Justice Can Wait

It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness came over all the land until the ninth hour. The sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple was torn down the middle.

Then Jesus called out in a loud voice, “Father, into Your hands I commit My Spirit.” And when He had said this, He breathed His last.

When the centurion saw what had happened, he gave glory to God, saying, “Surely this was a righteous man.” And when all the people who had gathered for this spectacle saw what had happened, they returned home beating their breasts. But all those who knew Jesus, including the women who had followed Him from Galilee, stood at a distance watching these things.

Now there was a Council member named Joseph, a good and righteous man, who had not consented to their decision or action. He was from the Judean town of Arimathea, and was waiting for the kingdom of God. He went to Pilate to ask for the body of Jesus. Then he took it down, wrapped it in a linen cloth, and placed it in a tomb cut into the rock, where no one had yet been laid. It was Preparation Day, and the Sabbath was beginning.

The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed, and they saw the tomb and how His body was placed. Then they returned to prepare spices and perfumes. And they rested on the Sabbath, according to the commandment. Luke 23:43-56.

What was done to Jesus was wrong. But it was necessary to bring redemption to the world. What was done to Jesus was also right, because He gave His life willingly to take our punishment.

God gave man agency to execute justice on the earth. But He didn’t make it easy. In the Law of Moses, one witness was not enough. You needed two. There were also cities of refuge, where the guilty could run and hide out until a trial could establish what had happened. There was due process, and I’m sure a lot of guilty people went free. Today we also execute justice imperfectly. Witnesses lie. Police add or subtract evidence. Witnesses don’t come forth out of fear. Politics gets involved. This is why there is ultimate justice, which God alone will adjudicate.

Apparently, the decision to execute Jesus was not unanimous. Joseph of Arimathea was on the ruling council, but did not consent. He was waiting for the kingdom of God. He acquired Jesus’s body and gave Him a decent burial. He was not part of the mob. In the face of injustice, he did not consent. He didn’t violate his conscience. He trusted final justice to God.

Last Minute Pardon

Two others, who were criminals, were also led away to be executed with Jesus.

When they came to the place called The Skull, they crucified Him there, along with the criminals, one on His right and the other on His left.

Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”And they divided up His garments by casting lots.

The people stood watching, and the rulers sneered at Him, saying, “He saved others; let Him save Himself if He is the Christ of God, the Chosen One.”

The soldiers also mocked Him and came up to offer Him sour wine. “If You are the King of the Jews,” they said, “save Yourself!”

Above Him was posted an inscription: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.

One of the criminals who hung there heaped abuse on Him. “Are You not the Christ?” he said. “Save Yourself and us!”

But the other one rebuked him, saying, “Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same judgment? We are punished justly, for we are receiving what our actions deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom!”

And Jesus said to him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” Luke 23:32-43.

Jesus prayed for His tormentors, who really didn’t realize they were abusing the Son of God. But one man did understand. He was one of the men who was being executed next to Him.

It took supernatural faith to ask the man who was hanging on a cross next to him to remember him when He ascended His throne. While all the others jeered at Jesus, telling Him to save Himself if He was the Chosen One, only one man asked to be saved. I can only wonder if this condemned man understood who Jesus really was because he had been in one of the crowds that heard Jesus preach. Or maybe he had been one of the men who lowered his paralyzed friend through the roof for Jesus to heal. Or maybe he was one of the 5,000 that Jesus fed with a few loaves and fishes.

For whatever reason, this dying man saw past the brutal execution next to him and believed. And in His pain and suffering, Jesus was glad to pardon him. He is likewise happy to pardon us, and forgive us every time we turn to Him. He wants us.

Making the Spiritual Political

Then the whole council rose and led Jesus away to Pilate. And they began to accuse Him, saying, “We found this man subverting our nation, forbidding payment of taxes to Caesar, and proclaiming Himself to be Christ, a King.”

So Pilate asked Him, “Are You the King of the Jews?”

“You have said so,” Jesus replied.

Then Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, “I find no basis for a charge against this man.”

But they kept insisting, “He stirs up the people all over Judea with His teaching. He began in Galilee and has come all the way here.” Luke 23:1-5.

