************ Sermon on Acts 2:23 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on November 9, 2008
"Why Did Jesus Die?"
Lord's Supper Sermon
Why did Christ die? Who was responsible for His death? These are the questions I want to answer on this Lord's Supper Sunday.
Think of these questions from the viewpoint of an unbeliever. From an unbeliever's point-of-view, the only one responsible for Jesus' death was Jesus Himself. Jesus was executed as a criminal. He challenged the traditional Jewish understanding of the Law and therefore upset the Pharisees. He proclaimed Himself to be King of Jews and therefore challenged the authority of Caesar. Jesus was a threat to law and order, so He was killed. Why did He die? As a law-breaker! As a trouble maker! As a criminal!
As Christians, however, we know and believe that there is far more to the answer.
I The Roman Soldiers and Pilate
A Why did Christ die? Who was responsible for His death? Did you hear what Peter said? "This man was handed over to you" (Acts 2:23). "This man" – that is, Jesus. "Handed over to you" – that is, the Roman soldiers and Pilate.
The Roman soldiers were the ones who were immediately responsible for the death of Jesus; they were the ones who carried out the sentence. The Gospels tell us that "they crucified him." What, exactly, does this mean?
-they humiliated Jesus by stripping Him naked
-they laid Him on His back on the ground and nailed His hands to the horizontal wooden beam
-they lifted Him on to the vertical pole already in the ground
-they nailed His feet to the vertical pole
There Jesus hung, hopelessly exposed to pain, ridicule, heat, cold, thirst, and hunger. There is no evidence that the soldiers enjoyed doing this. There is no suggestion by any of the Gospel writers that they were cruel or sadistic. They were simply obeying orders. It was their job. They did what they had to do. Jesus was "handed over" to them (Jn 19:16-18).
B The Bible tells us that Jesus was also "handed over" to Pilate (Mt 27:2). The Gospel writers emphasize two important points about Pilate. First, Pilate was convinced that Jesus was innocent. In fact, three different times Pilate declared this publicly (Lk 23:4; 13-15; 22; cf Pilate's wife in Mt 27:19). Second, Pilate made four ingenuous efforts to release Jesus while pacifying the Jews (Lk 23:5-12; 16 & 22; Mt 27:17; 27:24). When none of these worked, Pilate handed Jesus over to be crucified because, politically, this was the safest thing to do. Yes, Jesus was innocent. Yes, justice demanded that Jesus be released. But Pilate was not willing to champion innocence and justice if the result meant he would be in trouble with the Roman Caesar. So, out of fear of Caesar, Pilate handed Jesus over to the soldiers to be crucified (Jn 19:16-18).
II The Jewish People and the Pharisees
A Why did Christ die? Who was responsible for His death? Did you hear what Peter said? "This man was handed over to you" (Acts 2:23). "This man" – that is, Jesus. "Handed over to you" – that is, the Jewish people and their Pharisees.
The Jewish religious authorities were the ones who actually handed Jesus over to Pilate (Mt 27:2)). Jesus had upset them from the very beginning of His ministry.
To begin with, He had not jumped through all the hoops; He began preaching without the proper credentials or proper authorization; He did not undergo an oral exam before a recognized religious body.
Next, Jesus had courted controversy by His provocative behavior. He had fellowship with disreputable people – prostitutes, tax collectors, and other sinners. He feasted instead of fasted. He profaned the Sabbath by healing people on it.
Also, Jesus criticized and rejected the Pharisees. He called them hypocrites and "whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men's bones and everything unclean" (Mt 23:27). He criticized them for exalting tradition over Scripture. He said they cared more for regulations than for persons, more for ceremonial cleansing than for moral purity, more for laws than for love.
Finally, Jesus made outrageous and blasphemous claims to be Lord of the Sabbath, to know God as His Father, to be equal with God.
All of this made the Pharisees self-righteously indignant over Jesus. He was leading the people astray. He was encouraging disloyalty against Rome. So, His ministry must be stopped before He did too much damage.
Pilate saw through all of this. Matthew tells us that Pilate "knew it was out of envy that they had handed Jesus over to him" (Mt 27:18). Envy! They envied Jesus His success. They envied Jesus His crowds. They envied Jesus His authority in teaching and preaching and healing. So, full of envy, they handed Jesus over to Pilate (Mt 27:2).
