Five days ago, I worshiped the man. Five days ago he was our greatest hope. He was our certainty, the guarantee of our deliverance from Roman oppression and our future as an independent nation. Five days ago we all celebrated the undeniable evidence that He was the Messiah of prophecy, our God-sent Deliverer.
Five days ago I trusted him.
Growing up among us, he was just like anybody else. We played ball with him in vacant lots. We attended synagogue together. We knew his family. He was one of us–nobody special. Like his father Joseph, he made our tables and chairs.
By the time we became men, one of his cousins was stirring up attention at Jordan River. Lots of people were going and getting baptized by him and apparently Jesus, our former playmate, lined up with the rest of them. This cousin John, son of Zecariah, picked him out and called him “the lamb of God.”
When we heard about it, we didn’t understand what that meant. God’s lamb. It sounded like an endearment, like something his mother would call him, but he wasn’t a child anymore. A lamb? Who would want to be a lamb? A lion, maybe. A fierce lion like the one our Scriptures say will come someday–the lion of Judah! But a scrawny, wimpy lamb? The only lambs we know are the ones out in our fields. A lot of them end up slaughtered for the sins of the people at the Temple in Jerusalem. I can’t think how that would apply to a man.
It wasn’t until Jesus did that hocus-pocus with the wine at that wedding in Cana–well, some of those serving at the reception said he did something to it–that we first wondered if there was something different about him.
Then we started hearing rumors that he was healing people. I had a friend who had a friend whose brother had a mis-shapen leg and a club foot and he said Jesus healed him but I never saw it before it was healed, so I don’t know. But then my own aunt had a scary high fever and I was there when he touched her forehead and told the fever to leave. She acted perfectly normal after that, got up and fixed us a meal, just like she always did with company.
We didn’t know what to think about these tricks but they were great fun to watch. He awed everyone. Every moment we could get away from works and chores, we’d find out where he was–after awhile all we had to do was follow the crowds–and hang out around him. He was full of surprises and we never got tired of watching him.
Sometimes it was uneven legs or leprosy–he even touched lepers!–and we could see the difference afterward. Sometimes it was a disease we couldn’t see–a kidney problem or gout, and the one he touched or spoke to would start jumping around with excitement and we just had to take their word for it that the person had been ill. Those with demons, sometimes with dramatic symptoms, like jerking, foaming at the mouth, lunging out, falling down, made us all hop out of the way. He didn’t touch the demonized. He addressed the demons and ordered them to leave–and they must have, because the people were normal after that–only really grateful, of course.
Once there was a huge commotion at an intersection where the crowd following Jesus (that was our former classmate’s name) ran up against a crowd following a coffin on a cart. I was way in the back and people ahead of me stopped and everything got backed up. Then I heard an uproar, shouts and cries of–I couldn’t tell if it was grief or joy–anyway, by the time I worked my way up to where Jesus was, this woman dressed in black, her face all swollen and red as if she had been crying, was hugging everybody–a boy sitting on the cart and then Jesus and then the boy again and she was telling them she loved them, first one, then the other. She was screeching, “You brought him back! Everyone, look! My son was dead and He brought him back! Thank God! I love you!” Some of the people by the coffin were shouting “Praise God! He’s a prophet! God has visited His people!” and some of the people with Jesus were weeping and laughing with delight and strangers were dancing with each other in the dusty street.
But, drawing back and pulling their robes around themselves there were religious leaders murmuring to each other: “This man can’t be of God. He’s working on the Day of Rest–and he touched a dead body! This is getting out of control. We’ll have to stop him.”
I’ll tell you, this man Jesus was the best show we’d ever seen. Once or twice I even thought of pretending I had a stomachache or something and asking him to heal me. I wanted to be part of this excitement, to cause a sensation. Or maybe I wanted to have something to rejoice about, too. But somehow I knew these weren’t magic tricks. I knew he could see right into me and he would know I was faking. What he was doing was real. People I knew that had been sick or discouraged or holding a grudge were suddenly free and whole–and they stayed that way.
I became a follower, an admirer, a believer. So many of us did. The common people loved him. I committed myself to all that he stood for. He had us mesmerized by the depth of his searching gaze, the tenderness of his touch, the audacity of His teaching!
Those eyes–those mesmerizing eyes. He would look at an adulteress with eyes that cared about and forgave her. Then we would turn them on us with flickers of annoyance and disappointment and scold us for the hardness of our hearts: How long must I put up with you! You just want to be entertained! You saw me multiply food when you were hungry and you’re just following me for to see it happen again!
That pulled us up short and we would realize he was right. But we couldn’t stay away from him. We were drunk on him!
And how we loved it when those eyes smouldered as he turned on our haughty leaders, the council members, the judges! At first of course we were shocked and appalled when he criticized them openly in front of all of us. But then it got to be great sport for us. Those beards-and-tassels sputtered so and got so high-and-mighty trying to defend themselves and threatening him for telling the truth about them! You could see in their eyes resentment and the desire for revenge!
He could turn from cutting them down to size and stoop and put an arm around a frightened child or gently move a strand of hair aside so he could look a shamed woman in the face and bless her with forgiveness.
We spent time near the Sea of Galilee now. We followed him everywhere, even running ahead to meet him when Peter and the others took him in their boats to other towns. When he was weary–we could see that in His eyes, too–He’d slip away to the hills before dawn. But we’d compare notes, telling each other where we had seen him last and we’d follow him there, crowd him, hound him. We couldn’t get enough of Him! Sometimes he would sigh, but he would never turn us down.
