It’s time for Lent and Easter.
It’s time to think about my
Good Friday presentation at the
Islamic Center of MN
on Jesus crucifixion.
Here are some of my thoughts about that
WHY THE CRUCIFIXION HAD TO BE
Sura 4 #157 from the Quran: Muhammad said to the Jews, you did not kill him (Jesus).
In John 10: 17-18 Jesus said, No one takes it away from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment I have received from my Father. No one could kill Jesus. He determined the time of his own death in obedience to the Father.
Critical scholarship has never had a problem with Jesus’ crucifixion. It is the resurrection that bothers the scholars by virtue of its miraculous claims. We ask, is it necessary to divide over the one and only verse in the Quran that supposedly makes this claim, when that verse is somewhat ambiguous.
CONNECTING THE DOTS
In order to put the crucifixion in theological perspective, we need to connect the dots across Jesus life of ministry from the crucifixion back to what God said about Jesus in the birth announcements.
To Joseph in Matthew 1: Don’t fear to marry Mary. The child is from the Holy Spirit. He will save his people from their sins.
To the Shepherds in Luke 1: Glory to God in the highest, and peace to earth for humankind…
In order for there to be peace on earth, the people must be rescued from their sins. This is both religious and political. At Jesus’ birth, Rome kept peace on earth (Pax Romana) with its army. In China the glorious Han emperors kept peace on earth and worshipped “heaven.” When Rome (as well as Persia) weakened, the Caliphate kept peace on earth with its army, and after two world wars, the U. S. A. kept peace on earth with its army and economic domination.
The night before his crucifixion Jesus said to the disciples, “Peace I give you. Not the peace to world gives. Don’t let your heart be troubled or afraid” (John 16). To understand the crucifixion we must understand the relationship between forgiveness of sin and peace on earth.
THE RELIGIOUS ASPECT
The ancient world quite universally sought peace with their gods by bringing sacrifice. Moses instructed the Hebrews that they should bring sacrifice to Yahweh, i.e. Allah, and him alone. The temple in Jerusalem was the place for offering sacrifice to God.
In Acts 6-7 we find the story of the first Christian martyr, Stephen. In this story Stephen was taken before the Supreme Court to face the charge of treasonous blasphemy against the law of Moses and the temple. Stephen was accused of saying that Jesus would come to destroy the temple and change the customs Moses had instituted.
Stephen did not deny the charges. Instead he gave a summary of Hebrew history to demonstrate that access to God had never been limited to the temple, and that God did not live in a building. The unspoken implication of Stephen’s preaching was that Jesus’ voluntary, sacrificial death had made the temple obsolete. Stephen was promptly stoned to death.
Preceding the event of Stephen’s martyrdom, a miracle happened to the disciples during the festival of Pentecost. God’s Spirit came down and gave the disciples the ability to speak in languages they had never studied. Foreign visitors at the festival were amazed when local people spoke the visitor’s language, such that the disciples were able to report all they had learned from Jesus in the visitors’ own languages. Observing what was happening, Peter suddenly remembered the words of the ancient prophet Joel. Joel had written, “God says, ‘I will pour out my spirit on all people, and the signs of prophethood will be seen everywhere. Your own sons and daughters will prophecy—yes, young and old, slaves and free, men and women will all receive my Spirit’”(Acts 2). Peter stood up in the group and announced that Joel’s prediction was happening right then. Emmanuel (which means God with us) had sent his spirit to live in every one of Jesus’ followers. The same Holy Spirit who put Jesus into Mary’s womb had come to live in the hearts of all Jesus’ followers. The effect of Jesus’ incarnation had spread to his followers so that God now lived in every one of them. Every one of them now had the right to call God, Father, by adoption. This was God’s purpose from the beginning.
We can understand this phenomenon better if we understand the pagan environment within which God’s people had to live. Years ago I lived near a small pagan temple in Taipei, Taiwan. The temple leaders built a new and more luxurious temple nearby and moved all their gods over to the new temple, but when a contractor was hired to demolish the old temple, he experienced a terrible accident and was unable to proceed. A second, and then a third contractor were hired, and a similar disaster happened to each of them. After that no one was willing to take the job of demolition. It was clear to the mind of the pagans that while the images had been moved, the spirits of those gods still lived in the old temple and had decided to stay. That was a serious dilemma that took years to resolve.
