An Innocent Man Charged. Easter, 2018
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Ya know, we get so worked up when we hear of someone wrongly charged and worse, wrongly prosecuted when they're innocent, don't we? And yet I look back at what happened with Jesus, and I am dumbfounded, shocked, horrified. After Jesus is arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane late Thursday night, his 'trials' begin: six phases - three religious: Annas, Caiaphas, Sanhedrin, and three civil: Pilate, Herod, Pilate.
We find ourselves in Herod's grotesque presence in the wee hours of Friday morning in Jerusalem-(the fifth phase)
Greatly pleased that Jesus is finally standing before him, Herod hopes Jesus will perform some 'magic' to satisfy his curiosity. Plying Jesus with questions to get him going, Jesus remains silent--in spite of the accusing chief priests and the teachers of the law. Herod and his soldiers ridicule and mock Jesus, dressing our Lord in a royal robe before they send him back to Pilate.
Pilate calls together the chief priests, the rulers and the people, saying, "You brought me this man as one who was inciting the people to rebellion." (remember - Rome must find him guilty in order to execute him) "I have examined him in your presence and have found no basis for your charges against him. Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us; as you can see, he has done nothing to deserve death. Therefore, I will punish him and release him."
Just who was Pilate? History remembers Pontius Pilate either very negatively, as a cruel man who hated the Jews, or more sympathetically as a governor who had a very difficult job ruling a province with a very unruly population, which easily took offense to his actions. Ordinarily he resided in Caesarea, but was in town to keep Passover fervor in check. When the Sanhedrin brought Jesus to him, Pilate heard their charges against him, but declared Jesus innocent three times. It is possible to see a progression in Pilate's attitude toward Jesus, moving from contempt to cynicism to awe, when Jesus spoke his greater authority.* Pilate could not find Jesus guilty of the charges against him, and so told the people that he would punish and release him.
We read right over the words, don't we? But "Punish Jesus"? How could he punish the Son of God who had lived, loved, taught, healed, and brought freedom to mankind? Pilate hoped a flogging would placate the Jews, that there would be no further talk of execution.
Indeed, Jesus was stripped and stretched against a pillar, or bent over a low post, his hands tied, so that he had no means of defending himself. The instrument of torture was a sort of cat-o'-nine-tails, with bits of iron and bone attached to the ends of the thongs. Not only did the blows cut the skin and draw blood, but in these sort of floggings, the victim frequently died in the midst of the operation. Out of consideration for Jesus, and because he thought he was innocent of wrongdoing, Pilate may have moderated either the number or the severity of the strokes; but he could not, as his plan of releasing him depended on his being able to show the Jews that Jesus had suffered severely.'
So Jesus was mercilessly flogged while the crowd watched? Who could stand and watch the brutal torture of a helpless much less, innocent man? How could they bear seeing the rabbi who had taught and loved like no other violently scourged?
Hmmm . . . I can't help but wonder what faces could be found in that crowd.
~>Where was the wedding host who Jesus saved from shame when he ran out of wine? Do you remember how Jesus turned the water into fine wine?
~>Where was Zacchaeus, the crooked tax collector, whose life had been irrevocably changed by Jesus of Nazareth?
~>Where was the blind man who had sat by the gate of Jericho, given sight by Jesus just days before? ~>And Lazarus, who he had raised from the dead?
~>How about the disciples-where were his closest friends in the world?
Did they ALMOST stand up for Jesus? Did they ALMOST step forward? I wonder if I would have yelled, 'Stop!' at my own peril, but because it was the right thing to do. Hmmm . . . Would you have come to the defense of Jesus?
Instead, the people all cried out together, "Away with this Man, and release to us Barabbas," a man who had been thrown into prison for an insurrection and murder.
The crowd demand that Jesus be crucified, and their voices prevailed. Pilate released Barabbas and 'he delivered Jesus over to their will.'
And so the procession toward the crucifixion, the grueling trek toward Golgotha began. Weak as he was, Jesus buckled under the weight of the cross, so the soldiers grabbed one Simon of Cyrene to carry it for him, and he fell in step with the crowd, deafened by the sound of weeping, wailing women.
I cannot go back and undo what was done to Jesus, but when given the opportunity, I will speak out . . . I will claim him, and one more thing: I will proclaim him.
The biblical accounts from Luke 23 and Matthew 27.
The Words and Works of Jesus Christ, Pentecost