Reading: Matthew 27.32-44
Today is Good Friday. Many people were involved in the events we are celebrating. No, none of us were there when they crucified our Lord, but yes, perhaps all of us were there, represented in one way or another by the different people and groups.
We have no time machine, no instant replay. But we use our imagination to fill in the background as we seek to grasp the biblical significance of what was happening.
Today we try to reflect on those events through the mind of Caiaphas, the High Priest.
It has been a very satisfactory day - I think. Yes, very satisfactory indeed. We have Pilate's consent and all the unpleasant work is up to the Romans now.
Our Council, the Sanhedrin, is a very responsible body. True, the Romans rule the land. We don't like that either, but we've come to terms with it. For the time being we have to live with them and they have to live with us.
It's not all negative. Their pax Romana as they call it - their "Roman peace" - maintains law and order and gives us good roads. People are able to travel more freely. That means more Gentiles moving through - much worse up in Galilee, I hear, than down here in Judaea. But for our Diaspora - our own scattered people - it is much easier to visit Jerusalem for Passover, Pentecost and other great festivals.
As you know, it's Passover right now. The lambs are being killed this afternoon for the great celebration tonight - and Jerusalem is packed. There will be more families camped outside the city wall than inside again this year - all eating the Passover meal.
We were just a touch worried about that actually. We needed this Jesus business settled and finished before the feast itself - the crowds might help or hinder our plans.
Over the past three years or so we have been gathering information about Jesus. People have been amazed at his teaching. Some were saying he wasn't like the Teachers of the Law. He "had authority", they said (Mt. 7.28-29). Our Rabbis, of course, always follow the sound principle of quoting what our elders have said in the past and what all the noted Rabbis are saying now. That gives strength - yes, authority - to their pronouncements. This Jesus seems to be an authority to himself. He only quotes the Scriptures favourably. Whenever he quotes our authorities, he seems to disagree with them. He had to go!
Then there were his miracles. Apparently, he didn't try to make much of them himself, but stories spread - mysterious appearance of top-quality wine in Cana of Galilee, a blind man healed, ten lepers completely healed (one of our priests verified that), demons cast out These all raised questions. Was this some kind of sorcery? Was he in league with the devil? Most recently we have learnt that in nearby Bethany he had raised a dead man to life - the man had been buried for four days (Jn 11). Now that's quite impossible! Our wisest teachers insist that the soul has completely departed after three days. Yet here it is - right on the doorstep of Jerusalem! He had to go!
How could we get him to our Council? People from near and far were already gathering for Passover. How many were on his side? Last Sunday a big crowd of them welcomed him into the city singing, "Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!" It was disturbing. He entered the Temple, drove out those who were buying and selling and overturned the tables of the money-changers. He charged that God's house of prayer was being turned into a hideout for thieves. He was healing and teaching right here in the Temple, and the children were shouting, "Hosanna to the Son of David!" (Mt. 21.12-16). So they thought he was the Messiah, did they? He had to go!
How could we get him to our Council? He was clearly popular with enough people that any open move against him was impossible. Our only hope was to crack one of his twelve close disciples. One of them called Simon - not the fisherman, another Simon - was, we heard, a member of the Jewish resistance group, the Zealots (Lk. 6.15). Curious that he's one of the twelve - the Zealots don't seem to be Jesus' style. But then they aren't our style either - we accept that we have to live with Rome. Another fellow, Judas Iscariot, proved pliable - we bought his help for thirty pieces of silver. He led our band right to him in the Garden of Gethsemane. His disciples offered little resistance - he was ours! He had to go!
We had trouble getting witnesses to agree against him. Finally, we found two who agreed they had heard him say, "I am able to destroy the Temple of God and rebuild it in three days" (Mt. 26.61). I can't imagine why anyone would claim that - even if they could raise the dead! I put it straight to Jesus, but he wouldn't answer. When I charged him on oath to tell us if he was the Messiah, the Son of God, he answered, "Yes, it is as you say. But I say to all of you: In the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven!" (v. 64) That was blasphemy - he had to go!
Of course, we couldn't carry out the death penalty. Only the Roman authorities could do that. And we had Pilate where we wanted him. Already two complaints about Pilate had gone to Rome and he couldn't afford another. And, in the event, the crowd who gathered supported the call to have Jesus executed. Not that Pilate didn't try to get out of his responsibilities, mind you. He had examined Jesus, he said, and found him without guilt. Then he offered us a choice between Jesus and a notorious criminal named Barabbas. We sent the word around and the crowd called out for Barabbas - better a criminal free than this Jesus. He had to go!
Well, that's it! Even now as the Passover lambs are being killed, Jesus is dying on the cross. Look at him up there. Do a miracle now, Jesus! Come down from the cross and we will believe you! What keeps you there, Jesus? Have the Roman nails beaten you? We won't believe in a dead Messiah! Come down from the cross!
As I said before, it has been a very satisfactory day - I think. We have Pilate's consent and all the unpleasant work is up to the Romans now. We will be able to settle down and forget that there ever was a Jesus. At least I hope so.
Listen to what Paul wrote much later, "For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but for us who are being saved it is the power of God... Jews demand miraculous signs, and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to Gentiles; but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ, the power of God and the wisdom of God" (1 Cor. 1.18,22-24).
No, it's not the end of the story - come back on Sunday for the next instalment. But today is Good Friday. Today I am asking you what may seem an unusual question: Where do you want Jesus to be? Is it important to you that he stayed on that cross? Or do you identify more with the chief priests in their call, "Come down from the cross and we will believe"?
Yet Jesus was held there, not by Roman nails, but by divine Love - the Love to forgive, to redeem, to restore. Paul could write that "Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed" (1 Cor.5.7). The Jewish Passover celebrates God's mighty deliverance of their forebears from Egyptian slavery. Today we celebrate that God in Christ has done everything necessary to secure our freedom from bondage to sin and death.
Consider the cross. Your sin is a serious as that. But God's love is as great as that. God has a welcome for you - please consider!