The Crucified Christ
Main Idea: When we embrace the truth with humility, it leads us to commit ourselves into God’s hands for safekeeping.
- The Courts: There Can Be No Justice Where There Is No Truth. (22:66–23:25).
- Let us receive the truth (22:66-71).
- Let us stand on the truth (23:1-5).
- Let us never abandon the truth (23:6-25).
- What true justice requires
- The Crucifixion: There Can Be No Forgiveness Where There Is No Humility (23:26-43).
- The chain of mourners (23:26-31)
- The circle of mockers (23:32-38)
- The conversation of thieves (23:39-43)
- The Commitments: There Can Be No Genuine Commitment Where There Is No Focus (23:44-56).
- Jesus commits his spirit to the Father (23:44-48).
- Joseph commits Jesus’s body to the ground (23:49-53).
- The disciples commit themselves to the Sabbath (23:54-56).
Based on the judgment of all-white juries, eight black teenage boys were sentenced to death for the rape of two white women on a freight train in 1931 (a ninth boy, only twelve, was judged too young for the electric chair). The trials took place in just a day, with a lynch mob demanding the surrender of the teenagers outside the jail before the trials. The only lawyers who would defend the accused included a retiree who hadn’t tried a case in years and a Tennessee real estate lawyer unfamiliar with Alabama law.
The convictions led to demonstrations in the heavily black neighborhood of Harlem in New York City, and the case eventually made it to the Supreme Court, where the convictions were reversed because of the lack of an adequate defense. Amid enormous public interest, charges were dropped against four of the men. Three were re-sentenced to life in prison; a fourth, Clarence Norris, was re-sentenced to death, later reduced to life in prison. Governor George Wallace pardoned Norris in 1976. To this day, the Scottsboro case is still shorthand in public dialogue for unfair, racially biased convictions and sentencing.
We now reach the section of Luke’s Gospel when Jesus faces his capture and arrest. The authorities place him on trial, which results in his conviction and later his crucifixion. The text reveals three courtroom scenes. These scenes reveal three lessons:
There Can Be No Justice Where There Is No Truth
Let Us Receive the Truth (22:66-71)
Jewish or lower court. The first part of our text focuses on a series of court scenes. The first court scene is the Jewish “elders of the people” (v. 66). This group of leaders is also called “the Sanhedrin,” and they were the highest religious court in Israel. As we saw in the previous section, they want to know whether Jesus claims to be the Messiah. Jesus knows them: These are people who willfully oppose the truth. Nevertheless, the Lord answers their question. He not only claims to be the Messiah, but he also uses the title “Son of Man” (v. 69). The Jewish leaders understand Jesus’s claim, but they reject it.
You can do anything with the truth—even condemn a perfectly innocent man like Jesus. The truth is more than facts. Facts must be interpreted. They must be interpreted accurately before you arrive at the truth. The religious leaders receive a plain statement about who Jesus is. They know the facts from his own mouth, but they deny the truth and condemn an innocent man.
Let Us Stand on the Truth (23:1-5)
Pilate’s court/state supreme court. They would have killed the Lord then, but there was a problem: The Romans had conquered Israel, and because the Jews were under Roman occupation, they could not carry out a death sentence themselves; only Rome could do that.
So the Jewish court refers the case to the state supreme court. They bring the Lord to Pilate. Verse 2 says they actually change the charges. They accuse Jesus of “misleading our nation, opposing payment of taxes to Caesar, and saying that he himself is the Messiah, a king.” Of course, the first two charges are not true and the last charge is manipulative. They’re trying to paint Jesus as a public menace and a threat to the Roman government. In fact, another Gospel writer tells us that they tried to put Pilate in an awkward position. They tried to say that Pilate would not be loyal to Caesar if Pilate didn’t condemn Jesus.
So Pilate questions the Lord: “Are you the king of the Jews?” The Lord admits it plainly with the words, “You say so” (v. 3). Again, another Gospel writer tells us that Pilate felt like he was the superior: he told Jesus he had power over the Lord’s life. But the Lord responds by saying, “You would have no authority over me at all if it hadn’t been given you from above” (John 19:11), and, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). The Lord is not only Messiah but also King of Heaven and Earth.
Pilate finishes his interrogation and actually finds Jesus not guilty (v. 4). Verse 5 says the priests kept insisting that the Lord was a threat to the government. At this point, public opinion is interfering with justice.
