Luke 23

Then second, they led Him to Pilate to get the Roman sanction for the execution of this sentence. Here they changed their ground completely, and charged Him as being an insurrectionary and a rival to Caesar. Jesus confessed Himself to be the King of the Jews, yet Pilate declared Him to be faultless. This might seem a surprising declaration, but Mark gives us a peep behind the scenes when he tells us that Pilate knew that the fierce hatred of the religious leaders was inspired by envy. Hence he began by refusing to be the tool of their grudge, and availed himself of the Lord's connection with Galilee to send Him to Herod. The accusation, "He stirreth up the people," was indeed true; but He stirred them up towards God, and not against Caesar.

So, third, there was the brief appearance of the Lord before Herod, who was eager to see Him, hoping to witness something sensational. Here again the chief priests and scribes vehemently accused Him, but in the presence of that wicked man, whom He had previously characterized as, "that fox," Jesus answered nothing. His dignified silence only moved Herod and his soldiers to abandon all pretence of administering justice, and descend to mockery and ridicule. In His humiliation His judgment was taken away.

Hence Herod returned Him to Pilate, and here the fourth and last stage of His trial began. But before we are told of Pilate's further efforts to placate the accusers and release Jesus, Luke puts on record how both he and Herod buried their enmity that day in condemning Him. The same tragedy has been often repeated since. Men of wholly different character and view have found a point of unity in their rejection of Christ. Herod was given up to his pleasures and utterly indifferent: Pilate, though possessed of some sense of what was right, was a time-server and hence ready to do wrong for popularity's sake; but they came to an agreement here.

The story of the final scenes of the trial are given with brevity in verses 13-26. Not one word spoken by our Lord is put on record: all is presented as a matter lying between Pilate and the people instigated by the chief priests; yet certain things stand out very clearly. In the first place, abundant witness is given that Jesus was faultless. Pilate had stated this during the earlier examination (verse 4), and now he repeats it twice (verses 14, 22), and states it for a fourth time as being Herod's verdict (verse 15). God took care that there should be abundant and official witness to this.

Then the blind unreasoning fury of His accusers is made abundantly manifest. They merely shouted for his death. Again, the choice they made as an alternative to His release stands out with crystal clearness. Twice in these verses Barabbas is identified with sedition and murder; that is, he was the living embodiment of the two forms in which evil is so frequently presented in Scripture-corruption, and violence; or, to put it in another way, we see the power of Satan working, both as a serpent, and as a roaring lion. Lastly we see that the condemnation of Jesus was the result of the weakness of the judge, who "delivered Jesus to their will." He represented the autocratic power of Rome, but he abdicated it in favour of the will of the people.

The crucifixion scenes occupy verses 27-49. We are struck by the fact that right through nothing happened in an ordinary way. Everything was unusual-supernatural, or bordering upon the supernatural. It was quite usual for professional wailing women to appear on these occasions, but wholly unusual for them to be told to weep for themselves, or to hear a prophecy of coming doom. Jesus Himself was the "green tree," according to Psalm 1, and perhaps He was alluding to the parable of Ezekiel 20: 45-49. In that scripture God predicts a flame upon every green tree and every dry tree. Judgment fell upon the "green tree" when Christ suffered for our sakes. When the fire breaks out in the dry tree of apostate Jews, it will not be quenched.

Then the prayer of Jesus as they crucified Him was wholly unexpected and unusual. He desired the Father, in effect, that the sin of the people might be counted not as murder, for which there was no forgiveness, but as manslaughter, so that there might yet be available a city of refuge, even for His murderers. An answer to that prayer was seen some fifty days later, when Peter in Jerusalem preached salvation through the risen Christ, and 3,000 souls fled for refuge. The prayer was unusual because it was the fruit of such Divine compassions as had never come to light before.

The actions of the various people involved in His crucifixion were unusual. Men do not ordinarily taunt and revile even the worst criminals undergoing capital punishment. Here all classes did so, even rulers soldiers, and one of the malefactors who suffered at His side. The power of the devil and of darkness had seized their minds.

Pilate's superscription was unexpected. Having condemned Him as a false claimant of kingship amongst the Jews, he wrote a title proclaiming Him to be the King of the Jews, and, as another Gospel shows, he refused to alter it. This was the overruling of God.

The sudden conversion of the second thief was wholly supernatural. He condemned himself, and justified Jesus. Having justified Him, he owned Him as Lord and proclaimed-virtually, though not in so many words- his belief that God would raise him from the dead, so as to establish him in His kingdom. He fulfilled the two conditions of Romans 10: 9, only he believed that God would raise Him from the dead, instead of believing, as we do, that God has raised Him from the dead. The faith of the dying thief was a gem of the first order, beside which our faith today loses its sparkle. It is much more remarkable to believe that a thing shall be done, when as yet it is not done, than to believe that a thing is done, when it is done. And further, it was most unusual that a malefactor should wish to be remembered by the King, when His kingdom was established. Malefactors usually slink into the dark and wish to be forgotten by the authorities. His wish to be remembered shows his faith in the grace of the suffering Lord equalled his faith in His coming glory.

The response of Jesus to the thief's prayer was wonderful and unexpected indeed! Not merely in the coming kingdom but that very day he was to experience grace reaching beyond death, and landing his ransomed spirit into companionship with Christ in Paradise. Now Paradise and the third Heaven are identified in 2 Corinthians 12: 24. These words of the Lord were the first definite revelation of the fact that immediately death supervenes the spirits of the saints are to be in conscious blessedness with Christ.

If everything was unusual, on the human side, when Jesus died, there were also supernatural manifestations from the hand of God; and of these verses 44 and 45 speak. The three brightest hours of the day were darkened, by the sun being veiled. There was something very fitting in this, for the true "Sun of Righteousness" was bearing our sin at that time. Also the veil of the temple was rent by a Divine hand, signifying that the day of the visible temple system was now over, and the way into the holiest about to be made manifest-see, Hebrews 9: 8. Our true "Sun" was veiled for a moment, enduring our judgment, that there might be no veil between us and God.

Luke does not record the Saviour's cry as to the Divine forsaking, uttered about the time that the darkness passed away, nor the triumphant shout, "It is finished," though he does put on record that He "cried with a loud voice," and that then His closing words were, "Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit." In these closing words on the cross we see the One, who all along had been marked by prayerful submission to the will of God, closing His path as the perfect, dependent Man. Having said this, He yielded up His spirit; yet we see He is more than Man, for at one moment there was the loud voice, His vigour unimpaired, and the next moment He was dead. In every sense His was a supernatural death.

Testimony to this was borne by the centurion who witnessed the scene by reason of his official duty. Even the crowds drawn together by morbid curiosity were moved to uneasy fear and foreboding, and those who were His friends retreated into the distance. The centurion became a fourth witness to the perfection of Jesus, joining Pilate, Herod and the dying thief.

The prophetic writings had said, "Lover and friend hast Thou put far from Me" (Psalm 88: 18), but they had also said, "He made His grave . . . with the rich in His death" (Isaiah 53: 9). If verse 49 gives us the fulfilment of the one, verses 50-53 give us the fulfilment of the other. In every emergency God has in reserve an instrument to effect His purpose and fulfil His word. Joseph is mentioned in all four Gospels, and John informs us that up to this point he had been a secret disciple for fear of the Jews. Now he acts with boldness when all others were cowed, and the new, untainted tomb is available for the sacred body of the Lord. Not even by the faintest contact did He "see corruption." Men had intended otherwise, but God serenely fulfilled His word.