“It costs God nothing, so far as we know, to create nice things; but to convert rebellious wills cost Him crucifixion.”
-C. S. Lewis
During this time of year, the Christian community takes time to turn their focus towards the climax of the entire Bible story, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As we focus on this essential part of the Christian faith, we remind ourselves of God’s forgiveness and in the end, the joy which He brought us through the resurrection of His Son. This is extremely important. Yet, because of this intense focus on the cross and the empty tomb, we seem to temporarily forget about the vital events that led up to the crucifixion. We forget how Jesus miraculously healed His enemies in the midst of His arrest, how Jesus faced His enemies with soundness of mind and how the presence of Jesus caused a great Roman leader to be fearful. One may ask why we should care about these seemingly unimportant details if the cross is all that matters. After all, that is where the atonement for our sins occurred. However, the writers of the gospels chose to include these elements for an important reason. These elements to the Passion story, along with the crucifixion of Christ, reveal a deeper need for the cross. From the Garden of Gethsemane to the Rock of Golgotha, one must look at the entire Passion Narrative in order to truly see God’s heart for humanity.
There are three essential parts to the crucifixion narrative. First, there is the Garden of Gethsemane, the place where Jesus was arrested. The second essential part is the trial of Jesus in the Jewish court and in the roman courts. The third part is the eventual crucifixion of Jesus on the rock of Golgotha. In each of these three parts, one can find a comparison between Jesus and the people that surround Him. It is through this continual comparison that the deeper need of the cross is revealed.
The Garden of Gethsemane
Matthew 26:31-34 — “Then Jesus told them, “This very night you will all fall away on account of me, for it is written: “‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.” Peter replied, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.” “Truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.””
Mark 14:50-51 — “Then everyone deserted him and fled. A young man, wearing nothing but a linen garment, was following Jesus. When they seized him, he fled naked, leaving his garment behind.”
The story begins with Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane. In Matthew and Mark’s versions of the events in the Garden of Gethsemane, we see a very clear comparison between Jesus and His disciples. At the very beginning of the story, Jesus prophesies to His followers that they would “fall away” from Him. Peter, often acting as the voice of the faithful 12, said that he would never leave Jesus’ side. Yet, Jesus informed him that he would do more than leave His side, he would utterly and completely betray Him. At the end of the Garden of Gethsemane story, we see the fruition of Jesus’ prophesy. All of His disciples left Jesus’ side. Later, we even see Peter betray Jesus just as He predicted. Here we see the power of fear. Because of fear, the disciples desert, betray and abandon the one they called Lord.
Luke 22:49-51 — “When Jesus’ followers saw what was going to happen, they said, “Lord, should we strike with our swords?” And one of them struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his right ear. But Jesus answered, “No more of this!” And he touched the man’s ear and healed him.”
Yet, in the gospel of Luke, we find a very important aspect to the story of Jesus’ arrest. In the midst of all the chaos, Jesus preforms a miracle of healing and heals the ear of one who is sent to arrest Him. He even tells His followers to disarm. Jesus was full of power and spoke peace in the middle of the turmoil of His arrest. Jesus’ followers reacted to the chaos of Christ’s arrest with fear and through this fear they ended up failing Jesus with desertion and betrayal. Yet, in this same chaos, Christ did not react with fear but with power and peace. In the Garden of Gethsemane we see an important comparison between Christ who faced chaos with power and Christ’s disciples who faced the same chaos through fear.
The Jewish and Roman Courts
Mark 14:55-57 — “The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death, but they did not find any. Many testified falsely against him, but their statements did not agree. Then some stood up and gave this false testimony against him: “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple made with human hands and in three days will build another, not made with hands.’” Yet even then their testimony did not agree.”
John 18:19-24 — “Meanwhile, the high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching. “I have spoken openly to the world,” Jesus replied. “I always taught in synagogues or at the temple, where all the Jews come together. I said nothing in secret. Why question me? Ask those who heard me. Surely they know what I said.” When Jesus said this, one of the officials nearby slapped him in the face. “Is this the way you answer the high priest?” he demanded. “If I said something wrong,” Jesus replied, “testify as to what is wrong. But if I spoke the truth, why did you strike me?” Then Annas sent him bound to Caiaphas the high priest.”
After Jesus was arrested He was taken to the local Jewish court of the Sanhedrin. In the gospels of Mark and John we see that Jesus is battered in these courts by false accusations, mocking and physical abuse by the religious leaders. Judaism saw the religious courts as a place in which the pure law of God was acted upon. Yet, in the same court that is supposed to represent God and His law, we see false accusers and abusers. This leads to the question: “why?” Luke gives us an answer:
Luke 22:2 — “and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were looking for some way to get rid of Jesus, for they were afraid of the people.”
