Monthly Archives: August 2012

Four Types of People

There were a number of identifiable types of people with similar characteristics witnessing Jesus’ crucifixion and death. They came by in groups or singly but could be easily classified into one of four groups. A few people who loved Jesus or many who hated him, and those who didn’t know him, didn’t care about him, and two who were crucified with him. Everyone present, who walked by that hill, who stood and watched or tried to ignore what was happening was affected by his death in some way.

Many people traveled into and out of Jerusalem and had to pass by the public place of execution. I visualize many simply lowering their heads and trying to ignore the suffering displayed for the world to see by those brutalized by the Romans. Many, I think having become desensitized to the suffering of the condemned ceased to care for any affixed to a cross. They faced too many almost daily acts of terror and in order to continue living a meaningful existence, especially to care for themselves, they could no longer empathize or sympathize with those who suffered. Taught, through gruesome exposure and the examples of their parents, relatives, friends and others, they lost, if they ever had, the idea another human, especially one they did not know, was valuable. Included in this large group are the Roman guards who had been taught to care for no one but Caesar and themselves.

Others, recognizing him, disfigured as he was, or being informed of who he was, reviled him. They had been taught in the same way but their hatred or apathy toward Jesus was shown in their decided lack of understanding of who he was. “And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross” [Matthew 27:39-40 ESV]. They vilified him. Some, remembering statements from the beginning of his public appearances threw his words back in his bruised and bleeding face. He had made, in their memory, extravagant claims which seemed impossible and fantastic. Some of these may have been the same false witnesses who accused him hours earlier, in the middle of night during the illegal and illegitimate trial. “Now the chief priests and the whole council were seeking false testimony against Jesus that they might put him to death, but they found none, though many false witnesses came forward. At last two came forward and said, “This man said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to rebuild it in three days'” [Matthew 26:59-61 ESV]. Others may have just been walking by and picked up the derisive comments from those present.

Standing at a distance reveling in their handiwork were the ones who manipulated Pilate to murder an innocent man. These were the religious leaders charged with knowing, teaching and upholding the law of God. Even Caiaphas, the High Priest, was present. Having abandoned themselves to emotional false conclusions they exhibited the qualities and evidences of thugs. Considered thinkers, wise and knowledgeable in their abilities to remember the law and teach others to follow it they switched off their ability to reason and took up the characteristics of a barbaric and vulgar people. “So also the chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked him” [Matthew 27:41 ESV]. In the most real sense their mocking statements were not against Jesus but against God. Taking the core of Jesus’ teaching they twisted it and placed upon the words requirements they had to see in order to believe. Their words threw a test into God’s face demanding from Him fulfillment of their requirements before they would acknowledge truth. In their deepest selves they would never believe the truth even if the almost dead man hanging on the cross before them actually died and was then raised as he said he would.

Listen to their statements:

“He saved others; he cannot save himself.” This statement begs a question. Did Jesus want to save himself? In their minds the only legitimate and reasonable response to being crucified was the desire to get off the cross and escape the executioners. For them being saved is limited to the physical, temporary, touchable world and has nothing to do with the internal and eternal being of the person.

“He is the King of Israel.” This is not what Jesus said but it is what they heard. Jesus said his kingdom was from another place implying not geographic boundaries but “other” or spiritual boundaries reaching places unimaginable by the limited abilities of anyone. For them Jesus declaration of royalty was a lie. For Pilate Jesus’ agreeing to the question of royalty was lunacy. His coming resurrection is the evidence of reality.

“Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him.” He will. They won’t.

“He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him. For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.'” [Matthew 27:42-43 ESV] Now they demand God work. Again, their statement begs another question. Does God desire to deliver Jesus in a way acceptable to them? They have set aside God’s known law by murdering an innocent man. His only “crime” was his words, which contradicted their teaching, and the undisputable (we will look at these in time) “miracles” he did in front of too many witnesses for them to refute. Their thinking, driven by their emotions and not their reasoning, says if Jesus is actually the son of God then God will not allow him to die in such a way.

