The cover of a recent Newsweek magazine asks the right question: “Who really killed Jesus?” This debate began about a year ago as Mel Gibson’s new film, The Passion of the Christ, hit the media’s radar screen. He immediately ran into a buzz saw of opposition from the liberal media and Jewish groups who were afraid the film would rekindle anti-Semitism.
Jesus Christ always stirs up controversy! The suffering and execution of Jesus, a man who was convicted and condemned as a pretender to the throne of Rome, unleashed a power that transformed the Roman Empire and to this day is still shaping the world.
So, who really killed Jesus? We’ve heard from the talk show hosts and guests, news reporters, even Mel Gibson Himself. But what does God have to say in His Word? The answers might surprise you.
Who really killed Jesus?
Series: The Passion of the Christ: True or False?
Talks in the coming weeks will give the biblical answers to: What crime did He commit? Did Jesus really suffer that much? Why did Jesus die? Couldn’t there have been another way? How now should we live?
If you haven’t seen the film, we’ve prepared a review for you that you may find helpful. You can pick it up in the foyer today.
Regarding the Passion of the Christ as compared to the Bible:
It is as it was.
One of the things that I’m most excited about is the fact that people who go to see this film will be reading scripture on the screen. Most of Mel Gibson’s script comes right from the Bible.
It is as it wasn’t.
The movie contains scenes that find their roots in religious tradition outside the Bible. Some of the things you see on the screen most certainly did not happen.
It is as it might have been.
The betrayal, the denial, the trial, the scourging, the nailing, the words of Jesus on the cross – it’s all there. And how Gibson chose to portray it may be as close to the biblical accounts as any film about the life of Christ.
So, before you go – to help you spot the difference between what was, what wasn’t and what might have been, read your Bible! If you’ll read just eight chapters of the Bible (Matthew 26-27, Mark 14-15, Luke 22-23, and John 18-19), you’ll be ready to view this film.
Today, we will again be distributing door hanger packets. Please partner with me in this. Please partner with CVCC and with 1000s of other churches all across America. This is a wonderful opportunity to take advantage of the buzz about this film. People need a context. The booklet that we are giving out will help tremendously.
The Passion of the Christ is very powerful. But it doesn’t explain and expound on why Jesus died. There are hints. But they go by quickly. The film is long on the “how,” but not so keen on the “why.” That’s where our role comes in. This is why we need to put in the hands of people some material and invite them to services where the Word of God will be taught.
We have already passed out about 10,000 but that we still have 10,000 more that need to get out. Packets for distribution will be available in the foyer after the service.
Friends, this is a time when we cannot not talk about Jesus. Unless you’re a coward. Everybody is talking about Jesus. It’s a golden opportunity. Just say, “What do you make of this movie? Mel Gibson has set us up. Let’s take the message out!
There is a world out there that needs to know what Jesus did on the cross. This movie can help them understand that.
Who’s responsible for the death of Jesus?
Judas? He’s the one who betrayed Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.
The disciples? After an initial defense by Peter, they ran. They abandoned Jesus.
The crowd? They yelled, “Crucify Him!’
We could spend time exploring the role all these characters played. But this morning, let’s look deeper at five possible answers to this question: Who’s responsible for the death of Jesus?
For nearly 2,000 years, some who called themselves Christians have blamed and even persecuted the Jewish people on the grounds that they were responsible for the death of Jesus. So, Jewish people have a legitimate concern about this film fanning the flames of anti-Semitism.
But what does the Bible say? We can’t rewrite biblical history because we’re worried about offending someone. Just a few weeks after the crucifixion of Jesus, one of His followers, Peter, stood in the Temple at Jerusalem and spoke the truth.
Men of Israel, hear these words: … this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.
Acts 2:22a, 23 (ESV)
Clearly, Peter, an eyewitness, implicated “the Jews” – the “men of Israel” in Jesus’ death. But let me hurry to add that he did not mean all Jewish people then alive, much less those then unborn. Peter had a very specific group in mind: the Temple religious leaders who believed Jesus might provoke Pilate.
How can we be anti-Semitic? His followers were Jews. Our Bible was written by Jews. Jesus was a Jew. For any Christian to say that he hates Jews is to say that he hates Jesus because Jesus in His humanity is still Jewish. And consider that Jesus said, “Father, forgive them.” He was talking about the Jewish leaders as well as the Romans. If He didn’t hate the Jews, then neither can we. In fact, some Bible scholars say that some of those very Jewish leaders who condemned Jesus later came to trust Him as Savior and follow Him as Lord.
The Passion of the Christ is not a Christian-versus-Jew story. It is the story of sacrifice, love, forgiveness. If you leave the theatre with hatred in your heart toward the Jewish people, you’ve missed the point and you’re not truly following Jesus.
