Who is Jesus? – Looking at Jesus’ Crucifixion From the Perspective of His Contemporaries
Happy Resurrection Day! This week we celebrate the most important event in the Bible, the most important event for Christians, and in fact the most important event that has ever happened in the world. His resurrection has changed our lives and world history.
So today in my sharing, I am going to do something really wild and probably unexpected. I am going to talk about Jesus. :)
Specifically we are going to look at the question “Who is Jesus?” and we are going to answer that question from the perspective of several people in the crucifixion and resurrection story.
So who is Jesus?
From the Perspective of Pilate –
The perspective of the first person we are going to look at is Pilate. Pilate is a very important figure in the trial and crucifixion of Jesus. He was the Roman prefect of Judaea. It is interesting to note that for a long time skeptics dismissed the biblical account of Pilate. They said that other historical books made no reference of a Pilate in Judaea. They therefore happily concluded that the Bible is wrong and Pilate is a myth. But archaeology has vindicated the biblical account many times and it did so again. In 1961 a stone was unearthed in Caesarea.
The Latin inscription translated to English reads like this:
To the Divine Augusti [this] Tiberieum
…prefect of Judea
…has dedicated [this]
Once again the Bible account was proven as historical. The Bible talks about real people, real places and real events.
So the Jews brought Jesus to Pilate because they wanted Jesus executed and under Roman law they did not have the right to do that.
Then the whole assembly rose and led him off to Pilate. 2 And they began to accuse him, saying, “We have found this man subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be Messiah, a king.”
3 So Pilate asked Jesus, “Are you the king of the Jews?”
“You have said so,” Jesus replied.
4 Then Pilate announced to the chief priests and the crowd, “I find no basis for a charge against this man.”
13 Pilate called together the chief priests, the rulers and the people,14 and said to them, “You brought me this man as one who was inciting the people to rebellion. I have examined him in your presence and have found no basis for your charges against him. 15 Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us; as you can see, he has done nothing to deserve death.
22 For the third time he spoke to them: “Why? What crime has this man committed? I have found in him no grounds for the death penalty.
Here is an excerpt from the story. Pilate interviewed Jesus multiple times asking Him many questions. And his conclusion, not once, not twice, but three times is that Jesus is innocent. Pilate was not Jesus’ friend. He wasn’t Jesus’ disciple. He was supposed to be an objective third-party judge. And his objective conclusion was that Jesus was innocent. He had done nothing deserving death.
Matthew 27:19 – Besides, while he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him, “Have nothing to do with that righteous man.”
From this we learn that Jesus is righteous. He is Righteous.
2 Corinthians 5:21 – He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
If Jesus was a sinner like we are, His death would not have been effective for bringing us to God. A sinner cannot even solve His own problem of sin, much less help others. It was only because Jesus was righteous that He could offer Himself as a sacrifice for a sinful world.
Since Jesus was righteous, why would Pilate order him killed? We can see he did not want to, but the Jewish leaders kept pushing him until finally he did it to satisfy them. Thus the crucifixion of Jesus can also be called the “murder of Jesus.” It is the greatest injustice in the history of the world. At the same time, it was the greatest act of love the world has ever seen.
So who is Jesus? Jesus is righteous.
From the Perspective of Simon of Cyrene –
He is Inconvenient, but providential (he changes the course of our lives)
Simon of Cyrene – The perspective of the second person we are going to look at is a person who only appears very briefly in the Bible, Simon of Cyrene.
Mark 15:21 – A certain man from Cyrene, Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus, was passing by on his way in from the country, and they forced him to carry the cross.
Cyrene was a city in Libya, Northern Africa (show map on PPT). There was a community of roughly 100,000 Jews there. The Cyrenian Jews had a synogogue in Jerusalem they traveled to for annual feasts. Now permit me to put on my Sherlock Holmes hat and do a bit of deductive reasoning.
Deuteronomy 16:16 – Three times a year all your men must appear before the Lord your God at the place he will choose: at the Festival of Unleavened Bread, the Festival of Weeks and the Festival of Tabernacles. No one should appear before the Lord empty-handed.
From this verse we know that all Jewish men were commanded to travel to Jerusalem for the Festival of Unleavened Bread, which is the Passover.
We also know that it was the time for the Passover.
