Tag: John

The Story of Genesis and the Beginning of Everything

Genesis 1

blue sunrise, view of earth from space

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”

These are the first words of the Bible. It goes on to tell the most important story in the world. The Bible is human history presented from God’s point of view. While God used His human servants to write it down for Him, all the words are His. He was determined to reveal Himself to the human race and show what He is like. He sought to explain why our world has all the problems it has and why we struggle so greatly. He wanted to show us how we are meant to relate to Him and receive His love even as we live in a world that is cursed and burdened with evil.  Most importantly, He was making known His plan to break the power of evil over our world and rescue us from our plight through salvation in Jesus Christ.

There are many other versions of history as they are told from a human perspective.  A lot of them are very helpful.  There are many valuable lessons we can learn from subjects like science or math or psychology.  These subjects are not the main focus of Scripture, though our foundational understanding about them is best understood in light of Scripture. When we read the Bible, we learn about God Himself, and that gives us wisdom and power to understand everything else along the way.

For example, we can appreciate the details of the incredibly, elegantly consistent order of the universe because of what we learn from the natural sciences. Their revelations can help us understand the genius of God and stand in awe of His power. We can both enjoy the hard work and insight of scientists and also recognize the limitations of their findings.  Their explorations are based on the empirical tests of mere mortals.  By definition, they are limited in what they can understand with the five senses.

The authors of Scripture explain that knowledge of God is quite beyond the five senses that He created us with.  He is gloriously holy and magnificent in every way…there are no words in any language that can fully exhibit the greatness of His grandeur.  Yet this all powerful, all knowing God wanted to teach His people how to come to Him…because He is also all loving.  He loves with a perfect love, and He wanted to share His love with us by sharing Himself.

The first thing we learn from the Bible is how God made the universe. In His perfect wisdom He made everything that is. He made the stars and the moon and the earth simply by speaking them into place.

Each time God spoke, something wonderful happened. First there was only darkness, but God spoke and said, “Let there be light” and out of nothing, brilliant light sprang out into the dark void. All of Creation obeyed as day after day, God spoke new, amazing things out of nothing…Stars! Oceans! Dolphins! Trees and flowers and grass! And the angels of Heaven shouted for joy as they watched their Most Holy God display His majesty through the wonderful designs that poured forth from His Word.

Imagine the brilliant creativity of the mind of God as He made the exotic petals of a jungle lily, the atomic explosions of the sun, and the gentle trickling of a mountain stream. There is a certain amount of childlike delight that is totally appropriate when we think of the wild diversities of nature. This same God that made the dark clouds, rumbling thunder, and falling rain also made the fluffy innocence of a lamb.  From absolutely nothing, Almighty God created the universe. Pondering that reality helps us grasp it’s magnificence, but it is so great that even scientists raise their hands in surrender to it’s incomprehensibility. They can tell us there was a Big Bang, but they have to admit they have no idea where it came from or what came before it.

The last thing that God made was the most important thing of all. It was the crowning glory of His Creation. It was so important that God did more than speak and make it so. God came down to the earth. He had just spoken into place and formed these creatures with His own hands.   These creatures were the first man and the first woman.   They were the reason God made the whole universe. He was building their home. It was the beautiful, glorious place where God could be close to the ones He had made for Himself.

God created humanity to love them and bless them with Himself. This is not some form of arrogance or delusion of grandeur…it is simply the truth. God is all that is pure and right and hopeful. He is complete joy. Giving Himself away is giving the greatest gift anyone could ever receive. He didn’t want to give Himself to just one or two humans. He wanted to create a whole bunch more to love. Instead of crafting them with His hands, He designed humanity to have the privilege of bringing more humans into the world through the union and pleasure of romantic love.

The story of the Bible does not stop with how God made the first humans. It continues to tell the story of what happened to the human race afterwards. For you see, a terrible, horrific problem enters into the story from its very first chapters. There was treachery amidst a great mutiny of evil. Even though God put the first humans in a bright, beautiful and perfect world, they broke out in rebellion against God. They rejected Him and chose their own way, and He allowed them their choice. The problem is that God is the only source of good, so when they separated themselves from Him, they separated themselves from goodness. But God so loved the world that He would not let the story end with devastation and destruction. From the very beginning, He staged a rescue plan that would turn the whole story around.

