In the story the Bible tells, the life of Jesus who is the Christ, the Anointed One of God, the Messiah was prophesied in remarkable detail in the Old Testament. But also was His death.
He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he opened not his mouth.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
and as for his generation, who considered
that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people?
And they made his grave with the wicked
and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth. (Isaiah 53:7-9).
This quote is from what has been called the “songs of the Suffering Servant.” Four poems or songs in the book of Isaiah foretelling numerous events in the life of Jesus are so designated. The verses above tell prophetically of the cruel death of the Servant. This song tells of His meekness as He goes before the authorities who deny Him a fair hearing and condemn Him on the basis of false accusations. Why should the One who came to be the King over the whole creation be treated in such a humiliating way? Why should the One whose life was devoted to doing the will of God be so despised by men that they would treat Him with such injustice and contempt?
There are any number of reasons that contributed to the death of Jesus. Those directly responsible would not have thought of His crucifixion in terms of the redemption of mankind and reconciliation of sinners to God.
Fear was one reason Jesus was put to death. Herod, when he was asked by the wise men, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?” was said to have been “troubled, and all Jerusalem with him;” (Matthew 2:2-3 ESV). Herod was the king of the Jews. He was not about to allow any threat to his throne and set about to kill Jesus while He was but a child.
The Jews feared because He was so popular with the people. His popularity was a threat to their power over the people. One incident which illustrates this is the occasion when Jesus drove the moneychangers and merchants out of the temple.
“And the chief priests and the scribes heard it and were seeking a way to destroy him, for they feared him, because all the crowd was astonished at his teaching.” (Mark 11:18).
This was a huge problem with these people because of how they thought of themselves. Jesus described their thinking about themselves in this way;
Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice.” (Matthew 23:1-3).
One way of looking at their attitude is that they had placed themselves on God’s throne – they had put themselves next to Him as lawgivers like Moses. They simply could not allow Jesus to threaten their self-appointed position and power.
It was also a matter of political expediency for the Jews that Jesus die. They feared that Jesus would become so popular and so powerful with the people that the Romans would “…take away both our place and our nation.” (John 11:48).
With the Roman authorities who had to both approve and carry out the execution of accused criminals in their occupied territories, the issue with Jesus had to do with the perceived threat he posed to the peace. They controlled their occupied territories by fear created through their use of brutal power to suppress any form of dissent. Death by crucifixion was used by the Romans to drive home the point that “You don’t mess with Rome.”
Although the governor, Pilate, found no cause worthy of death in Jesus personally, the Romans feared insurrection by the Jews if He were allowed to live. Their fear of Jesus would have been due to the fact that He preached His coming Kingdom. This is evident in Pilate’s questioning of Jesus…
Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world— to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” (John 18:37).
Ultimately, however, the reason for the death of Jesus has to be LOVE. God’s love for man, His made-in-His-image creation. God, whose very nature is love, deemed it necessary that a perfect sacrifice be offered for lost mankind. The problem of sin had to be dealt with. Animal sacrifices could not atone for sin. “For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” (Hebrews 10:4). Animal sacrifices had to do with the reality of sin but did not express the love of God.
When the Bible wants to emphasize the love of God, our attention is directed to the gift of His Son.
(John 3:16-17 ESV) “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
When we think of the greatness of God’s love we are asked to consider the price that was paid for our redemption.
(1 John 4:10 ESV). “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.”
God’s love truly is amazing. Paul wrote in Romans 5:8 that “…God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Charles Wesley’s hymn, Amazing Love, expresses this love of God beautifully. “Amazing love! How can it be, That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?”
But Jesus’ dying on the cross isn’t intended to end with the forgiveness of our sin. We are to become so shaped by that love that we take on the form of His life and His love. It is at this point that we are to enter into the story. We become, not just beneficiaries of His love, His sacrifice, His death in the forgiveness of our sins, but we become active participants in the same story.
Because of our love for Him we are to die with Him. We do this by dying to sin.
“How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:2-4).
That newness of life – that resurrected life – is the life of the new creation we have become that we may live the kind of life we were intended to live from the beginning of creation.
“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10).
We become active participants in the story by denying self, taking up our cross daily and following Him.
(Luke 9:23); “And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”
The point of taking up our cross and following Him is to die with Him. No, we don’t literally die. But there is a point to our dying with Him. Just as He died to serve us, we die to self to become servants of others. The aged apostle John tells us how this is to be done…
“By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” (1 John 3:16-18 ESV).
For the Christian who has become a new creature and is being powerfully changed into the image of Christ, this life is as natural as it was for Jesus. Jesus could have done nothing differently – to do so would not have reflected the Father’s glory. We can do nothing different from Him. It is as natural to the new creation in Christ to live this way as it was for Jesus. To do anything less would be to deny God the glory due His name. To do anything different would be to not reflect God’s image into the world.