A few years ago, a woman whom I had never met before was praying for me. We were at one of those big Christian music festivals, and she had simply offered some words of encouragement. However she said something that has been bugging me ever since:
“If you were the last person on earth, Jesus would still have died for you.”
Did he ever say that?
I tried to put it out of my mind. Surely she’s just a well meaning lady who was trying to be nice. The crucifixion could not possibly have been worth it unless a certain percentage of the global population would benefit. That’s just basic logic.
But then last night I heard the same sentence again, and this time it was not from a well meaning stranger. It was from the mouth of Nicky Gumbel, a Cambridge alumni and ordained minister. He says it in one of the videos from the Alpha course entitled ‘Why Did Jesus Die?‘
A lady I was watching with brought up that line and questioned its validity. Why do Christians say stuff like this so casually? This is not a direct quotation from the Bible, so how can we arrogantly assume that Jesus would really have died for just one person? The main reason why this has bugged me (and her) is the problem of cost and reward. The cost of the crucifixion was huge. Would the benefit of one saved soul really have been worth it?
But then I realised that I’m imposing a lot of metaphysical assumptions with this cost-reward mentality. It mostly comes from a post-modern western worldview that takes the principles of Utilitarianism for granted. Utilitarianism is an ethical theory coined by John Stuart Mill which determines right from wrong by focusing on outcomes. It’s a form of consequentialism, and holds that the most ethical choice is the one that will produce the greatest good for the greatest number. When properly picked apart, it quickly unravels because when taken to extremes it can become very dehumanising.
More importantly however, it does not fit into the nature of God’s character. The Bible does not explicitly say that if I was the last person on earth Jesus still would have died for me. Nevertheless, it does say a lot about the nature of God, so we can still infer a lot from the text.
Let’s have a look at the famous parables of the lost sheep and lost coin from Luke 15:3-10
Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbours together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent. Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbours together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
Clearly there is something to be said for God’s heart for the individual. In fact, heaven throws a party each time one sinner repents, and that’s got to count for something!
So, would Jesus really have died for me if I was the last person on earth?
I think so.