Issue 297 — The Paregien Journal — March 25, 2015
The Day Jesus Died
by Stan Paregien Sr.
Franklin D. Roosevelt denounced the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese, calling that moment in history “a day of infamy.” I was much too young to recall the wave of terror and outrage which swept our nation when the news of the attack shattered an otherwise peaceful Sunday afternoon, but the films and historical accounts of the slaughter have sent chills down my spine.
However, as tragic as was December 7, 1941, it cannot begin to compare with the day that my Savior died.
That Awful Day
The day began calmly and quietly; there was no indication that this day would be much different from any other. Jesus and his disciples were gathered in a small second- story room where they had gone to observe the Passover Feast. The observance of this Jewish holy day was nearly finished. The disciples were somewhat perplexed over the manner in which Jesus presided at the memorial, for he indicated to them that certain portions of the Passover Feast would take on greater meaning in the near future. But their theorizing was temporarily discontinued as they joined together in the singing of a hymn or psalm, a custom which marked the end of the Paschal Supper.
One by one they made their way downstairs to the narrow street. The fine meal and the lateness of the hour had combined to make them drowsy, but the chill of the Palestinian night air quickly revived them. The streets were streaked with rays of light which escaped from the doorways, but few people stirred. Only an occasional bark of a dog some distance away challenged the stillness. Slowly the dedicated group made its way along the winding streets, through the great Wall, and down the sharp slope of the hill.
At the bottom of the hill the group paused and then walked across the tiny brook named Kedron. “There a symbolic thing must have happened. All the Passover lambs were killed in the Temple, and the blood of the lambs was poured on the altar as an offering to God. The number of lambs which were slain for the Passover was immense. . . . We may imagine what the Temple courts were like when the blood of all these lambs was dashed down on to the altar. From the altar there was a channel down to the brook Kedron, and through that channel the blood of the Passover lambs drained away. When Jesus crossed the brook Kedron it would still be red with the blood of the lambs which had been sacrificed. And surely as he did so, the thought of Jesus’ own sacrifice would be vivid in his mind (William Barclay, The Gospel of John, II, 259).
In a few moments the party reached its destination: the Garden of Gethsemane, a peaceful spot where Jesus had often come before.
Sensing that their journey had ended, the disciples began seating themselves, some even reclining. But the Master had other plans for his closest disciples, Peter, James and John. It was this trio which had stood by Jesus when he preached in Capernaum (Mark 1:21-29), when he raised the ruler’s daughter (Mark 5), and when he was transfigured (Gospel of Mark 9:2-8). He needed them again, perhaps as he never had before.
Calling them aside, Jesus said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” One account continues the story this way: “And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, ‘My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.’ And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, ‘So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.’ Again for the second time, he went away and prayed, ‘My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, Your will be done. And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy” (Gospel of Matthew 26:39-43).
Not even the chill of the morning breeze could ward off the drowsiness which now overwhelmed the men. But no matter, the Master’s duty was clear; his mind was made up. Resolutely, he awaited the inevitable intrusion of the tranquil scene before him.
He didn’t have long to wait. Earlier in the evening Judas left the upper room to solidify his compact with the authorities, and to personally lead them to their prey. For “Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place; for Jesus often met there with his disciples. So Judas, procuring a band of soldiers and some officers from the chief priests and Pharisees, went there with lanterns and torches and weapons. Then Jesus, knowing all that was to befall him, came forward and said to them, ‘Whom do you seek?’ They answered him, ‘Jesus of Nazareth.’ Jesus said to them, ‘I am he.’ Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them. When he said to them, I am he, they drew back and fell on the ground. Again he asked them, ‘Whom do you seek?’ And they said, ‘Jesus of Nazareth.’ Jesus answered, ‘I told you that I am he; so, if you seek me, let these men go.’ This was to fulfill the word which he had spoken, ‘Of those whom You gave me I lost not one.’ Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s slave and cut off his right ear. The slave’s name was Malchus. Jesus said to Peter, ‘Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup which the Father has given me?’ So the band of soldiers and their captain and the officers of the Jews seized Jesus and bound him” (John 18: 2-12).
“The final absurdity in the arrest of Jesus was the binding of our Lord with ropes they had brought along. A monument to the stupidity of mob action is this ridiculous act. Nothing could have been more obvious than that Jesus had no intention of attempting escape. He did not walk to the cross because ropes bound his hands and feet. He went there because “God so loved the world.” He went because the work of the devil had to be undone. He went because he wept for the sins which separated man from God. The ropes could not have held him any more than a stone at the mouth of a tomb, or grave clothes … or death itself” (Roy F. Osborne, Great Preachers of Today: Sermons of Roy F. Osborne. J. D. Thomas, ed., p. 79).