Next to him, hanging from their own devices, soon to die were two criminals. “And the robbers who were crucified with him also reviled him in the same way” [Matthew 27:44 ESV]. Luke gives a different perspective. These perspectives are not contradictory just different. One of the men crucified with him, seeking his own deliverance from death, showing no remorse at the actions which condemned him, “railed” or vilified him, picking up the mocking words of those who hated Jesus. “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us” [Luke 23:39 ESV]! He did not care who Jesus was as long as the man could get them down and away. No one got down or away.

The other criminal, facing his own mortality, reasoned instead of reacted. He knew he had done wrong, violated known law, done criminal actions deserving death. He knew the sentence for his crimes was death. He also seemed to know something about God. “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation” [Luke 23:40 ESV]? He knew this other man. He didn’t know Jesus. Or, maybe he knew of Jesus. To fear God means to hold Him in high honor, with respect and reverence, as the One who is Judge. He knew he had done wrong in the eyes of Rome and of God. Until this moment he may have not cared. Seeing Jesus, an innocent man, subjected to the same punishment brought a conviction of the justice for his crimes but the unjust actions of the authorities toward Jesus. “And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong” [Luke 23:41 ESV].

Now he makes a surprising statement. This is probably the first truly extraordinary statement made by anyone from the time he was arrested in the middle of the night until now. Every other statement made and action done was the result of a logical progression of events or thought process. Of this man’s background and thinking we know almost nothing and have to assume much. We know he was a criminal deserving of death. He admits this. We know he has a concept of God, probably closely related to the Jewish idea and theology of the time because of his question to his dying colleague. But how and why he jumps to the next statement seems only an act of desperation, of grasping at straws, anything to give hope to a helpless man in a hopeless situation. “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” [Luke 23:42 ESV]. Does he really believe Jesus is a king? Does he really believe Jesus is something other than a man, falsely accused, dying a slow torturous death on a cross a few feet away?

Jesus’ answer is just a startling as any he has given throughout the night and trial. Our question is not whether it is startling but if it is true. There is only one way to show the truth of any of Jesus’ statement. If what he said would happen actually happens then we can trust him to tell truth in all he says. “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” [Luke 23:43 ESV]. Jesus believes his own words. He knows something only he can know with ultimate certainty. Both men will soon be dead. For Jesus death is not final.

Among the people witnessing the horror of Jesus’ execution were some of those who followed him. These people loved him. Here is the final type of person who witnessed his death.

Forgiveness Posted

Pilate, the Roman Governor of Judea, the authority over the province, the mouth and hands of Caesar, allowed himself to be manipulated by the local authorities, the Jewish religious leaders, and crucified an innocent man. He had determined Jesus was innocent of any crime deserving death. After interviewing Jesus, during the “trial” he may have concluded Jesus was insane for the condemned man admitted being a king. This was one of the blasphemous statements Jesus was accused of by the religious leaders. They declared Jesus claimed to be the king of the Jews and the absolute authority of God over His people. Jesus never denied this accusation but declared his kingdom was of another place. I can see Pilate rolling his eyes as he hears Jesus, a ragged, beaten, abused man rebuke him and his authority by declaring himself a higher authority.

