Lent Readings: The Story of Jesus, Day 44

The late-night procession led first to the estate of Annas, the High Priest emeritus. His son-in-law, Caiaphas, was the official High Priest. It was Caiaphas, you may recall, who had previously counselled the tribunal that they would all be better off if one man were sacrificed for the people, thus avoiding a riot and increased tension with Rome.

Simon Peter and John followed from a distance. As they neared Annas’ residence, John was ushered in because he was acquainted with Annas; but Peter was left at the gate. John asked one of the maids to go get Peter and let him in, which she did. When she saw him, she said, “You’re one of that Man’s disciples, aren’t you?”

Peter denied it flatly, saying, “No, I’m not!”

It was the middle of the night and quite chilly, so some of the servants and officers had built a small fire in the courtyard. Peter joined them and they sat together warming themselves.

Meanwhile, inside the house, the High Priest grilled Jesus about what He taught and who His disciples were.

“You don’t have to ask Me,” Jesus said. “I’ve been teaching in your synagogues and in the temple all along. I have no secret agenda. Ask anyone here; they can tell you what I’ve said.”

One of the officers standing near Jesus slapped Him across the face, saying, “Is that how You talk to the High Priest?”

Jesus said, “Did I say something that wasn’t true? If not, why do you hit Me?”

Outside, where Peter was warming himself, another servant girl came up to him. After looking him over closely, she said, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.” The others who were sitting there turned to him and said, “You aren’t one of His disciples, now, are you?”

Peter answered them all tersely, “I don’t know what you’re talking about. Woman, I don’t know that Man.”

Peter decided to move a safe distance away from this group, so he found his way to a porch area. It wasn’t long before yet another servant came to where he was. He was a relative of Malchus, whose ear Peter had cut off. He took one look at Peter and said, “Hey, I saw you with Jesus there in the garden! You are one of them!”

Peter said, “Man, I am not!” As he turned to leave, a rooster crowed in the distance.

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Annas, getting nowhere with his investigation, decided to send Jesus over to Caiaphas’ palace.  So once again Jesus was bound and led through the dark streets of Jerusalem. There, a great number of priests, elders, and scribes had come together.

Peter again followed as far as the courtyard and watched the mock trial from a distance.

The officials were scrambling to find someone who would testify against Jesus so that He could be condemned to die. Many came forward, but their testimonies conflicted. It looked like nothing could be found against Him. Finally, two of them said they had heard Jesus talk about destroying the temple. One said, “I heard Him say, ‘I will destroy this man-made temple and within three days I will build one that is not man-made.’”

The other man’s charge was similar but not exactly in line with it.

Caiaphas stood up and asked Jesus, “Aren’t you going to defend Yourself against these claims?”

But Jesus remained silent. He would not answer.

“I’ll make You talk,” the High Priest said, spitting out his words. “I adjure You by the living God to tell us whether You are the Messiah, the Son of God.”

Jesus answered and said, “I am. And you will one day see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Almighty and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

Shouts of “Blasphemy!” rose from all around the room. The High Priest tore his robe in mock horror at the claim. “Who needs witnesses? Every one of us has heard His blasphemy! What do you say?”

First one and then another of the elders and leaders spoke up in a chorus of, “He deserves the death penalty! He must die!”

Those nearest Jesus took up the verdict and began beating Him and spitting in His face. Someone blindfolded Him, and several slapped Him on the face and then mocked Him, saying, “Prophesy, Messiah! Who just hit you? You should know!” This abuse went on until sunrise when He was taken to stand trial before the whole Sanhedrin.

Peter, meanwhile, was facing his own interrogation in the courtyard where he had been sitting. A servant girl walked up to him and said, “You were with Jesus of Galilee.”

Peter glanced around nervously and said to all who were nearby, “I don’t have a clue what you are talking about.”

A few minutes later when he was standing near the gate, one of the servants who had confronted him earlier began telling everyone, “This fellow was with Jesus of Nazareth.” But again he denied it with a curse.

Another hour passed and someone who had been standing there said, “This guy has to be one of His followers. His Galilean accent gives him away!”

Then Peter began to curse and swear. “I’m telling you,” Peter retorted, “I don’t know whoever it is you’re talking about!” Before he finished the sentence, the sound of a rooster crowed for the second time that morning.