While we cannot say definitely, Simon was very possibly a Jew visiting Jerusalem for the Passover. Cyrene was 1260 kilometers from Jerusalem, meaning traveling there by foot would take about 30 days. While we do not know 100% what Simon was coming to the city for, we can be sure it was NOT to carry the cross of a convicted criminal!
Whether or not Simon was a Jew coming for the Passover, he surely had a lot of plans. Here he was in the big city! It was like a vacation. See the sights! Try the food! Explore the architecture! Visit the temple! Do business! Participate in the Passover. Whatever his plans were, Jesus was not part of them. Meeting Jesus and carrying the cross was not part of the itinerary. If he was coming for the Passover, touching the blood on the cross would have made him ceremonially unclean. There was no time to cleanse himself before the festival, meaning he could not take part in it.
Simon was merely a passer-by. He could have been drawn to the commotion and wanted to take a look to see what was going on. Then suddenly Roman soldiers forced him to carry Jesus’ cross. This surely wasn’t in his holiday plans! It was dirty, painful, arduous work to carry the cross. Even worse, it was a great indignity. Here he was being treated as a criminal when he hadn’t done anything
For Simon, Jesus was inconvenient. How would you like it if you are vacationing on the beach in Thailand and suddenly some police officers force you to do manual labor?
Meeting Jesus interrupted Simon’s plans. From one perspective Jesus was inconvenient.
But was God out to ruin Simon’s holiday? Go ahead and ask your neighbor. The correct answer is “no.” For Simon this inconvenient meeting was providential.
Not everything that seems bad is. When you look at the text, you will notice that Mark says Simon is the father of Alexander and Rufus. When I read this text I am thinking, “Wait a minute. Who are these guys? Why does Mark mention them?” Permit me to put on my detective hat again.
Why would Mark mention the names of these two sons?
The answer must be that his readers knew who they were. Otherwise there is not much point. Consider this example. I tell you that Carl Wong helps to manage the finances at GICF. Some of you may think “Hmm. Not sure I’ve met him.” Then I tell you that Carl Wong is the father of Titus and Joshua Wong. Then many people will say “Oh! I know them!”
Alexander and Rufus were very likely well-known believers in the church at that point. Mark was likely written in Rome and Romans 16:13 says, “Salute Rufus the chosen in the Lord.” It is very likely he is the same Rufus.
All of this is to say Simon’s meeting with Jesus was providential. It wasn’t part of his plan, but it was part of God’s plan for reaching his family with the gospel. This meeting was not a coincidence. Even on His way to His death, Jesus was touching the lives of those around Him and changing them forever. Simon would have witnessed the exchange in Luke 23:28 when Jesus stops his own funeral procession to comfort the women of Jerusalem, “Jesus turning to them said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me.”
What at the beginning may have been considered the “worse vacation ever” turned out to be an amazing and memorable experience. Simon carried the cross for Jesus! In Jesus’ darkest hours, Simon was able to help. Imagine the story he could tell his children. Imagine the impact Jesus must have made on him for his boys to become believers who would be well known in the church.
Who is Jesus? Jesus is inconvenient, but providential.
Application: If you come to Jesus, your life and plans will change. It can be inconvenient to follow Jesus. He asks us to put others above ourselves, inconvenient. He asks us to turn the other cheek, inconvenient. He asks us to be truthful and ethical in our business dealings, inconvenient. He asks us to pay our taxes, inconvenient. He asks us to make Him Lord of our lives, inconvenient.
And yet when we meet Him, in spite of the temporal inconvenience, our lives will be changed forever for the better.
Romans 8:18 – I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.
Jesus offers meaning in our lives, peace, joy, comfort, forgiveness, eternal life. Are you willing to face inconvenience in order to gain these?
So who is Jesus? He is inconvenient to our own plans, but providential.
From the Perspective of the Centurion –
He is the Son of God
Mark 15:39 – And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!”
Here is another guy who did not wake up in the morning planning to have an encounter with Jesus. This is a war-hardened executioner. His job is to make sure that Jesus and the other prisoners were killed. This is not a man who is sympathetic to Jesus or the Jews. He did nothing to stop the mocking crowds. He did nothing to stop the soldiers dividing up Jesus’ clothes. His job was simple. Make sure Jesus died.
We don’t know his name. We don’t know where he is from. But we know that God brought him here to this place for a reason. Not only was his own life changed, but he also provided objective evidence of Jesus’ deity.
