With Easter coming this Sunday, I wanted to talk about the significance of the crucifixion. Crucifixion was the Roman method of executing criminals. They crucified people on a regular basis. So for this particular crucifixion to be significant, it depends on who was being crucified. If Jesus were just a man, then this crucifixion may have been a sad travesty that someone so kind and nice, who did nothing wrong, would meet such a tragic end. But then we must ask why he was crucified in the first place? If he were just a nice man that did nothing wrong, what could account for him being crucified like a common criminal?
That question ultimately leads us to who this man called Jesus really was. It was the most unusual trial and execution in all of history – because it wasn’t for what he did but who he claimed to be. He was executed for making the claim of being God. Now, this is oftentimes a point of contention with critics because many say that Jesus never claimed to be God. They think the claim of deity was something added generations later. However, the fact that the crucifixion happened at all flatly disproves this assertion, for it was his assertion of being God that led to his crucifixion. If Jesus didn’t claim to be God, then the crucifixion would not have taken place because that was the sole reason for it.
In case that argument isn’t sufficient for some, let’s look at how Jesus really did make the claim to be God. First, Jesus exhibited characteristics that only God could have. He was all-knowing about the past, present and future. When he met the woman at the well in John 4:16-20 Jesus told her everything about her life. And it was from his intimate knowledge about her life that she knew there was something different about Jesus, that he might be the Messiah. He predicted his own death. He told Peter to get a coin out of a fish’s mouth to use for taxes in Matthew 17. He was all-powerful. Throughout the New Testament, He healed the lepers, raised Lazarus from the dead, brought sight to the blind, cast out demons, and caused the lame to walk again. He had power over the sea and the storms in Matthew 8. And in Matthew 14 he walked on water.
Second, he receives praise from those around him as though he were God. If Jesus didn’t intend to be worshiped as God, then he certainly would have stopped the people from doing so. We know that was how Paul and Barnabas responded to being worshiped like gods at Lystra in Acts 14. The people saw what Paul and Barnabas could do through the power of the name of Jesus and fell down to worship them like gods. But Paul and Barnabas stopped that by insisting that they were just men. They rejected the idea of being worshiped like gods. Granted, having others worship you like a god does not in fact make you god. The Roman emperors and Egyptian pharaohs liked to be worshiped like gods but they certainly were not. But it tells us about what they intended. If the people wanted to worship Jesus as God and he did not stop them, then it tells us he intended for people to worship him like God. But we also must take into consideration what kind of people were doing the worshiping. When those at Lystra or Rome or Athens worshiped something as god, it was just adding one more name to a list of hundreds of gods they already worshiped. But when the Jewish people began to worship someone as God, a people who were unique in this time by having only One God, it meant what they were worshiping was part of that one true God. Jesus even says himself in Matthew 4:10 that we are to worship the Lord God only, yet Jesus openly and readily received worship as that God. His followers were devout Jews who believed in only one true God, yet they all confessed Jesus to be God.
Third, Jesus makes the confession himself about his deity, which is really the whole point here. In John 5:16–18, the Jewish leaders confronted Jesus for healing a man on the Sabbath because that violated the law of resting on the Sabbath. Jesus’ response was “My Father has been working until now, and I have been working.” He referred to God as His own personal Father, not as “our” Father. He put His work on par with God’s work, making Him equal to God. The Jewish leaders clearly understood Jesus was claiming to be God. It says they “sought all the more to kill him because He not only broke the Sabbath, but also said that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God.”
In John 10, Jesus was approached by the Jewish leaders who questioned Him about being the Christ. His response was “I and My Father are one." At this, the Jews picked up stones to stone Jesus. Jesus asks them for which miracle, which deed, are they stoning him and they replied, “For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy, and because You, being a Man, make Yourself God.” The Jewish leaders understood exactly what Jesus was claiming, and they were ready to execute Jesus on the spot for that claim.
In Mark 2, Jesus demonstrates his power and his deity by healing a paralytic but also by forgiving the paralytic’s sins. The scribes ask by what authority He is able to forgive sins. The scribes understood that only the one injured by someone’s sins can be the one to offer forgiveness. If you steal my money I can forgive you. But I can’t announce that I forgive you for stealing someone else’s money. This man’s sins were against God, so the only one who can forgive those sins is God Himself. Therefore when Jesus said that He could forgive sin, He was claiming to be God. He was forgiving sins as though He was the main person offended by those sins. He could only forgive those sins if He really was the God whose laws are broken and whose love is wounded in every sin.
But the most definitive evidence of Jesus’ claim as God is in His trial. In Mark 14:60–64, the high priest directly asks Jesus, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” And Jesus answered, “I am.” This is exactly the statement the Sanhedrin was waiting for. Jesus claimed to be God, the Christ, the Son of the Most High God. He was tried and convicted for this claim and this claim alone. So there is no mistaking that Jesus clearly claimed to be God and knew the full weight of that claim. It was the very claim that cost him his life.
But why does this matter? What if Jesus were not God? Then his death on the cross was insufficient to pay for our sins. If Jesus were just a nice, innocent man wrongfully convicted, then our sins are still upon us. It was only through the sacrifice offered by God Himself that we can have forgiveness. See, we all sin. And the punishment for those sins is death and separation from God. The only way to escape that punishment is by maintaining perfection and holiness – a standard that none of us can meet. Except God. Only God Himself can maintain that holiness and therefore provide the atonement for our sin-stained lives. If Jesus were not God, then our sins are left upon us. It is so critical to understand that Jesus was God. It is why He was crucified and it is how we have forgiveness. Otherwise, His death is insufficient and the wages of sin is still due us.