The Bible tells the story of God’s plan to bring us back to Himself. Over thousands of years, God has continuously worked throughout human history to solve the problem of humanity’s terrible sin and weakness. In the middle of the story, God did His most important work of all. He sent His own Son to die as a payment for humanity’s sins. He made a way for humans to be washed clean so that they could be completely forgiven. They could be close to God again, just as they had been in the Garden. Throughout history many people have rejected God and worshipped other things (Isaiah 40), but many others have turned to Him…many are among those who God takes hold of (John 10:22-29; Ephesians 1:3-4)…many are saved. Right now, we are in a time of our own choosing. Will we follow after God and enter the Kingdom of Light, or choose to live in the Kingdom of Darkness? (2 Peter 1:3-10).

The Bible shows us how we can seek the presence of God and enter into the blessings of His love right now (Ephesians 3:14-19). The Bible also tells how this great story is going to end. One day, God is going take this creation that has been tainted with darkness and sin, and He will roll it up like a scroll and bring the whole universe to an end. Then He is going to make a whole New Creation, a New Heaven and a New Earth. Everyone that believes in God will live there with Him forever and ever. There will be no more tears or pain, and we will share completely and freely in His love (See Revelation 19-22). As we read the Bible, we can read the whole story of the human race and the universe He made for us from beginning to end.

 

Story 203: A Walk Along the Shore

John 21:15-25

Sea of Galilee in Israel

It was the third time Jesus had appeared to His disciples since He rose from the dead. They were out on their boats in the Sea of Galilee. They had spent all night fishing and caught nothing. But then a man on the shore told them to cast their nets on the right side of the their boat, and when they did, they caught so many fish that the nets started to rip.

John was the first disciple to recognize that the man on the shore was Jesus Himself. He was there cooking them a simple breakfast of fish and bread. When the men finished eating, they rose and began to walk along the shore.

The Lord said to Peter, “‘Simon, son of John, do you truly love Me more than these?’”

What did He mean? And why would He ask? Peter had just suffered a massive failure. He had betrayed the Lord in a very public way. Now the Lord was going to restore Peter in a public way.

On the night of Jesus’ arrest, as Jesus explained what was about to happen, all the other disciples grew quiet. It was Peter, in all his boldness, who declared that he would never deny the Lord. It was only after he announced his loyal resolve that the other disciples had the courage to do so. Yet for all his bravery and determination, Peter’s human strength wasn’t enough. In the critical hour, when loyalty was the most sacred virtue of all, he faltered and failed. And to make matters worse, he didn’t crumble in the face of a Roman soldier or at the threat of death. He didn’t falter in the presence of a religious leader who could declare him a heretic. Peter caved when questioned by a little slave girl. And everyone knew.

Jesus understood what was going to happen before and warned him, but Peter could not bear to hear it. He refused to believe he could do such a thing. But Jesus knew that Satan, the powerful enemy of God, the very same, slithering serpent that tempted Adam and Eve, had asked permission to go after Peter, and God said, “Yes.” The Father was going to use the evil intentions of His enemy to try this servant who was so devoted to His Son. Peter had to go through a great breaking process to get rid of his own self-sufficiency and pride.

Peter didn’t understand any of this. He was under the illusion that he could muscle through on his own strength. But that would never do for the man who would become the Rock of the Church. If he was going to lead, he was going to have to learn how utterly weak he truly was so that he would depend on the power of the Most High God.

It was painful lesson, but it worked. Peter came to the end of himself in those awful days that followed his betrayal. After Jesus rose again, Peter was the disciple He appeared to first. There is no record of the things that Jesus said to him, but we can only imagine the grief and repentance that Peter showed his Master. What a close and sacred moment they shared as Lord and servant.

