In my early days as a Christian (I did not “grow up” in the faith, but came to it in my forties), I started to realize that Christmas, for all its beauty and mystery, had been supplanted by another holy day as my “favorite”. Easter had taken over First Place in that category – at least in a tie. With Easter came the reminder of newness, my ability to walk away from my past, and the delightful fact that the fear of death – Satan’s last line of attack – had been smashed beyond all repair: as Isaiah puts it, “the yoke shall be destroyed because of the anointing” (Isaiah 10:27).
With Easter coming, we can reflect on what it is that “kills Christ Jesus”. Now, before anyone starts pointing fingers, let me say right away that I do not believe any person or persons “killed” Jesus. The Gospels tell us that Jesus “gave up the ghost” or “yielded up His Spirit”: It was a choice He made, just as when He said, “Not My will, but Yours, be done.”, and He made that choice so that no one could be accused of “killing” Him. Killing Him would have been blasphemy against the Holy Spirit that He said was irredeemable (Matthew 12:31); but by giving up His ghost on the Cross, we are all redeemed.
So, this is not about “who”: it’s about “what”. And there are two of those.
Don’t you hate cliques? They come up in the workplace, on sports teams, churches, service clubs: people who are “in” with the leadership, trusted with privileged information. I’ve been in cliques before, and it was quite exciting – until I wasn’t. Then, they stink. You start wondering what they are doing: what are they talking about? What are they plotting? How will it affect me?
Jesus had His clique. Peter, James and John were the only ones who went with Him up the mountain to see Him transfigured, chatting with Moses and Elijah about “the decease He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem” (Luke 9:31). They were the ones Jesus allowed into the bedroom where Jairus’ daughter had died, after Jesus had frog-marched all the mourners and scorners out of the place so He could raise the young girl without anything to contaminate the faith. Peter, James and John – along with Peter’s brother, Andrew, this time -- were also the ones in whom Jesus confided about the signs preceding His return (Mark 13:3 ff.).
And whom did Jesus take with Him into the garden at Gethsemane on the night He was arrested? Peter, James and John. (Mark 14:33, Matthew 26:37)
If you were another of the Apostles – say, Judas Iscariot – sooner or later, you would have wondered, “What are they up to? Why isn’t Jesus talking to me? Why don’t I get to see the great prophets?” Since Judas was known as a thief, he already had an element of envy in his spirit, making it easy for Satan to “enter into him” and lead him to sell out Jesus to the authorities.
When one is on the outside of a clique, the reaction is not so much to envy the people in the clique as to want to tear down the leader. “Who’d want to follow that person, anyway?”
That attitude would be multiplied, because Jesus had other cliques. There were probably people who envied all twelve of the Apostles, who didn’t seem to be any different or better than they were, but got to walk with the Son of God for three years and perform miracles. Then there was the clique of several thousand, whom He healed or fed from next to nothing. No wonder the authorities – the religious leaders – felt threatened. It wasn’t just about protecting their “turf”: they were envious that this carpenter was attracting all these followers.
And what about the people in Jesus’ hometown? When He got up to preach, it was, “Who is this Guy? He’s Joseph’s kid! What makes Him so special?” To which Jesus replied, “A prophet is not without honour – except in his hometown.”
So envy was one of the killers of Jesus. What was the other?
On the Cross, Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.”
That’s true on many levels. A corollary of Murphy’s Law states, “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity,” and throughout the Book of Acts, we read that the Apostles followed a version of that, putting the crucifixion of Jesus down to ignorance, albeit on a grand scale. In one of the Apostle Paul’s speeches, he says, “... because they did not know Him, nor even the voices of the Prophets which are read every Sabbath, have fulfilled them in condemning Him.” (Acts 13:27)
It’s not just that people didn’t recognize the Messiah when they saw Him, Paul says: their ignorance stretched back to the fact that they would sit through the reading of the Prophets every Sabbath and not really listen to what was being said. If they had been listening, Paul implies, they would have known who Jesus was.
It looks to me like envy and ignorance not only killed Jesus 2,000 years ago, they continue to do so today. People envy those who seem to “have it all together” and stay positive and full of hope against worldly odds: the reaction is often to reject anything to do with Jesus, God or the Bible.
I must say that when I finally stopped relying on others to tell me what the Bible said and read it for myself, my reaction was that people needed to read it, so they would truly know the gift God had given us.
But the ignorance factor isn’t confined to non-believers. There are professing Christians who claim to follow Jesus, but their words and deeds suggest that they, too, are ignorant of what the Bible really says. When those words and deeds push people away from Jesus – condemn them, rather than edify, or try to assume moral superiority – that, too, “kills Jesus”.
So let’s make Easter not about killing Jesus through envy and ignorance, but showing He lives, by rejoicing and increasing our knowledge.
Drew Snider is a former pastor at Gospel Mission on Vancouver's Downtown East Side, and has been a guest speaker at churches in BC.
You can read more articles on our interfaith blig, Spiritually Speaking, HERE