Mel Gibson’s movie Passion of the Christ came out in 2004. It was a phenomenal box office success and confounded industry experts. It was one of the fastest money-making movies at the time, only Spiderman and Lord of Rings: Return of King grossed more money. Hollywood has realized that there is market for so-called Christian films – which may be a good or bad thing.
The Passion of the Christ movie again fuelled the big debate: Who killed Jesus? Who was responsible for Jesus’ death and does it actually matter?
The execution of Jesus
It’s an historical fact that Jesus was executed, but who was responsible? Matthew, in his biography about Jesus in the New Testament, helps us answer this question.
1. The Roman soldiers and the Roman governor were responsible for Jesus’ death
Then he (Pilate, the Roman governor) released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, delivered him to be crucified. (Matthew 27:26)
Pontius Pilate the Roman governor handed Jesus over to be crucified. Pilate saw that Jesus might cause a riot and that would be politically bad for him in Rome’s eyes – political intrigue was a reality even back then. He was definitely responsible.
Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters, and they gathered the whole battalion before him…And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him and led him away to crucify him. (Matthew 27:27, 31)
The soldiers were simply following orders, but seemed to thoroughly enjoy it.
And when they had crucified him, they divided his garments among them… (Matthew 27:35)
We read v35 so easily. If you were a 1st century reader you would stop in your tracks because you would have seen people crucified by Rome and you would know the violence and brutality underlying that short sentence. Sometimes we wear a cross on a necklace; this is the 1st century equivalent of wearing a small electric chair or a hangman’s noose.
2. The Jewish religious leaders were responsible for Jesus’ death
Matthew tells us that the religious leaders of the day also had a hand in Jesus’ execution. Before Pilate had Jesus’ condemned, the Jewish ruling council (the Sanhedrin) handed Jesus over to him. The Bible tells us they were jealous of Jesus as many people were following Jesus and Jesus often spoke against the dry religiosity of the religious leaders. The Jewish Ruling Council had Jesus arrested quietly at night as not to cause a disturbance. They held a charade of a trial where the witnesses contradicted themselves.
Now the chief priests and the whole council were seeking false testimony against Jesus that they might put him to death, but they found none, though many false witnesses came forward. (Matthew 26:59-60)
The religious leaders had a bad case with no evidence, but in the end they condemned Jesus to death for blasphemy – for claiming to be the promised King from God.
And the high priest said to him, “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” Jesus said to him, “You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Then the high priest tore his robes and said, “He has uttered blasphemy. What further witnesses do we need? You have now heard his blasphemy. What is your judgment?” They answered, “He deserves death.” (Matthew 26:63-66)
Of course, the irony was that Jesus wasn’t blaspheming, but telling the complete truth. But they, like many people today, couldn’t handle the truth.
3. Judas Iscariot was responsible for Jesus’ death
While he was still speaking, Judas came, one of the twelve, and with him a great crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the elders of the people. Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I will kiss is the man; seize him.” And he came up to Jesus at once and said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” And he kissed him. Jesus said to him, “Friend, do what you came to do.” Then they came up and laid hands on Jesus and seized him.” (Matthew 26:47-50)
Judas Iscariot got the ball rolling and he put into effect the events which led up to Jesus’ death. He betrayed Jesus for money to the religious leaders, who handed Jesus over to Pilate, who handed Jesus over to the soldiers. Yet, Matthew tells us that there is more going on than what we first realise.
4. Our sin was responsible for Jesus’ death
Before Jesus was born, an angel appeared Joseph, Jesus’ legal father, and said,
“She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21)
In Matthew 9:13 Jesus said,
“I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
On the cross, Jesus said these remarkable words:
Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:45-46)
Jesus said that he came into world to seek and save sinners. The Bible tells us he came precisely to die to pay the just penalty for sin, rebellion and wrong doing so that sinners can be forgiven. Jesus came to bear the full wrath of God for our sin. That’s why Jesus cried,”My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” God cannot look upon sin and Jesus was bearing all the sin of all God’s people. Our sin and rebellion put Jesus on cross. The violence of Jesus’ death reminds us of the seriousness and awfulness of sin and what it cost Jesus to achieve our forgiveness. I wonder sometimes how serious we consider our sin to be?
A famous hymn written in the 1800’s goes like this:
‘Twas I that shed the sacred blood;
I nailed him to the tree;
I crucified the Christ of God;
I joined the mockery.
Of all the shouting multitude
I feel that I am one;
And in the din of voices rude
I recognize my own.
Around the cross the throng I see,
Mocking the Sufferer’s groan;
Yet still my voice it seems to be,
As if I mocked alone.
But there’s even more to Jesus’ death.
5. God was responsible for Jesus’ death
Notice Jesus’ words when he was arrested:
Then they came up and laid hands on Jesus and seized him. And behold, one of those who were with Jesus stretched out his hand and drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?” (Matthew 26:50-54)
Jesus said, “Put away that sword, don’t you know there are 100 000 angels at my disposal. I just have so say the word. I must go to the cross so that the Scriptures will be fulfilled.” God the Father had ordained and determined and purposed before the creation of the world that God the Son would die for sin. The Old Testament Scriptures, like Isaiah 53, say it must happen.
Jesus wasn’t a martyr. No-one killed him. He gave up his life of his own accord in obedience to his Father’s will as revealed in the Scriptures. Just over a week earlier Jesus had said:
And as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside, and on the way he said to them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem. And the Son of Man will be delivered over (betrayed) to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day.” (Matthew 20:17-19)
Jesus knew that these things had to happen in order for to achieve forgiveness and lasting joy for all God’s people. Many were crucified and died under Roman law. Yet Jesus’ suffering and death was unique because on Jesus God the Father laid all the sins of all God’s people of all the ages; and poured out the full extent of his wrath.
The appropriate response to God giving Jesus to die for us is that we say thank you. In Bible terms that means repenting of sin and trusting Jesus to save us.
- Admit that you are sinner and fall short of God’s standards.
- Believe that Christ died for you as per the gracious plan of God.
- Come to Christ in prayer and tell him that you want to be a Christian. Tell a Christian friend what you’ve done. Start reading Matthew’s gospel in the Bible.
Good Friday is good because Jesus secured forgiveness and lasting joy for those who belong to him.
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