Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Suffering King

This is the third installment in All Hail King Jesus! In this Easter season I'm exploring some of the dimensions of Jesus' kingship. He is no ordinary king. This time we're looking at Jesus' death. Did He die like a king? Well, not like most kings. When most kings die, their people mourn; when King Jesus died, most of the His people, the Jews, applauded. When most kings die, there is a state funeral with visiting dignitaries and great ceremony; when King Jesus died He was hastily buried in a borrowed tomb with no dignitaries and no ceremony. When most kings die, flags fly at half-mast and there is a period of national mourning; when King Jesus died, it was business as usual in Jerusalem. Jesus is no ordinary King; He is the suffering King.

And we're going to explore that dimension of Jesus' kingship through the eyes of Governor Pontius Pilate, the man who made the decision to kill Jesus on a cross. Just a word before you read the monologue: Pilate doesn't see the cross like Christians see it. He sees it like most anyone else who doesn't know what King Jesus did for us there. Keep that in mind as you read.


I do not feel as if I am among friends here. You know me for one thing and one thing only. I ordered the beating and the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth. As Governor of this Roman province, I alone had the authority to execute Jesus or set him free. And as you well know, I chose to execute him on a cross.

But before you judge me too harshly, understand this: politics is politics. Did I like Jesus personally? Yes. I only knew him a few hours, and I found him mysterious and engaging. The man had courage—I will certainly give him that.

It was those pesky Jews that brought Jesus to my attention. It was Passover time so I was in Jerusalem. The city loads up with people on that holiday, so I send in extra soldiers and go there myself. Of all the various nations under our Roman thumb, the Jews were the hardest to subjugate—seems like they were always complaining about this or protesting about that. And at Passover, with Jews streaming into the same place from all over the Empire and their religious fervor stoked, well, it’s important to flex our Roman muscles and remind them who is boss. I had spent the last four or five Passovers there with not a single incident. This year was different.

Along with his cohorts, their high priest Caiaphas, a real malcontent, brought Jesus to me early Friday morning, and they had blood in their eyes. Of course, they are too holy to enter my headquarters, so I had to go out on my porch to meet them. They shoved Jesus toward me and said, “If this man had not done evil, we wouldn’t have bothered you and certainly wouldn’t have bothered you this early.”

“Why’d you bother me at all?” I said. “You’ve got your own laws; judge him yourselves.”

“We have judged him already,” they said, “and found him guilty. We are bringing him to you because he deserves to die for his crimes and we don’t have the legal authority to execute him. That authority belongs only to you.”

And immediately I felt a headache coming on. Since I didn’t trust Caiaphas, I didn’t ask him to explain the charges. I decided to ask the accused about that. I had heard about this Jesus of Nazareth. I ushered him into my office away from his accusers. “So,” I said, “you’re the King of Jews?”

Jesus raised his eyebrows and asked, “Did you come up with that yourself or did others tell you this?”

“Do I look like a Jew to you? Your own people and their priests brought you to me. What have you done?”

“My kingdom is not of this world,” Jesus replied. “If it were, my servants would be fighting tooth and nail to set me free. But like I said, my kingdom is not of this world.”

“So, you are a king?”

“You said it. And I was born for this purpose. This is why I came into this world—to witness to the truth. Those who are of the truth listen to my voice and know the truth when they hear it.”

“Truth, you say. What is truth?”

I was getting nowhere with him, but he seemed harmless enough to me. So I left Jesus and walked back out on the porch to talk to the Jews who had grown in number while I questioned Jesus. “Not guilty,” I said. “He’s done nothing worthy of execution. But you have this custom that I should set one prisoner free at the Passover. How about I release the King of the Jews?”

“Not him!” they shouted. “Barabbas! We want Barabbas.” I can’t say I was surprised that they didn’t want Jesus released, but Barabbas? The man was bad news—a hardened criminal: tried, convicted and sentenced. And they wanted Barabbas? Do you see now what I had to contend with here?

But politics is politics, and I had yet to eat my breakfast, so I figured I’d give them something. I turned to the captain of the guard, “Take Jesus, tie him to the post, and flog him.” Well, they did more than flog him; they always do. They had heard all this talk about him being the King of the Jews so they made sport with him. They found a purple robe and draped it over his shoulders. One of them weaved together a crown of thorns and pressed it on his head. They shoved him around, roughed him up as they do all Jewish prisoners, and then bowed in mock reverence saying, “Hail, King of Jews!” That was a bit childish, I admit. But soldiers get bored and need a little entertainment now and then.

They administered the beating and finished their gruesome task while I enjoyed my breakfast. They brought him back to me, and I presented him to the Jews adorned in his robe and crown. His face was streaked with blood; more blood dripped out from under his robe. He stood in a pool of it. “I find him not guilty,” I said for the second time. And I really thought the beating might be blood enough for them, but it was not. “Don’t stop now!” they shouted. “Finish him! Crucify him! Crucify him now!”

