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“Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children.” — Luke 23:28
The Dark Night Before the Dawn
Easter is coming, but we can’t get to Sunday without going through Friday. In church tradition, the day that marks Jesus’ crucifixion is called “Good Friday,” but any goodness about it comes from our perspective. It certainly wasn’t a good day for Jesus.
Some things are beyond our comprehension. We don’t like to think about dying in any form, and we cannot begin to imagine what it was like for Jesus to experience the pain and the shame of crucifixion.
Have you ever dreamed of dying in a violent fashion? Did you panic? Perhaps you have a small taste of what Jesus faced – but he was not dreaming.
From Pilate …(vv. 1-5)
After Jesus’ arrest in the garden, he underwent a show trial before the Sanhedrin that lasted through the night. The Sanhedrin consisted of 71 priests, scribes, and elders. It was the supreme governing body of the Jewish people, and the Romans allowed it wide-ranging powers of self-government, though capital punishment was not among them. The ruling council considered Jesus to be a threat to Judaism and pronounced him worthy of a death sentence, but they had to petition the Romans to confirm the penalty and carry out the execution.
Thus, the assembly rose as a body and dragged Jesus before Pontius Pilate, who ruled Jerusalem as the Roman Procurator of Judea from 26-36 C.E.
Jesus’ “offenses” involved purely religious matters, but the Jewish leaders knew they would not succeed in having Jesus put to death unless they could portray him as an insurrectionist against Rome. Thus, they accused him of “perverting our nation, forbidding us to pay taxes to the emperor, and saying that he himself is the Messiah, a king” (v. 2).
The first two charges were patently false, for Jesus had steadfastly kept himself apart from nationalist politics, and had even endorsed the payment of taxes to Caesar (20:20-26). The third charge was an exaggeration. In Luke’s gospel, Jesus made no explicit claim to be the Messiah, though he did not deny it when asked (22:67-70).
Pilate’s attempt to ask Jesus an incriminating question led only to frustration, and he quickly dismissed the charges, saying “I find no basis for an accusation against this man” (v. 4). The chief priests persisted, however, insisting that Jesus had made trouble from Galilee to Jerusalem.
To Herod …(vv. 6-12)
Hearing the reference to Galilee, Pilate saw a way to get himself off the hook, for Herod Antipas was the Roman tetrarch in charge of Galilee. Herod just happened to be visiting in Jerusalem, presumably for the Passover, even though he was only nominally Jewish.
Perhaps Pilate had heard that Herod was curious about Jesus and wanted to see him, and he saw this as a way of improving their relations. So, Pilate sent Jesus and his accompanying accusers off for a hearing before Herod (vv. 6-8), an encounter that only Luke records.
Herod had executed John the Baptist, but with mixed emotions. He had heard of Jesus’ reputation and become curious, desiring to witness one of the miracles he had heard about (v. 8, cf. 9:7-9). In this he was sorely disappointed, for Jesus did not perform miracles on cue. Not only did Jesus refuse to demonstrate his divinity, but he also declined to answer Herod’s lengthy questions, despite the taunting accusations of the chief priests and scribes (vv. 9-10).
Herod found no evidence of guilt, but perversely joined the Jewish leaders in mocking Jesus before sending him back to his new friend, Pilate (vv. 11-12). The royal robe he draped on Jesus’ shoulders was a sign of ridicule, not respect.
And back again …(vv. 13-25)
By the time Jesus was dragged back into Pilate’s court, the Roman ruler had tired of the matter and attempted to end it. He called all the accusers together, recounted their charges, and reminded them that neither he nor Herod had found any evidence of criminal activity worthy of death (vv. 13-15). Since Jesus had apparently become something of a nuisance, however, Pilate ordered that he be flogged, and then released (v. 16).
Note that Luke does not portray Pilate as negatively as other writers. Luke’s primary interest was to demonstrate that Christ had done nothing worthy of death, and the corroboration of the two Roman rulers confirmed it. The word Luke uses for “flogged” (paideusas) literally means “teach him a lesson.” It could indicate anything from a stern warning to a beating. Mark is less charitable toward Pilate, stressing that Pilate had Jesus scourged with a cruel whip (Mark 15:15).
The growing crowd of accusers refused to let either Jesus or Pilate off so easily. They shouted down his efforts to have Jesus released, leading Pilate to fall back on one last effort. He offered to set one person free as a goodwill token for Passover, and gave them a choice between Jesus and a noted insurrectionist named Barabbas. The crowd demanded that Barabbas be released and Jesus crucified (vv. 17-25).
