The Buck Stops...

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The deed had been done.  Jesus had been turned over to the authorities. It is assumed that Judas expected the Lord, when faced with the threat of arrest and execution, to call down those legions of angels, to establish that earthly kingdom. Things didn’t turn out at all as Judas expected them to. Jesus allowed Himself to be taken away and did nothing when the authorities condemned Him to die.

Judas was devastated and tried to undo what had been done but it was too late. “‘I have sinned,’ he said, ‘For I have betrayed innocent blood.’ ‘What is that to us?’ they replied. ‘That’s your responsibility’” (Matthew 27:4).

A little later, Jesus was standing before Pilate, the Roman governor. Pilate was reluctant to condemn Jesus, but according to the law he was the only one who could pronounce the death sentence. He tried to evade the responsibility by giving the people a choice: Free Jesus or free Barabbas, a known criminal. By this time the crowds had been so fired up by the Jewish authorities that they demanded that Jesus be executed (the quintessential “crowd mentality” example).

Pilate literally washed his hands of the whole thing: “‘I am innocent of this man’s blood,’ he said. ‘It is your responsibility!’ All the people answered, ‘Let his blood be on us and on our children!’” (Matthew 27:24, 25).

The Jewish authorities, along with Pilate, claimed that they had no responsibility in what was going to happen. Yet, despite the fact that Judas had betrayed the Lord and the crowd had demanded His death, the greater responsibility lay at the feet of those who had the power to make the final decision.

The leaders are always ultimately responsible. The “buck” always stops at the desk of the man in the executive office. However much the religious and secular leaders protested their innocence in the matter, they were ultimately responsible. Theirs was the final word, even if they didn’t speak it.

This doesn’t release Judas or the crowd from their responsibility. Judas was right when he said that he had sinned. The crowd was right when they said that Jesus’ blood would be on their heads, though they had no idea what the consequences of that rash statement would be.

But the leaders refused to lead justly and so bore responsibility for the events recorded for us here in Matthew.

It’s easy to justify their behaviour by insisting that Jesus had to die anyway so why blame those who became the instruments of the inevitable. But Jesus Himself said: “The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born” (Mark 14:21).

In the end, everyone would carry the guilt but these words from James apply, I believe, as much to leaders as they do to teachers: “No many of you should presume to be teachers [leaders], my brothers, because you know that we who teach [lead] will be judged more strictly” (James 3:1).

The buck really does stop when it gets to the Executive Office.

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