A professor* I greatly admire tells the story of teaching a sixth grade Sunday school class in his local church. He began the class by asking the question: “Why did Jesus die?”
He collected answers from every child in the classroom. Here is the interesting thing:
- About half of the children gave an historical reason for the death of Christ – he upset the chief priests; he died because the Pharisees didn’t like him; he died because the Romans were afraid of him.
- The other half gave the theological answers for the death of Jesus – he died to save us from our sins; he died so we could go to heaven; he died because God loves us.
Jesus is the God-Man, fully human and fully God. His death on the cross is both human and divine. Each side of the event points to truth about humanity and God.
1-Human politics, emotions, and decisions caused the death of Christ
Pilate fell back on manipulative political games. Most assuredly, it was soldiers of Rome that carried out the gruesome task of crucifying Jesus. However, it was pilot who handed him over to the soldiers and gave the order of execution. Pilate was convinced that Jesus was innocent, but he did all he could to avoid making a decision. Finally, he turned into an angry crowd and asked them to decide. “They shouted, ‘Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him’” (John 19:15)! Pilate fooled himself with his games.
The Jewish leaders and their cronies were envious. The crowd before Pilate was a creation of the Temple leaders and aristocracy. They stacked the deck against Jesus with false witnesses and outrageous accusations. Jesus knew what was going on in their hearts. Jesus had won the people that the leaders of the Temple had lost. “He knew it was out of envy that they handed Jesus over” (Matthew 27:18). The human heart can house deep evil.
The traitor, Judas Iscariot made a choice. People often express sympathy for Judas. It was an unfair deal. If Jesus had to die, somebody had to betray him, so why blame Judas? Here is the mystery; God works with our free choices, both good and bad, and weaves our choices into his sovereign purpose. Jesus knew that God was in control even as others made harmful decisions about him. Jesus understood, “I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord” (John 10:17-18). Judas, like us, was responsible for his decision.
2-Divine purpose, compassion, and sovereignty led to the death of Christ.
God’s purpose triumphant over sin on the Cross. The evil that put Jesus on the cross is by no means unfamiliar or abnormal in our world. Self-interest, jealousy, political manipulation, deep resentment, and woeful impurity were all revealed on the cross of Christ. “And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (Colossians 2:15). Evil is strong, but God was, is, and will be victorious.
God’s compassion for us was revealed on the Cross. Jesus did not die to appease an angry God. Jesus did not die to induce God to change his mind and love us. God was on the cross with and in Jesus. “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross” (Colossians 1:19-20). The words of Charles Wesley express the mystery, “Amazing love, how can it be, that thou my God shouldst die for me.” God in Christ reached out in love to you and me.
God’s sovereign plan offered salvation for the world on the Cross. The world needs to be saved. The battle is not with individual nations and rulers, but against the source of evil itself, the dark prince of this world. God’s choice of a weapon was the cross. Jesus understood what was at stake, “I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe. I will not say much more to you, for the prince of this world is coming. He has no hold over me, but he comes so that the world may learn that I love the Father and do exactly what my Father has commanded me” (John 14:29-31). We are called to take up the cross and advance God’s saving plan.
Jesus has done it all for us on the Cross. He has transformed our lives and transferred our allegiance from the dominion of darkness into God’s kingdom of light, “For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” Colossians 1:13-14).
*The story is found in N.T. Wright’s book, The Challenge of Jesus, page 82.
Copyright, 2014 © Richard Leslie Parrott