Love Pays the Price

Chapter 32

Under the Roman rule, the Sanhedrin could not enforce the death penalty. Though they could examine a prisoner and pass judgment, for their judgment to be effective, it had to be confirmed by the Roman authorities. It was necessary, therefore, to bring charges against Christ that the Romans would regard as criminal.

False witnesses had been bribed to accuse Jesus of inciting rebellion and seeking to establish a separate government. Their testimony, however, proved to be unclear and inconsistent. Under examination, they contradicted their own statements.

Jesus listened patiently to the conflicting testimonies without speaking a word in His own defense. At last His accusers were entangled, confused, and maddened. The trial was making no headway, and it appeared that their well-laid plans were doomed to fail. At last, Caiaphas, the high priest and presiding officer, raised his right hand toward heaven. Addressing Jesus in the form of a solemn oath, he said, "I adjure Thee by the living God, that Thou tell us whether Thou be the Christ, the Son of God."

There is a time to be silent and a time to speak. Up to this point, Christ had not been directly spoken to and He had said nothing. Now He was not only being directly addressed, but the appeal came to Him by the highest acknowledged authority of the nation and in the name of the Most High. Christ would not fail to show proper respect for the law. More than this, His own relation to His Father,"as being called in question. Earlier, Jesus had said to His disciples, "Whosoever therefore shall confess Me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven." Matthew 10:32. Now, by His own example, He must repeat the lesson and plainly declare His character and mission.

Every ear bent to listen, and every eye was fixed on His face as they awaited His reply.

Jesus solemnly answered, "Thou hast said." He then added, "Nevertheless I say unto you, Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven."

For a moment the high priest was startled. The thought that there was to be a future resurrection and a judgment at which he would have to answer for his actions filled his heart with terror. He did not wish to believe that the time would come when he would have to answer for his works. Quickly he dismissed the thought. Then, tearing his robe, that the people might see his pretended horror, Caiaphas demanded that without further investigation the prisoner be condemned for blasphemy. "He hath spoken blasphemy; what further need have we of witnesses? Behold, now ye have heard His blasphemy. What think ye? They answered and said, He is guilty of death."

After condemning Jesus, the council of the Sanhedrin took Him to Pilate to have the sentence confirmed and carried out. The priests hoped that Pilate would now impose the death penalty on Jesus without giving Him a hearing. They therefore approached him asking that he grant them this favor in regard for their great national festival

Pilate was not a just man or a principled judge; but weak though he was in moral strength, he refused to grant this request until a charge had been brought against Jesus, This unexpected turn of events left the Jewish council in desperate straits. In their extremity, they called false witnesses to their aid "and they began to accuse Him, saying, We found this Fellow perverting the nation, and forbidding to give tribute to Caesar, saying that He Himself is Christ a King." The priests knew these charges were not true, but they were willing to promote a lie if it would help them to gain their end.

Pilate saw through their purpose. He did not believe that the prisoner had plotted against the government. As he looked at the meek and humble appearance of the Prisoner before him, Pilate was convinced that a deep plot had been laid to destroy an innocent man. He questioned Jesus, "Art thou the King of the Jews?" Jesus replied, "Thou sayest it."

When they heard His answer, Caiaphas and those who were with him pointed out to Pilate that Jesus had admitted to the crime with which He was charged. With noisy cries, priests, scribes, and rulers demanded that He be sentenced to death. The cries were taken up by the mob, and the uproar was deafening. Pilate was confused. Seeing that Jesus made no answer to His accusers, Pilate said to Him, "Hearest Thou not how many things they witness against Thee?" But Jesus made no reply.

Pilate was amazed at Jesus' attitude. Does this man disregard what is taking place because He does not care to save His life? he asked himself. Hoping to learn the truth from Him and to escape the uproar of the crowd, Pilate took Jesus aside with him and again questioned, "Art Thou the King of the Jews?"

Jesus did not directly answer this question. He knew that the Holy Spirit was speaking to Pilate's conscience, and He gave him opportunity to admit to the conviction that he was struggling with. "Sayest thou this thing of thyself, He asked, or did others tell it thee of Me?" In other words, are you asking Me this because of the accusations of the priests, or do you have a sincere desire to know the truth about Me? Pilate understood Christ's meaning, but pride arose in his heart. He would not acknowledge the conviction that pressed upon him. "Am I a Jew?" he asked. "Thine own nation and the chief priests have delivered Thee unto me: what hast Thou done?"

Jesus replied, "My kingdom is not of this world: if My kingdom were of this world, then would My servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is My kingdom not from hence. Pilate therefore said unto Him, Art Thou a king then? Jesus answered, Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and or this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto truth. Everyone that is of the truth heareth My voice."

