Friday, April 6, 2012

Good Friday

As Jesus awoke the sleeping disciples saying, “Rise up, let us go; lo, he that betrayeth me is at hand” (Mark 14:42), Judas, leading a great multitude entered the garden. What we usually don’t realize is how great that multitude really was. The gospel writers tell us that the group consisted of the chief priests, scribes, elders, the captain and officers of the Jews temple police force, and a band of Roman soldiers armed with swords and staves and carrying torches and lanterns. Like all things in New Testament scholarship, how many men were in a band of soldiers is debated, but it is safe to assume there were at least 150 which shows how much the chief priest fear Jesus. In addition, it is Passover week and the city is crowded with people who hearing the commotion would have followed out of curiosity. One senses the irony as hundreds of angry men stomped through the night led by the light of their torches in order to capture the Light of the world! (See Isaiah 50:11.) As they approached Jesus, Judas cried out “Hail, master!” and kissed Jesus.

Jesus responded, “Judas, betrayest thou the Son of man with a kiss?” (Luke 22:48). Then turning to the crowd He asked, “Whom seek ye?” 

They responded “Jesus of Nazareth.”

Jesus answered, “I am he” (John 18:6). But you will notice in your scriptures that the word he is italicized. This means that the word is not in the original Greek manuscripts but is a word the King James translators added to make things clearer. However, in this case it hides the meaning. What Jesus says to them is simply, “I am” which was considered to be the name of God. As Thomas Aquinas explained, the title I Am referred to the “being of all things.”

Something extraordinary happens as Jesus pronounces, “I am.” At those words the entire multitude stepped backward and fell to the ground which indicates to me that there must have been a power or spirit that accompanied those words as if to give the people one last chance to understand and repent. Instead they arrest Him, but as He surrenders His love is manifest as He asks that His disciples be set free.

At this point Peter drew his sword and lashing out cut off the ear of a servant of the high priest named Malcus. “Put up thy sword,” Jesus says to Peter. Then turning to Malcus he touched his ear and healed him. But even that fails to soften the angry mob. Now, turning Himself over to the mob Jesus said, “This is your hour, and the power of darkness” (Luke 22:53).

After His arrest Jesus was taken to the palace of the chief priest Caiaphas, and his father-in-law Annas, and tried for the crime of blasphemy. The fact that they were trying a man during the night and many other details of the proceedings were illegal under their own laws, but that did not stop them. A unanimous decision was reached (also illegal) and the crowd began to spit on Jesus and make a game of covering His face, striking him, and then crying out, “Prophesy unto us, thou Christ, Who is he that smote thee?”

Outside as Peter waited, a maid who also sat with him at the fire suddenly proclaimed, “This man was also with him.”

But Peter answered, “Woman, I know him not.” Two more times people recognized Peter as a follower and both times Peter again denied knowing Jesus. After the third denial the cock crew and Peter remembered that the night before Jesus had told him, “Before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice.” At the realization of what he had done, Peter went out and wept bitterly.

As the day began to dawn, Jesus was taken to Pilate because the chief priests wanted Him executed under Roman law. As they delivered Jesus up to Pilate in the Praetorium, the official residence of the Roman governor, they refused to enter the judgment hall themselves lest they be defiled. Curious about this man he had heard so much about, Pilate began the examination by asking, “Art thou the King of the Jews?” (John 18:33).

Jesus replied, “Sayest thou this thing of thyself, or did others tell it thee of me?
Sarcastically Pilate replied, “Am I a Jew?” and explained that it is the chief priests that have told him these things. As the trial goes on Pilate persisted, “Art thou a king then?”

Jesus finally answered, “For this cause came I into the world. . . . Everyone that is of the truth heareth my voice.”

At this Pilate asked, “What is truth?” But without waiting for an answer sent Jesus to be judged of Herod.

Herod is equally as curious to see Jesus and questioned Him intensely, but Jesus refused to answer Herod. So Herod and his men mock “the King” by arraying him in a gorgeous royal robe and send Him back to Pilate.

Pilate can see that Jesus has committed no crime and is reluctant to pass judgment, but the Jewish leaders incite the crowd and insist on Jesus’ death. In a last attempt to free Jesus, Pilate offers the people a choice. There is to be a prisoner released to celebrate the Passover. Do they want Barabbas who is accused of murder and sedition set free or Jesus? The name Barabbas in Hebrew means “son of the father” and an early Christian scholar named Origen claimed that Barabbas’ given name was Yeshua, which in Greek is Jesus. Whether that is true or not the irony remains. The Jewish leaders chose to free the guilty “son of the father” who had destroyed lives, and condemn the innocent “Son of the Father” who would give them life.

Pilate, still unconvinced of the Savior’s guilt pleaded with the crowd, but fearing rioting from the crowd that refuses to relent, Pilate washes his hands as a symbolic gesture that he does not agree with this verdict, but proclaims Jesus as guilty and condemns Him to be crucified with the words, “Shall I crucify your King?” and the people shout back, “We have no king but Caesar” (John 19:15).
Once again the soldiers mock and torture the Savior as they carry him to prison. Clothed in the purple royal robe, they now place a crown of thorns upon his head and salute him saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” as they smite and spit upon Him.

Tired from being awake all night, fatigued from the atoning agony, and wounded from the scourging He had received Jesus began the walk to Calvery with the beam of the cross upon His back, but He had no strength left for the task and so a man, Simon a Cyrenian, was pulled from the crowd and forced to carry the cross. Once on the hill, Jesus was nailed to the cross beam, it was lifted into place on the permanently installed post, His feet were nailed to the post and He was crucified with a placard placed atop the cross that read in three languages, “This is the King of the Jews.” The Jewish leaders asked Pilate to change the placard to read, “He said, I am King of the Jews.” But Pilate refused to change it saying, “What I have written I have written.”

As the soldiers jeered and reviled while carrying out their duties, Jesus looked down upon them and said, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34).

Totally clueless as to the eternally significant event taking place at the top of the cross, the soldiers at the bottom of the cross made four piles of His clothing, but instead of ripping the royal coat into four pieces they cast lots to see who would win it. Thus they went home that day rejoicing over their spoils unaware of the great gift of life that had been given them.

The crowd continued to jeer and mock. “Thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days, save thyself, and come down from the cross.” And the chief priests cried out, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he be Christ, the chosen of God.”

(To be continued tomorrow)

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