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Beaten and Condemned

The television of the surgical waiting room played one court-room reality show after another as the hours passed while I sat with a friend awaiting the news that their loved one was finally in recovery.  I wondered aloud how there could be so many of these programs, and my friend wisely assessed it was because we hunger for justice in our world, so much so that we make it the subject of entertainment and fantasy.  Some of us see ourselves in those wrongly accused or misused, some in the role of exposing wrongdoing, and still others of us imagine having the power of the judge.  Almost all of us can think of a traffic incident, a too-good-to-be-true purchase, or a housing dispute that we kinda wish we could have litigated into a financial windfall or, at least, to discredit the other party.  It seems the American way.

Then there is this scene from 2000 years ago.  It plays out almost like reality television as Pontius Pilot brings Jesus before the crowd.  Already, the Sanhedrin (religious court) has decided Jesus is guilty because they do not like the way he challenges their traditional beliefs and because he says he is the Son of God.  Without the power to condemn Jesus, they take their complaint to the ruling Roman government and accuse Jesus of attempting to usurp power from Caesar.  But the governor, Pilot, is unconvinced of his guilt and even a little afraid that Jesus might actually be who he says he is.  So Pilot uses a political loophole to bring Jesus and a convicted murderer before the town, allowing them to choose who to crucify and who to set free.  Can you imagine the ratings if that were aired on modern television?

Of course, we know that the crowd cheered for the release of Barabbas, the murderer, and so Jesus was condemned by the Jewish court, the Roman court, and the court of public opinion.  To be clear, he was not found guilty, but he was sentenced to death.  The only man to ever have been truly innocent, was mocked and beaten and condemned by almost everyone.  At every step of the way, Jesus refrains from fighting back, defending himself, or using his divine power to alter the outcome.  Jesus willingly lays down his life, but in doing so, the corruption of the Jewish leadership, Roman government, and of the human heart is revealed all around him.  

It is one more way that the life of Jesus echoes the truth found throughout scripture.  Here are a few references:
  • When justice is done, it brings joy to the righteous but terror to evildoers.  
Proverbs 21:15
  • He reveals the deep things of darkness and brings utter darkness into the light.  
Job 12:22
  • But you must return to your God; maintain love and justice, and wait for your God always.  
Hosea 12:6
  • Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret when people succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes.  Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret--it leads only to evil.  For those who are evil will be destroyed, but those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land.  
Psalm 37:7-9
  • It is mine to avenge; I will repay...The Lord will vindicate his people...  
Deuteronomy 32:35-36; also Romans 12:19, Hebrews 10:30

How is it that Jesus could sit patiently as he was beaten and accused?  He trusted God's word was true, the promises would be fulfilled, that in God's perfect timing the truth would be revealed, justice served, and vindication achieved.  It may indeed be the American way to seek our own justice, to litigate our way through life, to defend our honor, but it is not the Christian way.  The Kingdom of God operates, as Jesus modeled, with grace and patience awaiting God's own judgement because only God has all the facts.  

During his ministry, Jesus referred to himself as the Good Shepherd who would sacrifice his life for his sheep.  In this description, Jesus makes clear that it is his choice to lay down his life and with his own authority he will take it up again.  He predicts his death and resurrection, emphasizing that the purpose is for the benefit of his followers and that the power is in his hands.  I don't know if anyone had the clarity of mind to recall that story in the emotional days surrounding his crucifixion, but we can benefit from seeing the broader viewpoint; Pilot and the Sanhedrin did not have nearly the control or victory they seemed to have in the moment.  

I wonder what perspective I am missing in some of the difficulties I face today.  Where are my emotions clouding my judgement or am I missing important facts?  Are there some conflicts I need to surrender, trusting the truth and promises and timing of God?  Are there people I need to extend grace and patience toward just as God has extended toward me?  I even wonder what else I could do with the energy I use in anger or defense.  Where is my heart corrupt?  Change my heart, oh God!

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