He sought his Father’s will
With careful reverence we must speak of Luke’s account of the three trials, and the cross that our Lord chose to endure. In the four inspired accounts of Jesus’ trials and crucifixion there is a simple relating of very meaningful facts.
Luke and the other gospel writers do not relate the physical agonies that Jesus suffered. Although the suffering of our Lord was very real, its infliction on him is related in few words. The focus of the narrative is on three things:
- The agony of his praying as he sought the strength to do his Father’s will, that resulted in his yielding himself to his captors.
- His calm, resolute silence despite the many false accusations, except to affirm to the high priest that he was the son of God.
- Hisbehaviorthroughthreetrials,muchphysicalandverbalabuse,scourging, and crucifixion. That remarkable behavior caused the centurion, no doubt a hardened veteran of many crucifixions, to exclaim on Jesus’ death, “Certainly this was a righteous man” or, as Mark records, “Truly, this man was the son of God.”The agony of the Lord Jesus’ mental struggle beforehand is vividly described in Luke:“And he was withdrawn from them about a stone’s cast, and kneeled down, and prayed, Saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done. And there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him” (Luke 22:41-43).
It is not only the unjust trials and the drawn out brutality to be inflicted on him that Jesus must face. He must go through it all before hate-filled men and unprin- cipled rulers in a way befitting the son of God doing his Father’s will as an act of love. As we read Luke’s account, the words of our hymn, “what love through all his actions ran” (Hymn 243, v. 2) are much in our minds.
“And there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him.” The agony of His son there is felt by his Father, too. “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son” (John 3:16). Two thousand years before, such is the wonder of God’s ways; this is shown us in the inspired account of Abraham’s offering his son, Isaac, as God commanded. “Take now your son, your only son Isaac whom you love… and offer him.” Twice the record tells us of Abraham and his son, Isaac, “they went both of them together” (Gen 22:6, 8).
Rising from his prayer in the garden, Jesus acts decisively to do his Father’s will. He knows all that he must undergo, but, he knows, too, “For the Lord GOD will help me; therefore shall I not be confounded: therefore have I set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be ashamed” (Isa 50:7). His abusers seek to shame him, but he despises the shame — that meant nothing to him:
“Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of wit- nesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider him that endured such contradiction of sin- ners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds” (Heb 12:1-3).
Far from being in distress or a mere victim of evil men, Jesus is in control every painful step until he ends his life, committing his spirit into his Father’s hands. Some of his disciples would have fought his captors to the death, thereby allowing Jesus to escape in the darkness, but he rebukes them, heals the one struck by Peter’s sword, and yields himself unresisting to the armed crowd sent by the high priest.
Facing his accusers in the high priest’s house, Jesus does not forget Peter in the courtyard below — despite the blows, verbal abuse, and spitting he is going through. When the cock crows a second time, the Lord turns to look at Peter, Luke tells us: “And the Lord turned, and looked upon Peter. And Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said unto him, Before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice” (Luke 22:61). For sure this was an encouraging look, not one of reproach. Angry that the testimony of the false witnesses that he employed is contradictory, the high priest demands of Jesus that he tell them if he is the Christ, the son of God. The Lord’s answer, which sounds ambiguous in the language of the KJV, is in fact a strong affirmation that he is, and that they will see the son of man sit on the right hand of the power of God. Then they all said, “ ‘Are You then the Son of God?’ So He said to them, ‘You rightly say that I am’ ” (Luke 22:20, NKJV). See Luke 22:67-70; Mark 14:61-62. Daniel records what surely must have been on Jesus’ mind on this occasion:
“I was watching in the night visions, And behold, One like the Son of Man, Coming with the clouds of heaven! He came to the Ancient of Days, And they brought Him near before Him. Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, That all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, Which shall not pass away, And His kingdom the one Which shall not be destroyed” (Dan 7:13-14, NKJV).
Condemned by the Sanhedrin in the darkness of early morning, Jesus is brought to Pilate at daybreak. It is very unlikely that Pilate regularly sat in his judgment hall at the first light of day. It seems likely that, upon receiving information from Judas that Jesus could be taken away from the crowds, the high priest arranged for an armed force to arrest Jesus while he paid a late night visit to Pilate to arrange for a very early hearing and condemnation by Pilate. The execution could then be carried out before most in the city would hear about it. Pilate knows well the character of the men who bring Jesus to him. He knows that they are jealous of the attention and respect that Jesus commanded. These very religious, but actually very worldly men hated him, Jesus says, because he showed that their works were evil: “The world cannot hate you; but me it hateth, because I testify of it, that the works thereof are evil” (John 7:7).