Notice when Jesus died, that the centurion says, “surely this man was the Son of God.”
The signs pointing to Jesus’ death were objectively very convincing. What other soldiers or executioners in all of human history came away convinced that the “criminal” they were executing was God’s Son?This is not a normal response an executioner has to death.
This centurion had likely supervised many crucifixions. But Jesus’ was very different. He did not wake up in the morning saying “I am going to believe a condemned criminal is the Son of God.” The signs and evidences convinced him of this.
What are the signs and evidences he saw?
- Darkness (Matthew 27:45 – From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land.)
- Earthquake splitting rocks
- Jesus’ response to mockers
- The way Jesus gave up His Spirit. – The text says “when he saw how he died, he came to the conclusion Jesus is the Son of God. In John 10:18 Jesus says this about His own life, “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.” Jesus could have supernaturally kept His life and hung indefinitely on the cross without dying. But He chose to give up His life. The centurion himself saw something supernatural in the way Jesus died. The centurion had seen many people die. He had a lot of experience. And clearly the way Jesus gave up his life combined with all of the other signs he saw that day, convinced this centurion that Jesus was indeed the Son of God. Just like Pilate, he was not Jesus’ friend. He was not Jesus’ disciple. So his testimony is very powerful.
From this we learn two important lessons:
Firstly, believing in Jesus is logical and reasonable. While it does take faith, testimonies like this eye-witness show us that believing Jesus is the Son of God is the only logical response to the facts about Him. While we have faith, our faith is a reasonable faith.
Secondly, even at His death, Jesus is fulfilling the prophesies made Him long ago. Isaiah 49:6 says this about the Messiah, “I will make you a light to the Gentiles, and you will bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.” The Messiah would be a light to the Gentiles. And who is the very first convert to Jesus after His death, this Gentile centurion. This is perhaps the last person you would expect to believe in Jesus, but He is the one whom God chose to save. God is in the business of saving sinners, especially those we don’t expect.
From this we get our application to the point that Jesus is the Son of God.
Application – Have you accepted that Jesus is the Son of God? If not, today I would invite you to place your faith in Jesus as the Son of God. If you would like to know more, I would be happy to meet with you after the service. For those who have accepted Jesus as the Son of God, are you shining His light? Sometimes the people who respond to the light and believe are the last ones we would expect to. The disciples surely would not have looked at Jesus’ executioner an thought “Here is a likely target for the gospel. Let us go preach to him.” But God put him there in that time and in that place for a reason. Maybe there is someone in your life you would never expect to believe the gospel, but maybe that is the person you need to share with.
So who is Jesus? Jesus is the Son of God.
From the Perspective of Mary Magdalene –
Read John 20:11-18.
Let’s look at Jesus for a moment from the perspective of Mary Magdalene. Here is a women who before she met Jesus lived totally in the darkness. We are not told how it came to pass, but she was possessed by seven demons. Nothing in the Bible says she was a prostitute, but there was something in her sinful life that these demons found very welcoming. In March I shared about the man in Mark 5 who was possessed by a legion. Most of what I said about him applies to Mary before she met Jesus.
This is a woman who had no hope. Whatever big promises Satan had made to her had turned out to be lies. She, like every other person, is powerless to ward off these powers on her own ability. The result was a life of darkness, depression, sin, anguish. People in society turned their backs on her. The religious leaders wanted nothing to do with helping such people they despicably called “sinners.”
But Jesus had been different. When everybody else had turned their back on her, when she was an outcast with no where to go and no where to help, when the religion of her day could do nothing to solve her problem, Jesus came into her life.
Mark 2:17 – On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
We don’t know the full story of her conversion. John says not all the books in the world can contain the deeds which Jesus did. But we do know that she was converted. She became perhaps Jesus’ most faithful follower.
In John 19:25 we learn that even as Jesus hung on the cross Mary watched. And here Mary is alone at the tomb. And she is weeping. She is crying her heart out. Why? She is crying because she wants to find the dead body of her Lord and its not there. Notice she does not expect that Jesus has arisen. She is not hoping to find an empty tomb. Seeing it empty does not give her a sliver of hope that maybe the miraculous has happened. That is completely not part of her thinking.
She is crying because the thought of something happening to dishonor even the shell of her Savior breaks her.