Pilate crucified Jesus between two criminals, suggesting he was the leader of a band of outlaws. Over Jesus’ head Pilate posted a sign, the charges against Jesus which led to his execution. This is normal. Over the heads of the criminals may have hung a sign which said “murderer” or “thief” or “rebel.” Over Jesus’ head hung the sign “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews” [John 19:19 ESV; see Matthew 27:37, Mark 15:26, Luke 23:38]. This galled the Jewish religious leaders. This inscription was written in three languages, Aramaic, Latin and Greek. Everyone who walked by, for the place of execution was near the city with people constantly traveling the road. “Many of the Jews read this inscription, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and it was written in Aramaic, in Latin, and in Greek” [John 19:20 ESV]. Hanging on a cross, swelling from the beatings and bruising Jesus may have been close to unrecognizable. For Pilate to hang this inscription over Jesus, the condemned and almost dead man, was an act of mockery. Pilate mocked the Jewish religious leaders and the man himself, thinking they were worthless and Jesus a lunatic. Pilate was finished being manipulated by them and rebuked by him. Their complaint “do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but rather, ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews'” [John 19:21 ESV] fell on uncaring ears. Pilate’s answer “what I have written I have written” [John 19:22 ESV] put an end to their argument. They would have to be content with knowing Jesus would be dead soon.

After they finished attaching Jesus to the cross, raised it into place, and crucified the other two beside him Jesus whispered a request but not to them. His statement is consistent with his personality as heard in his words and seen in his actions. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” [Luke 23:34 ESV]. To whom was Jesus referring? Was he referring to the Roman guard, his executioners? They were just following orders. But, they were cruel in the execution of these tasks having grown callused and unfeeling to those they were ordered to kill. These were the same who mocked him before and after the scourging. Was he referring to Pilate? He was the one who conducted Jesus’ trial, determined he was innocent and had him crucified anyway. He gave the orders to the Roman guard who fulfilled the task given. They all knew they were executing an innocent man.

Perhaps Jesus was referring to the Jewish religious leaders. They were the ones who determined months earlier Jesus would have to die. They were the ones who understood the law, were experts in the law, yet threw the law aside when it interfered with their judgment against Jesus. They knew they were having Pilate murder and innocent man. Perhaps Jesus was referring to all those who heaped abuse upon him while he hung on the cross. Perhaps Jesus was referring to any who reject him.

For now, we will assume Jesus was referring to the immediate circumstance. He was speaking of those who actually crucified him. It would seem his words had no effect upon them. They still divided his clothes and stayed to make sure he died. Nothing he could say to them would compel them to bring him down from the cross and he knew this. His executioners were simply tools who did not want the same thing to happen to them.

Jesus’ words assume several facts. First, there is a God and he listens to Jesus. Second, there is a law which God upholds and against which all are held accountable, including Jesus. According to the Jewish leaders Jesus deserved death because he was deceiving the people claiming to be a king, the ultimate authority over the Jews. According to Pilate, Jesus was insane because he claimed to be a king whose geography included spiritual places unencumbered by physical boundaries. Being a lunatic is not against the Roman law and he was innocent of any crime deserving death. Jesus had done nothing deserving being nailed to a cross. He had done nothing deserving death. He, powerless and abandoned, had the audacity to ask forgiveness for those who ignorantly put him to death “for they know not what they do” [Luke 23:34 ESV]. Are these the words of someone truly deluded? Or are they the words of a man who knows what is happening and what the ultimate outcome will be? All of the evidence says he will die. All of the evidence says he will live again. There is more to his death, and his resurrection, than meets the eye.

Jesus Crucified

Jesus was led to a place called the Skull where he and two others were crucified. “When they came to a place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull)” [Matthew 27:33; see Luke 23:33 ESV]. There are many reasons why this place was called the Skull, or Cranion, commonly known as Golgotha in Hebrew and Calvary in the Greek. All these words mean the skull. It was high place near the city where many people would pass and be forced to witness the cruel death of those sentenced by the Romans for whatever reason. Many people had died on this hill. Perhaps one of the reasons this placed was called the skull was because the heads of criminals were cut off after their death on the cross and left piled around as a witness. This is not farfetched though gruesome. Others have suggested the hill was in the shape of a skull though there are no documents which would validate this view. Legend suggests Adam’s skull was there though such a fanciful notion is dismissed outright as a subterfuge designed to cast doubt on the historical reality. Most likely the hill is named because it was a place of agony leading to death, where many had died and left on the cross until their bodies rotted and fell off.