Let Us Never Abandon the Truth (23:6-25)
Herod’s court/court of jurisdiction (23:7-12). But as they pressure Pilate, they slip up. They mention Galilee (v. 5). When Pilate heard that, he reassigned the case to a different jurisdiction: he sent the case to Herod. Herod was a vile and corrupt man, but he kept his finger on the pulse of things and he knew about Jesus. He wants Jesus to do some miracle for his amusement (v. 8). That’s the only reason Herod questioned the Lord (v. 9). But the Lord remained quiet as the religious leaders accused him and as Herod and his soldiers mocked him. The entire place is a circus. No one is interested in the truth or justice. Everyone has an agenda. The only righteous person in the place was the one being mocked and tried.
Finally, Herod has had his fun. So he mocks Jesus and sends him back to Pilate. Herod and Pilate became friends on that day (v. 12).
Summary judgment (23:13-16). When they went back to Pilate, Pilate called together the Jewish leaders (v. 13). Pilate gave his verdict in verses 14-16. He finds no guilt in Jesus. Neither did Herod. Pilate doesn’t see a reason to put the Lord to death, so he looks to make a compromise. He decides to punish Jesus and release him.
Now isn’t that an amazing conclusion? Pilate’s decision essentially affirms the Lord’s truthfulness. But what a stunning blindness and hardness of heart! Instead of standing on what’s right and delivering justice, Pilate refuses to embrace the truth. John’s Gospel records a telling exchange between Pilate and Jesus:
“You are a king then?” Pilate asked.
“You say that I’m a king,” Jesus replied. “I was born for this, and I have come into the world for this: to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.”
“What is truth?” said Pilate. (John 18:37-38)
The Bible says, “The truth will set you free,” but that’s only the case if you acknowledge it. Pilate did not acknowledge the truth, so he didn’t free Jesus and didn’t free himself. He remained bound to the deceits of the day.
Court of public opinion (23:18-25). Sometimes the official courts are less powerful than the court of public opinion. The court of public opinion is really the last court in this scene. They had charged Jesus with being a threat to the king and stirring up the people against the government. Those were false charges. Now here they are asking for the release of a man “who had been thrown into prison for rebellion and murder” (v. 25).
Pilate tried to talk to them, but they shouted him down. “Crucify, crucify him!” (v. 21). They’ve become a mob. Mob justice is no justice at all. Pilate insisted on the Lord’s innocence, but they kept crying out for his death. Their voices “won out” over truth (v. 23). Their voices prevailed over justice. Their voices prevailed over the power of Rome. Pilate gave them what they demanded. He released Barabbas and “handed Jesus over to their will” (v. 25).
What True Justice Requires
The only way to have justice in any situation is to care more about truth than we do about ourselves. If we sacrifice truth, then we will miscarry justice.
The only persons who can make sure our systems of justice actually deliver justice are those inside and outside who will be voices for truth. A judiciary with people ruled by their own political interests will soon give the people what they want rather than what is right. A public ruled by their own selfish desires will soon twist the courts to serve their desires. Justice requires nobility of character and the courage of truth-based conviction.
We cannot be protestors accusing others without regard for the entire truth. We cannot be public servants rendering judgments in the fear of man. And Lord help us if the interests of an untruthful public align with the interests of unfaithful servants. If they handed over the perfectly innocent Christ to death, what do you think will be done to lesser men? Courts can only give us justice if they care about truth.
There Can Be No Forgiveness Where There Is No Humility
The action moves from the courtroom to the execution. We witness three conversations leading to the crucifixion.
The Chain of Mourners (23:26-31)
Jesus is led away followed by a crowd like a long chain of mourners. The Roman soldiers seized Simon of Cyrene. Cyrene was in modern day Libya, in North Africa. Simon was just happening by, “coming in from the country” (v. 26). He may not have even known what was going on. Perhaps he was a large strong man, because they make Simon carry our Lord’s cross as Jesus followed behind. Simon, Jesus, the soldiers, and “a large crowd of people followed him, including women who were mourning and lamenting him” (v. 27). The scene is heavy with grief.
Yet it’s not Jesus for whom people should grieve. When the Lord speaks, he makes it plain that the people need to weep for themselves. Verse 29 says times will get so bad that they will go from rejoicing at the birth of children to blessing women who cannot have children. People will want the mountains to fall on them. He says in verse 31 that if these kinds of things can happen “when the wood is green”—to an innocent man like Jesus—then what will happen later “when it is dry”—to sinners like themselves? So they should weep for themselves and for the future of humanity.
All this means that condemnation is coming upon Israel and the world. Beloved, the first act of humility before God is to admit that his judgment is righteous and sure.