Peter could see Jesus from where he was standing, and at just that moment Jesus turned and looked at Peter. All of a sudden Peter remembered what Jesus had said to him a few hours earlier concerning these denials.  Immediately Peter went out and wept bitterly.

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As dawn was breaking, the whole council came together and made Jesus, already disheveled by the earlier abuse, stand and testify. “If You are the Messiah, tell us,” they demanded.

“If I said yes, you wouldn’t believe Me,” Jesus answered. “And if I were to question you, I’m sure you wouldn’t answer and you certainly wouldn’t let Me go free. Let Me just say that someday you will see the Son of Man enthroned with honor at the right hand of the Almighty.”

“So then You are claiming to be the Son of God?” they asked.

“You have obviously come to that conclusion,” Jesus replied.

“That’s all the evidence we need,” the council declared. “We have heard it straight from His own mouth.”

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When Judas, the betrayer, realized that Jesus wasn’t going to escape this time, he was overcome with remorse. He returned to the chief priests and elders and said, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.”

“We can’t do anything about that!” the religious leaders retorted.  “The deed is done.”

At that, Judas threw the thirty pieces of silver on the floor of the temple at their feet and hurried out. He attempted to hang himself but ended up falling to his death.

This turn of events caused no small dilemma for the chief priests. “What are we going to do with this money?” they asked. “Because it’s blood-money, we can’t just put it back in the treasury. That just wouldn’t be right.”

After a brief discussion it was decided that they would use it to buy an outlying field where potters discarded their scraps.  Their plan was to turn it into a cemetery for strangers. Over time, the field became known as the Akel Dama, the “Field of Blood.” This fulfilled Jeremiah’s prophecy which said, “And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the value set on Him by the children of Israel, and gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord directed me.”

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Once the Sanhedrin had condemned Jesus, they simply needed the Roman governor’s consent. Because Israel was occupied territory, the Jewish leaders could not carry out capital punishment. Even though it was still quite early, they dragged Jesus to the Praetorium, Pontius Pilate’s courtroom, and called for the governor. The Jewish leaders sent in emissaries rather than defile themselves by entering a Gentile facility since it was Passover.

Pilate, irritated at having to conduct business at this early hour, came into the square and asked, “What are the charges against this Man?”

The spokesman said, “If He hadn’t done something wrong, do you think we’d be bringing Him to you?”

To which Pilate replied, “You have your own courts for petty crimes. Go try Him according to your law.”

The Jews said to him, “But you won’t let us put anyone to death!” The policy to which they were referring would lead to the fulfillment of Jesus’ words when He said that He would be lifted up, indicating death by Roman crucifixion as opposed to the Jewish method of stoning.

Someone in the crowd shouted, “This Man has been disturbing the peace and telling the people they shouldn’t pay taxes to Caesar. He claims to be the Messiah, the true King of Israel. He’s nothing but trouble.”

Pilate called for Jesus to be brought to him for questioning and asked Him outright, “So, are You the King of the Jews?”

Jesus responded by asking him, “Why are you asking —for your own sake or just because of what the others are saying?”

Pilate was affronted by this and retorted, “I’m no Jew! Your people, Your chief priests are the ones who brought it up. What have You done to cause all this trouble?”

Jesus said, “My Kingdom isn’t in this world. If it were, I’d call the subjects of My Kingdom to defend Me against these Jews. But My Kingdom isn’t from around here.”

“So,” Pilate exclaimed, “You are a King then!”

Jesus answered him, “Yes, in the truest sense of the title. I came into this world for one reason: to tell people the truth. Everyone who desires truth receives My testimony.”

This conversation wasn’t going where Pilate had expected and he asked sarcastically, “Truth? What is Truth?” He turned to the crowd and announced that he could find no crime worthy of prosecution.

That caused pandemonium as the chief priests and elders standing just outside the doorway began shouting, the crowd taking up all manner of accusations against Jesus. Jesus just stood there not saying a word.

Pilate turned to Jesus and said, “You hear their accusations! They’ve got some pretty serious charges. Aren’t you going to say something?”

But Jesus remained silent. Pilate marveled at His composure.

Once again Pilate called to the crowd, “I find no fault in this Man.”

“No! No!” they shouted, “He has stirred up this nation from here all the way to Galilee!”

