Mark 15:1-39, Why Did Jesus Have to Die?

[April 10, 2009] That is today’s question.

Condemned by Others

Whether you want to accept it or not, Pontius Pilate wanted him dead. Jerusalem was packed full of pilgrims, people who had come even from distant lands to celebrate the Passover. The situation was volatile. And Jesus entered the city of Jerusalem on Palm Sunday in a parade, a crowd of pilgrims hailing Him with “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!” These words were incendiary. They hailed Jesus as king and proclaimed His coming kingdom right under the nose of Roman governor.

The charge printed on the plaque above Jesus’ head read, “The King of the Jews.” And it was the charge that Pilate confronted Jesus with: “Are You the King of the Jews?” Of course, Pilate did not want to take the blame for the death of such a popular figure. Instead, He ordered the high priest—whose position depended on the good will of the governor—to arrest Jesus himself, and to hand Jesus over to him with the charge and the evidence with which Pilate could condemn Him. The high priest was also afraid to arrest Jesus. He was afraid of the crowd. But with the help of Judas, he managed to arrest Jesus late at night and hopefully the governor would have Him on the cross before the city even had a chance to find out. But even though he and his men bullied Jesus all night long, they still had not come up with proof for any political charges. They only managed to get Jesus to admit things of a religious nature, so the Sadducees could be behind them when they handed Jesus over in the morning.

So Pilate took things into his own hands, but he made it appear as though the matter was NOT in his hands. He merely gave in to what the mob demanded. Of course, that early on the morning after the Passover meal, someone must have worked hard to get those people out of bed. This mob was selected because they could be counted on to stand behind the high priest. Even still, Pilate’s threat was not that veiled when he told them that Jesus was the One “whom YOU call the King of the Jews.” Thus, with a little manipulation, he made it appear that it was the people who condemned Jesus. But we can’t overlook the fact that it was still the Roman governor who gave the executive order to have Jesus executed. This was not a trial at all but an abuse of the governor’s powers.

Jesus was condemned because of the title, “King of the Jews.” It was meant to insult and subdue the people, and also to teach any pretenders a lesson about who was really in charge of the land.

Who Was in Charge?

The lesson Pilate wanted Jesus and everyone else in the city to learn was that he, Pontius Pilate, and the Roman Empire in whose name he governed, that they were charge. Jesus was humiliated. They mocked Him with a purple robe and a crown of thorns. They beat Him and spat on Him. And then they crucified Him naked between two thieves on the charge of treason.

As He hung, bleeding and struggling for breath, the onlookers demanded that He save Himself. “Show Your power now, why don’t you, so that we can see and believe!”

Then HE let out that haunting cry, “My God, My God, why have YOU forsaken Me?” Certainly it appeared that Jesus was a victim of His own audacity. “What was He thinking? He was a fool and died for it.” That was certainly how it appeared to Pilate and the chief priests and the Temple establishment.

But Jesus went to Jerusalem knowing that He would die and rise again. He had been saying that since Peter confessed Him to be the Messiah and they left Galilee in the north. Jesus entered the city knowing that Jerusalem would not recognize Him as their king. Indeed, He spent the few days in the city condemning its leaders, knowing full well what the consequences were going to be. Then there was Thursday night, when He struggled in the Garden of Gethsemane. There He accepted the cup of suffering, knowing full well what it involved, because it was the Father’s will. Jesus was NOT a victim of the governor, but One who chose the Father’s will and who handed Himself over to a humiliating death at the hands of sinners.

Nothing happened between Thursday night and Friday that was not the Father’s will and to which Jesus had not knowingly and willingly surrendered Himself.

Why Did Jesus Have to Die?

But why did Jesus have to die? And why would He cry out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” This cry from the cross, the only words that Mark records, are a quotation from Psalm 22 and not the cry of someone who was simply confused and brought to despair.

The fact that Jesus meant those words is our clue. “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” God turned His back on the One who gave Himself completely to God’s will. Jesus had always chosen God’s will. It was His every thought and the only desire He ever had.

