Tag Archives: Trial

Peter’s Denial of Christ

Studies in First Peter

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:1 ESV)

Luke 22:31-34, 54-62 (see also Matthew 26:31-35, 69-75; Mark 14:27-31, 66-72; John 13:37-38; 18:15-18, 25-27

It is the night before Jesus’ trial and crucifixion. Jesus knows what will happen in a few hours, having foreseen His coming trial, execution and resurrection. For this reason He came as a man. He and His disciples are eating the Passover meal. Passover is a physical representation of a spiritual reality. God instituted the Passover as an annual celebration, so the Jews would remember when He brought their nation out of Egypt. God instructed the Jews to eat the first Passover meal before the last plague to strike the nation of Egypt and before Pharaoh before released the Jewish people. When the Angel of death passed over the land, He struck down the first born of all who had not covered the doorposts of their homes with the blood of a sacrificed lamb.

For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the LORD. The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt. (Exodus 12:12-13 ESV)

God knew what He was going to do from creation and the fall of Adam and Eve, and systematically told His people and the world the events that would accomplish His redemption of those who are His. Passover is an annual reminder that God has redeemed those who are His by the blood of His Son. Jesus celebrated the Passover with His disciples before He became the sacrificed Passover lamb whose blood covers those redeemed by God.

During the meal Jesus predicted Peter’s denial of his relationship with Him. Jesus used Peter’s given name twice. Then He tells us something we could never know had He not divulged the facts. Satan had demanded from God that it might tempt Peter. “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat”  (Luke 22:31 ESV). Demanded means to be given over for torture or punishment. Satan is concentrating its strength on the leader of the disciples in an attempt to destroy the continuity Jesus had built into the group over the years of His ministry. Like Job, Satan wanted to tempt and try Peter to see if his faith was real or a fabrication. Like Job, God gave permission for Satan to do its work (see Job 1:6-22 and 2:1-10).

Jesus does not leave Peter to his own strengths. Faith is a conduit God uses, through which God delivers all the tools needed to live for God in a world that hates God and persecutes Christians. Jesus tells Peter that “I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:32 ESV). Jesus’ prayer is eternally powerful. Though Peter must endure the assaults and attacks of the enemy, through the strength provided by God, he will endure. If Peter had to rely upon his own strength, his failure was assured. Peter received God’s strength in him under God’s control. He would fall because of his sin, but would rise again to work for God because of God’s strength. Knowing this, Jesus gave Peter his marching orders. His purpose was to strengthen your brothers, all those who follow Christ and must endure the assaults of the Deceiver.

In Peter’s mind and heart there was no possibility of him rejecting Jesus. Peter made a brash statement, boasting of something he would soon regret.  This is a characteristic of very person who tries to live for Christ using their own human strength and wisdom. “Peter said to him, ‘Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death’” (Luke 22:33 ESV). Peter declared he was ready to die for Christ. He heard Jesus tell them they must pick up their crosses and follow Him. Having followed Jesus this far, he was convinced of his willingness to make the ultimate sacrifice for Jesus.

Jesus, knowing the hearts of men, allows for temporary failure to build eternal success. Jesus knows what will actually happen because He is God and knows all things. “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me” (Luke 22:34 ESV). Roosters do not just crow as day is breaking but while it is still dark in the early morning hours. Peter, adamantly convinced he would never forsake Jesus, denied he knew Jesus three times before the rooster crowed, while it was still dark.

This prediction must have devastated Peter’s sensibilities. He could easily have been angry and hurt by what Jesus told him. In his mind and heart, he would do what he said he would do. When Jesus was arrested, it was Peter who struck the servant of the High Priest with a sword. “Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant and cut off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.) So Jesus said to Peter, ‘Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?’” (John 18:10-11 ESV). Peter was rebuked by Jesus, even after being told to bring a sword, because he used the sword. His discouragement and confusion must have been great.

But Peter had already heard Jesus’ words. He may not have remembered them until later. “But I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:32 ESV). God used his failings to prepare him for greater service.

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Stricken

Meditations on the Psalms

For you strike all my enemies on the cheek; you break the teeth of the wicked.(Psalm 3:7 ESV)

God develops a number of motifs in the Psalms. One of the patterns He gives in the first three Psalms is judgment of the wicked. Those who actively rebel against Him will experience the fury of His righteous decision.