Now, as they walked along the Sea of Galilee, Jesus was asking Peter to reaffirm his love. This time, it was in public so that the other disciples could hear. Peter would indeed become God’s chosen leader, but the story of Peter’s denial would have damaged their respect for him. Had he fallen from grace? Jesus was making sure to reinstate him with honor.

Still, the question must have cut Peter to the core. “‘Yes, Lord,’” he said, “‘You know that I love You.’” Peter was certain that Jesus knew. In spite of his great failings, his love was real.

Jesus answered, “‘Feed my lambs.’” Peter’s love for Jesus was to show itself by watching over His people.   Jesus had described Himself as the Good Shepherd, and Peter was His servant. The Lord was going to trust him with His most treasured possessions.

The Lord asked again, “‘Simon, son of John, do you love Me?’”

What could He mean by asking twice? “‘Yes, Lord,’” Peter said, “‘You know that I love You.’” Peter wasn’t going to depend on some heroic display of his love or any declarations of faithfulness. He was going to depend on the wisdom of Christ. He knew that Jesus knew, because Peter had faith that Jesus knows all things. That was all that mattered.

“Take care of My sheep,’” said Jesus. With His second request, the importance of Peter’s task was showing its gravity. Peter wasn’t made the leader of the early church because of his natural abilities or charisma or strength. He was advanced because of his utter love and devotion to Jesus Christ. It is the one necessary thing.

Once again, Jesus asked Peter, “‘Simon, Son of John, do you love Me?’” The third time must have felt like a bitter sting to Peter. That was the number of denials that Jesus predicted. That was how many times he denied the Savior at the time of His Great Suffering. And yet Peter cried, “‘Lord, You know all things. You know that I love You.’” Peter had nowhere else to go but trust. Jesus was (and is!) Divine. He knew every truth from every lie. He knew that Peter loved Him.

Jesus said, “‘Feed my sheep. I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.’”

Wow. Now Christ was making another prediction. Peter truly did love Him, and one day he would show it to the point of death. Though Peter had spent his early years living his own life, from this point on, his life would be fully given over to the cause of Christ’s Kingdom. In the end, his arms were going to be stretched out for crucifixion. He would go on to imitate the life of Jesus in his own life, even in his suffering. And just as Jesus brought glory to His Father, Peter would bring glory to Christ. As the leader of the Church, the news of Peter’s death would travel far and wide. What could explain such unhindered, absolute faithfulness? The extent of his sacrifice was the measure of his love, and it would greatly honor his Savior.

But that was still decades ahead. For now, Jesus said, “‘Follow Me.’” Imagine knowing that at the end of your life, you were going to be crucified. Imagine knowing it was part of God’s plan and following Him anyway. There is no way to explain it other than to understand the depth of Peter’s love. And this high discipleship was exactly what Peter would go on to do.

But these things were not on Peter’s mind when he heard this.   Instead, he turned and looked back at John. “‘Lord, what about this man?’” Was John going to suffer, too? John was so close to Jesus that he lay up against His chest on the night of the arrest. As Jesus explained that one of the disciples was going to betray him, Peter had to ask John to lean back and ask the Lord who it was. If Peter was called to suffer, what was going to happen to John?

Jesus said, “‘If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow Me.’” Jesus was telling Peter, “‘It is none of your business!’” For you see, Jesus is going to return some day, and if God had ordained that John was going to live that long, that was the rightful decision of Almighty God.

Now, because Jesus said this, rumors started to spread. People began to say that John would never die. But in his book, John makes it clear that that is not what Jesus said. He was telling Peter that the life and death of each of His chosen ones is up to God. Peter needed to be faithful to God’s plans for his own life, not occupied with measuring it against God’s plans for someone else!

Isn’t it amazing that the Lord’s ordained plan for each of our lives, the way we will serve Him, even the way our lives will end, are already purposed in the heart and mind of God?

One day, Peter would be stretched out just as Christ was, on a cross. The Bible does not record the details of how Peter gave his life up for Jesus. We know that it came over three decades after this prediction came, and we know he died in Rome on a cross. By the time the Gospel of John was written, it had already happened.   Peter’s life on earth would end with breathtaking, courageous faith.

