Who Was on the Cross
In 1950, Japanese Film Director Akira
Kurosawa produced a movie that through the years has appeared on any number of
lists of great movies.  Maybe you are familiar
with it, the name of the movie is Rashomon,
and the premise of the movie has been used in movies, novels and television
shows in the sixty years since it first opened.
The movie opens with a
woodcutter and a priest sitting under a city gate waiting for a rainstorm to
pass by.  When another man joins them,
the priest and woodcutter tell the newcomer a disturbing story. 
It seems that three
days earlier the woodcutter had come across the body of a murdered samurai, the
priest adds that he had seen the samurai and his wife the same day the murder
happened.  The priest and woodcutter were
later called to testify in court where they met the bandit who had been
captured and charged with the murder of the samurai and the rape of his wife.
The rest of the movie
tells and retells the story from four different perspectives.  The court hears the testimony of the bandit,
the samurai’s wife, the samurai’s ghost and finally the woodcutter who had not
only discovered the body but had witnessed the crimes. 
Each of the stories
are mutually contradictory and even the final version is motivated by ego and
the concept of saving or losing face.  Was the samurai killed by the bandit? Or was
he killed by his wife?  Or did he kill
himself in order to save face? Each version contradicts the others and yet each
of the witnesses feels that their version is the truth.  Sound familiar? 
One theory is that the
movie was, with its differing and conflicting views of truth, simply an
allegory of the defeat of Japan at the end of World War II.  Or maybe it was just a movie.  In case you are looking for something to
watch it has been included in the list “1001 Movies You Must See Before You
Die”  I checked the list, I only have 994
left to watch.
And maybe you are
sitting there confused wondering: what in the world does a Japanese movie from
1950 have to do with Good Friday?  I’m
glad you asked.
You see if we were
able to interview those who were present at the crucifixion of Christ and ask
them the question “Who is the man on the cross?” we would discover that the
Rashomon effect, as it’s often called predates the movie by almost 2000 years.
So The Religious Leader’s Perspective was
simply that they had done what had to be done for the benefit of the
majority.  They would say that the one
who had been crucified was where he needed to be.  In their eyes, Jesus was rocking the boat, or
upsetting the apple cart.  Call it what
you will but who did Jesus think he was to be teaching the things he
For a thousand years the
religious leaders of Israel saw themselves as the gatekeepers to God.  They interpreted the scriptures, they interceded
for people, they enforced the rules, they called the shots.  And along came this young upstart from
Galilee with all his talk of loving God and loving others.
First there was John,
preaching repentance and baptism, people were flocking to him in droves, but he
was constantly telling people he wasn’t the Messiah, so he really didn’t pose
much of a threat to the establishment. 
And if there was a threat there, well Herod dealt with that when he had
John beheaded. 
But Jesus, Jesus was a
different story, he called himself the Son of God, he offered people
forgiveness for their sins and he challenged the authority of the religious
And now there was talk
about his being proclaimed King by his followers who saw him as their Messiah,
and the religious leaders didn’t think that would be seen as a positive development
by the Romans.
So, it was the
religious leaders who arranged for the arrest of Jesus, and it was the
religious leaders who falsely charged Jesus with heresy and treason and it was
the religious leaders that demanded that Pilate crucify Jesus.
When the religious
leaders looked at the man on the cross they might say they saw a heretic and
blasphemer.  But the reality was that
Jesus was killed because he annoyed the religious establishment and when they
looked at the cross they saw a solution to their problem hanging there.
But the religious
leaders didn’t have the authority to have Jesus crucified, that power belonged
to the empire and the face of the empire in Israel was Pontius Pilate.  Which is why we read in John 18:29-31  So Pilate, the
governor, went out to them and asked, “What is your charge against this
man?”  “We wouldn’t have handed him over
to you if he weren’t a criminal!” they retorted.  “Then take him away and judge him by your own
law,” Pilate told them. “Only the Romans are permitted to execute someone,” the
Jewish leaders replied. 
And I’m sure that if
you asked for Pilate’s Perspective  on Jesus he was have said “Who?”   For Pilate it was just another day at the
office, he was just doing what had to be done, and he really didn’t care who
the man was on the cross.  Oh, he may
have asked, but he really didn’t care. 
When Jesus was first
brought to Pilate, it seemed fairly evident that the charges were trumped up
especially the charge of treason. 
Seriously, this was the man who taught people to “Give to Caesar what is
Caesar’s”, that didn’t sound very treasonous. 
It seemed that Jesus
might have been innocent of the charges against him and Pilate was looking for
an out, but he didn’t look that hard. 
First he sent Jesus to Herod, just passing the buck, and when that
didn’t work we pick up the story in  Matthew
 Pilate saw that he wasn’t getting anywhere and that a riot
was developing. So he sent for a bowl of water and washed his hands before the
crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood. The responsibility is
yours!”  And all the people yelled back, “We will take responsibility for
his death—we and our children!”  So Pilate released Barabbas to them. He
ordered Jesus flogged with a lead-tipped whip, then turned him over to the
Roman soldiers to be crucified.
So in the end, Pilate just
washed his hands of the whole affair and walked away, after all he had enough
problems in Palestine without further alienating the religious establishment.
As little as Pilate
had invested in what happened to Jesus Judas Iscariot had his entire future
invested in the Carpenter.    If we could
see what happened that day from Judas’
we would see a day that
was a supreme disappointment. 
For three years Judas
had invested his life in Jesus’ ministry. 
He had become one of the twelve and eventually became the keeper of the
purse, the treasurer of the group.