Who’s responsible for the death of Jesus? The Jews? Yes. But there’s more.
Only Rome had the right to execute – to crucify. The Jews were under Roman rule. Romans had developed crucifixion as a political weapon that was used to send a message to the people under their rule: Beware. Revolt against Rome and Rome will do this to you, too.
Here in Jerusalem, Herod and Pontius Pilate got together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel. Then they turned against your holy Servant Jesus, your chosen Messiah. They did what you in your power and wisdom had already decided would happen.
Acts 4:27 (CEV)
Pontius Pilate certainly was guilty. Legend has it that years after the crucifixion he was frantically washing his hands trying to cleanse himself from the blood of Christ.
Who’s responsible for the death of Jesus? The Romans? Yes. But there’s more. And this one might surprise you.
God the Father?
We must get beyond human cause. The ultimate answer to the question, Who crucified Jesus? is: God did. Do you remember that Jesus prayed in the Garden, “Father, if it is possible let this cup pass from Me?” But the Father didn’t let the cup of suffering pass from Christ, did He?
It was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer.
Isaiah 53:10 (NIV)
Don’t miss this: God the Father planned the passion of the Christ.
The Lamb [was] slain from the foundation of the world.
Revelation 13:8 (NKJV)
The sovereignty of God ought to take our breath away. But it is also the key to our salvation. God planned it, and by the means of wicked men, great good has come to the world. To paraphrase Genesis 50:20: They meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.
And since God meant it for good, we must move beyond the question of human cause to divine purpose. I like the way Pastor John Piper says it: “The central issue of Jesus’ death is not the cause, but the purpose—the meaning. Man may have his reasons for wanting Jesus out of the way. But only God can design it for the good of the world.”
God brought this to pass to save sinners from God, by God.
Who’s responsible for the death of Jesus? God the Father? Yes. But there’s more.
God planned it. Jesus embraced it. He chose it. The death of Jesus was not an uncontrollable tragedy that happened to Him. Jesus had said,
I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
I lay down My life so that I may take it again. No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again.
John 10:17b-18a (NASB)
The Son embraced this death. God the Son chose this torture. The cross does not represent defeat, but victory. Jesus did not have his life taken from Him. He gave it willingly. His death was not the end of his ministry, but its fulfillment. Jesus willingly suffered and died.
Most movies have good guys and bad guys. The Passion of the Christ has one good guy, fully God, fully man, and the rest of the cast are bad guys, fallen sinners, some of whom followed Jesus, others who rejected Him. And this One who is all good loves us so much that He chose to lay down His life for us.
Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends.
John 15:13 (ESV)
Who’s responsible for the death of Jesus? Jesus Himself? Yes. But why? This last group that’s responsible tells us why. Who’s responsible?
You and me?
In the end, however, it was sinners like me and you who killed Jesus. "While we were yet sinners," the apostle Paul tells us, "Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8). No one can point a finger at any other person or group for the death of Jesus. Our sins were the reason Jesus had to be crucified.
Christ died for our sins. And so, the correct answer to the question "Who really killed Jesus?" is – we did. Christ died for sinners. That is the central theme of the Bible and it is the essential answer we must give when discussing who killed Jesus.
Mel Gibson understands this. In his movie, The Passion of the Christ, the hand holding the spike being nailed through Christ’s wrist is Gibson’s. Who killed Jesus? Mel Gibson knows. And he made the very point with his own hand that he was responsible, not the Jews.
In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
I John 4:10 (ESV)
In The Passion of the Christ, as Jesus is taken down from the cross, Mary holds her son in a state of shock. She looks up at the horizon, which, because the camera is facing her, means she’s looking out at the viewing audience.
There is a heavy indictment here. Jesus has just died for the sins of the world. That means He’s died for the sins of the viewers.
So as Mary’s watery eyes articulate the depths of a mother’s loss, a thoughtful viewer, truly immersed in the moment, will shrivel into his seat. Why? While we may want to reach out and comfort this wounded woman, she knows and we must know that her son’s blood is on our hands. He die for our sins… and hers.
In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
I John 4:10 (ESV)
What is propitiation? An appeasing, a soothing, a placating. Propitiation satisfies the justice of God.
Romans 3:23 says that we are all sinners. Sin is the breaking of God’s laws. Therefore we have all offended God’s justice. This is not something that God can simply overlook.
Every society has a set of standards that we call the law. When one of these laws are broken we have a judicial system that requires a punishment appropriate for the crime committed. We call that justice. A judge can’t look at the evidence, see that the person is guilty, and say, "Well, you broke the law, but I love you so I am going to let you go free." No! Our laws state clearly that certain crimes are to be punished by certain penalties.
God’s justice is the same. God’s justice must be vindicated. The penalty for breaking His laws must be satisfied. Death is that penalty which God’s justice demands. As guilty law breakers we cannot do anything to correct our wrong. However, Jesus provided propitiation, and that propitiation was through His shed blood.
