Reading about Jesus’ final hours can be an emotional encounter, especially when we put ourselves in the scene. We’ve been walking with Jesus to the cross, and today we arrive. Seeing it dramatized is also a very powerful way to remember. I’ll never forget the car ride home in silence after our family watched Mel Gibson’s “Passion of the Christ” when it first came out in theatres.
Sometimes we want to rush ahead to what happens next, but the first disciples didn’t know this was only the beginning of the miracle of all miracles. Let’s stay where we are in this moment, seeing our Savior’s sacrifice of love.
I’ve always marveled at what had to transpire for God’s perfect plan to play out. Each player had their part to play from Pilate to the criminal hanging on the cross next to Jesus. Even the crowds. If it hadn’t been for them insisting that Jesus be crucified, Pilate would have let Jesus go after receiving his whipping.
We know Jesus wasn’t guilty. It was like a “kangaroo court” of sorts. Jesus must have felt like a pawn being moved back and forth, between the high priest, Pilate, and Herod. There was so much political tension in addition to the spiritual forces at work. Jesus said in our last reading that this was time for evil to have it’s victory. We know that victory was short lived, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
What part of this story surprised you the most? Was it how Jesus seemed to give up without a fight? Was it that Herod and Pilate had “history” but let this situation with Jesus bond them as friends? Was it how the crowds who had been hanging on Jesus’ every word in the Temple were now demanding his execution? Was it that it was dark for three hours in the middle of the day?
The story has many twists and turns, but each one was orchestrated by God who allowed evil to triumph that day and let death take Jesus’ life. It was inevitable because God willed it. As planned, in the end, our sins hung with Jesus on that cross. There was no other way.
Many people wonder what happens when we die. Jesus’ words here to the criminal who had repented in the final hour can give all of us hope, as followers of Christ. Jesus replied to the man’s plea for forgiveness with these words. “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.” They were both dying in this world, but would be together in paradise later the same day.
Don’t rush past the observation made by the Roman officer. “When the Roman officer overseeing the execution saw what had happened, he worshiped God and said, “Surely this man was innocent.” He worshipped God! Hallelujah! And he was Roman. He was an oppressor of the Jews, yet God gave him eyes to see the truth that had eluded so many of the religious leaders.
In the eyes of the religious leaders, Jesus was guilty of so many unforgivable things. He “worked” by healing on the Sabbath. He claimed he could forgive sins, and only God can do that. He was a liar because there was no way he could be God’s son. I could go on and on. Because the religious leaders were so intent on putting Jesus to death, their satisfaction should “be through the roof!”
It’s hard for me to even imagine how someone who claims to be a law follower, like those religious leaders, could murder an innocent man. Isn’t murder one of the “top-10” sins? Had they forgotten that? Or did they feel there were “exceptions” when it was okay to take the life of another? These leaders were guilty, Jesus was not. But guilty or not guilty, Jesus still ended up on that cross.
Not all of the religious leaders were blinded thinking Jesus was guilty. God allowed Joseph to understand the truth before him. You’ll recall Nicodemus from John’s gospel as another example of a religious leader you just have to admire. They would have been very unpopular in their circles of influence for having any allegiance with Jesus. It’s hard to imagine how they chanced and then withstood that criticism from their co-workers!
The finality of this day’s events must have weighed heavy on everyone. I can’t imagine being one of the ones torturing Jesus or nailing him to the cross. But especially, what about Jesus’ followers? We don’t see them play much of a role in these final scenes, but you know some were looking on from some distant vantage point. I can’t fathom the deep sadness they were feeling, with some guilt thrown in for not keeping Jesus safe. They didn’t understand. It wasn’t their fault.
How do you understand what Jesus did for you that day? Is it all making a little more sense? The more time we spend in God’s word, the more we get to know Jesus. Having an intimate relationship with our Savior, the one who made our salvation possible, is the best gift of all. We are guilty of sin, but Jesus took that on himself. We have an understanding, being on this side of history, which Jesus’ followers could not have, and they spent years in his very presence!
Take time today to just sit quietly with Jesus. Let him know how you are feeling.
Let’s pray …
Lord, I am so grateful to know how this story plays out. Thank you for this journey back to be there with you at the cross. It does me good to remember and reflect on how much you gave for me. There really are no words to adequately express what that means to me and how cleansed I feel. I want to take some time to just be with you. Thank you that I can do that. In Jesus’ name. Amen.