This idea of moving house helps explain what happened at Pentecost and provides a basis for Stephen’s conclusions about the temple. God’s Spirit had moved out of the building into the people. God wants to live in people’s hearts. This is what the name, Emmanuel, means, God among us. In AD 70 the old temple where animal sacrifice took place was torn down by the Roman army and Stephen was vindicated. The One and Only God who fills both heaven and earth had changed his local residence on this planet. In the wisdom of God, the death of Jesus made this possible. God had come near to all who seek him in a way far more intimate than what the old system of sacrifice with sheep and bulls could provide. A few years later Paul wrote, “Don’t you know that your body is the temple of God.” “Do not defile the temple of God with any kind of fornication (porneia)!!” When you do that, you deface God’s chosen place of residence on earth.
The angel told Joseph that Jesus would save his people from their sins. Why is sin such an issue for Christians? Let us imagine I am a businessman accused of dishonesty in some of my dealings. In court the judge finds that during my years of doing business 51 % of my transactions were honest and 49 % dishonest. Will the judge let me off because the majority of my transactions were honest? No! If even one time I am proven guilty of fraud, I will be required to make restitution and go to jail. In the same way, God will not permit his heaven to be defaced by sin. Sin by definition is anything God finds offensive to his own righteous character.
In both the Old and New Testaments Satan is often presented as an accuser. In Job 1, he functions as plaintif, and in Zechariah 3, and Revelation 12:10 he appears as heaven’s prosecuting attorney. When each of us stands before God, Satan will be right there to make his accusations, and he won’t miss a thing. Every one of us will be convicted. For those in whom the Spirit of Jesus has come to live, Jesus will be the defense. He will say to the Father, “I already paid for that.” This person has submitted to my authority and is under my discipline. He (she) is clean (John 15:3). Release him (her) to come home with me. His (her) thinking, imagination, and of course, behaviors, will not be offensive to the manners and customs of heaven because I take responsibility for this person.
As previously mentioned, sacrifice was universal to all humanity in the world before Jesus came. All humanity had an instinct about the necessity for death to occur as a result of what Genesis 2 describes, “You will surely die.” In the Hebrew Old Testament, the worshiper who brought the sacrifice would place his hands on the head of the animal, confess his sins, and in this way transfer his sins to the animal. Jesus death followed that tradition, but then put an end to all of that, and the resurrection confirmed God’s approval of this arrangement.
One of our presidential candidates claims to be a Christian and also has said he never has asked God to forgive him for anything. A Christian asks God for forgiveness, or one is not a Christian. Jesus does not take responsibility for anyone who will not admit his or her wrongs and submit to Jesus’ authority. The peace of heart Jesus gives is for those who willingly submit.
This is the individual or personal side of the salvation Jesus brought and which the angel introduced to Joseph. But Jesus didn’t just come to save souls. He came to save the world.
THE POLITICAL ASPECT
In Acts 4 Peter and John were taken before the court for questioning. When asked about their preaching Peter responded, “There is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved (v12).”
The issue before the court was not an issue of personal salvation. Jesus was the issue, and Jesus had been arrested for reasons of national security. In John 11:48ff the council discussion had to do with Israel’s international relations. “If we let (Jesus) go on like this, all men will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation,” complained the council members. This is why Jesus was arrested, and it was the substance of the argument before Pilate that secured Jesus’ conviction of a capital crime. “We (will) have no king but Caesar,” they said (John 19:15).
Peter’s answer to the court needs to be read in light of the question the justices were asking. If the leadership wanted someone who could manage the delicate relationship between Jews and Romans—then Jesus was their man. He had proved his capacity to govern and to do it peacefully, and God had registered his approval by raising Jesus from the dead. The job of bringing peace was and is so complex that one else would ever be able to handle the job except for Jesus. What the Persians and the Greeks and the Romans and the Chinese and the Caliphate failed to accomplished, Jesus would do and will, but not with the same methods.
So how did Jesus reveal his political expertise? Here is how. After pondering his options in the wilderness temptation (Matthew 4 & Luke 4), Jesus launched his campaign. He began by visiting the villages, and as his popularity grew, he sent the disciples to represent his interests as they learned his methods of communication about God. While people were expecting the Messiah to come from God and save them from the oppression of Rome, issue for Jesus was not Rome, but God. Underlying the whole political problem was the sin problem. This is what the angel’s announcement to Joseph indicated.
