As we journey through Lent towards Easter, we must pass through Good Friday. There is joy in the resurrection of Easter, but first there is the pain of the trial and crucifixion of Jesus.
This time of year inevitably brings up the question, “Who killed Jesus?” I recently read an article on CNN’s Belief Blog about a new book by Pope Benedict XVI in which he says the Jews did not kill Jesus. My first thought when I saw the headline was, “Duh!” Having read the scriptures that prophecy the suffering of Jesus and what Jesus said about His crucifixion I have to wonder how anyone ever thought the Jews killed Jesus, and why it is news for the Pope to say they didn’t.
But then I remember there have been centuries of confusion and lies, perpetuated by the devil himself, pointing to the Jews as the ones who killed Jesus. These lies, based on picking out but a few verses and twisting them, are the source of years of anti-Semitism even in the church. It is sad, indeed, and so instead of stopping with my initial reaction I decided to write my own understanding of who killed Jesus. I’m sure I won’t get the same press or carry the same weight as the Pope, but if nothing else it will be a reminder to myself and my readers of why Jesus willingly died for our sins.
I first want to look at the Old Testament prophecy concerning Jesus suffering and death. The prophet Isaiah foretold the suffering and glory of God’s servant:
4 Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
7 He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away.
Yet who of his generation protested?
For he was cut off from the land of the living;
for the transgression of my people he was punished.
9 He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
and with the rich in his death,
though he had done no violence,
nor was any deceit in his mouth.
10 Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer,
and though the LORD makes his life an offering for sin,
he will see his offspring and prolong his days,
and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand.
11 After he has suffered,
he will see the light of life and be satisfied;
by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many,
and he will bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will give him a portion among the great,
and he will divide the spoils with the strong,
because he poured out his life unto death,
and was numbered with the transgressors.
For he bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors.
Isaiah 53:4-12 (NIV).
Isaiah wrote these words almost 700 years before Jesus was born. It is one of my favorite sections of Old Testament scripture. These verses tell me a couple of things. First, it was for our sins and iniquities that Jesus was crucified. If it were not for the sin of mankind, the death of Jesus would have been unnecessary. So in one very important sense, it was you and I who killed Jesus.
Second, as verse 10 clearly states, it was God’s will that Jesus should die as an offering for our sin. So in another very important sense it was God Himself who was responsible for the death of Jesus. This is further supported by what Jesus Himself said:
The reason my Father loves me 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 and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.” John 10:17-18 (NIV).
Jesus commanded Peter, “Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?” John 18:11 (NIV).
It was the love of God that crucified Christ to save sinful man. The Jewish leaders, to the extent they called for Jesus to be crucified, were but pawns in the divine plan of redemption. In the same way, Pilate was a pawn that made crucifixion, which was illegal for the Jews to carry out, the method of His death. And Judas, the betrayer of our Lord, was a pawn who fulfilled yet another prophecy concerning this grand plan to save us from darkness. But in terms of cause and effect, it was the sin of man that was the ultimate cause of Jesus’ death, the thing without which it would have never occurred because it would have been unnecessary.
There is a great old hymn written by Frederick W. Faber titled “O Come and Mourn with Me Awhile (Our Lord Is Crucified)”, and my favorite verse of that hymn is:
O break, O break hard heart of mine
My weak self love and guilty pride
His Pilate and his Judas were
Jesus our lord is crucified
Although Judas’ betrayal, Pilate’s decree, and the Jewish leaders’ call for Him to be crucified all played a part in making the death of Jesus a reality, my own selfishness and pride played an even bigger role. This knowledge of my own sinfulness and the love of God that overcame it to redeem me causes me to want to come and mourn for just awhile. During this season of Lent and especially on Good Friday I will indeed mourn that my Savior and my God had to endure such suffering because of me and you. I am thankful, though, that Easter and the resurrection are just around the corner and my mourning will not last forever.
In closing, I want to share with you the Jars of Clay version of “O Come and Mourn with Me Awhile (Our Lord Is Crucified).” May it draw you closer to the love of God.