“Crucify him yourselves,” I said. “I find him not guilty.”

“He is guilty!” they shouted. “Our laws say he has to die because he’s made himself out to be the Son of God.”

“What?” I thought to myself. “The Son of God?” They’re all crazy. But that’s the first I heard of that. We Romans believe in lots of gods and for all I know he could be the manifestation of one of them. We Romans want to appease the gods, not anger them. So this “Son of God” talk sent a shiver down my spine. I hurried Jesus back into my office, hoping he wouldn’t bleed on the marble floor. “Who are you really?” I asked. “Where are you from?” His head was down and he said nothing. “Speak up,” I demanded. “Don’t you know who I am? Don’t you know who you’re dealing with here? I have the authority to crucify you or set you free.”

He looked up and spoke through swollen, bloody lips, “The only authority you have over me is what has been given you from heaven. That’s why the one who turned me over to you is a worse sinner in this matter than you are.”

And suddenly I was in waters I had never sailed before. Ask anyone who knows me from my military days to my days as governor and they’ll tell you that while I am sometimes wrong, I am never in doubt. And this time I was in doubt. It wasn’t that I was afraid to kill him. I’ve sentenced plenty of people to death, killed plenty by my own hand. So what if one more Jew gets hung on a cross. I won’t lose any sleep over it.

But this Jesus was no ordinary criminal. I had never dealt with anyone like him before. What to do, what to do? He sure didn’t deserve to be crucified, and I sure didn’t want to give those priests the satisfaction.

So I went out to talk to the Jews again. I tried to persuade them to back off, told them Jesus had been punished enough already, “He’s a bloody mess. I’ve a mind to let him go.”

Their eyes got big and they shouted, “If you release this man, you are no friend of Caesar. You know that anyone who makes himself a king raises his fist against Caesar.”

Have I told you how much I hated these people? But the last thing I needed was one more confrontation with Caesar over my governance. By now it was nearly noon. Sheesh … what a long morning! But it was time to bring this thing to a head, so I brought Jesus out to them. “Behold your king!” I said that just to spite those arrogant, no good ….

“Away with him!” they screamed. “Crucify him! Crucify him! Nail him to a cross!” They were out of their mind with hate and bitterness. I hadn’t seen them this riled up since I took some of their precious temple money to build an aqueduct that helped everybody. So I toyed with them some more. “Shall I crucify your king?”

And that’s when the chief priests said it, “We have no king but Caesar.”

Got ‘em! And I couldn’t help but smile at that. I’ve governed these rebels for more than four years, and I finally coaxed them into saying that Caesar is their king. That was victory enough for me in this whole fiasco.

So I decided to call it a day and made the call: “Jesus of Nazareth, I hereby sentence you to death by the cross. Guards, take this man and carry out this sentence today.” Did the Nazarene deserve it? No. But the political reality is that it had to be done. What’s one more dead Jew to me? Just one less rebel to worry about it. Caesar put me here to preserve order and keep the Roman peace. Trust me: I’d have had a riot on my hands if I’d have set Jesus free. Crucifying him was my only option. It had to be done.

I despise letting those chief priests have their way, but that’s politics and you have to compromise now and then for the greater good. I did goad them one more time. We Romans often nailed an inscription of the criminal’s crime to the top of his cross. You know, let people know what got the poor schmuck crucified so it might be a deterrent to others who were thinking of committing the same crime. So I told my soldiers to nail this inscription at the top of Jesus’ cross: “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” Nice little touch, huh? And I told them to write it in Aramaic and Latin and Greek so everybody could read it for themselves. The chief priests pitched a fit. Caiaphas was all red in the face and the vein in his neck was bulging out. “Don’t write, ‘the King of the Jews,’” they argued, “write ‘this man said I am the King of the Jews.’” Well, they weren’t winning this one: “What I have written, I have written.”

And that was that. I didn’t waste any more of my day watching Jesus die, but I’m sure it was like any other crucifixion. My soldiers stripped him of his clothes, they stretched him out, they drove nails through his hands and his feet, they hoisted the cross, dropped it in its hole, and waited for him to die. So yes, your King Jesus suffered, at my orders. Mine—a governor. A king that can be sentenced to die by a governor is not much of a king. Sure, kings get killed from time to time, but never without a fight, never without an army to defend them. If a king can’t take care of himself, how’s he going to take care of his people? People follow and rally around powerful kings—a king like Caesar—not weak, suffering ones like your Jesus. You call Jesus your king, right? Well, behold your king … on a cross.

You know … you can have him.

Okay, I'll take Him! I'll take the King who planned a way to forgive me sins and bring me into relationship with Him. I'll take the King who did for me what I could never do for myself. I'll take the King whose love is so deep and so wide and so high that He would die for me to bring me life. And I'll take the King whose death was hardly the end of the story. (But more on that next week.)

I'll take that King eight days a week and all eternity. How about you? Are you willing to serve and follow the suffering King?

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