While others may have thought that Jesus was a good teacher, a nice man, a great leader, a good debater, a wonderful doctor or many other things, I think that Mary has a better perspective of and relationship to Jesus than perhaps anybody else. Mary gets it. Mary understands just what a difference Jesus makes. She has experienced the lowest of lows, the deepest darkness without Christ and she hated it. Jesus brought her from the darkness to the light.
So who is Jesus to Mary? He is Everything! He is the most important thing in her life. He is her Savior, her friend, her teacher, her Lord, her Everything.
And just as before when he cast out the demons and brought her to the light, He does it again. Once again she is despairing. She is hopeless. She is afraid. And Jesus appears to her, arisen. In her grief and tears and because she completely doesn’t expect it, she doesn’t immediately realize its Jesus. But when she does, she holds on. She is holding on because Jesus is that important to her. She doesn’t want to lose Him again!
I want to take a moment to mention a few other noteworthy observations from this passage:
1. Jesus’ first post-resurrection appearance was to a woman. Some might say it’s not because well, 50/50 chance. But it is very significant because this is not how worldly religions treat women. Ever since the curse in Genesis women have often been exploited and mistreated by men. The main religions of the world don’t fair better. And Judaism at the time of Jesus wasn’t better either. One famous Rabbi from that time period said “it is better to burn the law than to teach it to a woman.” That is why Paul’s statement that women should learn in the church was very radical and anti-cultural. That is why Jesus appearing to a woman is so amazing. From this we see that everybody is important. Every group, every individual is important to God. Each person is created by Him and has value in His site. Galatians 3:28 says, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
Mary Magdalene is a lesson to us. It doesn’t matter who you are. It doesn’t matter what your past is. Jesus is happily waiting to welcome you into His arms and into His kingdom.
2. Jesus told Mary to go and report this to His brothers. This is the very first time in the book of John Jesus ever called the disciples His brothers. He had called them friends. He had called them servants. But never brothers, until now. Something had changed. The fundamental relationship between God and people had changed. The cross had bridged the gap between man and God. This is what the cross means. Brothers and sisters, this is why we are here today. We can call Christ our brother and we can call God our Father because of Jesus’ finished work on the cross.
You don’t have to be a stranger of God. You don’t have to be an enemy of God. You don’t have to be on the outside looking in. You can part of the family. He makes us His brothers and sisters. And He makes us brothers and sisters to each other. Doesn’t that make you excited? When I looked at that verse and realized all the ramifications of it, I was excited.
3. So if you noticed for each point I have shared a letter. So far we have looked at R, I, S, and E. But because I am a nice guy, I am going to give you a buy one get on free. You might even call this a buy one get two free.
Because in this passage we don’t only see that Jesus is our Everything. We also see that Jesus’ Resurrection is Evidenced by Eyewitnesses.
This is very important. Jesus’ resurrection is central to our faith. It is so central that without it our entire faith, everything we believe and follow, crumbles into a pile of rubbish. Paul said the same thing:
1 Corinthians 15:14 – And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.
1 Corinthians 15:19 – If only in this life we are having hope in Christ, we are more to be pitied than all men.
Jesus Himself gave the sign of His resurrection as the ultimate sign that everything He said, and He Himself were true. And this is so important God gave us plenty of evidence to help us come to the reasonable and correct conclusion that Jesus did arise from the dead.
There are many evidences, the empty tomb, the Roman soldiers, the changed life of the disciples, and the fact that the disciples were willing to become martyrs for their belief. And the one we see here is eye-witnesses. Jesus appeared to Mary. He appeared to the two men on the road to Emmaus. He appeared to the 11 without Thomas and then the full 11 with Thomas. He appeared many other times as well. Paul tells us He appeared to more than 500 people. In the Jewish court of law only 2-3 eye-witnesses was necessary to confirm a fact. Jesus went way beyond that.
