Isaiah 53: 9-10
9 They made his grave with the wicked
and his tomb with the rich,
although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth.
10 Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him with pain.
When you make his life an offering for sin,
he shall see his offspring, and shall prolong his days;
through him the will of the Lord shall prosper.
One of the interesting discussions within theology has focused on the question “Who was responsible for the death of Christ?” Throughout the medieval period of Western History many said “The Jews killed him. They committed deicide. They are the God killers.”
But there were others who said, “It wasn’t the Jewish people, it was Roman soldiers, and Roman authority.” The state was, as it always is, the evil empire
Others within the church put the blame on the whole of humanity. “Jew and Gentile cooperated together in the killing the Son on God. They were our forefathers, so all of us are responsible.”
Then there have been those who have put the blame on God “God killed His own Son. After all, everything happens according to the will of God. He predestines whatever takes place.
Then there have been those who blame the Devil for this and every other evil.
What do the scriptures say to the question? Who was responsible? and why did they do it? Isaiah the prophet offers us an answer to the issue.
I. The Plan of the Father
According to Isaiah, the most obvious thing about the death of Christ is that it was in accordance with the plan of God. Notice how many times he lays the responsibility for the sufferings of Christ on God the Father.
“Yet we did esteem Him stricken, smitten by God and afflicted.” The prophet is saying, “When we saw Him, we thought that God was punishing him. We thought that God was taking the initiative in this deed.” But were Isaiah and others mistaken? Look at verse six. “The Lord laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” It is even stronger in verse ten. “Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him. God has put Him to grief.” The prophet is saying that what happened on Calvary was God’s doing.
Do the rest of scriptures bear that out? Go with me to a garden called Gethsemane. Gethsemane is the place of the oil press. It is the place for the crushing of the olives to create olive oil. It is a place of great pressure. And there Jesus is placed between the upper and nether stones and the pressure is applied. He prays until the sweat stands out like drops of blood.
He prays, “O My Father, If it be possible, let this cup pass from me. Nevertheless, not as I wish but as you wish.” He prays the second time, “O My Father, If this cup may not pass away from me except by drinking it, Your will be done.” The third time He prays the very same prayer. “Your will be done.” And the apparent answer is that Calvary is a part of God’s will for his son. It was the plan of God that His Son to die. What happened on a Good Friday on a hill called Calvary was God’s doing.
But why? Why should God plan such a thing? The Gospel of John gives a part of the answer. “For God so loved the world that He gave His Only Begotten son….” Paul adds to that Word, “God demonstrated His Love for us because while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.”
That is why any view that says that Jesus had to die to pacify an angry God is heresy! Any view of the sufferings of Christ that says, “God was mad at us, but Jesus loves us, and Jesus stands between God and sinful humanity, to prevent the wrath of God descending upon us,” is wide of the mark. God is the initiator of this deed, but not out of any other motive that a passionate love for all of us. And God planned, because of His eternal love, to redeem a fallen world through the offering up of His own Son.
So, the first answer to the question places responsibility on God for the death of Christ.
2. The Permission of Christ
But that is not the whole story. Involved in the death of Christ was not only the plan of the Father but also the permission of the Son of God himself.
Isaiah tells us that He bore our griefs and carried our sorrows. He was led like a lamb, never protesting His innocence. In the Jerusalem Bible there is an interesting translation of verse 10. The Revised Standard Version of the Bible says “when he makes himself an offering for sin.” But the Jerusalem Bible reads “IF He offers His life in atonement.” There is a big difference between “When” and “IF”. The word “If” tells us that it was not a foregone conclusion. The outcome is not certain. God the Father willed the event, but God’s will is not always done. Jesus too has a will of his own. He has real choices to make.
And the word “IF” draws us back to the garden of the oil press. It reminds us afresh of the voluntary nature of His death. Listen to Him as He speaks to those who follow Him. “I lay down my life for the sheep. No one takes my life from me, but I lay it down of myself, for I do have the power to lay it down, and I do have the power to take it up again.”
When Jesus stands before Pilate, He repeats that truth. Pilate says to Him, “Do you refuse to speak to me? Don’t you know that I have the power to crucify you and the power to release you?” And Jesus answers, “You would have no power at all against me, except it were given you from above.”
He had said the same in Gethsemane. The mob had come with swords and staves. Impetuous Peter, one of the twelve, had taken up the sword and a man was hurt. Jesus turns to His disciple “Put away your sword. All that take up the sword shall die by the sword. Do you not know that I can even now pray to my Father and He would send more than twelve legions of angels?”
He needed neither twelve men nor twelve legions from heaven. He had only to speak the word and his enemies would fall back. Many were the times when his life had been under threat. But He had escaped Herod at his birth and He could do so again. In the darkness of that night, knowing the plotting of Judas, He could have fled. For no one could take His life from him. But he was prepared to lay it down of His own accord. So it is true that Jesus was in part responsible for His own death.
But why? Why would He allow His life to be taken? There is only one answer: Love.
