The Dispassionate Dismissal of Jesus’ Life (Mark 14:55; 15:12)
Good Friday Worship – March 30, 2018
Recently, I heard someone say, ‘we don’t think about death and that’s the only reason we can live.’ It’s nagging at me that I can’t remember the source of this statement. I find it fascinating. The only reason I can live and not be constantly, obsessively worried about death is I just don’t think about it. The idea of my own death doesn’t frequently cross my mind.
Is that right? Maybe.
Many years ago, I was swimming and could not get into the shore. In my frustration at swimming against the rip tide, I uselessly swam against it, and thus magnified my frustration. And fear. I had a moment where I thought, “This is it.” I started telling God, I don’t want this to be it. A surfer saw my struggles and calmly towed me in.
I don’t think about my death. However, in moments when I do contemplate it, I feel ominous, horrifying fear creeping around the edges of my consciousness. It’s not the only feeling. I know I am a new creation in Christ. I know that he gives life everlasting. Imagining being in the physical presence of Jesus rapturously swims through my brain when I contemplate my death; not just any death, or death in theory, but my death. Depending on the day, such thoughts bring horror or bliss.
But, it is never casual. All thoughts of death are serious. All talk of death stops me in my tracks and commands my attention.
Mark 14:55 says, “The chief priests and the whole council were looking for testimony against Jesus to put him to death.” These religious leaders, spiritual guides, were charged with teaching the word of God and the way of God to the chosen people of God. God, as Jesus teaches in John’s Gospel, is God of the living. Yet these temple leaders, Israel’s pastors, easily talk of killing Jesus. Without regard for the weight of what they were saying, they spoke of ending his life.
Then, in Mark 15:12, Pontius Pilate says, “What do you wish me to do with the man you call King of the Jews?” Do with? In the kitchen, I wipe down the wet counter and then hold the rag up and say to my wife, “What do I do with this? Hang it up or throw it in the dirty clothes hamper? Do with? Mechanically impaired as I am, when a handyman like my brother-in-law John is fixing something at our house, I fish a strange looking piece of metal out of his tool box and ask, “What do you do with this?”
Do with? Pilate asks, “What do you wish me to do with [this man called Jesus]?” Is Jesus a used up rag? Is Jesus a tool? Pilate seemed to see him that way. The temple council seemed to value his life about like the animals they ritually killed in worship. How did men come to the place where they could so devalue a life?
Do we still do that? Do men and women in our day and time still show a callous disregard for the lives of people they deem unworthy of their respect or esteem? Every person shot in a violent encounter with police is a human being made in the image of God? That includes the guilty criminal. That includes the police officers who often get shot. That includes the unarmed civilians shot by mistake, or by callous disregard.
Do we devalue life the way the Roman Pilate and the Pharisee Caiaphas disregarded Jesus? Every school child or church goer or night club reveler or high schooler killed in a mass shooting in this country are human beings created uniquely by God; God’s image bearers. That includes the shooters.
“The chief priests and the whole council were looking for testimony against Jesus to put him to death.” “What do you wish me to do with the man you call King of the Jews?”
These first century leaders acted with inhuman callousness. The Pharisees and council members intentionally stacked the evidence, framed the testimony, and vetted the witnesses. They manipulated the illegitimate trial to get the verdict they planned ahead of time – a death sentence. Then they manipulated a man they hated – Pilate – to get that sentence carried out in the cruelest of ways. It seems they never stopped to ask, “What are we doing?”
A few of the leaders did; Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimathea, and others saw the kangaroo court for what it was and called their colleagues on it, this miscarriage of justice. These minority voices were summarily dismissed.
For his part, Pilate was only vaguely aware of Jesus. He did not think Jesus committed a crime at all, and he was certain Jesus had not done anything worthy of death. However, his motivation was not justice, but appeasement. If killing Jesus would keep the right Israelites calm and quiet, he would kill Jesus. And that’s what he did.