Story 199: The Disciples Meet Their Risen Lord

Mark 16:12-14; Luke 24:32-49; John 20:19-23

TREVISO, ITALY - MARCH 18, 2014: The Resurrected Christ by Sebastiano del Piombo 1485 - 1547). Side altar of Saint Nicholas or San Nicolo church.

TREVISO, ITALY -The Resurrected Christ by Sebastiano del Piombo 1485 – 1547). Side altar of Saint Nicholas or San Nicolo church.

Cleopas and his friend had been given something amazing. As they walked home from Jerusalem discussing the death of Christ…not to mention the strange rumors from the women about His resurrection…Jesus showed up. At first, they didn’t know it was Him. Somehow, that was something He had to reveal.

As He joined them on their journey, He went through the entire history of the nation of Israel, from Moses all the way through the prophets, showing how His coming was a fulfillment of the great rescue that God had planned all along. When they finally sat down and Jesus began to break bread with them, they were suddenly able to see that it was Him! Jesus revealed Himself. It was their Lord! But then He disappeared.

The men wasted no time. They got up and walked straight back to Jerusalem. Can you imagine their discussion and excitement on those seven long miles to the city? They had to tell the disciples that what the women said was true!

When they arrived, they met with news. The disciples told them, “‘The Lord has really risen, and has appeared to Simon Peter!’” Now, none of the four Gospels tell us what Jesus said to Peter in that first meeting after his betrayal. It was an intensely private time between Jesus and His beloved servant. But can you imagine the grief of Peter and his repentance? Can you imagine his relief? He had a chance to cry out for forgiveness. How powerful it must have been for him to realize that in spite of the terrible thing he had done, the Lord Jesus had sought him out and pursued him. Of all the people in the world, after dear Mary, Peter was the first to meet with the risen Christ. What a tender Lord!

When the disciples were done telling Cleopas and his friend their great news, the travelers told the disciples about their meeting on the road with Jesus. What a rush of excited voices that must have brought. Jesus was alive!

Yet even as the men talked these things through in their wonder, they were aware of a possible danger. The Jewish leaders were not happy. Rumor had it that they were accusing the disciples of stealing Christ’s body. So the disciples took care to lock the door of their meeting place.

The men sat reclining at their meal; can you imagine how they compared the different stories that were floating around that remarkable Sunday? Can you imagine the questions they asked? So far, Jesus had shown Himself to four people. Why had He come to Mary first? And why did the women get to see the angels, but John and Peter only saw the open tomb and folded linens? What were the religious leaders going to do now? Would they try to punish the disciples to prove to everyone that the resurrection was a fraud? And, most importantly, when would they see Jesus next?

And then, right in the midst of their supper, the Lord Jesus appeared once again!   “‘Peace be with you,’” He said.

What would you do? How would your respond?

The disciples were shocked. They thought He was a spirit. The ways of God’s eternal realm were invading the laws of earth and nature through Christ. For the disciples, this was strange and disorienting. The world they knew that seemed so concrete and permanent became an uncertain shadow next to the Greater Reality imposed by their infinitely more solid and powerful Lord.

Jesus said, “‘Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself; touch Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.’”

As He said these things, Jesus showed them the scars in His hands and feet from the ruthless nails that had pinned Him to the cross. Then He showed them His side, where the spear had pierced Him. Though He was in His resurrected body, He still bore the marks of His great sacrifice.

The disciples were filled with joy, marveling at what could not be true, but was. It was an unimaginable hope! To show them that He was really there, risen in body as well as spirit, Jesus said, “‘Have you anything to eat?’”

The disciples handed Him some broiled fish. Jesus took it and ate with them. The truth was settling in, and they were filled with bright wonder. The One they thought they had lost forever was back!

Jesus explained, “‘This is what I have told you while I was still with you: everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms.’” The Lord had tried over and over again to warn them about what was coming, but they couldn’t grasp it until it happened. Even now, with His risen life in front of them, it was hard to understand. So He began to teach them, opening their minds so they could understand more fully, how the Old Testament had been pointing the way to Jesus all along.   What a fascinating lesson to hear straight from Jesus’ own lips. Don’t you wish you could have been there?

