I hope that this will help you to reflect on the gift of salvation that Christ gave us and the cost of that gift.
The men were getting restless. We were all armed with swords or clubs; whatever could be found. Some carried lit torches as we slowly made our way through the narrow streets of Jerusalem. Judas Iscariot led the way. He was our insider, our informant, who would lead us to Jesus of Nazareth. Even though we under the cover of darkness, I felt uneasy. There was a tension in the air that I couldn’t put my finger on. “Why this twisting in my stomach?” I thought.
Caiaphas and the other leaders were convinced that something had to be done about Jesus. He had caused such a stir with his miraculous wonders and blasphemous statements. He even claimed to be the promised Messiah. The crowds had been in a frenzy since the Passover week started. You should’ve seen them when Jesus and his band of rag-tag followers entered the city. He was riding a donkey while the others followed on foot. The crowd was exuberant. The road was covered in a myriad of colors and textures each taken from someone’s back and laid upon the ground. Palm branches filled the air with their swaying. I don’t know how the Hosannas started, but they echoed off the city walls in unstoppable waves. Some of the elders told Jesus to silence the people. Didn’t he know this was bordering on worship of him? His words shocked me, “If I silence them, the rocks will shout out.” What kind of statement is that? Can rocks, who have no lips, cry out? The hosannas seemed to hang in there air even now. I could almost hear them still, whispering to me from the stones.
The crowds had been seeking after Jesus with a zealousness I’d not seen before. I suppose they wanted to see one of his miracles. I’d been curious myself. After all, he raised Lazarus from the dead. What is there to this man? How can a mere man revive breath back in the lungs of one dead for 4 days? Some said he was Elijah returned in the flesh. I was uncertain of that, but I did know that Caiaphas and the elders had been looking for an opportunity like this for over a year.
I inhaled deeply and the fragrance of olive flowers filled my nostrils. The men had ceased speaking and the steady slap of sandals sounded along the dusty path. We entered the garden, working our way around gnarled trees and low hanging branches. I could see a small group of men ahead. Judas stepped forward and kissed one of them on the cheek. “Greetings, Rabbi!” he said.
“Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss? Friend, do what you came for,” replied the Rabbi. Then, he turned to the crowd. “Who is it you want?”
“Jesus of Nazareth,” several men answered.
“I am he,” he said. Instantly we all were knocked to the ground. I lay there trembling; my heart racing within me.
“Malchus, what just happened? Are you okay?” asked Jonas.
“I’m fine I think. I don’t know what happened. I was going to ask you the same thing,” I replied. Several men jumped up and I could see them grasping the arms of Jesus’ followers.
Jesus asked again, “Who is it you want?”
Once more the reply came, “Jesus of Nazareth.”
“I told you that I am he. If you are looking for me, then let these men go.” The guards let go of his men and seized Jesus. I stepped forward to help. A flash sparked through the air and a fiery, searing pain ripped through my head.
“Aaaaaaagh!” I screamed. My hand flew to the side of my head. “My ear! My ear is gone!” I could feel warm blood running down my arm and dripping on my foot. I stood there in agonizing pain.
Jesus stepped forward. “Enough!” he said. “Put your sword back in its place, for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than 12 legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way. Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?”
His follower stepped back and slid his sword in its sheath. Jesus stepped down and picked up my lump of an ear. He gently removed my bloodied hand from my head and pressed my ear against the wound. I looked up into his eyes and the world around me faded. The garden and all its occupants became just a haze and it was just me and Jesus. The pain and agony faded as he connected with me; looking deep into my soul. I felt utterly naked before him and I knew that he saw me; the real me. He saw the ugliness, the wretched soul that I was. I looked down; ashamed to be seen.
He removed his hand and stepped back. My pain was gone! I reached back to the place where he had touched me. My ear was intact! I looked down at my hand still covered in blood. “What’s happening?” I thought. “What kind of man is this? Is it magic? Witchery? Perhaps he is Elijah returned in the flesh.”
His words roused me from my thoughts. “Am I leading a rebellion that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? Every day I was with you, teaching in the temple courts, and you did not arrest me. But the Scriptures must be fulfilled. This is your hour when darkness reigns.”
“Scriptures?” I thought. “What scriptures is he referring to? He has claimed to be the Messiah, but would the Messiah ride into the city on a donkey? No, he would come carried on a litter by strong, muscular slaves. Would the Messiah be leading a rag-tag group of men as we’ve seen here tonight? No, he’d have several legions of soldiers powerful enough to over throw this yoke of Rome that we were under.”
They bound Jesus’ hands and shouted, “Move out! Let’s take him to Annas for questioning.” It was at that point that his followers turned and fled.
