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Every school day, countless children across the United States say the pledge of allegiance. Standing by theirs desks, with right hands over their hearts, and with eyes focused on the flag, they recite…
“I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
Liberty and justice are things that Americans have taken seriously. This isn’t to say that America is free from tyranny or injustice. It’s not. But I think that we Americans can appreciate all the constitutional statements, amendments, and laws that have been drawn up to protect the freedom that we Americans enjoy.
I think we can appreciate things like due process. The fact that, in this country, there are rules when it comes to arresting, indicting, convicting, and sentencing someone who is accused of a crime.
I think we can appreciate the fact that we aren’t ruled by a team of thugs who serve as judge, jury and executioner at their own whim.
While we may complain when some rich person ducks justice by the use of high paid lawyers, we still have to appreciate being able to defend ourselves in a court of law if needed. We aught to appreciate being able to stand up and give our side of the story before a jury of our peers.
We aught to appreciate the 8th Amendment to our constitution which prohibits excessive fines and the use of cruel and unusual punishment when sentencing the guilty.
But as we turn our thoughts to Jesus this Lent, and meditate on the final days and hours before His crucifixion, we can’t help but see that justice was something Jesus gave up.
Jesus had great injustice impressed upon Him by evil men. And when He was actually given the opportunity to seek justice for Himself – Jesus refused. And of course we all know why He did this. Jesus gave up justice for Himself, so that He could be condemned and crucified in our place, thus erasing forever, the divine charges that stood against us because of our sins.
There are two major places in the passion history leading up to the cross where we find great injustice inflicted on Jesus. The first of these is in the mock trial that was held before the Jewish Sanhedrin.
The Sanhedrin was the 71 man court that pronounced judgments on civil and church matters for the nation of Israel. But in Jesus’ case, the Sanhedrin didn’t really function as a true court.
First of all, they didn’t arrest Jesus is a straightforward way. He was teaching and preaching in the Temple courts during the week leading up to His crucifixion, but the Sanhedrin didn’t arrest Him out in the open. Instead they secretly secured Judas, one of Jesus’ disciples, to sell him out so they could arrest Him in the dark of night. This arrest came before any formal charges were made, or any crime identified. It was an unjust arrest.
Once the Sanhedrin had Jesus under custody, they summoned a special meeting in the palace of the high priest. This meeting wasn’t an official meeting of the Sanhedrin. Official meetings weren’t held in private residences, they were held in a special courtroom designed for that purpose.
There is also reason to believe that many members of the Sanhedrin weren’t even present. Men like Gamaliel and Nicodemus probably wouldn’t have gone along with an outrageously illegal proceeding like this.
Also, the so-called trial was begun in the dead of night. Records of correct protocol state that new cases were not to be started in the evening, nor even in the afternoon, but only in the morning. In addition to this, no cases were to be held on Sabbaths or festival days. Jesus was arrested on the night the Passover feast was celebrated! This was clearly an unlawful court proceeding to say the least.
But all the same, the Sanhedrin held it’s mock trial of Jesus, with witnesses and all. Now, usually the witnesses that were called upon were informed with an elaborate system of warnings and cautions concerning their testimony. But the Gospel writers give us no details that this was observed. Instead, we’re informed that the witnesses brought to speak against Jesus were false witnesses! Witnesses that were so poorly coached that their testimony contradicted and couldn’t be used, even in a mock trial like this.
Since they couldn’t get a good case worked up against Jesus using coached witnesses, the high priest instead turned to questioning Jesus Himself. In America have an amendment that specifically says that a defendant doesn’t have to speak in court if he doesn’t want to. It’s all to easy for an experienced lawyer to make the average person sound guilty by asking crafty and loaded questions. In America we can ‘plead the fifth’. Not so with Jesus.
At the close of Jesus’ mock trial, the Sanhedrin declared Jesus worthy of death, but curiously, they didn’t use the formal wording that was typical for the Sanhedrin when making an official judgment. No formal charge was reached. And that was because this ‘inquiry’ was really only held as a kind of brain storming session in which the members of the Sanhedrin figured out what charges they were going to lay before the Roman governor when they asked to have Jesus executed.
But even without a formal charge, and without an official judgment, hose holding Jesus took the liberty to punish Him after the Sanhedrin was done for the night. We’re told that as the Sanhedrin was dispersing for some sleep, Jesus was spit on, and beaten. They put a bag over His head and punched Him. Mocking Jesus’ claim to be God’s messenger, they demanding that He prophesy who had hit Him. This was a clear case of police brutality.