Jesus made no allies and courted no one’s favor. You never see Jesus in consultation with the mayor, the governor, or any activist social leader. His friends included street people, prostitutes, and amazingly both revolutionaries and Roman collaborators. Of the last group, his intimate twelve included one of each, Simon the Zealot and Matthew.
Jesus never claimed to be the Messiah, but the question promptly became a national discussion while Jesus simply went about his business. When the Samaritan woman in John 4 brought up the issue of the Messiah, Jesus privately told her who he was. Then he allowed the one person who had possibly the worst reputation in the village be the person to make the announcement about Jesus being the Messiah. No person in power would feel threatened by anything a woman like her might say, but the point was made clear to everyone else. A similar announcement was made one more time by a blind beggar in Luke 18, again by someone with such a lack of reputation that no really important person would even take notice. Still everyone else heard the public announcement.
On Palm Sunday Jesus brought his followers into Jerusalem. The Roman guards saw nothing unusual, but the local authorities were terrified by the shouts and chants of the people saying, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” our equivalent of Long Live the King. Then in exercise of his authority as king, he singlehandedly drove the merchants from the temple grounds.
A man with the authority of God on his face did not need to make announcements as to his identity. When the mob had tried to kill him at Nazareth he only needed to say, Excuse me please or some equivalent, and the mob stepped aside as he passed through (Luke 4:28-30). When the police came to arrest him in the garden, his words, “I Am,” put the arresting offices on the ground before him on their knees, and only then did they arrest him with his permission (John 18:6) after reinforcing his lesson on nonviolence with Peter (John 18:11). And when he overthrew the merchant’s tables in the temple and told them to leave, they left (Matthew 21, Mark 11, Luke 19). There could be no question as to his innate, genuine authority. Meanwhile on every street corner Jesus army stood on guard. They needed no training or even instructions for the job. Their simple presence sent terror up the spines of the ruling class, and they were paralyzed from doing anything (Matthew21:23-27, 22:15-25, Mark 11:18, Luke 19:47-48, John 11:47-50).
The moment had come for Jesus to take over. This was the time for him to leap off the temple wall, rally the troops, and assault the Roman citadel with the speed and ferocity he had shown the merchants. He wouldn’t need to turn stones into bread that day. He could save that trick for the long march to Rome in a just war by a legitimate king whom the people had chosen to right the wrongs of the empire. (These would be the same tricks Satan had tempted him in the wilderness to use for validating his claim to office as Messiah in Matthew 4 and Luke 4).
But Jesus did none of that. A week later he died on a cross under a public proclamation posted by the Roman governor himself, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.” As the legitimate king of a city he had occupied and governed for a week, and now with full diplomatic recognition from Rome (Pilate had no idea what he was doing), Jesus looked down on his Roman executioners and forgave them (They also did not know what they were doing, Luke 23:34).
Before he died the king of the Jews forgave the sins of the empire, removing the necessity for revenge and making peace between the suffering Jew and the Gentile oppressor (Ephesians 2:14-15). In so doing he was able to include the sins of the whole world as the angel said in the birth announcement, “He will save his people (all of God’s people) from the chains of their own debilitating sinfulness that divide, desecrate, and destroy the things “that make for peace” (Romans 14:19).
His own death rather than the death of his enemies gave him the authority and credibility to rule over all by love rather than fear of destruction and death. Revelation 19 describes the cosmic battle which has been going on since that time. In that account the conquering general arrives on the battlefield with his garments drenched in blood—not the blood of his enemies, but his own. His sword that comes out of his mouth is the simple truth that he speaks, before the truth of which no enemy can stand. His name is the Word of God, the “I AM” that put the arresting officers on their knees before him in Gethsemane (John 18:6).
The political reality is that peace on earth will come only in the worship of Jesus, and in no other way. Joshua’s conquering sword has limited results, as did David’s, Constantine’s, Muhammad’s, and that of the Crusaders. Whether I.S.I.S., Putin, or the West, one can win battles, but never the war. Humanity cannot unite apart from what Jesus offers through his death and resurrection. Jesus said, “If you do not forgive the offenses of other, God will not forgive your offenses” (Matthew 6:14-15) Without doing as Jesus did, we will forever be at war with each other.
Muslims seek to follow Muhammad’s example in everything. Christians are to follow Jesus example in everything for the sake of forgiveness and peace on earth; however, one doesn’t have to be a Christian to follow Jesus. Jesus never told anyone to become a Christian. He just said, “Follow me.”