The Lord went on:

“‘Thus it is written, “That the Christ should suffer and rise again from the dead the third day; and that repentance for forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses to these things. And behold, I am sending forth the promises of my Father upon you; but you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”’”

Luke 24:46-49

Wow. What did Jesus mean? How in the world were they going to preach about Christ in Jerusalem with the wrath of the religious leaders following after them? And what did it mean to be to have power from on high?

Story 197: Mary’s Voice

Collection of the most beautiful and moving architectures examples in European cemeteries

We don’t know exactly what Mary Magdalene thought and felt as she followed Jesus and went through His death and resurrection. The Bible gives a few close pictures to help us imagine what she might have said. John the Apostle gave us a long version of her part of the story at the resurrection.   Jesus accomplished great, grand, and glorious things and there were many epic events that happened as He turned Jerusalem upside down. But in the story of Mary, we see how the tenderness of Christ for His beloved ones was an enormous priority for Him. We also see how His relationship with His followers was far more than what can be the cold, distant relating of teacher and student. He was no cold deity giving out radical commands. Jesus loved, and they felt His love and yearned for it. And they loved Him in return.   Here is a depiction of what that love might have been like for the person that Jesus chose to show Himself to first after rising from the dead:

When I heard about the arrest, I didn’t know what to do. It wasn’t a total surprise. They had wanted to arrest the Lord for years, and somehow, He had always gotten away with seamless effort. It was a fact we rather enjoyed. But this time it had really happened, and it was hard to believe. John came to get Jesus’ mother and I. The city was in such an uproar. Many sided with the religious leaders…but many others were horrified at what was happening to Jesus. Where did all this malice come from? What had He possibly done? He had wandered around the countryside healing us. He healed me. It made no sense.

We stood in the crowd and watched it all happen. We were helpless. It was awful.

The soldiers hammered those dreadful nails through His wrists.

Poor Mary. She was wracked with His every pain. The blood was terrible. The jeering crowds, the horrid soldiers, and the nasty religious leaders just stood there. But somehow, John and Mary and I ended up so close, so close to Him, and everything else faded to the background.

How gentle and commanding was His voice, even as He hung on the cross. It is hard to explain to people that haven’t seen Him. There was majesty in Him, even as He hung naked and covered in filth and sweat and blood. His greatness was greater than all these physical things. The darkness that came was a mercy, and the earthquake that shook the ground was like a physical manifestation of my rage and loss. I wanted to shake the world with a violence they couldn’t ignore and cry out, “WHY?” I wanted to scream, “HOW COULD YOU….HOW COULD YOU DO THIS?”

But they did, and He was gone. But I couldn’t leave Him. I just stood there, paralyzed, as they took His body down. There He was, my Lord, limp and torn. How His mother wept. Joseph of Arimathea came to take His body, and still I could not leave. I followed along with Mary. I had to know where they were taking Him. I had to go where He went. I couldn’t let go.

How could everyone else let go? Where were they?

We sat opposite the tomb as they dressed Him in white linen, pure and clean. That was a comfort.

But when they came out and covered His tomb with a large stone, my heart cried out. “This can’t be the end!” There had to be something we could do. This was too quick, too short.

Where were the processions? All of Jerusalem should have mourned this death. The whole world should have stopped and grieved for a lifetime. So Mary and I did the only thing we could think to do. We went and prepared more spices for His body. How else could we honor our Lord? How else would we see Him again?

God forgive me, but that high and holy Sabbath was agonizing. It was like a huge barrier between me and my Beloved. I had to get to Him. I had to be near Him.

Jesus would tell stories about how the ones who needed forgiveness the most were often the ones who loved the most. I suppose that explains my desperation.

So many of the women that followed Jesus had come to Him in such honorable ways. They were married to men of power and wealth, and they used it to bless the Lord and supply His ministry. They had so much to offer. I couldn’t even imagine what that would be like.