Jesus has been tortured and is on the verge of dying. His body is traumatized and he is sinking into shock. Every inch of his body is bleeding, bruised, hurt. He has been beaten, scourged, mocked, spit upon, struck with sticks and whips and is not going to be nailed though his wrists and ankles to pieces of wood and exposed until his body dies. Never known for mercy or compassion these soldiers offer him a drink, drugged with myrrh, which is bitter. “They offered him wine to drink, mixed with gall, but when he tasted it, he would not drink it” [Matthew 27:34 ESV]. He was given vinegar, sour and rancid probably, mixed with bitter herbs. Don’t be deceived. This drink was not a drug meant to ease his pain but to prolong his life so he might experience the fullest measure of pain. Jesus was thirsty but refused this drink.

Crucified men were stripped of their cloths, a final, public indignity. It is a nice thought to suggest Jesus was modestly draped with something around his waist. There is no historical evidence suggesting this is true. Even the documents describing Jesus’ life and work tell us the Roman soldier “divided his garments among them by casting lots” [Matthew 27:35 ESV]. John’s documents give a better description of what happened. There were four soldiers in charge of Jesus. He wore five pieces of clothing. Remember, his cloths were soaked in his blood though he was not wearing them during his torture with the scourge. Each soldier got one of the pieces of cloths. They cast lots for the outer garment, his tunic, because they did not see any sense in ripping it into four pieces. “‘Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see whose it shall be.’ This was to fulfill the Scripture which says, ‘They divided my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.” So the soldiers did these things'” [John 19:24 ESV; see John 19:23 also].

After crucifying him and dividing his clothes “they sat down and kept watch over him there” [Matthew 27:36 ESV]. Their job was to make sure he died. They would not leave until he was dead. Those crucified my live for days but those who nailed them to the cross did not leave. Should a man crucified escape, should anyone escape from the charge of a Roman soldier the soldier himself would take the man’s place. They crucified men, made sure they stayed on the cross and died on the cross because they were liable to die on a cross in their place should they escape. No one ever escaped from a cross.

With Jesus were two others. Three men were crucified that day in that place. They were criminals condemned to death. When they reached the place of execution they “crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left” [Luke 23:33 ESV]. We do not know who these men were but we can make a fair assumption. These men were associates of Barabbas, the notorious criminal released though guilty of murder so Jesus, innocent of any crime, would die. It was, in the minds of the Romans, just to crucify the leader of a group in the middle of the group. Barabbas was the leader of his group of murderers and those who advocated insurrection, rebellion against both Roman and Jewish authority. Jesus never committed the crimes done by Barabbas and his group. Yet, now, probably to the surprise of the men crucified with him, Jesus is made their leader.

Jesus did lead a group of men for over three years. None of them, with the possible exception of Simon the Zealot, committed any crime worthy of imprisonment or death. Yet, Simon may have been more zealous in the keeping of Jewish law and tradition than in overthrowing the Roman invaders. We do not know. We do know Jesus had done none of the crime he was accused of doing. All of those appointed by Jesus to follow him, his disciples, were ordinary men with nothing about them which would cause them to stand out. They were fishermen, a tax collector and other nondescript men. None had great education. Matthew, the tax collector, may have had wealth, but following Jesus meant sacrificing his wealth. Of the people who followed Jesus the only one who gained any kind of notoriety was Judas and only because he betrayed an innocent man for money who was then murdered by the men who gave Judas the money.

By placing Jesus between two criminals the Romans and the Jewish leaders were driving home their mockery of who Jesus is and denigrating his actions and words. Mocking Jesus does not reduce him to something he is not, nor subtract from the history of the man’s life, words and actions. Nor will mocking Jesus keep him in the grave. He died on that cross. Nothing we have seen suggests otherwise. Everything we have seen here is plausible with no reason to suggest it is a myth or untrue. Equaling true is the reality of his resurrection.