Friday, 29 March 2013

Who sent Jesus to the cross?

(The following is an adaption of chapter 2 of John Stott's 'The Cross of Christ')
The whole thing is very unsavoury; crucifixion was a humiliating and painful way to die.

Pilate had him scourged. Scourging by itself was horrific. The condemned person was tied to a post and beaten with a leather whip that had been interwoven with pieces of bone and metal. This tore the skin, exposing bones and intestines. Scourging could kill a man.  After the crowd cried 'crucify', Pilate handed him over to the soldiers.
The soldiers led him into the governor's residence. They dressed him in a purple robe, placed a crown of thorns on his head and put a sceptre of reeds in his right hand. They blindfolded him; spat on him; slapped him in the face and struck his head. At the same time they challenged him to identify who had hit him.
Then they led him out to be crucified. According to Roman custom he was made carry the cross beam. But he was too weakened. A man from Cyrene, in North Africa, was made carry the cross instead. It is interesting that in Mark's gospel Simon is identified as the father of Alexander and Rufus; clearly Simon's sons were knows to Mark's first readers. He could have said to them, 'if you want evidence of this talk to them about what their dad saw.'
The prisoner was then stripped naked and laid on his back. He was either nailed or tied to the horizontal beam and his feet to the vertical beam. The cross would then have been hoisted upright and dropped into a socket that had been dug in the ground. Usually a peg or rudimentary seat was provided to take some of the weight off the victims body and prevent it from been torn loose. There the criminal hung, helplessly exposed to intense physical pain, public humiliation, daytime heat and nighttime cold. This torture could last several days. Of course for Jesus it was not the physical pain that wounded him so much as the spiritual pain. 'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.'
Who sent Christ to the cross?
1. Pilate
Pilate was the Roman governor of the province of Judea. He was known to be a man of hot temper, violence and cruelty. He was hated by the Jews that he governed.
The Jewish leaders brought Jesus to Pilate saying that he opposed paying taxes to Caesar and claimed to be a king. However, Pilate was convinced of Jesus' innocence. He wriggled in his attempts to release Jesus and appease the crowd. Yet despite his hand-washing he capitulated to the crowds demand and surrendered Jesus to their will. Pilate was responsible!
But before we distance ourselves from the sin of Pilate we have to ask some searching questions of ourselves. Have we ever failed to take our stand with Jesus? Have we never compromised when put under pressure?
2. The Jewish leaders
Pilate was succumbing to the crowd. Peter would later look at the people and declare, 'men of Israel ... You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go. You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murder be released to you. You killed the author of life ...' (Acts 3:12-15). 'The very same crowds, it seems, who had given Jesus a tumultuous welcome into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, were within five days screaming for his blood' (Stott). But it was their religious leaders who had incited the people Jewish and who had put the pressure on Pilate to have Jesus crucified.
Jesus had upset the religious establishment from the beginning of his ministry. He had called the hypocrites. They accused him of blasphemy, seeing that he made himself equal with God. But their motivation was not simply for the protection of their beliefs and customs. What drove them more than anything else was envy. John Stott writes:
'It is significant that Matthew recounts two jealous plots to eliminate Jesus, the first by Herod the Great at the beginning of his life, and the other by the priests at its end. Both felt their authority under threat. So the sought to 'destroy' Jesus.'    
But before we distance ourselves from the religious leaders and the crowd we need to ask some search questions of ourselves. Have we ever been swept along with the crowd? How do we feel about Jesus' claim of authority over us?
'We resent his intrusions into our privacy, his demand for our homage, his expectation of our obedience. Why can't he mind his own business ... And leave us alone? To which he instantly replies that we are his business and that he will never leave us alone. So we too perceive him as a threatening rival, who disturbs our peace, upsets our status quo, undermines our authority and diminishes our sel-respect. We too want to get rid of him' (Stott).
3. Judas
We could also say that Judas was responsible as he betrayed Jesus. What a sad story Judas is; to be for ever known as the one who betrayed Christ! What cynicism to betray Jesus with a kiss. Judas had spent three years in the company of the most loving and compassionate of men. We are told that he was the groups treasurer but that he stole from the money bag. He is enraged when Jesus is anointed by Mary of Bethany; the money could have been given to the poor. Yet he is insincere, he had been stealing from the money bag. He immediately went to the priests to recoup his loss. He sold Jesus into their hands for thirty pieces of silver, the ransom price for a common slave. Mary loved Jesus with in calculating generosity, Judas betrayed his in his coldly calculated bargin. She poured a year's wages on him, he sold Jesus for barely a third of that amount.
But before we distance ourselves from Judas's sin we need to ask some searching questions of ourselves. The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. It is impossible to serve God and money. Judas chose money over God. Has there ever been times when our possession have meant too much to us?
Conclusion: Their sin and ours.
Judas 'handed him over' to the priests (out of greed); the priests 'handed him over' to Pilate (out of envy); Pilate 'handed him over' to the soldiers (out of cowardice), and they crucified them. They may have acted in ignorance but they knew enough to be culpable. Before we condemn them let's be honest about ourselves. We too our culpable for we have shared in the sort of sins that handed Jesus over to be crucified. 'We too sacrifice Jesus to our greed like Judas, to our envy like the priests, to our ambition like Pilate.'
The old spiritual songs asks, 'were you there when they crucified my Lord?' Yes we were! John Stott writes, 'Before we can begin to see the cross as something done for us (leading to faith and worship), we have to see it as something done by us (leading to repentance). Canon Peter Green wrote, 'only the man who is prepared to own his share in the guilt of the cross may claim his share in its grace.' The nineteenth century Scottish hymn writer expressed it well when he penned:
'Twas I that shed the sacred blood;
I nailed him on he tree;
I crucified the Christ of God;
I joined the mockery.

One last thought. We have looked at the role of Pilate, the religious authorities, Judas, and even at our own culpability. But there is a real sense that the person responsible for the death of Christ is none of the above. For God sent his Son to save sinful people like us, Jesus declared that he must die to fulfil his mission. 'Who delivered up Jesus to die? Not Judas, for money; not Pilate, for fear; not the Jews, for envy; - but the Father, for love!'  It was our sin that sent him there, and his love that took him there!

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