“Galilee?” Pilate inquired. “Are you a Galilean?” he asked Jesus. With a sense of relief Pilate realized that this was technically under the jurisdiction of Herod, the tetrarch of that Northern Province.

Since Herod happened to be in Jerusalem at the time, Pilate had Jesus taken to him.

Herod relished the opportunity to finally meet Jesus. He had always wanted to watch Him do a miracle. Herod hammered Him with a barrage of questions, but Jesus would not answer or say a word. The chief priests and scribes threw in their vehement complaints, but Jesus stood silent. Herod and his body guard began to taunt Jesus, putting a royal robe over His shoulders and feigning honor to this would-be king. Then Herod sent Him back to Pilate.

Over the years, Herod and Pilate had been at odds with each other, but after this unusual charade they became friends.

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Each year at this feast, the governor had a tradition of releasing to the Jews a prisoner of their choice. About this time, the crowd gathered to watch the proceedings. Chanting and shouting, they announced to Pilate that it was time to release the prisoner. He was pleased, thinking that this would relieve him of having to deal with Jesus. To make sure they would choose Jesus, he offered Barabbas as the alternative. This Barabbas had been a notorious criminal, leading insurrection against Rome and violently murdering any who stood in his way.

Pilate could tell that the chief priests had trumped up the charges against Jesus because they envied His popularity. He was certain the crowd would want Jesus released.

While all this was going on in the court, Pilate’s wife had sent a messenger to him with a note, saying, “Don’t have anything to do with that good Man. I’ve just had the worst nightmare about all this!”

Pilate called the accusers and declared, “You have brought this Man to me claiming He is a trouble-maker. As you have seen this morning, I examined Him and found no cause for judgment. Besides, I sent Him to Herod and he, likewise, could find nothing deserving a death sentence. I will have my soldiers give Him a flogging and He will be your released prisoner this year.”

Immediately, the chief priests stirred up the crowd to demand that Barabbas be released instead. “Barabbas!” they shouted, “We want Barabbas!”

Pilate couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “What? Who would you have me release to you?”

They cried out in unison, “Not this Man, but Barabbas!” “Take Him away and bring us Barabbas!” The din was deafening in the great stone courtyard.

Still looking for a way to get the crowd to choose Jesus instead, Pilate asked, “But what about your King? What shall I do with Jesus, your Messiah?”

It was too late; the leaders had prompted them to call for Jesus’ crucifixion, and with one voice they shouted, “Let Him be crucified! Crucify! Crucify Him!”

Pilate refused to give up. “What has He done? I can’t find anything as a charge against Him! I will scourge Him and let Him go!”

“No! He must be crucified!” the crowd demanded. “Crucify! Crucify! Crucify!” their loud shouts echoed over and over until Pilate, beside himself with frustration, took a basin of water and washed his hands before the crowd in a symbolic gesture. “You are my witnesses,” he announced, “that I am innocent of the blood of this upright Man.”

The crowd was unshaken in their fervor. “His blood be upon us and our children, then!”

Reluctantly, Pilate released Barabbas into the crowd and sent Jesus down to the whipping post to be prepared for crucifixion.

The whole garrison of soldiers gathered around Jesus as they stripped His robe from Him. Someone quickly fashioned a crown out of thorn branches and pressed it into Jesus’ head. Another mockingly gave Him a reed of grass as a scepter. One by one the brazen officers bowed down to Him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!”

Relentlessly they beat Him with sharp whips, spit in His face, and cursed. Then, putting the robe back on Him, they sent Him up to Pilate and the waiting crowd.

Pilate announced Jesus’ return, saying, “I present to you the One in Whom I found no fault.” Hoping the crowd would be satisfied by the fierce scourging, he presented Jesus, dressed in the robe and wearing the crown of thorns. Pilate said, “Look at Him!”

But the moment they saw Jesus, the place erupted with cries of “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!”

Disgusted, Pilate shouted, “You take Him and crucify Him! I find no fault in Him!”

The Jews retorted, “But by our law He must die! He declared Himself to be the Son of God!”

This made Pilate all the more troubled so he pulled Jesus aside and asked, “Where are You from?”

Jesus didn’t answer him which only increased his anxiety. In frustration he challenged Jesus, “Are You not going to answer me? Don’t You realize who I am? I have the power to crucify You and the power to release You.”