Psalm 1 tells us the wicked fail in their rebellion. None of their works or words last “but are like chaff that the wind drives away” (Psalm 1:4 ESV). They will not stand before God when He sentences them but will be separated from the righteous (see Psalm 1:5) and will ultimately perish(Psalm 1:6). They will not disappear into nothingness but will continue to exist for eternity outside of God’s presence, never receiving that which sustains spiritual life.

Psalm 2 gives the evidence of the rebellion of the people and those who teach, train and lead the rebellion. When God gives Jesus, the Son (Psalm 2:7) ownership of creation, He will “break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel” (Psalm 2:9 ESV). People are to serve Jesus with fear and trembling. If they do not they will perish (Psalm 2:12). This word perishis the same word in both Psalm 1 and here. God speaks twice because He has firmly decided what will occur.

In Psalm 3 Jesus prays to His Father about His passion and the agony of being subject to the wrath and hatred of a people He created in His image for relationship with Him. He loves these people. They hate Him and want Him dead, so they murder Him. They justify their murderous intent by providing false evidence against Him while ignoring the truth of His life, words and works.

During the inquisition of Jesus before the High Priest, He faced questioning about His disciples and His teaching. Note that the position of High Priest at that time was shared by Caiaphas and his father-in-law, Annas (see John 18:13). Traditionally, there was only one High Priest. Caiaphas was the designated High Priest while Annas was the acting head of the religion, having been High Priest and most probably refusing to relinquish control to his son-in-law. Annas touted tradition and law while ignoring tradition and law. It was Annas who first questioned Jesus and responded to His answers.

Jesus answered him, “I have spoken openly to the world. I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret. Why do you ask me? Ask those who have heard me what I said to them; they know what I said.”

When he had said these things, one of the officers standing by struck Jesus with his hand, saying, “Is that how you answer the high priest?”

Jesus answered him, “If what I said is wrong, bear witness about the wrong; but if what I said is right, why do you strike me?” (John 18:20-23 ESV)

Jesus answered truthfully and was struck on the face. Annas, and the guards he controlled, mocked Jesus. They had no intention of looking critically or objectively at the evidence. They wanted Him dead and were willing to sacrifice their integrity and their relationship with God to murder Him.

Those who struck Jesus on the cheek, mocking Him and refusing to examine the evidence, speaking against Him and training others to do the same, will themselves be struck on the cheek. To strike is to hit, beat, slay and kill. Those who condemned Jesus are His enemies, both individual and personal opponents and corporate or national adversaries. They stand resolute against Him in every way conceivable. But God does not speak of His rendered judgment only once. This is a parallel statement because He will surely make it happen. He will break the teeth of those who speak against His Son. To break means to crush, to violently destroy, maim, cripple and rupture. Their words and actions, the thinking of their hearts, will condemn them, used as evidence and testimony against them when they stand before God’s judgment.

Yes, they murdered Jesus. But He rose from the dead and is now the prosecutions expert and only witness against all who rebel against God.

Unafraid

Meditations on the Psalms

I will not be afraid of many thousands of people who have set themselves against me all around.(Psalm 3:6 ESV)

Jesus faced both great acclaim and heated opposition throughout His earthly ministry. Those who hated Him included the Deceiver, who did everything possible to frustrate, obstruct and stop His ministry, and the religious leaders of the nation. These religious leaders hated Jesus because He challenged their authority and position of leadership over the people. In addition, the Roman’s hated anyone, not particularly Jesus, who might incite the people under their dominion to rebel against Rome and the emperor.

Those who opposed Jesus were not just politically or religiously motivated. There were many who simply did not care about Him. Or, they cared about His words and ideas for a moment but when He confronted their covetous attitude toward what they considered their stuff, they would turn their backs upon Him and walk away. They cared more for their place in the world than their place in eternity.

God tells us to not be afraidof those who oppose Him because Jesus was not afraid of them. Afraid means to dread, fear, stand in awe, as well as to have reverence and to honor. To setthemselves against means to station, to take a stand, to lay waste, fix their mind in opposition to whatever Jesus represents or commands be done. Those who are hostile toward the authority of the King of kings, either actively fight against Him or passively ignore Him. In either case, their actions, or inactions, destroy the foundation of the relationship they have with God.

