CJ's Blog

by CJ Alderton of Patrick Crossing

January 24, 2018

The Via Dolorosa, Station 1

The Via Dolorosa is a street within the Old City of Jerusalem long held to be the road that Jesus struggled down on the way to his crucifixion. Via Dolorosa is a Latin phrase that literally means, The Painful Way. It is lined by images, referred to as The Stations, depicting Christ’s passion. There have been different configurations of the Stations throughout the years. The old standard included 14, but a few of those were extra-biblical. In 1991, Pope John Paul II came out with a revised list of Stations which he named: The Scriptural Way of the Cross. Following a bit of the old tradition with the new, we’ll allow the Stations to carry us through the balance of the book of John. Station 1 begins with Pilate sentencing Jesus to his death.

The great tug of war pitting a maddened multitude and red-faced dogmatists against the solitary figure of a Roman Prefect was over. The numbers won. Jesus would die: “Here is your king,” Pilate said to the Jews. But they shouted, “Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!” “Shall I crucify your king?” Pilate asked. “We have no king but Caesar,” the chief priests answered.  Finally Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified. ~John 19:15,16.

“Finally Pilate handed him over…” John gives us that word “Finally” as a mark of respect for Pilate. Pilate had given it his best shot. It is commendable how far he had gone in allowing this whole affair to play out. But there were other considerations. It was the Passover and the city was overflowing with the faithful. Not only could a disturbance risk his career, this angry crowd could easily overrun his palace and slaughter he and his wife. Was Jesus worth all that? Most definitely not. Thus, he held his nose, washed his hands and “…handed him over to them.”

Jesus had already been batted about during his interview with Annas and Caiaphas. He had been flogged again just before Pilate stood him before the crowd one last time. By this point, many such victims suffering this kind of torture would have gone into shock, fainted away and simply bled out. But there was more suffering to be accomplished. There was a cross to be given and a cross to be won. In this, the determination of the crowd and the determination of Jesus came together.

January 23, 2018

Group Think

Pilate stared down the crowd as the water still dripped from his hands: …he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!” ~Matthew 27:24 Pilate would mark his displeasure and disagreement with two significant acts. This was the first.

The late George Carlin, a comedian with a scorching and sarcastic sense of humor, once said this: “Never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups.” Science has confirmed this insight into what is referred to as group think.  Gregory S. Berns, who has spent his academic career studying crowd behavior as a neuroscientist, agreed with Carlin: “…herd behavior is the norm not only for sheep, but for humans…When we see a group of people doing something, our brains are wired to disregard our own perceptions and accept, lock-stock-and-barrel, what everyone else is doing. Fortunately, we have a reasonably active prefrontal cortex that can override this. Sadly, I see little evidence of prefrontal activity…”

We should recall that at least some, if not a majority, in this crazed multitude had welcomed Jesus with the waving of palm leaves just a few days before. The whispering campaign against Jesus had worked. Thus, they were not alarmed in the least by Pilate’s show of washing his hands and in so doing making the crowd culpable. They said, “Bring it!” All the people answered, “His blood is on us and on our children!” ~Matthew 27: 25

Unintentionally they were declaring the very purpose of Christ’s passion. It was Jesus’ purpose that his blood would indeed “be upon them and their children.” But it was not in the way they imagined.

January 22, 2018

Wash Your Hands

Pilate is undone. He is scrambling. The prototypical Roman leader – a mixture of severe authority and passive indifference, with just a twist of cultural superiority – is now running around in terrified anxiety. His last interview with Jesus had been no help at all. Jesus had the chops to remind him what he already knew – any authority that he had was transferred to him by someone else. In this case, the cryptic insight spoken by Jesus was shooting above the head of even the Emperor, the Roman’s version of an incarnation. When Jesus mentioned “above” Pilate was savvy enough to realize he was talking about the “big” above – God himself.

