Outside of the Easter season, the crucifixion receives scant attention. Though mentioned often, the reference passes quickly - a comment in a sermon or Bible study on another topic. Preachers much less often directly address the crucifixion and the events surrounding it with detail. Even rarer are sermon series discussing the subject in great detail. Despite those realities, the crucifixion holds on to its central place in Christian doctrine. If one erases the crucifixion, he or she erases all of the hope the Bible offers humanity.
In a few words, “The crucifixion is personal to every person - very personal.” It matters to everyone. It is essential, irreplaceable, and unavoidable. At some point, every person encounters the realities and significance of the crucifixion.
In the book of Mark, Pilate appears in the narrative just before the crucifixion. He interacts with the chief priests, with Jesus, and with a crowd of people. Within those interactions, Pilate poses four questions. They are four critical questions that every person must ask and answer before he or she can finish dealing with the crucifixion on a personal level. Importantly, individuals must ask and answer these questions while they still have the chance of hope during their life - before they die. After that, the answers no longer matter; hope has passed by.
The crucifixion demands an answer from you and me - from every person - to each question.
In his very initial interaction with Jesus, Pilate asks, “Are you the King of the Jews” (Mark 15:2)? He poses a question of “person.” He wants to know Jesus’ true identity. Essentially, he is asking, “Who are you, Jesus?” Events indicated Jesus was more than an ordinary person. Was He the long-awaited Messiah? Was He indeed the King of Kings? Or, was He an imposter, a charlatan? Was Jesus God? Or, was He just a good man with radical religious ideas? Considering the remarkable things He had done, was Jesus a great illusionist or one who actually possessed extraordinary power?
Each one of those questions matters. Every one of them is still contemporary and fresh. At some point in a conversation or contemplation about the crucifixion, everyone must answer, “Who is this man, this Jesus? His identity matters. The crucifixion of a criminal may be unimportant news. But, the death of the Messiah matters enormously. The answer to Pilate’s “question of person” determines the significance of Jesus’ death.
What is the answer? Jesus is God. At the crucifixion, God delivered Himself up for the sin of humanity. God suffered. The “word” that had become flesh died. Jesus said, “He who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). He said, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). He said, “I came forth from the Father, and have come into the world” (John 16:28). Jesus answered Pilate, “It is as you say” (Mark 15:2). That answer raises the second question.
“Why did He do it? Why did Jesus allow others to crucify Him? Why would God send His Son to die on a cross? Why would Jesus endure such hostility, humiliation, pain and anguish?
In that second question, Pilate poses a question of “purpose.” “Why” matters, too. He asked the crowd about Jesus, “Why, what evil has He done” (Mark 15:14). His query is personal because he believes he may have to order Jesus’ crucifixion. In reality, his decision is entirely in God’s hand. For readers, the question becomes, “Why did Jesus die like that,” “Why did He do it?” He clearly also understands that only evil brings crucifixion upon a person. Yet, He can find no evil in Jesus.
Pilate received no answer from the crowd. But, the Bible amply repeats Jesus’ answers. In one answer, Jesus says, “I love you.” He said, “Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for His friends” (John 15:13). He also said, “God loved the world like this, that He gave His only Son…” (John 3:16). Jesus had another answer, too. He said, “I’ve come to take you home.” He said, “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also” (John14:6). Peter wrote of Jesus, “Christ also died for sins once-for-all, the just for the unjust, in order that He might bring us to God.”
Loving people and bringing them home to God is still Jesus’ purpose today. Those things are why He allowed Pilate to crucify Him. Neither guilt nor Pilate’s power and position were ever an issue for Jesus.
Pilate also asked a question of “pressure.” This one is more subtle. Instead of releasing the innocent Jesus, Scripture records that “wishing to satisfy the multitude, Pilate released Barabbas for them” (Mark 15:15). Before releasing Barabbas, Pilate did a quick assessment. “How will my choice affect my life,” he thought. One choice would cause him earthly trouble with the multitude; the other would not. He never considered an eternal consequence. He wanted to please the people.
Outside pressure affects nearly every decision. Those pressures mix with personal fears, ambitions, preference and other thoughts to influence responses to every situation. Pilate faced those things just like people today face them. In the face of such pressures, Jesus would say, “Follow Me” (Matthew 4:19).
The crucifixion forces people to consider what pressures they will follow. Will they bow to the worries and riches and pleasures of this life (Luke 8:14). Will they choose the wide and broad path or the narrow one (Matthew 7:13)? Everyone faces such questions because everyone faces earthly, human pressure.
Finally, in Mark 15:12, Pilate asks a question of “path.” Having grappled with who Jesus is, why He died, and what a choice means personally, everyone faces a choice of paths. Pilate said it this way, “What shall I do with Him whom you call the King of the Jews.” After all other questions, this one remains, “What shall I do with Jesus.” Of all the answers that the crucifixion demands, this one is possibly the most important.
Jesus’ selfless sacrifice prompts the question, “What will I do about this?” Jesus describes two paths, one narrow and one broad. He said that “the gate is small, and the way is narrow that leads to life, and few are those who find it.” But, some do. They choose to follow Jesus. Jesus’ crucifixion affects and compels them. They accept what it offers. At that moment, the crucifixion becomes personal - very personal.