When we behold Golgotha the day Jesus died, we see evil at its worst. Jesus, an innocent man, was sentenced to death in the most humiliating and horrific way. All throughout Jesus’ life, people were trying to kill him. When he was a toddler, Herod had all the children two years old and younger murdered in Bethlehem to keep Him from growing up. When one reads the four Gospels in the Bible, we learn of many attempts made by the religious leaders to take his life.
Eventually, the Pharisees and Sadducees who wanted to silence Jesus were able to bribe Judas, a disciple of Jesus, to betray him for 30 pieces of silver. Judas gathered a band of soldiers and some officers to take Jesus by force. Upon finding Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, Judas pointed out Jesus to the soldiers with a kiss. Jesus was then arrested and tried illegally—three trials by night before the religious leaders, and three civic trials before Pontius Pilate and Herod Antipas.
Of all the questions Jesus was asked during his trials before the religious leaders, it was the question asked by the High Priest, Caiaphas, and Jesus’ answer to that question that marked the point of no return for Jesus to avoid death by crucifixion. Caiaphas demanded of Jesus: “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” Jesus answered: “You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Matt. 26:63-64). Jesus’ answer was a direct reference him being the Messiah as promised in Daniel 7; for Caiaphas, this was the best excuse to have Jesus crucified as an enemy of Rome. I am going to talk about Daniel 7 on Resurrection Sunday, but with the time that we have on this Good Friday, I want to consider why Jesus had to die before he could come back “on the clouds of heaven.”
Jesus was Abandoned So that We Would Never Be Forsaken
Think about the circumstances that followed Jesus’ betrayal? First, Judas had spent years with Jesus. He was entrusted with the finances of the disciples, he committed at least three years of his life with Jesus. Most of what Jesus did, Judas also did, and just like that… for thirty pieces of silver he betrayed his friend with a kiss.
If that were not enough, when Jesus was arrested every single one of his friends ran away. To Peter’s credit, he did try to defend Jesus by cutting the ear of one of the temple guards, but later he denied even knowing Jesus not once, not twice, but three times. To illustrate the fear that overshadowed the love that the disciples had for Jesus, we are told that a young man who had been following the disciples into the garden fled, and when his clothing was grabbed, he fled naked.
On the eve of His execution, Jesus was abandoned and left alone with no one. But that is not all, for there was one more person who abandoned Him to leave him completely and desperately alone. We learn who that person is with one of Jesus’ final statements while dying on the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” (15:34).
While on the cross, the religious leaders made fun of Jesus by saying things like: “He saved others; he cannot save himself. Let the Christ the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe” (vv. 31-32). Others sarcastically commented: “Aha! You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself, and come down from the cross” (vv. 29-30)! If that were not enough, even those crucified for crimes they did commit “reviled” him. The NIV translates this verse this way: “Those crucified with him also heaped insults on him.” And as all of this was going on, Jesus’ executioners gambled over his bloody clothing as He was hanging shamefully naked.
Besides John, Mary the mother of Jesus, Mary’s sister, and Mary Magdalene (John 19:25), Jesus’ closest friends where nowhere to be found. While he endured the humiliation of the cross, He experienced exactly what the prophet Isaiah described of the suffering servant: “He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief, and as one from whom men hid their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not” (Isaiah 53:3).
Why did Jesus endure the cross, why did he not protest? So that all who would one day find their salvation through His death and resurrection would never know the abandonment of God that we deserve, and he experienced. Jesus was abandoned so that we would never be forsaken by the God we were born to know.
Jesus Was Wrongfully Accused so That We Could be Made Innocent
Of the six trials Jesus was forced to experience; none of them were performed according to the laws of the land. The first person Jesus was brought before was Annas (who was still upset that Jesus drove the people and money-changers out of the temple –Annas oversaw the money changers). Jesus was not required to answer any of Annas’ questions, but when he did answer he was struck by one of the soldiers… something that was forbidden during a Jewish trial (see John 18:12-14). Annas then sent Jesus to Caiaphas the high priest where some false witnesses were gathered to incriminate Jesus (still under the cloak of night).
Up to this point Jesus remained mostly silent, when Caiaphas got frustrated he asked a question in such a way that any pious Jew was required to answer: “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God” (Matt. 26:63). So, Jesus answered the high priest: “You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Matt. 26:64), which was a direct reference to him being the Messiah as promised in Daniel 7. So, they got what they were hoping for… words from Jesus’ lips that were in their opinion blasphemous. Caiaphas condemned Jesus, a violation of Jewish law that required the whole council to vote, and the gathered people spit on him and beat him.
