...continued from part I

The Willing Sacrifice

Jesus was human, and was definitely NOT looking forward to the pain of crucifixion (see Mark 14:32-36). After all, we are talking about one of the most painful forms of capital punishment in history, a form of death so horrific that people invented a new word to describe it: excruciating.

And yet, Jesus gave Himself willingly.

I don’t mean simply that He went quietly, or didn’t put up much of a fight. I mean that it was His choice to die, and to die that way.

C.S. Lewis, in his great Chronicles of Narnia metaphor for the crucifixion, explained it well when he portrayed the Messiah not as the meek lamb, but the mighty lion of Judah:

A howl and a gibber of dismay went up from the creatures when they first saw the great Lion pacing toward them, and for a moment even the Witch herself seemed to be struck with fear. Then she recovered herself and gave a wild, fierce laugh.

"The fool!" she cried. "The fool has come. Bind him fast."

Lucy and Susan held their breaths waiting for Aslan's roar and his spring upon his enemies. But it never came. Four Hags, grinning and leering, yet also (at first) hanging back and half afraid of what they had to do, had approached him. "Bind him, I say!" repeated the White Witch. The Hags made a dart at him and shrieked with triumph when they found that he made no resistance at all. Then others—evil dwarfs and apes—rushed in to help them, and between them they rolled the huge Lion over on his back and tied all his four paws together, shouting and cheering as if they had done something brave, though, had the Lion chosen, one of those paws could have been the death of them all.

See, one of the benefits of being all-powerful is that you can do whatever you damn well want, regardless of circumstances or the laws of physics or logic itself. At any time, Jesus could have put a stop to the proceedings, or changed them to suit Himself. And He proved exactly that, from the very start:

So Judas came to the grove, guiding a detachment of soldiers and some officials from the chief priests and Pharisees. They were carrying torches, lanterns and weapons.

Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to Him, went out and asked them, “Who is it you want?”

“Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied.

“I am He,” Jesus said. When Jesus said, “I am He,” they drew back and fell to the ground.
(John 18:3-6)

As a pastor once pointed out, usually the army, with weapons, tells the one man without weapons what to do. Not the other way around. But when Jesus simply said the official name of God, “I am”, the mob backed off and fell down in submission. Jesus only had to give the word, and He would have escaped, the way He had done before.

In the same way, He could have chosen not to go through the series of beatings and humiliations. He simply had to die, right? No real need to make it a drawn-out and torturous process? More and more, I think that somehow the punishing nature of Jesus’ crucifixion was part of the bargain, and was required to pay the price of sin. Because, though Jesus was not a masochist and did not want the pain, He did not do anything to make it easier on Himself. Even on the most basic, human level, He refused to drink the wine mixed with gall that was offered to Him (Matthew 27:34). Gall is generally understood to be a narcotic that was used to deaden pain, and we all know about the numbing effects of wine. Jesus went to the cross willingly, and endured pain willingly. We can never accuse Him of not understanding the troubles or pain in our lives, because He has been there, experienced that.

In my mind, a willing sacrifice of oneself carries more weight than someone who had no choice in the matter. So, a perfect sacrifice would have to be a willing sacrifice.

The Innocent Sacrifice

None of this really matters much if not for one essential element: that Jesus was an innocent sacrifice. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), and “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). If Jesus had sinned, then He would have deserved to die, same as the rest of us. His death on the cross would have been His own punishment, not ours. So, was Jesus really innocent?

We can’t absolutely know for sure, the same way a jury cannot absolutely know for sure if a person on trial is guilty or not. We do not have video surveillance of every second of Jesus’ life and a detailed record of every thought to pass through His head. But, like a jury, we can perhaps be sure beyond a reasonable doubt.

Throughout Jesus’ ministry, various religious and political leaders were continually trying to catch, or even trap, Jesus in saying or doing something wrong. Even Satan got in on the action during the 40 days in the wilderness (Luke 4:1-13). No one was ever successful.

