(from our midweek Lenten Series: Three Words of Truth)
It’s the fear everyone has when watching toddlers: Silence. Complete, absolute silence. I mean, you know there’s several children playing somewhere in your house. They should be making noise, but they are not. When it reaches that special level of ‘quiet,’ you know something bad is happening. So, you hunt them down and ask: “What are you doing?” Those little bodies freeze. Instantly. Innocent eyes slowly look up and out comes this deliberate sing-song response: “Nothing.” That’s kid-code for ‘doing-something-we-should-not-be-doing.’ Like coloring on the wall. Like painting coloring pages on the white carpet. Like climbing the bookshelf. That’s what “Nothing” means! Those toddlers want their forbidden actions hidden. They hope that by saying: “Nothing,” they can fool you into believing that all is well. They want you to turn around and leave so that they can continue doing what they should not. Yet, you know better. As the adult, you will not fall for their (supposedly) clever scheme.
Is God any different? Just like adults are not fooled by seemingly innocent intentions, God is not fooled by deception. Jesus knows the reason he hears the words: ‘Take Him Away!’ So that I am not confronted with my brokenness. Yet, Jesus allows himself taken away so that Christ may heal my brokenness.
That rejection becomes painfully clear in our reading. It was the day of Preparation of Passover Week, about the sixth hour [about 6:00 in the morning]. “Here is your king,” Pilate said to the Jews. Of course Pilate does not believe that. He spent all morning examining Jesus’ appearance, exploring his upbringing, evaluating his teachings. The truth is pretty clear: Jesus is no political king. Since Jesus does not threaten Roman power, Pilate tries setting him free (19:12).
But [the Jewish crowd] shouted, “Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!” “Shall I crucify your king?” Pilate asked. Even though Pilate does not mean it, he speaks truth. Jesus is a king. A king not pursuing military victories or political power. Rather, a king who defeats the devil’s hold on the heart. You even heard last Sunday. God promised the Jewish nation Jesus (Luke 20:9-19). Each prophet assured the Jews: “God’s Son, your Savior, is coming.” Even the great annual Passover celebration pointed to that promise. The Lamb of God would shed his blood so that God would pass over sin. Pilate’s right: Jesus is God’s King.
But the chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar!” Remember how mischievous children say: ‘Nothing!’ in order to cover up bad behavior? The chief priests are doing that here. First, the Jews loathe the Romans. Their tax money leaves their hand and land and is shipped off to Rome. Romans police the streets, hinder their cultural freedom, and force loyalty to a Caesar who scorns them. Jews hate Rome so much that men (like Barabbas) riot. Now, this? A pledge of willing obedience to the man you hate most? This would like a diehard Democrat claiming: ‘I love Trump!’ or a staunch Republican saying, ‘Hillary Clinton is excellent!’ Not to mention, who makes this claim? The religious leaders. Men who memorized the Scriptures. Men who know God would raise up a great Prophet from among their own people (Deuteronomy 18:15). Men who know God’s ‘Christ’ would come through David’s line (2 Samuel 7:14). Men who know God’s Son would be a Nazarene (Matthew 2:23). These are men who (1) know full well what to expect from God, but choose to (2) reject what they receive from God. And that raging rejection is covered up with the flimsy excuse: ‘We would rather obey our sworn enemy instead of confronting our wicked hearts. Take Him Away so that I am not confronted with my brokenness.’
Sound familiar? Look around. Your world identifies brokenness. It recognizes arguments among politicians is not good. It recognizes gun violence is not good. It recognizes broken families are not good. It recognizes the human body has a physical boundary not to be crossed. Your world wants rescue from these troubles. The rescue comes from turning to the Word of God, exposing an evil human heart, convicting the offender of guilt before the Almighty, and transforming lives by God’s forgiveness. Instead, your world props up imperfect solutions for imperfect people. The problem is not with disagreement, but rather that people refuse to ‘take each other’s words and actions in the kindest possible way.’ The problem is not with guns, but rather that people do not obey the Fifth Commandment: ‘Do not kill.’ The problem is not with the definition of ‘consent,’ but with those who ignore the Sixth Commandment: ‘Do not commit adultery.’ ‘Do not divorce.’ Yet, the world refuses to turn to the Word so that it does not have to confront its brokenness and admit its need for God.
