The temptation when teaching about the crucifixion is to talk about the Romans, Roman courts, Pilate, Crucifixion, and prisoner release customs when dealing with the first 15 verses. Then in the verses that follow to discuss the suffering of Jesus and how he died for our sin (15:16-47). I want to suggest an alternative approach an approach that asks the question, “How does this fit in with the rest of the the story of God’s dealings with his people?”
I learned the Gospel in chunks. I learned about his healings and his teachings and about the crucifixion and the resurrection like they are isolated chunks removed from each other and from context and from the bigger picture of the kingdom. There are two reasons this happens. The first is that it is often done by necessity as a sermon will focus on one particular parable or healing story or a Bible class may be working through a Gospel and deal with a couple stories at a time. The second is that we often reduce the Gospel to its most basic components in order to make it more easily used for evangelism. We boil it down to Jesus came to solve our problem. That is only part of the story. What Jesus did was an answer to the problem of humanity’s dealing with sin and death but what Jesus did was even bigger than that. He was taking on the powers of darkness and the forces of hell. They threw everything they had at Jesus Christ and even the wrath of God was poured out on him. He endured it all and by doing so conquered every power and even death itself. That is a big deal and it fits in with the story of God’s people – that God had been pointing to this event for many generations.
The passion narrative has continuity with the rest of Jesus ministry. Jesus came to set things right and to subdue through his authority the powers of darkness. It is true when he cast out a demon, healed a man’s legs, and calmed the storms (all of which he did by commands = authority). It is also true of the cross. There is a thread that runs through the narrative and connects the stories and brings the whole picture together with a certain unity that may not be apparent when handling the Gospel story by story. What is the thread? It is the kingdom of God and how the story of God’s dealings with his people had gone from generation to generation in an unfolding story rich with meaning and symbol and action and loving faithfulness.
The passion narrative also has continuity with the history of Israel. The prophets bring continuity with the ministry of Jesus, not just in the fact that they predicted much of Jesus’ life and ministry and death hundreds of years before the events took place but also because Jesus fell right in line with the same role they had had only this time the Son had come into his Father’s vineyard to confront the wicked tenants (Mark 12). Israel’s own story gives continuity to the Gospel. The main stories of their faith (which they regularly told in a culture with no electricity, internet, telephone, etc was a part of their lives and identity). The creation and exodus are rich with meaning and point ahead to the fulfillment of those events that come through Jesus Christ also have continuity with the ministry of Jesus. Jesus was bringing about a new creation and a new kind of exodus. Jesus also made this clear through feast days like Passover and Tabernacles, that he was the fulfillment of traditions that had been carried out for generations and over 1300 years. Jesus was providing a new kind of exodus where the blood of the lamb will prevent the death of the people only this time it is his blood as the firstborn spotless lamb of God. What happened after the Exodus from Egypt? God took them into the wilderness and made them a nation, His people and possession. What does God do through this new exodus and liberation experience that comes through the death of Jesus Christ? He liberates us from death and makes us His people. Jesus was the passover lamb. It all pointed to him. The picture of Jesus in Revelation is of a lamb who had been slain (Rev 5:7ff). When John the Baptist saw Jesus at the Jordan he referred to him as the “Lamb of God” (John 1:27). Paul saw this component in the life, ministry, and death of Jesus (1 Cor 5:7).
So we can look at the Romans and trials and ceremony and the legality of it all and how horrible crucifixion was but that is only part of a larger story. That is part of the larger story of God’s dealings with his people. We are not the center of the story. God is. We respond. The view that Christ came to meet our needs is only part of the story. He came to do something even larger than that the result of which opens the door to a relationship with God himself through the removal of our sins. That removal was a result of what Jesus came to do – subdue the powers of darkness and death that he had been working against for generation after generation. When Jesus uttered his last words on the cross “It is finished” there is far more meaning packed into that little phrase than we might ever get our minds around.