We have already seen those who mutiny against God will come to a physical and spiritual end. Their defiant words and works are judged and they are sentenced, then separated from God, the Giver of life. His judgment is a completed action from eternity, yet still works out in space-time history. For God it is done. For those living in the world it will be done but is not yet completed. Jesus was not afraid to stand before the religious leaders, Herod and Pilate, because He foreknew the outcome. He willingly endured the torture of crucifixion because He knew the final and absolute results brought the greatest glory to God.

During Jesus’ ministry, He chose and trained twelve disciples. These disciples, whom He also called apostles, were given responsibility to exercise authority in His name. “And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction” (Matthew 10:1 ESV; see also Mark 3:13-15, Luke 6:12-16). As Jesus trained them He was forthright in telling them what they would face and endure. Their and our temptations and trials are myriad and used to test. God does not test anyone to discover what they know. He tests so we can discover what we do not know, especially about Him. Throughout our training we are His and there is no reason to fear.

So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. (Matthew 10:26-31 ESV; see Luke 12:4-7)

Jesus’ disciples, throughout history, whomever they are and whenever they live, stand before those in worldly authority and give testimony about Him. Instead of removing us from the world He leaves us to declare, through words and actions, the evidence of His grace in the gospel. He also leaves us in the world to train and fit us for eternity. Being a Christian in the world brings trails and persecutions. The thinking of our hearts is on full display before the world and before God as we face the same opposition Jesus endured.

Fear is both debilitating and freeing. When we fear we can see that which is in the thinking of our heart. Fearing the world tells us we do not trust God and want that which the world offers more than what God gives. When we fear God, by honoring Him as Creator, placing Him first, then nothing we encounter in this world can potentially or actually remove us from His presence.

Danger and Peace

And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.[Genesis 3:8 ESV]

I do not believe our world just happened without the direct, creative will of God. Nor do I believe our world is as He originally intended. When He created the heavens and the earth, and all He placed upon the earth and in the heavens, He judged it “very good” [Genesis 1:31 ESV]. Everything God does is the best, the essence of goodness. He did not create a world of danger and deadliness but of peace and wholeness.

Then rebellion happened, separating God from His highest creation, man. But, man was not just separated from God by sin. Man’s rebellion caused a rift, a struggle between others, between the sexes. There was a separation from nature, from work and the beneficial results of work. From dominion over all animals, birds fish, and creeping things. Because of sin the animals, birds and fish began to fear man, not obey or conform to man’s will and authority. Nature became hostile. God’s creation, the earth, moved from peace and rest, from communion and understanding to disunity, turmoil and danger.

Our world is now dangerous, in some cases frightening. How close can we stand to danger and still have peace? Stand near the ocean on a day of rough seas and harsh weather. Go into the water and the waves will batter you against rocks or the rip currents will drag you down and never let you rise to the surface. God has placed a boundary on the ocean, allowing the water to go so far and no further. You can sleep near the deadly waves in complete peace knowing they will not capture you.

Or who shut in the sea with doors
when it burst out from the womb,
when I made clouds its garment
and thick darkness its swaddling band,
and prescribed limits for it
and set bars and doors,
and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther,
and here shall your proud waves be stayed’?
[Job 38:8-11 ESV]

Since the rebellion there is a tug and pull to move where there is risk and tempt danger. Perhaps the thrill of doing dangerous activities brings an adrenal rush which makes some feel alive. I know some who speed and dive and jump, who argue and contend, who over-work and sweat, activities needed to cover the feelings exposed by peace and rest. Where there is true peace there is a confrontation of self with the reality of sin and its ultimate consequences. Being forced to stop demands the person actually think and feel. Most would do anything but.

When we are silent, actually thinking and feeling, we recognize the fear and guilt which comes from separation. Guilt because sin is real and fear because its consequences are eternal. If we could but conquer guilt and be freed from fear perhaps we could live in peace without having to manufacture distractions, especially those which could easily lead to death.