In the morning, the Sanhedrin sent Jesus to be Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor. They didn’t have the right to execute a criminal, and they needed Pilate to do it for them. As a side note, they also didn’t really want to be the ones officially responsible for Jesus’ death just in case the crowds of religious worshipers in Jerusalem got angry at about His murder. Pilate could take the blame if it came to that. Essentially, they were going to try to employ Pilate as their hitman.
This much is obvious, because when they brought Jesus to Pilate they just handed him over and said, “Here, we brought you a man who deserves to die. Trust us”.
But Pilate wanted to know why. As the Roman governor, it wasn’t his practice to just do whatever the Jews wanted, especially when it came to capital punishment.
When Pilate pressed then for charges, they said that Jesus told people not to pay their taxes, and declared Himself to be an earthly king over Caesar. It didn’t matter to them that Jesus had never condoned rebellion and had that very week taught that people should give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s. That is, pay your taxes to the king, but give your worship to God.
Now, when Jesus stood before Pilate, He was in a real courtroom. And thanks to Pilate, real charges were demanded, and made. But all the same, Jesus found no justice here. This is second place on the road to the cross where great injustice was inflicted upon Jesus.
After Pilate had questioned the Pharisees and Jesus at length, he declared Jesus to be innocent of all charges – and certainly NOT guilty of anything that was worthy of death. This pronouncement of innocence was made by Pilate a number of different times before the mob of angry Jews.
But this wasn’t justice. And if any accused person in America were treated like Jesus was, the whole population would be outraged. The mob refused to accept Pilate’s verdict of innocent. So Pilate tried to appeal to their humanity.
Pilate had Jesus scourged. Without any crime to deserve it, Jesus was whipped severely by a trained soldier, and presented to the mob bloody and torn, to be pitied. It didn’t work. They just cried out for crucifixion.
Pilate’s soldiers beat Jesus severely and dressed Him up in mock royal robes and a crown of thorns, again, to influence the mob to call for His merciful release.
When this didn’t work, Pilate turned to yet another strategy. It was customary to release one death row inmate to the Jews at the time of the Passover. So, Pilate selected a convicted rebel and murderer name Barabbas and asked who they really wanted him to release back into society, Barabbas or Jesus. But again, no dice. They asked for the murderer’s pardon and Jesus’ execution. This defies the purpose of all true courts of law! To knowingly release a dangerous and convicted criminal, and to condemn an innocent man.
In the end, Pilate even appealed to their consciences in a way that was characteristically Jewish. He had a bowl of water brought out to the place where verdicts were pronounced, and he washed his hands before them, saying that if this man was crucified, it would not be Pilate’s crime. This judicial murder would be on them. Any true jury would surely take this appeal to heart and step down from their demands, if nothing else just to make sure they weren’t in the wrong, weren’t executing an innocent man. But this didn’t work either.
Finally, Pilate succumbed to their demand and, even though he had repeatedly declared Jesus ‘not guilty’, Pilate gave the order that Jesus be crucified to death. This was open murder.
Through all this, Jesus hadn’t lifted a finger to seek His own justice. He calmly and quietly submitted, giving up all hope of justice, in order to carry out the Father’s plan to save sinners.
And there was one final court where Jesus experienced great voluntary injustice. On the cross, He was condemned in the place of all sinners. He not only suffered the pain of nails, and on-going mockery, and slow exhaustion – He also suffered the Hell of separation from His Heavenly Father.
At 3pm on the afternoon of Good Friday, as He hung suffering in a supernatural darkness, Jesus cried out,
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34 ESV).
These were no empty words. The Father had withdrawn so that Jesus could suffer the full punishment for your sins, and mine.
In Philippians 2 it says,
“…being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philipians 2:8 ESV).
In 2 Corinthians 5 it says,
“21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21 NIV)
Because the innocent Jesus had no justice, condemned sinners like you and me don’t get any justice either – for if we really got what we deserve, it would be hell. But because Jesus got unfathomable suffering and death, we have been given complete forgiveness and eternal life.
Like it says in John 3,
“God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:16-17 ESV).
As we go about our daily lives in this country, we can and should appreciate the justice that is so commonplace in our land. But as we turn our thoughts to Jesus this Lent, and always, perhaps we can take recite a better pledge in our hearts.
“I pledge allegiance to the cross of God’s own Son my Savior, and to the forgiveness for which it stands, one sacrifice under God’s wrath, His gift to me, with liberty and forgiveness for all.”
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.