Cross-centered Living (Matthew 27)

MOTIVATE

One evening in an American city two men pulled up in a car and stopped at a traffic signal.[1] On the prowl the two men saw a young woman walking alone on the sidewalk. They followed the woman to an apartment complex and seized her, and then took her to an empty schoolground to do horrible and hellish actions. The men realized the young woman could identify them if she was left alive so they murdered her and left her body to be found by school children the next day.

Back at the apartment complex some residents had heard screams and noted the make and model of a strange car that was in the area at the time of the screams. The residents shared their account and information with the police who later in the coming days were able to track down the vehicle which had blood stains on the door handles and the murder knife covered with blood in the back seat. The two men were apprehended and a community was able to breathe a slight sigh of relief.

The men were charged and tried separately. The defense lawyer, while acknowledging the actions of the first man to be tried, sought to prove that he was unduly influenced by the second man and thus not legally guilty. The jury was unconvinced and returned a verdict of guilty on all counts; but a three judge panel that was convened to determine whether the man should receive the death penalty or life imprisonment failed to reach the unanimous decision required for death.

Now the community was outraged at the failure of the judicial panel to sentence the man to death. Regardless of what one may think of the death penalty, the people in that community felt that justice had been violated. They believed the man did not receive the penalty he deserved. They wanted justice not mercy.

From the outside we scream for justice but if we are the guilty insiders, we cry for mercy.

The Bible tells us that all of us will eventually face a judgment trial before an all-knowing, holy God (Hebrews 9:27). As we consider that inevitable day, what do we want: justice or mercy?

God’s justice is inflexible and unescapable.

  • 2Corinthians 5:10 “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.”
  • 2Thess 1:6-8 “God is just: He will pay back and punish those who do not know God”
  • 1Peter 4:2 “they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.”

Today @ Easter my message has 2 aims
1) Remind you that you sit in a room of sinners in need of mercy. I/we are just like you. Christians are not better, just broken sinners who have found grace and want others to stop seeking for grace and love in wrong places.

2) Share the events surrounding the first Easter, recognizing we don’t get resurrection without the cross.

EXAMINE           Matthew 27:11-31

Jesus was judged unjustly.

The Jews prided themselves on their sense of right and fairness. The OT foundation for trial judgments has essentially been a foundational system for the world to follow, including USA. Justice included: a public trial, a right of defense, and evidential proof based on more than a single witness.

  • Deuteronomy 16:18-20 “You shall appoint judges and officers in all your towns that the LORD your God is giving you, according to your tribes, and they shall judge the people with righteous judgment. You shall not pervert justice. You shall not show partiality and you shall not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and subverts the cause of the righteous. Justice and only justice you shall follow, that you may live and inherit the land that the LORD your God is giving you.”
  • Deuteronomy 19:15-19 A single witness shall not suffice against a person for any crime or for any wrong in connection with any offense that he has committed. Only on the evidence of two witnesses or three witnesses shall a charge be established. If a malicious witness arises to accuse a person of wrongdoing, then both parties shall appear before the LORD, before the priests and the judges who are in office in those days. The judges shall inquire diligently, and if the witness is a false witness and has accused his brother falsely, then you shall do to him as he had meant to do to his brother. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.”

Yet, the Jewish religious leaders viewed Jesus as a threat to their power, their prestige, and their pride. Their trial neglected justice and Jesus was judged dishonestly. The trial of Jesus was the most unjust, undeserving, dishonest trial in all human history.[2]

  1. Bribed betrayal 

Matthew 26:14 “Then one of the twelve, Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, ‘What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?’ And they paid him thirty pieces of silver [about four month’s wages].”

Judas cultivated a conspiracy and accepted a bribe from the religious leaders to betray Jesus. Later, he was found to be a thief (Jn 12:6). Later, Judas changed his mind and brought back the money saying he betrayed an innocent victim, but it was too late (Mt 27:3-5). The fact that Jesus was accused by a known fraud should have cleared His name, but the trial was dishonest. 

2. Unwarranted timing

Matthew 26:55 “At that hour Jesus said to the crowds, ‘Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to capture me? Day after day I sat in the temple teaching, and you did not seize me.”

The Jews captured Jesus at night against procedures of justice. They feared the majority public with whom Jesus was popular, so they schemed a night-time arrest. Further, trials were not supposed to take place on Holy Feast days because people were traveling and distracted. Yet, Jesus’s trial occurred in the middle of Passover.[3] In our day it would be like a person being arrested Christmas Eve night, and then having an unannounced and private trial held at 2AM. The trial was dishonest.  

