THE BEAUTIFUL EXCHANGE WEEK ONE: Who’s Responsible?
- Central/pivotal place of Easter
- Crosses everywhere (don’t see electric chairs, or a hangmans noose, or lethal injection hanging from necklaces/earrings, on top of buildings, on bumper stickers and on books)
- John Dickson says that there is no reputable historian who can argue against the fact that Jesus Christ lived and was killed as a criminal. It’s true. It happened.
- And don’t you think it’s a bit weird to have someone’s death, especially the way in which He died, and then resurrection, at the centerpoint of history. Most people who have died aren’t remembered like Jesus Christ!
- Easter is about a cosmic collide – where heaven’s agenda meets man’s agenda – and the result is God’s plan for His creation.
- Peter preaches and says in Acts 2:23 “But God, following his prearranged plan, let you use the Roman government to nail him to the cross and murder him.”
- According to the Bible, Jesus Christ was murdered.
- When we hear of someone getting murdered there’s something in us that rises up and desires justice. Alison Baden Clay, Daniel Morcombe… even John Lennon decades ago… when we hear about these deaths at the hands of others we tend to ask 2 questions:
WHO DID THIS? And WHY?
- Today we’re starting the Beautiful Exchange Easter Series asking these 2 questions about the murder of Jesus Christ.
- This morning the petition that is coming before you is to judge WHO KILLED CHRIST, and WHY.
- Source of evidence comes chiefly from the Bible, mostly the Gospels, but also John Stott’s book “The Cross of Christ” has an amazing unpacking of what the death and resurrection of Christ means for us today.
- “The Usual Suspects” movie.
Suspect 1: The Roman Soldiers and Pilate
- Crucifixion is HOW Jesus died but the Bible doesn’t seem to elaborate more as to what crucifixion is. It’s where we get the term excruciating indicating the kind of torturous pain the victim goes through. What we know from history that crucifixion is where the victim:
- Stripped naked humiliated in front crowds
- Nailed to a cross (sometimes held by ropes to prevent the flesh being ripped apart)
- Cross drops into a sleeve in the ground and the victim is hoisted high, subjected to elements of heat, then cold
- And would last several days.
- None of the Gospels say more about crucifixion other than, ‘and they crucified Him’. Who is they?
- We don’t know if the soldiers who carried out the execution enjoyed it. The Gospels state very clearly that once sentenced Jesus Christ was marched to the Governors place, was stripped by the officers, and was mocked by them. They placed a purple robe on Him symbolising authority and royalty, and placed a sceptre in His hands and a crown of thorns on His head. They hit Him, and spat on Him, and kneeled down to worship Him mockingly.
- But when it comes to whether or not they enjoyed crucifying Him we don’t know… The Passion of the Christ seems to take creative license but the Gospels just say and they crucified Him. No mention of blood, nails or hammers. No evidence they enjoyed it. They just were doing a job that they had done before… so much so that Jesus prays while it’s happening, “Father forgive them for they know not what they are doing.”
So the Roman soldiers carried out the execution and the Gospel writers don’t seem to blame them however for His death. John writes “Finally Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified. So the soldiers took charge of Jesus.”
Pilate was the Roman procurator, or Governor of Jerusalem from about AD 26-36. He was known as a man of very inflexible disposition, and very merciless as well. His job was to keep those Jews under control, and if necessary, to be ruthless in the suppression of riots.
– The claims that came to Pilate about Jesus were along those lines, We have found this man subverting our nation and claims to be Christ, a King (Luke 23:2). Pilate could not do nothing. So he investigates Jesus Christ and we see 2 things:
1) Pilate was convinced Jesus was innocent. 3 times he declared publicly that Jesus was innocent. He was impressed by Jesus- His noble stature, self-control, political harmlessness.
2) Secondly because he was convinced Jesus was innocent (even backed up by his wife who had a dream about Jesus the night before), Pilate tried many ways to avoid making a decision about murdering Jesus.
– On the one hand he wanted to avoid sentencing Jesus because he believed he was innocent.
– On the other hand he wanted to avoid exonerating Him because the crowds wanted Him dead and Pilates job was to bring control and prevent riots.
So Pilate wriggles out of trying to make a decision by:
1) Sending Jesus to King Herod to make a sentence. Herod sends Him back to Pilate.
2) Tries half-measures like, I will have Him flogged and then release Him. Now Jesus had done nothing wrong, so why should He be punished by flogging? Absolutely evil suggestion!
3) Tried to release Jesus by granting a prisoner to be freed at that time of year- instead of the innocent Jesus, the crowd chose a known murderer in Barabbas.
4) He protested his innocence by washing his hands and declaring himself innocent of this mans blood.
Yet the crowds shouts, demands and wills for Jesus to be crucified – why? Because the crowd shouted, If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a King opposes Caesar.” That clinched it. He had already been in trouble with Caesar and wasn’t about to again. He knew Jesus was innocent sure. But he didn’t want his career jeopardized by this incident!
