Were you there—when they crucified my Lord?
7. Religious Rulers Ridicule
Luke 23: 13-25, 35 (NIV)
Luke 23:13 Pilate called together the chief priests, the rulers and the people, 14 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. 15 Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us; as you can see, he has done nothing to deserve death. 16 Therefore, I will punish him and then release him.”
17 Now he was obliged to release one man to them at the feast.18 With one voice they cried out, “Away with this man! Release Barabbas to us!” 19 (Barabbas had been thrown into prison for an insurrection in the city, and for murder.) 20 Wanting to release Jesus, Pilate appealed to them again. 21 But they kept shouting, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”
22 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.” 23 But with loud shouts they insistently demanded that he be crucified, and their shouts prevailed. 24 So Pilate decided to grant their demand. 25 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.
35 And the people stood looking on. But even the rulers with them sneered, saying, “He saved others; let Him save Himself if He is the Christ, the chosen of God.”
Religious rulers ridicule
Now we will focus on the sad fact that the leading ‘Religious rulers’ oppose and ridicule the Lord Jesus Christ in His hour of need. In Jesus’ days local rulers are religious people. The ruling Council (Sanhedrin), comprises Sadducees, Pharisees, priests, high priests and family members, scribes, and elders. The turning of the crowd into a mob against Jesus is deliberately manipulated by them. It becomes even more obvious that although you can be ‘religious’ (of any religion) you do not know the God of truth, love, care and holiness through religion. Religion saves no-one: only the Lord Jesus Christ saves, and only if there is sorrow for sin, turning from it, and a personal trust in Jesus.
Why the religious men influence the mob
You can see why the religious men influence the mob. The Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate, first questioned Jesus and then sent Him to be heard before King Herod. By the time that Jesus arrives at Herod’s palace the chief priests and law teachers are already before the King. They are ‘vehemently accusing’ Jesus. (Verse 10).
Pilate then includes the ‘people’ with the rulers and chief priests, in his follow-up questions to Jesus. He decides, after that, to punish Him and release Him. He tells his hearers so. He argues that he finds the charges are unjustified, and neither can King Herod find Jesus guilty of anything deserving death. They are both very well-known and experienced judges! The crooked team of prosecutors and the ‘people’ they influence now cry ‘with one voice’ but with two goals: ‘Away with this man!’ and ‘Release Barabbas to us!’ When a crowd like that is with them, behaving as a blood-thirsty mob, their voice is even louder.
Pilate makes an appeal instead of announcing a verdict
Yet Pilate then amazingly appeals ‘to them again’. Now that the ‘hard’ Governor of mighty occupying Rome, schooled in the famed Roman Law, decides to release Jesus on evidence independently heard and evaluated by two experienced judges, does he really need to appeal ‘to them again’? Why does he not simply tell them his verdict and go ahead, as is normal? And what is their response to his appeal? They keep shouting ‘Crucify Him! Crucify Him!’ Does he call the famed Roman Guard onto the scene to enforce his verdict and orders? No! ‘For the third time’ he tries to reason with unreasonable haters of Jesus—the rulers, the religious, and the people who are the manipulated ‘engine room’ of trouble. Pilate asks what Jesus’ crime is and restates there are no grounds to find Him guilty of death or deserving ‘the death penalty’. He repeats his considered and already announced judgement, ‘Therefore I will have Him punished and release Him.’ Surely that must be the end of this Hearing?
Pilate gives in
But no! See what frightening power a manipulated crowd that shouts loudly can exert. ‘But with those loud shouts they insistently demand that [Jesus] be crucified’, says verse 23. The rebel high priests, religious rulers, and people out of Pilate’s lawful control, win the day. Pilate gives in! Their shouts prevail. Pilate grants their demand. He releases the murderer, robber, thief, violent troublemaker and gang leader, Barabbas. Why? Because the religiously led mob insistently asked for that loudly! Who would have believed that possible? And Pilate surrenders ‘Jesus to their will.’ Mob rule wins—empowered by religious hypocrisy and dishonest leadership. That is an evil combination. The rulers will mark their triumph with lying sneers at Jesus on the cross: ‘He saved others; let Him save Himself if He is the Christ of God, the Chosen One.’
What can we learn?
What can we all learn from these amazing and extremely sad happenings? How can these things possibly help me today in my own life, and teach me something important about how I should live? Everything in God’s word, the Bible, is there for a purpose. We do not always grasp what that is. However, as we ask God to help us to learn and understand as we read His word, the same Holy Spirit who inspired the Bible to be written as God’s perfect and infallible word, can cause it to be unmistakably understood and followed by willing hearers. Every person who puts all his or her trust in the death of Jesus on the cross as the penalty paid for all the sins he has committed, and receives Christ in his heart as his living Saviour, will find that God speaks personally to him through the Bible, God’s word. So, let us now consider some observations about these ‘Religious Rulers’, and draw some lessons from them.
First, no religion can save
First, again note that no-one can be accepted by God just by being ‘religious.’ Whether that is a genuine Christian religion, a nominal one, or not a Christian one at all, no-one can be forgiven by God or come to know Him by being religious, however sincere that person may be.
Second, neither can good works save anyone
Second, doing good, worthy as it may seem—and far better than doing bad—cannot save you either. You can only be saved because Jesus, the Saviour, took your sin and paid for it with His blood as if it was His own sin, and rose again in triumph over sin and death. At the same time, He put His sinless and perfect righteousness into your bankrupt moral account and counted all His spotless righteousness as yours. He was punished for your sins. You are saved by His death, resurrection and righteousness. Good deeds cannot and do not save, only Jesus Christ does, when you turn from wrong and put all your trust in Him.
Ephesians 2:8-9 is rightly often quoted: it says, ‘For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no-one can boast.’
Third, have the courage to do what is right
Third, ask God to give you the courage to always do what you know is right. If you are not sure, check it in the Bible or with keen reliable Christian friends or leaders. Never do anything through the power of peer pressure, or through the fear of those who shout loud, or because you are in a minority. Be true to Jesus no matter who, what, where or when is involved. He will strengthen you for that if you develop your relationship with Him. (Isaiah 40:31).
Fourth, pray for those who oppose you
Fourth, pray for those who oppose you unfairly, for those who might not like you but may even hate you, and for those who seem too bad to change, anyway.
Think about arch-persecutor Saul, who became the apostle Paul. He was a sincere, but sincerely wrong, religious ruler responsible for the deaths and devastation of many Christians and churches. Who could possibly expect that he would get saved by yielding to Jesus, and become the leading Christian missionary, evangelist, and church maker the world has ever seen? Not only his name, but his whole life was changed. Through Paul (no longer ‘Saul’) so much of the New Testament was penned. When first converted, the early Christians dare not believe he was converted, in case it was a trick to persecute them! But God worked in his heart and used ordinary ‘scared’ Christians to lead him to, and deepen his faith in, Jesus!
Remember that Jesus said, in the famous Beatitudes He taught in His Sermon on the Mount in Matthew chapters 5-7, ‘Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you’. (Matthew 5:11-12). He added in Matthew 5:44-45, ‘Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.’ It is in responding like this to opposition that the onlooking world can see that you have been ‘born again’ and now, through saving faith in Jesus, know God the Father as your own Heavenly Father! Stay close to God and show the family likeness!
Fifth, if you have that saving faith…
If you have that saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, please be encouraged to share your faith in Christ with other people, wisely and graciously and as the opportunities arise. If you are not yet saved, remember the answer given by imprisoned Paul and Silas to the jailer in Philippi, who asked what he must do ‘to be saved’: their reply was clear, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved’. (Acts 16:30-31).