Besides the dispassionate dismissal of Jesus’ life displayed by the Council of priests and by Pilate, both groups also exhibited an appalling presumptuousness. Both assumed life – Jesus’ life – was theirs to take or give. They would not grant Jesus autonomy over his own life; both assumed the authority to determine whether Jesus would live or die.
This is authority is God’s and God alone. Only God creates life; only God should take life. Anytime human beings take the life of other human beings, they are wresting away from God what is His right. To kill another person is the ultimate usurping of God’s authority. The Council and Pontius Pilate both did this without a thought. And we do it today. The slate of violence in America is one example. The treatment of entire groups of people as political tools in places like Russia, Syria, and North Korea is another. The assumption affluent people have that they deserve to hoard a disproportionate number of the world’s resources for their own comfort knowing that people in the world are starving is yet another example.
That last one is really uncomfortable because it lumps a lot of us in with Caiaphas and Pilate and Hitler and Putin and Kim Jung Un. But in terms of sin, we are no better. And our sins are not vague spiritual abstractions. Our sins are real, tangible ways we add to the dying brokenness that’s swallowing God’s good creation. If you or I sat in Pilate’s seat, I can’t say that we would crucify Jesus as he did. But I know we are just as sinful, and if we didn’t do it the way he did, then we’d injure and reject our beloved Lord in some other way.
Our callous disregard of death is the clearest sign that sin has made a disastrous mess of Eden. God created the world and we’re doing all we can to destroy it. I don’t know if we willfully mean to, but I know I sin. We all do it. So it’s all a stinking, oozing mess and we’re in it up to our waists and the slop is rising.
How do we know the one who existed before the creation of the world came as a human, a real person, 100% human man? Jesus’ willingness to come and embrace death. He saw the mess we are in and he stepped right into it. Jesus had prescient, prophetic vision. He knew death was coming before he ever came to Jerusalem. But he came. Jesus had supreme communication with God. If he had called on a legion of heavenly warriors, angels, they would have come and the crucifixion would have never happened. He never made that call. When he knew the crucifixion was inevitable and God wasn’t going to change the plan, he literally took it like a man.
I don’t mean that in the macho way was use that phrase. I mean, like any human would, he wept. He cried out to God in agony. He bled when the whip ripped up chunks of his flesh. He joined us in our humanity. He took the worst we have to offer. He suffered mightily leading up to the cross and then hanging on it. He feared death as much as you or I would.
Jesus did it because he knew that God would accept his death as an acceptable conclusion. The death of Jesus was the endpoint for all sins committed by all people. Jesus knew God would receive his death in this way. He knew he was dying for the sins of the world. His death showed his humanity; it also showed his love.
How far did Jesus’ love go? The cross is the answer. On Good Friday, weep. Death should drive us to frustrated, scared, defeated tears. Death is the antithesis of God’s design for us. Jesus’ death is the great sorrow of history, the nadir of all time, the lowest of low points. Weep.
And, receive. I’ve spoken of sin, because that’s the story. My sin leads to Jesus’ death and creation’s degradation. However, before the story, behind the story, over the story, and in the story, God is working to carry us beyond sin and into His good graces. Receive the gift of righteousness. Grieve your sins but then receive forgiveness and rejoice. Even on this day, quietly rejoice because in Christ, you are a new creation. We rehearse and re-tell the Good Friday story knowing Jesus’ gambit paid off. In his act of love and sacrifice, sin is defeated and you and I are rescued. John reports that Jesus said at the end, “It is finished.”
This mess we’ve made, it’s done. Finished. The grief that exhausts us, the guilt that tortures us, it is done. God’s love is accomplished in Jesus’ death. We walk in the story knowing who we are now, now that Jesus has done all he set out to do. We are the sons and daughters of God, his beloved possessions. As you lived your life and walk through the Lent-Easter season, know this about yourself. You are God’s beloved child.