This week I'm at Mount Hermon Conference Center in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California, a few miles from the Pacific Ocean, and an hour south of San Francisco. I'm here as part of the speaking team for Dallas Seminary week.
Last night President Mark Bailey opened the conference with a stirring message on "Who Really Killed Jesus?" Referring to the controversy over Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, he noted that the controversy over who killed Jesus is not new in any sense. It's been around for 2000 years. The film simply brought it to the front pages. He specifically asked how the Jews relate to the crucifixion. Were all the Jews guilty, including the Jewish people today? Were none of the Jews guilty of the death of Christ? Were some of them guilty? Dr. Bailey argued his case based on one Greek word that is translated "deliver" or "hand over" in the Passion narratives and in other passages relating to the death of Christ. He showed that guilt in the death of Christ is widespread. Judas handed over Jesus to the Jewish leaders who handed him over to Pilate, the Roman governor, who delivered him to the Roman soldiers who put him to death. According to the New Testament, the Jews were of various opinions about Jesus--some loved him, some hated him, others were curious, others were confused. From a human point of view, you can say there was a conspiracy to put Jesus to death that involved one disciple, some Jewish leaders, and some Gentile leaders. The act itself was carried out by the Roman soldiers.
But there is much more to the story. Numerous passages in the New Testament use the same Greek word to describe what God did. He "delivered" his own Son to death for us (Romans 8:31-32). And Galatians 2:20 notes that Christ "loved us and gave himself for us," using the same Greek word. Dr. Bailey pointed out that the death of Christ was a "fragrant offering" to the Heavenly Father (Ephesians 5:1). That's a remarkable contrast to the overwhelming shock most people had when they viewed Mel Gibson's film. The movie accurately portrayed the horror of the cross. Men often vomited when seeing a crucifixion for the first time. The New Testament tells us that the Father not only "delivered" his own Son to die on the cross, he was pleased with it. "The cross smells good to the Father," Dr. Bailey said. The image jars the sensibility but it is entirely biblical, and a helpful corrective to the notion that the cross was some sort of cosmic accident.
In the end we come to Acts 4:27-28, where Peter declares that "Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen." Here we see the full picture--the evil conspiracy of some Jews and some Gentiles to kill Jesus set in the context of the power and will of Almighty God who "decided beforehand" what should happen. Dr. Bailey noted that you need two goalposts to kick a field goal. You can't kick a field goal through one goal post. We need to see human responsibility and divine sovereignty working side by side in the death of Christ. Herod and Pilate and the Jews and the Gentiles who cooperated with them were truly guilty, but they could not act apart from God's sovereign will. In the ultimate sense, Jesus willingly laid down his life, and the Father gladly delivered his Son for our salvation. This is the true answer to the question, "Who really killed Jesus?"
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