Having seen dozens of reruns, almost everyone would know the hero’s story by now.
The Son of God came to a fallen world in the form of a man. Born of virgin birth, He ministered and then died on the Cross for our sins and rose again — defeating death and making a way to Father God. It’s a story we’re more than familiar with.
So just to mix it up a little, we’re going to look at the Good Friday story from another angle — we’re checking out the villains. When we look at such characters, or even the Israelites in their habitual idolatry, we frequently think we’re better than them.
But the truth is we’re no heroes ourselves. So this bunch of people are worth a special look because each of their stories warns us about the ways we ourselves might trip up and fall. Here they are, with their respective word of caution:
- Judas Iscariot — GREED
- Pontius Pilate — (LACK OF) CONSCIENCE
- The People — FICKLENESS
- The Pharisees, Sadducees and Scribes — HYPOCRISY
We start with the chief antagonist, the main bad guy — Judas Iscariot.
Judas was one of the 12 disciples. He lived with Jesus and the other disciples, and followed Jesus’ ministry for three whole years. He was there for the teaching and the miracles — he knew Jesus was for real.
And yet, being entrusted with the role of treasurer, he would brazenly help himself to the group’s “moneybag” (John 12:6). When we see such behaviour, we need to look at the heart of the matter – his faith in Jesus. Judas may have been with the ministry — he was even one of the 12 — but it seems to me that he hadn’t been born again. Steeped in sin, Judas was not “clean” (John 13:10-11).
“Jesus answered, ‘Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.’ For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.” (John 13:10-11)
Really makes you think, doesn’t it? We can play church all we want, look holy and even intimate with Jesus (Luke 22:47–48), but is it real? Are we really a disciple or someone who would betray Him for a nice thing?
The truth is that at many points in our lives, we will fail and do a Judas. God help us: May we never hear the words of the Lord’s judgment in Matthew 7:22-23.
“Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” (Matthew 7:22-23)
But Judas’ choice really boggles the mind. How does one see Jesus perform miracle after miracle and yet turn on Him?
I can only conclude that Judas’ problem was greed. And his love of money eventually opened the door to Satan’s use of him (John 13:27) to betray Christ.
That’s a warning for us crazy rich Asians. Our society values material wealth, and Jesus has some scary words for the rich (Matthew 19:16-24).
Judas’ end is tragic. Most of us remember the gory account of his suicide by hanging himself, but we don’t pay enough attention to the moment of his regret.
“Then when Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he changed his mind and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders …” (Matthew 27:3).
That’s the moment! I wonder if Judas thought earlier on that the money would assuage the guilt of turning on Christ. For a good amount of time, giving Jesus up for arrest was worth it. The thirty pieces of silver were worth it.
We have similar mindsets. What will we stop at when it comes to getting what we want? I wonder if holding the coins in his hand, Judas realised then that the money would never be enough. It wouldn’t work.
We move on to Pontius Pilate: Roman governor of Judea at the time of Jesus’ trial.
Some fun facts — Pilate was actually from Spain. He married the Roman emperor’s granddaughter. The guy was brutal, indecisive and lacked any sort of moral compass. But what is useful to remember when we think of Pontius’ reactions is that any good Roman governor’s goal is to maintain peace.
Now, while he’s most often remembered for being the bad guy who had a role in condemning Jesus to death by crucifixion, what some of us may not remember is that he was reluctant to send Jesus to His death. We see this reluctance most clearly in a few passages of Luke 23.
- “… And said to them, “You brought me this man as one who was misleading the people. And after examining him before you, behold, I did not find this man guilty of any of your charges against him.” (Luke 23:14)
- “A third time he said to them, “Why? What evil has he done? I have found in him no guilt deserving death. I will therefore punish and release him.”” (Luke 23:22)
Pilate knew in his head that Jesus was innocent.
We must never fear men more than God.
And if that wasn’t enough, his wife also appealed to his heart. Pontius received a letter from Mrs Pilate during the trial: “Besides, while he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him, ‘Have nothing to do with that righteous man, for I have suffered much because of him today in a dream'” (Matthew 27:19).