It is one thing for people of faith to take a stand on a political issue for the sake of conscience. It’s another thing when you try to frame a spiritual issue in such a way to get someone arrested and executed. The Roman government didn’t care that Jesus claimed that He would die and rise again. The religious leaders had to find a way to make them care. So they had to sell Jesus as a political extremist.

Jesus was totally silent on the doings of the tyrannical Roman government. His concern was the tyrannical religious leaders, who, “…Tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger.” (Matthew 23:4). That is the sort of thing that raised the ire of the priests; the Romans, not so much.

Today the church must stay on message. We are not here to invoke God’s name and call Him to our cause. We are here to call people to God, even when the tyrants are in power.

God on Trial

Now the men who were holding Jesus in custody were mocking him as they beat him. They also blindfolded him and kept asking him, “Prophesy! Who is it that struck you?” And they said many other things against him, blaspheming him. 

When day came, the assembly of the elders of the people gathered together, both chief priests and scribes. And they led him away to their council, and they said, “If you are the Christ, tell us.” But he said to them, “If I tell you, you will not believe, and if I ask you, you will not answer. But from now on the Son of Man shall be seated at the right hand of the power of God.” So they all said, “Are you the Son of God, then?” And he said to them, “You say that I am.” Then they said, “What further testimony do we need? We have heard it ourselves from his own lips.” Luke 22:63-71.

Neither the thugs who beat Him, nor the inquisitors in robes really want to know if Jesus was the Son of God. To them, the fact that He appeared to be under their control was proof enough. Surely, God would not let these things happen to His son. Right?

it is pretty hilarious that we, mere specks of dust living on a clump of dirt that spins through the vastness of outer space, think we can judge the creator of the universe. We are totally unaware that we are being tested and surveilled routinely, as the judge of all souls watches how we treat the lowly. That is why Jesus came as a baby, born to a scandalized couple, living in an occupied territory under the threat of cruel oppression. It is why He let Himself become a prisoner, judged by corrupt religious officials. And it’s why He allowed Himself to be crucified by pagan soldiers after being tortured and disfigured.

Mankind’s ego is bigger than ever. He’s written God out of history and literature and smugly declares that science, our tool for measuring the seen world, has disproved the unseen creator of all things. I mean, what could go wrong? I guess that when we all die, and enter the unseen world, God will take the measure of us.

Alone and Afraid

Then they seized Jesus, led Him away, and took Him into the house of the high priest. And Peter followed at a distance.

When those present had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat down among them. A servant girl saw him seated in the firelight and looked intently at him. “This man also was with Him,” she said.

But Peter denied it. “Woman, I do not know Him,” he said.

A short time later, someone else saw him and said, “You also are one of them.”

But Peter said, “Man, I am not.”

About an hour later, another man insisted, “Certainly this man was with Him, for he too is a Galilean.”

“Man, I do not know what you are talking about,” Peter replied.

While he was still speaking, the rooster crowed. And the Lord turned and looked at Peter.

Then Peter remembered the word that the Lord had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows today, you will deny Me three times.” And he went outside and wept bitterly. Luke 22:54-62.

The same night that Peter was willing to draw a sword to defend Jesus, and possibly die in combat, he sits quietly, hoping not to be noticed. And when he is noticed, he denies even knowing Jesus. This is the weakness of being on defense, being the accused.

It is one thing to be in a crowd on Sunday morning, in the safety of a church sanctuary, belting out the chorus of “Victory in Jesus,” and another thing to have a coworker at the office identify you as, “one of them Bible thumpers.” It doesn’t feel good to be apart from the herd, culled out by the wolves to face them alone. We all have been Peter at one time or another. We have claimed not to be one of “them,” who are worthy to be mocked.

Jesus has sent us on offense. Instead of a sword, we carry a cross. He told us to preach the Gospel to everyone. He didn’t tell us to sit quietly and wait to be noticed.

Several months ago I started holding a sign at the busiest intersections I could find. It has a message from the Bible and it tells them they can learn more at my web site, where I explain my message in light of the Gospel. The site’s address is my name, and I dont care who knows it. Thousands and thousands of people see me every week. Some smile and wave their support. A few shake their heads or give me the finger. But the vast majority stare ahead, avoid my gaze, and try not to be noticed. They are alone in their cars, and I am not afraid.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

“Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.” Hebrews 12:1-4.