Murderous Heart


I stood with the angry throng on the rock-slab of the Roman praetorium before Pontious Pilate, screaming for Jesus to be crucified. I did so again and again, as loud as my ragged throat would allow. I remember mostly how my heart swelled with rage as the tension in the air became as palpable as when a street filled with Jewish brothers would stand in fearful silence as a Roman soldier on horseback trampled an innocent bystander merely because he had been in the soldier's way. I wanted so much for that murderer, Jesus, to die for his crimes against my God.

At first, instead of acquiescing to our angry demands, Pilate had Jesus flogged to a bloody pulp, hoping it would soften our hearts. A thick sweat whetted the surrounding air, causing us to breathe all the more rapidly. And the sight and scent of blood pouring from Jesus' now broken body left us licking our lips for even more. I'm sure Pilate thought a brutal beating would suffice for us, and that satisfied, we'd all go home. He was wrong.

Even the crown of thorns cutting into his pasty brow and matted hair, trails of blood trickling down his face, and even more, the crimson seepage from the wounds on his back and shoulders through the tunic his torturers hastily placed on him to cover the severity of their dastardly deed, did not come close to satiating our burgeoning lust for Jesus' death. Whether we understood it or not at the time, we were transferring our building anger over the oppression of the Roman occupation to the shoulders of one man whom we considered to be an even greater threat.

All the more we yelled, "Crucify him! Crucify him! Crucify him!" And when they led him away and began the long, steep march up Golgotha, we cheered. We knew what was next. We could already taste the unmistakable flavor of metal upon metal in our mouths all along the rugged rail. In mere moments, we knew we would hear Roman soldiers hammering thick metal stakes into Jesus' wrists, as well as into and through the top of his overlapped feet.

I smiled, anticipating the even greater pain he was going to feel than the soldiers' beating. I imagined him screaming loud enough for all Israel to hear. I imagined his body twisting and turning on the cross as he writhed to find comfort in the midst of unspeakable pain. I followed close behind the Roman-led entourage on the path to the Place of the Skull so I could witness Jesus' agony firsthand, from beginning to end. I didn't want to miss a thing.


Roman soldiers made Jesus carry his own cross. The thing must have weighed a ton, and was full of jagged splinters. I felt a thrill just thinking of the possibility of each splinter digging further into his raw flesh and stinging him with even more pain. He dropped the massive cross beams several times, and I was overjoyed each time to see the soldiers whip him again and again, stand him back up on his trembling legs, and then summarily drop the splintered cross back on his shoulders.

Finally, Jesus staggered to the top of the hill, where so many criminals were regularly tortured to hell. But this one was personal for me. It wasn't just another criminal or two, it was the man who dared to claim he was God. To me, his claim was far more than just blaspheming. It was murder. He was essentially killing my God and usurping his throne, a throne that was not and never would be, in my mind, his for the taking. Jesus had to die. And it had to hurt, and hurt badly. His dying, in my mind, would still not be enough for what he'd done. I wanted him to suffer for eternity.

I felt bad for Jesus' mother. I know it's not easy for a parent to lose a child...for any reason. I saw what my mom went through when she lost my little brother to the  "spotted" fever. Helplessly watching him slip away little by little, day after day, left her prostrate for days on end in her bedroom floor, her moans echoing off the walls in futile protest. I imagine Jesus' mother, even though her son was fully grown and justly sentenced to death for crimes committed, felt the same kind of unrelenting pain. On her knees on the brow of the hill, only feet away from where her son was being stretched out, her shaking hands raised as if pleading for her son's last-second release, I could see pain deeply etching itself in a new carving across her already withered face. Knowing her son was going to soon die, a gruesome death was already killing her.

When I could take no more of her suffering, I looked away and concentrated solely on the criminal who was about to be nailed down by laughing Roman executioners. I so looked forward to seeing him take his last gasp of air. All my protesting was about to pay off. I wanted to go home with a grin from ear to ear, knowing that his death had squared the record, and that all would be right with God again.

After seeing the soldiers pulling Jesus' arms out from side to side across the cross beam, nearly to the point of separating them from his shoulders, and seeing the first of the hammers rise above the heads of jagged nails pointing down toward his quivering flesh, I anticipated a rush of joyous vengeance coursing through my body when metal would finally strike metal, and the more than deserving prisoner would cry out in the greatest imaginable agony. I even imagined God smiling above in Heaven, seeing justice on earth was being done.

