It was the question on the minds and lips of many people’s lips that day. “Who is this man Jesus?”
He was the centre of attention and everybody had an opinion about who he claimed to be and who he really was.
And I would suspect that you could find yourself relating to at least one of the people who were there that day.
For three years Jesus had taught across Israel, from Jerusalem in the south, to Caesarea Philippi in the North. And during that time, he had been called, teacher, Rabbi, Lord, Messiah and fraud.
But none of that mattered now. Jesus had been arrested, hauled before the high priests and then shuttled off to Pilate the Roman Governor, who sent him to the puppet King Herod who sent him back to Pilate for sentencing.
And what people said about Jesus the day before didn’t really matter, all that mattered was what they were saying about him on this day, the day that we now call Good Friday.
It was political strategist Lee Atwater who famously said, “Perception is reality.” And for each person in the crowd that day Jesus was, exactly who they perceived him to be. No more and no less.
Most of you have probably seen the cartoon of the two people looking at number on the floor, one sees a six and the other sees a nine. They are both correct but that doesn’t mean the other person was wrong.
And we like to think that life is like that, but often it’s not.
Jim Taylor Ph.D., wrote in Psychology Today, “Perception is not reality, but, admittedly, perception can become a person’s reality (there is a difference) because perception has a potent influence on how we look at reality.”
Sometimes, someone is wrong. And it’s easy to think that everybody’s point of view is valid, until it disagrees with your point of view.
Or as Winston Churchill famously stated, “Some people’s idea of free speech is that they are free to say what they like, but if anyone says anything back, that is an outrage.”
Not everybody who had an opinion about who Jesus was on Good Friday could be correct. They may have answered the question, “Who was it that was nailed to the cross to die that day? “to their satisfaction, but that was only their perception, and not necessarily reality.
So if you were able to ask some of those who were present on Good Friday who they thought Jesus was, you would get a variety of responses.
Matthew 26:14–16 Then Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve disciples, went to the leading priests and asked, “How much will you pay me to betray Jesus to you?” And they gave him thirty pieces of silver. From that time on, Judas began looking for an opportunity to betray Jesus.
To Judas, Jesus was a disappointment Judas was the ultimate villain of the story. It’s true that the Priests had Jesus arrested, Herod had him mocked and Pilate had him crucified. But that was to be expected. They were the enemies of Jesus. But Judas was one of the twelve. He had spent the majority of the past three years with Jesus.
He had heard Jesus while he taught. He had seen him heal the sick and feed the hungry. He was there they day Peter declared that Jesus truly was the Messiah the Son of God.
It was only hours before that Jesus had knelt in front of Judas and washed his feet. And then in the Garden, Judas stepped out of the crowd of temple guards and kissed Jesus on the cheek. Why?
There have been many answers to that question, and we’ll probably never know for sure this side of eternity.
The one that I lean into is that Judas was expecting Jesus to be the Messiah everyone was looking for. The Messiah who would deliver Israel from the Roman oppressors. The Messiah who would make Israel the great nation it had once been.
And when it became apparent that wasn’t why Jesus came, Judas decided to force his hand. I think that Judas’ reasoning was that if Jesus was arrested, he would have to do something. That he would call down an army of angels and assume his position as King.
And when Jesus didn’t do that, he became a disappointment to Judas.
Have you ever experienced disappointment as a Christian?
Perhaps you were led to believe that being a believer would make you popular, or rich or maybe you thought being a Christian would provide you with the answers that you needed for life. And when it didn’t you were disappointed.
But Judas wasn’t the only one there that day.
John 11:47–48 Then the leading priests and Pharisees called the high council together. “What are we going to do?” they asked each other. “This man certainly performs many miraculous signs. If we allow him to go on like this, soon everyone will believe in him. Then the Roman army will come and destroy both our Temple and our nation.”
To the Priests, Jesus was a Danger
Part of the Roman strategy for keeping the people of Israel in line was to work in co-operation with the Jewish religious leaders of the day. The priests knew which side their bread was buttered on and they really weren’t interested in upsetting the apple cart. How was that for mixed metaphors?
They saw Jesus as a threat to their religious authority and the prestige that they were held in by the people, but they also saw Jesus as a political threat.
And to a certain degree they were trying to protect the people of Israel. They knew that if the Roman’s perceived Israel to be a threat, the wrath and the power of the Empire would be brought to bear.
The Roman Empire knew the reality of Karl Marx’s words, even if It would be another 1800 years before Marx would write, “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people”.
And for seventy years the Romans had allowed the Jews to practice their religion, as long as they behaved.
And the high priests saw Jesus as a danger to the continuing future of the nation of Israel. They knew if the Romans felt that Jesus might lead a popular rebellion, that all of Israel would suffer the consequences.
A threat that proved to be real 40 years later when the Roman General Titus, destroyed the city of Jerusalem following a Jewish revolt.
Perhaps you see Jesus as dangerous. You know that the day that you allow him access to your life that everything will change.
That when you say you’ll follow Jesus, that Jesus will ask you to do things that you don’t do. And Jesus might ask you to stop doing things you do do.
That Jesus might want you to change your lifestyle. Maybe that will mean putting a ring on somebody’s finger. Or maybe it will mean surrendering your habits, or maybe as we discussed through March, it will mean surrendering your treasures.
Let’s keep reading.
Matthew 26:69–70 Meanwhile, Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. A servant girl came over and said to him, “You were one of those with Jesus the Galilean.” But Peter denied it in front of everyone. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said.
To Peter, Jesus was an embarrassment We don’t know all the reasons that Peter denied knowing Jesus. It hadn’t been very long since Peter had brazenly told Jesus in Luke 22:33 Peter said, “Lord, I am ready to go to prison with you, and even to die with you.”