But Judas saw Jesus as
the messiah, the one who would overthrow the Romans and re-establish Israel to
her rightful spot.
When Judas had watched
the crowd embrace Jesus the week previous and shout his praises as he rode into
Jerusalem on a donkey, Judas knew that he had backed the right horse, so to
speak.  But then Jesus started talking
about how his kingdom wasn’t of this earth and Judas knew that he was going to
have to force Jesus’ hand.
There have been all
kinds of theories about why Judas was willing to betray his friend for 30
pieces of silver, but we will never know, this side of eternity, all that went
through Juda’s mind, but I don’t think Judas actually intended the day to end with
Jesus hanging on the cross.
Judas envisioned Jesus
calling on his Father and thousands of Angels sweeping down from heaven to set
things straight, and that didn’t happen.
And when Judas saw
what happening to his friend and teacher we pick up the story in Matthew 27:3-4  When Judas, who had
betrayed him, realized that Jesus had been condemned to die, he was filled with
remorse. So he took the thirty pieces of silver back to the leading priests and
the elders.  “I have sinned,” he declared, “for I have betrayed an
innocent man.”
And while Judas may
have been filled with remorse over what had happened to Jesus, the most tears
shed on Good Friday were shed by Mary the Mother of Jesus. 
From Mary’s Perspective the man on the cross
was the child that she had once carried. 
She was hardly more
than a girl when the angel told her that she would carry God’s son.  From the day that Gabriel had interrupted her
life with the news of her pregnancy she knew that her son was special.  She had told the angel that there was no way
she could be pregnant, that she had “never been with a man”.  That was the phrase she used, she was a
virgin and she knew it, but the angel told her that her son’s father would be
God himself. 
And immediately she
was pregnant.  And she watched her son
grow up and she had always wondered where God’s plan would lead God’s Son.  But this wasn’t what she imagined. 
At each point in the
drama, like Judas,  Mary kept waiting for
God to interrupt what was happening and he didn’t. 
God didn’t interrupt
the arrest, God didn’t interrupt the farce of a trial and God didn’t interrupt
when they beat her son and pushed the crown of thorns unto his head. 
And then when Pilate
ordered Jesus to be beat with a whip Mary had to hide her face but she could
still hear as the lash stripped the skin from the back of her first born.
And now we read in John 19:25  Standing near the cross
were Jesus’ mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary (the wife of Clopas), and
Mary Magdalene.  This wasn’t where she
wanted to be, but how could she be anywhere else?  She was his mother, he was her son.
And when her son
called out to his father, “My God, My God why have you forsaken me?”  Mary asked the same question.  How, how, how could any father, let alone a
Heavenly Father allow them to do that to His Son. 
And now heartbroken
she wept at the foot of the cross as she watched her son die the death of a
common criminal. 
And if that was “it”
then Jesus had lived and died in vain. 
But there is someone
we haven’t heard from.  Jesus wasn’t
crucified alone, he was one of three.  We
are told in Luke 23:32-33  Two others, both criminals, were led out to be executed with
him.  When they came to a place called The Skull, they nailed him to the
cross. And the criminals were also crucified—one on his right and one on his
There was nobody closer
to Jesus that day than the two criminals he was crucified with. 
And it was only from
the other cross that we can see Jesus from Dismas’
The scriptures don’t
give the criminal a name but tradition does, and that is Dismas. 
And to Dismas the man
hanging on the cross next to him wasn’t a heretic, he wasn’t a criminal, he wasn’t
a deluded prophet, no he was much more than that. 
As Jesus hung dying on
the cross, with Peter cowering, Judas confessing, and his mother crying those
on the ground and even one of the thieves mocked the one who had claimed to be
God’s son. 
If we pick up the
story in Luke 23:35-39  The crowd watched and the leaders scoffed.
“He saved others,” they said, “let him save himself if he is really God’s
Messiah, the Chosen One.”  The soldiers mocked him, too, by offering him a
drink of sour wine.  They called out to him, “If you are the King of the
Jews, save yourself!”  A sign was fastened to the cross above him with
these words: “This is the King of the Jews.”  One of the criminals hanging
beside him scoffed, “So you’re the Messiah, are you? Prove it by saving
yourself—and us, too, while you’re at it!”
Just week before a crowd gathered to
welcome Jesus into Jerusalem, they called him king and honoured him by laying
their coats on the ground for him as a carpet. 
They called Jesus a King that day, worshipped him as their Messiah.  But that was then and this was now.
There is nothing other than poetic licence
to make us think that the same crowd that sang his praises a short week before
was the same crowd that mocked Jesus as he hung on the cross.
But at his greatest point of need, there
was no one there for Jesus.  In Jesus
mind even God, his father had forsaken him. 
Until one voice cried out in his defence and it wasn’t one we would
expect to hear. 
 Luke 23:40-42  But the other criminal protested, “Don’t
you fear God even when you have been sentenced to die?  We deserve to die
for our crimes, but this man hasn’t done anything wrong.”  Then he said,
“Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.”  
From Dismas’ perspective, Jesus was his
only hope.  Jesus was his salvation, and
in that is the scandal of Grace.  That
this man who lived and now was going to die a criminal understood that there
was nothing he could do to make himself right with God, except ask to be made
right with God. 
And listen to Jesus’ response.  Luke 23:43 And Jesus
replied, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
Dismas may have lived the life of a
criminal but he died a Christ Follower. 
But ultimately it doesn’t matter how Jesus
was seen by those surrounding the cross.  
What ultimately needs to be answered is how Jesus will be seen by you.
As the stone rolls shut across the tomb of
Jesus, the question has to be asked by each of us, “Who do I say Jesus is?”