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The Road through Crucifixion

Matthew 27:32-54

It is good to see everyone on this Good Friday. Most people skip Good Friday. They are present to celebrate Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem and then celebrate his Resurrection on Easter Sunday. To skip Good Friday and the crucifixion is not good. Life is not about one triumph after another. Life also includes difficult and painful days. Consequently, it is good to be here at the base of the Cross and recognize Jesus’ painful sacrifice for us.

It’s odd that we call today Good Friday. Indeed it is good that Jesus said to the Lord God that his will be done and went to the Cross. However, it is possible that the word “good” in Good Friday comes from an issue of word meaning. One writer said that it “is likely an alternation of the Germanic word, ‘Goddes,’ meaning “God’s’ or ‘Holy.” The term does not mean “good.” In most countries today it is called Holy Friday. Word development and meaning is an interesting process which gives us odd words. A similar process happened with the English word “goodbye,” which was formed over time as a contraction of “God be with ye.” Today is Good Friday or Holy Friday. Both recognize the goodness of God in Christ Jesus.

When one looks at Jesus’ path to the cross and the grave, one clearly sees that he is not a victim. He knew what was going to happen to him in Jerusalem and intentionally set his face like flint as he walked the path to the cross. Last Sunday Christians celebrated Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. He arranged for the loan of a donkey and came into the city to the adulation of the crowds of people. In doing so he was acting out the ancient Messianic tradition that goes back to the prophet Zechariah (9:9). The prophet said, “Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” People would understand what he was saying. The king, the Messiah, comes to Jerusalem. He possesses righteousness and salvation for the people. The Messiah is a king coming in peace to bring God’s righteousness and salvation to the nation. As they watched Jesus coming into the city, no one would mistake his Messianic claims. They honored him as Messiah as they shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” The crowd is jubilant as the recognize Jesus as the Messiah.

Jesus did not quietly slip into Jerusalem. He wanted everyone in the city to know who he really is, the Messiah that they have been hoping and waiting for. He deliberately got the attention of the three main power groups in Israel. The first group was the Sadducees, the wealthy upper class. They were the most powerful economic and political group in Israel. They collaborated with the Romans to keep peace in the city. The Chief Priest and his assistants were Sadducees. They controlled all the Temple activities. The temple concessions brought in a lot of money through the sale of animals for sacrifice. When Jesus came to temple mount and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves, the Sadducees were livid. They did not want anyone disturbing the peace and interfering with their money-making concessions. When they saw what he was doing on temple mount, they clearly were opposed to him and recognized they needed to stop him. Eventually, they decided to have him killed and worked a plan in that direction. One of the first things Jesus did after the triumphal entry was to alienate the powerful Sadducees.

The next power group he alienated was the Pharisees. They were ultra-orthodox Jews who sought to obey the 612 commands of the Lord God completely. They saw religion as strictly obeying God’s commands. They were respected teachers and taught others the Law of Moses. Jesus was hard on the Pharisees. On Temple Mount he called them hypocrites, blind guides, snakes, brood of vipers and spoke five strong woes against them. The Pharisee leaders were indignant and joined the Sadducees in making plans to eliminate Jesus. It is good that we don’t lump all the Pharisees in the bad guy category. Some of those who believed in Jesus were Pharisees. However, the ones with power were clearly against him.

The third powerful group that Jesus alienated was the revolutionary Zealots. Today we would call them terrorists or insurgents. While the Sadducees cooperated with Rome, the Zealots plotted against Rome. They wanted to drive the Romans out of the country. One of their activities was to quietly stab a Roman soldier in a crowded marketplace and slip away unknown. When the Pharisees tried to trick Jesus by asking him if it is okay to pay taxes to the Roman Emperor, his response alienated the Zealots. The question the Pharisees asked was a trap. If he answered “yes,” Jesus would have angered the Jewish people. If he answered “no,” he would be seen as a revolutionary by the Romans and be in serious trouble. He responded by asking to see a coin. He asked them whose head and whose title was on the coin. They said it was the Emperor’s image and title. Jesus advised, “Give to the Emperor the things that are the Emperor’s and to God the things that are God’s.” At this point the Zealots wrote him off as supporting Roman or as an ineffectual rabbi. By Thursday none of the major groups would come to his aid. In fact, the Sadducees and the Pharisees conspired to arrest him and have him executed.

Jesus was betrayed by Judas, one of his own disciples. He was brought before the main judicial body of Israel, the Sanhedrin. They found him guilty of a crime worthy of capital punishment and took him before Pilate, the Roman Governor. Only Rome could execute criminals. Pilate talked with Jesus and realized this was a bad political situation. Consequently, he gave the people a choice. There was a criminal named Barabbas in custody. It’s interesting that Barabbas means “Son of the Father.” Pilate said he would release one of the criminals, either Jesus or Barabbas. He let the crowd make the decision. The crowd opted to have Barabbas released. Pilate asked them what they wanted to do with Jesus. The crowd called out, “Let him be crucified!” Pilate asks them, “Why, what evil has he done?” But the crowd shouted all the more, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” The crowd sent Jesus to the cross. The crowd sent the Son of the Father God to the cross. Pilate ordered the sentence carried out. He had Jesus severely beaten, walked through the city, and nailed to a cross to slowly die.

Crucifixion is one of the most terrible ways to die. It was designed to create a slow, painful, torturous death. The Romans used crucifixion as a crime deterrent. The historical record shows they crucified criminals at the side of busy roads. One example of this is when they crucified 6000 followers of Spartacus along the Appian Way, a main highway in Roman Italy. They wanted citizens to see what would happen to them if they committed crimes against the state. Crucifixion was a form of ancient punishment that lasted some 800 years. However, in the early 20th century the Turkish Muslims crucified Christian Armenians as they tried to exterminate Christians. And in our lifetime Muslim Jihadists have crucified people in North Africa and other places. Crucifixion is designed to last a long time. It is a slow painful death. According to experts, depending on the way a person is crucified he may die of shock or slowly suffocate. Jesus was beaten and walked through the streets of Jerusalem carrying a heavy wooden cross beam and was crucified on a Cross. According to the Scriptures, he suffered on the cross for six hours before he died. When Joseph of Arimathea came to Pilate to ask for Jesus’ body, Pilate was surprised he was already dead and had a guard verify this. Many spent more than six hours on a cross before death and some healthy young criminals spent more than a day.

Jesus was really crucified on a Roman Cross. He was made a public spectacle for everyone to see. Don’t think because he was God Incarnate that he did not feel pain and that the ordeal was easy. He was very much a human like you and me. However, Jesus followed God’s plan for the salvation of the world. He knew that the ordeal would be terrible but he chose to follow God’s plan. Through the crucifixion, sacrificial death and Resurrection of Jesus, God revealed how far he would go to show us how much he cares about us. Indeed, God gave his only Son for our sins. In Jesus, God offers us genuine salvation, love and even life eternal. He offers us forgiveness of our sins. Jesus continues to call people to become his disciples. He continues to call people to follow him. One cannot be indifferent to Jesus. His very presence calls for a decision.

CH (COL) Michael W. Malone, AUS RET

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