What are you to do if every choice in every direction is a bad one? Well, if you’re Pilate, you try some more histrionics – you throw a perfect, Prefect hissy fit: From then on, Pilate tried to set Jesus free, but the Jewish leaders kept shouting, “If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar.” When Pilate heard this, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judge’s seat at a place known as the Stone Pavement (which in Aramaic is Gabbatha). It was the day of Preparation of the Passover; it was about noon. “Here is your king,” Pilate said to the Jews. But they shouted, “Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!” “Shall I crucify your king?” Pilate asked. “We have no king but Caesar,” the chief priests answered. ~John 19:12-15

The hysterics had no effect. The religious leaders working the multitude were whispering in the ears of this easily swayed horde, “Crucify him!” The crowd obeyed, “CRUCIFY HIM!” So, Pilate decided then and there to grant them their mad desires, but not before he engaged in a bit of performance art: When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!” ~Matthew 27:24

The beatings and the humiliation that had come before were child’s play compared with what was about to take place. The passion of the Christ was now set to begin.

January 21, 2018

The Last Hurrah

Pilate has now talked to Jesus, to the Sanhedrin, to King Herod, to the masses, and to his wife. In a last ditch effort to free himself of this unsought burden, he once more brings Jesus in for questioning: The Jewish leaders insisted, “We have a law, and according to that law he must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God.” When Pilate heard this, he was even more afraid, and he went back inside the palace. “Where do you come from?” he asked Jesus, but Jesus gave him no answer.  “Do you refuse to speak to me?” Pilate said. “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?” ~John 19:7-10

There is a quiet, perhaps otherworldly power in the room and Pilate senses it. He is begging for Jesus to say something, anything, that will help them both out of this deteriorating position. “Where do you come from?” he asks. This is prescient. He knows that Jesus, physically speaking, is from the geographical area under Herod’s rule. I believe, with this question, Pilate is looking far beyond Galilee and Perea. As a Roman, he is not unaccustomed to the notion of “gods descending” and is now wondering if he has one on his hands. His head is about to explode. When Jesus finally does speak, it does nothing to diffuse the situation or to make Pilate feel any better about himself: Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin. ~John 19:11 

For a guy who has just been beaten for a second time and is facing execution, this is some serious chutzpah. He is not only calling Pilate a puppet but also a sinner, albeit not on the same level as Judas or the Sanhedrin. Pilate, so accustomed to sycophancy and begging in these types of situations, offers no argument to the blunt remarks from Jesus. This miracle-worker from Galilee maintains a purposeful dignity in spite of the blood, bruises, spittle and outlandish costume they’ve placed upon him. Pilate is undone…

January 20, 2018

Paving the Road to Hell

“The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” So, said an old Baptist preacher from my early days. It was his favorite line and not bad on its face. Yes, we mean well but we often find, like a Russian doll, more layers of intrigue than we had bargained for.

That sums up the end for Pilate quite well. He had tried in every way imaginable not to come to this moment. He had pleaded more than once with the restive, resistant and rebellious religious constabularies. He had pawned Jesus off to the pretend King, Herod. He had even bravely screamed out his disagreement to the gathered multitude who in return were screaming for the release of the murderer, Barabbas. And, to top it off, near the end of this sad situation, his wife was whispering cryptic words about not messing with this good and innocent man.

Pilate was at a breaking point. His own intuition and his wife’s active dream life were in favor of letting Jesus go. The impiously pious and the masses were saying just the opposite: Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. The soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head. They clothed him in a purple robe and went up to him again and again, saying, “Hail, king of the Jews!” And they slapped him in the face. Once more Pilate came out and said to the Jews gathered there, “Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no basis for a charge against him.” When Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe, Pilate said to them, “Here is the man!” As soon as the chief priests and their officials saw him, they shouted, “Crucify! Crucify!” But Pilate answered, “You take him and crucify him. As for me, I find no basis for a charge against him.” The Jewish leaders insisted, “We have a law, and according to that law he must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God.” ~John 19:1-7

From the comfort of both distance and time we want to reach out to Pilate, scream in his ear and strengthen his resolve. To the extent that anyone in charge could be considered innocent with what is about to happen, a case can surely be made for Pilate. He is a victim of circumstances beyond his control. But, as we continue along, we will soon witness his spine melt away. At the end of the day, saving his own skin will take center stage.

