Christianity, chapter IX : The passing.

Chapter 9

Recap:

Pilate’s main question he wanted settled was this: was Jesus another rabble-rouser who was getting people worked up about Roman rule over Palestine?

He thought, and thought, and thought, and finally decided....

Back to the present:

...that Jesus was not guilty of treason. So, case over, right?

Wrong. 

If you’re not the leader of something, like a country or town or organization, then it sometimes seems like leaders can do whatever they want. And sometimes we end up with leaders who act like they can do whatever they want. Thank goodness for people like Bob Woodward who remind them they can’t. 

Remember, Pontius Pilate had a lot of things to deal with besides the Jews. They were a thorny problem, but not his only problem. He may have been the ruler, the leader, the Roman Governor of Jerusalem, but he had a strong incentive to not enrage the Jewish leaders even more. So instead of letting Jesus go, which was his inclination, he did what leaders sometimes do when they don’t want to make a tough decision: he pulled an anti-Teddy Roosevelt: he passed the buck.

President Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt is famous for saying “the buck stops here.” He may have said it, or he may have stolen it from someone else, but history recalls him as being the one to say it. It means essentially “I take responsibility for this decision.”

That is exactly what Pontius did not do. Jesus’s accusers kept screaming that 

“...this Galilean is getting people worked up against the Law!”

“Aahhh…” Pontius pontificated wisely, pretending to ponder. “So he’s Galilean? In that case, he ought to be tried before Herod. He’s the Galilean Governor, so that’s who needs to be deciding this whole deal.”

And with that, he passed the buck.

So Jesus went to Herod. And Herod wisely said: No. I’m not dealing with this. So he sent him back to Pilate. 

He passed the buck back.

This time around, Pilate found Jesus guilty. Not guilty of treason, but guilty of blasphemy. The penalty for blasphemy was death. 

Some people have customs like cutting a turkey, or kissing under a piece of mistletoe, or playing basketball with your brothers after Thanksgiving in your underwear, things like that. In those days, there was a different type of custom. Once a year, a condemned prisoner would be pardoned at the Passover Feast. Jesus appeared to be a great fit in this situation. A condemned man who was popular with some and feared by others. Both sides get their way: he’s found guilty of blasphemy, but pardoned. Works out for everyone, right?

Wrong. 

There was another guy. Barabbas. He really was guilty of treason, amidst other things. He had fired up a revolt against the Roman Empire. He was also condemned to die. So it came down to these two: Jesus, prophet and blasphemer versus Barabbas, traitor and criminal. 

Pontius was pleased with himself. This way he could go to bed feeling good. Justice would be served and everyone would be happy. Barabbas would be dead; one less actual criminal and rabble-rouser for him to deal with. And Jesus, an innocent man, would be around, but his accusers could revel in the fact that he had been found guilty.

“Which of these two men should I free?” Pontius asked the crowd.

Of course they made the right decision, right?

Wrong.

“Barabbas!” They shrieked. 

Pontius bowed his head and acquiesced to the mob, symbolically washing his hands to divest himself of responsibility for the execution of an innocent man. According to Matthew, he says,

“Let his blood be upon us and upon our children.”

This was not a Teddy Roosevelt thing to do. 

Barabbas is freed and Jesus is turned over to the soldiers to be executed. He is led, along with two other thieves, from the Judgment Hall to a hill outside town. This hill is called Golgotha. 

Remember what “exposition” is? Other interesting details or information about the characters or story? There is an interesting bit of exposition here, before we move onto the super sad part. The Romans had a custom that condemned men would carry their own crosses to their execution. Remember Barabbas and what he had been convicted of? He had led several revolts against Romans in which people were killed. During one of them, the only son of a carpenter died. No, we are not talking about Jesus. This carpenter wanted vengeance, but Barabbas had already been arrested. So this carpenter visited the soldiers guarding Barabbas, and got permission to make the three crosses. Also, he took them wine. They agreed. So he built the crosses. And he built one of them extra super heavy. Guess which one? Yep. Except it wasn’t Barabbas who ended up with that cross. You got it. Jesus. 

Back to the sad part. Jesus is scourged - that means whipped badly, brutally, and mercilessly - and sent off with his cross to carry. 

He is so weak from the beatings - and remember the extra-heavy cross -that the Romans grab a guy from the crowd named Simon Cyrene to help carry it. For all of you who like to sit in the back row of class or church, this is probably a good reason for you to continue doing so. Simon was just coming home from work, and boom! You’re carrying a cross for a guy who’s gonna be crucified, so you’re gonna be late for supper. 