Pilate is probably surprised, amazed by the noble, calm demeanor of the firmly silent man standing before him — so unlike the criminals and revolutionaries he frequently condemned. We can be sure that Pilate knows something about Jesus. Knowing the duplicity of Jesus’ accusers, Pilate begins to doubt their unfounded charges. “Are you the king of the Jews?” he asks Jesus. Jesus affirms that he is, ex- plaining, that his kingdom was not of this world; if it was, his servants would fight for him, but his kingdom is not from here:
“Then Pilate entered into the judgment hall again, and called Jesus, and said unto him, Art thou the King of the Jews? Jesus answered him, Sayest thou this thing of thyself, or did others tell it thee of me? Pilate answered, Am I a Jew? Thine own nation and the chief priests have delivered thee unto me: what hast thou done? Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence. Pilate therefore said unto him, Art thou a king then? Jesus answered, Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice” (John 18:33-37).
Pilate then announces to the chief priests and the crowd, “I find no fault in this man.” They react angrily and Pilate learns that Jesus is from Galilee, in Herod’s jurisdiction. So he sends him to Herod who is in Jerusalem at this time.
This is that Herod, a son of Herod the great, who was the shameless adulterer who murdered John. He has heard much about Jesus and his miracles and wanted to see him perform one: “And when Herod saw Jesus, he was exceeding glad: for he was desirous to see him of a long season, because he had heard many things of him; and he hoped to have seen some miracle done by him” (Luke 23:8). Herod questions Jesus with many words while the chief priests and scribes vehemently accuse him. Jesus does not say one word to Herod — in itself a public rebuke to this vain, wicked man. Herod, therefore, first mocks him, and then sends him back to Pilate.
Pilate calls together the chief priests, the rulers, and the people, and again de- clares that he finds no fault in Jesus concerning their accusations, nor had Herod. Therefore he will chastise him and release him (Luke 23:14-15). Why would he chastise a man he had found to be innocent? This is not Justice, but Pilate’s futile attempt to give the chief priests some satisfaction by Jesus being brutally scourged.
The calm behavior of Jesus
Despite a third statement of Jesus’ innocence, the Jewish rulers demand with loud voices that Jesus be crucified. Pilate, knowing their many complaints about him to the Caesar in Rome, gives in. He signs the sentence that Jesus be crucified and releases the rebel and murderer they wanted instead of the “prince of life.” Thus, Gentiles and Jews together kill the lord’s Christ. They do so, not realizing at all that they are doing as God purposed — that by their wicked deed God is bring- ing about the victory of His son over sin and death, that would give hope in him to all mankind.
In Luke’s account of what follows, there are three important things that Jesus says that are not recorded in the other Gospels. The first is in Luke:
“And there followed him a great company of people, and of women, which also bewailed and lamented him. But Jesus turning unto them said, Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me, but weep for yourselves, and for your children. For, behold, the days are coming, in the which they shall say, Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bare, and the paps which never gave suck. Then shall they begin to say to the mountains, Fall on us; and to the hills, Cover us. For if they do these things in a green tree, what shall be done in the dry?” (Luke 23:27-31).
Time has passed in the appearances of Jesus before Pilate, then before Herod, then back to Pilate again, then the mocking and scourging by the Roman soldiers (which Luke does not record). So, it’s nearing 9:00 a.m. as Jesus is led out of the city to the place called the skull. Now the narrow streets are full of people; crowds follow Jesus and women, including some we know, are lamenting.
Jesus tells these daughters of Jerusalem, that doomed city, not to weep for him but for themselves and their children because of the disaster that will come to their city as a consequence of his death. If this injustice could be done in a green tree, when healing and new life is being given by a savior to many, what would happen to a dry tree after forty years more of increasing rejection of their Messiah. The judgment foretold by Hosea on Israel would come on them, Jesus says.
The second of Jesus’ words that only Luke records is saying, as they crucify him, lay him on the stake, drive in the nails, then lift the stake and fix it firmly in the ground, “Father,” Jesus says, “forgive them: for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). We might think that these remarkable words apply only to the truly ignorant Roman soldiers, not to the Jewish rulers who know exactly what they are doing. Yet, after Jesus is risen, Peter speaking to a crowd in the temple, says that they had denied the holy and just one, Jesus, desiring instead a murderer and had killed the prince of life. “I know,” he says, “that through ignorance you did it, as did also your rulers” (Acts 3:13-17, NKJV). The Apostle Paul, who knew Jesus after the flesh, says he himself had been a blasphemer and persecutor, the chief of sinners, but had obtained mercy because he himself did it ignorantly in unbelief (1Tim 1:12-15).
