A CONVERSATION WITH A NEIGHBOR
Why Commemorate the Death of Jesus?
The following is a conversation that one of Jehovah’s Witnesses might have with a neighbor. Let us imagine that a Witness named Megan has called at the home of a woman named Shirley.
“KEEP DOING THIS IN REMEMBRANCE OF ME”
Megan: Hi, Shirley. It was so good to see you at the Memorial of the death of Jesus Christ last week.a What did you think of the meeting?
Shirley: I enjoyed being there, but I must admit that I didn’t fully understand everything that was said. I’ve heard of people celebrating the birth of Jesus at Christmas and his resurrection at Easter, but I’ve never heard of anyone commemorating his death.
Megan: It’s true, Christmas and Easter are popular celebrations around the world. But Jehovah’s Witnesses feel that it’s important to memorialize the death of Jesus. If you have a few minutes, I would be glad to review the reasons for this.
Shirley: Sure, I have some time.
Megan: Basically, Jehovah’s Witnesses commemorate the death of Jesus because he instructed his followers to do so. Consider what happened on the night before Jesus died. Do you recall hearing about a special meal that he shared with his faithful followers?
Shirley: You mean the Last Supper?
Megan: Exactly. It’s also called the Lord’s Evening Meal. During that meal, Jesus gave his followers clear instructions. Would you please read his words recorded here at Luke 22:19?
Shirley: OK. “Also, he took a loaf, gave thanks, broke it, and gave it to them, saying: ‘This means my body, which is to be given in your behalf. Keep doing this in remembrance of me.’”
Megan: Thank you. Notice Jesus’ instructions in the final sentence of that verse: “Keep doing this in remembrance of me.” And right before instructing his followers to remember him, Jesus made it clear what they were to remember about him. He said that his life would be given in behalf of his followers. Jesus expressed this thought in similar terms, as recorded at Matthew 20:28. That verse reads: “The Son of man came, not to be ministered to, but to minister and to give his life as a ransom in exchange for many.” In a nutshell, that is why Jehovah’s Witnesses gather each year on the anniversary of the death of Jesus—to remember the ransom sacrifice that Jesus offered. His death can mean life for all obedient humans.
WHY WAS A RANSOM NEEDED?
Shirley: I’ve heard people say that Jesus died so that we could have life. But to be honest, I’ve never really understood how that works.
Megan: You’re not alone, Shirley. The subject of Jesus’ ransom sacrifice is a deep one. But it’s also one of the most beautiful truths in God’s Word. By the way, how are you doing on time?
Shirley: I have a few more minutes.
Megan: Good. I’ve just been reading up on the topic of the ransom, and I will try to explain it in a simple way.
Megan: In order to understand the ransom, we first need to grasp the situation that Adam and Eve created when they sinned in the garden of Eden. To help us comprehend the issue involved, let’s read together Romans 6:23. Would you please read that verse?
Shirley: Sure. It says: “The wages sin pays is death, but the gift God gives is everlasting life by Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Megan: Thank you. Let’s analyze those words. First, notice how the verse begins: “The wages sin pays is death.” This is a simple rule that God set out at the outset of human history—the wage, or penalty, for sin is death. Of course, in the beginning, no one was a sinner. Adam and Eve were created perfect, and all their children would have been born perfect. So there would have been no reason for anyone to die. Adam and Eve and all their offspring had the prospect of eternal life in happiness. But as we know, things didn’t work out that way, did they?
Shirley: No. Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit.
Megan: That’s right. And when they did—when Adam and Eve chose to disobey God—they sinned. In effect, they chose to become imperfect, to become sinners. That choice would have disastrous consequences not just for Adam and Eve but also for all their offspring.
Shirley: What do you mean?
Megan: Well, maybe I could use an illustration. Let me ask you, do you like to bake?
Shirley: Yes! I love to.
Megan: Let’s say that you have a nice new pan for baking bread. Before you have an opportunity to use it even once, though, it falls on the floor and gets a big dent. Now, what will happen to any loaves of bread you bake in that pan? Won’t they too have a dent in them?
Shirley: Yes, of course.
