An Innocent Man is Condemned
[Luke chapter 23, verses 13-31]
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Last week when we left off at verse 12 of chapter 23, King Herod II of Judea had just presided over Jesus being brought before him to be accused by those who sought to have him killed. After making a mockery of our Lord and Savior – after Jesus did the same to Herod by refusing to respond to Herod’s line of questioning – King Herod sends Jesus back to Pilate with a big flowing robe that was not becoming of our Lord and Savior at all! Although the exact details are lost to history and antiquity, we can assume this robe made Christ look like a clown and not a King. There is, of course, a price to be paid for treating people so shamefully, especially when it’s the Son of God. Today as we take up where we left off, Pontius Pilate has just convened another hearing upon Jesus’ return. So let’s all get started at verse 13.
“Pilate called together the chief priests, the rulers and the people, and said to them, ‘You brought me this man as one who was inciting the people to rebellion. I examined him in your presence and have found no basis for the 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 then release him.’ With one voice they cried out, ‘Away with this man! Release Barabbas to us!’ (Barabbas had been thrown into prison for insurrection in the city, and for murder.) Wanting to release Jesus, Pilate appealed to them again. But they kept shouting, ‘Crucify him! Crucify him!’ For the third time he spoke to them. ‘Why? What crime has this man committed? I have found in him no grounds for the death penalty. Therefore I will punish him and then release him.’ But with loud shouts they insistently demanded that he be crucified, and the shouts prevailed. So Pilate decided to grant their demand. He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, the one they asked for, and surrendered Jesus to their will.” (Luke 23, verses 13-25)
We already know that Pilate didn’t want to be bothered with Jesus, and that he regarded him as being more of a nuisance than anything else. Back in the days of the Roman Empire the emperors were worshiped as gods, and there were numerous Roman gods as well. So to Pilate, the very idea of someone being called ‘the Son of God’ must have seemed like a novelty to him at best, or maybe more like a curiosity. At any rate, Pilate plainly told the crowd he was finding Jesus not guilty as charged when he told them, “….as you can see, he has done nothing to deserve death. Therefore I will punish him and then release him.” At this point it’s business as usual for Pilate, just another day at the office. And Pilate is telling the crowd, led by the Jewish Temple authorities, exactly who was in charge. He also was telling them he thought their charges against Jesus were completely over-the-top, which they most certainly were. But this was no ordinary day in Pilate’s courts.
Abruptly and in unison, the people again demanded the release of Barabbas, but Pilate was unwilling. Evidently he thought Barabbas was a much bigger threat than Jesus Christ. Once again, on this count Pontius Pilate was absolutely right. “Wanting to release Jesus, Pilate appealed to them again. But they kept shouting, ‘Crucify him! Crucify him!’ For the third time he spoke to them. ‘Why? What crime has this man committed? I have found in him no grounds for the death penalty.’” Pilate was now worried that he might have to condemn a man who should not receive capital punishment under Roman law. He worried that he might have a riot on his hands, something that would not have gone well with his superiors. In fact, Pilate had at this point tried twice to acquit Jesus and let him go, but was unsuccessful because the crowd had surrounded Jesus by now. This crowd of Jesus’ accusers had become so agitated that they posed a direct threat to Jesus’ safety, and by extension to Pilate himself. You can be sure one of the guards in Pilate’s court had slipped out before this time to send for reinforcements. Jesus’ accusers now outnumbered the authorities by a substantial margin, posing a significant threat to the court.
“….with loud shouts they insistently demanded that he be crucified, and the shouts prevailed. So Pilate decided to grant their demand.” Pilate caved in to the demands of the crowd, sacrificing Jesus’ life in order to save his reputation and preserve his authority. Otherwise, he likely reasoned, he would be viewed by Rome as being expendable, and as being weak by those he governed. It was probably right about this time that the reinforcements I mentioned in the paragraph above arrived on the scene. And now let’s move on to the second part of our study, beginning at verse 26.
“As they 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 had 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 barren women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ Then ‘they will say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us!’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us!’. For if men will do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?’” (Luke 23, verses 26-31)
Verse 26 differs from other Biblical accounts of the details of Jesus’ crucifixion, mainly the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches. They teach that Jesus had to carry his own cross, and that he fell three times while carrying it. According to the Vatican’s account, it was only after Christ fell for the third time that Simon was compelled to carry Jesus’ cross for him. This was symbolic of the number 3 being associated with the crucifixion of Christ, which is an occult symbol as well as in Christian Biblical numerology, which is why the Protestant denominations use the Biblical narrative that I’m using in place of the other. The problem with this is that it’s just not true. What is true is that Jesus could not physically carry the cross because he had been beaten, whipped and otherwise physically abused to the point of exhaustion. Jesus literally had insufficient strength, because he had lost too much blood, to be strong enough to carry it. So, the Roman soldiers made Simon from Cyrene carry it instead. Let’s not forget that this was a roughly made wooden cross big enough to hang a 175 pound man’s body on to it. So you can be sure that this cross was very heavy, certainly well over 100 pounds, possibly weighing as much as 200.
In the same way that the (temporarily) condemned Jesus could not carry his cross, needing the assistance of a stranger, all of humankind cannot carry their crosses of guilt and shame, needing the risen Christ to carry all that for us. This is one of the profound truths of the Gospel that can never be diluted nor diminished. Jesus the risen Lord and Redeemer has borne the weight of all our sins on the cross of Golgotha. “A large number of people followed him, including women who had 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.‘” Jesus told them plainly they needed to weep and wail for their kids and grand-kids because of the condemnation that was now upon that current generation. They had all better hope, he was telling them, that their children would escape God’s wrath that was to come.
“Then ‘they will say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us!’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us!’. For if men will do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?’” Jesus was quoting from Hosea chapter 10 verse 8, which is a prophecy yet to be fulfilled. It refers to the End Times or the Last Days, when people will beg God to cover them from the oncoming wrath of God, the exact nature of which is still not entirely clear. But the Bible gives us a lot of hints and clues, some of which came from the Lord himself. “The Son of Man”, he said, “will come at an hour when you do not expect him.” There will be another world war that will kill at least 2.1 billion people. There will be an economic collapse, and the capitalist economic system will fall. Something like a meteor or a comet will hit the central Atlantic ocean, killing all the fish in the sea by contaminating the water, followed by a global earthquake of previously unheard-of proportions. All these things are coming, but not just yet. So in the meantime let’s continue to get ourselves ready during this holiday season for His return for his Bride. And let’s not forget that his supreme Sacrifice for us all is the real ‘reason for the season’.