7th April 2023

Why did Jesus die?

Now there’s a sermon topic for Good Friday – I’m sure you have heard it many times. But I recently came across an answer that was new to me in its importance. I’ve been reading Jürgen Moltmann’s The Crucified God, in which the author considers the reasons for Jesus’ crucifixion; the first two are staple answers but the third made me stop and think.

First, Jesus was executed for being a blasphemer. He was doing the things of God: raising the dead, forgiving people of their sins. Jesus set himself up to be equal with God – remember the refrain from the Sermon on the Mount, “you have heard that it was said… but I tell you…” Such blasphemy was punishable by death.

Second, Jesus was undoubtedly crucified by the Roman soldiers. The ascription on his cross laid the charge against him: “the King of the Jews”. Was he plotting a rebellion against the Roman rulers? Inciting the people to violence against the occupying forces? Pontius Pilate thought so, and had Jesus killed for it.

But the third reason for Jesus’ death goes much deeper. Jesus died on the cross because he was abandoned by God. Witness his final words from Mark’s gospel: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” During his life Jesus spoke of knowing the Father intimately, of doing only what the Father willed, of being one with the Father. On the cross he was cut off from his God and Father. According to Mark, “Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last”. Do we hear in that cry the horror of abandonment by God?

Ian Waddington