This week, this PALM SUNDAY, we are asking the question, “Why Did Jesus Have to Die?” and addressing it from the human perspective. That is, why did various groups of people, the Pharisees, the Sanhedrin, the Crowds, Pilate and Jesus’ Own Followers, either conclude that Jesus had to die or failed to intervene to stop it? Next Sunday, EASTER DAY, we will ask the same question, but from God’s perspective. “Why Did Jesus Have to Die?”
This Sunday also happens to be the 100th anniversary of the Canadian Army’s successful attack against a WWI German position on Vimy Ridge, near Arras, in northwestern France. It was Easter Monday. Over the course of the day, 3,598 Canadians dies. The number of German casualties is unknown, as records were destroyed in the bombing raids of WWII. The Veterans Affairs Canada page says that “Earlier French, British and German struggles there had cost at least 200,000 casualties,” but the Allies were unprepared to take advantage of the Canadian breakthrough. The “victory” was not exploited, and the war raged on for another 19 months at the cost of many more thousands of lives on both all sides. Why did so many have to die? There are innumerable human reasons, none of which are particularly convincing in our day.
Why Did Jesus Have to Die? From the perspective of the Pharisees, Jesus had to die because He was a blasphemer; because He claimed deity; because He claimed to be the very Son of God, the very height of blasphemy in the minds of the Jews, so rightly attached to the Shema: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 5 You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deut 6:4-5). Animosity between Jesus and the Pharisees began early in His public ministry, and we read much about it in the Gospels. Jesus called them out on many occasions for their hypocrisy, coming to a crescendo in Matthew 23 and Luke 11 with Jesus pronouncing “woes” against them, a severe condemnation. The Pharisees were the “holiest,” most devout believers in all of Judaism. When the Apostle Paul was listing his reasons for “boasting” in Acts 23 and Philippians 3, his previous life as a Pharisee was a large part. In Acts 26:5, he said that “according to the strictest party of our religion I have lived as a Pharisee.” They were so zealous for the purity of Judaism that they went beyond the Mosaic Law, introducing regulations that would prevent those who were able to follow them from even accidentally breaking the Law. But Jesus said that they were like “whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness” (Matt 23:27). While outwardly, the Pharisees lived according to the highest standards of religious practice, inwardly, their hearts were devoid of love, compassion, grace or mercy towards any who did not meet their standards. We need to be careful not to reflect the Pharisee’s Legalism in our Christian lives today.
Why Did Jesus Have to Die? From the perspective of the Sanhedrin, the religious council that included the High Priest, scribes, Pharisees and Sadducees, Jesus had to die to protect their position. They were the highest ruling body permitted to the Jews under the Roman rule and occupation. It was Caiaphas, the High Priest who said, probably with exasperated scorn to rest of the Sanhedrin, “You know nothing at all. Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish” (John 11:49-50). His fear was that, either an insurrection would arise against the Romans, led by Jesus and/or His followers, which would result in the destruction of the Jewish nation (much like that which happened in 70 A.D.), or that the authority and rule of the Sanhedrin would be removed, and they would lose their power. Their love of prestige and power clouded their thinking. They could not recognize the Christ! We need to beware that that the Sanhedrin’s Materialism doesn’t cloud our hearts and minds.
Why Did Jesus Have to Die? From the perspective of the crowd who were so easily swayed by the Sanhedrin to demand that Pilate release Barabbas and execute Jesus, Jesus had to die to satisfy their fleshly desire for entertainment, for spectacle, for distraction, for “fun.” Pilate desired to release Jesus (Luke 23:20), and would have, in accordance with a tradition that, at the Passover, the Romans would release a prisoner named by the Jews, but the crowd, prompted by “the chief priests and the elders” (Matt 27:20), called for Barabbas, “a notorious prisoner” (Matt 27:16), from “among the rebels in prison, who had committed murder in the insurrection” (Mark 15:7). We need to examine our lives to ensure that we don’t get wrapped up in the Crowds’ Hedonism, and lose sight of the Christ, the Son of God.
Why Did Jesus Have to Die? From Pilate’s perspective, Jesus had to die to appease the Sanhedrin and the crowds, because he didn’t have the courage of his convictions to do what he knew was right. Pilate feared man more than he feared God. Luke is most generous toward Pilate, quoting him saying “I find no guilt in this man” (Luke 23:4), sending Jesus to Herod that Herod might deal with the issue rather than he having to make a decision, again announcing to the Sanhedrin, “I did not find this man guilty of any of your charges … Neither did Herod … noting deserving death has been done by him” (vv.14-15). Even Pilate’s wife urged him to “Have nothing to do with that righteous man, for I have suffered much because of him today in a dream” (Matt 27:19). Pilate’s only motivation for the execution of Jesus was to get rid of a problem. His cynicism is blindingly bright, when, in response to Jesus’ warm invitation, “Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice,” he responds, “What truth?” (John 18:37-38). How many around us today are blinded to the Truth by Pilate’s Cynicism?
Why Did Jesus Have to Die? What about His followers? What happened to Jesus’ disciples? Where did they go when He was arrested, when He was tried, when He was beaten and executed on that cruel cross of Calvary? They scattered and they hid. Sure, Peter and “the other disciple” (John 18:16) followed the arresting party, even into the courtyard of Annas, “the father-in-law of Caiaphas” the “high priest” (John 18:13), but that ended in tears when Peter, in fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy, denied Him three times” to save his own skin (John 13:38). Not that we would do any better, but we need to be bold, in our day, proclaiming the truth of Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God, with love and grace and mercy, whatever the consequences. We need to, by the help of Holy Spirit who indwells us, overcome the Believer’s Pacifism.
To more easily download or print these notes, please click the link below for a PDF version.
Pastor’s Notes PDF April 9th, 2017