Shortly after Peter’s clear confession, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16), the Lord had to rebuke Peter with “Get thee behind Me, Satan! Thou art an offense unto Me” (Matthew 16:23a). The reason why this was necessary is also clearly expressed by the Lord, “for thou savorest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men” (Matthew 16:23b). Peter, blessed by the Father’s revelation regarding the true identity of the Son of Man (v. 17), had begun to rebuke the Lord after the Savior had laid out in outline-detail His sufferings (Matthew 16:21). The Son of the living God had told the disciples how He must suffer, be killed and be raised again. Peter had then taken the Lord aside and began to rebuke Him! Peter tried to change the Lord’s “must” to “shall not be!” (Matthew 16:22). According to the Lord’s own infallible judgment, this action was entirely due to Peter’s carnal desires set in opposition to God’s own will.
How can we avoid falling into the same thinking? Only the Holy Ghost can empower and motivate us to savor the things that be of God. He does so by His Word. We are to receive Holy Writ “not as the word of men but, as it is in truth, the Word of God,” the very Word of God “which effectually worketh also in [us] that believe” (I Thessalonians 2:13).
The Word of God which gives us our title, “Why It Behooved Christ to Suffer,” is Luke 24:46: “And [Jesus] said unto them, ‘Thus it is written, and thus it behooved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day.’” The Savior spoke these words on Easter Sunday when He, the risen Savior, appeared to the eleven (Luke 24:36). He had made this declaration to them: “…These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning Me” (Luke 24:44). And then He had opened their understanding to enable them to understand Holy Writ regarding His person and work (Luke 24:45).
He states “Thus it is written, and thus it behooved,” making clear the simple yet sublime fact that all that was written aforetime regarding His work obligated Him to do what He had done.
The Greek word translated “behooved” refers to “necessity.” How necessary the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ was is no mystery. This was God’s eternal will! The only true God, the Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Ghost, had foreordained this plan from eternity! The eternal counsel and decree of the Holy Trinity was laid out in all the Old Testament prophecies concerning the promised Messiah, the very ones Christ had just “expounded unto them [the two disciples] in all the Scriptures…concerning Himself” (Luke 24:27) on the road to Emmaus!
This was the “determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23); this was what God’s hand and God’s counsel “determined before to be done” (Acts 4:28); this was what “God ordained before the world began” (I Corinthians 2:7; I Timothy 1:9; Titus 1:2). This was God’s eternal plan for the redemption of the entire sinful human race. In God’s mind and will Christ is “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8), for “known to God are all His works from the beginning of the world” (Acts 15:18). God’s eternal plan is recorded in Holy Scripture. As Peter explained to the Jewish people: “The God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob, the God of our fathers, hath glorified His Son Jesus, whom ye delivered up and denied Him in the presence of Pilate when he was determined to let Him go. But ye denied the Holy One and the Just and desired a murderer to be granted unto you, and killed the Prince of Life, whom God hath raised from the dead, whereof we are witnesses …But those things which God before had showed by the mouth of all His prophets that Christ should suffer, He hath so fulfilled” (Acts 3:13-15, 18).
Why did it behoove Christ to suffer, to die and to rise again? First and foremost, because this was God’s eternal will to save mankind, as clearly revealed in Holy Scripture!
In His earthly, visible ministry, the Lord revealed the details of His Passion in a progressively emphatic manner. Even so, in the Old Testament there are many clear passages that point to His suffering, death and resurrection; but some are more specific and emphatic. Thus the Apostle Paul explains that the Gospel, the preaching of Jesus Christ, is “according to the revelation of the mystery which was kept secret since the world began but now is made manifest, and by the Scriptures of the prophets…made known” (Romans 16:25b-26). “The New Testament lies in the Old concealed; the Old Testament is in the New revealed” (Augustine). This is shown also by the ability of the Apostle Paul to prove everything Christ did from Old Testament proof passages: “And Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them and three Sabbath days reasoned with them out of the Scriptures, opening and alleging that Christ must needs have suffered and risen again from the dead, and that this Jesus, whom I preach unto you, is Christ.” (Acts 17:2-3).
The Holy Trinity determined in eternity already everything necessary to accomplish in time the work of redemption, revealing the details over time in Holy Writ.
