Friday, March 21, 2008

Context, Context, Context

Good Friday
Friday, March 21, 2008
Matthew 27:37

And over His head they put the charge against Him, which read, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.”

You know what the three most important factors of real estate are: location, location, location. When it comes to the Word of God, you might say three factors we need to keep in mind are context, context, context. Too often people will take portions of Scripture and yank them out of their context so that they end up with an entirely different meaning. One way this has been described is by putting these three statements of Scripture together: “Judas went out and hanged himself.” “Go and do likewise.” “What you must do, do quickly.”

This is obviously not what the Scriptures intend for us to do so we must look at each of these statements of Scripture in their context so that we may know the correct meaning of them. There’s a statement in the Passion reading from Matthew that deserves our look. In its context, it presents us with a fascinating understanding of our Lord’s Passion. When Jesus was crucified, Pontius Pilate placed above the head of Jesus on His cross the crime for which He was being crucified. It read simply, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.”

Pilate had made it clear that He didn’t care one way or another what Jesus was saying about Himself. He knew that Herod was the king of the Jews. He knew that Jesus wasn’t. He knew that Jesus was not guilty of any crime against the state. He wanted to set Jesus free. He was in the business of crucifying hardened criminals, not preachers. As the Scriptures say, he knew that the Jewish religious leaders delivered Him over to crucifixion out of envy.

But Pilate was also concerned about his own hide. He answered to Caesar and Caesar was a more powerful force in his life than this itinerant preacher from Galilee. So if Jesus said He was the king of the Jews then Pilate would play along. The Scriptures tell us that the religious leaders were none too pleased about Pilate’s statement on Jesus’ cross. They said to him, “Don’t say ‘The king of the Jews,’ but that He said He was the king of the Jews.” Pilate had given them what they wanted in delivering Him over for crucifixion, but for this complaint he simply said: “What I have written, I have written.”

And what he wrote is fascinating, because though Pilate did not believe in Jesus as Lord what he wrote on Jesus’ cross gives us an understanding of who Jesus is. The context of it is a pagan acting on behalf of all humanity: Pilate gave the death sentence; he gave Jesus over for crucifixion; but we all share in that act. It is the sin of every person that delivered Jesus over to crucifixion.

The context is a governor stating the crime Jesus had committed. What was it? Being the king of the Jews. An honorable king will lay down his life for his kingdom. This is what Jesus has done. But not only for the Jews, for everyone. He reigns on high as the King of all creation and yet became part of that creation in order to save sinners. He saved sinners by laying down His life for them.

But the most striking words Pilate placed before them were these: “This is Jesus.” These words direct us to what we need to know about Jesus. We’re familiar with the Apostle Paul’s emphatic statement, “We preach Christ crucified.” Well, before he uttered those words, here was a pagan, a politician who wanted to get ahead in his career, showing us the same thing. If we want to know who God is, look at Pilate’s words: This is Jesus. If we want to know what God thinks of us, look at those words above Jesus’ head when He was crucified: This is Jesus. If you are wracking your brain trying to come to grips with the suffering in your life, take a glance at what a man you’d probably never want to meet wrote in order to crucify an innocent man: This is Jesus.

The context of these words clarify for us what God was accomplishing. We’d expect the Apostle Paul to boldly cry out to the world, “We preach Christ crucified.” We’d never expect a pagan politician to point us to the Savior of the World. But he did. With these simple words—This is Jesus. No, Pilate didn’t believe it. But the words were there. For all to see. All who were there saw them and gazed upon the Savior of the world. God has preserved those words for all to hear. We are much more like Paul than we are Pilate, of course—we’re Christians, after all. We believe that Jesus is the Savior of the world. But may we point others to Jesus in the same way. Pointing them to His suffering and death on the cross. This is Jesus.


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