Public speaking is an art not mastered by everyone. Particularly when speaking off-the-cuff, people may say what they did not intend. Or they may say what they really thought, but did not really want the public to know where they stood. Sometimes they have difficulty expressing what they want to say and it comes out wrong. This is true for presidents and common people. In those churches where men are called upon to say prayers extemporaneously this can be especially true. In a public prayer, a man said, “We know that you didn’t have to send Jesus to die for us, but we are glad you did.” At first this didn’t sound quite right. On the other hand, there is a sense in which what the man said is true.
The phrase in question is, “You did not have to send Jesus to die for us.” The common doctrine is that there was no other way for God to satisfy forgiveness of sins. After all, would you let your child die, even encourage such a death, if there was any other way to accomplish a desirable end? If there were any other way to bring about forgiveness of sin, don’t you think God would have chosen that over seeing his only-begotten son suffer one of the cruelest deaths man has devised?
The Jewish people were noted (and sometimes reviled) for their belief in blood sacrifice to take away the guilt of sin. Whole chapters of the book of Leviticus are devoted to prescribing what animals are to be used in certain circumstances, and precisely how to offer them on the altar. Some have even proposed that the playing of noisy instruments and the liberal use of incense in the worship in the Temple was to drown out the cries of animals and the smell of burning flesh. Animal sacrifice was such a way of life that when the Israelites digressed into idol worship they even extended the sacrifices to the burning of their own children, “which I commanded them not, neither came it into my mind, that they should do this abomination.” (Jer 32:35) Blood sacrifice was so familiar to the Jewish mind that when the writer of Messianic Jews (Hebrews) spoke of Jesus as a better sacrifice, it was to blood he/she referred.
Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us. For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh: How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? And for this cause he is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance. (Heb 9:12-15)
This author argues in the scriptures that God did have to send his son to die on the cross. Animal sacrifices had a limited effectiveness in the forgiveness of sin; but it was just that—limited. For there to be a permanent offering for sin, that offering had to be the sinless son of God.
In another sense, though, God did not have to send his son to die for us. It is the same sense in which he did not have to save Noah from the flood.
And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart. And the LORD said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them. (Gen 6:6-7)
God could have followed through with his intent to destroy all his creation. “But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD.” (Gen 6:8) God doesn’t have to save mankind. He could choose to destroy us all, again. On the other hand, as long as he finds faith on the earth he will save. He was willing to save Sodom for ten souls. He was willing to save the Noah’s world for eight souls. He was willing, or perhaps obligated. But as the man said in his prayer, “we are glad you did.”