Some years later Paul will write, “Christ loved the church, so He gave Himself for it. ” Many more years later the Apostle John writes, “This is how we know that God loves us, He laid down His life for us.” So due to the will of God, and his love for the world, Jesus permitted himself to be killed.
3. The Perversity of Humanity
Yet there was another cause for the death of Christ. Not only was his death due to the plan of the Father and the permission of the son himself, but his death was also due to the perversity of people like you and me.
Isaiah understands this clearly too. He writes, “He is despised and rejected of men.” The Gospel record bears this out. The nation of Israel, led by two unpriestly priests was involved. Pilate and his cohorts were the ones who laid the lashes on him. Jew and Gentile joined hands that day around a common cause. People carried out the crime.
Peter preaches that truth in his first sermon. “God delivered up the man Jesus by His predetermined plan and foreknowledge, but you took Him, and by wicked hands crucified and slew him.”
When the early church gathers for prayer they repeat the same message: “The kings of the earth stood and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord and His Christ, for of a truth, against your holy son Jesus, whom you have appointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the gentiles and the people of Israel were gathered together, to do what your hand and your counsel had determined from the first to be done.”
Strange words. The early church was saying that God foreknew and took into account in His planning, the perversity of the people who perpetrated the crime. The disciples understood that the death of Christ was not an accident where things got out of control. But neither was it a suicide, where a man took his own life. There was murder involved. There was villainy on the part of people who carried out their own unimpeded will. But it was not just murder. Because God the Father and Jesus Christ our Lord went into it willingly. It is why the Bible calls his death a sacrifice.
The Peace Plan in Palestine
Do you remember hearing the terrible news some time ago. Around 50 Palestinians were slaughtered by one man in a Mosque in Hebron. The Prime minister of Israel spoke words of apology and deep regret. But he was not believed. He spoke of the need for peace and fairness, but some questioned his integrity.
Then I thought about how God would have handled it had He been Prime minister. Peace and justice is so crucial. It has become obvious that this terrible event will set back the plan for peace and fair treatment of all people, in that troubled land. This dastardly deed had put it all in jeopardy.
The solutions are:
(1) send in the armed troops to quell any reaction and over reaction. Shoot a few of the wilder ones and enforce a temporary peace by use of curfew and arrests, and then keep your fingers crossed that the peace plan goes ahead anyway.
(2) Do the daring and dangerous thing. Tell your soldiers to back off. And as Prime minister go into Hebron, into the Palestinian sector, without weapons, without a body guard. And try to talk to these people who are furious about the circumstances of their lives and the terrible events of recent days. But know, that this vulnerability can cause one of two things to happen. Either the Palestinians will listen to the Prime Minister who has just put his own life on the line for peace. Or they will kill him in revenge, presuming him to be the real enemy. But the Prime Minister knows that only a gesture such as this can get the plan for peace back on the table.
But change the picture a bit. Let us presume that the Prime Minister has a son with whom he is very close. He would rather die a thousand deaths than have him hurt in any way. But as he looks at the terrible hate unleashed and the distrust of his intentions, he turns to His son and asks him to enter into the Palestinian camp with its rampaging anger and speak to the people on his behalf, but without weapons or bodyguard. And the son of the Prime Minister with full awareness of the probable consequences says “yes, I’ll go.”
The Son does not stand a snow ball’s chance in summer of coming out alive, but if the peace process can be jump started, his death would have been worth it all. The decision of the Prime Minister, out of his compassion for his people, made the death of the son possible. The permission of the Son made his own death probable. The anger and the hatred and the distrust of the people who had been victimized so long that they had become victimizers themselves, made his death inevitable. Of course we will never know about what would have happen in Hebron that day.
But we do know what happened in Palestine 2,000 years ago. The Father sent his willing son into our armed camp and we took out our hatred on him.
We need now to set these words in balance. God the Father did not kill his son, but He did allow Him to be delivered into the hands of sinners. Nor did the Son commit suicide. He offered his life as a sacrifice to bring about peace. But in the final analysis It was we who killed the Son of God.
As we read the records, the awful truth comes through even more clearly. It was people like us who killed Him. Nice people. Cultured People. Religious people. People like us. And upon us falls the blame.
God gave his Son because of his passionate love. The Son gave his life because he shared in that compassion. But we…. .we killed him out of a different set of passions. Passions that sprang from anger and from envy and from hate.
And yet that complex event brings to the fore two great truths.
What happened on Good Friday gives us one of the clearest pictures of sin let loose.
But it also gives us the contrasting picture of the incredible compassion of God.
John Newton reminds us of these grim and glorious truths, He writes
“Thus while His death my Sin displays in all its blackest hues,
such is the mystery of Grace: it seals my pardon too.
Elisabeth Clephane, another hymn writer, proclaims the same double truth:
“And from my stricken heart with tears, two wonders I confess,
the wonders His glorious love, and my unworthiness.
What response do we make to this double revelation? Isaac Watts the hymn Writer offers us some instruction here. Let us sing Hymn #208. “Alas! And Did my Saviour Bleed.” As we sing his words, let us take his advice to heart.