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A friend of mine teaches first grade in a Christian school where few of her students know the Bible. As they approached Easter and were working their way through the Jesus stories, one student mentioned Jesus dies. With wide eyes, a little girl cried out in shock, “Jesus dies?!”

This man who is presented as kind and loving, a healer who has deep affection for the hurting, a man who welcomes little children and blesses them—he dies? Not only that, but he’s killed? On a cross? After being beaten?

It is shocking.

Why, really, did Jesus have to die? Couldn’t he have fixed things without dying? He healed people with words and touch, so couldn’t he just fix the planet by speaking to it? Couldn’t Jesus fix broken leaders and systems by touching them? Why is his death the solution to sin?

For those of us who (usually) drive the speed limit, pay our taxes, vote, volunteer, and generally try to live on the right side of the law, the idea that someone would need to die for us—that someone else would need to die because we have messed up so badly—seems extreme. Surely if we all agree to try harder to be good, then Jesus doesn’t need to die. I mean, we aren’t really that bad, are we?

The apostle Paul disagrees: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). That’s the standard. Not the speed limit. The standard is the glory of God.

If you know the story of Eden, you know that humans were offered a life lived in the presence of God. Our first parents turned down that offer and were ushered out of Eden, its entrance then guarded by cherubim (angels) with flaming swords. To get back to Eden, to get back to the glory of God, would mean going through those swords. It would mean death.

The only way back to Eden was through death.

In God’s mercy, God gave rituals to God’s people that allowed them access to God, but the access still came through death—the sacrifice of animals. Access was not possible without death, and that death often involved swords and flames.

Through generations of sacrifices, God was teaching God’s people that the only way to be made right, the only way to get back into Edenic fellowship with God, was through death. And humans can’t do it for themselves or for each other. A sinful person can’t die for another sinful person. One muddy person can’t clean off another muddy person. The mud just spreads.

Instead, Jesus—the sinless Son of God—becomes sin for us, and when he dies, he goes through the ugliness of death to gain our entry back into the glory of God. As Paul explains it, “God made him [Jesus] who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21).

My teacher friend was deeply moved by her student’s shock at Jesus’ death, and she was so glad she could say that Jesus’ death was not the end of his story. Death isn’t the end of our story either. Jesus’ death undoes death. The cherubim can stand down. Eden—and even God’s own self—are accessible once again. Thanks be to God.

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