Human guilt saturates the story of Jesus’s crucifixion. Pilate’s fecklessness, the corruption of the Sanhedrin, the bloodlust of the crowd. Barabbas’s unanswered murder. The soldier’s mockery and brutality. Jesus Christ is surrounded by thieves.
It was supposed piety that led the people to murder Christ; they accused Him of blaspheming. Yet something important was taking place. Isaiah said, “He didn’t have an impressive form or majesty that we should look at him, no appearance that we should desire him” (Isaiah 53:2). And “His appearance was so disfigured that he did not look like a man, and his form did not resemble a human being” (Isaiah 52:14). Yet people could not stop looking at Him.
In contrast, Christ’s innocence and meekness is constantly before us. He was silent in the face of Pilate. He was wounded and weak, unable to carry the heavy cross, so Simon of Cyrene was forced to do it for him. He thirsted. He called out, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” (Mark 15:34). When “Jesus let out a loud cry and breathed his last” (v.37), His body gave out so fast that Pilate could not even believe He had already died.
In the crucifixion, God shoulders the heavy burden of our sin Himself in the Son. We can see ourselves in the people who took part in Jesus’s death. We want to believe we are like Mary, faithfully standing by Jesus’s side. But in our sin, we still ask Pilate’s questions of Jesus: “Are you really the king?” “What do we do with you?” We have only the thief’s hope—that having heaped insults on Him, Jesus will still remember us.
In knowing that Jesus is atoning for our sin, do we revel in His grace? Is our relief at the atonement mingled with the bloodthirst of the crowd?
On one hand, our sin puts us in rebellion toward God and causes us to hate Him—that makes us shout in our hearts, “Crucify him!” (v.13). Yet, in repentance, our only proper response to such a costly gift of grace for wretches such as ourselves is to accept the work of Christ.