Choices were made. That is the reality of life; choices are made. Good choices, bad choices and indifferent choices, but life is determined by the choices we make. And often, we don’t understand the consequences that might come as a result of the choices we make. We are simply living in the moment without concern for the future.

American sociologist Robert K. Merton coined the phrase “The Law of unintended consequences,” Which simply means that oftentimes when we make choices, the consequences aren’t what we planned or even anticipated.

It’s Good Friday, which is, for many, the beginning of the Easter weekend.

Last year, I realized that the entire Easter story hinged on choices that people made, choices they didn’t have to make but chose to make.

It all came down to choices. That is the reality of life; it all comes down to choices.

A few years ago, we had a series at Cornerstone called “After the But. . .” Maybe you remember it. It was based on the old saying that “after the but comes the truth.”

And we all know the reality of that statement, even if we’ve never actually processed it. We know that if we are in a conversation with someone, and they add the word “But,” things are going to change.

You are doing a great job, but. . .

I love you, but. . .

When I was a kid, the word but was used a lot in my report cards, Denn could be a good student, but.

For most of you, the thought of a sermon being started a year in advance is a foreign concept, but (see there we go) I have a file full of sermon ideas, and last Easter, I started thinking about the number of times the story could have changed in the Easter story, and how the story might have changed without the buts.

We think that the story began on Good Friday, but of course, it started well before Jesus’ arrest in the Garden.

There had been friction between Jesus and the leaders of the established religion almost from the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, but it had come to a head in John chapter 11.

It’s here that we read the story of Jesus’ friend Lazarus, how he had become sick with some unknown ailment, and before Jesus could get there, he died and was buried. In response to the grief of Lazarus’ sisters, Mary and Martha, Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead.

Now, I would think that this would be pretty powerful evidence that Jesus was, in fact, the Messiah. However, that wasn’t the way the leaders of the religious establishment saw it. Let’s pick up the story in John 11:47–50 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.” Caiaphas, who was high priest at that time, said, “You don’t know what you’re talking about! You don’t realize that it’s better for you that one man should die for the people than for the whole nation to be destroyed.”

The Religious Leaders Could Have Accepted Jesus, but. . .

Trouble had been brewing for a while. Even though the Jews had been waiting for a messiah; they were waiting for a very specific type of Messiah, and apparently, Jesus didn’t fit the bill.

He touched lepers, embraced tax collectors and encouraged sinners. That wasn’t very messiahish. And he was more concerned with people than he was with tradition and he would rather teach about being peacemakers than about overthrowing Romans.

Today, there are people who have the same problem with Jesus, he’s not the Jesus, they want him to be.

They want a Jesus who loves everyone without condition—a Jesus who never challenges people to be obedient and who never mentions the consequences of being disobedient.

They love the Jesus, who told the woman who was caught in adultery that he didn’t condemn her, but they aren’t ready to accept the Jesus, who told her to go and sin no more.

So, the Religious Leaders could have accepted Jesus, but instead, they chose to reject him. The unintended consequence was that 35 years later, the Romans would decimate Jerusalem and scatter the residents of Israel because the people had continued to seek a Messiah who would lead them against Rome.

Let’s keep going in the story, 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.

Judas Could Have Served Jesus, but. . .

We are first introduced to Judas in Matthew chapter 10 and Luke chapter 6 when the 12 Apostles are named, and Judas was a fairly common name at the time and in that culture. There was another apostle named Judas, who was identified as Judas, the son of James. Jesus, brother Jude, is simply the diminutive of Judas, and there were six other men by that name in the New Testament.

But this was Judas Iscariot we are talking about, and often, when his name is mentioned, it is followed by the words, (who later betrayed him). Him, of course meaning Jesus.

But Judas didn’t start out to betray Christ. No, as far as we can tell his desire was to follow Jesus and serve Jesus. But something happened.

There have been half a dozen reasons suggested as to why Judas took that step, but personally, I don’t think Judas ever intended for Jesus to die that day. Instead, he hoped to force his hand so that when he was betrayed, he would use his power to liberate Israel. If that was the case, then what a tragedy Judas witnessed, when he saw his plan fly to pieces.

Some suggest that Judas didn’t have a choice in the matter that he either had to do it because it was predestined or because the Devil forced him to. After all we are told in John 13:2 It was time for supper, and the devil had already prompted Judas, son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus.

Jesus may have known that Judas would betray him, and the Devil may have prompted Judas to betray Christ, but the choice was Judas’ and Judas’ alone.

Judas could have served Jesus, but he chose to serve Judas and he chose to serve the high priests.

And the unintended consequence? When Judas realized what had happened and the fate of Jesus, he was overcome with remorse.

And if we keep reading, we discover that Judas hung himself even before Christ was sentenced. Before Pilate finished questioning Jesus, Judas was dead. Before Barabbas was released, Judas was dead. Before Jesus was scourged with the whip, Judas was dead. Before the crown of thorns was pushed onto Jesus’ head, Judas was dead. Before they nailed Jesus to the cross, Judas was dead.

But the real tragedy is this: when Jesus looked down from the cross, at those who had mocked him and spit on him, at those who had slapped him and struck him. When Jesus saw those who had pulled his beard, who had beat him, had jammed that viscous crown of thorns deep into his forehead and nailed him to the cross. When Jesus looked at he mob and cried out in Luke 23:34 “Father, forgive these people, because they don’t know what they are doing.” Judas was already dead by his own hand.

