Here's the first installment in my pre-Easter series, almost a month early...
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Why Jesus Had to Die…
…Because of His Enemies
First in the Series: Why Jesus Had to Die
February 20, 2005
About this time last year, you would have thought, based on what you read or heard from certain elements of the press, that Hitler himself had made a propaganda movie that was a horrible anti-Jewish slander. That movie was “The Passion of the Christ” and the latter day Hitler was the devout Catholic, Mel Gibson.
“The Passion” was a controversial movie on several fronts. It’s true that the Jewish leaders of the time don’t come off looking too good. They don’t in the New Testament either. As a student of Scripture, I think the “bad Jew/good Roman” way of telling the story that you find in “The Passion” does overplay things a bit. I was surprised when in the film when the Romans are depicted as being caught off guard by the arrest of Jesus. I think that the long delay between the time Judas left the Last Supper and the time Jesus was arrested in the garden was because the Temple authorities also obtained the cooperation of Pilate in those tense hours, and I’m far from alone in that conclusion.
But that’s a detail. Over the next four weeks, as we prepare for Easter, we’re going to examine the question that “The Passion” forced to the front covers of Time and Newsweek: “Why did Jesus have to die?” I want to suggest to you that Jesus died for four reasons:
1. Because of His enemies
2. Because of human decision
3. Because it was His decision
4. And because it was the will of His Father
Now in a study like this, we have to bring out a full array of approaches. We need to think like an historian, a student of the Bible and a student of God and His ways. Do you know what that last one is called? It’s called being a theologian: someone who studies God and His ways. Sure there are paid, professional theologians, but whenever we study God and what He does, we’re theologians too. And the general movement of the study will be to start with history and then Biblical doctrine, but we wind up with the eternal plans of the eternal God. It’s quite a journey.
By the way, I want to recommend the book, The Weekend That Changed the World by Peter Walker as the best thing you can read on the events that occurred on that spring weekend 1,925 years ago. Peter Walker is a British Bible scholar who also leads groups to Israel several time a year, and a lot of his book deals with the question of the correct location of Jesus’ resurrection tomb. (As a matter of fact, I bought my copy at the bookshop at the Garden Tomb in Jerusalem.).
Let’s think about those four reasons, one at a time. Obviously, Jesus didn’t die because everybody adored Him. He had enemies. As a matter of fact, He still has enemies. Let’s think about the enemies who conspired to kill Jesus.
According to John’s gospel, the simmering dislike of Jesus went to a full-blown hatred of Him after a very special incident: when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead.
Now—this can’t be a surprise—Jesus’ act of raising Lazarus from the dead encouraged faith on the part of some. We read in John 11:45:
Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, put their faith in Him.
According to John 11:42 that was His intent in raising Him from the dead: “that they may believe that You [the Father] sent Me.”
That’s wonderful, but it’s not the whole story. Ironically, this gift of life for Lazarus was the kiss of death for Jesus, at least in the plans of the powerful in Jerusalem.
There is a whole lot more here! And it’s not a passive rejection, but an active, angry rejection of Jesus that hardened into a determination:
JESUS MUST DIE
That’s the bottom line here…when they were all done, that was the finding: “Jesus must die.”
Why must He die? And who killed Jesus?
What John tells us here is that human pettiness on one level was the reason---
But that God Himself—His plan—was the ultimate reason. That’s what we’ll get into in the coming weeks.
After the raising of Lazarus, some people decided to “rat” on Jesus (v. 46):
But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done.
Having seen, you would think they would believe. But so stubborn is the human heart that we will sometimes reject the most obvious evidence.
After all, remember that the time was not far off when Jesus Himself would rise from the dead, and while many would believe—most would not.
Jesus had something to say about this in Luke 16:31: “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”
So some came to the Temple authorities with a report. The report should have read, Jesus must be the Messiah, because He can raise people from the dead.
Instead it read: This guy is more dangerous than our worst nightmare. He can raise people from the dead!
So the Sanhedrin calls a special session. What do we know about the Sanhedrin?