3. Invalid Witnesses

Matthew 26:57-68
The Jews seized Jesus for a series of religious trials with Annas (Jn 18:12-14), High Priest Caiphas (Mt 26:57-68), and the Sanhedrin (Mt 27:1-2). These religious leaders sought eyewitness testimony against Jesus, but those that came forward were either found lying, taking Jesus’s words out of context (Jesus did not say He would destroy the temple, only that if they destroyed His temple [body] He would raise it up), or contrasting testimony (Mk 14:56). They even sought to sway public opinion and incite the crowd’s chants to crucify Jesus (Mt 27:20-24; Jn 19:6). This council of religious leaders was the highest-ranking civil leaders for Israel and were comparable to the US Supreme Court. Civil leaders/Judges are to remain impartial as they listen during the trial, but in Jesus’s case, they are the ones making the charges. Imagine a courtroom with the judge stepping off the bench to lead the prosecution, pursuing eyewitnesses to speak, reporting in the media how the trial is going, and after all these actions going back to sit in the chair as final judge to make a verdict. We can all understand how that’s a problem of injustice! The entire trial was a set-up with a pre-determined outcome.

Further, these religious leaders who were to be impartial were malicious, as they condemned Jesus to death, though they had no legal authority to do so, and they spit in his face while hitting him (Mt 26:67). Afterwards, they sent Jesus to Roman authorities for hopes of execution.

4. Undue process

Religious leaders sought to condemn Jesus with false testimony and sentencing for blasphemy. The Roman authorities questioned Jesus with their erroneous accusations but saw no valid threat from Jesus. While many others accused and facing a death sentence would likely have voiced a vigorous defense, Jesus remained silent, which amazed Pilate. And Jesus was given no opportunity for defense witnesses in the middle of the night, nor any serious investigation of charges of blasphemy or anything else. Further, Jesus being condemned by only part of the Sanhedrin was illegal because who would have voted against the guilty verdict were either not present or silenced: Joseph of Arimathea (Lk 23:50-51) and Nicodemus (Jn 19:38-40). 

Luke 23:6-12 tells us that Pilate sent Jesus to Herod. Based on the context, Pilate sent Jesus to Herod for two likely reasons: 1) jurisdiction purposes, 2) disassociation of responsibility. Pilate seems to want little to do with the Jews, much less a king without an army or any aggression. Nonetheless, Herod sends Jesus back to Pilate after additional poor treatment.

5. Unjust decision.

Pilate could find no fault in Jesus. He knew the Jews were merely delivering Jesus out of envy (Mt 27:18). Jesus was without evil (Mt 27:23). But Pilate was gaining no ground with the Jewish leaders (Mt 27:24) and wanted to satisfy a stubborn and blood thirsty crowd (Mk 15:15). So, Pilate sentenced innocent Jesus to a criminal death.

  • Jesus was scourged by professional “Lictor” (Mt 27:26). This means He was whipped with tentacle-like straps having sharp objects attached at end. The entire back of His body would have become mutilated as skin, muscle, tendons, and perhaps even some portions of bones were ripped off the victim.
  • He was stripped naked & mocked w/ a scarlet robe & crown of thorns pressed into His skull (Mt 27:27-29).
  • Jesus was crucified (Mt 27:31-35). A simple statement in the Gospels. Yet, whatever we think we know has been domesticated and blurred from our modern understanding, and we cannot fully understand what it was like to be a spectator of the most humiliating and excruciating form of public execution.[4] Nails/spikes driven into hands and feet into a wooden beam. Then lifted up on cross to hang in sun and the spits and insults of the crowd. Crucifixion victims would not only be shrieking in unimaginable agony, they would have the worst of options to push up with legs or pull with arms gasping for every breath.
  • In many cases if the victim was not dead, their legs would be broken so they could not press up to open the lungs for air. Death would result swiftly.
    • In Jesus’s case, His legs were not broken because the professional executioners determined He was already dead. The pressed a spear in his side in which blood and water flowed (Jn 19:34). One could say Jesus died of a broken heart.

The Gospels reflect the trial of Jesus was the most unjust, undeserving, dishonest trial in all human history because Jesus was not dying for His own wrongs but for someone else’s. It was our trial and punishment that Jesus underwent.

Further, in this unjust trial, Jesus can identify with everyone who has ever been betrayed by one who should have been trusted; He’s able to relate to those who have been manipulated or mistreated. Jesus knows the sorrows and suffering from a sin-cursed world, and promises to one day reverse the curse and redeem our heartaches.

APPLY/THINK

As we find ourselves in this trial, we must reflect on the different groups/persons.

