by Pastor Mike Stine
For centuries it has been the question in Christianity. Who was ultimately responsible for having Christ crucified? Was it the Romans, who were the only ones that had the legal authority to do it? Was it the cowardly personage of Pilate who feared the Jews more than the man he knew to be telling the truth when he spoke? Was it the Jews who cried out, “Let his blood be upon our heads and our children’s heads?”
Today you shall have your answer to the age old question. I am responsible for having Christ crucified. As is everyone in this room. Guilty also are the Apostle Paul and the 11 disciples who followed Jesus around for 3 and a half years. Not without blame are the prophets Daniel, Ezekiel, Isaiah, and Elijah. And the blame traces its roots back through King David, Moses, Abraham, and Noah.
We all have one thing in common. We are sinful; absolutely filthy, wretched sinners. We had no age of innocence as David laments, “Surely I was sinful at birth!”
If there were no sin, there would have been no reason for God to sacrifice His son in the most horrible fashion imaginable!
However, the human race does have a sin problem and it did require a once and for all sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins. It is this one single act that all of Christianity hinges upon. It is this one single act that make Christianity different from every other religion with well meaning rules and laws that no one can possibly live up to 100% of the time.
It is this one single act that the Apostle Peter told the world about on Pentecost. And it is this one single act that Paul continually declares everywhere he goes.
On occasion we become bogged down by details in Christianity. While each has its importance, we become overwhelmed with do’s and do not’s. We cannot see the forest for the trees. When this happens, it is necessary that we go back to basics. The most basic lesson is what Peter and Paul taught: Christ crucified.
I wish to focus on three points concerning Christ’s crucifixion.
1) Reactions differ
2) Why the crucifixion is important
3) What does it mean to me?
In Acts 2, Peter addresses a crowd the first time he is filled with the Holy Spirit. His message was not one of love or mercy. In fact, it was a message that was confrontational and wouldn’t have been preached in many churches today.
On Pentecost, Peter explained who Jesus was and how David spoke of him and called him Lord. Peter proclaimed that Jesus had been sent by God and was accredited by God through miracles wonders and signs. If the people didn’t understand what David said and who David was calling Lord, Jesus performed miracles to clarify the fact that he had been sent from God. Still the people missed the people.
Then Peter confronts the by saying in vs 23: “This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men put him to death by nailing him to the cross.”
Many of the people who were gathered in Jerusalem on Pentecost were the same people who had been there for the Passover. Some of these same people were the ones who weeks earlier had shouted, “Crucify Him!” and “Let his blood be on us and our children.” Peter now accuses them of putting Jesus to death with the help of wicked men.
Most people, especially after being accused of something as horrible as murder, would have shut their ears immediately and stopped listening to what Peter said. Instead, “When they had heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37 ) That day, 3,000 people were saved.
The reaction is not always the same to the basics of Christianity however. In Acts 4, Peter and John have performed a miracle and the Sanhedrin throw them in jail because they wish to know by what power they have done this. Peter responds and tells them of Christ’s crucifixion. “If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a cripple and are asked how he was healed, then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed.” In verse twelve he adds, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”
The Sadducees reaction to this news is to tell Peter and John not to preach in Jesus name again. It is an order that they must refuse.
Later on in Acts, it is Stephen’s task to testify about the crucified Christ. In chapter 7, Stephen goes through the Old Testament telling the story of how the people had rejected God and His commandments. He is building the case against them and telling them how sinful they are. Indeed, this is the first step in salvation. In order to be saved, a person first needs to know that they need saved from something.
In the summation of his case, Stephen concludes in verse 52-53, “Was there ever a prophet your fathers did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him – you have received the law that was put into effect through angels but have not obeyed it.”
At this, the teachers of the law covered their ears and yelled and picked up rocks in order to stone Stephen.
From these three passages, we see three different reactions from people who are told of the death of Jesus and what it means to them. There was a group of people who took the message to heart and were saved upon hearing the message of Christ crucified. There was a group of people who heard the story and figuratively covered their ears and asked not to be told about it again. Their minds had already been made up and they had decided that they did need what Peter and John were offering. Finally there was a group of people who reacted violently to the message of Jesus’ crucifixion. Not only did they not want to hear the message, they considered so horrible that they didn’t want anyone else to hear the message either. Hence, they killed the messenger.
There is a fourth group that is implicit in the first passage. While it is truly the work of God that 3,000 people were saved, there were more than 3,000 people in Jerusalem that day. During the feasts of which Pentecost is one, the city of Jerusalem swelled to 1 million or more people. While we have no way of knowing how many people had gathered to hear Peter on that day, such an event was likely to attract a crowd. In all likelihood the crowd numbered in the tens of thousands.
Many people were simply indifferent when they heard the message. They heard it. They said, that’s a nice story. Then they went back to their families, maybe even telling them about the story they heard that day. Out of maybe 50,000 people that heard the story, 3,000 got saved, the other 94% ignored it, didn’t understand it, totally forgot about it. Hearing the message didn’t make the least bit of difference in their lives.
