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Jerusalem is our capital, the major city in our land. It teems with people at any time of the year, but especially at festival time. Jews from everywhere converge on Jerusalem to observe the appointed feasts. Our city is filled with crowds. And it doesn’t take much to turn a crowd into a mob. A throng is a crowd in love. A mob is a crowd in hate. I’ve been in a mob or two. I was there when the mob raised its voice in hate. The city was packed with Jews here to celebrate the Passover. I was in the street late on the night of the feast when I saw a group of the priests and members of the Sanhedrin making their way towards the Roman fortress of Antonio. They went past us in a cold rush. A number of people followed along, curious and excited. Something big was up. I fell in step and from snatches of conversation, I soon learned there was to be an arrest, and a trial. Someone was going to die.
We stopped at the gate and waited while the priests went into the fortress. Some of the temple police were there. Torches and clubs appeared and were passed through the crowd. A crowd draws a crowd, you know, and soon there were scores of us, eager, energized, expectant. The priests banged out through the fortress gate with a contingent of soldiers and led us out of the city to the east. Our torches made little light in the heavy blackness. We were swallowed up in the cool rush of darkness, and stumbling, hurried excitement. We came to a garden and found the one they wanted.
I was disappointed. I thought with the soldiers and the mob, we might be there to surprise some outlaws. I was ready for a fight. But they were after one man who looked completely unremarkable. Evidently He was a rabbi who had been praying there in the garden with His disciples. He came to us with a greeting of peace. The man next to me pointed and said that was Jesus the Nazarene. I recognized the name. He had caused some kind of trouble in the temple and the religious leaders were determined to silence Him. Jesus was bound and dragged from the garden back into the city to the palace of the high priest. Several of us got into the courtyard at Caiaphas’ house. We grouped around the fires, trading guesses about what was happening to the prisoner inside. As the night grew old, I found a corner and sat watching the fire. I must have dozed. Suddenly I was awake. Noise and confusion, pushing and shoving. We were on our way. Pressing through the narrow streets, bumped against stone walls, we were heading for the fortress again.
We stopped outside the governor’s judgment hall and shouted for Pilate. The council had condemned Jesus for blasphemy. They wanted an execution. We had to make sure the governor would hand down a death sentence. Jesus stood before the governor, beaten and bloodied. But Pilate was being difficult. That ignited our rage. Pilate challenged us. “I find no fault in this man. What do you want me to do with Him?” The chief priests led the chant, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” We picked it up quickly. Perhaps you have never been swept up in a pure hatred. Rage has a mindless strength that no power can resist. I shouted with the others. “Crucify Him! Crucify Him! Kill Him! He deserves to die.” All this for a man I did not even know.
Pilate had the Roman soldiers scourge Him. When Pilate stood Him before us and showed us the result, we flew into a blind frenzy. I could see that Pilate was shaken. He was ours. He delivered Jesus to us to bear His cross out of the city to Golgotha. Crowds lined the streets, mocking and jeering. Every hateful and spiteful emotion anyone had was spent on that man. He bled. He stumbled. He fell. Finally, the Roman centurion commanded a man coming in from the country to bear the cross for Him. All the while, we cursed and railed against this Jesus.
We finally made our way through the gate of the city and out to the place the Romans call Calvary, where common criminals were crucified, raised on a cross barely off the ground and left to die. The Roman soldiers nailed Him in place and upright on the cross, dropping it into a hole in the ground with a jolt. You could hear the Nazarene groan as the weight of His body pulled against the nails in His hands and feet. The mob spread across the hillside to watch. Most were men like myself, cursing the one on the cross. He had claimed to be a savior. We taunted Him, calling Him to come down from the cross and save Himself. But there were women there, too, beating their breasts and lamenting Him. You could tell from the agony in their cries that some were His followers. But our jeers drowned out their voices.
The Jewish religious leaders were there, mocking Him. The Roman soldiers ridiculed Him. We wanted Him to die. We relished His pain and suffering. A strange thing it is, to watch a man die. A fascinating horror. There is no dignity on a cross, hanging there in public view. The mob feeling drained from me, and I was just one man, watching another man die. He was covered with blood and sweat. The other two whimpered and cursed and pleaded for mercy, but this man was different. He spoke from the cross, but not in anger nor in bitterness. He spoke in compassion to one of the thieves hanging next to Him. He spoke to a woman I guessed to be His mother. There were words to a man with her. There were requests to the soldiers. And as He hung there near death, He spoke toward heaven. I heard Him call on His Father to forgive us, those assembled in the mob. But how could He pray for our forgiveness after what we had done to Him? How could He answer our hatred with love?
Yes, I was in that crowd. Part of that angry mob. We raised our voices in hatred. But the one on the cross answered our hatred with love and forgiveness. I don’t understand it. He did not live long enough to remember my voice, but as long as I live, I’ll never forget His.
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