A few years ago I was bumped into the First Class cabin of a major airline. I was surprised at how nice it really was to be that close to the front of the plane. I was most surprised that as the pilot made his approach to DFW, the co-pilot (I guess) started calling out the altitude levels. Little by little…as the plane descended…the voice in the cockpit was speaking clearly: 1000…900…800…700 and on and on until we reached 100 feet above the runway. Then he called out the altitude by 10’s. 100…90…80…70…. I thought then…this is way too much information.
Something like this audible descent goes on in my heart when I read the Passion story of Jesus and His Cross. The closer I get to the Cross, the more information I have about the journey and the less I like it.
As we descend to the cross, we find out some terrible things…things that are difficult for us to imagine; that bring us to shame.
If we start at a high altitude, and consider the entirety of the crucifixion story we find out first that the government was corrupt. The Roman Rule was vast, efficient, totally pervasive, and terribly powerful. But Pilate had no ethics. He determined to hand Jesus over to the will of the people, not to the law of the land. There were illegal things that were done in this corrupt government that no one seemed to care about. It didn’t matter. They turned against an innocent man.
As we descend lower we find out that the religious system was also corrupt. The groups of people known as Pharisees, Sadducees, Teachers, Elders, and the Scribes had an elaborate system of religious justice. Even still they broke their own rules of evidence to condemn Jesus; they manufactured a case against him. They put up false witnesses. Jesus was right when he called them whitewashed tombs; they were full of dead-men’s bones. And they turned against an innocent man.
And of the crowd, what can we say? Were they the fickle ones that cheered Jesus on that Sunday morning only to call for his crucifixion by Friday? There seems to be renewed debate on this subject. What we know is that the crowd that listened to Jesus in the temple and loved him for his teaching was absent at the foot of the Cross. They turned against an innocent man.
Among his best of friends, one betrayed him. The others slept through his bloody, desperate prayer. They were jockeying for their roles and positions; ultimately they all fled. What kind of faithful group of brothers is this? They turned against an innocent man.
Even in his closest circle of friends. Peter. The blustery and impulsive leader of the disciples betrayed him; denied him. He turned against an innocent man.
And then finally, when Jesus was on the cross, it felt to him that even God turned against him. The abject despair of Jesus praying Psalm 22 is enough to make one weep. We would never say that God turned against an innocent man. But what we can say is that an innocent man was carrying the sin of the world and it left alone on the cross to die.
We have landed now; the pilot has stopped counting our descent. We have hit bottom. We are now at the heart of the cross. We are at the center of the world; the crux of all things. We have descended from the heights of human potential: Elaborate government, serious religion, the adulation of a crowd, and even friendship can fail. And they all experienced catastrophic failure.
And we wait now for God to act next. When every thing and everyone else fails…God shows his faithfulness once again. He will raise his Son from the grave. He will place him high over all things: governments, religious institutions, crowds, friends, and even me. This innocent man will be vindicated and live forever as Judge and King.