Oh, dear. What is wrong with humanity?
The cheering crowds that greeted Jesus on Palm Sunday have now turned into shouting mobs. Why? Here’s Jesus on trial for nothing, and according to Passover custom, Pontius Pilate must release a prisoner today. He doesn’t much care and he isn’t too fond of his posting in this part of the Empire, so he asks the crowd whom to release, ‘Jesus or Barabbas?’ Jesus has been found guilty of no crime. Barabbas is up on a charge of murder. The crowd cries out ‘Barabbas! Barabbas!’ Pilate says, ‘What about Jesus?’ They all cry back, ‘Crucify him! Crucify him!’ Pilate accepts the popular vote, washes his hands in front of the crowd and disappears to go back to his work.
Barabbas, the murderer, goes free. Jesus is charged with proclaiming that He is ‘King of the Jews’. Pilate could have released Jesus, especially as his wife had said He was innocent, but he would have risked a riot. And that would have been a blot on his copybook with his Roman superiors.
Why is the crowd so different from Palm Sunday to now? Perhaps different people have gathered. Where are the people Jesus healed being there to support Him? Perhaps they have been shouted down or intimidated or just unable to appear.
Jesus undergoes the worst torture possible at the hands of the Roman Centurions and their soldiers. He is taunted, reviled and flayed alive. The soldiers jam a crown of thorns on his head and cry out, ‘King of the Jews — save yourself!’ Jesus is faint, bloody and thirsty.
How can He carry a cross through the crowds to Golgotha? The cross to which He will be nailed, no less. Along the way, a lady named Veronica wipes his face (the cloth she used is said to be the Shroud of Turin). A man, Simon of Cyrene, helps Jesus carry the heavy cross. A woman approaches Jesus to tell Him how sorry she is for His suffering. He asks her not to feel sorry for Him but for Jerusalem, as God will judge the city accordingly.
His Passion comes to an end with an excruciating death. The weight of the body on a cross is agonising. His arms are nailed at the wrist and His feet at the ankles. The weight from His torso puts unbelievable strain on His arms. Besides flesh ripping, bones are broken and organs damaged from the strain.
On either side of Jesus is a thief. They have also been crucified. One of the thiefs mocks Jesus. The second thief — known as Dismas — rebukes the first. Dismas then asks Jesus to remember him. Jesus responds with those beautiful words, ‘This day you will be with me in Paradise’.
Jesus also forgives the crowd and his tormentors: ‘Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.’
Jesus stays on the cross for six hours. During the last three — between noon and 3 p.m. — the sky is dark. Upon giving up his spirit, He cries out. At this point, a terrible earthquake shakes the ground: tombs burst open and the curtain in the Temple is torn apart. A centurion guarding the site of the Crucifixion exclaims, ‘Truly this was the Son of God!’
The tearing of the Temple curtain exposes the Holy of Holies. From this point forward, nothing can come between God and His people. Later, in 70 AD, just 40 years after Jesus’ death, the Romans will slaughter the inhabitants of Jerusalem — His words fulfilled.
Jesus, the perfect person, half human and half divine, takes upon Himself punishment for the sins of the whole world. His death pays the price for our sins. And He will rise in glory on Easter. Stay tuned.