That time Jesus did respond, saying, “Actually, you couldn’t do anything against Me unless a higher Authority had given you the power. Those who delivered Me over to you have committed the greater sin.”

From then on Pilate looked for any possible way to release Him, but the Jews shouted, “If you let this Man go free, you are no friend of Caesar! Anyone who calls Himself a king opposes Caesar.”

This threat stripped away Pilate’s resolve. He led Jesus to The Pavement where verdicts were read and final sentencing was announced. It was mid-morning, just hours before the start of Passover.

Rising from the judgment seat, Pilate motioned toward Jesus and announced, “Behold your King!”

The crowd went wild with angry shouts of “Away with Him! Take Him away!” and “Crucify! Crucify! Crucify!”

Pilate screamed over the noisy uproar, “You want me to crucify your King?”

To which the chief priests replied, “We have no king but Caesar!”

Pilate had run out of options. He handed Jesus over to be crucified. The soldiers ripped off the fancy robe and put His own cloak over the bruised and bleeding shoulders.

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Taking up His cross, Jesus was led out of the judgment hall into the streets of Jerusalem. Somewhere along the way, the soldiers apprehended a bystander and made him carry Jesus’ cross. His name was Simon. He was from Cyrene in northern Africa. He, along with his two sons, Alexander and Rufus, just happened to be passing through Jerusalem at that moment.

Crowds lined the narrow streets, pressing in to see the spectacle. Among them were many women who were weeping and crying out, distraught by the drama being played out before them.

Jesus gathered His strength and turning to the women, stopped the procession long enough to say, “Oh, daughters of Jerusalem, don’t weep over Me. Weep, instead, for what is going to happen to you and your children. Yes, a time is coming when you’ll wish you had never had children, never had to watch them suffer. It will break your hearts to hear them begging the mountains and the hills to bury them rather than suffer at the hands of invading troops. Look, if they’re willing to do this when the tree is alive and green, how much worse will it be when it is all just deadwood?”

The sobering death march continued to a crossroads just outside the city gates. Two criminals were facing execution along with Jesus on this fateful afternoon.

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Rising up steeply beyond the road was a rocky hill. The small caves gave it the appearance of a huge skull, hence its name, “Skull Hill.” There it stood, staring down on the grisly scene where soldiers prepared the three crosses.

The soldiers offered a strong drink for the condemned, something that would temporarily knock them out to minimize resistance as they secured them to the wooden stakes. Jesus would not drink it.

Midst cries of terror and cursing, the two criminals were crucified and placed on either side of Jesus’ cross. The prophet Isaiah had written, “And He was numbered with the transgressors.”

As His cross was lifted up, Jesus said, “Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing.”

Often the specific violation was written on a placard and nailed above the dying criminal. Pilate had personally made the placard for Jesus, writing in bold letters, “This is Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” He even printed it in the three dominant languages of the region: Greek, Latin, and Hebrew.

Because all this happened very near the city, nearly everyone could see it. When the chief priests saw what Pilate had written, they ran back to him insisting that he change it to read, “He claimed to be King of the Jews.”

But Pilate was adamant, “What I have written, I have written.”

It was only nine o’clock in the morning and the soldiers’ only task was to keep an eye on their victims. They often made a sport of throwing dice to decide how to divide the dying man’s valuables and clothing. Jesus’ tunic was made without seams, so they decided not to tear it apart but to give it to whoever won the toss. His other garments were distributed evenly among the four soldiers.  Even these details had been foretold in the Old Testament. David had written in Psalm 22, “They divided My garments among them, and for My clothing they cast lots.”

Over the next couple of hours, streams of people passed by, some stopping to taunt the criminals, others cursing and mocking, wagging their heads in disgust as they shouted, “Ha! Destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, will You? If You can do that, You certainly should be able to save Yourself! If You’re really the Son of God, come down off that cross!”

The chief priests, scribes, and even the rulers chimed in, “He saved others but He can’t save Himself!” “If He is the King of Israel,” they sneered, “let Him come down from the cross. Then we’ll believe in Him!”

“God’s chosen Son? Why isn’t God delivering Him? See, even God won’t have anything to do with Him! Where is this God He trusted in, now that He needs Him?”

The soldiers weren’t used to this much attention at a crucifixion. So they joined in after offering more sour wine, “If you are the King of the Jews, prove it! Save Yourself!”