B As for the people, they were manipulated by the Pharisees. They were incited by the Pharisees. The very same crowds who had given Jesus an enthusiastic welcome into Jerusalem, were screaming for His blood only five days later.
Peter says, one chapter later, "You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate" (Acts 3:13). "You" – that is, the Jewish people. "Handed him over" – that is, Jesus. "You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. You killed the author of life ..." (Acts 3:14).
Why did Christ die? Who was responsible for His death? Did you hear what Peter said? "You handed him over to be killed ... and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross" (Acts 2:23). You know the wicked men who helped. Chief among them was Judas. It was Judas who handed Jesus over to the Pharisees by betraying Him with a kiss (Mt 26:16).
Why did Judas do this? He was a close friend and companion, someone who shared bread with Jesus (Jn 13:25-30; Ps 41:9). The apostle John tells us that Judas was a greedy thief (Jn 12:6). It is not for nothing that Jesus tells us to "beware of all covetousness" (Lk 12:15), or that Paul declares the love of money to be "a root of all kinds of evil" (1 Tim 6:10). In pursuit of material gain, humans have descended to the deepest depravity. For the love of money, judges have perverted justice, politicians have sold their power, and spies have sold their country's secrets to the enemy (cf Amos 2:6). The language of all such people is the language of Judas: "What are you willing to give me if I hand him over to you?" (Mt 26:15). Everyone, it seems, has his price.
Jesus said it is impossible to serve God and money. Judas chose money. So he handed Jesus over to the Pharisees.
IV God's Set Purpose and Foreknowledge
A Why did Christ die? Who was responsible for His death? Do you hear the common phrase, the phrase of our text? Jesus was "handed over." Jesus was handed over by Judas to the Pharisees – out of greed. Jesus was handed over by the Pharisees to Pilate – out of envy. Jesus was handed over by Pilate to the soldiers – out of fear. Jesus was "handed over."
Jesus predicted this would happen. Jesus predicted He would be handed over to be crucified (Mt 17:22).
B It is natural to make excuses for those who handed Jesus over. It is natural to make excuses because we see ourselves in Judas, in the Pharisees, in the people, in Pilate, in the soldiers. Indeed, even the Bible offers some excuses.
Remember what Jesus said in His prayer from the cross? "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing" (Lk 23:34). Similarly, Peter said to the crowd in Jerusalem, "I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders" (Acts 3:17). Paul says, "if the rulers of this age had understood they would not have crucified the Lord of glory" (1 Cor 2:8).
It is natural to make excuses and, yet, there is no excuse. "You put him to death by nailing him to the cross" (Acts 2:23). Jesus is He "whom you crucified" (Acts 2:36).
C The question can be asked, if you were there at the cross, would you have done what they did? "Were you there when they crucified my Lord?" And you must answer, "Yes, I was there." Not only as a spectator but also as a participant, a guilty participant – someone plotting, scheming, betraying, bargaining, and handing Him over to be crucified. We may try to wash our hands of all responsibility like Pilate, but still we were there.
Why did Christ die? Do you see why Jesus died? Do you see why Jesus was handed over? Jesus died because of human sin. Jesus died because of human greed, human envy, human fear. Jesus died because of you and me.
D Why did Christ die? Who was responsible for His death? So far, I have pointed to Judas, the Pharisees, the crowds, Pilate, the soldiers, you and me. But this is not the full story. Our text can speak of "God's set purpose and foreknowledge" (Acts 2:23). Do you know what this means? It means that Jesus was brought to His death by human sin, but He did not die as a martyr, He did not die unwillingly. Over and over again in the Gospels we see Jesus refusing to be deflected from His mission – to go to Jerusalem in order to die.
On this Lord's Supper Sunday, I want to remind you that there are two ways of looking at the cross. On the human level, Judas gave Jesus up to the Pharisees, who gave Jesus up to Pilate, who gave Jesus up to the soldiers, who crucified Him. On the divine level, the Father gave Jesus up, and Jesus gave Himself up, to die for us.
As we face the cross, then, we need to say to ourselves, "I did it, my sins sent Him there." But I also need to say, "He did it, His love took Him there."
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
Back to Index of Sermons Page