The political landscape in the U.S. is very divisive right now. I will add that it is not as divisive as it has ever been because if you look at the first fifteen years of the presidency, you have Jefferson harshly attacking Washington and Adams, you have scandals and misunderstandings that light the fuse of hostility time and time again, and you even have a sitting vice-president (Aaron Burr) shoot one of the most brilliant minds this country has ever seen (Alexander Hamilton).
But sometimes the level of divisiveness is very apparent. This week, we saw the end of an impeachment process against the current president. We witnessed an absurdly partisan State of the Union where nearly one-half of the participants were less than unengaged (if that is even possible), a partisan act by the president who gave the nation’s highest award to a man who alienates one-half of the country, and the leader of the chamber where the speech was made tear up the script that is constitutionally required to be given to Congress.
And because of these facts, most will say that they are suffering through another election cycle. That is, the actions of others create a tension that causes us to suffer. But tension in politics is nothing new. And neither is suffering. In fact, much of the suffering in the world is directly related to politics – and you are I are responsible.
The suffering of which I speak is not just emotional turmoil that can disappear if we turn off our televisions and radios. It does not disappear if we cut off communicating with others. The suffering is real because of sin. The suffering is real because we think that we are in control. The control we seek may not be an office like a councilman or councilwoman, it may not be that of a mayor, or of a representative in our democratic republic, but nonetheless we all seek control. And by we, I do not mean the collective. I mean you – individually. And I mean me.
The control you seek, and the control I seek, is because of sin. It is the control of our lives instead of yielding ourselves to God.
And thus, Jesus suffered. In the truest sense, Jesus suffered because of a political situation. But in the fullest of measures, Jesus suffered because of our sin. And He did not just suffer, He suffered greatly. Why? Because we do not want someone else over us – we want control. Thus, as Matthew wrote in Matthew 27.18, “For he knew that it was out of envy that they had delivered him (Jesus) up.”
This series is about the constancy of God in the midst of the cultural changes around us. As such, we are focusing on the timeless truths of the Bible, with specific attention being given to certain doctrines of authentic faith as packaged in the Apostles’ Creed. But as much as the world has changed, and is changing, one other constant exists besides God – the nature of our sin.
And so, for the purpose of covering our sin, not His, Jesus suffered and died. As Matthew 27.26 says, “Then he (Pilate) release for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, delivered Him to be crucified.”
Why does the suffering of Jesus matter? Why did this phrase need to be included in the Creed? Let’s take a closer look.
When We Are Lord Over Others, Jesus Is Not Lord Over Us
I need to clarify this statement. Leadership is important. People need leaders, and many great leaders exist. And leaders will ask us to do things that may seem beyond us. Leaders may push us to do things that are uncomfortable. In fact, I would argue that a good leader must do this, at least occasionally. Certainly, Jesus did that. And Jesus still does that.
BUT, in Mark 10, Jesus says that some leaders “lord it over them” (v. 42). That is, some leaders simply want the power. They have selfish motives. And if a leader is only desiring power, then that leader is probably not willing to submit to Jesus.
On the other hand, a humble leader, or a servant leader, still leads. These leaders may still require a great deal of their followers, but they do so in a way that respects, and even lifts up, others.
In Matthew 27, we find that Jesus has been betrayed and has been handed over to the governor of the area. Verse 3 then tells us that one person who has misinterpreted the power of Jesus now ends his life. That is, Judas kills himself because he wanted power. He wanted authority. He wanted to end the Roman rule and wanted to have an important part of reigning with the new leader – the Supreme Leader, Jesus.
But that was not Jesus’ aim – at least, not during His first coming.
Then, the story turns to an encounter with Jesus standing before Pilate. Pilate asks Jesus, “Are you the King of the Jews?” (Matthew 27.11). Jesus does not give an explicit answer. Meanwhile, the religious leaders – who thought more highly of themselves than they should have thought, accused Jesus of various crimes (we see a similar process before the high priest in Matthew 26.57-68).
Again, Jesus gives no answer. The governor, Pilate, is amazed.
A few verses later, Matthew provides a unique detail. Pilate’s wife sends him a message as he is about to release a prisoner. The message is essentially to make sure Jesus goes free. But Pilate does not really care. He goes through the motions of a tradition (the prisoner release), but if he really wanted to do so, he could have simply released Jesus. Yes, it would have caused him trouble with Rome, but doing things for Jesus is not always meant to be easy – in fact, it is rarely easy.
Pilate was more concerned about maintaining order. He was more concerned with staying in control. But Pilate also did not want the responsibility (“he took water and washed his hands” – Matthew 27.24). The religious leaders wanted control. And let’s be honest, most of the time, we are the same way. The problem is that when we focus on ourselves, we may maintain a level of authority, but we must ask ourselves: Are we doing this for our benefit so we can be lord over others, or for the sake of others because He IS Lord?
Jesus Suffered Under Pilate, So His Blood Would Cover Us
Read Matthew 27.27-31: 27 Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters, and they gathered the whole battalion before him. 28 And they stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, 29 and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on his head and put a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” 30 And they spit on him and took the reed and struck him on the head. 31 And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him and led him away to crucify him.