“Are you the One?” some of us would ask. “Are you the promised One? Are you going to deliver us from the Romans and restore our nation?” And we took every answer to be yes, even when he–didn’t–quite–make–it–that–clear. The blind see, the lame walk, he would say. Or, You said it yourself, or (when we were all in Jerusalem for one of the feasts) If this temple falls down, I’ll raise it in three days.
We went back and searched the Scriptures. The Messiah would be a descendant of King David, it said. Yes, both his parents were descendants of David. He would be born to a virgin. Well, his parents weren’t married when he was conceived and they said Jesus had been conceived by God but of course that was impossible. And he would have had to be born in Bethlehem–but we knew he was from our hometown, Nazareth. Yet the Scriptures also said he would be called a Nazarene. It was confusing.
Still, I became convinced he was the Promised One. Everything about him testified to this: his integrity, his goodness, his knowledge of the Scriptures–he could debate theology with scholars even as a child–his wisdom, his power, his love, his intuition into our minds and motives, not to mention his miraculous works, even calming the lake during a horrendous storm. My cousin Peter was there and he told me the wind and waves had instantly died down when He commanded them to.
One day a climactic event cinched it. The prophet Daniel had written 500 years ago that the Messiah would enter Jerusalem “7 weeks and 62 weeks” from the proclamation that “the city and its walls will be rebuilt.” Some of our historians determined the date King Artaxerxes I of Persia had issued the commandment to rebuild Jerusalem and its walls. They figured out that weeks stood for years, so the Messiah could be expected to enter Jerusalem, revealing himself as our King, exactly 173,880 days later.
And He did! On that very day, 10th of Nisan, 32 years after Jesus’ birth, he mounted a little donkey, just as Zechariah predicted He would, and rode into the city through the Eastern gate. That very day! We men were all in Jerusalem for Passover and the whole city turned out to welcome him! It was our biggest celebration ever! We were ecstatic. Our own neighbor, our friend, our homey, was the One we had been awaiting for generations. We had heard His voice, we had touched Him with our own hands!
What a thrill to be in that very generation, to be alive to witness and participate in the visitation of our Messiah, tearing off branches, tearing off our cloaks to throw on the path ahead of him for the little hooves to walk on as our Savior passed.
Then, last night, terrible things happened. Conflicting rumors were flying when we woke up. He had been arrested, captured by soldiers, he was in custody. He had been interrogated by the High Priest and found guilty of blasphemy, claiming to be the son of God who would sit at God’s right hand and come in clouds of heaven. He said he would destroy the Temple. Caiaphas had torn his robes and the whole Council of Elders had declared him guilty of inciting the people to rebellion and worthy of death.
He’d been turned over to the governor, who sent him to the Roman king, who sent him back to the governor, who washed his hands of him. He had admitted to misleading the nation, forbidding the paying of taxes to Caesar, declaring himself to be King instead.
We jumped off our mats, grabbed our dusty cloaks and raced out to the Praetorium. Here there was an uproar of another kind, not one of joy but a rising fury as those who had lauded him so recently realized they had been deceived. We were in time to hear many in the crowd call for the governor to release a prisoner as he did every Passover.
From his balcony, Governor Pilate called out, “Do you want me to release the King of the Jews?” I was shaken to hear voices in the crowd call, “No, release Barabbas!” Talk about an insurrectionist! Barabbas was notorious.
“Then what shall I do with Him whom you call King of the Jews?”
Around me I was stunned to hear someone call out “Crucify him!” One voice, then another. I wanted to shout out, “Wait! Isn’t he–? We don’t know–” But perhaps they did. I had come in at the end of the drama. Maybe they knew something I didn’t know. I waited, unable to speak in his defense and if I spoke, unable to be heard. What if they were right, that he was a blasphemer? A fraud.
The voices grew louder, with increasing conviction. “Crucify him!”
I don’t remember exactly how things happened after that. The hours blurred. We saw Jesus brought out bloodied and silent–and taken away again. There was a parade through the town, leading him out the city gate to the place where public deaths were done, lest they defile the city. I could not think. I was too numb to feel.
As hope died, higher expectations struggled to surface. He would defend himself. He would fight off his accusers, conquer them, prove them wrong! Any minute now he would show us all the Man we, his friends, knew He was!
But all we saw was a mere mortal, a weak and helpless excuse for a man. My muscles knotted, willing him to resist–but he let them stake him to a post, spread his arms and spike his hands. They lifted the wooden cross and I heard it thud into place. Disillusioned, grieving, I watched him writhe there, hour after hour, until I could not stand to look at him anymore. I was sick with disgust. Resentment rooted in my heart. I had been duped. Awed by cheap magic tricks, I had made an idiot of myself, cheering and dancing, loving and worshiping this imposter.
I turned away. At three o’clock, the height of the day, Jesus cried out, My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why indeed. What a painful way to be disabused of one’s own lunacy.
Then, It is finished. With that ironic cry, he died.
That’s it. It’s over.
I did not know I could be hurt so deeply. I hate the man. Good riddance. I trusted him. I will not trust again.
IT IS FINISHED? It is finished indeed.
Daniel 9:24-25; Zechariah 9:9; Nehemiah 2:2-9