Jesus died to save us from our sins. Were He only a man and not also divine, then His death would have been tragic but not salvific. The human race could only be saved by a Savior and only redeemed by a Redeemer. Original sin wounded human nature so that everyone born after Adam and Eve was incapable of saving even themselves, let alone the rest of humanity. Mankind needed a Savior. That Savior would have to make the ultimate and supreme sacrifice. Jesus Himself said there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for a friend (John 15:13).
Saint Paul says in his epistle to the Corinthians, “Christ died for our sins” (1 Cor. 15:3). Matthew tells us in his Gospel, “The Son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (20:28). Even the prophet Isaiah foretold in the Old Testament before Christ was born, “he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed…and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter” (53:5–7).
Greek has three words for love: eros, philia, and agape. Pope Benedict XVI points out in his recent papal encyclical Deus Caritas Est (God is Love) that despite the sinful distortion and perversion by pornography, eros (possessive love) is still intrinsically good when kept in perspective and proportion. It is not just sexual or physical love. Eros is the love that wants to have—to be with the beloved, to have time and memories, to say this is my beloved. It is also the reality that we all need to be loved. Philia is a love between friends (as with Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love). It is one of affection and loyalty. Agape (caritas in Latin) is what Pope Benedict calls oblate love. It is sacrificial. Whereas eros wants to have and possess the beloved, agape is willing to make sacrifice (oblation) for the other.
God’s love for us is perfect and is truly agape, as He willingly sacrificed His only Son and the Son willingly sacrificed His own life for our salvation. The death of Jesus was not forced upon Him; He willingly embraced it as painful and horrible because of His love for each one of us. This supreme act of sacrificial love atoned for the sin of pride of our first parents (Adam and Eve) and for all our own individual sins which in essence are acts of rebellion against the dominion of God. Jesus’ death opened the gates of heaven which were previously shut when man and woman arrogantly placed their will above God’s will.