Look at Jesus. In the last month of His life, He set His face to go to Jerusalem, knowing the deadly outcome. On the way He taught His disciples, undistracted by the absolute future, unflinching in His love and devotion to them. While in Jerusalem He confronted the people who wanted Him dead. He ate with His disciples the night of His betrayal, celebrating the Passover, then prayed for them. He faced the Sanhedrin as they hurled insults and lies, remaining composed in the face of certain death. He faced Herod and Pilate, the world’s extremes. He was crucified by professional executioners, finally crying out in agony and spiritual separation. “And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’” [ Mark 15:34 ESV].

He lived in a deadly world which ultimately, horribly murdered Him. Yet, throughout His life, in His death, in His resurrection, He lived in peace. Nothing in this world, no sin, no danger could take away or extinguish His peace. It is His resurrection which gives us the hope of eternal peace. It is His Spirit which guarantees our eternal peace. For it is His God, Himself, who created us for peace with Him.

Exposing ourselves to the dangers of the world is not limited to the physical. Like Adam and Eve the temptation first comes to the thinking our hearts. By tempting the world to take our lives, by putting ourselves in danger, do we not test God and try to control Him?

Even within the boundaries of turmoil and war we are His. He is our peace.

Peace. No Peace.

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near.  [Ephesians 2:13-17 ESV]

We will never find peace in this or from this world.

I watch those around me. I work in a large public inner-city library. I ride a commuter train to work every day. Once a week I work late, riding in after 10 AM and then home after 8 PM. I see and work with raw humanity, from babies to the elderly, every ethnic background and financial makeup. And every mental state.

My colleagues are educated many having earned two graduate degrees. (I have two.) The environment is stimulating and mundane, exciting and dangerous. Twenty years ago two of my colleagues and friends were murdered at the 3rd floor information desk, a desk we regularly worked together.

As I ride the train and work in the Library, amidst professionals, students, welfare recipients, and homeless, I hear and see the insanity of a world controlled by sin. There is no peace. There is family conflict, arguments and fights, verbal and physical. I hear about lawsuits from new attorneys and the breakdown of government from government employees. I hear people bragging about their prison time with others who have been inside. I hear vulgar diatribes against the police, neighbors, lost friendships, parents, children, white and black people, anyone and everyone. I families disintegrate.

I and others have been reviled for reading a Bible and speaking about spiritual truth. I hear the gospel being told by some more concerned about the person’s eternal salvation than their personal comfort.

When I get to work I am before the public for most of the day. My work is a haven for the homeless and mentally compromised. Where else can they loiter for 10 hours without being told to leave? Most are quiet, staying under the radar. Some are angry, mentally deranged. It is not uncommon to see Police or Emergency Personnel in the building.

Many know the Library is a place to use the Internet all day, looking at movies, playing video games or immersing their hearts and minds in every kind of pornography.

Many come in with legitimate questions or needs. They want to fix something, anything from dinner to themselves, from cars to appliances, from grades to their jobs. Yet, much of the nonfiction collection in any public library has nothing to do with truth. Self-help books, magazines, audios, teach about how the world tries to fix what it cannot fix. Our world cannot fix itself.

Most of the people I see have no peace. Some try to fix their lack of peace without God. Others have relinquished control of themselves to themselves, or the world, or Satan, breaking all moral boundaries. They are academically or chemically bent and have given themselves permission to sin. Brief lulls in their internal war do nothing to make peace in their lives. The outward conflict may stop when they are passed out on the street, lost in an image, find themselves in a new relationship, distracted by anything, but the inner battle rages. I am surrounded by counterfeit lives leading to death.

“For from the least to the greatest of them, everyone is greedy for unjust gain; and from prophet to priest, everyone deals falsely. They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace. Were they ashamed when they committed abomination? No, they were not at all ashamed; they did not know how to blush. Therefore they shall fall among those who fall; at the time that I punish them, they shall be overthrown,” says the Lord.  [Jeremiah 6:13-15 ESV]

How many people do we know whose inner peace is based on a lie? Religious ritual and idolatry fuels their lives, sustaining the perception of peace. Such people have curled into themselves. Their peace has no eternal value. Even its temporary value is suspect and tenuous.

To have peace with God means having no peace with the world. There may be a time where there is no conflict but the very presence of one at peace with God convicts and condemns which brings conflict. Worldly peace, however such peace is described, means no peace with God.

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.