The Circle of Mockers (23:32-38)
The Lord’s comments in verses 28-30 give us context for what he says at “the place called The Skull” (v. 33). They reach Golgotha. They lift the Lord and the two criminals up on crosses. The people stood by, watching helplessly. All around the Lord are soldiers and religious folks. You cannot tell them apart by their actions. The soldiers mock him and divide his garments (vv. 34-35). The religious rulers scoff at him (v. 35). They use everything Jesus claimed about himself to ridicule and shame him. The Lord Jesus Christ is sentenced to death for being who he said he was—the Messiah of God, the chosen one, the Son of God.
The soldiers mock by saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” (v. 37). They place a sign over his head that was meant to add insult to injury: “This is the King of the Jews” (v. 38). Perhaps that was meant by the Romans to put Jewish people in their place by making an example of Jesus. The religious leaders object to the sign, but Pilate insists on it. God, by the scribbling of mockers, makes the cross a throne.
In this entire scene our Lord says one thing. Verse 34: “Father, forgive them, because they do not know what they are doing.” In verses 28-30 the Lord says that judgment is coming. But God forgives. In the middle of his torment, the Son of God prays for sinners. In Verse 34 he says that forgiveness is possible.
The Conversation of Thieves (23:39-43)
The Lord and the two other criminals have a conversation. The first criminal “began to yell insults at him” (v. 39). He’s hanging on the cross receiving his own death sentence, and with his final breath he decides to mock the Lord along with the crowd. “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” Some people go all the way to their condemnation being stupid and unrepentant.
The second criminal has much better sense. He rebukes the first:
“Don’t you even fear God, since you are undergoing the same punishment? We are punished justly, because we’re getting back what we deserve for the things we did, but this man has done nothing wrong.” (vv. 40-41)
Then, showing how much sense this man has, he adds, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
I don’t know why some people doubt deathbed conversions. This man in the last hours of his life came to believe that Jesus was indeed the Christ, the Son of the Living God. He came to believe that Jesus really did have a kingdom, one that he could possibly enter. He saw his sin and admitted his wrong. And he did the only thing he could do—the only thing he needed to do: plead with Christ for forgiveness and mercy. Aside from Jesus, this thief is the only humble man in the entire scene! He’s humble enough to admit his sin and humble enough to turn to Jesus for forgiveness.
The Lord speaks only one line in the entire conversation: “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise” (v. 43).
Put the scenes together: Judgment is coming. God is forgiving. Paradise is offered. But the only ones who receive it are the humble who admit their sins and confess that Jesus is the Son of God who died on the cross to atone for their sins and was raised from the grave three days later. If you, beloved, are humble enough to confess your sins and turn away from them, calling on the name of the Lord, God promises he will forgive you of your sin and robe you in his righteousness. And that day paradise will be your home.
This is what we Christians call “the gospel,” which means the “good news.” And it is really good. Thieves hanging on a cross can lay hold of this good news. Criminals in the moment of their execution can be forgiven because of this good news. People in the moment of their death can latch on to this good news and discover eternal life. This same news and offer of paradise is offered to you. If you are not yet a Christian, I pray you have this kind of humility. I pray you’re able to admit that you are a sinner. I pray you’re able to acknowledge that God’s condemnation is righteous and is coming. And I pray you can see that you cannot save yourself but you need a Savior. I pray you put your faith in Christ. The Bible promises that all who call on the name of the Lord will be saved. Do not doubt it; just do it. Call on the name of the Lord, and you will be saved.
Christian, you have already received this good news, and God has already given you this humility. We should not act as if we are superior because of our humility. We should not repeat the arrogance we sometimes have shown to people who are not Christians. We were stubborn as mules and rejected the truth in our sin, too, but we have received grace from the Lord. He has given us his kindness, and it has enabled us to admit the truth about ourselves. We once boasted of our goodness and relied on our moral actions to turn away God’s wrath, and all the while we claimed to be good, we rejected the gospel and the only path to salvation. But the Lord has claimed us, changed us, and given us eyes to see the truth in Jesus Christ. When we were enabled to see the truth about ourselves we were better able to see the truth about Christ. Now our enduring experience with God is freedom from guilt, shame, and agony through faith in Jesus Christ who redeems us.
There Can Be No Lasting Commitment Where There Is No Focus
Jesus Commits His Spirit to the Father (23:44-48)
The sun’s light failed for three whole hours in the middle of the day. Christ has been crucified. The hour of death has come. All of heaven cloaks its face. When the sun was to be its strongest, darkness covers the entire land.
