What do we make of Christ’s death? (Crucifixion Day)

Bible Readings

  • John 18:1-11
  • Luke 23:26-49


My dear brother and sister in Jesus Christ,

Our Lord once said,

Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 18:2–3, NIV)

In another place our Lord said, praying to his Father,

I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. (Matthew 11:25, NIV)

The reason why I quoted these verses is to stress the point that trust and faith, although based on true knowledge, demands humility.  It does not require intelligence; cleverness harbours arrogance and pride.  What the mind rejects as implausible there is no room in the heart for trust.

Christians cannot defend God and Christ, as if He needs our endorsement before others will believe in Him.

To come to God in faith is to trust that, how He revealed Himself in Scripture, is the truth and worthy of trusting because our lives depend on it.

So, can we believe Jesus? What is of crucial importance is that we understand that all of Christ’s life and teaching on earth was God’s revelation of Himself.

What Christ taught was and is crucial, how He lived was crucially important too, but what about his death? Was his death any different than the death of any leader of other religions?

Was Christ’s death separated from who He was and what He taught all his life, or was his death the culmination of his teaching of who He was and what his mission was?  My death will not necessarily have any meaning; flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God.  I will die because it is destined for children of Adam to return to dust. But it was different with Christ.  So, what set the death of Christ apart from all who died before and after Him?

Put it in other words:  does the death of Christ back up his life and teaching?  It it doesn’t, we are gathered here for no particular reason.  The opposite demands our attention:  if his death indeed was the culmination of his earthly ministry, all gathered here today are left before a choice: reject the truth of the Gospel, or live by the truth of the Gospel.

The ministry of Christ did not happen in a vacuum

Skeptics may look at the life of Christ without the wider context of his ministry.  His birth of a virgin, his claims, his teachings, his life and indeed his death happens without context.  He then is purely a human being who made the most preposterous and farcical claims which no intelligent person can believe in.  He then recklessly and senselessly ventured into territory where no one in his right mind would dream to tread:  who would take on the Roman Empire and claim to be King?  Who would dare stand before the Jewish Council and claim to be the Son of Man?  Who would overturn the tables in the temple and in bright daylight declare the He would rebuild the temple in three days.  Is his death not a logical consequence of repeated stubbornness and foolishness?

But Christ’s ministry did not happen in a vacuum.  It is only when we understand God’s power to create out of nothing and his claim on all creation, his righteousness, his sovereignty, his holiness, his judgment, his grace, his love for lost sinners, the fall of mankind into sin, God’s promise to restore and rescue and renew what is fallen, that we will understand anything of the ministry, teaching and death of Christ.

All the main historical markers of fallen mankind pointed forward to God’s gracious work of restoration.  God’s promises to Abraham was ultimately fulfilled in Christ. When God rescued his people from slavery it pointed to the ultimate rescue work of Christ.  Moses was a type of Christ, but where he failed Christ succeeded.  The Promised Land of Israel was a precursor to the eternal rest of heaven made possible by Christ.

Aaron, the High Priest, brought sacrifices in the form of sacrificial animals, which pointed to the ultimate sacrifice of Christ, after which neither more sacrifices, nor any High Priest would be needed.

David was a type of Christ, but Christ was the ultimate fulfilment of all kings who would lead the people to the celestial Promised Land.

The ministry of Jesus indeed did not happen without context.  Therefore his life and death did not happen without context.  The context gives it meaning.  So what do we make of the death of Christ?

Christ, the Priest mediating the grace of God

One of the major tasks of a priest was to make intercession for the people.  Not only did they stood with the blood of the sacrificial animal before God, they pleaded before God on behalf of the people.  The very fact that the breastplate of the High Priest had the names of all the tribes on it meant that he stood in the presence of God on their behalf.

Priests were the mediators of God’s covenant.

What did Jesus do?  Listen to this verse in John 18:8, Jesus answered,

If you are looking for Me, then let these men go. (John 18:8, NIV)

All along in his teaching an ministry prepared his disciples that He would be handed over to be killed. But He more specifically spelled it out in John 10,

The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.” (John 10:17–18, NIV)

Did not the curtain of the Most Holy tear from top to bottom when the ultimate High Priest cried out, “It is finished!”