What I did not expect was that from Jesus would come not one cry. Not one. Incredulously, I thought, surely he felt pain when the stakes so rudely ripped through the flesh of his wrists. Pound after pound of the hammers, until each nail was driven completely through both his hands and feet, and secured deep into the wood, not once did he shout out or wail. Disappointingly, he did not even so much as moan. Except for the seemingly endless hammering, and the two other prisoners screaming who were being crucified that day, there was only silence from Jesus. I was more than surprised. I was shocked. It made no sense. How could it be, I thought? And when the pounding hammers were done, only stark confusion continued ringing in my ears.

Once the soldiers propped the cross up, its top tottering back and forth high in the air, with Jesus hanging limply from it like a bloody flag, and then wedged its base firmly into the rock hole chiseled out for just that purpose, I sat down with others gathered there to watch him slowly die. Unlike the others, who dropped to the ground quickly to sit with gleeful expectation, I slowly lowered myself onto my haunches, still puzzling over how Jesus was managing to remain so silent.

Many gathered there mocked Jesus, calling out all manner of insults that surely made them feel better for being able to freely utter them, but even more they hoped their sharp words would also mercilessly sting in Jesus' ears as his life slipped slowly away. They were merciless, for sure, and I could not blame them, but in me I strangely found no such barbs to throw. I was still reeling from the absence of the sounds of great pain, preventing me from feeling the glee I so anticipated would flood my soul.

I sat in silence. Sans the joy I sought in Jesus' anguished crying out, neither did the ringing of metal on metal, and the resulting audible tearing of Jesus' flesh, bring me the satisfaction I thought they would. His taking it all in without a sound, obstructed my senses like a massive tree falling ahead of me, across a road upon which I was traveling. I could not move forward as I had hoped. A certain paralyzing numbness began to creep across my body.


Jesus had been crucified at the third hour, but from the sixth until the ninth hour, darkness began to cover the land like a suffocating blanket. At the ninth hour, Jesus did finally speak, but with a dry and agonized voice. I could not understand what he was saying. Others told me they heard him call out for Elijah.  I figured he was probably begging for mercy from God, who I was sure was no longer listening to him. His death, I was sure, was now mere breaths away.

Only moments before, others, standing off to the side from where the crosses towered in the sky, said they heard Jesus ask God to forgive everyone, explaining as best he could that they, afterall, did not know what they were doing. I figured that couldn't be right. I knew exactly what I was doing. I was defending my God. Jesus had no authority to even ask that we be forgiven, and why would he do so anyway, especially for any of us, since we were the ones who were making sure everything possible was being done to forever shut him up.

Not long after, Jesus spoke one last time, shuddering violently as he finally succumbed. I remember wishing his torture lasted longer. The two thieves on either side of him were still alive and suffering mightily. Why wasn't he? I did not want him to have any measure of reprieve. I wanted his anguish to go on and on. The more the better. I resolved that he had more than a debt to pay.

To everyone's amazement, Jesus' passing did not come with the usual doleful silence when death claims flesh, and eternity captures the soul. The afternoon sun was now blotted out by ever-thickening clouds. The ground shook violently enough to throw me to the ground. Rocks around the top of the hill split apart. And from afar, I could see the dust rise from Jerusalem's outer walls as parts of them were being shaken. Certainly something quite unexpected and unsettling was afoot.

I was told later that parts of the temple were damaged, that the thick veil covering the entrance to the Holy of Holies was torn from top to bottom. There were more than a few reports also of tombs outside the city opening, and the bodies that had been buried in them walked freely about the streets, but with not an ounce of a foul smell permeating the air. A distinct fear began to creep deep within me. None of this was as it should be. This was not normal.

But more than the devastation turning Jerusalem upside down, what was most concerning to me was what I overheard the centurion say as he stood guard just beneath Jesus' body. His very words completed the paralysis of both my mind and body. As I lay upon the hard, cold ground, looking up at the guard looking up at Jesus hanging from his cross, the words I heard the guard say aloud with great confidence were: "Truly, this man was who he said he was."

The moment I heard the rugged guard's confession, something snapped in me. I felt a breaking, a giving way of all that I once held to be utterly immovable in my soul. My faith which stood sentinel, was not so sure anymore.

