Jesus on Trial-Death Penalty?


In the seasonal life of the church, Holy Week is quickly approaching. Before we know it, the palms will be waving alongside the sounds of ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. In short order, we’ll hear the sounds of ‘Crucify, crucify him!’ With blistering pace we move from the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, to the cross, to the grave, and then the tomb. With such intensity and pace, we arrive at Easter morning hardly having time to take in the depth of what God did in Jesus Christ. And what about all those questions burning in the depths of your mind that never have a place and time to be asked.

Does Jesus HAVE to die for God to offer salvation to the world? Were the charges against Jesus strong enough to warrant killing him (why not time in prison?) In the Lukan text, Jesus is charged with three things: 1.’Perverting our nation‘ 2. ‘Forbidding us to pay taxes to the emperor’ 3. ‘Claiming he is the Christ (Messiah).’ How would the gospel stories look different if Pilate let Jesus go, and resisted the crowd’s insistence for crucifixion?

One line of thought goes like this: Humanity is sinful and we deserve divine punishment. Someone has to pay the penalty for being bad or at least restore order in the universe by honoring God. Instead of God punishing humanity, Jesus steps in as a substitute for humanity.  Jesus’ death is a substitution for the punishment that humanity should have received because of sin.

Another thought goes like this: Jesus teaches humanity how to live in peace, joy, humility, and love. Since Jesus teaches humanity how to live in right relationship with God and one another in the Sermon on the Mount (and a lot of other lessons), the emphasis is on his life and not his death.

How about a third line of thought: Jesus is an innocent man-even Pilate says ‘I find no basis for an accusation against this man.’ So when he is crucified unjustly as an innocent person, he exposes or witnesses to the cruelty of injustice in the world.

And the theological thoughts continue, but I’ll save those for a longer conversation. As we approach Holy Week, take time to read the trial, crucifixion, and resurrections texts. Give yourself permission to ask questions that get right to the center of the story. With these questions, we might all see and hear with fresh eyes and ears what was going on in Jesus’ life.