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Sunday, November 13, 2016

More Use from His Enemies

“A wise man gets more use from his enemies than a fool from his friends.”
― Baltasar Gracián

I can’t help but notice that all through the trial and execution of Jesus — at least seven times in Matthew 27 alone — enemies and bystanders cannot seem to avoid testifying to the exemplary character of the one they are busily engaged in putting to death, a fact that is both remarkable on its face and corroborative of Gracián’s adage.

If such a thing has ever happened before or since, I’d be more than a little surprised.

Consider these statements:

“I have sinned by betraying innocent blood” (v4)

Here Judas reconsiders his betrayal. Whatever complex motives drove him (and I suspect greed was not first on the list), it appears he may not have anticipated that Jesus would actually be sentenced to death. But his change of heart, acknowledging his own guilt and the innocence of the Lord Jesus, came too late.

“Have nothing to do with that righteous man” (v19)

Pilate’s wife had a dream so vivid it hurt. She came away from it with what seems to be a clearer picture of the Lord’s character than his own disciple, in that innocence is merely passive while righteousness is a positive character trait. This is unusual (one is tempted to say outright miraculous) because unlike Judas, she had no personal experience of the man on trial before her husband.

“What evil has he done?” (v23)

Pilate’s question is rhetorical. None of his accusers is able to make a coherent claim of guilt, as in the previous chapter, where the chief priests and the whole council are unable to lay a plausible charge against Jesus despite indulging the fantasies of a cavalcade of false witnesses.

The crowd does not respond directly to Pilate’s question for the simple reason that there exists no defensible answer for them to have shouted out.

“Hail, King of the Jews!” (v29)

The statement is intended sarcastically, but again indicates the utter bankruptcy of the charges against the Lord Jesus. Consider the sorts of insults hurled nightly at Donald Trump outside his rallies: “Hitler!” “Racist!” and “Feckless blowhard!” are among my favourites, and “Shameful!” and “Vile!” are right up there. We can debate whether or not any of them have a basis in fact, but if Trump’s enemies are representative of critics in general, they seem to have no problem expressing their hatred quite articulately. If the soldiers of the governor had anything legitimate of which to accuse Jesus, here was a great opportunity to spell it out.

But like everyone else, they were without verbal ammunition.

“This is Jesus, the King of the Jews” (v37)

The inscription posted on the cross itself was (again) the work of Pilate. Matthew simply records it. It is left to John to point out that there were those who would have preferred to edit this declaration to their satisfaction but were thwarted in the attempt.

“He saved others … he trusts in God” (v42-43)

In the process of mocking him, the chief priests, scribes and elders inadvertently find themselves telling the truth. Caught up in rejoicing that the Lord Jesus is (apparently) unable to save himself, they fail to notice that in declaring that “He saved others”, they are condemning themselves for their own failure to acknowledge the obvious source of this salvation.

And how exactly is trusting in God a negative?

“Truly this was the Son of God!” (v54)

The centurion and those who were with him keeping watch were probably the least distracted onlookers of all, and their testimony takes into account God’s response to his Son’s execution in an earthquake that even pagans could see was intimately connected to the events they had witnessed.

The Obvious Conclusion

Reasonable readers can only infer the unseen presence of Someone Very Powerful quietly ensuring that the charges made against the Lord Jesus embarrassed only those who were making them, and that they were seen and understood by as many witnesses as possible.

Useful enemies indeed.

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