John 18:38–40 “What is truth?” Pilate asked. Then he went out again to the people and told them, “He is not guilty of any crime. But you have a custom of asking me to release one prisoner each year at Passover. Would you like me to release this ‘King of the Jews’?” But they shouted back, “No! Not this man. We want Barabbas!” (Barabbas was a revolutionary.)

The Crowd Could Have Embraced Jesus, But. . .

I wonder how many of that fickle mob had been part of the crowd that had welcomed Jesus five days before when he rode into Jerusalem, which we think as Palm Sunday?

It would be a great study of mob mentality to see what went on that day in Jerusalem. Up to this point, it seemed that Jesus had been fairly popular with the crowds. It was the crowds he fed, it was the crowds he taught, and it was the crowds that he healed.

And now they were demanding his death. What had turned the crowd against Jesus? There is a hint in Mark 15:11 But at this point the leading priests stirred up the crowd to demand the release of Barabbas instead of Jesus.

There was a time in Canada when the majority of Canadians had a favourable view of Christ and his church. But that has changed. And yes, some of it is the church’s fault, but the crowd has been stirred up, not by the religious establishment, but by the secular establishment, and by the culture of the day.

But ultimately, the crowd couldn’t blame the high priests for their choice. It was their choice and their choice alone.

That day in Jerusalem the crowd could have embraced Jesus, but they didn’t they embraced Barabbas.

And the unintended consequence? In Luke’s Gospel, we read Luke 23:25. As they had requested, he released Barabbas, the man in prison for insurrection and murder.

We don’t know what happened to Barabbas. Tradition says that he died in another insurrection. There is no indication that he changed his ways, which means that by rejecting Jesus, the crowd set a murderer free, who perhaps murdered again.

Let’s go back to the story in Matthew 27:24–26 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.

Pilate Could Have Freed Jesus, But. . .

Throughout the Passion Story, we see Pilate troubled by Jesus. He understands that whatever he does will have consequences. He knows that the religious leaders are simply using him to do what they were unable to do. They didn’t have the authority to have Jesus executed. So he understands that he is being used as a pawn.

At no point does he question Jesus’ innocence. At no point does he even hint at the fact that he thinks Jesus deserved to die.

He might have thought he was misguided, but he never thought he was guilty of the charges levelled at him.

At various points in the story, Pilate attempts to abdicate any responsibility he might have. He tries to get others to make the decision for him, first by sending Jesus to King Herod, who sent him back to Pilate to be dealt with. And then to the crowd, when he offers to free Jesus, but of course, the crowd rejected his offer and demanded the release of Barabbas instead.

And now Pilate comes to the place where we would say he would need to fish or cut bait. He can’t put it off any longer. A decision must be made, and he is the only one who can make it. And so, we all know the scene: Pilate calls for a bowl of water, washes his hands, declares himself innocent of Jesus’ blood, and then turns Christ over to be crucified.

But just saying he was innocent of Jesus’ blood, didn’t actually make him innocent of Jesus’ blood. Nobody could have legally had Jesus crucified except for Pilate. All he had to do was say, “No, I won’t do it.”

So, Pilate could have freed Jesus, but he didn’t. He freed Barabbas and crucified Jesus.

The unintended consequence was of course Pilate’s place in history. Do you recall the name of the Roman Governor who served before or after Pilate? No, but Pilate’s name has been vilified for the past 2000 years. If Pilate was seeking to make a name for himself, he certainly succeeded.

Let’s continue with our story, Luke 23:39–42 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.”

The Thief Could Have Rejected Jesus, but. . .

We don’t know a lot about the thieves who hung on either side of Jesus. Early church tradition gave them names; the unrepentant Thief was Gestas, and the repentant thief was named Dismas. There is a great story in early tradition that goes back to the Christmas story.

You’ll remember that Joseph was warned in a dream of the murderous intent of Herod, and they were told to escape to Egypt.

When Joseph and Mary were on their way to Egypt, they were waylaid by a group of highwaymen. One of the outlaws wanted to murder them and steal their belongings.

But another of the group stepped in and protected the family; tradition tells us that he looked at the Christ child and said, “O most blessed of children, if ever there comes a time for having mercy on me, then remember me, and don’t forget what happened here.”

So, the legend says that the next time Jesus and the thief met was at Calvary, where Dismas hung on the cross next to Jesus, and there he found forgiveness and grace. Great story, isn’t it? Is it true? I have no idea, but it is a great story.

What we do know for sure is that the two men on either side of Jesus were executed as criminals.  Matthew’s account states that they were thieves.  But that’s all we know for sure.

As they hung on either side of Christ, we are told that one began to mock Jesus; let’s pick up the story in Luke 23:39 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!”

And it would have been easy for Dismas to do the same.  It’s almost human nature, when things go wrong, to ask God why he doesn’t fix it. We might not use the same tone as the thief, but most of us have had those feelings before.  If you’re God, then heal my child. If you’re God, then save my marriage. If you are God, then fix things in Gaza.

But instead of agreeing with Gestas, Dismas becomes the first person to experience the Grace offered.  He acknowledged his sin when he said, “We deserve to die for what we have done.”   and he asked Jesus to do what he couldn’t do when he asked Jesus to remember him when he came into his Kingdom.

Dismas could have rejected Jesus, but instead, he chose to accept the grace that he didn’t understand and certainly didn’t deserve. 

And the unintended consequence was of course, found in Jesus’ words in Luke 23:43 And Jesus replied, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

And each one of us get’s to make that same choice today.  Will you reject Christ, or will you accept Christ?  Nobody can make that decision for you, but you. 

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