  1. Judas: The Zealot. Judas, as most of us do, view ourselves as the good people and rightly discerning who needs correction and condemnation. Judas thought he knew what was right, and he sought to bring God’s kingdom through his own wisdom. But Judas did not understand there are no good people – including ourselves. There are only bad people who get what they deserve and bad people who get grace. Jesus did not come to condemn the world but to save it. Jesus came to rescue burdened and broken sinners. Jesus was not a mistaken Messiah, but a merciful Savior.
    – Has the media and the mess of a world we live in caused you to lack compassion and grace? Do you find yourself apathetic or angry at others, rather than motivated to pray for them and moved to share the grace of God?
    – Judas was crushed by the gravity of his sin and sought escape with suicide. He was 3-days short of finding forgiving grace, a redeemed past, and a fresh start. Look into the eyes of Jesus and experience His invitation to love and new life.

  2. Sanhedrin: The Prideful. The Sanhedrin were envious of the attention Jesus received from the public and the authority Jesus had. They treated religion as a tool of power rather than a treasure to prioritize. They resented Jesus claiming to be Lord, because at the end of the day, they viewed themselves as the decider of their own desires and destiny.
    We think, “Oooh, those Sanhedrin people were foolish and short-sighted. I’d never do that.” Hmm, really?!?

    – Do you treat God and going to church as your good-luck genie blessing rather than an authentic relationship to be in God’s presence and do what He says? (End of church people say, “Good message pastor” but then never put anything into practice. Then repeat cycle each week.) Then you’re guilty as Sanhedrin. 
    – How often do you seek Scripture for wisdom and pray as first priority vs last resort? Reading Scripture and praying to God reflect our acknowledged dependence upon God or the lack thereof.

  3. Pilate: The Inconsistent. Pilate knows Jesus is innocent but doesn’t want to lose his job or his reputation from the crowd. He’s intrigued by Jesus and views him as a good teacher. Yet, he’s unwilling to act and follow through on what he says he believes. Pilate represents the person who gives lip-service to their faith and is too distracted with other things than obeying Jesus.
    – I believe in God but I don’t want it to cost me anything. (umm… the cross?)
    – I’ll obey God later… when older… when career is settled… after I get… but God always loses out.
    – I don’t really need God or church right now bc things are well. If something bad happens (lose a job, marriage fails, health diagnosis, death of loved one), then I’ll seek God.
    – What does it profit a person to gain the whole world but lose their soul? (Mk 8:36)
    – Today is the day of salvation.
  4. Barabbas: The Pardoned. We know very little of Barabbas.
    – Name is general. “Bar” in Aramaic means “son of” and “Abbas” means “father.” So, Barabbas means “son of a man.” Barabbas represents the “everyman,” all of us.[5]
    – All Gospels mention him: Matthew 27:16 “notorious prisoner”/ Mk 15:7 “insurrectionist who committed murder”/ Lk 23:19 started rebellion in city / Jn 18:40 “robber”
    – It’s likely the two criminals crucified with Jesus were friends and co-conspirators of Barabbas.
    – Barabbas took the lives of others but Jesus gives His life for others.
    – Ever wonder about Barabbas? He wakes up thinking he’s going to be executed but at end of day is having a meal while Jesus is hanging on a cross. Jesus died in his place.
    – Barabbas was guilty but Jesus was innocent. Barabbas heard the shouts “crucify him” and thought they were for him, but instead they celebrated his freedom. Barabbas was unshackled but Jesus was scourged. Barabbas was pardoned and spared but Jesus was punished and sentenced. Barabbas was set free and lived but Jesus was crucified and buried.
    – Unfortunately, we’re left to wonder what happened to Barabbas. Did Barabbas ever forget what Jesus did for him? Was he ungrateful or did he change? The narrative about Barabbas is open because the same invitation is extended to you and I.
  • You call Jesus a good teacher but doubts about deity?
    • Religious opinions and preferences end when someone rises from the dead.
      • Attend upcoming series Sunday 9:30am Group Teachings / 10:45am Gathering Messages on Why Christianity? If you never seek answers to questions then you’re disingenuous and the hypocrite that you label Christians.

*We know Jesus was innocent and the Son of God because He was resurrected.

  • At Christmas we are reminded “God is with us.”
    • At Easter we are reminded “God is for us.”
      Romans 6:5 “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”
      Acts 2:23-24 “this Jesus delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible to be held by it.”
  • Ready to receive Jesus then message email or social media or CARD in box with name & contact.

When we trust the tomb is empty our minds are filled with truth, our hearts filled with hope, and our lives filled with love.


[1] Story adapted from Jerry Bridges, The Gospel For Real Life, 2003, p.41.

[2] Some thoughts briefly summarized from https://rcg.org/pillar/0903pp-trjtwi.html

[3]https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2014/april-web-only/five-errors-to-drop-from-your-easter-sermon.html.

[4] Info from John Stott’s The Cross of Christ; Mark Driscoll’s Death By Love, and Sam Storm article: http://www.samstorms.com/enjoying-god-blog/post/10-things-you-should-know-about-the-cross-of-christ

[5] 1 Leon Morris, Reflections on Gospel of John, 635

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