Pilate murdered Jesus because he was a coward and did not want to do the right thing for fear of others.
That’s suspect number 1: Pilate and the Roman soldiers.
Suspect 2: The Jewish People and their Priests
Suspect number 2: are the ones who led Jesus to Pilate… it was the Jewish leaders that caught Jesus and bought Him for sentencing to Pilate. John 19:11 Jesus even says to Pilate “the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.” It was the Jewish leaders and crowds who demanded Jesus was murdered. That’s what Peter said in his massive preach on Pentecost in Acts 3:12-15 – “Men of Israel…you handed him over to the authorities, and you rejected him in Pilate’s presence, even after Pilate had decided to set him free. 14 He was holy and good, but you rejected him, and instead you asked Pilate to do you the favor of turning loose a murderer. 15 You killed the author of life.”
It was the Jewish crowds who gave Jesus a welcome into Jerusalem a week earlier, but within 5 days were screaming for His blood. At the very heart of the Jewish crowd was Caiaphas and the Jewish priests who had stirred up the crowd.
– When you read the Gospels you can’t help but notice that Jesus opposed the religious leaders. They knew that Jesus was a powerful Rabbi BUT Jesus hadn’t gone through the correct doors or climb the right ladder to get that position. He had no credentials, no proper authorisation.
– On top of that Jesus continually undermined the priests and religious leaders with radical behaviour. He healed people on the Sabbath, he feasted instead of fasting. He called them white washed tombs meaning they look all holy and good but inside they were death. Jesus even called them snakes and born of their father the Devil!
– All the while Jesus made sensational claims about Himself: that He was Lord of the Sabbath, that He knew God intimately as His Father, that He was even equal to God.
To Caiaphas and the Jewish priests, Jesus was a blasphemer and He deserved to die. He was guilty.
But within this conclusion from the religious establishment is a yucky taste of a sickly motivation behind their decision to hand Jesus over to Pilate.
– They didn’t want to discover whether or not Jesus was true and right, because they were completely envious of His popularity and authority.
They were jealous of Jesus! The Jewish leaders, and nation, were proud people. Proud racially, proud nationally and religiously and morally proud and their contest with Jesus was primarily an authority struggle… Jesus challenged their authority (which made them proud) while at the same time possessed an amazing divine power that they lacked.
– Jesus cast out demons, healed the sick, forgave sins and claimed only He can judge the world. He was utterly unlike them because Jesus was real, effortless, transparent and from God. The religious leaders felt threatened by Jesus – they hated Him because of this and so they decided to murder Him.
I find it interesting that at the start of Jesus’ life it was Herod the Great (a Jewish leader) who felt threatened by Jesus and decided to try and murder Him by having all the babies under 2 killed, and then at the end of Jesus’ life it was Caiaphas and the Jewish priests filled with the same envy and jealousy that wanted the same outcome. Murder Jesus.
So they handed Jesus over to Pilate, how handed Jesus over to the soldiers, and they crucified Him.
That’s suspect 2- the Caiaphas and the Jewish priests. We’ve got Pilate and the soldiers, and Caiaphas and the priests. We’re not done yet.
Suspect 3: Judas Iscariot the traitor
Suspect 3 is the one who handed Jesus over to Caiaphas… someone from within His own disciples…. Judas Iscariot the traitor.
– Some people say that Judas is given a bad deal, after all someone had to betray Jesus! Yet John writes that Judas betrayed Jesus after Satan first prompted him and then entered him. That Judas could say Satan made me do it doesn’t make him innocent in this because he opened himself up for Satan to come and use him to betray Jesus.
Jesus tried to offer Judas another chance – by dipping a piece of bread and giving it to Judas… but Judas rejected Jesus. Psalm 41:9 “Even my close friend, someone I trusted, one who shared my bread, has turned against me.”
His ultimate betrayal was to seal the deal with a kiss, a sign of friendship and closeness. Jesus said earlier in Mark 14:21 “woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.”
Not only did Jesus condemn him but in the end, after betraying Jesus, Judas condemned himself. He acknowledged his crime in betraying innocent blood and returned the money to Caiaphas and the priests. Then he committed suicide. No doubt he was probably seized more with remorse than repentance but at least he confessed his guilt in murdering Jesus.
And so Judas becomes suspect number 3 – but why did he do this? He was part of Jesus’ innerfold… His key group! Why betray Him which led to His murder?
– Many people believe that Judas was in fact a Jewish Zealot which was a Jewish resistance movement against Roman Empire. The Zealots were a passionate mob who performed resistant acts against Rome to make the point that Jews are meant to be free from oppressors. The reason why people think that Judas may have been a Zealot was the interpretation of his last name Iscariot which is linked to the word for assassin! Maybe Judas was involved in assassinating political figures to free Jerusalem from Rome? Maybe he was determined to see his country back to the way it was under King David?