God gives a sign that something miraculous has happened. God tears the curtain in the temple in two. The curtain once divided the most holy place—where God was thought to dwell and only a high priest could enter—from the outer court where others could worship. Now in the crucifixion, in the tearing of his flesh, Christ has torn the curtain between God and man. Now all who worship God may go into his presence as priests.
Then Christ cries in a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I entrust my spirit” (v. 46). What a declaration of faith and act of trust! The Son of God models for us what should be our confession too. Come what may, into the hands of our loving Father we commit ourselves to God. So it was with Christ: in the hour of his death our Lord focuses his attention on his Father. The Father who sent him into the world, prepared a body for him, ordained that he should suffer and die—that same God is worthy of our commitment.
No matter our circumstance and what befalls us, let us by God’s grace learn to declare, “Father, into your hands I entrust my spirit.” For those hands will never lose us. No one will ever slip through those omnipotent fingers. No one will ever pluck us from those hands. That’s the kind of focus on the Father that drives and sustains commitment.
Joseph Commits Jesus’s Body to the Ground (23:49-53)
Though a member of the council, Joseph did not agree with the decisions of his fellow leaders. He did not participate in their actions. He was looking for the kingdom of God. He knew Jesus was a teacher of truth.
So Joseph requests the Lord’s body from Pilate and buries the Lord in an unused tomb. Though burying the Lord was a godly religious thing to do, Joseph is focused on the Lord’s body rather than on the hope of the resurrection. It would have been better if Joseph had buried the Lord still looking to the future, to Christ, and to the Father.
He does not know it yet—so we don’t wish to be too hard on Joseph—but in three days Joseph’s grief will be lifted. In three days the tomb will be empty. In three days Christ will be raised again in glory and power. That will change Joseph’s focus. He will then see Christ more clearly than he did on the day of the Lord’s death. He will see the Lord, not in grave clothes, but clothed in his glory.
The Disciples Commit Themselves to the Sabbath (23:54-56)
Next we have the Jewish women in the scene. It’s the day of preparation for the Passover, so they cannot handle the body or they will be unclean for the Passover. The Sabbath approaches, and they must make preparation. In a couple of days they will visit the tomb, but in the meantime they return to the law in preparing for the Sabbath. It’s so easy to slip back into religion, isn’t it?
But we don’t want to be too hard on these women. We were not alive on the day Christ was crucified. We cannot easily imagine the grief of someone who actually knew Jesus and loved him. We cannot imagine the thunderclap in their souls or the broken places in their hearts. So they return to the familiar. They, too, are not yet focused as they ought to be on Christ. But they will be when they visit the tomb and find it empty.
But what about us? We must be truth people who receive and stand on the truth and do not abandon it. We confess the truth that God is coming in judgment, but he does also forgive and offer paradise. Will we remain focused on Christ and his gospel? Will that focus drive us deeper in our commitment to Christ and his gospel, no matter what comes until he comes?
We can be these Jewish women who quietly slide into religious observance. We can be like Joseph, overwhelmed in mourning and forgetting the resurrection. Or we can be like Christ, committing our spirits into God’s hand for safekeeping. For this is what the truth leads us to when we embrace it.
If you have never committed yourself to Christ, I beg you to do that. Commit yourself to Christ and his salvation, and you will never be disappointed. If you are a Christian and, like the people in this text, you are experiencing suffering, you too commit yourself to Christ. For Christ’s love and the life he gives far outlasts our suffering. Whether it is the mourning of death, confusion, or disappointment, commit yourself to the one who will faithfully keep you. Whenever we take the Lord’s Supper, we commit ourselves afresh to him. We do so knowing more than any of the people in this chapter. We know he rose from the grave, and we know he was victorious over our enemies. What we do at the supper we have the joy of doing all the time and any time we want to be safe in his hands.
Reflect and Discuss
- Why must Christians be people committed to the truth? What happens if a Christian keeps a slippery grip on truth?
- What do you think is the relationship between truth and justice? Did we see truth and justice displayed in Christ’s trials? Did we see them played out in Christ’s crucifixion?
- C. John Miller believed that “repentance was humility in action” (Miller, Repentance, 96). What do you think about that statement? Why might humility be necessary to repentance and receiving forgiveness?
- Do you believe in “deathbed conversions”? Why or why not? What do the two thieves on the cross teach us about the best use of our last moments of life if we are blessed to have our faculties when that time comes?
- Unlike the persons in this chapter, we live on the other side of the cross and resurrection. Does that fact help us to face and endure grief? If so, how?