Jesus’ execution was perhaps the greatest single miscarriage of justice ever allowed. Barabbas (cf. Mark 15:7) was patently guilty of the very crime for which Jesus was accused. Luke has Pilate insist for the third time that Jesus was innocent (v. 22), yet he allowed the true enemy of Rome to go free, and permitted the crucifixion of an innocent man. Indeed, it was not Pilate who set the sentence, but the crowd. Pilate simply went along with their wishes.
Evaluating the mob scene at his door, perhaps he decided that this was the only way to preserve order, and he saw an opportunity to ingratiate himself to the influential Jewish leaders as well. Luke makes it clear that Pilate was a poor administrator of Roman justice, but he carefully lays the true blame for Jesus’ death squarely at the feet of his own people.
To Calvary …(vv. 26-43)
Jesus’ sleepless night, constant torment, and final scourging apparently left him too weak to bear his cross beam, as was the custom. Simon of Cyrene, who was pressed into service to carry it (v. 26), would have been a native of North Africa. Mark tells us that he was the father of Rufus and Alexander, who must have been well known to the early church (Mark 15:21).
Jesus’ march to the cross was much like a funeral procession before the actual death, except the mourners were not alone, for the jeers of Christ’s opponents were added to the loud wails of women who lamented for him (v. 27). Jesus responded sharply: if they really understood what was happening, he said, they should weep for themselves and their children rather than for him. Jerusalem had rejected Jesus, and one day it would be destroyed in apocalyptic violence (vv. 28-31).
The guilt of Jerusalem was mag- nified as both soldiers and crowd members continued their mocking of Jesus. Jesus prayed for his tormentors even as they nailed him to the cross and hung him up to die, but the unmoved soldiers gambled for his clothing (perhaps the new robe given by Herod), while the mob surrounding the cross taunted him as a would-be king receiving his proper come-uppance (vv. 32-38).
There is great irony in the charge, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!” (v. 35). Jesus’ accusers did not understand that, precisely because Jesus was the chosen one of God: he could not save others (including them) and save himself at the same time. Christ had to lose himself in order to save the world.
Modern readers must wonder if we understand this truth any better than the throng surrounding the cross. Are we willing to lose ourselves or give up our time and treasure for the sake of others? Have we caught Jesus’ lesson yet?
Only Luke records the story of the penitent thief (Mark suggests that they both joined in mocking Jesus, cf. Mark 15:32b). One of the two criminals crucified along with Jesus seemed to perceive who Jesus was, and asked Jesus to remember him “when you come into your kingdom.” In a memorable promise, Jesus replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (v. 43).
And death(vv. 44-49)
In the final account of Jesus’ death, Luke again focuses on the truth that Jesus died as an innocent man, and even records the centurion’s testimony to that effect (v. 47). While supernatural signs abounded to herald Jesus’ true divinity, Jesus cried loudly in committing his spirit to the Father. Even in this darkest hour of pain and despair, Jesus knew that the Father was waiting and ready to receive the Son.
Luke concludes with a reminder that “all the crowds who had gathered there for this spectacle saw what had taken place (v. 48), and also that Jesus’ followers, including the women from Galilee, had helplessly watched the day’s events (v. 49). There was no shortage of witnesses to this defining moment: at once the most horrible and the most wonderful event in the history of humankind. NFJ
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Adult Teaching Resources
Download the PDF for March 20, 216 teaching resources. This PDF contains the FIT Teaching Guide, Digging Deeper, and Hardest Question pages.
Read Scripture online: Luke 23:1-49
Teacher Prep | Youth & This Session
As connected as we are in society, we are still primarily a culture of individuals. We share our identities with others but we are not so willing to sacrifice our self for someone else. Our own dreams and wishes come first and we are willing to go the extra mile to make them happen. We are not as open to going the extra mile for someone else when we don’t gain anything from it. Help your students to realize that, yes, their life is important and unique, but it is not worth more than the person sitting next to them or the person on the other side of the globe.
Teaching Resources | Download
Download the PDF for youth teaching resources. This PDF contains the FIT Teaching Guide for this lesson.
Encourage youth to check out this video ahead of the lesson.
“Gurgi’s Sacrifice” from The Black Cauldron via www.youtube.com
Read Scripture online: Luke 23:1-49