January 19, 2018

Ancient Journalists

Pilate should have listened to his wife, but he didn’t. History now credits him with sentencing Jesus to death. And I find it interesting how it seems that heaven invaded the dream life of his wife to offer a warning. There is always that tension between the prophecies of old and the real life actors who unwittingly are alive during the time of these prophetic fulfillments.  Pilate was one such. He didn’t ask to be a pivotal figure. He did everything in his command to distance himself from Jesus. But in the end, the prophecies would come true and he would be one of the vessels through which Jesus would be crucified.

What about those prophecies? It is important to understand the tremendous chasms between the foretold events and the fulfillment. The fact that many of these prophecies were giving us information about a government and a form of torture long before their arrival on the world stage is intriguing. Psalm 22, for example, is rich with prophetic insight. To wit: Psalm 22:1,7,8,16,17,18 (NIV):

1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning?
7 All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads:
8 “He trusts in the LORD ; let the LORD rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him.”
16 Dogs have surrounded me; a band of evil men has encircled me, they have pierced my hands and my feet.
17 I can count all my bones; people stare and gloat over me.
18 They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing.

These are just a few of the many prophecies surrounding Jesus given by these ancient sages journaling away their visions from heaven.  Scholars believe that Psalm 22 was written at least 1,000 years before the event. Let that sink in. As we proceed to the beautiful horror that is about to take place, we’ll see many of these primitive verses come to life almost word for word. These prophecies and their fulfillment were given to build up our faith. The stunning detail gives us proof, of one kind at least, that Jesus was who he said he was. We’ll look at several more.

 

January 18, 2018

Listen to the Wife

The cunningness and desperation of Pilate are on full display in this passage from Luke. He assumed that if there was the least bit of truth that Jesus fancied himself a King, then his release would amount to nothing more than a tolerable protest – a stick in the eye – on the part of the Jewish people toward mighty Rome. He knew that Roman rule was not popular with this bunch. To have an inoffensive, pretend King released would do little harm: “I will punish Him and release Him.” (Now he was obliged to release one prisoner to them at the feast). ~Luke 23:16,17

Pilate’s offer of parading Jesus out to the public square for a beating had the opposite effect he had intended. Rather than mollifying the crowd, it set them off: But they cried out all together, saying, “Away with this man, and release for us Barabbas!” (He was one who had been thrown into prison for an insurrection made in the city, and for murder.) ~Luke 23:18-19

This was not expected. Rather than taking the bait with an innocent hero, the crowd roared for a truly dangerous man. Barabbas was both a murderer and an insurrectionist. His days were numbered. He was the archetypal enemy of Rome. Pilate’s quiet desperation grew into open panic: Pilate, wanting to release Jesus, addressed them again, but they kept on calling out, saying, “Crucify, crucify Him!” And he said to them the third time, “Why, what evil has this man done? I have found in Him no guilt demanding death; therefore I will punish Him and release Him.” ~Luke 23:20-22

We need borrow from yet another Gospel to complete the scene and to understand one other reason for Pilate’s angst: While Pilate was sitting on the judge’s seat, his wife sent a message to him that said, “Don’t do anything to this good man, because today I’ve suffered terribly because of a dream about him.” ~Matthew 27:19

He would soon ignore this marital counsel and became an early casualty of the phrase, “You should have listened to your wife.”

January 17, 2018

Let’s Make A Deal

Jesus has been brought back before Pilate. Pilate is now grasping for straws. He sees this trial for what it is – a farce, a bit of religious zealotry and jealousy. These grim lads have no power except the kind he himself possesses. It is earthly. It is temporal. It is woefully lacking in compassion or the supernatural. Pilate is finding himself loathing his charges. He makes a plea for Jesus: Pilate then called together the chief priests and the rulers and the people, and said to them, “You brought me this man as one who was misleading the people. And after examining him before you, behold, I did not find this man guilty of any of your charges against him. Neither did Herod, for he sent him back to us. Look, nothing deserving death has been done by him. I will therefore punish and release him.” Luke 23:13-16

Pilate has thrown them a bone. He will provide a beating for Jesus – Roman style. That was no small thing. The Roman practice often left the victim permanently disabled or dead. The prisoner would be held on either side by burly soldiers while a professional whip-master began the grisly show. The ends of the leather whip would often have embedded chips of iron or bone. Just one lash with this instrument of torture would shred the back. The Roman minimum was 39 strokes. By the time the task was finished the prey was hemorrhaging profusely, most likely nursing some cracked ribs and vertebrae and would be permanently scarred. Pilate was saying, “After we finish our bit of craft, this man will no longer be a problem. Deal?”