· It was the Supreme Council of Israel
· It had powers over religion and public order
· It answered to Rome, in the person of the Roman governor, which was then Pontius Pilate
· About evenly divided between Sadducees (who controlled the temple, had the money and the real power) and the Pharisees
The Sanhedrin was driven by two passions:
· The temple (both for religious and economic reasons)
· Placating Rome by keeping order
John describes a meeting and a debate on the “Jesus problem.” His sources were almost certainly two powerful men who were on the Sanhedrin at the time: Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea. Nicodemus was the man who came to Jesus by night (in John 3), and Joseph came forward as a follower of Jesus by providing his own tomb for His burial.
So they meet (47a):
Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin.
The wording indicates that a formal meeting of the body was called. There was really only one item on the agenda: what to do about Jesus.
Now you have to know: this “Jesus problem” had been brewing almost from the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.
There were four main areas where Jesus and the religious leaders clashed:
1. The leaders said the way to please God was through the law and the temple. Jesus said that that wasn’t enough. In the Sermon on the Mount, He focused on the heart, not the commandment, and not the temple, as the arena God really wants to work in people’s lives.
2. The leaders said that the common people would and could never amount to anything in God’s eyes. Jesus said that God loves “sinners” and wants them to be part of His family. He was the one who went to the parties of the so-called sinners and welcomed in shifty business men and prostitutes—much to the dismay of the religious leaders.
3. The leaders said that observing the smallest commands in the law were as important as the biggest. Jesus said that fixes your heart on things in such a way that you can’t even see much less do the really important things. For example, the gospels record a number of healings Jesus did on the Sabbath. And the leaders were more upset that Jesus did “work” on the Sabbath than there were impressed by the power of God demonstrated by that healing.
4. Finally, for the leaders the Temple was all-important. But Jesus said that the temple was in the process of being set aside by God and that it would soon be destroyed—as it was 40 years after Jesus death and resurrection.
They debate the problem (47b-48)
"What are we accomplishing?" they asked. "Here is this man performing many miraculous signs. 48If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation."
· We’re getting nowhere with “the Jesus problem”
· He’s doing miracles (really big ones these days!)
· He’s going to stir up the people
· They’ll be a rebellion
· The Romans will quash the rebellion
· Our “place” (the temple) will be destroyed (and we’ll be out of business, literally and figuratively)
· Our nation will be quashed
See any problems here?
· They never ask—doesn’t the fact that He does miracles point to us that God sent Him?
· Interesting fact: the Talmudic writings that refer to Jesus call Him a “deceiver” hanged (on the cross) on the eve of Passover. It says He led the people in heresy by doing sorcery.
They put order and the temple way ahead of the people—and with any concern for what the truth may be.
Caiaphas speaks (49-50)
49Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, "You know nothing at all! 50You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish."
· High Priest from 18-36 AD
· “That year”, not because the priesthood changed annually, but because in John’s memory, “that year” was “that fateful year”, the year of the cross
· Well-connected (father-in-law Annas was High Priest 6-15 AD)
· Side note: his bones discovered several years ago in an ossuary outside Jerusalem
· “You know nothing at all!”
· “It’s better that one man (Jesus) to die for the people (laos) than the whole nation (ethnos) perish.”
· What he means is that if this “Jesus movement” takes off, that will mean rebellion against Rome, the Romans will crush us all, destroy the temple, depose everybody and kill a lot of people. So, to stop all that, Jesus must die!
John tells us what it really means (51-53)
John, writing his gospel comments on what it all means:
51He did not say this on his own, but as high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation, 52and not only for that nation but also for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one. 53So from that day on they plotted to take his life.
But John says, Caiaphas said more than he knew:
· Honors Caiaphas as High Priest. Even though he didn’t realize it, God spoke through him.
· Are the gospels anti-Semitic? That’s one of the constant criticisms of the gospels—especially the gospel of John, and it’s the same criticism leveled against “The Passion.” Then why say that one of the key figures in seeking Jesus’ death spoke a prophecy of God?
But the conclusion stands: Jesus must die!
