New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
Jesus before Pilate
23 Then the assembly rose as a body and brought Jesus[a] before Pilate. 2 They began to accuse him, saying, “We found this man perverting our nation, forbidding us to pay taxes to the emperor, and saying that he himself is the Messiah, a king.”[b] 3 Then Pilate asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” He answered, “You say so.” 4 Then Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, “I find no basis for an accusation against this man.” 5 But they were insistent and said, “He stirs up the people by teaching throughout all Judea, from Galilee where he began even to this place.”
Jesus before Herod
6 When Pilate heard this, he asked whether the man was a Galilean. 7 And when he learned that he was under Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him off to Herod, who was himself in Jerusalem at that time. 8 When Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad, for he had been wanting to see him for a long time, because he had heard about him and was hoping to see him perform some sign. 9 He questioned him at some length, but Jesus[c] gave him no answer. 10 The chief priests and the scribes stood by, vehemently accusing him. 11 Even Herod with his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him; then he put an elegant robe on him, and sent him back to Pilate. 12 That same day Herod and Pilate became friends with each other; before this they had been enemies.
Jesus Sentenced to Death
13 Pilate then called together the chief priests, the leaders, and the people, 14 and said to them, “You brought me this man as one who was perverting the people; and here I have examined him in your presence and have not found this man guilty of any of your charges against him. 15 Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us. Indeed, he has done nothing to deserve death. 16 I will therefore have him flogged and release him.”[d]
18 Then they all shouted out together, “Away with this fellow! Release Barabbas for us!” 19 (This was a man who had been put in prison for an insurrection that had taken place in the city, and for murder.) 20 Pilate, wanting to release Jesus, addressed them again; 21 but they kept shouting, “Crucify, crucify him!” 22 A third time he said to them, “Why, what evil has he done? I have found in him no ground for the sentence of death; I will therefore have him flogged and then release him.” 23 But they kept urgently demanding with loud shouts that he should be crucified; and their voices prevailed. 24 So Pilate gave his verdict that their demand should be granted. 25 He released the man they asked for, the one who had been put in prison for insurrection and murder, and he handed Jesus over as they wished.
The Crucifixion of Jesus
26 As they led him away, they seized a man, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming from the country, and they laid the cross on him, and made him carry it behind Jesus. 27 A great number of the people followed him, and among them were women who were beating their breasts and wailing for him. 28 But Jesus turned to them and said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. 29 For the days are surely coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed.’ 30 Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us’; and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ 31 For if they do this when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?”
32 Two others also, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. 33 When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus[e] there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. [[34 Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”]][f] And they cast lots to divide his clothing. 35 And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah[g] of God, his chosen one!” 36 The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, 37 and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38 There was also an inscription over him,[h] “This is the King of the Jews.”
39 One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding[i] him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah?[j] Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into[k] your kingdom.” 43 He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
The Death of Jesus
44 It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land[l] until three in the afternoon, 45 while the sun’s light failed;[m] and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46 Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Having said this, he breathed his last. 47 When the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God and said, “Certainly this man was innocent.”[n] 48 And when all the crowds who had gathered there for this spectacle saw what had taken place, they returned home, beating their breasts. 49 But all his acquaintances, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.
Remember the childhood game of “Hot Potato?” The goal of the game was to pass an item of some sort from one person to another while music played. When the music stopped, the person holding the item (or “hot potato”) was out. No one wanted to be holding the item when the music stopped! That game reminds me of the passing of the buck as Jesus was brought before Pilate. As Pilate begins his inquisition, he soon realizes that this is somewhat of a witch hunt; no real crimes have been committed by Jesus. He asks if Jesus is Galilean, and when he learns that is true, sends him off to Herod, who just happened to be passing through the area. I’m sure he did so with a big sigh of relief, thinking that now this problem of Jesus and what to do to appease the chief priests and crowds that have gathered has just been taken off his plate.
Herod has waited for this for a while – a chance to see what this Jesus can really do! He has heard about the miracles and the great following of Jesus, but Jesus is no trained monkey. He doesn’t perform miracles on command for Herod at all, much to Herod’s disappointment, I am sure! So Herod and his authorities dressed him to mock him as a king, and then sent him back, passing the hot potato yet again. I have this image of Pilate smacking his forehead and shaking his head, as this problem appears right back in his lap. But instead of decision making, the job of Pilate in the first place, he turns to the crowd and asks them their thoughts. Passing the hot potato, yet again.
The Disney movie “Shrek” has a mob scene at the beginning of the movie, where the townspeople are chasing after this cartoon ogre with pitchforks and fire. As you watch the movie, Shrek’s loveable and caring sides come out, and you forget all about how the townspeople were gunning for Shrek from the start. That “mob mentality” ruled the day on that sad Friday all those years ago. The shouts to release Barabbas, a known murderer, and to crucify Jesus may have started with just a few of the folks in the crowd, but the adrenaline and frenzy of the crowd grew and grew, just like at a sporting event or rock concert. Before you know it, you’re high fiving strangers after a play as if you actually had a hand in the action on the field. From our 20,000 feet view of 2000 years of time passing, it seems incredulous that the very people who had witnessed Jesus living his life with love and extraordinary miracles would just turn on a dime and demand his death. So Pilate passes the hot potato this last time, reluctantly agreeing to the wishes of the crowd, even when knowing that the decision had no basis on fact.
How many times do we as Christians pass the buck when God leads us to a place where we would rather not be? “Not me, Lord; this is too hard, the burden too great,” we say to ourselves. “Maybe someone else will help that guy out.” “Maybe another person will support this ministry.” “We had a late Saturday night with friends – I think we’ll just sleep in on Sunday morning.” You know we’ve all said one or more of these types of responsibility avoidance statements. Pilate saw his hands as clean from Jesus’ bloodshed, because he only just did what the people demanded. But when we avoid our responsibilities, commitments, and duties and the hands and feet of God in this world, they don’t go away.
As we enter this Holy Week, listen carefully and answer God’s call to us. It may be a quiet whisper in the wind or a shout from a mountaintop. Don’t deny Him when He calls.
Dear Father, we know you love us. We don’t deserve the grace and mercy you pour out on us every day. Give us the will to persevere and do your work to glorify your name, even when it seems to hard or the crowds are leading us elsewhere. Thank you for giving your son to die for us. We love you, Lord. In Jesus’ name. AMEN.