The tempo increases now, like a wide and quiet river which downstream becomes a cascading, rushing torrent as it enters a narrow canyon.
The Trial before Annas,
The Jewish Leader
The scenes flash across the screen with breathtaking speed.
There is the inquisition at the hands of Annas. From a legal standpoint, there was no reason for the soldiers to bring Jesus before this man. But the niceties of judicial procedure were to be of only minor interest in this diabolical plot. Annas was almost ecstatic over the capture of this young rebel who had made such a nuisance of himself. Having been the chief beneficiary from the sale of animals in the temple, Annas had wanted to get his hands on Jesus ever since he had driven the animal sellers and money changers from the temple. Even though Annas had not held the official office of high priest since A.D. 15, he was nevertheless the real power behind his puppet-high priest (and son-in-law), Caiaphas.
The interrogation was brief and to the point. Jesus was questioned “about his disciples and his teaching. Jesus answered, ‘I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all Jews come together; I have said nothing secretly. Why do you ask me? Ask those who have heard me, what I said to them; they know what I said.’ When he had said this, one of the officers standing by struck Jesus with his hand, saying, ‘Is that how you answer the high priest?’ Jesus answered him, ‘If I have spoken wrongly, bear witness to the wrong; but if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?’ Annas then sent him bound to Caiaphas the high priest” (Gospel of John 18:19-24).
At this juncture, we must retrace our steps and bring the lives of two other men into focus: Judas and Peter.
The name Judas is the Greek form of the Hebrew name Judah, a name which obviously was associated with great persons, events and places in the history of the Jews. But a scant few years after Judas Iscariot’s actions in the Garden of Gethsemane, parents no longer named their sons “Judas.” The name became a synonym for a person with no ethics; it still brings to mind the idea of dishonesty and treachery.
Exactly what his reason was for betraying Christ is not clear. Perhaps he was sulking under the stinging rebuke which Jesus administered at the supper in the house of Simon the leper (Gospel of Matthew 26:6-16). Perhaps he simply intended to force Jesus into a position of militancy toward the Romans and the Jewish establishment, a desire shared by the rest of the disciples. Perhaps he had simply fallen victim to the love of money, for John reveals many years later that Judas had decided quite early that his job as treasurer of the disciples entitled him to a few extra fringe benefits (John 12:6). Whatever the reason or reasons, Judas deliberately and methodically carried out his plan.
The irony of his sordid act was that instead of bringing any degree of satisfaction, it brought shame, guilt and bitterness. “When Judas . . . saw that he was condemned, he repented and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, saying, ‘I have sinned in betraying innocent blood. They said, ‘What is that to us? See to it yourself. And throwing down the pieces of silver in the temple, he departed; and he went and hanged himself” (Gospel of Matthew 27:3-5).
Then there was Peter. If ever a man lived who had to be where the action was, it was this fisherman from Galilee. Other than his persistent and peculiar knack of placing his feet squarely in his mouth, there was nothing about him to suggest that he would ever get far away from being an average disciple. But he was destined to soar to great spiritual heights, as well as to plummet to the bottom of the barrel.
Peter’s problems were many, but one of his greatest was his unwarranted confidence in himself. Fishermen, like farmers, are hardy, tough-minded, independent individuals. Therefore, one of the difficult adjustments which Peter faced was in learning that there is a spot in the continuum of life where enlightened self-confidence becomes arrogant self-assertiveness.
There in the upper room Jesus warned the eleven that they would all fall away from him that very night. In his characteristically impulsive manner, “Peter declared to him, ‘Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Truly, I say to you, this very night, before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.’ Peter said to him, ‘Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you'” (Gospel of Matthew 26:33-35). Peter’s affirmation reflects not a spirit of bravado, but a kind of leap-before-you-look impetuousness.
Two trials took place when Jesus was brought to the high priest, Caiaphas. One involved Jesus, the other Peter. Perplexed by his Master’s refusal to be defended by the sword, Peter found himself following the crowd of soldiers from a safe distance. Periodically he caught a glimpse of Jesus in the sea of unfamiliar and unfriendly faces. He watched from the shadows as the guards led Jesus into the house of Caiaphas.
Not knowing what to do or where to go, and perhaps hoping against hope that Jesus would be released, Peter decided to wait below in the courtyard. Some of the guards had built a coal fire, so Peter sat down beside them. He stared motionlessly into the dancing flames.
And then it happened. His face, illumined by the light from the fire, drew the attention of one of the high priest’s maids. “She looked at him, and said, ‘You also were with the Nazarene, Jesus.’ But he denied it, saying, ‘I neither know nor understand what you mean.’ And he went out into the gateway. And the maid saw him, and began again to say to the bystanders, ‘This man is one of them.’ But again he denied it. And after a little while again the bystanders said to Peter, ‘Certainly you are one of them; for you are a Galilean.’ But he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, ‘I do not know this man of whom you speak.’ And immediately the cock crowed a second time. And Peter remembered how Jesus had said to him, ‘Before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.’ And he broke down and wept” (Gospel of Mark 14:67-72).
