Paraphrasing my friend Daniel at Daniel and the Lion’s Den ministry who sends me daily text messages of encouragement: My goal in these letters is to uplift by giving you something positive to meditate on and think about, something that draws you closer to GOD. I try to be led by the HOLY SPIRIT with prayer. My formula, to use a math metaphor, starts with an idea or even a dream. I first divide the problem or thought into smaller pieces and then address or find ways to overcome them one by one. Then I multiply all the possibilities I can think of. Next, I subtract the negative thoughts. Finally, I add together enthusiasm, the Bible, and my faith in order to proclaim GOD’s truth. My desire is to give and for you to attain hope, to help you have true joy and peace in life. E=mC2 (Enthusiasm = my Christ squared). It’s not meant to bore but to enlighten, not to preach but to share what I’ve learned. After all, “Christianity is one beggar telling another beggar where he found bread” – D. T. Niles.
My hope and prayer is that this letter finds you well. I pleased to say that I had the opportunity to meet with another one of my brothers who recently paroled. We spent a wonderful afternoon together catching up and renewing our friendship. It is amazing the work that our Lord Jesus Christ is accomplishing through his servants whether bound or free. It has been proven over and over that the Lord stays faithful to those who stay faithful to Him.
A Familiar Story
The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is a central tenet of the Christian faith. Everyone knows that the Easter story presents an account of the events leading up to and following the darkest day in human history and the brightest day in God’s history. What follows is an analysis of those events from the prisoner’s perspective. This is not intended to be a theological discussion but rather a paraphrase using language from modern criminal justice. Simply a way of looking at the parallels that can be drawn between what Jesus went through and what a convict goes through. Jesus was said to be both fully God and fully human, that He experienced all aspects of life, including temptation, yet never sinned. Only by both living and dying could He fully experience the human condition. In an act of selfless love that fulfilled the holy writ Jesus became the perfect sacrifice to atone for our sins.
Beginning in Matthew 26:3-5 and John 11:57 the Prosecutor and the Grand Jury determine that a warrant for Jesus’ arrest was merited because He was disturbing their peace and was a threat to the establishment. An APB was issued and a reward for information regarding the whereabouts of the suspect was posted. From Matthew 26:14-16 and Luke 22:1-5 Judas Iscariot decides to become a snitch in order to claim the reward, since he didn’t like the direction this Messiah’s kingdom was heading. As the treasurer for Jesus’s organization he liked to take a little off the top for himself and all the talk of giving everything to the poor and Jesus predicting his own death was bad for business (John 12:1-7). According to Luke 22:3-6, the authorities concerned about public relations and their ability to control the message sought to arrest Jesus away from the public eye.
Judas knowing that Jesus would be with only his inner circle of disciples in a secluded location after dinner led an overwhelming force of armed officers to arrest Jesus. Matthew 26:47-56, Mark 14:43-50, Luke 22:47-52, and John 18:8-12 describe the scene as one of barely controlled chaos, with fear and confusion on all sides. Officers sent by the authorities behaving like a small mob of thugs, seeking to intimidate and overpower any resistance, wait for Judas to positively identify the suspect. Once identified, they move in to arrest Jesus. As they take him into custody the disciples flee into the night, running for their lives.
Jesus was taken to the Sanhedrin for a preliminary hearing. Matthew 26:57-68, Mark14:53-65, and John 18:12,13,19-24 recount the hostile encounter between Jesus and the High Priest who served as prosecutor. Witnesses are brought in, yet none could agree on the facts in their testimony. In the end the exasperated prosecutor seizing on one statement from 2 witnesses confronts Jesus about his true nature and identity. Up until this point Jesus has remained silent choosing to not say anything, but now breaks his silence to answer the prosecutor’s final question. Jesus cannot deny who He is. It causes a near riot as the Sanhedrin serving as the Grand Jury erupts in a frenzy over Jesus statement. They pronounce him guilty of blasphemy and call for the death penalty. There was no defense attorney brought in to act as public defender for Jesus, no cross examination of the witnesses, and no council to avoid self-incrimination.
Now Israel was subjugated by the Roman Empire and as such the High Priest and the Sanhedrin could not impose the death penalty themselves. They had to take the death penalty case to the Roman governor for final judgment and sentencing. Matthew 27:11-26, Mark 15:2-15, Luke 23: 2,3,18-25, and John 18:29-19:16 contain the accounts of this hearing. Pilot, the governor was a shrewd politician and could see the politically motivated nature of the charges and did not find that the charges brought against Jesus merited the death penalty. He tried to avoid making a ruling in the case by initially determining that the prosecutor had brought the case to the wrong court. Since Jesus was from somewhere else, Pilot ruled that he should be tried in Herod’s court.
