Meditations on Aspects of Easter: 5. Abandoned – Rejection
Mt 27:22,23 “What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called Christ?” Pilate asked. They all answered, “Crucify him!” “Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate. But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!”
As I have started meditating on the various aspects of Easter this year, as I suggested in the previous meditation, the aspect of the abandonment of Jesus Christ has loomed large and seems to me to come in three forms. We considered the first yesterday, betrayal. Today we consider rejection which played a large part of what went on. In yesterday’s meditation, we started to consider how incredible it was that after travelling with Jesus for three years and being a witness to all he had done, Judas could turn on him and betray him to the authorities, and as we pondered on that it seemed that a combination of poor moral quality, if I may put it like that, that had opened him up to temptation, and a possible confusion of thinking about Jesus, brought that about. When it comes to thinking about how Jesus was rejected, it becomes more complex because more people are involved, probably with different motivations.
We start with the people of Jerusalem, first of all, in our verses above, because in one sense they are the most obvious because they shouted for his death. This would have included people who a few days before were dancing in the streets and welcoming their conquering king on Palm Sunday. It may be that some of them, pilgrims even from the north, had witnessed Jesus’ wonderful ministry, yet now they are baying for his death. Why? Three reasons at least.
First, as Matthew puts it, “the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed.” (Mt 27:20) Mark puts it, “the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have Pilate release Barabbas instead,” (Mk15:11) It is clear from what had gone on before this that the whole religious establishment was determined to have Jesus killed, so although the crowd appear the most obvious ones rejecting Jesus, they actually come second in line. The first group rejecting Jesus are the Chief Priest and all the other priests and members of the religious establishment there in Jerusalem.
In reality, it was organized religion that first rejected Jesus and they then stirred up the crowd – on a political pretense – to leave Jesus to his fate and have Barabbas released, a rejection that essentially came from a combination of fears – fear of being shown up by Jesus, and possibly fear of the upheaval Jesus might cause and the reaction against organized Judaism that might come from the Romans.
Barabbas had taken part in a rebellion (Lk 23:19; Jn 18:40), presumably against the Romans and so he would have been a folk hero among the Jews. It didn’t take a lot to stir up the volatile crowd to shout for the rebel leader to be released because he might go on to raise a rebellion against the Romans. It was, in fact, a rebellion that eventually caused the Romans to utterly destroy Jerusalem in AD70. Rebellion had been then just below the surface all that time. It is probable that the emotions of the crowd were played upon as appears to happen sometimes in eastern cultures, emotions of frustrations against the Romans and a desire to be free. Mixed motives all.
But this is only part of the picture, a strong part admittedly, but there are the rulers to be considered. First there is Pilate, the Roman procurator. He had at least twice interrogated Jesus and found no cause for his death, and yet in the face of the baying crowd, he abandoned Jesus to be crucified and sealed it with the graphic washing of his hands of the whole affair (Mt 27:24). He tried to off-load the responsibility for Jesus’ death onto the Jewish people and authorities, but he is the authority of Rome, the all-powerful authority there, and there he simply shares in the rejection, and guilt. It is simply political expediency that motivates him. But there is also Herod who, Luke tells us, saw Jesus but treated him just as a spectacle and because Jesus would not play, simply rejected him and sent him back to Pilate.
The religious authorities (Caiaphas etc.), the all-powerful military authority (Pilate), the local authority (Herod) and the people in general, all players in this terrible drama, players without whom it could not have continued, and so players who rejected the Son of God for such a mixed bag of motives. The crucifixion of Jesus Christ, the perfect Son of God who had simply done good for three years, is bad enough in itself, the death of a good man, but once you start looking at all of the other people involved, it becomes a darker and darker picture where organized religion, military power, civic power and just ordinary sinful humanity stand in the dock.
Religion should stand up for the weak and the poor, military authority should protect society, civic power should similarly stand up for the society and human beings…. We were designed by God to be good, to be honest, to be fair, to be just, to be caring, to be loving, to be kind ….. but all this went out the door with the Fall. If we had doubts about it, the events at the end of this Passion Week scream it loud and clear: we are guilty, we need forgiveness, we need a saviour, we need someone to stand in the dock with us, because otherwise we are doomed! I wonder, was there deep down in the subconscious of all of these people, the ultimate in self-preservation, that he should die rather than me?
I describe Sin as self-centred godlessness but, I wonder, is the greatest manifestation of that seen in the rejection of God, a desire to be free from an ultimate authority who stops me exercising that self-centred life I long to have? Yes, there may be a whole raft of sub-motives seen in all these people and groups, but ultimately does it come down to the fact that I don’t like being told what to do and Jesus shows me up for falling short of his goodness? As so many of us have learnt, to become a believer means we have to come to a crisis in life where we face these things, face our humanity, face our failures, accept that we could easily be someone in these accounts for, until then, we too had rejected the Son of God. Becoming a Christian, becoming a believer, being saved, being born again, means facing the fact that until then we were part of this mass of humanity that rejected the Son of God. Tomorrow, Good Friday, is how Jesus used our rejection of him to become the Saviour of the world.