Even one of the robbers picked up the taunt, saying, “Come on, Messiah. If You are who You say You are, save Yourself and save us while You’re at it!”

The other robber, though, rebuked his friend, saying, “What are you doing? Do you not fear God, even just a little, seeing you’re about to die? We deserve to die for what we’ve done, but this Man has done nothing wrong!”

Then he addressed Jesus, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your Kingdom.”

Jesus promised him, “Today, this very day, you will be with Me in Paradise.”

A small circle of mourners gathered near the cross: Mary, Jesus’ mother; her sister; Mary, Clopas’ wife; and Mary Magdalene; along with John, His beloved disciple.

Concerned as the first-born for His mother, He looked at her and said, “Dear woman, he (meaning John who was standing beside her) will be your son now.”

Looking at John, He said, “Take care of her as your own mother.”

From that day on, John took care of her in his own home.

At noon, the sky suddenly became dark. It was as if someone had shut off the sun. The whole earth was under a shroud of darkness. It lasted for three hours.

Then, about three o’clock, Jesus raised His voice and said, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachtani?” Which in English means, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”

Someone in the crowd said, “Hey! He’s calling for Elijah!”

After this, Jesus, knowing that His work on earth was complete, and in fulfillment of Scripture, said, “I’m thirsty!”

Someone grabbed the sponge tied to a stick and dipped it in the bucket of sour wine. Holding it up to Him, the man said, “Now let’s see if Elijah comes to rescue Him!”

After Jesus had tasted the wine, He said, “Tetelestai!”  “It is completed!”

One last time, Jesus took a deep breath and said in a loud voice, “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit!” And having said this, He bowed His head, yielded up His spirit, and breathed His last.

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At that moment the darkness lifted and the huge veil in the temple that hid the ark in the Holy of Holies was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth quaked, rocks were split, and graves burst open. These things shook up the crowd, especially the centurion assigned to guard Jesus. Fear gripped many and they beat their chests in despair. The soldier, having heard Jesus’ words and seeing how He had died, remarked, “This Man was righteous!” Contemplating the phenomenon of darkness and earthquake, he went on to say, “Surely He was the Son of God!”

Slowly the crowd disbursed to attend to Passover preparations. The Jewish leaders, ever diligent to avoid defiling their holy days, asked if the criminals could be killed quickly so they wouldn’t be a distraction during the feast.

When the soldiers came to Jesus and saw that He was already dead, they didn’t break His legs. But to make sure He was dead, one of them pierced His side with a spear; blood and water gushed out. With that, two more prophecies were fulfilled: “Not one of His bones shall be broken,” and “They shall look upon Him whom they pierced.”

Several other women were watching the proceedings from a distance, including Mary Magdalene; Mary, the mother of James and Joses; and Salome, the mother of Zebedee’s sons.

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Evening was fast approaching, so a wealthy member of the Jewish council, Joseph from Arimathea, felt compelled to take care of Jesus’ remains. He was an upright man who was looking for the Kingdom of God, and had been a secret follower of Jesus for fear of what the other council members might say. He had not agreed with the Sanhedrin when they condemned Jesus. Knowing that it would expose his loyalty, Joseph gathered his courage and went to Pilate to request permission to take Jesus’ body down and to attend to the burial.

When Pilate heard that Jesus was already dead, he was shocked. He summoned the centurion to verify Joseph’s statement.  Satisfied then that Jesus had died, he gave permission for the body to be turned over to Joseph.

On the way back to Skull Hill, Joseph purchased some linen to use as a wrap. Nicodemus, another council member, the one who had privately approached Jesus at night several years earlier, joined Joseph. He brought along nearly one hundred pounds of ointments and spices, including myrrh and aloes.

Carefully, they took Jesus’ body and wrapped it in strips of linen, sprinkling the spices between layers of cloth according to the custom of the Jews.

Close by the site where the crucifixion had taken place was a private garden owned by Joseph in which he had hewn out a small crypt for himself in the rocky hillside.  They laid Jesus’ body there and rolled a large stone over the entrance. The nearby location was convenient since the sun was setting and Passover candles were already being lit.

Two of the women mentioned earlier, Mary Magdalene and Mary, Joses’ mother, followed the men and watched to see where the body was laid. They had purchased spices and fragrant oils and planned to return as soon as Sabbath was over to give Jesus a proper burial.