Today, we get the same reaction to the message of Christ crucified as these men in Acts did. There are some who hear the word and repent and are saved. Others will shut the door on you and go out of their way to avoid you after they’ve heard your message. Still others try all they can to stop you. While there are some who do react violently, many others have taken legal steps to stop the message of Christ crucified from being spread. Like the teachers of the law, they do not wish to hear about their sins and have absolutely no desire to repent. Still, there are others today who hear the word and are unchanged. There are many who fall into this category and in fact probably make up more than the other three categories combined. The United States as a whole is still looked upon as a Christian nation. A majority of the people have some church experience and have heard the gospel at some point. However, the majority of people in the US are not Christians.
There are in fact hundreds upon thousands of people who sit in church every week, hearing the gospel presented time after time who are totally unaffected by it. There may even be some people here today who have heard the same story over and over again but have done nothing about it because they have no concern over the message of Christ crucified.
What does Christ crucified mean?
What does preaching Christ crucified mean? On the surface, it sounds like one is telling about the death of Christ. While this is part of the story, it is the life of Christ that is brought out in his death.
In 1 Corinthian 1:23, Paul proclaims that he preaches “Christ crucified, a stumbling block for the Jews and foolishness to the Greeks.” What is the problem with the story?
When Paul spoke to the Jews, he proclaimed that Jesus was the Messiah that the prophets had been telling them about for centuries. Indeed, the Jews were drawn in by the miracles of Jesus and the amazing things that he did. What they had problems with was the crucifixion. The Old Testament proclaims that anyone who hangs on a tree is cursed. This is exactly what Jesus did however. Instead of by rope and a live tree, he hung by nails on a tree that had been cut down for the very purpose of crucifying someone.
The Jews could not fathom a Messiah who had been cursed by God.
When Paul spoke to the Greeks about Jesus, they believed he was a good man. They reveled in the fact that he was a great teacher. They accepted his miracles. However, in their minds, he was a dead man. They did not understand the resurrection and they could not fathom how a dead man could be the Messiah.
It is in the solution to both of these problems that message of Christ crucified had all of its power. If Paul could navigate past the stumbling block and make it seem brilliant rather than foolish, his audience would often be won over.
Christ had been cursed by God. He hung on a tree. The curse was the sins of the world that were placed upon him. This isn’t simply enough however. On the cross, he cried out Eloi, Eloi lama sabachthani or My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? The son of God, had been separated from God the Father. This was the punishment that we were meant to face. An eternity cast away from the presence of God. All because God cannot allow sin in His presence.
Jesus was sacrificed in our place. Without the curse, there was no punishment. Without the punishment, there was no sacrifice. Without the sacrifice, there is no atonement for sins and we spend an eternity separated from God because we cannot take our sin into His presence.
But there is still more. To the Greeks, we still have a dead Messiah. Fortunately, Christ has been resurrected. Paul explains the hope of the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15:13-23.
If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, the Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits, then, when he comes, those who belong to him.
The resurrection is often overlooked as part of salvation. We often stop at the cross and leave ourselves a dead savior. However, Paul says, “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.”
Why is the resurrection important. It is proof of, as Hebrews 7:16 puts it, “the power of an indestructible life.” In the past, other people had been resurrected. Elijah raised the son of a widow. Jesus raised Lazarus form the dead. However, though they cheated death, so to speak, they still died once again. Jesus did not.
The penalty of sin is death. When Jesus took upon the sins of the world, he died. However, Jesus had lived a perfect life and death had no hold on him. After his resurrection, he did not die again. Hence, he is alive today! There is not a dead Messiah, but a very alive and well Messiah. Not only is he alive and well, he has beaten death!
It is because Jesus has gone before us that we have hope of eternal life. In the end times, all will be resurrected, however, some of those people will die again. Revelation refers to it as the second death. Jesus died only once and we have that same hope.
Now, hopefully you see that when Christ crucified is taught, it opens up the door a savior that is alive and well and has promised us eternal life. Christ crucified is not a dead and cursed Messiah still hanging on a cross.
What does this mean to me?
In a word, joy. In Wednesday evening Bible study, we have been studying the fruit of the spirit. Currently we are on joy. In the Old Testament, in many of the places where joy appears, there is also sacrifice. When the word joy appears, often there is a reference to a tithe, an animal sacrifice, grain offering, or some other object being presented before the Lord. The lesson to be learned is that there is joy in sacrifice, or sacrifice precludes joy. However, in the New Testament, the very first two occurrences of joy are in reference to Jesus. The people were joyful over the baby Jesus.
It seems only common sense that those who understood what was happening would be joyful. The Savior of the world had been born and they had been in his presence. However, there would have been no joy in even this if there had been no sacrifice. As you have been told, Christ was crucified. It was in that act that he became a once-for-all sacrifice for our sins. If he had not done this, he would have been like any other man. He could have been a great teacher, he could have been a great moral leader. But there wouldn’t have been joy for all of the people of the earth.
However, the sacrifice was made. As sacrifice most often precedes joy, we may now live in joy. The sacrifice is finished. For those who have accepted the sacrifice and are on their way to heaven, we should be full of joy.
There will be things in our life that affect our happiness, many things in life can frustrate us and make us mad. However, our joy should remain. Christ has been crucified.
This is the most basic part of Christianity. It is what was continually preached. It is something that we should continually remind ourselves of. It is a stumbling block for some, foolishness for others. Some will close their ears to it, others will try to stop it from spreading. Many will ignore it like it never happened. However, we who believe may find joy in knowing the sacrifice that was given for us and knowing the Christ was crucified.