I was also no longer filled with the same rage I held before, as I then looked up at Jesus myself, stunned to see that though his eyes were now closed tight, his face was pointed at me as if he had been looking directly at me when he died. An unexpected shiver convulsed my body, starting at my feet and then seemingly exploding out the top of my head. It was not a long fall to the ground since I was already mostly there, but I found I could no longer hold my head up, as it crashed face-first upon the unforgiving rock-hardness of Moriah.


I don't know how long I laid atop the rocky mountain, but I remember when I came to, I saw two Pharisees appear out of nowhere to take Jesus' body down from the cross. I heard them talk, but could not make out what they were saying. I could not understand why two Pharisees were even bothering with him, especially seeing how gently they removed him from the caked-in-blood cross, and wrapped his limp and broken body in a large sheet with such care. The other religious leaders had told us Jesus was an arch-enemy to God. Did these two not believe what Caiaphas and Ananias said? Might they, God forbid, have actually come to believe Jesus was the Messiah?

Finally able to stir, I sat up, allowing the cobwebs to clear from my  beleaguered brain. Then I slowly stood up, almost losing my balance three times. Once upright, it was still more than a few moments before I could move steadily or think clearly. One thing was already very clear to me, though. The anger inside me I once unleashed on Jesus, was no longer goading me to violent action. As I stood there in the dark, my heart, mind and limbs fully numbed to inaction, left me only able to watch helplessly as events beyond my control passed me by.

The two Pharisees eventually traveled back down the mountain, presumably carrying Jesus' body away to bury him. No longer, though, was I consumed by the desire for Jesus' body to be flung into the Kidron Valley with all the other criminals of the faith. I actually imagined them instead taking him to a private tomb somewhere nearby. And though they did so with the greatest of gentleness, they removed Jesus' body from the mountain quickly, as the Sabbath was drawing near, a time after which no further work for the week was allowed to be performed. Just before dark officially descended, the two Pharisees had come and gone with the body, and no one, except me, had been the wiser.

Finally, I stood alone on Golgotha, after all soldiers and onlookers had long since retreated back into the confines of Jerusalem's great wall. Though it was most certainly now pitch dark, as evenings in the land of Shalom are accustomed to be, this particular night the dark seemed most unpierceable, even impenetrable. I could barely see my hands before my face, much less the treacherous footings of the trail that led back down the mountain and back into the city.

Along the way, I had momentary flashbacks of having had such resolve during the morning's protesting before Pilate, and how it swiftly gained momentum when Jesus was forced to carry his cross out of the city and up the mountain that would eventually claim his life. Like a starving dog, salivating at the prospect of soon tearing into a meaty meal, I climbed Golgotha with ravenous anticipation. Jesus and his death was the only thing on my vengeful mind and in my murderous heart. And then I wondered, with all that had just transpired, where all that  angered resolve had gone?

My last thought before re-entering Jerusalem for the night was, "Well...that's it." But somehow, deep inside, I did not feel so confident. Something within kept nagging at me, trying to tell me it was not over, that there was so much more to come. Little did I know that three days after Jesus was buried, I would hear the news that he had risen from the dead, and that instead of laughing out loud over the ludicrousness of such a tale, somehow I knew deep down it was actually true, and that the struggle welling up inside me was just gaining a momentum of its own.


I was not completely sure how I came to be standing with a crowd of several thousand outside and just beneath the porch of a two-story building in downtown Jerusalem. But there I was, when disciples of Jesus who had been hiding out there stepped out onto the porch to explain what the commotion they were making was all about. At first we thought they were drunk, possibly partying just a little too hard, and way too early in the day. There were easily more than 100 people gathered together in that small upper room.

It was not just a noise, though, we heard coming out of that room. It was recognizably natural, but at the same time it was something completely unnatural. It was like the combination of the sounds of a mighty howling  wind and the roaring of surging sea waves. Then, as if chiming in with the sounds of wind and waves, people in the room began moaning a stream of oohs and aahs, leading to a white-capped crescendo of loud praising and worshipful singing.

It had been fifty days since Jesus' reported resurrection, and ten days since he had last been seen. His disciples claimed they actually saw him ascend back to heaven. Over 500 people said they had seen him, talked with him, even ate and drank with him. I did not know what to think or believe when I heard the reports, but my curiosity was certainly more than piqued. And I really didn't understand why. Since the events of Golgotha, the only thing of which I was sure of was that something deep inside me was changing.

