Why Did Jesus Die?

These are notes from my reading John R. W. Stott’s classic book, The Cross of Christ.

Jesus was killed, he did not just die. He challenged the authority of Caesar, and the status quo of the religious leaders. He was a revolutionary thinker and preacher. He was a blasphemer. He was an activist. He was perceived as a threat to law and order.

The evangelists (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) make it clear that Jesus was innocent of any charges. His execution was a gross miscarriage of justice.

The Roman Soldiers: they were most immediately responsible. It was their job, and they were good at it. While we have a good understanding of what happened, it is interesting that we do not learn of it from the gospels. None of them describe the crucifixion itself. We get that information from other contemporary documents.

  1. Humiliated, and stripped naked.
  2. Laid on the back.
  3. Hands nailed or roped.
  4. The cross was hoisted and dropped into the stand.
  5. There was a foot peg or rudimentary seat.

The writers tell us:

  1. He carried his own cross.
  2. Simon was drafted to carry it Golgotha.
  3. Offered wine mixed with myrrh.
  4. The soldiers mocked him.
  5. The purple robe.
  6. The crown of thorns.
  7. The scepter and reed.
  8. The blindfold.
  9. Slapping, spitting and mocking him.
  10. They simply tell us that they crucified him (Matthew 27:32-35, Mark 15:21-25, Luke 23:26-33, John 19:17-18). They make no reference to the hammering, nails, pain or even blood (well, except in the garden praying, and only in Luke).

Pilate: he was more culpable for the event, he was the Roman procurator who order the crucifixion (John 19:16-18). He was even singled out in the Apostle’s Creed (crucified under Pontius Pilate).
The writers emphasize two points:

  1. Pilate was convinced of Jesus’ innocence.
    1. As the Sanhedrin bring him on Friday morning.
    2. After he was examined by Herod.
    3. Why crucify him, what has he done? There is no ground for death.
  2. Pilate wanted to avoid sentencing Jesus.
    1. Herod’s jurisdiction: since he was a Galilean.
    2. Pilate tried half-measures: punish him and release him.
    3. Tried to do the right thing: the Passover amnesty with Barabbas.
    4. He protested his innocence: washed his hands of the situation.

It is easy to condemn Pilate for his actions and overlook our equally devious behavior. We seek to avoid the pain of total commitment to Christ.

  1. We want to leave the decision to someone else.
  2. Or opt out for half-hearted compromise.
  3. Or honor Jesus for the wrong reasons.
  4. Or make a public affirmation of him yet deny him in our hearts.

Pilate surrendered to their will (Luke 23:23-25), their shouts, their demand, their will. He wanted to release Jesus but gave in to the crowd (Mark 15:15).

The Jewish People: Jesus said the one who handed him over is guilty of a greater sin (John 19:11). The apostles repeatedly preach about how evil men handed him over (Acts 3:12-15)

  1. Jesus was irregular: he had no pedigree.
  2. Jesus taught heretical doctrine.

The hostility of the priest was primarily envy, they were losing the crowds. There was an authority struggle (Mark 11:28).

Judas Iscariot: who betrayed him (1 Corinthians 11:23). He is always at the bottom of the apostolic lists. Why blame Judas, was he just a tool of providence? He just fulfilled Scripture. But he is held accountable for what he did. He plotted for some time previously (Psalm 41:9). Woe to the betrayer (Mark 14:21).

  1. A Jewish zealot? Political liberation to force Jesus’ hand? Sikarios men (assassin).
  2. A greedy man? Was that his motivation? The perfume, what a waste (Matthew 26:6-16).

All of us have also sunk low to perhaps betray country, and others. Everyone has his price. Let’s not make excuses. We would likely be no different had we lived in the first century. We still do it (Hebrew 6:6). We were not just spectators, but participants; plotting, scheming, bargaining, handing him over to be crucified.

The cross was not just done FOR us, but BY us. Who delivered Jesus to be crucified? Not money, Pilate, soldiers, fear, envy, Judas, but the Father out of love. The cross is both due to the wickedness of men, but also due to the plan of God.

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