Meaning of the Crucifixion
The Good Shepherd
You will remember that, when Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, he drove all the market men and their animals out of the temple courtyard. As a result of this the Jewish rulers began to plan how they could have him crucified, that is nailed to death on a cross, before the end of the week.
It would, of course, have been a simple matter for Jesus to slip away from Jerusalem to some place of safety. Indeed, even as late as Maundy Thursday evening, when Judas had gone to fetch Our Lord’s enemies, he could easily have escaped over the hills and so have avoided all that the Devil and his human agents were planning to do to him. He knew this very well, and yet he deliberately stayed behind in the Garden of Gethsemane to be arrested and crucified.
The love of Jesus for us
Why? Because he loved you and me so much that, when he came into the world, he was ready to sacrifice everything, even his life, to save us from the Devil and evil, to win for us forgiveness of sins, to bring us to God to be his for ever, and to make new people of us by making us like himself. Indeed, it was so that he might do this that his Father, out of love for us, had sent Jesus into the world (John 3:16) and he could not do it by running away.
Jesus himself pictured his task as a fight between a shepherd and a wolf such as was not uncommon in his day in the wild, Judean hills. We can see it all so clearly: the wolf, hungry, lean, savage, stealthily advancing on the flock of helpless sheep with only the shepherd standing between them and destruction. If he turns and runs, nothing can stop the wolf from scattering the flock and killing the sheep at his leisure. But this Shepherd will not run away, for they are his own sheep and he knows each one by name. So this Shepherd stands his ground as the wolf with bared teeth hurls himself at his throat.
Jesus gave himself and his life for us
So Jesus, as the Good Shepherd, did not run away and leave us to the powers of evil, but gave himself and his life for us upon the Cross. “I am the good shepherd”, he said. “I know my own and my own know me…And I lay down my life for the sheep” (NRSV, John 10:14,15). That was what made Our Lord’s death on the Cross altogether different from that of anyone who had ever been crucified before, for he was God’s own Son giving his life for the salvation of humankind. Our Lord’s life was not taken from him – he gave it freely and willingly as the price he had to pay in order to save us from the Devil and to bring us to his Father. The Crucifixion was something that had to be because when God came into this world, the forces of evil would try to destroy him. So he said, “…the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again” (NRSV, John 10:17,18).
So Jesus died for us on Good Friday, and three days later God raised him from the dead and he is now for ever with his Father in Heaven. And what he did that day on the Cross gives him the right to bring you and me to the Father. Our sins – all the wrong things we have thought and said and done – make us unfit to approach God on our own. But Jesus is God’s sinless Son, and what he has done and suffered for us gives him the right to bring us back with him to his Father in Heaven, both here and hereafter.