Three languages, representing worlds normally at odds with one another, were unified in the judgment they pronounced upon him. The verdict said simply, “King of the Jews”.
Jesus of Nazareth has always been a polarizing figure. He said of himself “You are for me or against me.” He left no middle ground, and that was intentional. He was blunt in warning that faith in him would sometimes split families “…a man’s enemies will be members of his own household.” And ironically, he also brought surprising unity, among friend and foe alike.
Having both a zealot and a tax collector among his disciples was a disaster waiting to happen. The former described a political radical whose big goal in life was the overthrow of Rome. Contrast that guy to tax collectors. To become a tax collector, you would bid on a contract to supply Rome with a fixed amount of revenue. Any profit beyond that, you could keep. They would cheat and fleece honest Jewish citizens to finance Rome (the occupying power), and live large in the process..
But both followed Jesus Christ — together. Somehow, following Jesus trumped the pet projects and personal gain. Later disciples, men and women, Jew and Gentile, rich and poor gathered and ate together with a sense of community and unity that overcame long-standing social prejudices and taboos.
On the other side, were Herod and Pilate. Luke 23:12 tells us that they put aside their differences and “became friends” on the day that Jesus was crucified. Why is that? An encounter with Jesus didn’t leave people ambivalent. In the fullest sense, it was either “love him” or “hate him.” The reasons for both were as varied as the people themselves.
So far as those three languages were concerned, however, Jesus rejected what their cultures loved most.
The First-century Jewish religious elite opposed Jesus because they envied him (Matt 27:18) and because he wouldn’t play by their rules. He challenged them, laid bare their hypocrisy, and shamed them in front of the crowds. The Greek elite were looking for deep thoughts, and profound teachings, but Jesus spoke in simple parables whose meaning was easily lost on the proud and self-important. Later, his cross was called folly by the wisdom-seeking Greeks, and an offense by the sign-seeking Jews.
The other language was Latin. Jesus opposed Rome in a different way: his allegiance was not to Caesar, it was to his Father. He spoke of a kingdom greater in significance and glory than any mere political empire. Earthly and military glory and riches, so prized by the Romans, failed to impress him. Instead, he chose to glorify His Father.
Jesus could not be intimidated — the same Jesus who remained silent when told to defend his innocence, challenged a Jewish official for violating the Law concerning prisoner treatment. (“If I did something wrong, testify as to that wrong, but if not, why did you strike me?”)
He was neither bullied, nor bribed — not even with all the kingdoms of the earth. He was unmoved by praise or scorn. He was resolute in his plan and purpose.
And, so, unable to own him, those three languages collectively disowned him. Their pronouncement was hung over his head: “King of the Jews”.
And then, on a day so filled with unusual events, an outsider, a foreigner spoke up, The Roman centurion with personal interests to promote, while overseeing Christ’s execution proclaimed “truly this was the son of God”.
In the entire account of his Crucifixion, we see the meeting of God’s perfect love and justice, we also see something else. Perfect justice, because only a wicked judge declares a wicked man innocent, unless the price has been paid some other way. Perfect love in that Christ took that punishment our sins truly deserved upon himself, that they need not condemn us eternally.
Looking closely at this account, we will notice that there were three crosses, not just one. Two thieves were also crucified that day; one either side of him. Initially, both thieves were hostile to Jesus, but after some time, one began to see him differently. Even in this bloodied, broken, dying condition, the thief recognized him as innocent, and Lord. Recognizing his own guilt, he asked simply that Jesus “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
Superficially, so much divides us — culture, gender, race, politics, status and a thousand other things. But on a deeper level, none of those things will truly matter in the most critical moment of our life. Whoever we are, and wherever we are from, we shall each face our own mortality. Our status, fame, and possessions will not join us in that moment. We will be face-to-face with ourselves, as we truly are, apart from all the superficial trappings of life.
In that moment, we will find ourselves in a position much like those two thieves on the cross. With death coming, and unavoidable, Jesus will again be a polarizing figure. Some, will face death like the first thief, cursing Christ to their dying breath. Some, like the repentant thief, will receive Him as Messiah, Saviour, King and friend.
It is my prayer, that when your turn comes, it will be as the latter. God bless you this Easter, and beyond.
Image: Mayer Bruno; Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license