The Roman army was known for their efficiency. They would march nearly 18.5 miles per day carrying all of their equipment which included supplies and tools for building their siege towers. The Romans were also brutal and particularly so when they retaliated against others.
But it was more than mere brutality – for many empires of the past have been horrific in their brutality. But Romans turned their brutality into sport (such as in the Coliseum) and games.
The point of their games was not only to torture the prisoner, but to humiliate them as well. Thus, the king should have a crown (of thorns in the case of Jesus). The king should have a beautiful robe, so Jesus was given a robe – which when pulled off would have pulled at the scabs from His wounds.
The game in this picture was similar to a board game we have today. Only, instead of moving a piece around the board and drawing a card, the place you landed told you what you got to do to the prisoner and perhaps what you were to use in doing it. In Matthew 27, we see a few things they did (crown with thorns, strike him with a reed, etc.). But it is the word scourged (v. 26) that is the most troubling. This word reveals the action of the beating with the whip with multiple strands that had the bone and metal embedded.
If you have seen the movie The Passion of the Christ, it is this scene that is the most difficult for people to watch. He truly suffered. But the truth is – the movie cannot fully represent what happened to Jesus. I know I have told this before, but the story is worth repeating. During the filming of this scene, Jim Caviezal, the actor who portrayed Jesus, was actually hit with the whip a couple of times. Most of the lashes hit a post which was behind him, but a couple of blows did land directly – and it hurt! And yet, we can assume the director yelled, “Cut,” and the action stopped. For Jesus it did not stop. The suffering would only intensify. And He went through it for us.
The people who cried out for Jesus to be crucified made a strange statement on that day. As Pilate sought to distance himself from the situation, the Jews cried out, “His blood be on us and on our children!” (Matthew 27.25).
Ironically, Jesus’ suffering under Pilate was done in preparation of the greater punishment of the crucifixion, by which the blood of Jesus was poured out to cover us. But sadly, if we treat His suffering, His death, and His blood with disdain as the people in this chapter of the Bible do, our sin is not covered. His blood is meant to cover us, but it only does so if we believe.
Jesus Was Willing to Suffer For Our Sake. Are We Willing to Sacrifice Our Desires For His?
The story of Jesus’ suffering includes others. It includes the suffering of Pilate’s wife, as I mentioned above, but it also includes Barabbas. Barabbas was an insurrectionist and was in jail awaiting a likely execution, but Pilate honored a tradition to release one prisoner – leaving the choice to the people. Did they want Barabbas? Or did they want Jesus?
When Pilate sent for Barabbas, we can only guess what he was thinking. But my guess is that he was probably thinking it was time for his death. But that was not the case because Jesus was there to take the suffering of Barabbas too.
Jesus experienced suffering on many levels that day. He was tortured physically. He was bearing the burden of our sins spiritually. And Jesus suffered emotionally having been betrayed and abandoned in the Garden.
But Jesus came knowing He would suffer and die. And He invites us to do the same. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said, “When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.” (1)
The following is a selection of verses that capture this idea well.
Romans 12.1: I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.
Galatians 2.20: I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
Philippians 3.8-11: 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
2 Timothy 3.12: Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,…
Or in the words of Jesus as recorded in Luke 9.23-24: 24 And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.”
But notice that Jesus said that such suffering will bring God’s blessing.
Matthew 5.10: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
We are not to seek the suffering, but we are to be prepared for it. Again, Paul says, if we are living for Jesus, we will be persecuted! And Jesus said, we will be blessed because of it.
Jesus suffered. We must be ready to suffer as well. But if we do, we are to do so for standing for the truth – a truth that is represented by the words of the Apostles’ Creed.
I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
Maker of heaven and earth,
And in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord;
Who was conceived of the Holy Spirit,
Born of the Virgin Mary,
Suffered under Pontius Pilate,…
We talk about suffering through another election season. And maybe it is a form of suffering. But Jesus suffered. He suffered because of a political system. But He suffered because of sin.
Many walk away from faith because God allows suffering. But God does not simply allow us to go through it…He willingly endured it Himself. That is love. And because of that love, He has made a way for us as well, but that way will include suffering. But remember, no politician, no friends, no coworker, or anyone else can truly hurt you. They may hurt the body, but Jesus said, we are not to fear those who can kill the body because they cannot kill the soul (see Matthew 10.28).
Our JOURNEY letter for today is once again J – JESUS.
We have heard what Jesus did. And we have heard that we are called to do the same. But one key is what makes it possible. The key to understanding suffering relates to the timeframe. We may suffer in the short term, but something better awaits (c.f. 2 Corinthians 4.16-18). Yes, Jesus suffered under Pontius Pilate, but we must remember what Jesus told Pilate first, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18.36).
NEXT STEP(S): LIVE. Last week, I said our step was to LEARN. As we take time to LEARN that God truly has a plan, we can confidence in He is still working at the right time, in the right way, using the right person, for the right reason. And that is true, even when the result is suffering – as long as the suffering is for His sake.
(1) – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, 99.