Then, during the night and morning before Jesus’ crucifixion, He was put on trial. Not once, not twice, but 6 different trials: trials before Annas (John 18:12-23), Caiaphas (Mark 14:53-64), the Sanhedrin (Luke 22:66-71), Pilate (John 18:28-37), Herod (Luke 23:6-12), and then finally Pilate once again (John 19:4-16). There were no specific charges going into this trial process, so anything that anyone had witnessed or heard about Jesus doing, ever, would be fair game for a conviction. I know that if I were put on trial 6 times, under both religious laws and governmental laws, I would quickly and easily be found guilty of something. Jesus, however, was never found guilty of anything. At the end of the process, during the 6th trial, Pilate stated that “I find no basis for a charge against Him” (John 19:4). In today’s legal terms, that would be “case dismissed”.

And that was even after multiple attempts to simply make up something incriminating against Him (Mark 14:55-56). In fact, the only thing that witnesses could come up with to accuse Jesus of was that He once said “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in 3 days” (Mark 14:57-59). Though they misquoted Him, what Jesus had actually meant was that if they killed His body, He would come back to life on the 3rd day (John 2:19-22). In other words, Jesus was killed for saying that He would be killed, and would rise again. By their actions, His murderers ensured that Jesus could not be accused of lying.

And then the picture all comes together when Jesus was handed over to be crucified:

Pilate called together the chief priests, the rulers and the people, and said to them, "You brought me this man as one who was inciting the people to rebellion. I have examined him in your presence and have found no basis for your charges against him. Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us; as you can see, he has done nothing to deserve death. Therefore, I will punish him and then release him."

With one voice they cried out, "Away with this man! Release Barabbas to us!" (Barabbas had been thrown into prison for an insurrection in the city, and for murder.)

Wanting to release Jesus, Pilate appealed to them again. But they kept shouting, "Crucify him! Crucify him!"

For the third time he spoke to them: "Why? What crime has this man committed? I have found in him no grounds for the death penalty. Therefore I will have him punished and then release him."

But with loud shouts they insistently demanded that he be crucified, and their shouts prevailed. So Pilate decided to grant their demand. He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, the one they asked for, and surrendered Jesus to their will.
(Luke 23:13-25)

Here we have two captive prisoners: Jesus, who has officially been found innocent, and Barabbas, who has officially been found guilty. Specifically, Barabbas was guilty of rebellion (John 18:40), the exact same thing Jesus was accused but found innocent of (Luke 23:14). Through that rebellion, Barabbas had committed murder (Mark 15:7), and faced the death penalty. Barabbas was not punished, though; he was set completely free, and the innocent Jesus was given the punishment Barabbas deserved.

Of all the names in the world, this luckiest of pardoned death row inmates happened to be named Barabbas. It is a rather weird name, and not just because it sounds funny to our modern English ears. See, people in Jesus’ time often had names that identified them with their fathers and distinguished them from others with similar names. For example, James son of Zebedee versus James son of Alphaeus (Mark 3:17-18). Different languages have different ways of thus naming someone “son of”. In English, names such as “Johnson” and “Jackson” are common. Irish names use Mc-, Mac- or Mag- prefixes to indicate “son of”, so MacDonald means “son of Donald” and McConaghy “son of Conaghy”. The Arabic word for “son of” is “bin”, so Osama is the son of Laden.

In Israel, the word for “son of” was “bar”, which is where Barabbas gets the first part of his name. “Abba” was the word for “father” or simply “daddy”, which is why Jesus prayed to “Abba, Father” in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14:36). So, Barabbas literally translates to “son of the father”. This name is useless for the purpose that “son of” names were designed for, of distinguishing people from each other based on having different fathers; Barabbas’ unspecified parents might as well have named their child “Anonymous”. Barabbas could have been pretty much anyone; we are all children of fathers. You could even argue that we have all taken part in rebellion—against parents, or authority figures, and certainly against God.

And that is the beauty of this little prisoner exchange: Jesus, innocent, and the Son of the Father, takes the punishment that Barabbas, the anonymous everyman, rightfully deserved. Barabbas was guilty of rebellion that led to murder; Jesus was murdered as punishment for every man’s rebellion.

It is almost like it was planned, no? That every little detail, right down to the name given at birth, decades beforehand, to a man who would commit a crime and be on death row at the exact Passover time that Jesus would also be imprisoned. I almost have to agree with Hitchens—it does seem like it was all set up, and pre-arranged to fulfill every requirement. But not by man.

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© 2008 by Kevin McConaghy. All rights reserved.