When Paul is proclaiming matters of “first importance” in 1 Corinthians 15, he begins with the bedrock truth that “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures” (v. 3). Jesus’ death was for all sin and that includes ours. Even though our sins were committed centuries after His death, they nonetheless made His death necessary. Matthew helps us to personalize this a bit more in his record of the events leading up to Jesus’ death in chapter 27 of his gospel.
For example, he tells us in v. 18 that Pilate “knew it was out of envy that they had delivered Him up” (ESV). The “they” is the Jewish leaders (v. 1-2). Pilate is nothing if not politically aware and he knows a power play when he sees one. The leaders feel threatened by Jesus and His popularity (26:3-5; John 11:47-48). They want the following that He has. They see killing Christ as a way to keep their status and force the people back to them.
This is envy at its ultimate and ugliest—wanting what someone has to the extent you are willing to murder them to obtain it. It is one of the works of the flesh Paul calls attention to in Galatians 5:22. More to our point, it is something we are familiar with because we have all been envious. We tend to not think of it as a big deal, but Matthew lets us know in no uncertain terms that it brought about the death of Jesus.
As we look at Pilate’s role in the “trial” of Jesus, it is evident that He knew Jesus was innocent (v. 19, 23). But Pilate is a weak man—he cares more about his political standing than the pursuit of justice. When push comes to shove, he is willing to hand Jesus over to be crucified rather than upset the crowd. He has the full power of Rome behind him and yet he acts powerless. Matthew shows us more irony in Pilates’ duplicity as he is willing to take great pains to proclaim himself innocent but not the One who truly is (v. 24).
We have all been here before too, haven’t we? We’ve been weak, and our weakness has hurt others. It didn’t lead to their death, but it caused pain and suffering.
Then there is the crowd that is “persuaded” by the Jewish leaders to demand the crucifixion of Christ (v. 20). We don’t know exactly what the leaders said but it wasn’t anything substantial because it couldn’t have been—Jesus was innocent (v. 4, 19)! By demanding His death, the crowd turned into a mob and did what mobs do—they acted in an impulsive, shallow way. It’s likely that many of these were the same people who just a few days before had proclaimed Him the Son of David (22:9-11)—a confession that was apparently made on an equally shallow basis.
Shallowness leads to death. In this case, it led to the death of Jesus. A faith that remains shallow and without roots will also die (13:5,20-21).
Jesus is crucified because of envy, weakness and shallowness. We may be almost 2,000 years removed from the death our Christ, but our sins were there.