Jesus’s Witness from the Cross
Pastor Charlie Wang
April 14, 2019
Luke 23: 3, 32-46
So Pilate asked Jesus, "Are you the king of the Jews?" "Yes, it is as you say," Jesus replied. ..
32Two others also, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. 33When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. 34Then Jesus said, "Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing." And they cast lots to divide his clothing. 35And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, "He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!" 36The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, 37and saying, "If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!" 38There was also an inscription over him, "This is the King of the Jews."
39One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, "Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!" 40But the other rebuked him, saying, "Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong." 42Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." 43He replied, "Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise."
Years ago, I attended the burial service of Mr. Bob Henderson. The two daughters of Bob and Elizabeth, Connie and Melinda, shared with me in their deep love that their daddy was a very, very gentle and patient man. I didn’t know Bob very well. He once talked about his experience and knowledge of the railway system with me at a party. But the witness from his daughters portrayed him as a true gentleman. There is a power of witness to tell people who this person is. We love to read the biography and life of people because we want to know them through their witnessing. People live in the cycle of birth, growth and death, but their witness spreads much wider and longer than they can, and continues to shape others. The lives of Abraham Lincoln, Job, Esther, Daniel or Jesus leave to us their witness of who they were and who God is.
Actually all of us live in a life cycle. However, what we say and do leaves witness of who we are. Witness is a transmitting tower to send out messages that either glorify God we believe in, or to bring shame to us. Our life leaves a trail of witness behind us. We Christians should be very careful for what we leave behind. God calls us to bear witness to the truth, power and love of God. Christians no longer live for themselves. We are privileged to witness to God lifelong intentionally till our last breath. This is also the best we can do for God and for people. My prayer is that someday people would tell me that my witness shows them who Jesus is, and they are determined to bear witness to Jesus for life. God’s curriculum includes what and how to witness to God as Jesus did.
Jesus said in John 1:18 “No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father's heart, who has made him known.” This is one of Jesus’ opening statements. It told us that the purpose of Jesus is to witness to God in his life. Jesus’ life in the four gospels is to make God known to human kind. It is true that God is not visible to human eyes, but the witness of Jesus convinces us that God is truth, power and love. Jesus intentionally witnessed to God till his last breath. He witnessed to God in the extremely difficult circumstance, even dying on the cross. Let us see how Jesus witnessed.
Luke 23:3 “So Pilate asked Jesus, ‘Are you the king of the Jews?’ ‘Yes, it is as you say,’ Jesus replied.” The Roman governor was the highest authority in the colonial Palestine, who only reported to Emperor Caesar and had the power of death and life. Because of the accusations of the Jews, his question was to check Jesus’ identity. This incriminating question could lead Jesus onto the cross or to freedom. Even though Jesus gave a positive answer, Pilate still wanted to acquit him because the Roman law was to punish the criminal of action, but not a person of words or belief. However, the Jews kept pushing Pilate to crucify Jesus. John 19:12 “From then on, Pilate tried to set Jesus free, but the Jews kept shouting, ‘If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar.’" In other words, the Jews would incriminate Pilate if he didn’t crucify Jesus who claimed to be the King of the Jews. It is obvious that if Jesus denied being the king of the Jews, Pilate would have more reasons to release him. However, Jesus’ self-incriminating reply finally sent him onto the cross. He answered, “Yes, it is as you say.” Pilate had no reason to risk his political future to uphold justice and let Jesus go. The inscription on the cross he wrote in Hebrew, Latin and Greek was, “This is the King of the Jews.” Jesus’ identity became a condemnation for death.
Jesus is the King of kings and Lord of lords. He was much more than a king of the Jewish nation. If he had denied his kinghood, he could no longer be the King, the savior and the Lord of humanity. He is the king forever. That’s why Jesus would not exchange his identity for his release. His willingness to walk onto the cross is a powerful witness to God’s love and sacrifice that God pays the price to forgive humanity. Are we going to pay a price for our identity as a Christian? When I am caught by a cop for a moving violation, I hope the cop does not to know I am a Christian. When I am angry and rude, I hope that no one knows I am a pastor. Our identity as Christians, as parents, as citizens or as teachers represents who we are. Wherever we are, we can only confirm and affirm our identity as God’s children. Whatever we say and do in front or behind people, we have to identify ourselves as God’s children, just as Jesus said, “Yes” to authenticate his kinghood. A wife only trusts a man who is true to his identity as the husband. People only trust those who are true to who they are.
