From the Vault: Who Killed Jesus (August 14, 2003)

Here's a post from the Musings vault: Who Killed Jesus (from August 14, 2003). Happy Resurrection Sunday weekend!


Mel Gibson's new movie, Passion, about the life of Jesus, is causing quite a stir in the media for its alleged anti-Semitism. Seems the Jews are portrayed as a bloodthirsty mob clamouring uncontrollably for Jesus' execution, resurrecting (no pun intended) old sensitivities about the Jews being the killers of the Savior of the Christian world. Which begs the question: who killed Jesus?

To begin with, in my read of the four gospel accounts, I also see a bloodthirsty Jewish mob intent on condemning Jesus to death by crucifixion. What their reasons were, I cannot say I totally know: was it mob mentality, disappointment that this alleged savior wasn't taking on their Roman oppressors, or religious fervor that a mere man would claim to be divine? But they played their part in ramrodding Jesus through a dubious legal proceeding.

What about Pontius Pilate? That Jesus claimed to be King of the Jews and Son of God didn't evoke any feelings in him; he seemed quite puzzled about why the Jews were all in a froth about this plain-looking carpenter. But he had his chances to do right, and instead protected his reputation (and perhaps his personal safety) by doing as the feverish mob desired.

And the Roman soldiers, what is their role in Jesus' death? They were the ones that tortured, mocked, and crucified Jesus. They seemed to relish the ease by which they were bullying around this alleged man of miracles. Surely they played a significant role in the death of Jesus.

Most people in the Christian tradition know that Jesus died for the sins of the world. So do we point a finger at ourselves? For it is because of our sins that Jesus died; if we as humans were somehow able to live sinless lives, would the carpenter from Nazareth need to walk that lonely road to Golgotha? Do we in our sinfulness have Jesus' blood on our hands?

But if you were to ask me point-blank, "Who killed Jesus?", I would not answer with any of those groups above. It wasn't the Jews, or Pontius Pilate, or the Roman soldiers, or even humanity in its sinfulness. I believe that the answer to the question, "Who killed Jesus?" is "God killed Jesus."

The prophet Isaiah prophesied that "the Lord was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief; if He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, and the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand" (Isaiah 53:10). Not only did God kill Jesus, but He derived a divine pleasure in the act. Does this make God a sadist? Does this mean God hates His Son?

Far from it. Without launching into a lengthy discourse on the mechanics of the gospel message, I believe God most prominently cherishes His Name, His Divine Reputation, His Own Holy Character. For man, this would be the epitome of vanity and idolatry; for God, it is the pinnacle of righteousness and truth. He loves His Son, therefore, because Jesus is the physical manifestation of divine gloriousness. And He loved crushing His Son because it perfectly upheld two aspects of God's character: His justice and His mercy.

His justice means that His love for His Own Holy Character cannot tolerate the offense of human sin. To tolerate it in any way would diminish His love for Self. His mercy means that His love for His Own Holy Character overflows in its abundance to sinful humans, not in an insecure way (as if He needed us) but in a way that demonstrates His greatness and magnificence.

To crush His Only Beloved Son was to perform an act that perfectly upheld Divine Justice and Divine Mercy. So it gave Him divine pleasure. Though it was an act that took place 2000 years ago, He is the same perfect God and we the same sinful humans. May we not diminish God by pointing the finger for Jesus' death on Jews, Romans, or ourselves. May we rather ascribe this act to God Himself, appreciate the divine pleasure He derived from this act, and seek to be joined with such a God who is Divinely Happy and who derives divine pleasure when such divine happiness overflows into our lives.

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