It should be noted that the Apostle Paul experienced this gruesome business not once, but a number of times: Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. ~II Corinthians 11:24 We are an extremely soft generation. I like to remind myself of this when I get whiny about the small stuff. Hangnails, sore backs, heavy traffic, missing a meal – can all risk a disproportionate response in contrast to the suffering which purchased our faith. But even this ghastly offer from Pilate did nothing to satiate the bloodlust of these religious rogues.

January 16, 2018

Legal Chicanery

Like an angry flash mob, the religious firebrands continued to shadow Jesus from venue to venue: The chief priests and the scribes stood by, vehemently accusing him. Luke 23:10 The word for vehemently in the Greek means to stretch out the arms. These lads were, in our patois, pitching a Yosemite Sam style fit. Their blood was up.

None of this was lost on Herod. After questioning Jesus and receiving nothing but silence in return, the fever spread to this client King. At his lead and by his leave all the court toadies joined in the show. It quickly moved from a trial to outright derision: And Herod with his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him. Luke 23:11a

So, this man who had stolen for his wife Herodias (who happened to be his niece and married to his brother-in law, Herod II), and had ordered the beheading of John – now enhances his perverse resume by mocking the Messiah. Herod was an “in the moment” kind of guy. Eternity was not informing his choices. But there was an immediate pay-off for his churlish behavior: Then, arraying him in splendid clothing, he sent him back to Pilate. And Herod and Pilate became friends with each other that very day, for before this they had been at enmity with each other. Luke 23:11b-12

Mocking the weak and the helpless has formed many an alliance. Herod and Pilate became buddies at the expense of this bruised up man newly adorned in a scarlet robe. It was now back to Pilate for these final moments of legal chicanery to play out. As Jesus was manhandled back to the Roman Prefect, he remained silent. While Herod and Pilate were now getting on famously, Jesus was alone.

January 15, 2018

Silent Treatment

Herod was a superstitious man. After he had ordered the beheading of John the Baptist, Jesus’ ministry began to ascend. As the news of this new miracle worker reached the ears of Herod, he mistakenly thought that John had risen from the dead: But others were saying, “He is Elijah.” And others were saying, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” But when Herod heard of it, he kept saying, “John, whom I beheaded, has risen!” Mark 6:15,16

For some unknown reason, Herod was later disabused of that notion. Perhaps someone reported to him the baptism of Jesus by John, thus placing the two together. Regardless, as Pilate moves the trial over to Herod and attempts to make this mess Herod’s problem, Herod is positively thrilled to meet Jesus. “Surely”, he thought to himself, “these stories of the miraculous were overblown. But perhaps this guy is a great magician. We could use some entertainment around here. Let’s see if he’ll put on a show for us!” When Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad, for he had long desired to see him, because he had heard about him, and he was hoping to see some sign done by him. Luke 23:8 Herod would be disappointed. Not only did Jesus not perform any tricks, he didn’t even speak. So he questioned him at some length, but he made no answer. ~Luke 23:9

It wasn’t the first time that Jesus had been asked to put on a show. He had turned down a similar request by the selfsame chief priests and scribes who were now accusing him: Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from you.” He answered, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.” ~Matthew 12:38,39

For my money this is one of the greatest examples of Jesus’ character that the gospels record. Jesus could not be bought. He would not succumb to the temptation to misuse his power. Just think about that for a moment…one little miracle, one poof, one rabbit out of the hat and the naysayers would be become his cheerleaders. I don’t know about you, but I do know about me. Had I “the power”, I probably would have rolled up the sleeves of my toga and had a go at it. Moreover, I would have justified it in the name of accomplishing some greater good – you know, like evangelizing the clergy! The fact that Jesus remained silent when he might have saved his own skin by working one small miracle is troubling. It is meant to be.

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