Understanding the reason why Jesus had to die on the cross begins by first looking at another tree from Scripture.
This first tree was located in the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve were placed there to care for the garden, the creatures in the garden and to grow in relationship with God. God also desired to see if they would remain faithful to His plan for them or if they would prefer exalting themselves by taking fruit from the tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, thereby gaining a knowledge God had reserved only for Himself.
Tempted by the serpent, Adam and Eve doubted God’s goodness by taking the fruit and grasping for knowledge and power beyond them. This was the first sin, also known as original sin.
God had already told Adam and Eve that if they ate from the fruit of this tree that they would die (Genesis 2:17). We often think of this phrase means physical death, which it certainly does in part. Aging and disease did come into creation thanks to this sin. More deeply, this phrase also means spiritual death. Before eating this fruit, Adam and Eve enjoyed being in God’s company. They were with God in their souls through grace and also walked with Him in the Garden. Original sin deprived Adam and Eve of sanctifying grace, which allowed God to dwell in their souls. They also forfeited walking with God in the garden as well.
Realizing the significance of the fall of Adam and Eve helps to illuminate the logic of the cross. Certainly, God could have redeemed us in any way imaginable. He chose this one specifically because of what it speaks to us.
Christ crucified unmistakably shows humanity what we have chosen through our sin. The violence done to Christ on the cross tells us of the violence we have chosen in sin. Not only does sin harm our relationship with God, but it also does violence to our soul and the souls of others. Christ takes this violence upon Himself to return to us a redeemed soul. Our soul is now a place where God chooses to dwell with us, where we can find and extend forgiveness, and hope in the desire to walk with God in heaven.
The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and the choice Adam and Eve made brought death to the world. Through Christ’s acceptance of the cross, Christ dies on a tree to bring forth life. Indeed, God reclaims in this work of redemption what the devil corrupted through original sin.
Most importantly, the cross reveals the depth of God’s love for us. When we think of the many ways God could have redeemed us, He deliberately chose one that would cost Him personally greatly. Not only did Jesus humble Himself to become like us, He also chose one of the most painful ways to die. He freely chose this to show us clearly His complete love for us.
Father Mayo is pastor of St. Raphael the Archangel Parish in St. Louis.