The prospects for Jesus look bleak.
Before Pontius Pilate stands a mob calling for Jesus’s crucifixion. We expected this from the religious leaders, who could never stand Jesus’s claim to be the Son of God, nor His mission to save sinners rather than the righteous. For them, Jesus was nothing but a blasphemer and underminer of their moral code. But the crowd. They followed Jesus everywhere, witnessing the miracles and healings, sitting under the sublime, otherworldly teaching.
Now the mass of humanity had become a mob. Apparently, they had no use for a man they could not use—not one under condemnation anyway.
At least Jesus had his friends, right? Peter told him that all would fall away, but he would stand with him until the end. Wrong. One disciple betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. Heck, another ran away butt-naked in the Garden of Gethsemane. All the rest fled. Except Peter. He followed…at a distance. And when called upon three times to stand with Jesus, he stayed seated with a barrage of denials.
No, today Jesus would be all alone.
I hope this stark reality casts some doubt upon the claim you and I usually make: “If I was there with Jesus…” They were, and they didn’t. People sometimes say that if only they saw the miracles, they’d believe in Jesus. They forget that everyone saw the miracles…and cried “Crucify him!” People tell us that they would believe if only there weren’t so many hypocrites in the church. They forget that there was a time when the one non-hypocritical man walked this earth. He was as perfect as his profession. And he was still crucified.
Let us be honest with ourselves: if we had Jesus, the Son of God, here in the flesh, we’d crucify Him. When the crowd condemned God in the flesh, they represented humanity. If we take our sin seriously, we should see our faces in the blood-thirsty mob.
In this trial of Jesus, it was abundantly clear that he was innocent. Pilate had no love for the Jews, but he had no interest in killing this one. His bad jujus were made even worse when his wife—let’s call her Mrs. Pilate—appears in recorded history simply to announce a dream that the man her husband held was righteous. Oh, and let’s not forget that the criminal who stands alongside Jesus, Barabbas, is clearly deserving of death. The contrast couldn’t be starker.
And God gave this misguided mob endless chances to cry “Mulligan!” It just happened to be the day of the year when Pilate would release a Jewish prisoner to appease the crowd and his political superiors. Don’t forget—he gives the crowd three opportunities to release Jesus. Should he release Jesus or Barabbas? “Barrabas!” What then should he do with Jesus? “Crucify him!” But what has he done? “Crucify him!” With every opportunity to correct their verdict, mankind decided to kill God.
Pilate tries to absolve himself by washing his hands before the crowd. Paraphrasing Calvin: “Not so fast—you can wash your hands before man but not before God.” No one gets off. But the crowd is willing to embrace their crime: “May His blood be on us and our children.” Little did they know that they were calling down God’s judgement upon all mankind. The blood of Abel continues to speak. In this trial of God, it is man that comes away condemned.
But something incredible happens. As Jesus hangs, suffocating upon a cross, he cries out “Father, forgive them. They know not what they do.” The crowd had called God to paint their hands guilty for the blood of His Son; his Son called God to paint their hearts with his blood instead. Everyone but Jesus should’ve been marching to that hill of death, skewered upon a cross, and exposed to the terrible wrath of God. Instead, it is Jesus alone—in the place of the people who are murdering him.
There is something of Luther’s great exchange here, and we see it most vividly in Barabbas of all people. You see, Barabbas clearly deserves to die this day and Jesus clearly deserves to live. But Jesus bears the death that Barabbas deserves and Barabbas stumbles upon the life that Jesus deserves.
About 2000 years ago, mankind put God on trial and condemned him to death. But it was truly mankind on trial, and we were shown to be beyond guilty as charged. But it wasn’t me and you walking to the cross. It was Jesus. Good Friday marks the day when the tables were turned—first showing us the death we deserve and then showing us the life we were given in Christ.
Every day, Christian, Satan reminds you of the death you deserve because of your sin. He cripples you and me because he is right. We even condemn the Almighty if we have the chance. But God no longer gives you that chance. You were blood-thirsty and he quenched your thirst in a way unimaginable. Enter: the streams of living water.
Satan does not get the final word over you, friend. Jesus does. And He has done it.