Now the world doesn’t want to accept Jesus’ resurrection. It didn’t at that time which is why the Jewish leaders refused to believe even after the resurrection and decided to pay the Roman soldiers off. It is also why Jesus appeared to exclusively believers (except for Paul). He had said before that if someone wouldn’t be convinced during their life, then even if someone raised up from the dead then they still wouldn’t be. Because the world doesn’t want to accept Jesus’ resurrection a number of bogus theories have sprung up to explain it. Here are very briefly 3:
A. The swoon theory. This theory claims that Jesus didn’t really die. He just went into something like a coma. The cool air of the grave. The spices on his body. These combined to revive him. He then rolled away the stone, overpowered the Roman soldiers, and escaped. This theory is ludicrous. Firstly, the Romans responsible for killing Jesus were professional executioners. They knew when somebody was dead, hence the fact that they didn’t break the bones of Jesus’ legs. Beyond this they pierced his side and water and blood came out, showing Jesus’ hear ruptured. Secondly, Jesus was brutally scourged before crucifixion and then nailed and hung to a cross. He lost a huge amount of blood and with the holes in his body and no treatment would have continued losing blood. Could a person in that condition possibly roll away a heavy stone in the dark and then overcome professional and fresh soldiers?
B. The disciples stole the body theory. This theory is fairly simple and it is the one the Jewish leaders encouraged. The problems with it are too many to mention all. These were fishermen and ordinary people. They weren’t spies or soldiers. The Roman guards had no bodily injuries and for them sleeping on duty meant death so that wasn’t a likely explanation. One of the biggest problems of this theory is the why? What did the disciples gain if they did this? All but John were likely martyred for the faith. Who would be willing to die for a faith they themselves clearly knew was false?
C. The hallucination theory – This is where the importance of eye-witnesses comes in. These eye-witnesses were alive when the church was first established. If they weren’t reliable. If they weren’t sure. If they didn’t verify it, then the whole thing would crumble. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15 that most are still alive. In other words “you can still go and ask them yourselves.” And we can be sure many people did just that. If they didn’t believe they had seen Jesus the movement would not have started.
So some people have therefore claimed that all of these people in their grief and sorrow were in a terrible emotional state and hallucinated this thing into existence. To this I am just going to say one thing. If more than 500 people hallucinated the resurrection in the same way at the same time, then that is even more of a miracle than the resurrection itself.
Jesus’ resurrection is vital to our faith. Yes, it’s a faith. But it is a reasonable one. You should know that there are strong evidences of it. These eye-witnesses were also not people expecting to see a risen Christ. Many of them were very doubtful and refused to believe the first reports. Thomas is one example, but there are others to. They themselves were not easily convinced. And this type of skeptical eye-witness is actually the most powerful kind.
So we have learned that Jesus is everything and that Jesus’ resurrection is evidenced by eye-witnesses.
From the Perspective of Us/You
So we have looked at the perspective of Pilate, Simon, the Centurion, and Mary. To Pilate, Jesus was righteous and unfairly killed. To Simon, Jesus was inconvenient and wrecked his vacation plans, but also providential. To the centurion, Jesus was proven to be the Son of God. To Mary, Jesus was everything.
The last perspective I want to look at is you. Who is Jesus to you?
Today you may be one of two groups. You have either already chosen to believe in Jesus as your Savior or you haven’t. I would like to offer an answer to this question for both of you.
If you have never yet placed your faith in Jesus, know that Jesus is nearby.
Isaiah 55:6 – Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near.
Jesus is near. He is not just a good man or a nice teacher who lived and died 2000 years ago. He is the Creator of the world, the Savior of sinners, the Son of God. He lived a perfect, righteous life. Just as he changed Mary’s life, he can change yours. He may be inconvenient like to Simon. You may have to give up some of your own plans and change your own habits, but it will be worth it. Today on Easter, nothing would make Him happier than for you to believe in Him and become His brother. If you would like to do this, there are prayer teams in front directly after the service. They would love to talk and pray with you about this.
And if you already have placed your faith in Jesus, know that Jesus nearby.
Ephesians 2:13 – But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
Because of Jesus’ finished work on the cross and His resurrection, you have been brought near to Him. Here are three simple applications:
1. Thank Him for giving Himself so that you can be brought near to God.
2. Share with others so that they can be near to God. Easter is a great time to bring up and share the gospel. Many people around us don’t know what it is. You can tell them.
3. Stay close to God and don’t drift away.
So who is Jesus? Jesus is RISEN! He is Righteous. He is Inconvenient (but providential.) He is the Son of God. Jesus is Everything. Jesus is Near.
Does that make you happy? Does that make you excited? This is a reason for celebration. This is the reason why we celebrate Resurrection Sunday! So what I want you to do today is simple, celebrate!
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