We took Jesus to the house of Annas. Several guards stood in the courtyard as we pushed our way through to the door. The house was crowded; standing room only. The elders began to question Jesus about his teachings. “I have spoken openly to the world,” he said. “I always taught in the synagogues or at a temple, where all the Jews come together. I said nothing in secret. Why question me? Ask those who heard me, surely they know what I said.” A rumble and murmur of voices rippled through the crowd.
The official gritted his teeth. His eyes seethed in anger as he struck Jesus causing his head to lurch sideways. I could see the red imprint of the official’s hand upon Jesus’ cheek. “Is this the way you answer the high priest!” he shouted.
Jesus didn’t back down. He courageously replied, “If I said something wrong, testify as to what is wrong. But if I spoke the truth, why did you strike me?”
“He’s bold,” Jonas whispered to me.
“That indeed,” I murmured. The questioning continued for some time, but Jesus remained silent.
A voice rang out from the back of the room. “Take him to Caiaphas!” The elders conferred together in whispered voices. Several minutes passed, “To Caiaphas!” shouted the official. The crowd turned and started making their way out the door.
Once we got to Caiaphas’ house the planned witnesses came forward. I knew the first three by name, and I listened as they recited their scripts with perfection. But things got muddled with the next few witnesses and their statements conflicted with what had already been said. I leaned over and whispered to Jonas. “What’s going wrong? I thought we had very clear orders on how to coach these men. Why are their statements conflicting?”
“I don’t know Malchus,” he replied.
Suddenly a witness came forward. “I heard him say ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God and rebuild it in 3 days.”
“How do you answer these charges?” asked Caiaphas.
The crowd leaned forward with eager anticipation. Would he deny it? We all waited for what seemed like hours and yet he remained silent. I could tell that Caiaphas was getting impatient.
“If you are the Christ, tell us,” he demanded.
Jesus looked him right in the eye. “If I tell you, you will not believe me, and if I asked you, you would not answer. But from now on the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the mighty God.”
Caiaphas grimaced, his brows furrowed together as his eyes widened and nostrils flared. “Are you the Christ, the Son of God?” he shouted.
“Yes, it is as you say, but I say to all of you,” replied Jesus, as he looked around the room. “In the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”
“Blasphemy!” shouted Caiaphas. “Blasphemy!”
He tore his robes in fury as men began to shout out in agreement, “Blasphemy! Blasphemy!”
Men surrounded Jesus in a furious mob. Someone produced a strip of cloth which they tied around his eyes. They spit in his face and slapped his cheeks. He stumbled to maintain his balance as he received blow after blow of closed fists. I think he would’ve fallen had there not been so many men around him. “Who hit you?” they taunted. “Prophesy to us, Christ.” The beating and mocking continued for quite some time. I didn’t want to watch this scene, but I was pressed in because of the crowd. I looked down. My robe was spotted with blood and I reached up and touched my ear.
“God, who is this Jesus?” I whispered.
The mob finally made its way out of the house and I found myself forced along the narrow streets to the palace of Pilate. We made our way inside the courtyard. Pilate came out the doors and stood at the top of the steps. Jesus was forced to the foot of the steps to stand before Pilate. His left eye was swollen nearly shut and his mouth and chin were covered with blood.
“By what charges do you bring this man before me?” asked Pilate.
“If he was not a criminal, we would not have brought him here,” answered one of the elders.
“I ask again, by what charges do you bring this man before me?”
“He’s been subverting our nation and opposes payment of taxes to Caesar. He also claims to be Christ, the King.”
“Are you the king of the Jews?” asked Pilate
“Yes, it is as you say,” Jesus replied.
“Take him and judge him yourself,” said Pilate. “Use your own laws. I find no basis for a charge against him.”
“But we have no right to execute anyone,” answered the elder. “Besides, he has stirred people up all over Judea. He started in Galilee and came all the way here.”
“Is he a Galilean? If so he is not of my jurisdiction. Take him to Herod.”
We were on the move once again; this time to stand before Herod. I was exhausted yet somehow compelled to continue. Once we arrived before Herod I could see pleasure in his eye. It was as if he had waited a long time for this moment. “Ah, the great Jesus of Nazareth I’ve heard so much about? The great miracle worker!” An amused smile spread across his face.
Herod began to question Jesus. “What charges bring you here?”
Jesus remained silent. “Are you the king of the Jews?”
Again, silence followed. This continued for quite some time until Herod had enough. He grabbed an elegant robe and put it around Jesus’ shoulders. “Hail, King of the Jews,” he smirked.
The roman centurions followed suit and several bowed before him, “Hail, great King!” they laughed.
“Send him back to Pilate,” replied Herod. “I’ll waste no more of my time with this man.”
Here we were again before Pilate. He spoke briefly with the elders. I couldn’t hear the conversation, but he turned and went back inside the palace. “Is he going to do something?” asked Jonas.