Even my own heart thinks it can fool God into believing that I am quite innocent! I mean, like the religious rulers, I have the Word, I know what is in it. Love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:39). Honor God with your body (1 Corinthians 6:20). Pray continually (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Some of those words are memorized! Yet, I think that if I can block that word out of my mind, then (1) my life will be better and (2) I look pretty good before God. So, I pretend to not know God’s teachings on marriage so that I can pursue the physical happiness I want. I plug out God’s call to forgive so that I can solve personal grudges on my own time. I hold God off to the side while I try to handle my own fears first. My heart does this because it does not want to be told that it is wrong. It does not want God to condemn it. It does not want God to rule it. So, my heart shouts: Take Him Away from my life so that I am not confronted with my brokenness.
God sees through it all. I may try to convince myself that my choices are innocent, but God sees through the attempt. I may try to shrug off that I did not know the right, but God sees through the excuse. I may think I accidentally chose the wrong, but God sees through it. Instead of sending us away, he Takes Jesus Away so that Christ may heal my brokenness.
One incredible twist in these closing hours is that the chants of many results in freedom. Finally Pilate handed [Jesus] over to them to be crucified. Yes, Jesus is taken away because many reject him. At the same time, Jesus is taken away to heal our broken lives.
So the soldiers took charge of Jesus. Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha). Here they crucified him, and with him two others— one on each side and Jesus in the middle. Here is the greatest twist of all: Jesus does not give the crowds what they want. They reject him, but he does not leave. He does not zip from Pilate’s courtroom into heaven. Tens of thousands of angels do not suddenly fight for his release. No. Even though your heart (and mine) has rejected his clear Word, Jesus remains to be our Savior.
He literally carries your punishment (and mine). Soldiers drop a crossbeam on Jesus and he begins the slow, long walk up a hill that pictures death. Every footstep drums the reminder: This is for you. For your (and my) rebellion. For your (and my) disobedience. For your (and my) rejection. When he reaches the top, soldiers fasten him to wood and stake him into the ground between two criminals because the world considers him a criminal. Even worse is that the Father rejects him.
All this because like little children we try to cover up what we know is wrong. We try to deceive God. We try to fool him. Instead, God makes clear that he is not fooled. You see, Jesus is crucified during the Passover celebration. For centuries, Old Testament Israel selected an unblemished lamb and slaughtered it. This Passover celebrated reminded the people how God rescued their ancestors from slavery. The angel of the Lord passes over all those who have the blood smeared on their doorframes. This Passover lamb pointed ahead to an even greater rescue.
Here, on the cross, hangs the final Passover Lamb. Jesus pours out his life and covers us so that the Father passes over our every single sin. Yes, every deliberate, intention wandering has been forgiven. Every shameful regret is seen no more. Every time we plugged our ears to the Word, the punishment is cancelled out. The world might have rejected the Savior, but the Father is pleased with him. By his death, Jesus heals our brokenness.
Which means, Jesus is a King—a King who rules our hearts with his Word. Rescued from what we deserve, we gladly live under him. The Word that goes out from his mouth is a Word we delight in hearing. No more do we try to cover up what is wrong. No more do we intentionally lay aside the right. No more do plug our ears to the One who gave his life for us. No. We do not want Jesus taken away. We want him close— and he is by the Holy Spirit who lives in us and the Word that comes to us.
Just like adults are not fooled by seemingly innocent intentions, God is not fooled by deception. Many live as though God is fooled, including the Jewish mob that chants: ‘Take Him Away!’ Self-serving hearts think they can outwit God so that I am not confronted with my brokenness. As always, God remains in control. In a great turn of events, Jesus is taken away so that Christ may heal my brokenness and so that I may live under him forever.