Since Jesus' crucifixion, I had taken to wandering the streets of Jerusalem. I had no family to tend, no job to go to, and I had just enough money stashed away to pay for food when I was hungry, though during that time, I seemed to lose my appetite too. I had nothing better to do. My wandering was not purposeful. I did it from sunup to sun down, thinking about whatever came to mind and listening to the stories and rumors I heard along the way. You could certainly say I was more than a bit of a lost soul.


I wanted to see Jesus like everyone else I heard about, especially since I had personally seen him die on the cross. It was one thing for his disciples to say he was alive again, but it was another level of thing for so many others to claim to have touched his wounds and watched him eat and drink with their very eyes. Every time I heard another report, I'd hurry to that spot, hoping he'd still be there. Every time I wandered through the area of greater Judea, I hoped he would appear, not necessarily to me, but so at least I could see it was him. I had to know if him being alive was really so.

I never ended up actually seeing Jesus myself, but I will never forget meeting someone who had been very close to him the whole time he was growing up, someone who for so long thought he was most certainly a fool's fool, and who had just come from, as he told me with great difficulty, a heart-rending encounter with him who claimed to be "the true Son of God."

He said his name was James, the eldest brother of Jesus. I saw him first on his knees in an alleyway, his hands raised in the air, and praying fervently without making a sound. His eyes were blood red, and rivers of tears were dried on his face. He spoke haltingly, with a rasp in his voice like a man whose throat ached with every word he attempted to utter. Out of both concern and curiosity, I stopped and asked him if he was alright. He answered yes...and no.

After a moment of swallowing saliva to coat and soothe his throat, James explained: "Jesus...he just spoke to me. And he...he forgave me." More tears began to stream from James' eyes.

"What do you mean he forgave you?" I asked.

"He was...he is...my brother," James said, trying unsuccessfully to wipe away the resumed flood of tears down his face.

"Your brother?" I asked.

"I...I mocked him so," James added and then began to wail out loud. A great pain was crying for release from a tortured soul who did not know yet how to let it go free.

"Mocked? I don't understand," I asked, placing my hand upon his shoulder, trying comfort him.

"I didn't...believe him," James struggled to explain, then looked straight up into my eyes and said, "Now I know...he ...he is...the One!" After confessing this, he got up and hurried away, turning a corner, and was gone. I tried to follow, but eventually had to stop, as I was back in the same street where I first saw him. He was nowhere to be seen.

I stood outside that alleyway where I met James for what seemed hours. I remembered what I heard the Roman soldier say back on Golgotha. James' voice was like his, not in its raspiness, but in the cracking and fear-struck sound it made, like when realizing a grievous error had been made, and being sure that some kind of severe punishment was going to follow. I didn't know what to make of it. And I didn't know how.

The thought again occurred to me, like it did the night I came down from Golgotha in the dark, that the crucifixion of Jesus was not the end of whatever matter was at hand. But now I was also thinking that his resurrection truly was not the end of a story, but the beginning of a whole new one. Then one Sunday morning early, as I wandered the streets of southern Jerusalem, I heard a great commotion coming from an upper room of a two-story building only a few feet from where I was walking. I noticed others nearby, who also heard the same loud noises, and together we curiously approached the building to see if we could determine what was going on.


There were many of us gathered there beneath the porch, more than 3,000 strong, representing countries and dialects from all over the world. Particularly astonishing was that the disciples seemed to be able to speak the languages of all the people gathered there. These men, after all, as we could see, were from lowly Galilee. How could these rough-hewn fishermen and laborers speak so many languages, and so fluently? Needless to say, speaking in different tongues caused quite a stir of its own.

Then one of the disciples stepped to the front rail of the porch. Others there in the upper room followed and stood just behind him. In a raised deep voice, he said his name was Peter, Simon Peter, and he began to address the crowd, quoting Scripture from the prophet Joel.

"In the last days, God said," Peter shouted, "I will pour out my Spirit on all people." As he spoke, I felt a strange warm swelling within my chest, as well as a mild euphoria settling in my head. I remember wondering at that very moment, ‘Is it actually happening right now? Is this the next part of the story I have been wondering about?"

"Fellow Israelites!" Peter announced. "Listen! Jesus of Nazareth did among you miracles, wonders and signs, and accredited all of them to God. Did you not see? Did you not hear? Still, you chose to listen to lying tongues about him. You chose to not believe him."

