By Alan Shore

Growing up Jewish in New York City, I lived in a neighborhood where there were all sorts of churches. I knew there was some kind of difference between Protestants and Catholics, but l had no idea what it was. I certainly knew, though, what they had in common: a dead man, nailed to a cross.

This man was everywhere--on small silver crosses around schoolgirls' necks, on big wooden crosses in art museums, in paintings and in the movies. I actually thought for a time that the huge stone cross that loomed over the graves in the cemetery in Woodside, Queens, was where He was buried. A little later, I learned His name was Jesus. Oh yes, and one other thing. I learned that we Jews had killed Him.

Why Us?

There are many expressions of contempt for the Jewish people and right at the top of the list is the epithet, "Christ-killer." It was hard for me to believe that some people could hold me responsible for what seemed like such a distant event, but I knew it was true.

This, I gather, is how the indictment against us reads: "The Jews killed Christ. That's why they are a cursed breed, condemned to wander throughout the earth. That's why they have suffered God's punishment, and we are happy to be the instruments God uses to inflict His judgment upon them? Case closed.

Time and time again this smoldering charge has been whipped into a firestorm of hatred against our people. One of the worst misrepresentations is the infamous "blood libel," which accuses the Jewish people of the ritual murder of Christian children at Passover. This baseless charge has proven to be deadly to the Jewish people. In 1903 in Russian Moldavia, a pogrom erupted during Easter that resulted in the death of 49 Jews, with another 500 injured and roughly 2,000 made homeless.

Now, with the publicity surrounding the release of Mel Gibson's new movie, The Passion, Jewish people are understandably nervous. When the question is inevitably raised, "Who killed Jesus?" will the fingers that are pointed be pointed directly at us?

Perhaps it is time to reopen the case. Who really killed Jesus? Let's take a fresh look at the suspects, the evidence and the motives.

Finding the Suspects

The most detailed accounts of the death of Jesus are recorded in the Gospels. They agree that, by the urging of the Jewish religious authorities, Jesus was sentenced to death under Roman law and crucified by the Roman military. The Romans used this particularly gruesome method of execution frequently, not only as a horribly painful punishment, but also as a deterrent to offenders against civil order. So, for whatever reason, the Romans actually put Him to death.

Searching for Motive

Why was it done? Let's look at the underlying reasons for the act itself.

We have an itinerant Jewish rabbi whose following is largely in the hinterlands of Galilee. He is a worker of miracles. He speaks as one of the prophets of old. He comes to Jerusalem, where the religious authorities try to size Him up, according to their own criteria. He refuses to flatter them.

Worse than that, He frightens them. He is a divisive figure. Some are already openly declaring that He is the Messiah who has come to restore the throne of David. Israel is already a political powder keg, ready to blow sky high, and the religious leaders well knew Rome's forceful response to civil unrest.

The consensus is that He must be gotten rid of-- Rome must be appeased. The religious status quo must be reinforced. Caiaphas, the High Priest, can even rationalize that the end justifies the means. Addressing the uncertain members of the Sanhedrin, he declared, "You know nothing at all, nor do you consider that it is expedient for us that one man should die for the people, and not that the whole nation should perish" (John 11:49-50).

Jesus was condemned and handed over to the Romans by a hastily convened meeting of the Sanhedrin (the Jewish "Supreme Court"). Abetted by an urgent crowd of witnesses, a reluctant Pontius Pilate sentenced Jesus to death. Jesus was pronounced guilty of the trumped-up charge of Roman treason--not Jewish heresy***. The sentence was almost immediately carried out. Jesus was crucified, and His tomb was sealed and guarded by Romans at the behest of the Jewish leaders who accused Him and who were understandably anxious to keep the body from being taken away.

Only it did not quite work out that way. According to the Gospel accounts, an angel rolled the stone away tomb, God raised the Messiah and a new chapter in history began.

*** (The old story comes full circle. Jesus was killed because of who He said He was; God the Son, our Creator and our Savior, see John 11:47-53. But, the main point to remember is that, Jesus went to the cross to fulfill Biblical prophecy, for the forgiveness of our sins, all of us!--------Editorial by ProJesus)

Finding Guilt and Passing Sentence

So who, then, is guilty? The short answer is that the guilt lies with a ruthless system of government which, at the instigation of some corrupt religious officials and aided by the indifference of ordinary people, carried out the deed. Yet this assessment touches only the superficial facts--and leaves the underlying realities unexplored.

The Bible itself paints a far more complex picture of the meaning of the death of Jesus. The most striking fact is that, although human beings conspired to bring it about, it could not have happened apart from His own obedience to the role He was appointed to fulfill as the Messiah of Israel.

The Jewish faith teaches that our guilt before God requires an offering through which we may be reconciled to God. Jesus the Messiah willingly became that offering so that through faith in Him, we might have peace with God.

As the "Servant of the Lord" described in the Hebrew Scriptures, Jesus was indeed revealed as the "Man of sorrows" who was "wounded for our transgressions" (Isaiah 53).

However, this was part of God's plan to restore us-- For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Are we all, then, guilty? More so than we could possibly know. And this awareness, oddly enough, is the first step toward our exoneration through the risen Messiah who has already forgiven us.

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