Though Pilate lacked a clear understanding of the situation, he had a desire to know the truth. Eagerly grasping the Saviour's words, he asked, "What is truth?" Before he had received answer, however, the increasing commotion outside redirected his attention to the interests of the hour. Going out to the Jews, he declared emphatically, "I find in Him no fault at all."

The clamoring crowd was unrelenting in their determination to have their way in the matter. Weakening in his position, Pilate ordered Jesus to be beaten.

Again Jesus was returned to the judgment hall. Approaching Him, Pilate asked, "Whence art thou?" Earlier, Jesus had spoken freely to Pilate. Since then, in yielding his principles and authority to the demands of the mob, Pilate had abused the high office of judge and Jesus had no further light for him. Angered at Jesus' silence, Pilate said haughtily: "Speakest thou not unto me? Knowest thou not that I have power to crucify Thee, and have power to release Thee?

"Jesus answered, Thou couldest have no power at all against Me, except it were given thee from above: therefore he that delivered Me unto thee hath the greater sin."

Again Pilate proposed to release the Saviour; but the cry was taken up by the crowd, "If thou let this Man go, thou art not Caesar's friend: whosoever maketh himself a king speaketh against Caesar." Of all the opponents of the Roman rule, the Jews were most bitter; but to accomplish the destruction of Christ, they would profess loyalty to the foreign rule which they hated. They would leave nothing undone to accomplish their purpose.

By choosing a heathen ruler, the Jewish nation had fully rejected God as their king. From this time on, they had no king but Caesar. To this the priests and teachers had led the people. For this, with the fearful results that followed, they were responsible. For a nation's sin and for the ruin that resulted, the religious leaders were responsible.

Pilate longed to free Jesus. He saw, however, that he could not do this without danger to his own position and honor. Rather than lose his worldly power, he chose to sacrifice an innocent life; and in the end, he turned Jesus over to be crucified. How many, to escape loss or suffering, are in like manner willing to sacrifice principle. Conscience and duty point one way, but self-interest points another. The current flows strongly in the wrong direction, and the one who compromises with evil is swept away into the thick darkness of guilt.

As soon as Jesus was nailed to the cross, it was lifted by strong men and forcefully thrust into the place prepared for it, causing intense suffering to the Son of God. Pilate then wrote a message in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, which was now placed above the head of Jesus. It read, "Jesus of Nazareth the King of the Jews." The wording of this message irritated the Jews. In Pilate's court they had cried, "Crucify Him." "We have no king but Caesar." They had declared that whoever should acknowledge any other king was a traitor, and Pilate had written out the sentiment exactly as they had expressed it. No offense was mentioned except that Jesus was the King of the Jews. The inscription was a virtual acknowledgment of the loyalty of the Jews to the Roman power. In declaring that anyone who might claim to be king of Israel was worthy of death, the priests had overreached themselves. Now their hypocrisy was revealed. In order to destroy Christ, they had been ready to sacrifice even their national existence.

The priests saw what they had done and asked Pilate to change the writing to read, "He said, I am King of the Jews." Pilate thoroughly despised the jealous and scheming priests and rulers. Already angry with himself because of his former weakness, he coldly replied, "What I have written, I have written."

A higher power than Pilate or the Jews had directed the placing of that title above the head of Jesus. In the providence of God, it was to awaken thought and investigation of the Scriptures. The place of Christ's crucifixion was near to the city. Thousands of people from all lands were then at Jerusalem, and the inscription declaring Jesus of Nazareth the Messiah would come to their notice. It was a living truth, written by a hand that God had guided.

To Jesus in His agony on the cross, the prayer of the repentant thief came as one gleam of comfort. Hope mingled with anguish in his voice as he cast himself upon a dying Saviour. "Lord, remember me," he cried, "when Thou comest into Thy kingdom."

Quickly the answer came. In a voice full of love and compassion, Jesus replied: "Verily I say unto thee today, shalt thou be with Me in paradise."

For long hours of agony, Jesus had listened to abuse and mockery. He longed to hear some expression of faith from His disciples but heard only the mournful words, "We trusted that it had been He which should have redeemed Israel." How meaningful to Him was the expression of faith and love from the dying thief! While the leading Jews deny Him and even the disciples doubt His divinity, the dying thief calls Jesus Lord. Many were ready to call Him Lord when He was working miracles and after He had risen from the grave, but none acknowledged Him as He hung dying upon the cross save the repentant thief who was saved at the close of his life.

