Topical Scripture: Matthew 26:47-56
A woman tells you that she is 20 years old today and has great-grandchildren. She looks fantastic for her age. Of course, she was born on February 29, 1924.
A leap year occurs in every year which can be evenly divided by four; thus we’re meeting for worship on leap year day today. However, the years 1600 and 2000 had a February 29 but 1500 did not, because the only century years that are leap years are the ones which can be divided evenly by 400. Is that clear?
It is somehow appropriate that we are confused today as we begin a sermon series on questions. Difficult, perplexing, common questions. More specifically, questions on the cross. As you know, Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ was released this week. Many of you have already seen it. You know that is not a movie one “sees” but a movie one experiences. It is the most realistic portrayal of the crucifixion ever filmed. For the first time, we can see what actually happened. And ask the most profound questions as a result.
Today we begin with the most foundational question of all: who killed Jesus? Who was really responsible for his death—the Romans? The Jews? You may be surprised at the answer you hear this morning.
Who arrested Jesus?
The setting of the text is familiar to most of us.
The Garden of Gethsemane was a private olive grove on the western slope of the Mount of Olives. Jesus and his followers often went to this secluded garden for prayer. I’ve been to the area twice, and found it as quiet and peaceful as it must have been for our Lord.
On this occasion, however, Jesus went there not to find peace but a sword. He went there so Judas would know where to find him. He could have fled into the Galilean hills and evaded arrest forever. Instead, he went to the one place where his arrest was assured.
He could have hidden in the Garden, and escaped from the soldiers marching through its trees, but he waited for the soldiers to come.
He could have used his disciples to prevent Judas from identifying him. Instead he said, “Friend, do what you came for.”
John gives us more of the story:
“Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to him, went out and asked them, ‘Who is it you want?’ ‘Jesus of Nazareth,’ they replied” (John 18:4-5a). Note the irony of this situation. They are looking for him, but don’t know that this is the one they seek. Clearly he could direct them elsewhere, or flee under the cover of anonymity.
Instead, the narrative continues, “‘I am he,’ Jesus said. (And Judas the traitor was standing there with them.)” (vs. 5b). His Greek words were actually, “I am,” echoing the solemn and holy name of Yahweh himself. Note what comes next: “When Jesus said, ‘I am he,’ they drew back and fell to the ground'” (v. 6). Here is a second chance to flee.
Instead we find this response: “Again he asked them, ‘Who is it you want?’ And they said, ‘Jesus of Nazareth.’ ‘I told you that I am he,’ Jesus answered” (vs. 7-8). And finally they seized him. Have you ever heard of a person who worked so hard to be arrested?
But the story isn’t done. Peter then drew his sword and attacked Malchus, the servant of the high priest (John. 18:10). Such an armed resistance could well have been successful, but Jesus stopped it immediately. He could have called “twelve legions of angels” (a legion was 6,000 soldiers; this would be 72,000 angels, sufficient for the task at hand, one would think). But he did not.
Who was actually responsible for Jesus’ arrest? These incompetent soldiers, men who didn’t even know their subject? The disciples? Judas? Or our Lord?
Why was he arrested?
Here’s a second question: why did they arrest him? He asked them: “Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me?” (v. 55). Why did they seize him? Who did they think he was?
The religious authorities arrested him as a blasphemer, a heretic, one who claimed that he was God. He would soon confirm their charges: “The high priest said to him, ‘I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.’ ‘Yes, it is as you say,’ Jesus replied” (Matthew 26:63-64).
The civil authorities executed him as a rebel, a traitor to Rome. Pilate made his crime clear: “Above his head they placed the written charge against him: This is Jesus, the king of the Jews” (Matthew 27:37). And there could be no king but Caesar.
Note what didn’t happen.
No one thought to claim that he didn’t exist. It is instructive that even his strongest enemies never considered such an attack. No one in all the literature of the period suggested that Jesus never lived. Not the Jewish responses, nor the Roman. Not the most hateful critic and opponent. We know too much from Tacitus, Suetonius, Mara bar Serapion, Josephus, and Pliny the Younger to dismiss his existence.
