For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost. – Luke 19:10
I’ve been asked on numerous occasions from different people in different places in life a very important question that Christians often assume everyone knows the answer to; “Why did Jesus have to come and die?” Like I said, it’s an important question and one that I greatly enjoy answering. The answer to why Jesus had to come and die has so many facets to it and I encourage you to scour the word of God for every one of them as well as using excellent resources like this book and this book. While the answer does not have just 1 simple response, one way to address it is to begin with Luke 19:10. It is a springboard verse into so many other passages of scripture. So when asked why Jesus had to come and die, my response is that Jesus came to “seek and save the lost.” Inevitably the follow-up question is “what does that mean?”
In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus tells a parable about a shepherd who left his flock of 99 sheep, who were “safe” in his care, and went looking for the one that was lost and separated from the flock and away from the shepherd’s care.
Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled,saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” So he told them this parable: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. (Luke 15:1-7)
In this illustration, Jesus challenges the religious leaders to consider what they would do if one of their sheep went astray and was lost from the flock. Would he not leave his 99 sheep to go search for the one who is lost? Of course he would! The reason is because that 1 sheep is valuable to the shepherd. He knows its name (John 10:3) and the sheep knows the voice of the shepherd. It is a relationship bound by the willingness and ability of the shepherd to look after his sheep. And when one goes missing, the shepherd goes out to “seek and save” his lost sheep.
But how does this illustration answer the question about “why Jesus had to come and die.” To put it as simply as possible: Your sin and my sin are the cause of our lostness and we are in need of rescue. God created all people to live in relationship with him according to his perfect and holy will; but we have chosen to go our own way and live according to our own standards (Romans 3:23). Our choice to wander away from God has separated us from him and we are lost and helpless without him. We cannot save ourselves because we are not able. Unless God comes to rescue us and unless we answer him when he calls out to us, we will be lost forever. We will never know the care of God without being rescued. The way God rescues us is by sending us the Good Shepherd [Jesus] to seek us out and to save us completely. See, the story about the lost sheep that was rescued is really more about the shepherd than the sheep. The story is really about Jesus.
Isaiah 53 is one of the most well-known and important passages of scripture in the Word of God as it points you and me to Jesus. The prophecy of Isaiah in this chapter is one of direct connection to Jesus Christ, as the prophet identifies the Messiah as a suffering Savior, one who would not have any earthly “majesty” nor would he be much to look at (v.2). He but would be a “man of sorrows” who would be “despised and reject by men” (v.3). The Messiah would be stricken and afflicted to the point of death, by God’s will and at the hands of mankind (v.4). The sins and transgression of us all would be laid upon the innocent man Jesus (v.5). He would be crushed and pierced because of our sins. The prophet Isaiah paints for us a clear and convicting picture of our implicit guilt in the death of Jesus Christ, the Messiah of God. And why is it that we are responsible for the death of Jesus? The death of Jesus was the means by which you and I as “lost sheep” could be rescued.
In v. 6, Isaiah shows us, indirectly, why Jesus came and why he died. Isaiah writes “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one – to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” Do you see how Isaiah 53:6 connects us to Luke 19:10? Because of our sinful hearts, we are like wandering, defenseless sheep always looking for greener grass somewhere else. We like comfort, safety, and abundant provisions and we like to do things our own way. This natural inclination of our selfish hearts leads us to sin, which is a transgression against God’s holiness and in turn separates us from God and places us in a position of “lostness.” Therefore, in order truly rescue sinners like you and me, Jesus had to come and die in our place. He had to “lay his life down for his sheep” (John 10:15).
Because we are like lost and helpless sheep, we have needs beyond what we can see and only God can help us. In fact, if the shepherd didn’t seek us out, we wouldn’t even know we were lost until it is too late. When we hear the voice of Jesus calling us back to him, we recognize our lost condition and immediately begin looking for his outstretched hand. By his grace, he has helped us in a truly magnificent way. Jesus came and bore our sins, iniquities, and failures. God punished Jesus and rescued us. Jesus came to seek and save the lost sheep so that we could know and love God the way we are intended to.
So why did Jesus have to come and die? Because he is the Good Shepherd who seeks and saves his lost sheep. Do you know the Good Shepherd Jesus? Will you answer his voice when he calls?