My world had been so different. My family was the kind that invited Satanic bondage into the lives of their children. By the time I crossed paths with Jesus, I had seven demons that tormented me. The kind of humiliation they drove me to, the life of isolation…I was a pariah. It was shameful to admit any connection with me.

I had no dream of deliverance…but even if I was set free, I had no hope of love or acceptance. The memory of a village like Magdela is long. No matter what transformations took place in me, I would always be known for my shame. For some reason, I had been chosen for a life of condemnation. The hand of God was against me.

But then Jesus came, and everything changed. He sent my tormentors away. But far more than that, He gave me Himself. He loved me. And because of His love, I was drawn into a whole community of care. People who never would have acknowledged me all my life long were seeing me in the light of Jesus’ love. His own mother loved me. I was home.

So I made my way to the tomb in the wee morning hours, bringing Mary the mother of Salome with me. I think we both went out of a driving and a longing heart. I just wanted to grasp a few more moments with Him, to be by His side. To give Him the honor of a decent burial. We wondered how we would remove the stone once we got there. But when we arrived, we stood there in shock. Someone had already come and rolled the massive stone away. The Roman soldiers who were supposed to be guarding it lay all around as if they were in a dead sleep. We crept inside to look at His body. He wasn’t there. My heart plunged to the lowest, deepest despair of all. What had happened?

ResurrectionSuddenly, two men appeared in glorious, dazzling white. Mary and I fell with our faces to the ground. We had all read about what it is like to meet angels, but nothing prepared me for it until it happened. It was brilliant and terrifying and joyful all at the same time.

“‘Why do you seek the living One among the dead?’” they asked. I didn’t really catch what they meant, but they went on, “‘Do not be afraid; for I know who you are looking for. He is not here; He has risen! Remember how He told you, while He was still with you in Galilee: “The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.”’”

Suddenly, I remembered all Jesus’ words. How had I forgotten? Had this all been planned? The angels went on: “‘Go, quickly, tell the His disciples that He has risen from the dead. He is going before you in Galilee, there you will see Him, just as He said to you.’”

Then the angels were gone. Mary and I went running out of the tomb. When we got outside we were trembling, completely gripped with astonished joy and startling fear. Then we ran off to tell the disciples the unimaginably great news.

Of course, when we got there, the men thought we were talking nonsense. We probably babbled a bit in our excitement. But what we said lit a spark under Peter and John. They went running off to the tomb. I followed along behind. The words of the angels were slowly sinking in, but the tomb still seemed the best way to be near my Lord. I suppose the grief of the last few days was so overwhelming that I couldn’t quite process the turn of events. Peter and John came and saw the empty tomb, and then left.

I tarried. I just couldn’t leave. It almost didn’t matter what the angels said…He was still gone, and Galilee was far, far away.

My grief overwhelmed me again. I wept as I looked inside the tomb one more time. The two angels were there once again. “‘Woman, why are you weeping?’” they asked. I must have seemed like a fool, but this was all much easier to understand on their side of eternity. I didn’t have it in me to care. “‘Because they have taken away my Lord, and I don’t know where they have laid Him.’”

And then He came to me. I don’t know why I was chosen to see Him first. Perhaps because my need was the greatest. The funny thing is, I didn’t even recognize Him at first. This strange Man asked me, “‘Woman, why are you weeping? Who are you seeking?’” I thought it was the gardener. The angels must have been enjoying this moment. I said, “‘Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away.’”

And then Jesus said to me, “‘Mary,’” and I knew…with everything in me, I just knew. It changed everything to hear Him say my name. I turned to Him and cried, “‘Teacher!’” Utterly overwhelmed with joy, I fell at His feet and threw my arms around His legs like I would never let go.

I think Jesus was smiling when He said, “‘Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to My brothers and tell them, “I am returning to My Father and your Father, to My God and your God.’”

I could have held onto Him forever, but I knew I had to do what he asked. So I went to the disciples with the news. In the days and weeks to follow, we all got to see Him, and He taught us many things. It was so satisfying to be near Him again, and by the time He ascended into Heaven, I think we all understood that we weren’t really losing Him, even though He would be present with us on earth in a very different way. And one day, we will see Him again and live for all eternity in the brightness of His presence. On that day, I hope to find you there.

