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BOWING TO THE PRESSURE OF THE CROWD

Who He Really Is

John 18:38-40
10th October 2004

The Pacific island specks of Pitcairn and Norfolk are divided by 6000 kilometres of ocean, but are bound across four centuries by the blood that boiled over in the Mutiny on the Bounty against Captain Bligh. When the mayor of Pitcairn was this week the first of seven island men to face trial accused of raping and abusing children over decades, Norfolk was there to support them.

In Australia, New Zealand, Great Britain, we might be glad to see justice finally exposing a society of sexual deviance, where the men of the island regularly rape young girls and women at will. Norfolk Island is more concerned with why Pitcairners are being prosecuted for child sex offences than whether the alleged behaviour occurred. Money has been collected to help the accused men defend themselves. The two islands share common ancestors in the mutineers who took over the Bounty in 1779 and settled with some Tahitian women. About a third of Norfolk’s 1800 residents trace their ancestry back to the 194 Pitcairners who settled the abandoned penal colony in 1856. Some of them later returned and today there are 47 people living in Pitcairn. The man who became mayor of Pitcairn Island treated the women on the remote island without respect. One woman has accused 53-year-old Steve Christian of raping her twice. Christian is the mayor and most prominent member of Pitcairn’s permanent population of 47 people. He has pleaded not guilty to six charges of rape and four of indecent assault on four women over the period 1964 to 1975. The woman said that when she was a girl, Christian took her for a ride on his motorbike and raped her. He subsequently repeated the rape.

She said Christian treated island girls “like we were all his harem”. In total, seven island men face 55 sex abuse charges dating back up to 40 years. The Island women have come out in support of the men, claiming it is their way of life and that the older men have to “break the girls in” by raping them. Some of the men claim that because everyone was doing it, they had to go with the crowd. Some of the women say they only support the men because of the pressure from the other women. Everybody is using the excuse of being pressured by the crowd. If the men are convicted and imprisoned, there will no longer have enough men on the island to crew longboats that are the only way to bring vital supplies to the island from passing ships.

Many people bow to the pressure of the crowd. A Lebanese drug addict in Villawood Detention Centre who is soon to be deported, claimed this week that Australian society was to blame for his becoming a heroin addict. “The pressure of the crowd was too much for me.” We see the same excuse being made at the trial of Jesus as recorded in the Gospels. Time and again, Pilate tried to get out of sentencing Jesus to death. “I find no basis for a charge against him. But it is your custom for me to release to you one prisoner at the time of the Passover. Do you want me to release ‘the king of the Jews’?” They shouted back, “No, not him! Give us Barabbas!” Now Barabbas had taken part in a rebellion. Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. Once more Pilate came out and said to the Jews, “Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no basis for a charge against him.”

When Jesus came out wearing he crown of thorns and the purple robe, Pilate said to them, “Here is the man!” As soon as the chief priests and their officials saw him, they shouted, “Crucify! Crucify!” But Pilate answered, “You take him and crucify him. As for me, I find no basis for a charge against him.” The Jews insisted, “We have a law, and according to that law he must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God.” When Pilate heard this, he was even more afraid, and he went back inside the palace. “Where do you come from?” he asked Jesus, but Jesus gave him no answer. “Do you refuse to speak to me?” Pilate said. “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?” Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.” From then on, Pilate tried to set Jesus free, but the Jews kept shouting, “If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar.” When Pilate heard this, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judge’s seat at a place known as the Stone Pavement (which in Aramaic is Gabbatha). “Here is your king,” Pilate said to the Jews. But they shouted, “Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!” “Shall I crucify your king?” Pilate asked.” We have no king but Caesar,” the chief priests answered. Finally Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified.” On the day of the crucifixion, only one man understood what was happening fully. He was not a believer, but he alone understood what Jesus was accomplishing upon the Cross. Later on, Paul and other early Christians understood.

The primary purpose of the life of Jesus was to “save His people from their sins”.Matthew 1:21 Jesus was to accomplish reconciliation between God and humanity through His death, burial, and resurrection. Sins were removed or covered by God. In the New Testament the atoning sacrifice of Jesus is usually translated “to reconcile” meaning to establish relationships by friendship between God and humanity. The focal point of God’s atoning work is the Cross of Christ. At the beginning of His ministry, Jesus was identified as John 1:29 “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” The purpose of His coming was Mark 10:45 “to give his life as a ransom for many.” Jesus said “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.” Jesus is the atoning sacrifice enabling our sins to be forgiven.