God’s will as He has revealed it to us in His Word (Deuteronomy 29:29) demonstrates to poor sinners the character of the Holy Trinity as the gracious, merciful, longsuffering, forgiving God, the Savior of all mankind (Exodus 34:6-7; Psalm 145:8). The Father’s undeserved love gave us His Son (John 3:16); the Son had to be about His Father’s business of saving men so that, in love, He gave Himself for us, freely and willingly (Ephesians 5:2); He was conceived in the Virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Ghost (Luke 1:35), thereby becoming a true man and taking the human nature into God (I Timothy 3:16; Colossians 2:9). God anointed Him with the Holy Ghost without measure (Psalm 45:7; John 3:34) as the very Messiah or Christ (the Anointed One) of God (Matthew 16:16), whose work for our salvation was ordained already in eternity (I Peter 1:18-21); and the Holy Ghost continuously bore witness to His person and work, both before (Luke 4:18-19) and after His ascension into heaven (John 15:26). Thus all three persons of the Holy Trinity worked together to execute the eternal plan in time. The Holy Trinity desired to save mankind in a specific way to the glory of His Grace (Galatians 1:3-5).
Yes, it behooved Christ to suffer. Salvation is a gift bought and paid for by the Son of God Himself. He suffered what was necessary to redeem us to God and thus to make salvation happen.
What was necessary? Two essential problems needed to be solved. Sinful mankind needed a perfect righteousness of life before God in order to fulfill the just demand of His holy Law: “Ye shall be holy, for I am holy” (Leviticus 11:44). Since man was (and is) unable to meet that just demand, a perfect fulfilling of the Law sufficient for all men had to be proffered in man’s stead by someone capable of rendering it. And a payment-in-full for the guilt of all sinners had to be rendered in man’s place by someone who could suffer the entire punishment mankind had merited under God’s justice!
This necessary work required the necessary person — one who was both qualified and able to accomplish the work “once for all” (Hebrews 10:10). Only the God-Man, the Anointed One, the Messiah, would and could do what was necessary. Thus from the beginning of time (Genesis 3:15) God revealed to His fallen creatures that their Savior would not only be true man, as their substitute, but also the Lord God Himself (Genesis 4:1). As true man the Savior would be able to stand in mankind’s stead, under both the obligation and penalty of the Law, to keep the Law for man and thus to earn for him the righteousness required for entrance into the heavenly Paradise, AND to suffer and die in man’s place and thus to render to God the payment due for his transgressions (Galatians 4:4-5; Hebrews 2:14).
The saving work of redemption also required that the Savior be true God. Why was this necessary? Our Catechism (Luther’s Small Catechism, CPH, 1943) lays out the answer in three points:
It was necessary for our Savior to be true God —
- That His fulfilling of the Law might be sufficient for all men;
- “None of them can by any means redeem his brother nor give to God a ransom for him; for the redemption of their soul is precious” (Psalm 49:7-8)
- “By the obedience of One shall [the] many be made righteous” (Romans 5:19).
- That His life and death might be a sufficient ransom for our redemption;
- “The Son of Man came, not to be ministered unto, but to minister and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).
- That He might be able to overcome death and the devil for us.
- “Christ hath abolished death” (II Timothy 1:10).
- “Forasmuch, then, as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, He also Himself likewise took part of the same, that through death He might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil” (Hebrews 2:14).
- “Thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (I Corinthians 15:57).
As the holy, meek, unspotted Lamb, Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, “being made a curse for us,” suffering the eternal torments and agonies of the damned — Himself being cursed and God-forsaken atop Golgotha’s hill — the Victim, hanging on a tree (Galatians 3:13). On Good Friday He tasted death for every man (Hebrews 2:9), drinking down to the very dregs the cup of God’s just wrath (Matthew 26:42) against an ungodly world. God damned His only-begotten, beloved Son for you and for me. Christ “suffered for sins, the Just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God” (I Peter 3:18) redeemed, restored, and forgiven by His bloody sufferings and death (I Peter 1:18-19)!
The proof of His success is His mighty resurrection from the dead! St. Paul writes in Romans 4:25, “[He] was delivered for [i.e. because of (Greek)] our offenses, and was raised again for [i.e. because of (Greek)] our justification.”
