What Killed Jesus?
Perhaps that sounds like a strange question, but let’s think about some issues surrounding the crucifixion. First, we note a couple of passages from the apostle Paul:
“But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gal 6:14).
“For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor 1:18).
How can the cross be both foolish and powerful? It depends on perspective. For example, consider these statements:
A. The crucifixion of Jesus was the greatest travesty of human justice ever committed by mankind.
B. The crucifixion of Jesus was the greatest display of divine justice ever seen by mankind.
Both are true, but we are looking at very different perspectives. Since Jesus was completely innocent of any wrongdoing, all that happened to Him was a travesty of justice on the part of the men who did this. They beat Him, scourged Him, and crucified Him when He deserved none of it. From mankind’s position, there was no justice here. Peter said that Jesus was “killed by the hands of lawless men” (Acts 2:23).
On the other hand, this was the greatest display of divine justice ever seen. This, however, is God’s vantage point. Because Jesus was offering up Himself as a sacrifice for sin, God can be “just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Rom 3:26). God was not overlooking the problem of sin, but was indeed executing justice in a selfless act of sacrifice. He gave up His own life.
There are great paradoxes in the cross of Jesus. The crucifixion reminds us of how horrible sin is because it was due to sin that Jesus was dying. At the same time, it tells us how great is the love of God, for it is by His love and grace that He wanted to provide a way to salvation. In this greatest act of sin we find the greatest act of redemption. In the worst effort of mankind ever to be separated from God, we see God's sacrifice as the means by which mankind can be reconciled to Him. While we were yet helpless, God has provided strength in ways no human counsel could have imagined. While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Rom 5:8). God be praised!
We know who killed Jesus. We can point to the Jewish leadership of the time and see how they plotted. We can see the mob mentality of the people as they demanded that Jesus be crucified. We can see the part played by Pontius Pilate and the Roman soldiers as they carried out the execution. We see these hands of lawless men. We can even bring this forward to our situation and recognize that we, too, played a role in Christ's death. “I’m the one who shouted ‘crucify,’” we sing, and this is correct from the standpoint of our own sins. We recognize that if we go back to the powers of sin and Satan, we crucify again the Son of God and put Him to open shame (Heb 6:4-6). May God forbid!
Yet, we also are asking, what killed Jesus? In other words, what were the reasons behind the death of Jesus? Of course sin is behind it. More specifically, however, what were the attitudes betraying the hearts of the people as they demanded He die? Think of the ways in which these (among others) attitudes are seen in Christ's death:
• Willful ignorance
• Love of Money
• Willingness to lie and bear false witness
Paul makes the point that “None of the rulers of this age understood this (i.e., God’s plans), for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Cor 2:8).
Pilate knew that the Jewish leaders delivered Jesus over because of envy (Mark 15:10).
Jesus said, “But the word that is written in their Law must be fulfilled: ‘They hated me without a cause’” (John 15:25).
It’s not difficult to see how these types of attitudes were involved in those who helped put Jesus to death. These all come together to create the “perfect storm” of sin that finally took Jesus to the cross.
Are these attitudes still prevalent today? Are they seen even among us? Do we find ourselves happy to be ignorant of truth? Do we demonstrate ugly prejudice at times? Are we ever guilty of envy, hatred, and other forms of worldliness? These are what put Jesus to death.
A little soul searching is necessary, and we need to be honest with our own attitudes. Let God test our hearts and see if there is anything in us that may still shout, “Crucify Him!” Then, let’s crucify our own worldly passions.
“But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.”