Not a soul among us dared say a word or make a sound as Peter spoke. Somehow, someway, we all sensed the other shoe was about to drop.

"Jesus was and is still the long-promised Messiah," Peter explained. "And you crucified him."

My instant head reaction to Peter's claim was to not believe. But in my gut, I knew he was telling the truth. Guilt began to settle into my soul, even before I fully accepted a shred of blame. I thought to myself for the first time in fear that I had actually helped kill the prophesied Messiah. And I remembered James in the alleyway, and the fear I heard in his voice. Now I was feeling it too.

"You must understand, though, that it was not just you, who murdered the Messiah, but God himself who let it happen, who let you do it," Peter continued, "who used you to hand His own Son over to the authorities to be crucified also as long-prophesied, and all according to his divine plan and foreknowledge."

Then Peter added, "You thought you were defending the honor of God, but God was using you to accomplish the work of his grand plan of salvation to save all mankind from its sin. He used your blind rage to fulfill his will. God the Father made Jesus that you crucified as both our Christ and Lord."

"God also raised Jesus up, releasing him from and bringing to an end the finality of death," Peter added. "In the end, it was impossible for Jesus to be forever held in death's power. Of His raising Jesus from the dead, we (gesturing to all those standing behind him on the porch and still in the upper room) are all witnesses. Therefore, we beseech you to accept our testimony, not for our benefit, but for the salvation of your own souls."

It dawned on me that this was all a part of God's plan from the beginning, and how easily my sinful heart had fallen for Satan's lies. God had just made all his enemies the footstool of the Messiah, where he would for eternity rest his feet. And I had unwittingly become one of them. I was cut to the core. I wanted to drop to my knees and cry out in repentance.

"What shall we do to atone?" another person standing in the now restless crowd shouted. "What can we do to make this right, if we can make this right? Oh, God, have mercy on our souls!"

After pausing for a moment, letting the whole crowd take in what the one person had just asked and to give them ample time to make it their own question as well, Peter confidently shouted for everyone to clearly hear: "Repent!"

Following the echo of Peter's command, having shot across every head gathered in the street, Peter repeated: "Repent! Be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus the Christ for the forgiveness of all your sins, not just for your murdering of the Messiah, but for all your sins for all time! And when you do, as proof of His gracious forgiveness, you will receive the gift of His Holy Spirit, who will come to dwell within you."

The sadness and guilt I was now feeling for being a part of the unbelievable suffering Jesus endured, suddenly changed in the twinkling of an eye into a feeling of great awe for the great grace and mercy being shown to us by God. It swept over me like a great wave of the sea, and like a great wind it filled my soul with a love greater than any I had ever known.


That day, we were witness to many wonders and signs done by Peter and the other disciples. Not only had our sins been forgiven, once and for all, but diseases were healed, evil spirits were chased away, and prophecies by the handfuls were proclaimed. Just about every miracle that could be imagined happened right before our very eyes. But, I must admit, the biggest one may well have been the complete elimination of the murderous heart that once raged in my chest, replaced by one that beat for the first time with only the love of the true God.

More than 3,000 of us believed, repented, and were baptized on that  momentous day of Pentecost. From that day on, we could not help but be devoted to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship they led, also the daily breaking of bread and unending prayer. We even felt led to come together to share with one another our belongings and possessions, distributing them as needed for those among us who were most in need. Praise and worship for what God had done amongst us continued day after day, gaining  a momentum that would not be stopped or slowed.


Looking back, Dear Lord, I confess I was one of those screaming for You to be crucified, but You forgave me anyway. I was one of the thorns piercing Your brow, but You forgave me anyway. I was one of the cat-o-nine tails tearing flesh from Your back, but You forgave me anyway. I was one of the nails driving through Your wrists, but You forgave me anyway. I  was one of the hands holding the spear that pierced Your side, but You forgave me anyway.

I was one of those who stood at the foot of Your cross, clenching my fists at You in unbridled anger. And I was one of those who fifty days later stood in the Holy Spirit's pouring of both tears and grace at Pentecost. Thank you for taking the murderous heart that meant only to hurt You, and replacing it with one that wants nothing more to do with that. For I am now one of those who stands only to love You with all my heart, soul, mind and strength. Amen.

Matthew 26:57-68; Matthew 27:11-66; Matthew 28:1-15
Acts 2

*inspired by the song "You Love Me Anyway," by the Sidewalk Prophets

by J Alan R
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