God sent Jesus to take the punishment for our sins and to satisfy God’s anger against us. We are made right with God when we believe that Jesus shed his blood, sacrificing his life for us.
Romans 3:25a (NLT)
God hates sin. He hates it more than we can possibly know. Why? He’s seen how sin steals His glory and kills our joy. He’s seen the pain sin has caused. He’s seen the joy humanity has forfeited because of sin. He’s seen the Jewish people suffer because of the sins of Hitler and the Third Reich. He’s seen the atrocities of the Crusades in the Middle Ages – atrocities caused by people who thought they were acting in the name of God. He’s seen the pain you’ve known because the people around you have been abusive or selfish or drunken or materialistic. He’s seen it all. He knows sin steals joy, kills hope, destroys life. He hates sin with a burning hatred.
He must judge it. He must pour out His wrath on it. He’s holy. He’s a judge. Sin cannot go unchallenged, unchecked, un-judged If He just let sin go, then what kind of God would He be?
So, in one 12 hour span of time, He compressed His anger toward all the sin of humanity – He compacted His wrath into a dense, concentrated mass of intensity, a black hole of fury – and He poured it out… on His Son! God’s burning hatred toward the sin that caused the Holocaust came streaming down on Jesus. God’s extreme disgust toward the sin of a clergy that would molest little boys came surging onto Jesus. God’s severe anger toward rape and murder and pornography and drug dealing came pouring out onto Jesus.
Why was Jesus beaten and brutalized more than the other two who were crucified with Him? He was doing something that they weren’t doing. They were dying for their own crime. He was dying to satisfy the wrath of God against sin – God’s wrath against their sin, against my sin, against your sin, against the sin of the world.
If anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sin, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.
I John 2:2 (ESV)
Sun doesn’t go unpunished. No! Jesus took the wrath – the hits – that I should have taken.
Three responses to the Passion of Jesus:
Forgive me, Lord Jesus.
I received an email from Santa Lunardi. Here’s part of her response to the movie. “The scene of Christ walking to Calvary with John and Mary on one side… and Satan on the other, showed me there are only two choices in life, we are either for Him or against Him. What side do I stand on is all that matters. Yet I am ashamed to say I find myself on the side of sin so often and I am so ashamed.”
Karen Charnigo also wrote me: “My prayer is that those who choose to go [to the film] are truly changed for life. That they wouldn’t just cry at the movie but cry over their sin. That two months from now, Jesus wouldn’t be forgotten. I also pray that God would continue to reveal to me the seriousness of my sin and the tremendous sacrifice He made for me personally. I want to weep over my sin and as much as possible ‘go and sin no more.’”
Say to yourself as you think about the Passion of Jesus, “My sin is that bad that it requires that much suffering.” “Forgive me, Lord Jesus.”
Thank You, Lord Jesus.
I sat next to Ryan, our 17 year old, on Thursday as we watched the Passion of the Christ. I asked him afterwards what his take away was. He said, “I should be more thankful.”
If you haven’t been to your knees lately to thank Him for paying your price, now’s the time. For too long we’ve become complacent believers who’ve come to take Christ’s suffering for granted. It’s time to be shocked into a new appreciation of His divine sacrifice. “Thank You, Lord Jesus.”
I love You, Lord Jesus.
Gino Lunardi called it “The most beautiful love story ever.” When someone loves you that much, shouldn’t your response be to love in return? How much do you really love Jesus? Love Him more. He deserves your love – your devotion – your affection.
May God help us understand afresh the pain and suffering He went through for us so we could know Him and love Him more than ever before.
A point to ponder: I should have been crucified. But Jesus took my place.
Yes, I killed Jesus. I was there those final 12 hours. I beat Jesus until He was unrecognizable. I spit in His face. I shoved a crown of thorns into His brow. I forced Him to carry the cross up a lonely hill. I drove the spikes into His hands and feet. I lifted up the cross beam and slammed Jesus of Nazareth into the ground. I was the one whom He was speaking of as He cried out “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do to me.”
And then, as Jesus breathed His last breath, I realized that not only was I the reason for His death, but I was also the recipient of His death. I was the recipient of the love that held Jesus to the cross. I was a recipient of an ultimate payment for all of my wrongdoings. I was a recipient of amazing grace. And He did it all for me – and you!
A verse to remember: In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. I John 4:10 (ESV)
Questions to consider: How will I show my love to Jesus this week? How will I show His love to someone who needs to know about His love?
“Lord, we don’t want to be like the many who will have deep, but merely temporary, emotional responses to The Passion of the Christ. May You help us to find in the greatest evil ever committed – the death of Jesus – the greatest, richest, and most satisfying blessing ever offered – a relationship with You, Lord God.”