Jesus claimed to be the King and his kinghood stirred up convenience, disbelief, mocking and conversion of a condemned man dying on another cross. Pilate handed Jesus to the mob in order to stay away from political trouble and a guilty conscience; the Jewish leaders mocked him as an idiot; soldiers challenged his power as a king; one dying robber took Jesus as a laughing stock; and the other asked remembrance in his kingdom. According to common sense, it was the time for Jesus to show power and teeth as a king. Human logic required Jesus to call his army as an earthly king, and the angels from above as a Messiah. People cornered Jesus in such an extreme circumstance to display his last card – the military or political power people could understand. They didn’t want to understand Jesus’ statement, “My kingdom is not of this world.” They didn’t know how to answer his question, in Matthew 26:53 “Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?” People could never understand Jesus who put aside his power while being mocked, hurt and crucified.
How can we humans understand God’s love and wisdom through Jesus? In our limited understanding, Jesus should call legions of angels from heaven to conquer this world, to punish bad guys and to bend all knees down. All people, including those Jews, Pilate and us, would hail, “Alleluia, Jesus! You are the King of kings.” We only accept and surrender to the king of the worldly power. We humans are not going to submit ourselves to anything less than police power. If so, there would be no need of painful repentance, confession, struggles and growth. God’s Kingdom could possibly be achieved within moments with a tangible and violent power. What a beautiful new world we would have after Jesus displays his power all over the world! There is a typical example in history of such a power display and power encounter. In the year of 1991, President Bush ordered the military action against Saddam Hussein in Iraq. It was called “Desert Storm,” meaning if Saddam refused to withdraw his troops from Kuwait right away, the military power of the United States would make it happen. It was much more than a military action. It is a mentality of displaying power. We Christians, unfortunately, are contaminated by this “Desert Storm” mentality. In history there are twelve Christian Crusades against Muslim countries with the sword. We want to see a quick result with an overwhelming power.
What those Jewish leaders said was, “Now, Jesus, you are at our disposal. We love to see the power you have. Please, show it to us and we will believe in you.” What an insult and humiliation to the Son of God. If you or I were on the cross, we would show all power we could have gathered to kick the enemy’s ass. But Jesus didn’t. Jesus would rather be humiliated in pain than show his power. He knew that anyone who submits to power does not necessarily submit to God’s love. God wants to win our souls through his truth and love. God wants his children to know his truth and to love him freely without any intimidation or threat of power.
On Palm Sunday, Jesus didn’t come as a conqueror on horseback to put us in fear. He didn’t force people to accept his kinghood with machine guns pointing at the skull as many tyrants have done. He respects our free will in choice. Jesus only displayed his power in forgiving, healing, teaching, encouraging, reconciling, protecting and loving. He never humiliated or intimidated anyone. He sought everyone out. He approached all with a humble and tender spirit without a slight hint of arrogance. He always put our dignity and wellbeing, particularly our spiritual wellbeing first. Even in the tough moments of his humiliation, torture and death, Jesus refused to compromise his convictions but continued to hold himself back from using power. He was not from this world. His logic and style are radically different from the world. Jesus proved his kinghood with his love and truth.
Jesus left his power in heaven and came down to this world. His refusal to use power to accomplish our salvation, set up for us a role model of self restraining, trusting in God and love. No wonder, his kingdom is not from this world but from heaven only. His power is not what the world expects to see, but the power of truth, love, sacrifice and holiness.
In this world, it’s very hard for us to limit ourselves to the power available. We want to assert the power of tongue to retort against those who hurt us. We want to use our financial and other powers to achieve what we want. Can we learn from our Lord in humility to limit or empty ourselves when the use of power is involved? Can we witness to God with the power of reconciliation, love, sacrifice and service in Jesus’ behalf to win the souls as He has won us?