Bystanders heard the words as the thief called Jesus, Lord. The tone of his grief-stricken voice caught their attention. With eager silence they waited for Christ's response.

As He spoke the words of promise, a bright and living light broke through the dark cloud that seemed to surround the cross. To the dying thief came the perfect peace of acceptance with God. Christ in His humiliation was glorified. He, who in all other eyes appeared to be conquered, was a Conqueror. He was acknowledged as the Sin Bearer. Men may destroy His human body, they may place a crown of thorns on His head and strip Him of His clothes, but they cannot take away from Him His power to forgive sins. In dying, He bore testimony to His own divinity and to the glory of the Father. It is His royal right to save unto the uttermost all who come unto God by Him.

Christ did not promise that the thief should be with Him in Paradise that day. He Himself did not go that day to Paradise but slept in the tomb. On the morning of the resurrection He said, "I ascend unto My Father." But on the day of the crucifixion, the day of apparent defeat and darkness, the promise was given. "Today," while dying upon the cross as a criminal, Christ assures the poor sinner, "you will be with Me in Paradise."

At the ninth hour, the darkness lifted from the people but remained around the Saviour. It was a symbol of the agony and horror that weighed upon His heart. The angry flashes of lightning seemed to be directed at Him as He hung upon the cross. Then, "Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?"

In silence, those who gathered around the cross watched for the end to come. Suddenly the darkness lifted from the cross; and in clear, trumpet-like tones that seemed to resound throughout creation, Jesus cried, "It is finished." "Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit." A light encircled the cross, and the face of Jesus shone with a glory like the sun. He then bowed His head and died.

In the darkness, and apparently forsaken of God, Christ had paid the full price of man's redemption. During those dark hours, He had relied for strength and comfort upon the earlier evidence of His Father's acceptance. He well knew the character of His Father; He understood His justice, His mercy, and His great love. By faith He was victor. Satan was defeated and knew that his kingdom was lost.

When Satan first sinned in heaven and was cast out, not even holy beings fully understood what would be the result of the outworking of the principles he was trying to introduce. He had so covered himself with deception that they could not see the end to which rebellion against God's rule would lead. When, however, Christ died on the cross, Satan saw his disguise torn away and the principles of his government laid open before the unfallen heavenly universe. By shedding the blood of the Son of God, he had revealed himself as a murderer. The last link of sympathy between Satan and the heavenly world was broken.

In the opening of the great controversy, Satan had declared that the law of God could not be obeyed. He argued that justice was inconsistent with mercy and that, should the law be broken, it would be impossible for the sinner to be pardoned. Every sin must meet its punishment, urged Satan; and if God should overlook the punishment of sin, He would not be a God of truth and justice. When men broke the law of God and defied His will, Satan believed that he had won. It had now been proven, he declared, that the law could not be obeyed; man could not be forgiven. Because he, after his rebellion, had been banished from heaven, Satan claimed that the human race must be forever shut out from God's favor. God could not be just, he urged, and yet show mercy to the sinner.

But even as a sinner, man's condition was not the same as that of Satan. Lucifer in heaven had sinned in the light of God's glory. To him as to no other created being had been given a knowledge of God's love. Yet, understanding the character of God and knowing His goodness, Satan chose to follow his own selfish, independent will. This made his choice final. There was no more that God could do to save him. Man, however, did not fully understand the greatness of Divine love, and for him there was hope. By seeing God's character in a revelation of His love, he might be drawn back to loyalty to Him.

Satan now brought forward another lie. He declared that mercy destroyed justice, that the death of Christ had done away with the Father's law. Had it been possible for the law to be changed or done away with, then Christ need not have died. To repeal the law would be to give approval to sin and place the world under Satan's control. It was because the law was changeless, because man could be saved only through obedience, that Jesus went to the cross. Ironically, the very means by which Christ confirmed the permanent and unchangeable nature of the law, Satan represented as destroying it. It will be over this issue that the final struggle will take place in the great controversy between Christ and Satan.

Many wonder at the blindness of the Jews in rejecting Christ. They feel certain that had they lived in His day, they would gladly have accepted Him and would have had no part in His rejection and death. When, however, obedience to God requires self-denial and sacrifice, these same professed followers of Jesus stifle their convictions and refuse to obey.

The people of every age will be judged by the light of truth that was shining in their day. Those living today have been favored with great light and opportunities. How much greater is the responsibility that rests upon those living in the closing hours of earth's history than that of the people of any period before. A failure to follow the light of present truth will result in a darkness as much greater as is the greater light that we have failed to accept.

This chapter is based on Matthew 26–27; Luke 23–24; John 19