Which one are YOU?

April 19, 2019

On that first Good Friday, almost 2000 years ago, the Jewish leaders (who had been looking for a reason to get rid of Jesus because they considered him a threat to their control over the people), brought him before the high council and questioned him. (Our 1st Scripture reading – Luke 22:66-71).  Now remember, it was just 5 days before that Jesus had entered Jerusalem on a donkey, hailed by a crowd shouting “Hosanna!”, and the Pharisees had exclaimed, “There’s nothing we can do. Look, everyone has gone after him!”  (John 12:19).  But now they thought they had found their window of opportunity.  Jesus claimed to be the Son of God.  Even though He was, and is, since they didn’t believe it, they figured they had caught him in a lie, and hoped the Romans would now consider him as much of a threat as they did.  And just to be sure, they added a false accusation of claiming Jesus said no one should pay their taxes.  We know this isn’t true because in Luke 20 we read, “…the leaders sent spies pretending to be honest men. They tried to get Jesus to say something that could be reported to the Roman governor so he would arrest Jesus. ‘Teacher,’ they said, ‘we know that you speak and teach what is right and are not influenced by what others think. You teach the way of God truthfully. Now tell us - is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?’ He saw through their trickery and said, ‘Show me a Roman coin.  Whose picture and title are stamped on it?’ ‘Caesar’s,’ they replied. ‘Well then,’ he said, ‘give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God.’ So they failed to trap him by what he said in front of the people. Instead, they were amazed by his answer, and they became silent.” 

Hoping these two infractions would be enough, the council brought Jesus before the Roman government, wanting them to ‘take care of him’ for them.  (Our 2nd Scripture reading – Luke 23:1-25).  But it didn’t work.  So they got more insistent and claimed he was also causing riots.  But when Pilate heard Jesus was from Galilee, he breathed a sigh of relief and told them to take him to Herod, thinking he was off the hook.  But Jesus would not respond to Herod, so Herod sent him back to Pilate!  Now the two of them together realized they had to do something.  Still, Pilate was hesitant to sentence Jesus.  Matthew recorded that “Just then, as Pilate was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent him this message: ‘Leave that innocent man alone. I suffered through a terrible nightmare about him last night.’” (28:19).  Smart woman!  So Pilate gave the crowd a choice.  He would release one criminal to them – either Jesus, or Barabbas, who was a murderer.  He thought for sure they wouldn’t want a convicted murderer back in their midst.  But we all know who the crowd chose.  Now Pilate’s back was really up against a wall.  The mob kept shouting louder and louder to ‘Crucify him!’.  And so Pilate buckled to their demands.  He washed his hands - but not his heart - and handed Jesus over to the Roman soldiers to be crucified.

Then they made Simon of Cyrene carry Jesus’ cross.  The Bible doesn’t say he volunteered to carry the heavy cross for Jesus.  The soldiers forced him to carry it.  And when they got to Golgotha, which means the “The Skull”, they nailed Jesus to the cross.  They also crucified two thieves, one on either side of Jesus.  (Our third Scripture reading – Luke 23:26-43).

The first thief mocked Jesus - just as the Jewish leaders had done, and as the crowd gathered around him was doing now.   They didn’t want a king that couldn’t even save himself, much less them, from the tyrannical Roman government. 

But the other thief saw who Jesus really was – not just an innocent man, not just a prophet, not just a descendant of king David, but the King of Kings, one whose kingdom was not of this world, and least not yet.  This thief also knew who he himself was – a sinner who deserved to die.  And in his agony, both physical and spiritual, all he asked of Jesus was to be remembered when Jesus entered into his kingdom.  And in response to this simple request asked out of faith, Jesus promised him that he would enter it with him.  Jesus saved him from something far worse than the Roman government, far worse than even execution - he saved him from his sins and an eternity in hell.

So if you had been there on that first Good Friday, which one would you be?  Would you be one of the Jewish leaders that didn’t want someone coming along upsetting the apple cart?  Especially not someone who had called you out for your hypocrisy and love of power?  Would you have been willing to lie to maintain your position in the community, and do whatever it took to silence Christ? 

Or would you have been like Pilate, knowing that Jesus was innocent, maybe even believing just a little bit that he might be who he claims to be, but bending to social pressure?  Ignoring the warnings of those who cared about you?

Or would you have been like Herod, throwing the responsibility back on someone else, letting them be the scapegoat?  “Pilate convicted him, not I!”, he could claim.  And yet, Herod didn’t do anything to help him either.  This was the same Herod who was tricked into having John the Baptist executed, and now he was fearful that Jesus was actually John the Baptist risen from the dead (Matthew 14:1-2).  He might have thought he was being put into the same situation all over again.  Edmund Burke once said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

Or would you have been like Simon of Cyrene?  Yes, he carried the cross of Jesus, but only because he was forced to do so.  Just like some folks claim to be Christians because they feel they have to be for one reason or another.  Maybe their significant other is a Christian, or their boss, or the community in which they are seeking respect, or maybe even votes, from.  But in their heart, they are only looking out for no. 1. 

Or would you have been like the first thief crucified next to Jesus?  Would you have mocked him, just as so many people still do today?  Would you refuse to believe in him unless he saved you from whatever it is on this earth that you want to be saved from, be it financial problems, health issues, relationship struggles, or even your own poor decisions?

Or would you have been like the other thief, who admitted that he deserved to die, that he was a sinner, but Jesus was not?  Would you turn to Jesus and ask him to remember you, knowing that only if Jesus spoke on your behalf would you be allowed entrance into heaven?  It is my sincere prayer that this is who you would have been, and who you are now.  For this thief is the only one on that first Good Friday to whom Jesus said, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43).  Amen.


"Sovereign Hands"  (Hillsong)  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PEcnBuZnn7c&list=PL3A03AA89A9885F6B

"Red Letters"  (Crowder)  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G0QZDdPxzyA