A Circus Performer Belief

In the movie “Gladiator” Russel Crowe plays Maximus who is, well, a gladiator. His master tells him that he needs to play to the crowds; to give them what they want. In one scene, he quickly dispatches with his opponents. This is followed by stunned silence. Maximus yells out “ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED!” Then he throws down his sword and walks out of the arena. Maximus used to be a soldier, and a good one. And he has been reduced to being an entertainer; someone who kills or is killed for the pleasure of others. He kills to stay alive. His master wants him to kill in ways that enthrall the paying masses. And here’s the thing, his master believes in Maximus. He believes in his ability to entertain. Some believe in Jesus in this way. Pay with a prayer and watch what Jesus does. Make him dance to your whims. After all, you are the customer and Jesus is the circus performer.

Luke 23:8-12 is the account of Jesus being sent to be questioned by Herod Antipas. As soon as Pilate heard that the trouble started in Galilee, he sent Jesus over to Herod. He was, most likely, trying to be done with the whole mess. Well, that didn’t work out for him. Herod rejoices exceedingly when he sees Jesus. This is a sad thing really. I mean, if he truly rejoiced to see Jesus; to understand him; to become his disciple; well, that would be tremendous. But he has heard the stories. Way back in chapter 9, we are told that Herod kept trying to see Jesus. But Herod kept trying, not because he wanted to hear some words of wisdom from a radical rabbi. Nope! He wanted to see himself some circus tricks. He fully expected Jesus to pull the proverbial rabbit out of the hat. He had heard some pretty amazing things about this man after all. “Resurrect the dead, Jesus!” “Walk on top of my bath water, Jesus!” “Cast out an unclean spirit!” That kind of thing. He had a belief in Jesus, but it was a circus performer belief.

I don’t know if Herod asked Jesus to perform. He definitely expected a performance. We do know that he interrogated him with many words. It was a thorough investigation into the accusations. And not only did Jesus not perform any signs, he also didn’t answer any of the probing questions. He stood there and fulfilled Isaiah 53:7. But why? I don’t think it was merely so that later followers could claim he fulfilled the prophecy about him. Two suggestions ring true: 1) These accusations (23:2, 5) were not worth his time; and 2) Jesus is quietly submitting to the will of the Father here. Even though the accusations are lies and half-truths and to be disdained, they are also the very thing that will bring about Jesus going to the cross. And that, boys and girls, was the will of God. So, like a lamb led to the slaughter or a sheep before its shearers, Jesus remains silent, even though the chief priests and scribes were vigorously bringing their trumped-up charges against him.

Maybe out of frustrated failed expectations, Herod and his soldiers then treat Jesus as if he were nothing. And that is not a pleasant way to be treated, is it my precious? They throw some fancy shmancy robes on him to mock him. Maybe even saying something like, “If he is going to claim to be all that, he should at least dress the part.” So, they are not honoring him with some nice shiny new clothes. Their goal is to treat him as nothing. When that is done, they sent him back to Pilate. Now, if Herod, who is no friend of Jesus – who disdains and mocks him – finds nothing to accuse him of, that ought to tell us something. Jesus was innocent.

Interestingly, Luke tells us that Herod and Pilate, who had been enemies, became friends. We have no outside record of enmity or friendship between these two. And because there is no record, there seems to be no real reason to doubt the possibility. Most likely, Luke wants us to see these rulers; these cogs in the mechanism that was Rome; bonding over their impression of Jesus. They didn’t see anything beyond a possible entertainer, but they also could find no guilt. The political climate was pressing in on them. And in the midst of this pressure stood a man they thought they could dismiss.

Let me just say, Jesus did not come to entertain you. He is not a circus performer dancing to the whims of the audience. Faith is not about what you get out of it. Faith is trusting in Jesus no matter what. It is following him, no matter where he leads. And sometimes there may be rejoicing. By all means rejoice to see Jesus. But do more. Be more. Rejoice to follow him. Rejoice even when he doesn’t heal you or your loved ones. Rejoice even when the world is mocking and treating you as if you were nothing. Believe!