“Is that it? Must we take him back to Caiaphas?” asked another.
A guard came out and summoned Jesus before him. He was gone for several minutes when Pilate returned. “I find no basis for a charge against this man, but it is tradition that I release one prisoner to you at the time of Passover. Do you want me to release the king of the Jews?” he asked.
“No, not him!” someone shouted.
“Give us Barabbas!” shouted another.
“I’ll have him flogged and then release him,” replied Pilate. “Guards, take this man to the Praetorium and have him flogged.”
I don’t know how I ended up there, but I found myself in the Praetorium pressed in by the crowd. The guard stripped Jesus of the robe Herod had dressed him in. He was shoved against a wooden post. He grimaced as the centurion tightly tied his hands around the crude, rough, wood. Two soldiers stood, one on either side, each holding a crude whip with several leather strips. There were bits of sharp bone and led tied at the ends. The soldier on the right lifted his arms. The whip whizzed through the air and cracked against Jesus’ back. He screamed out and blood immediately began to ooze from the stripe left behind. The second whip whizzed and cracked and again a cry of pain erupted and blood oozed a second stripe across his back. The whipping continued. Whoosh! Crack! After several rounds of this, I saw the flesh on Jesus’ back hanging in red ribbons as the beating continued. Whoosh! Crack! Whoosh! Crack! Eventually Jesus no longer stood, but instead hung limply from the pole. Red mud pooled below him, and I wondered if he was even alive. Eventually it came to an end and his hands were cut loose from the pole. I fought a wave of nausea as he collapsed into the bloody pool. The soldiers hoisted him up and threw the robe around his shoulders. Someone produced a crown of twisted thorns and placed it on his head. It was instantly struck with a staff. “Hail, king!” mocked the soldier.
“Yes, Hail King!” said another as he too cracked his staff across the crown. New wounds began to drip blood down the face of Jesus which ran into his eyes as the crown was struck again and again, driving thorns deeper and deeper into his head. I felt faint, but was so pressed by the crowd that I couldn’t move.
Pilate came out and sat on the judge’s seat saying, “Once again, I find no basis for charges against this man. I am releasing him. Here is your king.”
“Take him away!” someone shouted. “Crucify him!”
“Crucify!” another screamed. “Crucify!”
Soon the whole crowd was in a frenzy screaming, “Crucify! Crucify!” It appeared that a riot was going to break out.
Pilate stood and raised his hands. The crowd quieted and his voice rang out, “Shall I crucify your king?”
The chief priest answered, “We have no king but Caesar!”
At that, Pilate nodded to the centurion on his right. “Take him to be crucified,” he said.
A great roar of victory came from the crowd and reverberated off the stone pillars of the palace. A large crossbeam was produced and Jesus was thrust on the ground on top of it. His arms were tied to the beam and he was made to stand. He collapsed immediately so weakened by the flogging. Two centurions grabbed each arm and hoisted him up again. He was bent forward and his legs shook under the weight. “Move it! Oh great king!” yelled a guard as he pushed Jesus along with the sole of his sandal. Jesus stumbled along as the band of soldiers pressed around him. He was repeatedly drug roughly back to his feet and given the command to move!
After he had gone several yards they came upon Simon. I knew him. He was a faithful member of the local synagogue. “You there!” shouted one of the guards, pointing at Simon. “Carry this man’s cross!”
Simon looked horrified. “Please sir. I am on my way home from the country. My sons, Alexander and Rufus are expecting me.”
Jesus was pushed to the ground once more and lay helpless on his stomach while the crossbeam was untied. Simon was seized by two soldiers while the crossbeam was tied to his arms. Jesus was once again picked up and kicked along. “Move!” yelled the centurion.
We took the journey to Golgotha; the traditional site for crucifixions. I could hear the weeping and wailing of several women. Jesus stopped and turned to them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me,” he rasped, “weep for yourselves and for your children. For the time will come when you will say, ‘Blessed are the barren women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed. Then ‘they will say to the mountains, “Fall on us!” and to the hills, “Cover us!” For if men do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?”
We finally arrived at Golgotha. The crossbeam was removed from Simon’s shoulders and he fell to the ground and wept. I noticed that his cloak was stained with blood which was not his own. The beam was placed on the ground and Jesus was roughly thrown upon it. A centurion grabbed the first stake while another stepped on Jesus’ arm to hold it steady. The stake was pressed against his flesh and the hammer rose. I turned my head because the scene was far more than I could bear. As the hammer rang out cries of excruciating pain seared the air as I had never heard before. And then I heard Jesus cry out in a loud voice, “Father! Forgive them for they do not know what they are doing!”
It was then that I remembered the words from the prophet Isaiah: “Surely he took our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” I reached up and touched my ear. “Oh God,” I whispered. “What have we done?”