Inside the house the Jewish leaders were carrying out their plot with meticulous precision. “The chief priests and the whole council sought testimony against Jesus to put him to death, but they found none. For many bore false witness against him, and their witness did not agree. And some stood up and bore false witness against him, saying, ‘We heard him say, “I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.”‘ Yet not even so did their testimony agree. And the high priest stood up in the midst, and asked Jesus, ‘Have you no answer to make? What is it that these “men testify against you?’ But he was silent and made no answer. Again the high priest asked him, ‘Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?’ And Jesus said, ‘I am; and you will see the Son of man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.’ And the high priest tore his mantle, and said, ‘Why do we still need witnesses? You have heard his blasphemy. What is your decision?’ And they all condemned him as deserving death. And some began to spit on him, and to cover his face, and to strike him, saying to him, ‘Prophesy!’ And the guards received him with blows” (Gospel of Mark 14:55-65).
The Trial before Pilate,
The Roman Governor
“And as soon as it was morning the chief priests, with the elders and scribes, and the whole council held at consultation; and they bound Jesus and led him away and delivered him to Pilate” (Gospel of Mark 15:1).
Interestingly, John tells us that these men who conspired to destroy a good man were still so “pious” that they would not enter Pilate’s palace for fear that they would be ceremonially defiled (Gospel of John 18:28). They avoided “incurring a defilement which, lasting till the evening, would not only have involved them in the inconvenience of Levitical defilement on the first festive day, but have actually prevented their offering on that day the Passover, festive sacrifice, or Chagigah” (Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, II, 568).
Pilate understood their custom, so he stepped outside to find out what all the shouting was about. Pilate’s patience with the Jews was understandable. He had been sent to Judea just a few years earlier to bring peace to this troublesome Roman territory, but he had failed miserably. The arrogant policies which he first adopted had in fact caused several riots. The emperor expected his orders to be obeyed. So Pilate recently had begun shifting his tactics with the Jews from a show-of-power to a policy of appeasement, hoping they would cooperate with him.
He listened to their charges and said, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.” But he knew, and they quickly reminded him, that under Roman law they were unable to carry out capital punishment. The death decree had to come from the Roman governor.
The Trial before Herod,
Governor of Galilee
Pilate tried to get off the hook again. Upon hearing that Jesus was from Galilee he decided to send the fellow over to Herod. “Let him handle this hot potato,” Pilate reasoned. “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. So he questioned him at some length; but he made no answer. The chief priests and the scribes stood by, vehemently accusing him. And Herod with his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him; then, arraying him in glorious apparel, 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” (Gospel of Luke 23:8-12).
Back to Pilate
Then Pilate had a brainstorm. “Why I almost forgot what day this is—I’ve got a way out of this mess after all,” he thought with a sigh of relief. He began to implement his plan: “He went out to the Jews again, and told them, ‘I find no crime in him. But you have a custom that I should release one man for you at the Passover; will you have me release for you the King of the Jews?’ They cried out again, ‘Not this man, but Barabbas!’ Now Barabbas was a robber” (Gospel of John 18:38-40).
Pilate’s bag of tricks was almost empty but he didn’t give up easily. He thought awhile and decided that the fickle Jewish leaders would probably be satisfied with seeing the man from Nazareth beaten within an inch of his life. After all, everyone knew how vicious Roman punishment was. No man was ever the same after a Roman soldier had cut his back to pieces with a whip which had sharpened bits of metal and bone embedded in the leather strands. “No reason to kill him if we can help it,” he murmured to himself.
“Then Pilate took Jesus and scourged him. And the soldiers plaited a crown of thorns, and put it on his head, and arrayed him in a purple robe; they came up to him saying, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ and struck him with their hands. Pilate went out again, and said to them, ‘Behold, I am bringing him out to you, that you may know that I find no crime in him.’ So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, ‘Here is the man!’ When the chief priests and the officers saw him, they cried out, ‘Crucify him, crucify him!’ Pilate said to them, ‘Take him yourselves and crucify him, for I find no crime in him.’ The Jews answered him, ‘We have a law, and by the law he ought to die, because he has made himself the Son of God.’ When Pilate heard these words, he was the more afraid; he entered the praetorium again and said to Jesus, ‘Where are you from?’ But Jesus gave no answer. Pilate therefore said to him, ‘You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?’ Jesus answered him, ‘You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above; therefore he who delivered me to you has the greater sin’ ” (Gospel of John 19:1-11).
