April 2019   
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103 times the New Testament uses a little 3-letter word that means “It was/is necessary.”  The risen Jesus asks the men on the Emmaus Road, “Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things, and then enter into His glory?” (Luke 24:46)  Later Jesus appears to His followers and says, “Thus it is written, that it was necessary for the Messiah to suffer and rise from the dead.” (Luke 24:46)  It was necessary.  God says the cross and resurrection absolutely had to happen.

We find this term “it was/is necessary” all over the writings of Luke, both in his Gospel and in the book of Acts.  When Jesus is 12 years old in the Temple, Jesus says, “It is necessary that I be about my Father’s business.” (Luke 2:49)  In the Parable of the Prodigal Son, the father says to the oldest son, “It was necessary that we should make merry and be glad” (about the return of your brother). (Luke 15:32)  Twice, Jesus warns His followers, “It is necessary that the Son of Man suffer many things.” (Luke 9:22, 17:45)  Jesus says to Zacchaeus, “It is necessary that I stay at your house today.” (Luke 19:5)  God’s got it planned, and nothing’s gonna stop it.

In the Upper Room, Peter tells the church “it was necessary” that Judas should do what he did, as God’s word had foretold. (Acts 1:16)  He tells the crowds, “There is no other name (than Jesus) by which it is necessary that we be saved.” (Acts 4:12)  When God tells Ananias to baptize Saul, God says, “I will show him how much it is necessary that he suffer for my sake.” (Acts 9:16)  After Paul survives being stoned with rocks, he tells his friends, “It is necessary for us to enter the kingdom of God through many sufferings.”  (Acts 14:22)

As Paul looks ahead in his ministry, he declares that “it is necessary that I also see Rome.” (Acts 19:21)  When times get tough, and it is doubtful whether that will happen, twice an angel appears to Paul and assures him that “it is necessary” for him to stand before Caesar in Rome (Acts 23:11, 27:24), although during a storm, he predicts it will also be “necessary” for his boat to be shipwrecked on some island. (Acts 27:26)

John also talks about divine necessity.  John says in 4:4 that at one point, “it was necessary” for Jesus to pass through Samaria.  There were plenty of other ways He could have gone (most Jews took the bypass around it), but Jesus had to go through Samaria.  Jesus had to talk to the woman at the well.  It was a divine necessity.  Jesus tells Nicodemus that “it is necessary” for one to be born again (John 3:7) and for Him to be lifted up on a cross (John 3:14).  In John 3:30, John the Baptist says “it is necessary” for Jesus to increase, but “I must decrease.”  And in 20:9, John says they did not know the scripture, that “it was necessary” that Jesus rise from the dead.

In 1 Corinthians 11:19, Paul says, “It is necessary for there to be divisions among you, in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized.”  In 1 Corinthians 15:53, Paul states that “it is necessary that our perishable nature put on the imperishable, and our mortal nature put on immortality.”  In 2 Corinthians 5:10, he states that “it is necessary for all of us to appear before the judgment seat of Christ.”  Likewise, the book of Revelation talks about future events that are “necessary”, events that must soon come to pass (Revelation 1:1, 4:1).

One tiny three-letter word: “It was necessary.  It is necessary.”  Each of these are appointments with destiny – events that absolutely had to happen according to the plan of God.  We Presbyterians believe that God is pulling the strings.  We may not jump to the conclusion that God’s got every last detail programmed.  There are many parts of life where any number of possible scenarios could take place.  But we can also say that there are certain benchmarks along the way where God’s plan is destined to have its way.

It was necessary for Jesus to pass through Samaria, to speak to the woman at the well.  It was necessary for Him to be betrayed.  It was necessary for Him to be nailed to a cross.  It was necessary for Him to rise from the dead.  These were not chance occurrences or meaningless accidents of fate.  Peter says they happened “according to the deliberate plan and foreknowledge of God.” (Acts 2:23)

Life is full of cases of divine necessity, cases where it had to happen that way, places where God’s absolute will takes over, places where we can say that God had it planned all along.  We won’t always recognize those moments at the time they happen, but someday, we’ll be able to look at it all in perspective and say, “It was necessary.”


Rev. Tom Hobson, Ph.D., is Assistant Pastor at Bonhomme Presbyterian Church (ECO), Chesterfield, MO, and author of What’s on God’s Sin List for Today?