Confirming this wonderful truth that Jesus’ forgiveness extends even to the most wicked of men and women are Stephen’s words when a mob of enraged rulers are stoning him to death. “Lord,” Stephen prays, “lay not this sin to their charge” echo- ing Jesus’ words at his crucifixion (Acts 7:60). There is an important lesson for us in Jesus’ prayer. Despite the awful injustice not just in what was being said of him, but in what was being brutally done to him, he prayed for these misguided and wicked people. And, so must we pray for those who may seem to hate us and speak evil of us. That’s what our Lord is teaching us, not only in words (Matt 5:43-45), but by his example here. In this his Father is with him, seeking to reconcile us to Himself by the power of His love in His son’s cross.
The third thing that only Luke records is Jesus responding to words spoken to him by one of the men also being crucified on either side of him:
“And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him, saying, If thou be Christ, save thyself and us. But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss. And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:39-43).
One criminal demands, “If you are the Christ save yourself and us!” The chief priests, elders, and scribes mock him, saying, “If you are the son of God, come down from the cross. He saved others, himself he cannot save” (Matt 27:9-4).
Totally ignorant they were of God and of His gracious purpose in His son’s dying. Because he is the Christ, the son of God, he does not come down from the cross, nor answer their malicious words. Here, lifted up before the world, he must die to do his Father’s will, which is fully his will, too. He must thus conquer sin to save his people from their sins, and by his act of love draw them to himself. Even one of the unfortunate criminals who were crucified with Jesus could appreciate the sinlessness and power of Jesus.
In the three trials, scourging and crucifixion, and malicious mocking of Jesus, only this dying man spoke out for him. Pilate proclaims Jesus’ innocence, then just acts according to his cynical political motives, dismissing the truth that Jesus testifies to him. This criminal’s words are first of all a confession of his own sin, then a simple plea and an expression of faith in Jesus, that this man dying beside him would come again to establish his kingdom. What a remarkable faith he has in the Lord Jesus!
This is not a mere death bed repentance inspired by the fear death. He knew Jesus’ words and deeds. Jesus knew his heart, the sincerity of his repentance, and his faith. It was the Father’s will that this man be there and say these words. What as- surance this was to Jesus that even by his being lifted up so cruelly he was drawing men and women to himself.
Jesus’ cry, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me” and someone putting a sponge with sour wine to Jesus’ lips are not recorded by Luke. Neither does he record, as John does, the words of the Lord’s last great cry, “it is finished.” Yet, all, absolutely everything that he must do there for his Father is done. Now as God had given him the power to do, he gave up his life, saying to his Father, “Into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46; John 10:17-18).
In a lovely way, in Luke 24, Luke, as do the other Gospel writers, describes the resurrection of Jesus on the third day, his appearances to his disciples, and his giving them a special commission to carry out, and the power to do so. They are to be living witnesses to all that they had heard and seen in him. Their future role is to be witnesses to him in all nations beginning at Jerusalem. “You shall be wit- nesses to me in Jerusalem and in Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8) are Jesus’ words. Matthew records this same commission in slightly different words, but with the same intent:
“Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world” (Matt 28:19-20).
Although we are not the Lord’s chosen twelve apostles to begin the preaching of the Gospel, we Christadelphians have a similar responsibility as individuals and as his ecclesia to preach this good news that has come all the way through the centuries to us. He will be with us, too, in our generation. In our Lord’s words, we are to testify to him, to make, by his grace and help, disciples who know and choose to follow all that the Lord Jesus says and shows us in such a loving and compelling way.
As we contemplate the Gospel accounts of our Lord’s sufferings, death, and resur- rection, we hear the Apostle Paul’s words to the Corinthians:
“For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God. For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent. Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness; But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men”(1Cor 1:18-25).
The exhortation is to use the power there is in the message of the cross of Christ, this precious understanding given to us of God’s grace and truth in Jesus, to testify to others about him. The goal in our testimony must be not making mere adherents to our correct teachings, but to make disciples devoted to him — as we ourselves are learning to be. “For, we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your bond servants for Jesus sake” (2Cor 4:5).
“I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the son of God who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal 2:19-21). May this making of Christ Jesus the center, the focus, the inspiration of our lives be truly so for each of us by the grace and help of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Robert Green (Cambridge ON)