Read Luke 23 here or click on the speaker icon below to listen to it.
Jesus is taken before both Pilate and Herod, facing false accusations and charges based on pride, envy, and self-preservation of the Jewish elite. Jesus offers up no defense.
How do you react when you are falsely accused or misunderstood? For most of us, the natural inclination is to fight back. We want to clear up the misunderstanding; clear our “good” name. We likely call or shoot off a text to a friend. We may craft a vent post on social media. Anything to make sure someone (everyone) knows we were wronged, and things aren’t as they are being portrayed.
But Jesus shows us another way. He never fought back. He never spent His precious time or energy clearing up the many misunderstandings or false accusations hurled His way. And if anyone had a right to do so, it would be Him.
Jesus didn’t strive for human acceptance, attention or adoration. He just kept faithfully, obediently, and humbly living out His calling. He never argues or pleads with anyone to follow Him. He doesn’t water down the message to make it more palatable. He speaks the truth, and then He steps back. We either believe it or we don’t. As a result, He was accused of all sorts of “religious” offenses and was consistently misunderstood and misrepresented. But He was never deterred.
Leading up to the most severe accusation facing Jesus — betrayal and fabricated charges that would lead to a brutal death — Jesus goes to the Garden of Gethsemane and prays. He steeped Himself in prayer and conversation with God, His Father. God Himself in human flesh refueled with a fresh dose of truth and intimacy. A necessary equipping to endure His calling.
Only in being rooted in who we are in God can we resist the temptation to fight back the distractions of the devil to get us off track. And it requires ongoing refilling through prayer and abiding in God. Then, fully equipped, like Jesus, we won’t be tempted to defend or debate; instead, we will have the assurance necessary to keep our eyes up and our feet moving to the rhythm of our calling for His glory.
Herod and Pilate, upon examining the charges, find nothing on which to convict Jesus or sentence Him to death as the crowd is demanding.
“Barabbas. Barabbas!” From his small dark prison cell, Barabbas surely heard the shouts of his name from the crowds, followed shortly after by even louder cries of, “Crucify, crucify him!” I wonder if he was trembling or stoic with the realization that his life was surely about to come to an excruciating end – just punishment for his many crimes.
Instead, the notorious murder goes free, while the innocent Jesus is condemned. The cross meant for Barabbas hailed on the raw, bloody, exposed shoulders of Jesus. Jesus doesn’t resist or fight back. In fact, He joins the chorus saying, “ [your name]. [your name]!” You see, He isn’t just taking the place of Barabbas on the cross, He is also taking it for you and me. He humbly, powerfully, and willingly accepts the punishment we deserve.
Everything happens as the prophets foretold…as Jesus told his disciples it would. He is mocked, scourged, spit on, lots cast for his clothes, taken to the hill to die on a cross. An intended humiliating public display for all to see.
On the cross, Jesus is flanked by two criminals. One on either side. Both broken, bloody, beaten, breathing their last breath.
Though excruciating to even speak, one spends the last moments of his life hurling insults at Jesus. Sarcastic. Demeaning. Cruel.
Jesus is silent.
Peter has denied Him. Three times. Most of His followers have fled. As He assumes our sin, He is temporarily separated from God. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me,” he cries out.
God had to look away from sin. But He didn’t leave His Son alone. I believe God has given Jesus a precious gift during the last moments of His life in the flesh. Something so treasured by Jesus. A man of true faith. A sinner confessing and asking for mercy.
“There is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (Luke 15:10)
The criminal on His right has a holy, righteous fear of God, despite his unlawful behavior. With his last breaths, he admits he is a sinner deserving of the punishment he was getting, unlike Jesus, who had done nothing wrong. Perhaps he caught a glimpse of Jesus speaking or healing one day on the mountainside. In this devastating and final moment on the cross with nails in his hands and feet, he knew there was hope to be found in Jesus. He asks for mercy and remembrance.
This time Jesus isn’t silent.
“Truly I say to you, today, you will be with me in paradise,” Jesus answers.
Today. When his last breath escapes him. Immediately. To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord for a believer. (2 Corinthians 5:8)
He will be with Jesus. WITH HIM. This criminal likely lived a life of rejection, but he is about to be with Jesus.
In paradise. The temptation, the sin, the rough circles he ran with, the rejection, the fear, the constant looking over his shoulder…will be no more. He is about to be in paradise.
This man had a radically different heart condition, responding with a radically different cry to Jesus, resulting in a radically different new home. This is the loudest battle cry of salvation by grace alone, through faith. Grace upon grace.
Three hours of unusual darkness covers the land during the middle of the day. The heavens declaring the weight of this moment.
Jesus cries out with a loud voice and yields up His spirit. No one could take it from Him. He willingly, purposefully, and obediently gives it up. Jesus takes the punishment for our sins, securing them forever between the splintered wood and His bloody hands. But it doesn’t end there…He also gives us His righteousness. A holy, spiritual transaction.
The curtain of the temple is torn in two, from top to bottom. Access to God now open to all, not just the high priest. The death of Jesus permanently removed the veil; removed the separation between God and man.
As hard as it is to read or comprehend, may we never lose the significance or awe of the details surrounding the death of Jesus. The fulfillment and culmination of God’s sovereign plan from the beginning of time.
Jesus is taken from the cross, wrapped in a linen shroud, and laid in a tomb cut in stone. The women followed and saw where His body was laid, then returned to prepare spices and ointments for proper burial. But burial preparations would have to wait. Today, they must rest according to the Sabbath command.
How do you react when misunderstood or falsely accused? How can you be more like Jesus next time this happens?
Picture the scene of Barabbas in his prison cell, hearing his name wondering if it was his time to die on a cross…and then hearing that he has been released and Jesus would be crucified instead. Imagine what he is thinking and feeling. Do you have this kind of emotion when you think of what Jesus did to take your place?