Why would God forsake the faithful One, the obedient One; the One who was totally devoted to doing God’s will? This is another clue. He did not deserve this.

Notice that I speak of God and not the Father, for while God abandoned Jesus in His human nature, and Jesus died, the Father did not abandon the Son, but suffered with the Son to the end. In Luke, when Jesus cried out at the end, it was to say, “Father, into your hands I commit My spirit.” Nevertheless, in His pure, devoted and perfectly obedient humanity, Jesus was utterly abandoned by God. And both Father and Son— in their divinity— suffered this abandonment. This is no doubt a mystery, but it is a mystery that we are meant to appreciate—it should cut us to the quick—so we can worship God for it.

NO ONE is abandoned by God like this. We may feel like it sometimes, but no one really is. Yet Jesus WAS. To be abandoned by God, to be cut off by God, is to be judged and condemned by God, to be cast into the worst kind of hell. Practically speaking, God often punishes us by abandoning us to the consequences of our actions. But God never completely abandons us. What Jesus experienced was utter darkness, something no other human being has ever known. He experienced the complete judgment of God.

Why did this happen? Why would the sinless One experience such a horrible thing? And He did so willingly and boldly. He did so in obedience to the Father’s will. Why?

We Deserved It, Not Him

We may think that no one deserves such a fate. But we would be wrong. We do not appreciate the nature of sin. Look at what happened to Jesus and you will begin to understand. Sin is not that we violate a few commandments, or even all of them. The divine nature is not some sort of headmaster waiting for us to slip so he can punish us for it. No, the divine nature is the source of all life, of all truth and goodness and beauty. Sin is our turning our backs on God. It is rebellion against God and all that God is. Underneath our constant sinning is this decision: to cut ourselves off from God, to make it on our own. WE choose to abandon GOD.

If you pull the plug out of the socket, the electricity stops. The real consequence of sin is for God to abandon us. The consequence of our sin is to be cut off from God; it is to let us have our way, to have what WE have chosen.

But in God’s mercy, God has never allowed us to completely have our way. He holds onto us. But He DID abandon Jesus—Jesus who had never tried to pull the plug out, who had never for a second turned His back on God. Jesus underwent what we deserve. He suffered what only WE should have.

He Did It for Us

Jesus took our sins upon Himself. The Father did not mechanically force it on Him. From the time Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordan, He identified with us and took us upon His heart. He bore our separation from God upon His own heart and pleaded to God on our behalf. His entire life, and His entire obedience to the Father, was an intercession for us.

Because He identified with us so much—and did so before the Father—His obedience took a peculiar form. It was not only the obedience that He owed to the Father for His own sake. It took the form of the obedience that WE owe to God. He submitted to God’s will as if He were us. And THAT means that He had to submit to God’s judgment for our sin. NOT reluctantly, not inevitably, but willingly, submissively, and lovingly; glorifying God in the process. His obedience was the obedience that we owe to God. The obedience that we owe to God is the obedience of sinners, sinners accepting God’s judgment and glorifying God in it. And THAT is what Jesus undertook on our behalf.

By His strips we are healed. If we receive Jesus and take Him into us as our inner Master, He becomes our medicine. If we enter into Him by faith, He becomes our Savior. To believe means that we attach ourselves to Him, we give Him our allegiance, our fidelity, our loyalty and commitment. He will take care of the rest. But if we own Him by faith, God accepts Jesus’ obedience as our own. Why? In answer to His prayer, in answer to His lifelong intercession for us, in answer to the Incarnation itself. For God not to accept our faith would be to ignore the Incarnation, to ignore the Son’s obedience, and the Father cannot do that.

We are saved because the Father honors the Son. The proof of that, that the Father accepts the Son’s intercession, that the Father accepts the Son’s sacrifice, is the Resurrection. In Christ, we are freed from the judgment of God and become the beloved children of the Father. Let us enjoy God as our Father and live in faithfulness to Christ who loves us so much.

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