No one thought to claim that he was simply a religious teacher or leader, as The DaVinci Code and other modern critics claim. The Romans didn’t crucify Sunday school teachers or denominational officials. The authorities executed him because they understood who he claimed to be: the Son of God, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Nothing else. Nothing less.
Why did he die?
Now, if he was the Son of God, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, able to call twelve legions of angels to his side, why did he die? Why did he allow them to crucify him? Who was really responsible for his death?
Note his own answer to the question: “How then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen this way?” (Matthew 26:54). He repeated himself: “All this has taken place that the writings of the prophets might be fulfilled” (v. 56). “Scriptures,” plural; “writings,” plural.
What did he mean? Listen to the plan which he and his Father created.
How would he be betrayed? “Even my close friend, whom I trusted, he who shared my bread, has lifted up his heel against me” (Psalm 41:9).
For how much? “They paid me thirty pieces of silver” (Zechariah 11:12).
How would his followers react? “Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered” (Zechariah 13:7).
Who would accuse him? “Ruthless witnesses come forward…They repay me evil for good and leave my soul forlorn” (Psalm 35:11-12).
How would he respond? “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth” (Isaiah 53:7).
What would happen next?
How would he suffer? “I offered my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard” (Isaiah 50:6a).
How would he die?” They will look on me, the one they have pierced” (Zechariah 12:10).
How would the crowd react? “I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting” (Isaiah 50:6b).
With whom would he die? “He poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors” (Isaiah 53:12).
How would these criminals respond? “They hurl insults, shaking their heads; ‘He trusts in the Lord; let the Lord rescue him'” (Psalm 22:7-8).
At his death:
He would suffer thirst: “They put gall in my food and gave me vinegar for my thirst” (Psalm 69:21).
His bones would not be broken: “”I can count all my bones; people stare and gloat over me” (Psalm 22:17).
They would gamble for his robe: “They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing” (Psalm 22:18).
He would cry to the Lord, “”My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1).
At the end he would pray, “Into your hands I commit my spirit” (Psalm 31:5).
Why did Jesus die? To fulfill the plan of his Father as “the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world” (Revelation 13:8). Because this was their strategy before time began, before the first human was created, before the first sin was committed.
It comes to this: you cannot kill God. The soldiers didn’t arrest him—he gave himself to them. The authorities didn’t kill him—he chose to die, to fulfill the Scriptures, the plan he and his Father had made from the foundation of the world. God intended to have Jesus crucified before time began.
So know this: we are the ones responsible for his death. We are the reason he gave his life. God knew his only begotten Son would die for you before he made you. Consider that fact for a moment.
A family is moving into the vacant house next to yours. Somehow you know that your son is going to befriend their drug-addicted daughter and save her life. But her drug dealers will kill him for it. Would you introduce them?
Your daughter calls to say that she is driving home from college this weekend with a friend. Somehow you know that this friend is going to drive drunk, and steer the car into oncoming traffic. At the last moment, your daughter will grab the wheel and save her friend’s life, but she will die. Would you allow the trip?
A friend’s kidneys have failed, and a transplant is his only hope of survival. The only possible donor is your son. Somehow you know that his kidney will save your friend’s life, but your son will not survive the operation. Would you allow it?
Absurd questions, aren’t they? Do you love anyone that much? Does someone love you that much? Actually, someone does.
You may know that Mel Gibson, the director and producer of The Passion of The Christ, appears in the movie himself. When Jesus’ hand is stretched on the cross, a fist holds the spike which is driven into the Savior’s flesh. The hand which holds that spike, the hand which crucifies the Lord, is Mel Gibson’s. He was asked why he did it that way. His answer: because I killed him. We all did.
I understand and appreciate what he means. But we can’t kill Christ. He chose to die, for you. Before he made you, he knew he would die for you. That’s how much he loves you. The passion of the Christ is you.