Some had suggested that Peter denied Christ out of fear, and if that was the case there was probably some validity in his reasoning. After all, he had watched Jesus being dragged off in the night and the most powerful people in Israel were clamoring for his death.
Peter had a family and a future to think of, he probably reasoned that a dead fisherman really wouldn’t benefit anyone.
But if it was just fear then he could have just disappeared like the majority of the apostles. Or he could have just hid himself in the crowd. That seems to be what John did.
But Peter got as close as he dared get. But when questioned, he just wasn’t ready to throw his lot in with Jesus.
Oh, when Jesus was winning, it was easy then to claim to be one of his followers. But now Jesus was losing, and nobody wants to be associated with losers. Well, except for Leaf fan.
Have you ever been embarrassed by Jesus? Or maybe more truthfully have you ever been embarrassed by Jesus’ followers? They said or did things that caused you to cringe, and you’re afraid that if people associate you with Jesus, they’ll associate you with some of the fringe that calls themselves by his name.
And that really is throwing the baby out with the bath water.
I would say that the vast majority of good that is being done around the world is being done by those who aren’t embarrassed to call themselves by his name.
And if you removed organizations like World Hope, World Vision, Compassion and Samaritans Purse globally and organizations like the Salvation Army, Souls Harbour and Parkers Street food bank locally the world would be a much darker and much more dangerous place.
Let’s keep going with the story, Luke 23:13–14 Then Pilate called together the leading priests and other religious leaders, along with the people, and he announced his verdict. “You brought this man to me, accusing him of leading a revolt. I have examined him thoroughly on this point in your presence and find him innocent.
To Pilate, Jesus was Innocent
Pilate may have viewed Jesus as naïve or perhaps as misguided, but he didn’t perceive him as a threat. He probably saw him as another way to control the population.
After all Jesus encouraged people to pay their taxes and to respect authority. He never called the people to rebel. To Pilate Jesus was innocent of the charges that had been laid against him and there was no good reason to have him executed.
In Pilate’s mind Jesus was good man, a good teacher, perhaps naïve, but certainly not dangerous. The problem was that I don’t think that Pilate took it much further than that.
He certainly didn’t see Jesus as God.
After all, if Pilate had of acknowledged that Jesus was indeed who he said He was, then he would have had to confronted what he was doing.
And maybe you are here today, and you don’t have anything against Jesus or his church. You kind of like what he teaches, and that fact that those who follow him do their best to make the world a better place.
But like Pilate, you just see Jesus as a good man and a good teacher, but you’ve never really accepted his claims to be God.
There is actually a term for this.
It’s called Christian atheism and it’s a form of Christianity that rejects the claim that Jesus was God and instead bases its beliefs and practices on Jesus’ life and teachings. They like when he said, “Do unto others.” But they can’t believe him when he said, “I Am, the way the truth and the life.”
And today you know that if you acknowledge that Jesus was indeed who he said he is, then you will have had to confront what he’s asking of you.
The other side of that coin is found in Mark 15:39 When the Roman officer who stood facing him saw how he had died, he exclaimed, “This man truly was the Son of God!”
To the Centurion, Jesus was Son of God
This wasn’t just any Roman officer, this was one of those who took part in Jesus’s execution, and when everything was said and done, he said that Jesus was truly the Son of God.
He didn’t see him simply as a good man, he knew that Jesus wasn’t just a good moral teacher or a prophet. The centurion knew that Jesus was the Son of God
The centurion may have simply felt that Jesus fit in with one of the Plethora of Gods that the Romans worshipped, placing him on equal footing with Jupitar, Diana, Mars and the others.
Or maybe it was an acknowledgment of Jesus divinity, but there is no indication that this revelation was life changing. You can believe that Jesus is God, but not surrender your life to him.
After all, we don’t see the centurion anywhere else in the gospel story. He may have been one of the Roman Soldiers spoken of in the book of Acts, but there is nothing that actually would confirm that.
And the centurion wouldn’t have been the first person to acknowledge Christ divinity, without it making a difference.
One of the first miracles recorded was when Jesus cast the demon out of the man at the Synagogue. We find it in Mark 1:23–24 Suddenly, a man in the synagogue who was possessed by an evil spirit cried out, “Why are you interfering with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”
The reality of that is spelled out by Jesus’ brother James in the letter he wrote to the early church, James 2:19 You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror.
I’m sure there are some here today who fit in that category. Maybe today that is your reality. Like the Centurion you have come to the realization that Jesus is God, but you haven’t taken the next step of making Jesus, your God.
Let’s continue with the story, Luke 23:39–44 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!” 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.” And Jesus replied, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.” By this time it was about noon, and darkness fell across the whole land until three o’clock.
To the Thief, Jesus was his Saviour.
We don’t know much about the thief who hung with Christ on that day. We don’t know what he had done to deserve to be executed in this manner, we don’t know his religious background or his family history.
His plea to Jesus is only recorded in Luke chapter 23 and his name, Dismas comes to us only through legend.
Was this a chance encounter or a divine appointment? We may never know, but we do know that on that Friday afternoon that the choices of the world came down to the two men who hung next to Jesus.
One chose to scoff and ridicule Jesus, to dismiss his claims and to take his own chances with eternity. The other man chose to accept the claims and grace of the one who hung next to him. And so, we remember the words of Dismas, “Jesus remember me.”
And the promise of Christ: “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”
On Good Friday, Jesus died for each one of us, just as he died for each of those who were present on the day they executed him.
And just like them, each of us will need to decide who Jesus is.