Jesus, tired, beaten, humiliated and bleeding, faced a third trial before the Jewish Supreme Court known as the Sanhedrin. This was the shortest of the three Jewish trials; they asked Him if he was the Messiah, to which He answered “yes” (see Luke 22:66-71).
The final three trials Jesus faced were not justified either. In Rome there was a three-phase process that led to either an acquittal or punishment: (1) accusation, (2) interrogation, and (3) a verdict. In Jesus’ fourth trial Pilate heard the accusations against Jesus but upon interrogating him, found him to be innocent. To get out of the jam he found himself in, he sent Jesus to his life-long enemy Herod, but the only thing Herod felt Jesus deserved was humiliation and mocking; this was Jesus’ fifth trial. Herod sent Jesus back to Pilate to receive a sixth and final trail.
It was at Jesus’ sixth and final trial that Pilate found himself trapped. He really believed Jesus was innocent. He tried several avenues to get out of declaring Jesus guilty, so the first thing he suggested was to have Jesus chastised and beat. Jesus was taken to a place for flogging where they stripped him naked before a whole group of soldiers. Two soldiers trained in the art of scourging then flogged him with what was called a Cat-of-Nine-tails; each tip was laced with sharp bone and metal for the purpose of tearing apart the flesh. Jesus was flogged; his skin and muscle was torn to pieces, and when Pilate brought Him before the people he was one bloody mess.
If you thought things could not get any worse, they did. It was the Passover and it was customary to release one prisoner, so Pilate gave the crowds a choice: (1) Jesus of Nazareth, or (2) Barabbas: a notorious criminal guilty of murder. When given the option, the crowd chose to free Barabbas. Why Barabbas? Because we are Barabbas. Barabbas represents the guilty whose crimes are acquitted not because they are innocent, but because the innocent stepped into their place.
Jesus Became a Curse so that We Could be Forgiven and Redeemed
When Pilate asked why, the only response that he received was a riotous crowd screaming: “Let him be crucified!” “His blood be on us and our children!” Jesus was handed over to die in the most violent, humiliating, and painful death known in human history – crucifixion. As the soldiers prepared Jesus for death, they took his bloody and torn body, put a scarlet robe on him, placed a crown of thorns on his head, put a reed in his right hand, and mocked him by bowing down and saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” They then struck him on the head, spit on him, and led Him away as He carried His cross.
The Bible says that when Jesus was nailed to the cross that he became a curse: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree…” (Gal. 3:13). Now, think with me for a moment about the significance of what happened the day Jesus died. Before He was crucified a battalion of soldiers mocked Him by putting a purple robe on his back that was already torn to shreds by the scourging Pilate ordered for him. Then the soldiers twisted a crown of thorns and put it on his head as a way to mock his supposed kingship.
The Crown of Thorns
Why is the crown of thorns even a part of the story? For starters, the placement of the crown of thorns upon his head was a historical event. Secondly, unknown to the soldiers, the crown of thorns was symbolic of the curse pronounced by God upon all of creation. Remember what God told Adam after he sinned: “Because you listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field” (Gen. 3:17-18). Jesus, as the redeemer of lost humanity and a cursed creation was nailed to a cross of wood wearing a crown made by the very thing that symbolized the curse.
The Quaking Ground
After Jesus asked why God had forsaken Him, His last and final statement before His death was: “It is finished” (John 19:30). After Jesus’ final statement that all was completed, He “breathed his last” we learn from the Gospel of Matthew that, “the earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened” (27:51-52). This is also what must have caused the curtain in the Temple to tear in two. Why did the ground quake? The ground quaked because the redeemer purchased it with His blood upon His death. Why did the tombs open? Because through the Redeemer’s death, the enemy of death would eventually be defeated.
The Torn Curtain
Do you remember what happened when Jesus was baptized as a way to launch His mission on earth in the very first chapter of the Gospel of Mark? Consider again what happened at Jesus’ baptism: “In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (1:9-11). What happened at Jesus’ baptism was that the curtain of heaven was torn open as God made His presence among us. So why did the curtain tear? The curtain was torn to symbolize that because Jesus died as our curse, that there would no longer be anything to keep us from knowing God. Through Jesus’ death, we are now invited to know God as His redeemed sons and daughters.
 The New International Version. (2011). (Mk 15:32). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.