Judas’ betrayal comes to its climax late Thursday night identifying Jesus with a kiss at the Garden at Gethsemane. The Gospel of John makes it clear that Judas knew where Jesus would be because it was a place where Jesus frequently went to pray. John also makes it clear that this was Jesus’ intention. He purposely went to Gethsemane to be captured, “knowing all that would happen to him” (John 18:4). It’s important to remember that Jesus went to the cross willingly. After Jesus finished praying Judas shows up with a crowd of armed men from the chief priests and scribes to arrest Jesus. What transpires next is nothing short of the epitome of criminal and evil.
First, the guards take Jesus to a trial before the high priest Caiaphas… at night. The law stated that trials were to be held during the day and in public. Yet, these men opted to break the law – men who were held in honor as the religious leaders and examples of society. They secretly and willfully schemed to have a private trial at night. Not only did they subject Jesus to an illegal trial, but they also sought false testimony against Jesus since they didn’t have any actual evidence against him (Matthew 26:59). Soldiers beat Jesus, spit on him, and mocked him, challenging him to prophesy who hit him. A fair trial was far from their concern; they simply wanted to put Jesus to death and they were willing to snap the rules in half to do it.
Unfortunately for the chief priests their scheme had a plot hole. Israel, being subject to the authority of the Roman Empire, didn’t have the authority to execute anyone. Doing so would have resulted in the Jewish court losing its privileged status in Israel under Roman control. So they brought Jesus to Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea where Jerusalem was located. Only he had the power to pronounce a capital sentence. Somehow the Sanhedrin, the Jewish court, needed to convince Pilate that Jesus was guilty of breaking Roman law and deserving of death. But as Pilate looked this extraordinary prisoner in the eye – a prisoner whose kingdom is “not of this world” – Pilate could not find a legitimate reason to render a guilty verdict.
Pilate tried to pass Jesus off to Herod Antipas, the tetrarch over Galilee because that was the region from which Jesus had come. Herod, like many Galileans, had heard that Jesus was a miracle-worker and simply wanted to see a magic trip. But rather than oblige, Jesus remained silent as Herod sends him back to Pilate for a second time. At this point all of the tension finally comes to its apex. Jesus is mishandled, whipped, and beaten severely, all without even a hint of a guilty verdict. The backboneless Roman governor sought to release a prisoner to be free as was customary at Passover time. He presents Jesus and a criminal named Barabbas to the crowd and asks them to make their choice. The crowd, having already been swayed by the chief priests and looking at a beaten and bloodied Jesus cheer for Barabbas and demand Jesus be crucified. The trial was complete and Jesus was sentenced to die.
On Friday afternoon, as Jesus hangs from the cross with nails in his hands and nails in his feet, we are reminded that all is going according to plan. In Psalm 22, hundreds of years before the birth of Christ, David writes a song lamenting “they have pierced my hands and feet” years before crucifixion had even been invented (22:16). The Roman soldiers cast lots for Jesus’ clothes and divided his garments which Matthew tells us is a fulfillment of Psalm 22:18. As dehydration sets in the soldiers mock Jesus by giving him sour wine, as his broken bones lay bare for all to see from the severity of his wounds. We are reminded here of the description of David’s thirst and agony in Psalm 22:14-15. And as Jesus cries out in agony, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me!” our minds are drawn to Psalm 22:1, which opens with the same words.
Jesus was not the victim of a plan gone wrong. He was not subject to the evils being done around him, ultimately succumbing and losing his life. Jesus was in full control. “For the joy set before him Jesus endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2). This had been Jesus’ plan all along. It was his MISSION. Think back over the course of this week for a moment. On Sunday Jesus arrived in Jerusalem as a humble servant on the back of a donkey. On Thursday evening he knelt down and washed his disciples’ feet, demonstrating that service is the greatest mark of a leader. And finally today, “Good Friday,” Jesus accomplishes his role as the Suffering Servant of the book of Isaiah by being “pierced for our transgressions” and “crushed for our iniquities” for “upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).
You and I are desperately sinful people. If we are honest with ourselves, we don’t even live up to our own moral standards. We can’t be on time for work as often as we want to be; we don’t tell the truth even when we want to; we try to avoid anger, pride, and jealousy but consistently give way to those emotions anyway. According to God’s law, we are deserving of death – death for eternity in hell. God’s sentencing for us is a fair judgment that none of us can dispute; we are consistent law-breakers on trial before the Perfect Judge. This is why today should be rebranded “GREAT Friday,” because Jesus Christ willingly gave in to the agonizing death on the cross to pay for our sins, not his own. Those nails, that crown of thorns, the beatings, the spitting, the mockery – all of it is what we deserve, yet Jesus did it for us.
He died so that we may live.