He was raised again because our justification was successful, because He did all that was necessary to accomplish the propitiation of God’s justice on our behalf (I John 2:2), to finish the work His Father gave Him to do (Romans 3:25)! God the Father accepted the sacrifice of His Son for the reconciliation of the entire ungodly world! “For it pleased the Father that in Him should all fulness dwell; and, having made peace through the blood of His cross, by Him to reconcile all things unto Himself; by Him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven. And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath He reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in His sight” (Colossians 1:19-22). Even the Old Testament spoke of His resurrection as proof of His successful completion of redeeming all mankind: “Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise Him; He hath put Him to grief. When Thou shalt make His soul an offering for sin, He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in His hand. He shall see of the travail of His soul and shall be satisfied. By His knowledge shall My righteous Servant justify many; for He shall bear their iniquities. Therefore will I divide Him a portion with the great, and He shall divide the spoil with the strong because He hath poured out His soul unto death; and He was numbered with the transgressors; and He bare the sin of many and made intercession for the transgressors.” (Isaiah 53:10-12). Yes, Christ not only had to suffer but also had to rise again!
Throughout the New Testament our Lord Jesus referred to the necessity of fulfilling the entire will of His Father in regard to His saving work (Luke 2:49; 4:43; 9:22; 13:33; 17:25, cf. 24:7). The Savior willingly, perfectly and completely fulfilled all that the Father had given Him to do in all holy obedience (John 10:17-18; Galatians 2:20). He always did those things that pleased the Father (John 8:29). We have perfect salvation because our perfect Savior fulfilled the plan of salvation under God’s holy Law perfectly.
What does this mean for a true believer in Christ? It means certainty of salvation! It means that he can be sure and certain that there is nothing he has to do to earn God’s favor or to pay for his sins because Christ already did all that was necessary to give a sinner righteousness and remission of all sin! It is written of our Savior: “We are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Hebrews 10:10). He “offered one sacrifice for sins forever” (Hebrews 10:12), “for by one offering He hath perfected forever them that are sanctified” (Hebrews 10:14). Therefore “there is no more offering for sin” (Hebrews 10:18). We are enabled by faith in the Gospel of Christ’s perfect satisfaction of divine justice to draw near to God “with a true heart in full assurance…, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil [guilty, accusing] conscience” (Hebrews 10:22).
Moreover, when we as believers must suffer in this world, we know God is not punishing us for our sins — He already punished Christ fully in our place for every sin we have committed and shall ever commit! Christ already paid this full price! Our suffering, then, must be understood, not as punishment from an angry God, but as a loving chastisement from our loving, heavenly Father, who desires to keep us humbly dependent on His grace in Christ alone: “For whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?” (Hebrews 12:6-7). By faith in the Gospel we are therefore enabled to say with the Psalmist: “I know, O Lord, that Thy judgments are right and that Thou in faithfulness hast afflicted me. Let, I pray Thee, Thy merciful kindness be for my comfort, according to Thy Word unto Thy servant” (Psalm 119:75-76). Our personal suffering is thus sanctified for our benefit as all things work together for our good (Romans 8:28), as we rely on God’s grace for help in every need (II Corinthians 12:9-10). We know that, for Christ’s sake, we shall be enabled by God’s grace to endure the “much tribulation” that we should even now expect and, in the end, enter eternal life (Acts 14:22c). “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to His abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time, wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations; that the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honor and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ, whom, having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see Him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls” (I Peter 1:3-9). This is the gift that Christ, our beloved Savior, Jesus, earned for us by His holy life and purchased for us by His innocent suffering and death. This is why it was necessary for Him, why “it behooved Christ,” to suffer: The salvation of our souls!
When o’er my sins I sorrow,
Lord, I will look to Thee
and hence my comfort borrow
that Thou wast slain for me.
Yea, Lord, Thy precious blood was spilt
for me, O most unworthy,
to take away my guilt.
Oh, what a marvelous offering!
Behold, the Master spares
His servants, and their suffering
and grief for them He bears.
God stoopeth from His throne on high;
for me, His guilty creature,
He deigns as man to die.
My manifold transgression
henceforth can harm me none
since Jesus’ bloody Passion
for me God’s grace hath won.
His precious blood my debts hath paid;
of hell and all its torments
I am no more afraid.
Therefore I will forever
give glory unto Thee,
O Jesus, loving Savior,
for what Thou didst for me.
I’ll spend my breath in songs of thanks
for Thy sad cry, Thy sufferings,
Thy wrongs, Thy guiltless death. Amen.
—E. J. W.