According to Luke 23:8-12 Herod was initially interested in hearing from Jesus, since he had heard of Jesus reputation as a miracle worker. But he quickly tired of listening to the prosecutor pressing his demands for a death sentence while Jesus stood silently, refusing to answer any questions. So, Herod and his officers mocked Jesus by dressing him up as a king and then returned Jesus to Pilot’s court in a classic perp walk.
Pilot now faced with a dilemma tried to bargain with the crowd that had gathered to watch the court spectacle. He offered the crowd, which had been whipped up into a mob by the High Priest, the choice to either release Jesus or Barabbas who had been convicted of murder and insurrection. The prosecutor and the crowd shout for Barabbas’ release and for the death of Jesus. Pilot concerned that the situation was rapidly getting out of control, acquiesces to their demand. In a final theatrical gesture Pilot washes his hands to signify that Jesus blood was not on his hands.
Now of course things would never get this far out of hand in a modern American courtroom, but the Roman Empire was a vastly different place, held together with brutal oppression of the forces seeking to tear it apart. Crucifixion was an integral part of this policy. In today’s society it was the equivalent of mass incarceration, but far more cost effective than locking people up for years. Death by crucifixion was slow and painful, it was also very public. In some places, crucifixions were carried out by the thousands to send a message to the populace that resistance was futile.
Matthew 27:33-44, Mark 15:22-32, Luke 23:33-43 and John 19:17-24 contain the accounts of the crucifixion. Pilot ordered that Jesus be flogged and then crucified. Many people would have likely died from the flogging alone. Because of the brutal, savage beatings he had already received and then the flogging Jesus was unable to carry his own cross to the place of execution. A random stranger was taken out of the crowd and forced to carry the cross for him. No appeals process, no ACLU, no Innocence Project, no reprieve, no last meal, no option for an alternate form of execution.
Most of Jesus disciples had run and hid. Peter had denied him, three times! (Matthew 26:69-75, Mark 14:66-72, Luke 22:55-62, and John 18:16-18,25-27) Jesus felt the weight of the entire world on his shoulders as he was raised up on the cross. His accusers continued to mock him, the officers gambled for his clothes, the crowd watched expectantly to see if God would save him. Even with his own impending death he offered eternal life to the thief dying on the cross next to him. At the end he cried out “It is finished” (John 19:30). When he died there was an earthquake and the veil in the temple that separated the Holy of Holies was torn in half (Matthew 27:51). Even the Roman officer moved by the scene exclaimed that “surely he was the Son of God!” (Matthew 27:54)
On the darkest day in human history an innocent man was convicted and executed for the petty motives of jealousy, political expediency, and betrayal for 30 pieces of silver. But death isn’t the end of the story. Jesus was buried in a rich man’s tomb (Matthew 27:57-61, Mark, 15:42-47, Luke 23:50-56, and John 19:38-42). He was wrapped in a burial shroud and the tomb was sealed to prevent anyone from taking the body and officers were posted to keep watch (Matthew 27:62-66), but on the third day he arose. Death could not keep him in the grave. Jesus overcame death and sin to rise victorious over Satan (Matthew 28:1-8, Mark 16:1-8, Luke 24:1-10, and John 20:1-8). On the greatest day in God’s history his son Jesus defeated Satan once and for all. Not just to end the war between heaven and hell, but to provide a way for man to once again commune with God, as he had so long ago in the Garden of Eden. Jesus became the High Priest and now he sits at the right hand of his Father in Heaven interceding on our behalf (Hebrew 4:14-16).
Jesus Christ experienced the Criminal Justice system of his day and went from a free man to a dead man in 24 hours. Never once did he complain about his treatment at the hands of abusive officers, a prosecutor with a political agenda, a judge that didn’t have the courage to follow his convictions, or a fickle populace that in one week went from a joyous throng hailing him as a king to a blood thirst mob demanding his execution. Instead he said, “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing,” even as his life was ebbing away (Luke 23:36).
Looking at Easter from this perspective should first of all show that criminal justice has always been dysfunctional. The MDOC did not invent nor has it cornered the market in inhuman treatment, unfair rules and regulations, or bureaucratic officials. Jesus endured the suffering, even though it had been within his power to end it, in order to give us an example to follow. By his suffering we have a Savior who can relate to our situation. We can see that he was willing to place himself in our position to show us how to live by God’s grace and mercy. He showed us the true meaning of forgiveness and that there are no exclusions to the command to forgive others. With his dying breath he trusted his Father and so should we. John 3:16-17 says it all, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him would not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”
I welcome your letters to talk about my meditations on scripture or what is going on in your lives, or anything else. I pray for you daily and I want you to know that you are not forgotten.
Your Brother in Christ