I love a good murder mystery. They’re among my favorite type of movies and TV shows. The more mysterious, the better. There’s something about trying to string the facts together to sort out the truth, and all the more when … even after doing so … there’s a bit of a dangling doubt about whether or not one has done so correctly, leaving a tinge of uncertainty to the solution and hence a killer possibly out there (on the screen, that is). Probably the most fun about these experiences is watching with others … and bickering back and forth about the clues to the story, bantering through what each person “saw” or “knows”.
I remember several years ago, while spending time with family in New York, a conversation about a “murder mystery” came up. It was the “mystery” of who killed Jesus. A contentious, well-intended argument ensued (good-natured of course, but quite normal for the Italian side of my family), wherein a well-meaning uncle vociferously contended that the Jews killed Jesus. I noted that, technically-speaking, the Romans killed Jesus since crucifixion was their method of capital punishment, not the Jews. One of my cousins, a brilliant, well-educated dude pointed out aptly that as a matter of fact, WE killed Jesus by virtue of our sins … without the sins of humanity, Jesus would not have had to die. All interesting and accurate by certain standards.
This week, my reading through the New Testament brought me to the end of Mark (chapters 15 – 16) and into Luke (chapters 1 – 2). The slower pace of my reading really has forced me to try to take stock of each and every verse to pull out whatever nuggets to which I sense God is directing my attention. It’s a great, if challenging, way to read and I recommend it so long as you’re diligent in maintaining the daily rigor of it.
Anyhow, in the course of my reading the “mystery” of who killed Jesus was brought to mind in Mark chapter 15 (though it’s safe to say many, many places in the Gospels allow our intellects to chew on this point). The verses (1 – 3) don’t necessarily explicitly touch on this question, perhaps, but did reverberate the theme for me, and my job is to share it with you …
Very early in the morning the leading priests, the elders, and the teachers of religious law—the entire high council—met to discuss their next step. They bound Jesus, led him away, and took him to Pilate, the Roman governor. Pilate asked Jesus, “Are you the king of the Jews?” Jesus replied, “You have said it.” Then the leading priests kept accusing him of many crimes, and Pilate asked him, “Aren’t you going to answer them? What about all these charges they are bringing against you?” But Jesus said nothing, much to Pilate’s surprise.
Okay, so my point isn’t particularly drawn from this in a straightforward manner, so let me explain. At this time, Jesus had been betrayed by Judas Iscariot into the hands of the Roman soldiers who brought Jesus to Caiaphas, the Jewish high priest. Jesus was “convicted” of blasphemy, but given that it was Passover, the Jews couldn’t kill him (by stoning or otherwise). So they sent Him to the Roman governor, Pilate, who ultimately surrendered Jesus into the hands of the Jews, who demanded that Jesus be crucified. Pilate, in interrogating Jesus and trying to handled a sticky situation with a bunch of angry Jews demanding Jesus’s execution, tried to give Jesus a chance to answer the accusations against Him. As you note, Jesus said nothing in response … nary a word in self-defense, not a peep to counter, as a point of fact, that He did nothing wrong. Pilate tries one more time in asking the Jews to pick one prisoner to set free (as was the custom of the time) … instead of setting an innocent man, Jesus, free, they chose Barabbas, a lifelong criminal, instead. As we all know, the persistence of the Jews resulted in Jesus being crucified by the Romans for the sins of humanity … the sins of you and me.
Are you seeing the “whodunit” nature of the story?
Where my eyes are drawn in the dialog is to Jesus’s nonresponse to Pilate’s offer of self-defense to the charges against Him. This follows, of course, the time in Gethsemane when Jesus was betrayed to the Roman soldiers and essentially gave Himself up, rebuking Peter for trying to fight back. Couple that with (I’m cheating a bit here for those of you following along in the New Testament with me) Jesus’s own statement in John 10:18, “No one can take my life from me. I sacrifice it voluntarily,” and you’ll see where this is headed.
The point here is that yes, in a manner of speaking, the Jews were involved in “killing” Jesus. The Romans were “involved” in killing Jesus. Jesus was killed because of our sins … had their been no fall in the Garden of Eden, and no interminable continuation of that sin in every person of every generation since, there would be no need for Jesus to be killed. Hence, the Jews, the Romans, and you and I were involved. But I would argue that the involvement was only peripheral, since the Jews and Romans were only instruments of God’s grace, and you and I were simply recipients of it.
What really killed Jesus? Love.
God’s immense love for you and me caused the killing of Jesus. But moreover, Jesus’s indescribable love for you and me caused Him to CHOOSE to WILLINGLY lay down His life for us. So, importantly, neither the Jews nor the Romans “killed” Jesus. They couldn’t have. Jesus was fully a man, yes, but He was also fully God … and He could have simply wiped away all the Jews and Romans present that day just by speaking it to be. He didn’t, and so the Jews were able to demand His death and the Romans were able to carry it out.
What do we make of this? Ponder for a moment some of the worst humanity has had to offer … genocides, wars, evil of the highest order. Or, think of the worst thing you’ve ever done in your life. Something that no one perhaps knows about and that you wish you’d never done. Perhaps consider the things we knucklehead people do on a daily basis, that while not perhaps vile and evil, are nevertheless offenses to God Almighty. Any and all of that was known to Jesus at the time He decided voluntarily, sacrificially to surrender His life to death. Now consider the love that was necessary to choose that. To allow that torment, that pain, that blood, that anguish. Love the likes of which none of us can fully comprehend. Then tell me a reason we shouldn’t worship, adore, love, honor, and serve Him. Let’s prayerfully soak in this thinking this week, and let’s let God speak to us individually about how we digest these facts and about how we put them to work for His glory.
Thanks be to God that He did!