Sometimes we learn more about ourselves when the going gets tough than we do in those infrequent intervals when we seem to be coasting through life. We also learn more about Jesus -- God-become-man -- when we watch how he dealt with earthly pressures and challenges.
In addition to being betrayed by a disciple, Jesus shortly after his arrest also is disowned by one of his inner circle, none other than Peter, who repeatedly denies Jesus.
Roman guards -- hardly sympathetic with a man who called people to faith in the one true God -- exploit his situation as a prisoner, both mocking Jesus and beating him physically. They further taunt and insult him, according to Luke.
Then Jesus, the Son of God, finds himself being threatened and verbally abused by the rulers of the Jews, those assumed to be in closest touch with God by virtue of office. Without the unilateral power to end Jesus’ life, these leaders pass Jesus off to Pontius Pilate.
Dealing with Jesus is not a responsibility Pilate desires. Learning that Jesus has journeyed in from Galilee, he pleads “no jurisdiction” and sends Jesus and the charge against him to King Herod, who just happens to be in Jerusalem.
Poor Herod relishes the chance for an audience with Jesus. Luke reports that he hopes for a show, anticipating the Lord might perform a few miracles for him. Instead, Jesus declines to answer Herod’s many questions. The king and his soldiers “ridicule and mock” Jesus, dress him in an elegant robe and return him to Pilate.
“The man is innocent,” Pilate rules. He will punish Jesus anyway, then set him free, he reports. But the Jewish religious leaders scream their disapproval of the plan to let Jesus go. Instead, they yell, kill Jesus and release the murderer and insurrectionist Barabbas. Soon the mob is chanting, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Pilate objects to the demand more than once but finally caves in.
Luke says of Pilate’s capitulation to the crowd that he “surrendered Jesus to their will.”
Then it was off to Golgotha and the cross for Jesus. No longer with the physical strength to carry his own cross, soldiers keep the crucifixion moving by drafting Simon of Cyrene to carry the weapon of death.
Still, Jesus displays his comforting character, responding sympathetically to the women who are following and wailing at the prospect of his death.
Soon, Jesus is nailed to the cross and flanked by two bona fide criminals on either side of him. In the very process of dying, he prays not for his own rescue but for forgiveness for those who were abusing him and doing him harm: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
On the cross, Jesus draws a crowd. Some are gawkers, but many are religious rulers. They laugh at him because he chooses not to save himself from the cruel cross. Luke says they sneer at him.
Once more, the soldiers join in the sadistic fun, offering him wine and vinegar and challenging him to rescue himself. To add to Christ’s humiliation, they fashion a sign that says, “This is the king of the Jews.”
One criminal urged Jesus to rescue himself and the two others if indeed he was the Christ. Here is where the other criminal speaks up, rebuking him. We deserve death, he said. Jesus does not. Then he makes his own request: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
While people sometimes try to get on a first-name basis with Jesus when the going gets particularly tough, Jesus senses sincerity and welcomes the repentant criminal into his kingdom.
Soon, darkness covers the whole land, and the veil of the temple is split. Then Jesus prays, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”
Jesus’ example is worthy of imitation. With all he endured, he might have been tempted to holy retaliation but instead asked God to forgive his accusers and crucifiers. He accepted a deathbed conversion on Golgotha. And he willingly gave his life for the salvation of the world.
We can’t lay down our lives for the sins of others, but we can live our lives in such a way as to impress unbelievers with our faith in God and his faithfulness to us. Even if we are called upon to share in his suffering, we live and die with the promise of sharing in his resurrection.
Bill Webb is editor of Word&Way.