When they arrive at the hill, each cross has an inscription that says the name and the crime for which they’re being executed. Jesus’ cross mockingly says:

Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews

Women offered Jesus a concoction of frankincense, myrhh and vinegar that would help lessen his pain, but he refused. This would later inspire William Wallace of Scotland. 

He was mocked and made fun of as he hung in agony, but he refused to speak out in anger, instead whispering

Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.

Crucifixion is an incredibly horrific and barbaric form of execution. He lay there for hours, dying, until the pain was unbearable and he cried out

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

Finally, his body gave out. His head dropped, his final words

It is the end.

But is it? Christians believe that Jesus’ life and story don’t end with his death...let’s pick up the story at the moment of his death.

So it’s Friday. He’s dead. Hanging from the cross. Lifeless. After the Romans ensure that he is, in fact, totally and completely dead, they eventually allow Joseph of Arimathea to remove, and bury him in a tomb. 

The next part is the portion that people like to argue about. The Gospels - the first four books of the New Testament - have points of agreement and points of departure. The short version of the points of agreement is this: on Sunday morning, somewhere between one and three women go to visit his tomb. One of them being Mary Magdelane. They show up to anoint his body and…

...it’s not there. The rock has been rolled away. The tomb is empty. His body is gone. A mysterious figure is there instead and asks them to inform the disciples that Jesus has risen and will see them in Galilee. 

The soldiers who were supposed to be guarding the tomb are terrified. They’re bribed to spread a story that disciples stole the body. 

Jesus appears to his followers, eats with them, lets them examine his body to show he’s real, and gives instructions about what they should do next. 

We’ll talk about the “what they should do next” in the next chapter.

The Resurrection is a major part of the Gospels.

Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John all have different overlapping versions of how things went down, but the Resurrection is treated with great detail, along with his arrest, trial, crucifixion, and burial. The life of Jesus is a difficult one to approach from simply an historical perspective, although many have tried to do so. And the hardest part is the Resurrection.

The Resurrection is fundamental to Christian theology. Despite many differences amongst thousands of denominations, it’s the one part that is generally agreed upon:

that Jesus Christ rose from his tomb after being dead and that his resurrection signifies the power of life over death and therefore a fulfillment of Messianic prophecy, including the belief that he will return again and establish a new kingdom for believers. 

The Resurrection is a tough one for historians because like scientists, historians like to have a little thing called evidence. And there’s not an abundance of overwhelming evidence to concretely support the idea of Jesus being raised from the dead. This seems like a good place to talk about Bob Dylan and The X-Files. 

The scientific method is a process by which a hypothesis is created and then supporting evidence is used to either support or discount that hypothesis. If enough evidence is gathered, it becomes a law. Like Newton’s 2nd Law of Motion, my fave of his. The scientific method is awesome. I love it. It’s a great reminder to ask questions, be inquisitive, to not settle for easy answers, and to look to reason and logic and evidence for why something is or is not true. 

But you don’t craft a great story by throwing a bunch of words mechanically together, and you don’t explain faith through reason. They can coexist, but faith by its very definition is ephemeral and on the other side of the world from science and reason.

Maybe we can walk on a firm grassy path of reason, but look upwards and ahead and all around for the poetry of faith and the beautiful reality of not having sufficient evidence to satisfactorily explain all of the mysteries around us. 

I’ve learned a lot from Bob Dylan and The X-Files. 

I want to believe that death is not the end.

There is a small part of my brain reserved for faith. I want concrete evidence and logical explanations for everything. But I can have a dedicated little tiny portion to reserving for mystery and faith. That’s what I love about science-fiction. The best sci-fi is mostly science...with a little ‘what-if’ stuck in there. And that’s the beautiful part of it; the poetry and the imagining what might be.

So the Resurrection. A foundational agreement for Christians across the world. The belief that Jesus rose from the dead and that it represents a fulfilling of prophecy and that he will come again. For humanity. For those who believe. 

What about the disciples Jesus left behind? 

Remember: 

Pontius Pilate, Passover, Herod, blasphemy, treason, Barabbas, exposition, Resurrection






FOOTNOTE:

This is an introduction to a ten-unit survey of Christianity - its history, peoples, beliefs and impact on the world today.

Education for most ages and for all curious people.
Written by Joseph Ivan Long with curiosity, humbleness, and a big grin.