Last night in the sermon I was looking at the confrontation between Jesus and Pilate in John 18:28-38a. The Jews wanted Jesus dead, and the Romans were means to make it so. Pilate really could not be bothered. Why couldn’t the Jews deal with this under their own law? Then comes the crunch, “It is not lawful for us to put anyone to death”, they said. Yes, they wanted death.
But then John says that they said this, “that the saying of Jesus might be fulfilled which He spoke, signifying by what death He would die.” (v32) What’s this about? There are two facts which are true:
- The Roman method of death was crucifixion. The Jews knew that Jesus would suffer this way.
- They also knew Dt. 21:22,23. In Jewish law whoever was hanged on a tree was accursed of God.
Now, it is not too big a step to take to believe that not only were the Jews planning the death of Jesus, but they were taking advantage of the regime of the day to ensure that after his death Jesus would have the worst reputation for Jews – accursedness from God.
But John, here says that this was to happen in fulfilment of Jesus’ own saying about his death (referring back to John 12:31-32). It is quite remarkable that both things can be true at the same time in the same events: the evil plans of the godless, and the perfect plans of Jesus. But we see it clearly to be true. The cross to come was the victory of the King of the heavenly Kingdom over the world.
It is often said by Christians in the midst of difficulty and suffering that God is able to “work things together for good” (paraphrasing Romans 8:28). We take comfort from the thought that in the end there will be a net benefit. It is hard to see at the time, but we hope it will be true. What struck me last night after preaching (the best thoughts often come later), was that we have perfect example of this kind of thing going on before us in the life of Jesus. Here in John 18 we can see how the world and the King use the same events for different reasons, but not in the sense of there being a mighty tug of war to pull the outcome to one of two mutually exclusive, but eagerly desired directions. Rather, each side is happy with the proposed outcome, happy with the events as they are, but the forces of this world believe, wrongly, that they will win the day. They do not understand that these are necessary for the King’s ultimate victory.
Seeing that, does this not change our perspective on our own sufferings?
(PS All this brings to mind a dim memory of C. S. Lewis’s statement that Aslan, in the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, knew a Deeper Magic than the Queen. I must look that up…)