This question has been asked since Good Friday, and it continues to provoke discussion and debate.
One traditional answer is that Adam’s sin of disobedience was so bad that a huge price needed to be paid to buy humanity back from the consequences. The only price that was adequate was the life of God, and God paid this price through Jesus, God’s only Son. Many of the supporters of this belief tend to believe God had a plan from the time of Adam’s sin to achieve this, and that many parts of the Hebrew scriptures were written in part to point towards Jesus and his sacrifice. Part of this belief is that Jesus led a perfect life so he could be the perfect sacrifice. Supporters of this belief speak of redemption in the sense of Jesus paying off a debt for us. In short, Jesus died for our sins.
A very different belief is that the life and teachings of Jesus were to be example and inspiration to show us the nature of God and to show us how to live properly as God’s children. His death was the consequence of the nature of rulers and their supporters which readily kills those who threaten or question their rule. Jesus was so confident about God and what God wanted of us, and he cared enough about us, that it was worth putting his life on the line. Supporters of this belief or its variants speak of redemption in the sense that his sacrifice serves as an example that inspires us to overcome our fears and weaknesses on the way to better lives. Because his courageous persistence in challenging the social morals of the day undermined the power of the authorities, they tried to silence him by killing him. In short, Jesus died because we sin.
There are many other answers offered as to why Jesus died. What matters most is that he loved God and people enough to pursue a course of action that was almost certain to lead to his death. Today when we read about journalists putting their lives on the line for the people of their country, about activist women who risk their lives for the cause of advancing the well-being of other women, and about politicians and police officers dying because of their commitments to justice in the midst of wars such as the drug wars in Mexico, we realize that in one sense at least that the sacrifice Jesus made was not the last sacrifice needed on the way to establishing the empire of God in this world. On Good Friday we saw courage, love, and confidence confronting cowardice, self-centredness and desperate grasping for control. The one who was murdered sparked ongoing change in the world. Those responsible for murdering him are either remembered because of their role, or are forgotten.
May we be aided by the Spirit in choosing for love, for creation, and for healing in all we do and say, letting Good Friday inspire us in building better lives.