Megan: In a similar way, when Adam and Eve chose to disobey God, they became “dented,” or blemished, by sin and imperfection. And because they became sinners before they had any children, all their children would be born with the same “dent.” They would all be born in a sinful condition. In the Bible, the word “sin” refers not only to an act but also to the condition that we have inherited. The end result is that even though you and I hadn’t done anything wrong—we hadn’t even been born when Adam and Eve sinned—they doomed us and all their future offspring and ours to a life of imperfection and sin that would end in death. As we read at Romans 6:23, the penalty for sin is death.
Shirley: That doesn’t seem fair. Why should all humans suffer forever because of the sin of Adam and Eve?
Megan: You’re right—it doesn’t seem fair. But there is more to it than that. In his perfect justice, God determined that Adam and Eve should die for their sins, but we as their offspring were not left without hope. God made a way for us to get out of this predicament. That is where the ransom sacrifice of Jesus comes in. Look again at Romans 6:23. After mentioning that “the wages sin pays is death,” the verse says: “But the gift God gives is everlasting life by Christ Jesus our Lord.” So it’s the death of Jesus that opens the way for us to escape from sin and death.b
THE RANSOM—GOD’S GREATEST GIFT
Megan: There’s another detail in this verse that I would like to draw to your attention.
Shirley: What’s that?
Megan: Notice that the verse says: “The gift God gives is everlasting life by Christ Jesus our Lord.” Now, if Jesus is the one who suffered and died for us, giving up his life in our behalf, why does the verse speak of the ransom as “the gift God gives”? Why not, “the gift Jesus gives”?c
Shirley: Hmm. I don’t know.
Megan: Well, God created Adam and Eve, and he was the one they sinned against when they disobeyed in the garden of Eden. He must have been deeply hurt when his first two human children rebelled against him. But Jehovah immediately stated a solution.d He purposed that one of his spirit creatures come to the earth, live as a perfect human, and ultimately offer his life as a ransom sacrifice. So, really, the entire provision of the ransom was a gift from God. There’s another way too in which the ransom was God’s gift. Have you ever thought of what God must have felt when Jesus was put to death?
Shirley: No, I guess I haven’t.
Megan: I see some toys here in the front yard. You must have children.
Shirley: Yes, I have two—a boy and a girl.
Megan: As a parent, stop and think about how Jesus’ heavenly Father, Jehovah God, must have felt on the day that Jesus died. I mean, how did he feel watching from heaven as his dear Son was arrested, ridiculed, and struck with fists? And how did the Father feel as his Son was nailed to a wooden pole and left there to die a slow, agonizing death?
Shirley: He must have felt terrible. I never thought of that before!
Megan: Of course, it’s impossible for us to say exactly how God felt on that day. But we do know that he has feelings, and we also know why he allowed all of that to happen. It’s explained beautifully for us in a famous scripture, John 3:16. Would you please read that?
Shirley: Yes. It says: “God loved the world so much that he gave his only-begotten Son, so that everyone exercising faith in him might not be destroyed but have everlasting life.”
The ransom sacrifice is the greatest expression of love ever
Megan: Thank you. Look again at the beginning of that verse. It says: “God loved the world.” That’s the key—love. Love moved God to send his Son to earth to die in our behalf. Really, the ransom sacrifice is the greatest expression of love ever. And that’s what Jehovah’s Witnesses gather to remember each year on the anniversary of the death of Jesus. Has this review been helpful?
Shirley: Yes, it has. Thank you for taking the time to go over this with me.
Is there a particular Bible subject that you have wondered about? Are you curious about any of the beliefs or religious practices of Jehovah’s Witnesses? If so, do not hesitate to ask one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. He or she will be pleased to discuss such matters with you.
a Once a year, Jehovah’s Witnesses gather on the anniversary of the death of Jesus to remember his sacrifice.
b A future article in this series will consider how the ransom sacrifice of Jesus provides escape from sin, as well as what we must do in order to benefit from the ransom.
c According to the Bible, God and Jesus are two separate individuals. For more information, see chapter 4 of the book What Does the Bible Really Teach? published by Jehovah’s Witnesses.
d See Genesis 3:15.