– One theory as to why Judas betrayed Jesus is that Judas knew Jesus was from God and knew His power was immense, and went to the priests to hand Jesus over to them THINKING that it could be what Jesus needed to rise up in a divine way and seize power from Caesar himself!
– The kiss therefore was a last opportunity for Jesus to show who He really is, a powerful God living with men to take Jews and Jerusalem back to the top once again! When the solders came to arrest Jesus and when Jesus stated I AM HE and the soldiers fell down under the power of those words (twice), I reckon Judas was thinking “It’s happening! It’s happening!” But Jesus was showing us that He has the power to fulfil Judas’s dreams, but His call was to the cross. TO death.
Judas’ hopes for Jesus to gain some kind of political power to free the people could be the WHY he betrayed Him.
– Potentially it was also because he was a thief and stole money from the disciples too and was annoyed that a years wages were poured out on Jesus by Mary. So Judas goes and recoups some money from the Priests by selling Jesus for 30 coins, less than a third of a years salary.
Whether he was a political assassin or a money-hungry thief, Judas reveals an ugliness in humanity that we want to use others for our own gain. To prosper off others. To use religion, or use the church, or use Christ Himself, as a means for us to get what we want. That’s not what it’s about at all.
So let’s review as we wind this up… who killed Jesus Christ? The suspects:
– Pilate and his soldiers,
– Caiaphas and his priests, and
are whom the Gospel writers seem to blame for the murder of Jesus Christ.
But there’s a theme running through here, not sure if you caught it. Of each person and groups that are suspects, the same verb is used, paradidomi, which means ‘to hand over’ and ‘betray’. Paradidmoi. You see Jesus told us before He died that He would be handed over to evil men to die and the Gospel writers tell us how that played out. What that tells us is that Jesus knew this was going to happen and allowed it.
He knew firstly, Judas would hand him over to the priests (out of either greed, or personal ambition).
He knew secondly, Caiaphas and the priests would hand Him over to Pontius Pilate (out of jealousy and insecurity).
He knew thirdly that Pilate would hand Jesus over to the soldiers (out of cowardice) and they crucified Him.
Where is the justice in this? The fact is an innocent person was killed because of cowardice, jealousy and selfish ambition. And as much as we sit here and point the finger, folks, there is 1 more suspect at play here.
Suspect 4: Their sin and ours
When Peter preaches at Pentecost in Acts 2:36 he says “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.” The people didn’t disagree with this, instead they were cut to the heart and asked what they needed to do about it. Peter responded to repent and be baptised for the forgiveness of your sins and you will receive the gift of the HS.
– The fact that it was Judas, Pilate and Caiaphas who conspired against Jesus wasn’t enough for Peter. Peter knew that it was his sin that put Jesus on the cross, not just Judas, Pilate and Caiaphas.
You see we all have greed and selfish ambition don’t we? We think highly of ourselves instead of our oppressed borthers and sisters.
We all have jealousy and are threatened easily. We see others success and desire what they have… possessions, wealth, houses and cars. Jobs, family and money.
We all have a hidden tendency to deny Jesus to others, to be afraid to stand against an intolerant world baying for God to get lost.
The last suspect in this case- you and me.
Horatius Bonar(1808-1889) captured this truth in a beautiful hymn: ’Twas I That Did It
And of that shouting multitude
I feel that I am one;
And in that din of voices rude,
I recognise my own.
I see the scourges tear his back,
I see the piercing crown,
And of that crowd who smote and mock,
I feel that I am one,
Around yon cross, the throng I see.
Mocking the sufferer’s groan,
Yet still my voice it seems to be,—
As if I mocked alone.
’Twas I that shed the sacred blood,
I nailed him to the tree,
I crucified the Christ of God,
I joined the mockery.
The Bible writes clearly that it was my sin that crucified Jesus. It was my evil. It was my mistakes. It was my brokenness. We’re all the same – Judas, Caiaphas and Pilate, and me. We’re all the same.
Invite worship team up.
But here’s the beauty of Easter. While we are to blame for the death of Jesus, equally to those who handed Him over to be crucified, the fact also is true that Jesus went to the cross voluntarily to make it right.
- In his baptism he identified with sinners
- In his temptations He rejected the easy way out
- In his teachings He continually spoke about suffering and dying for the least of these
- In His movement He deliberately walked into Jerusalem knowing what awaits
Jesus told us that the Good Shepherd lays down His life for His sheep. Jesus even says that no-one takes His life from Him, but that He lays it down.
Can you see there is a cosmic collide in the Easter story- a Beautiful Exchange. On the human level we are guilty of handing an innocent man over for our sin. Judas, Caiaphas, Pilate and you and me. We all are guilty of this… but on the divine level we see that God’s plan all along was to hand over His one and only Son, the Son He loves, to be the criminal that we now don’t have to be.
When we face the cross, when we look up and see it, we can to ourselves honestly – I did it. My sins sent Him there. But also He did it. His love took Him there.