The religious leaders allowed the court of God to be corrupted by false accusers and abuse solely due to fear. Yet, in the midst of this corruption, Jesus responds to all the false accusations and the abuse with calmness and a sound-mind. Jesus continued to remain calm even as He was brought in front of the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate.
John 19:7-12 — “The Jewish leaders insisted, “We have a law, and according to that law he must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God.” When Pilate heard this, he was even more afraid, and he went back inside the palace. “Where do you come from?” he asked Jesus, but Jesus gave him no answer. “Do you refuse to speak to me?” Pilate said. “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?” Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.” From then on, Pilate tried to set Jesus free, but the Jewish leaders kept shouting, “If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar.””
The Jewish leaders were insistent that Jesus must die. So they brought Him to the only man in their region that had the legal authority to kill Him, Pilate. Yet, when Pilate questioned Jesus, he seemed to be moved to show Him mercy. But the continual push for the death of Jesus moved Pilate away from mercy and towards appeasement. Pilate tried to find some way to appease the crowd without the death of Jesus. Pilate allowed Jesus to be mocked, severely beaten and abused. Pilate even continued his questioning of Jesus. All of this in hope that it would be enough punishment to please the crowd. But the crowd wanted Jesus to die, so Pilate gave Him over to the people. The Sanhedrin corrupted their courts out of fear, and Pilate eventually allowed his judgement to be corrupted out of fear of the people. However, in the midst of the corruption of the Sanhedrin court, and the abuse and brutal beatings in the roman court, Jesus continued to remain calm and of sound mind. The comparison of Jesus and His accusers in the Jewish and Roman courts, reveals the failure of the Sanhedrin to uphold God’s laws in their courts and the failure of Pilate to be a just governor. Just like with the disciples, the Sanhedrin and Pilate’s fear caused them to fail God. Yet, again, in the midst of the court’s failures, Christ remained calm and at peace.
Luke 23:26-29 — “As the soldiers led him away, they seized Simon from Cyrene, who was on his way in from the country, and put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus. A large number of people followed him, including women who mourned and wailed for him. Jesus turned and said to them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children. For the time will come when you will say, ‘Blessed are the childless women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’”
John 19:25 — “Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.”
Luke 23:34-37 — “Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots. The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.” The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar and said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.””
After, Pilate releases Jesus to be crucified, we find in both John and Luke pure examples of the unfailing love of Christ. As Jesus is being walked to His death in Luke, we see that His heart is still focused on the people around Him. We see in John how even on the cross, Christ’s focus was on those whom He loved. Finally, we see in Luke that Christ loves even those who were His enemies, those who mocked and abused Him. In the middle of the Crucifixion we see a love like no other. At the pinnacle of suffering Jesus overflowed with an unconditional love for all of humanity. Humanity failed Him. Jesus, the most innocent man that ever lived, was treated as a common criminal. Yet, Christ still showed unconditional love to those who failed Him.
In the story leading up to the crucifixion of Christ we find a common theme of fear among everyone except Jesus, Himself.
2 Timothy 1:7 — “For God did not give us a Spirit of fear but of power and love and self-control.”
Each event leading to the cross continued to progressively get worse, Jesus’ chaotic arrest, then the abusive trials, and finally a brutal death sentence. In each event, humanity succumbed to fear and failed God in some way. Yet, through it all, Jesus never once gave in to fear but, instead, faced each situation with the Spirit of God. Christ faced the chaos with power, He faced the corruption with self-control and soundness of mind, and He, ultimately, faced His crucifixion with pure unfailing love. Mankind will always fail to live up to the standards of God. Eventually we all will wrestle with the spirit of fear, a spirit not of God. However, through Jesus, the one who faced death with power, soundness of mind, and love, our failures are forgiven and we are filled with the Spirit of God just like Jesus was. So yes, the cross is about forgiveness, but the story of the cross is also about humanity’s failure and Christ’s lack of failure. Through Christ we are forgiven. Through Him we are saved. And through Him we do not have to succumb to fear. At the core of the crucifixion story is a comparison of the complete corruption of mankind and the irrevocable Spirit of God. Through this comparison we see the reality of humanity meet the reality of God. We are reminded once again of our constant need for our Savior Jesus Christ, the one who never fails. Let us, then, respond to the failure of our world and the failure of our humanity as Christ did. Through our salvation given to us by God, Himself, may we boldly reveal the power, the soundness of mind, and the unfailing love of our God.