What is it about Jesus that religious people feel compelled to kill him? Why do the people who are most devoted to serving God, people who confess their need for a savior, hate Jesus so much? They curse him. They insult and mock him. They plot to murder him. They say he plays for Satan's team.
Religious people can't help themselves when Jesus is around. They demand that he be dealt with and that someone put him in a grave.
Jesus is always too much for religious people. He's not what they want. He's not just a miracle worker, or a moral guru, or an inspiring teacher, or a successful exorcist, or a respectable prophet like Elijah. If Jesus was one, or a mix, of any of these things that would be alright. But, he wasn't just a mix of these things. His words and behavior proved that he couldn't be defined, quantified, and categorized in such narrow, limiting terms. In short, Jesus wouldn't allow religious people to determine his identity, define his mission, or put him in a safe, predictable religious box.
Jesus never claimed to be just anything. He never said about himself that he was a prophet, or an exorcist, or an inspiring teacher. But, plenty of other people tried to pin him down with these designations. Jesus always claimed more about his identity and mission than religious people could accept.
He claimed to be equal with God, calling God "my Father." He said that whoever trusted his words would be the guest of honor at a wedding feast that went on forever. He said David wrote about him and that he was around before Abraham. All the prophets pointed to him. Every word of Scripture was about him. He even claimed to be the I AM of Scripture, God himself.
Wherever God speaks in Scripture, that's the Son, the Word of God. Jesus spoke to Adam and Eve, and Abraham, and Jacob, and Moses. That's why Jesus can say without reservation that "before Abraham was, I AM." Jesus is God's Word in the flesh. And for this, the religious people picked up stones to murder him.
But, that's impossible. God is pure spirit. Why would God become flesh and blood and appear as some backwater rabbi from Nazareth? Surely, if God were to come to his people, he would choose to be the child of a high priest's daughter. He would locate himself in the temple in Jerusalem, seated next to the altar in all his divine glory. Surely, the almighty and holy God wouldn't embarrass himself in this way.
Jesus rubs religious people wrong because they want to climb up to God. They want to be glorified by God for their piety and devotion. They want God to say, "Come up here, and sit at my right hand." They want God to give them the best seat in heaven, to have him say, "You are the greatest amongst all my people." But, Jesus comes along and exposes the truth about their piety and devotion; it's an invention of their own twisted religious daydreams. And for that they loathe him.
What Jesus claims about himself is only offensive because it pushes religious people out of the spotlight. Jesus is called, "my beloved Son." The voice from heaven says, "Listen to him," not "listen to the religious people." While religious people talk about traditions, rules, and debate with him about the meaning of God's Word, Jesus promises the last, littlest, least, lost, and dead (those who are furthest from what people would define as "religious") forgiveness, new life, and eternal salvation.
The scandal of God coming in the flesh reaches its culmination in the most irreligious of events: crucifixion. God dies because flesh can die. Without flesh, God can't die, and if he can't die, the sin of the world remains in effect. Its authority and power rule over all of us, religious and irreligious alike. God must become flesh, for otherwise, how can he conquer death? God must be damned by sin, for otherwise, how can he overcome and defeat all the forces of hell?
God's crucifixion sums up the point of it all. Why Jesus? Why flesh and blood? Why a humble man from nowhere? Why such a horrific death? So God can become sin, die, and undergo damnation for all people, at every time, in every place. He lives the life he lives and goes to the cross so that he can sympathize with us in our very human weaknesses. He dies so that he can prove that he's a real man. Then, he rises from death to prove he is the I AM, true God. He dies and rises to prove that whoever trusts in his words is forgiven, has a new life, and is eternally saved.