I don’t think that letter from his wife was a random thing. I think that was a chance to do the right thing, and Pontius messed it up.
Jesus gave him so much grace, even a personal audience in John 18:33-40. In that intimate setting, Pontius Pilate, an unrighteous judge came face to face with the Righteous Judge. He ignored the truth – his conscience and the Christ.
“‘You are a king, then!’ said Pilate. Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.'” (John 18:37)
Let us never harden our hearts like so. To come face to face with the Son of God, and then give Him up — what a tragedy. We must never fear men more than God. Nevertheless, it is remarkable to witness how God still orchestrates mercy even as His Son was damned to crucifixion.
My teaching leader at BSF summed up this sentiment beautifully: “Barabbas wasn’t the only one who swapped bondage for freedom at Jesus’s expense that day. We all did.”
Earlier this week, I wrote about the crowd at Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem.
Pretty crazy to think that some of them who were shouting “Hosanna” as they waved palm branches at Him might have been in the crowd demanding His crucifixion just a few days later.
I remember watching the Passion of the Christ many years ago, and having, for the first time, a picture of the hateful faces of the crowd at the trial. When I saw that scene, I felt an indignation.
How could the people turn on Him like that? How could they swap Barabbas for Jesus? How could they do that. They.
That’s a word that puts a nice distance between us and the crime. But, no. That’s not being responsible. The word we really should use is “we”. How could we do that to Christ? Because the truth is we do it all the time.
Just like Judas and the crowd, we have been guilty of betraying Him, and His desires for us, in the hopes of getting what we want — or what it is that we think we need.
It wasn’t just the baying voices of that crowd that nailed Jesus to the Cross. It was us. It was all of us — we are all Barabbas. Our sin nailed Christ to the Cross, and He died for our salvation — even as we spat and cursed Him.
I believe the better question to ask is how could God swap us for Jesus? I couldn’t tell you exactly how — but I think it’s got to do with love.
Finally, the game is ending, and we have the last couple of bosses: The Pharisees, Sadducees and Scribes — community leaders and teachers of the day.
Let’s get some contextual knowledge out of the way first.
For simplicity I’m just going to say the Pharisees and Sadducees didn’t agree on a number of things doctrinally. Another difference is that the Sadduccees were upper class rich guys, while the Pharisees were middle class men who ran the synagogues of the day.
But they can be lumped together in this article because as is fitting of villains, both parties formed an evil alliance to take Jesus down (Mark 14:53).
Finally, the scribes’ work was to preserve the Bible. The problem was hypocrisy in not practising what they preached and also adding traditions and rules to the Scripture. That’s something all of them were guilty of — hiding a religious spirit behind a facade of faith.
Read the whole of Matthew 23. It’s a scary thing to read.
In it, Jesus condemned the scribes for knowing the law and daring to teach it to people without first practising it themselves. For me, thinking about that rebuke brings James 3:1 in mind: “Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.”
Not only were many of the Pharisees and Sadducees unsuitable to be teachers from the star. They were businessmen, upper classed folk who enjoyed performing the law far more than widening the gate of the Kingdom of Heaven. They set out to burden the people with man-made traditions and rules and actually take them further from God.
Matthew 23:23 tells us these religious leaders were legalistic and zealous for performing the law without understanding the spirit behind it — justice and mercy and faith.
That’s just one example of their heinous ways, but really, we’re no better. Some of us have no shame at all when it comes to telling our flock what to do — and blatantly not doing those things ourselves.
May we be doers of the word and not just hearers! May we be humble and compassionate towards our charges, conscious of our own fallenness as well.
God, forgive me for all the times I have not shepherded your people well. Forgive me for all the times I’ve made my relationship with You a mere religion.
If Good Friday was a movie, then Jesus Christ would be its protagonist.
But He would be the only good guy. We would all be the bad guys. And we’re kidding ourselves if we think otherwise (Romans 3:10-12). I don’t know if you’ve seen the movie, but I can tell you that it’s all got a happy ending.
I won’t spoil it any further for you, but I hope you check it out for yourself here.