” Now, it’s not wrong to insert the word “people”, for it is clearly implied. But by leaving out that word, John emphasizes even more that the primary purpose of redemption is not saving people from hell but bringing glory to God. The focus is on God!

All our great texts on redemption make this clear – if only we would open our eyes!

Listen now: God’s eternal Plan of Redemption is not primarily about saving man from sin. It is primarily about bringing glory to God. The Gospel is God-centered, not Man-centered.

So don’t talk about it in a man-centered way! Christ did not ransom people just to ransom them from hell. He ransomed people FOR GOD. Know that if you are ransomed, you are ransomed for HIM. If you are not yet ransomed: Yes, He offers to save you from hell. But doesn’t stop there. He saves you FOR GOD – so that your life will be lived for Him. He will love you, He will hold you, He will wipe away your every tear; you will find your joy in Him, and in nothing else. He saves you so that you might fulfill your purpose in creation: To glorify Him

So why is Jesus worthy? He ransomed people. He ransomed them FOR GOD.

Second question:

What is He worthy of?

Verse 12 answers the question. Here tens of thousands of angels say loudly,

"Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!"

This is a beautiful thought that we often sing. But what does it mean?

·        The Lamb is worthy to receive wealth? Wisdom? Doesn’t He already have both?

Jesus is God. God says in Psalm 50:12

 If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and its fullness are mine.

So what how can He receive power or wealth or wisdom from us?

Revelation 5:12 means, Whatever little power, wealth, and wisdom we have, we acknowledge as coming from Him. He is the source, not we ourselves. So we praise Him fully. Consider these in turn:

·        POWER and MIGHT: No military power, no athletic power, no physical strength exists apart from God. All might and power are from Jesus, and are intended to be used for His glory. Physical power is not intended to swell the ego of the one who has it in abundance. Military power is not intended to be used to oppress or impress others. All power and might is intended to be received with thankfulness, and used for His good purposes.

·        WEALTH: All wealth is from God. As David says after making a huge offering for the construction of the temple, “All things come from you, and of your own have we given you” (1 Chronicles 29:14). We deserve nothing. If we have earned anything, we earned it by the strength God supplied.

·        WISDOM: All intellectual capacity, and all ability to apply that capacity to the world around us, comes from God. Indeed, true wisdom consists of seeing God rightly: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” Psalm 111:10.

·        HONOR AND GLORY AND BLESSING: What great honor can you think of in this life? Athletic honor? Such as that which the Red Sox received as world champions last year? Such as will be received by the winners of next Monday’s NCAA basketball championship game? Who gave them the skill and ability they possess? Who controlled the way the ball bounced? All such honor belongs ultimately to God.

·        What about the fame and honor that comes to popular musicians? Whether they perform hip hop, country, rock, new age, or classical: Where does their voice come from? Where does their creativity come from? Who controls the “luck” of who gets played on the radio and who doesn’t? Who controls who gets a recording contract?

We could go on and on. Whenever we see a human being whom we think is worthy of praise – ultimately all that praise should go to Jesus, for He is the source of whatever good that person possesses. No one else is worthy of praise – except as they reflect His character in them

So whom do you praise? The Panthers? The Tar Heels? There is:

·        only one to whom praise belongs,

·        only one to whom glory belongs,

·        only one who is truly mighty,

·        only one who is truly wise,

·        only one who has true riches,

·        only one who is worthy to receive praise.

Jesus worthy of all praise:

Our final question:

Does He Get What He Deserves?

Consider first: What must happen for Jesus to get what He deserves?

We’ve seen that He must die in order to be worthy. But also: He must rise from the dead in order to receive it!

Do you think John would have stopped weeping in Revelation 5:5 if the angel had said, “Do not weep! The Lion of the tribe of Judah has conquered! He was worthy to take the scroll and open its seals! Oh, but he can’t do it now. There’s one problem. He’s dead.”

That would not be comforting, would it? The worthy one died!

Jesus died, but He then rose from the dead! So John can cease his weeping.

When we celebrated the Lord’s Supper in His remembrance on Friday, we were not remembering some great, dead, human hero, the way we might remember Abraham Lincoln or Martin Luther King, Jr., on their birthdays. Instead, right at that moment we are giving and He is receiving the praise that is due to Him. He is alive!

Some of you may have thought, “Coty, this sermon is really all about Jesus’ death. It’s Easter. You should be preaching on the resurrection, not the cross!”

But this is about the resurrection. In order to be worthy, Jesus had to die – and Jesus also had to rise from the dead to fulfill His purpose. He is risen. So He gets what He deserves.

But to hear some Christians talk, it seems that even a risen Jesus won’t receive the glory and praise due Him. It’s as if Jesus looks at us and says, “Oh, I wish they would come to me and praise me! But they won’t do it! Oh no!” And He wrings His hands.

But that is not the Jesus revealed in the Bible. Does He get the praise He deserves?

All history is working to ensure that He does!

Consider the last verse in today’s text:

And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, "To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!" Revelation 5:13

Who is speaking now? EVERY CREATURE – every created thing – specifically ALL MANKIND.

What are they saying? They are giving Him all that He is worthy to receive, according to verse 12! In verse 12 the angels say He is worthy to receive honor and glory; in verse 13 all creation gives Him such honor and glory.

This is going to happen, folks. God’s plan of redemption is all aimed at this end. Every creature will acknowledge Jesus as Lord

And what else will they acknowledge? Don’t miss this here. Let me test you again. Once again, let me read you this verse incorrectly. What am I saying wrong?

“I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, "To the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!"

What did I leave out? “To the One who sits on the throne”! Praise to God the Father and God the Son, both! Indeed, all the glory and praise to God the Son eventually accrues to God the Father. As Paul says,

that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,  and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,  (but he doesn’t stop there!) to the glory of God the Father. Philippians 2:10-11 

All will acknowledge the greatness of Jesus and of God the Father.

This is the purpose of creation, the purpose of the plan of redemption: The glory of God the Father, the glory of God the Son.

What about you?

Do you acknowledge that Jesus and God the Father are worthy of all praise?

Do you acknowledge that there is NOTHING you can do to redeem your soul from hell?

One day you will acknowledge Jesus as Lord and King – willingly or unwillingly.


But He is worthy! He holds out to us the free gift: The price of our redemption, and an eternity of learning His excellent greatness!

Jesus died – to redeem a people for God’s own possession. A people who will delight in God and be the beneficiaries of His goodness for all eternity. A people who will live to the praise of His glory.

Furthermore, Jesus rose from the dead, showing that His payment was sufficient. An infinite debt paid with the infinite price of the blood of Jesus.

This is reality. This is truth. Acknowledge it. Love Him. Look to Him. Behold Him

Be able to sing truly:

I will glory in my Redeemer
Who waits for me at gates of gold,
And when He calls me it will be paradise
His face forever to behold.

That is all yours by God’s grace. Will you repent? Will you trust Him?

This sermon was preached at Desiring God Community Church in Charlotte, NC on 3/27/05. John Piper’s sermon from 3/20/2005, http://www.desiringgod.org/library/sermons/05/032005.html , was helpful in putting together the section on redemption; that sermon prompted me to consider Psalm 49 in this context. James Martin’s March 25, 2005 opinion piece on All Things Considered can be found as audio and text atwww.npr.org. The quote at the end is from Steve and Vicki Cook, “I Will Glory in My Redeemer”, © PDI Worship 2001.

Copyright © 2005, Thomas C. Pinckney. This data file is the sole property of Thomas C. Pinckney. Please feel free to copy it in written form, but only in its entirety for circulation freely without charge. All copies of this data file must contain the above copyright notice.

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