The hardened Roman governor was visibly shaken by his conversation with Jesus. “What kind of a nightmare is this? Can this be for real? Why won’t he defend himself? Is he … is he just a man?” Pilate wondered and worried. Once again “Pilate sought to release him, but the Jews cried out, ‘If you release this man, you are not Caesar’s friend; everyone who makes himself a king sets himself against Caesar.’ When Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judgment seat at a place called The Pavement, and in Hebrew, Gabbatha. Now it was the day of Preparation of the Passover; it was about the sixth hour. He said to the Jews, ‘Here is your King!’ They cried out, ‘Away with him, away with him, crucify him!’ Pilate said to them, ‘Shall I crucify your King?’ The chief priests answered, ‘We have no king but Caesar” (Gospel of John 19:12-15).
Pilate could hardly believe his ears. Ever since the Roman occupation of Judea, they had demanded—to no avail —that the Jews acknowledge Caesar as their king. But since the Romans considered their emperor to be a god, the Jews refused to acknowledge him as their king on the grounds that they would be committing idolatry. “How strong their burning hatred of Jesus must be to drive them to such inconsistency,” the governor reasoned.
Still seeking an escape from any blame for this act, and realizing that the Jews were adamant in their unholy desire, Pilate “took water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, ‘I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves’ ” (Matt. 27:24). And he sent Jesus to be executed. But the guilt for this crime could not be dismissed so lightly. It may have been a guilt-ridden conscience which many years later caused Pilate to commit suicide.
The Place Called Golgotha
Jesus was silent as the death march began. His bleeding back was so painful that every step brought a groan to his throat. And it was on this crimson-stained back that a rough, heavy cross was placed. The pathetic procession made its way through the narrow, winding streets. The multitudes filled the side streets and the doorways. Some of the bystanders jeered and laughed at this young rebel. Others, both men and women, wept freely. Most of the crowd watched quietly and curiously.
Time and time again Jesus stumbled and fell. It became evident to the soldiers that they would never make it to the place of execution at this rate. A Roman soldier turned toward the crowd and surveyed it. “You! Come here!” he bellowed. And a large, dark man named Simon, from the city of Cyrene in northern Africa, stepped forward. This religious pilgrim was forced to carry the cross to its destination, a small hill outside Jerusalem named Golgotha.
“Two others also, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. And when they came to the place which is called The Skull, there they crucified him and the criminals, one of the right and one of the left. And Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. And they cast lots to divide his garments. And the people stood by, watching; but the rulers scoffed ‘at him saying, ‘He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!’ The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him vinegar, and saying, ‘If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!’ There was also an inscription over him, ‘This is the King of the Jews.’
“One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, ‘Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!’ But the other rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we are receiving due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.’ And he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come in your kingly power.’ And he said to him, ‘Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise'” (Gospel of Luke 23:32-43).
As the spikes were driven through Christ’s hands and his feet, Mary felt them pierce her heart. She watched the proceedings from the foot of the cross and through the eyes of a mother. Her son, whom she knew to be righteous, was falsely accused and convicted. Now this man, her own flesh and blood, was was dying in muted agony.
“When Jesus saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing near, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, behold your son!’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold your mother!’ And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home” (Gospel of John 19:26, 27).
The end was near.
Mark tells us that when noontime came, there was darkness over the entire land until 3:00 p.m. And then “Jesus cried with a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’ And some of the bystanders hearing it said, ‘Behold, he is calling Elijah.’ And one ran and, filling a sponge full of vinegar, put it on a reed and. gave it to him to drink, saying, ‘Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.’ And Jesus uttered a loud cry, and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that he thus breathed his last, he said, ‘Truly, this man was the Son of God!'” (Gospel of Mark 15: 34-39).
If this had been the death of a simple Galilean crackpot, a rebel against the religious establishment or a would-be politician on the make, his death would hold little meaning to us today. If his suffering had been inflicted because he rightfully deserved punishment, we would feel no pangs of sympathy. But that’s just the point. His death was different. He gave his life—willingly and freely—for others. His crucifixion was an expression of God’s love: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (Gospel of John 3:16).
The body of a certain Civil War soldier lies in a cemetery in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania. The soldier’s tombstone tells the date of his birth and death, plus these three words: “Abraham Lincoln’s substitute.” During the darkest days of the war, when thousands were dying on the battlefield, President Lincoln decided to honor one particular soldier as his substitute, thereby making him a symbol of the fact that those who died in battle were dying that others might live.
In a similar way, when I think of the suffering Savior dying, I realize that I could write across the beam of that old, rugged cross these words: “My substitute.”
And so could you.
NOTE: This post, “The Day Jesus Died,” is Chapter 6 in my e-Book by the same name. You may purchase the entire e-Book in one of seven formats (including PDF, Kindle and Apple) at:
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