Jesus must die. But John says that the “on the ground” reason that Caiaphas has—to keep the Romans off our backs—isn’t enough.
John says that Jesus isn’t just dying for the Jewish nation, but for “the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one.”
Why must Jesus die?
He is dying for a people.
He is dying to make a new creation.
He is dying as a substitute.
I love what Jesus says in John 12:32:
But I, if I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men [people] to myself.
In the context: being “lifted up” is up on the cross; “all men”: all sorts of people from all over the world. The same idea as in John 11: not just dying for Israel, but for “the scattered children of God” all over the world.
What’s we’re going to see is that beyond and above the reasons given here, and the fact that the Romans were willing and eager to go along with the concerns of the religious authorities for the same reason: to keep order—that there are three “beyond and above” reasons why Jesus had to die:
· Because of human sin
· Because it was His choice
· Because it was the Father’s will and even pleasure to have His Son die
God has His purposes, which are far more relevant to why Jesus had to die than any political calculation on the part of Caiaphas or the Sanhedrin.
In John 10:17-18, Jesus says,
17The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life--only to take it up again. 18No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father."
He says that He’s laying down His life. No one, he says, takes it from me.
This speaks to one of the big items of controversy about the movie, The Passion of the Christ. Many claim that it is anti-Semitic. That it makes out “the Jews” as Christ-killers.
On one level, it’s clear that the Jewish religious authorities, led by Caiaphas and his father-in-law Annas, were the prime movers in seeking Jesus’ death.
And again, it’s also true that a weak and cruel Roman governor named Pilate gave the order to execute him.
But Jesus says, ultimately, it was not Jewish leaders or Roman rulers who took His life. You cannot take the life of the Son of God.
He lays down His life. He voluntarily surrenders it.
“The reason that my Father loves me,” says Jesus, “is that 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. I have authority to lay it down again and authority to take it up again.” (10:17-18a)
Jesus is dying
To make a people
A people not just of Israel, but from all the peoples of the world
In terms we can all understand, Jesus died to bring YOU into His family; to embrace YOU in His arms.
How? What does His death do?
What does Jesus accomplish on that cross?
For hundreds of Israel, at Passover time, the people of Israel brought a lamb to the temple to be sacrificed. This commemorated the time of the first Passover, when the blood of that lamb was smeared on the doorframes of their slave-dwellings in Egypt. Every blood-covered home was spared God’s judgment and was set on the road to freedom.
And when Jesus appears, how does John, the Baptizer, refer to Him?
Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! (John 1:29)
Here He is: not the lamb offered by an Israelite in faithful obedience on Passover year after year, but “the Lamb of God (that means, supplied by God) who takes away the sin of the world.”
There’s something wonderful and terrible about that.
He’s God’s lamb
God provided the lamb—not you or me
And He’s the decisive offering—He “takes away the sin of the world”
Won’t have to be done again and again, year after year
A lamb to be slaughtered
His blood shed
His life poured out
Jesus is the Lamb of God—supplied by God to pay off the debt of sin that you and I owe. He’s the Lamb of God, who takes the punishment who brings us peace.
It wasn’t the severity of His death that paid the price—it was the One who died that made that death worth enough to pay the price. That was His mission.
John writes this in John 3:17, “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.”
Caiaphas had just a little fragment of the truth: He thought Jesus would die as a substitute, so that many Israelites would not die at Roman hands.
Jesus would die as a substitute, but for the all the peoples of the earth. Not to save them from an oppressive empire, but from the eternal oppression of sin and slavery to Satan himself.
And in the process, He was making a new people, the gathered children of God from all nations. He was making a place, a home, a reception, for you.
So the plot to kill Jesus went forward. It was not the first time, and certainly not the last time, that cowardly rulers planned to kill a good man because He disrupted the status quo.
And Jesus just bides His time (54)
Therefore Jesus no longer moved about publicly among the Jews. Instead he withdrew to a region near the desert, to a village called Ephraim, where He stayed with His disciples.
But this is just a pause.
The hour has almost come.
The hour of the cross is almost here.
Jesus must die.
And He dies for you.
© Glenn Layne, 2005