But they kept shouting, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”
Luke 23:21 | NIV (1984) | Other Versions | Context
In one of my roles at church I produce Christian plays for major festive/outreach events; and while sometimes you’ll see skits for some of the smaller events, Easter and Christmas plays are a given. You don’t need to ask if I’m going to do it, because I will. This year, I wrote a script for Good Friday which I bluntly titled Who Killed Jesus? – a non-linear trackback of the events leading up to the death of Jesus, trialling suspects in order to investigate who is truly responsible for the death of Jesus. In my very first rehearsal I asked every member of the cast and crew one by one this question: Who Killed Jesus? – and received a variety of answers, including us, Jews, Pilate, Judas, Satan. As the scriptwriter my ultimate conclusion (in the script) was that God willed for the death of Christ, and without it, no matter who else partook in it, Jesus wouldn’t have died (the pastoral team banned me from saying God killed Jesus – not that I wanted to though, there is a significant difference).
I see myself as a creative, as a designer, as an artist, and I see my plays as a form of art. In line with that, many of the devices I used in the plot were rather abstract. It was a script that I had mulled over for more than half a year, although the actual writing took only a frantic night. But one of the very first scenes that I had pictured in my head came from Luke 23:21. Pilate, Jesus, some guards are up on stage, pharisees off to the side of the stage goading the audience, while members of the cast and crew are planted amongst the audience, chanting, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” while trying to goad the regular audience into chanting as well. This scene was something I had insisted on even when my director wasn’t very comfortable with it, it was rather important to me, and on the during the play itself, this was quite a formidable scene. Throwing aside my nostalgia about this verse, let us attempt to study it in detail. It’s the kind of verse where most study guides wouldn’t have too much to say about, exactly the kind of verse that I love studying about.
Mark 15:13, Mark 15:14, Matthew 27:23, Luke 23:21, John 19:6 and John 19:15 lists out the ‘Crucify him’s available in the gospel books. The degree of detail that surround the events leading up to the crucifixion of Christ varies from book to book, and the different authors left out different things, but the information regarding the people shouting ‘crucify him’ was largely consistent in the Bible. In the events leading up to the crucifixion there were so many notable things that perhaps this wouldn’t usually jump out as a point of note.
But – whenever this word appears at the start of a verse, it is our cue to refer to the verse(s) prior to it. Luke 23:20 says, Wanting to release Jesus, Pilate appealed to them again. And that’s where the crucial word comes in. Pilate was ready to let Jesus off – he wanted to let Jesus off and be rid of the trouble and responsibility of having to deal with such a tricky situation. But, the people chanted. They didn’t chant when Pilate wanted to crucify Jesus. They chanted when Pilate didn’t want to crucify Jesus. I’m not holding the people responsible or saying that it was their fault that Jesus was crucified, neither am I absolving Pilate of any responsibility – the crucifixion of Christ involves a whole string of pieces falling together, and to me, this was the final piece. In shouting ‘crucify him’, the people made Pilate’s judgement partial. In shouting ‘crucify him’, the people effectively left the selfish Pilate with little choice but to send Christ on his way to death.
they kept shouting – Did they even know what they were shouting for? Did they know what they were doing when they asked for the release of Barabbas [Luke 23:18] the murderer instead of the innocent Jesus? Did they really want to see Jesus crucified? It was an odd moment. Jesus had plenty of followers. Why did nobody shout, ‘release Jesus’? At the end of the day, it went according to God’s will, but if we try to place a finger on it, perhaps it was due to the crowd mentality. Somebody shouts. A bunch of people shouts. Everybody shouts. If that’s what everybody wants, it must be for the best, isn’t it?
Crucify him! Crucify him! – 2000 years later, in our own ways, we’re still ‘crucifying’ Jesus. With the sins that we do despite knowing that we shouldn’t do, with the love that we lack and with the faith that keep wavering, we’re still shouting for Jesus to be crucified. That one moment of crowd mentality, that one moment of societal pressure, that one moment of conforming to this warped society rather than imitating Jesus is the one moment when we gathered in front of a suffering Jesus and shouted to his face, crucify him, crucify him. Jesus may have already been crucified and have risen from the dead, but figuratively speaking, we’re constantly shouting for him to be crucified. We’re constantly ‘crucifying him’.
It’s clearly the wrong season to be talking about the Crucifixion of Christ, or the events leading up to it; and to be honest, the way I wrote the script and this study itself relied heavily on the guilt-trip, which is more often than not unnecessary and unfair. Christ has already risen from the dead, having already redeemed us of our sins, having already promised us grace and salvation. We’re no longer tied to our sins and the burdens of our sins. Analyzing the mentality of crowd who shouted crucify him, it was largely illogical – asking for a dreaded murderer to be released rather than Jesus, whom even Pilate knew was innocent. Let us avoid that, let us avoid conforming to the crowd mentality of this world and conform to the societal pressure that’s building up around us against Christianity. We’re not Jesus. We’re not expected to crucify ourselves with guilt of our sins. But let us not crucify our Lord either, instead, let’s imitate him and edify him.
interesting. i read luke 23 today by way of something else, and when i got there i was fascinated too. i would love to have seen your play! i tried to imagine myself sitting there in a dark audience with people around me yelling that out. that must have been strangely powerful for many people.
What a very powerful blog entry you made. Even as Christians we sometimes have problems removing ourselves from the crowd mentality. I tend to think of Easter at Christmas and Christmas at Easter because one cannot exist without the other. You touched my heart with this. Thank you!!
You are such a gift, thank you from my heart!