The death of Christ backed up his teaching are his life.  He did not come to be served, but to serve.  He came to seek and save the lost.  And the reason why He was willing to do it is, firstly, because God loved the world and wanted to save sinners; secondly, sinners could not save themselves, not even the blood of bulls and heifers could make permanent atonement.

If you are looking for Me, then let these men go.

Can you hear the grace of Christ who deliberately stood firm and demanded that those He would die for would not die with Him, but go free?

“Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?” (John 18:11, NIV)

This was the lonely road of the lamb led to be slaughtered.

And then, with the nails through his hand and feet, raised between two crooks, our Lord prayed,

“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34, NIV)

This is the prayer of a High Priest!  And why would his Father listen?  Because his Son was without sin, the Lamb without blemish. It even came from the mouth of Pilate,

Look, I am bringing Him out to you to let you know that I find no basis for a charge against Him.” (John 19:4, NIV)

And the centurion at the foot of the cross praised God and said,

“Surely this was a righteous man.” (Luke 23:47, NIV)

And the one crook made the point:  He is innocent, we are not.  He does not deserve this death, we do!

As priest Christ mediated the grace of God.

What do we make of his death?  First and foremost:  He died in our place.  He surely could, because He was both sacrifice and High Priest. No one else could!  Therefore there is salvation in no other. If He did not die, we must die.  We must have obedient trust and faith in Him.

Christ, the king executing the grace of God

Although the soldiers mocked Him by clothing Him with a purple robe and gave Him a crown of thorns, Jesus instead that He was King.  “Are You the King of the Jews?” “Yes, it is as you say.”

“My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.” 

“You are a king, then!” said Pilate. Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” (John 18:36–37, NIV)

With a stubborn will unwilling and unable to see what Christ is teaching in this last moments of his life, Pilate mockingly presented Jesus to the crowd, “Here is your king! Shall I crucify your king?” Not wanting to be on the wrong side of the Caesar, Pilate handed Him over to be crucified.

Like Caiaphas in John 11, who had no idea that he had been arrested by God when he made an enormous prophecy about Christ when he said it is better for one man to die than the whole nation perish (John 11:49-53), Pilate unwittingly did the same.  In three languages, clear to read for all by-passers who came to Jerusalem for the Passover Feast from different parts of the world, he had the sign put on the cross.  “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews”  In his eyes it was probably nothing more than a mockery, but it was still true.  He was and is indeed King!

Does a King die in agony being the ridicule of the world.  “If He is King, if indeed He is the Son of God, let He rescue Himself and get off the cross.”

Yes He is king, but He is at the same time High Priest and sacrifice.  It was precisely because He was King that He had to die;  all others would fail in miserable weakness.  By dying he would overcome death and Satan.

As King Christ executed the grace of God.

The claims He made during his earthly ministry were backed up by his death on the cross.  To be included into his kingdom is to believe that He is indeed who He claimed to be.

Christ, the prophet proclaiming the grace of God

When the King with outstretched arms on the cross gave Himself, He interceded for the lost, “Father, forgive them.

One of the crooks heard Him pray and asked to be remembered.

Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43, NIV)

 On what grounds could Jesus give this promise?  The only possible answer is that He reopened Paradise as King, that He as priest atoned for the sin of the children of Adam, and that He was the ultimate prophet who had the authority to make a prophesy like it.  The crook believed and entered paradise with our Lord.

As prophet Christ proclaimed the grace of God.


What do we make of the death of Christ?  His death was the culmination of God’s mercy towards sinners, the prophecies of the Old Testament, and his promises made true in Christ Jesus.  What Christ claimed during his ministry came to its fullest conclusion when He gave Himself to die in our place.

Amazing love, o what sacrifice, the Son of God given for me

My debt He pays and my death He dies that I might live.

Sermon preached by Red D. Rudi Schwartz on Friday 30 March 2014 (Crucifixtion Day) 


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