There is such irony in the words:
”So the soldiers took charge of Jesus” (16b).
We have seen throughout chapters 18 and 19 that it is in fact Jesus who is in control, despite all appearances to the opposite. Reading this section of John, it looks, superficially, like the powers that be are in control; but between the lines, between the cracks, you can feel the message seeping out that they are not. Sometimes, in the church, we try to ‘take charge’. It may not be our intention, but it can happen. We start to use Jesus for our own ends. We treat the church like a business and ‘run’ it as we would any other organisation. When we stop praying; or when we are not as prayerful as we should be, we will be in danger of taking over – if such a thing were possible.
I hear that close to the bus station in Jerusalem there is a place called ‘Gordon’s Calvary’. It is a skull shaped rock that General Gordon came across, and thought might be the site of the crucifixion. We cannot know for sure, but this is certain: Jesus died, and in order to be His disciple we must carry our cross (17). Christianity begins with the ‘death’ of repentance, and entails a multitude of deaths every single day.
Jesus divides (18). The cross divides. He is still ”in the middle”, and we are either side of Him. Some of us line up with the thief who repented and cried out to Jesus for mercy. That is the only safe place to be. But many others align themselves with the scornful, rude, mocking and rejecting thief. They don’t want anything to do with Christ. This eighteenth verse provides a graphic picture of what is going in the world as the gospel is preached. There is a dividing line running through history and we are all on the right side or the wrong side.
On which side are you?