The Gospels' passion narratives press us to consider multiple realities regarding Jesus' prosecution and death
These three currents flow as a single stream. The Gospels and Acts show no interest in trying to parse the relationship between divine will and human activity, at least not with the precision that would satisfy our philosophical questions. The mixture of realities proclaims that Jesus' execution was the result of willful opposition and tragic ignorance, and yet this ugly death was somehow totally understandable and even purposeful.
(This seems as good a place as any to mention that I've just published a book--titled The Trial Narratives: Conflict, Power, and Identity in the New Testament--which explores Jesus' trial in the Gospels and the trials of Peter, Paul, and others in Acts. What I have to say here about Luke's passion narrative is developed in greater detail in chapter 5 of the book.)
The Passion in Luke: A Contest of Wills
Luke's passion narrative frustrates many interpreters. The crucifixion lacks the raw agony of Mark's and Matthew's versions, and there isn't the clearly scripted theological emphasis like John's. Elements of the Lukan trial scenes are bewildering, for it isn't clear what motivates Pilate, Herod Antipas, and "the people" (whom Pilate summons for the first time in 23:13) to act as they do.
In many ways, it's a story about whose "will" or intentions will hold sway, and how.
It's a story that insists that, at the end, God's will is accomplished. Moreover, this will is accomplished by manipulating other powers and the structures of human society. No matter how corrupt or bent on self-preservation those forces are, God's will nevertheless perseveres.
Luke offers a political drama in which truth and justice are overwhelmed by the will of those who reject Jesus and by the will of a governor bent on exploiting Jesus for political gain.
But Pilate cannot fully control the venue that he is supposedly empowered to control. When the story is done, neither the imperial machinery nor the temple establishment are the agents who ultimately manage (or thwart) justice, at least not in Jesus' case. Nor, really, are the strangely fickle "people."
And so, Luke also offers a theological drama in which God's will accomplishes itself through the course of human misperception and political maneuvering. In the strange coexistence of these two dramas, Luke declares that God's salvation actualizes itself even within the apparatuses of opposition.
The Passion Narrative, God's Will, and Preaching
Although it is the heart of the Christian story, the passion narrative is not the totality of that story. Luke's account of Jesus' demise compels preachers to consider the passion in light of God's wide-ranging design for the world's salvation.
For Luke, the passion is the pinnacle of the inevitable rejection of God's specially anointed prophet. It is also the route that this Messiah must take toward his eventual glorification.
Jesus' rejection is messy. The participants exhibit behavior that is both familiar and improbable, highlighting the misperception and fear behind it.
By asserting that God accomplished God's design through Jesus' passion, even through the messy power struggles waged among those human beings who brought about Jesus' death, Luke hardly fixes everything or makes the passion palatable.
God cares too much about the work of saving the world to leave it in our hands. Salvation required God's incursion into all aspects of our existence. It still does.