Jesus’ followers always wondered how he could live out his teaching on the Mount, Matthew 5:44 “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Today was the moment of truth to prove Jesus as man of his word. He was hated for his charisma, for his disturbing truth and for his power of love. Soldiers nailed him on the cross for no reasons. Anyone in Jesus’ humiliation and pain could be mad at his enemy. They could curse and threaten the enemy. But Jesus witnessed to his teaching by interceding for them, Luke 23:34, "Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing." He appealed to God to pardon them for ignorance. Can we do the same as Jesus did? I doubt it. We humans always look for excuses for ourselves and demand more justice for others. Only Jesus, who came to forgive and reconcile people, had the guts to pray for the enemy. With this forgiving spirit, Jesus had peace within and witnessed to God’s forgiving love. Jesus’ witness always challenges us whether we say what we believe and do as we say. Since our master forgave his ultimate enemy, do we have any reason to hold a grudge against those who made our life miserable? Jesus’ witness carries on. Years later, the first Christian martyr Stephen uttered the same witness in Acts 7:60 “Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ When he had said this, he died.” We should feel sorry if we are not in the line of the forgiving witnesses. Tonight, at the Palm Sunday night, before we go to bed, let us remember God’s mercy and ask God to give us power to forgive anyone whose names are locked in the bottom our hearts. This is a simple witness we can bear to our loving God and in a great favor for ourselves.
Witness, especially intentional witness, is not in vain. In the celebration of his painful death by mockers and other enemies, one person picked up Jesus’ witness. He believed that it was impossible for Jesus’ witness to be of human origin. It had to be from God and for God. A condemned and dying criminal asked Jesus for forgiveness and remembrance after the death of shame and guilt. This man relentlessly wanted good news from his cross. It seems that one desperate and dying man asked for help from another desperate and dying man. The whole world would question whether there was good news for either one while they were in excruciating pain and overwhelming hopelessness. But the good news was from Jesus’ Cross. No, the brutal cross could not keep Jesus from sharing the hope and love in God. His promise was the witness to God, Luke 23:43 "Today you will be with me in Paradise." It is incredible that the good news is not from a palace or from an academy. It is from the witness on the cross. This is the last witness of Jesus as a man on the surface of the earth. But this is the most powerful witness leading people to God’s forgiveness and glorious eternity.
Jesus witnessed to God from birth to death. His Spirit empowers everyone to continue the witness. However the devil hates the witness of God’s children. He tries to mislead us to believe that we can only witness to God’s blessings and goodies in favorable circumstances. The devil passed this idea to Job’s wife. Job 2:9-10 “Then his wife said to him, ‘Do you still persist in your integrity? Curse God, and die.’ But he said to her, ‘You speak as any foolish woman would speak. Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?’ In all this Job did not sin with his lips.” Job was known as a blameless and upright man in front of God before his trials. But his witness was more valuable than before during his suffering. From the stories of Job and Jesus, we have learned that a favorable circumstance is not necessarily the precondition to witness to God. On the contrary, in the extreme conditions, we are more graciously empowered for witnessing. Don’t argue with God that a better spouse will make your family a witness of harmony and love; or with a windfall you will contribute more to God’s kingdom financially as your witness. Remember that the widow of two copper coins bore a better witness in her poverty. Anytime you and I can have a better witness as long as we intentionally pray for the power to witness to God in our daily life, in good years and in the extremely difficulty circumstances as the Lord Jesus on the cross. As long as we are willing, nothing can keep us from bearing powerful witnesses. Christian churches and families are called to be the witnessing community for God.
We are amazed at our Lord Jesus who could bear his final witnesses even from the brutal cross. They are his uncompromising identity as the king and savior, his refusal to use violent power available to him, his integrity to forgive his enemy as he preached, and his passion to share good news with anyone. We all are witnesses to God, trailing after Jesus. May God continue to empower each and every one of us to witness to God’s love intentionally all lifelong, regardless of where we are and what we do in front or behind people.