The early Christian preaching included as the Cross as central: Acts 2:21; 3:6,19; 4:13; 5:31; 8:35; 10:43. Paul proclaimed “Christ died for our sins” 1 Cor 15:3 He said Ephesians 2:13 “now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.” Atonement issues from love. It is as a divine gift, never as human achievement. “God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” Romans 5:8. Christ is both our representative and substitute: He represents us on the Cross and substitutes His death for ours. But how can Jesus be our atoning sacrifice? He experienced the suffering and death each of us deserved. As Charles Wesley exclaimed in wonder: “Died He for me, who caused His pain? For me, who Him to death pursued? Amazing love! How can it be, that Thou, my God, shouldst die for me!”

As we have seen in Pitcairn Island, men without moral retraint and the proper attitudes, can revert to animal behaviour devoid of concern for others and concerned only with self and the satisfaction of personal desires. That happens when people are isolated, in prison or away from the restraint of society. During the week, I interviewed on radio Rev Geoffrey Bingham, an Anglican minister, who has just published his book, “Love is the Spur” which tells of life as prisoners of war in the Changi and the Kranjie POW camp in Singapore. For threee and a half years, he saw what evil men did to each other which taught him the total depravity of men.

He was a young Australian soldier, a natural leader of men, who during the Japanese advance on Singapore, led a group of men on a counter attack against the Japanese who were shooting men at will from a machine gun nest. Geoffrey rushed at them, and silenced the machine gun nest, but in the last burst of fire, bullets smashed into his thigh smashing his leg bone. His friends carried him back to the crude bush hospital. For the next years, he was in dreadful agony, without drugs or proper care. He became a living skeleton and to this day is still trouibled by his leg. Disease and disentry were daily companions. Later he was mentioned in dispatches, and was awarded the Military Medal for conspicious bravery. In that prisoner of War Camp he found every ideal and attiude was tested. Men behaved like animals. If you have been starved daily for two and a half years until you are weak, just skin and bone with every kind of disease, he says you think constantly of food, and ate whatever you could.

If a fellow prisoner was dying, every eye was on his plate of food, just waiting to get it. If someone dished out a fraction more than the others, deadly rage would break out. After the soup, a pile of hand-made rice cakes were passed around. Each one was a different size, being hand made. Every eye would size each rice cake, which was the biggest, which was the next biggest right down to the smallest. People living without regard for others, totally selfish, would always snatch the biggest they would get. To take the smallest was to reduce your chance of living. Everyone wanted not just the biggest rice-cake, but the whole plate! They bowed to group pressure.

But God was working in Geoffrey’s life and a change was coming. One day he prayed, “O God, if you exist, give me the power to take the smallest cake out of no other motive but love.” Then Geoffrey said, “Instead of incessent conflict of spirit, I knew the consciousness of His Presence with me.” And that sense of the Spirit of God has never left him since. The simple principle of the other person first has been my way of living. This is the principle of Jesus Christ.” (p39) As Jesus said John 15:13 “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” So Jesus took our place in paying our penalty for sin. On the Cross Jesus died for the penalty of your sin, in your place He was the atoning sacrifice. On that day, only one man understood what was happening fully. It was not a believer, but Barabbas, a criminal who had been released from his crucifixion by Jesus who died in his place.

One poet had Barabbas, years later listening to Paul, explaining how Jesus was our atoning sacrifice, taking our sins, and dying in our place upon the Cross. The poet has Barabbas saying: “I heard a man explaining, (they say his name was Paul, How Jesus on that fateful day, Had died to save us all. I found it hard to follow His finespun theory, But I am very, very sure, He died that day for me.” He died for me! That is the essential truth of what happened upon the Cross. Do you believe he died for you? Do you in gratitude live for Him? 225 years ago the Mutiny of the Bounty, occurred. Nine convicts took Bounty and settled with some Tahitian women on Pitcairn Island. But unbridled sex, alcohol, personal abuse meant in 9 years, 12 murders, 1 suicide, 1 accidental death, and only one man, John Adams left alive.

One day in despair, he found in an old sea chest, a Bible. He started reading it and was converted. He taught some natives Christ! It totally changed the island. History records the faith they held in common saved the whole community from disintegration. 200 years later, nothing is more needed than the love of God against the pressure of the crowd to permeate that island people. Amazing difference can be brought about if they will only re-discover of the Bible. Then, by the presence of God, they will not bow to the pressure of the crowd but realize that Jesus Christ has saved them from their sins, and by His presence gives them the power to care for others. That same transforming grace can be yours if you read your Bible and discover the presence of God who can strengthen you from bowing to the pressure of the crowd.

REFERENCES

  • THE HISTORICAL JESUS J D Crossan Harper SFO 1991
  • THE JESUS QUEST Ben Witherington III IVP 1995
  • THE CROSS OF CHRIST John R W Stott IVP 1986
  • Norfolk Islanders reach out to homeland By Stephen Gibbs October 2, 2004
  • “Love is the Spur” Rev Geoffrey Bingham. Eyrie Books. 2004.

 

Wesley Mission, Sydney.