 

Story 195: The Burial

Matthew 27:57-66; Mark 15:42-47; Luke 23:50-56; John 19:38-42

PARIS, FRANCE - SEPT 12, 2014: View of Pere Lachaise. World's most visited cemetery, attracting thousands of visitors to graves of those who have enhanced French life over past 200 years.

The horrible day had past and evening had come. Jesus was dead, and it was time to take His body down from the cross. There was a man named Joseph of Arimathea who believed in Jesus and followed Him in secret. He was a true disciple, but he was also a member of the Sanhedrin. The hatred of the Jewish leadership against the Lord was so intense that Joseph was afraid to make it known. He could lose everything if they turned against him.

How Joseph must have mourned the terrible injustices of that day. These religious leaders were the men that he had spent his life with. These were the elite of the nation that he had silenced his own convictions for. How he must have hated their repulsive behavior. It was too late to stand for Christ while He was alive. The least he could do was honor Him in His death.

The news that a member of the Sanhedrin had given Jesus such respect would have spread throughout Jerusalem as the people tried to makes sense of the week’s events. It would have been seen as siding with the enemy. But Joseph went to Pontius Pilate and asked if he could take the body of Christ to bury Him. Once again, the affairs of Jesus came before Pilate. He agreed to release Him to this obvious devotee.

Joseph went to claim the body of Christ. Nicodemas came to help. He brought with him seventy five pounds of aloe and myrrh, the traditional ingredients that the Jews used for preserving the dead.

Nicodemas, too, was a disciple of Christ, and like Joseph, he had kept it hidden. He had gone to ask the Lord questions in the night, fearing what his leadership would do if they found out that he believed in Jesus. The fury of the leadership had not grown any less, and their great offenses were only highlighted by the bright purity of Christ. Even in His death, the Lord Jesus deserved his loyalty.

Joseph and Nicodemus took Jesus’ body and bound it up in spices with linen cloths. There was a garden near the place where Jesus was crucified. It had a tomb where no one had ever before been buried. It was a place for the honored and wealthy to take their final rest. And because it was close to the place of His crucifixion, the men could bring Him and lay Him to rest in a timely way, before the setting of the sun and the coming of the Sabbath rest.

Once again, unbeknownst to them, Scripture was fulfilled. Isaiah 53:9 reads: “He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in His death, though He had done no violence, and nor was any deceit in His mouth.” As they left Christ in the tomb, they took a large stone and rolled it over the entrance. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James had followed them from the cross and stood outside the tomb, looking to see where He was buried. Then they went out to buy spices. They would return after the Sabbath to finish giving Jesus a proper burial.

Friday evening came, and the Passover Sabbath began. The families that had journeyed from all over Israel gathered together to celebrate and rest with the God of their fathers. Saturday dawned in a continuation of that rest. No work was to be done. The entire nation paused for the day to savor the wonderful works of their God. Yet on this particular Sabbath, their heads must have been full of the events of the day before. The city of Jerusalem had been turned upside down. Did any of them have eyes to see that they had witnessed God’s greatest work of all?

While the rest of Israel was honoring the Sabbath, the Pharisees and chief priests were busy. They had work to do. Jesus had declared that He would rise again from the grave. What if His disciples tried to fake His resurrection? It would create a whole new mess for them to clean up! They would be fighting that heresy for years.

How ironic that these wretched leaders remembered the words of Christ. His own disciples had completely forgotten! They were too awash in grief for such a hope. But the Jewish leaders didn’t know that, so they went back to Pilate with yet another request:

“‘Sir,’” they said, “‘We remember that when He was still alive that deceiver said, “After three days I will rise again.” So give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, His disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that He has been raised from the dead. This last deception will be worse than the first.’”

Matthew 27:63-64

Imagine what it was like for Pilate as he listened to this request. This Jesus, who proclaimed Himself to be King of an invisible land, had also claimed that He would rise from the dead. Did he know what to make of it? He looked at them and said, “‘You have a guard: go, make it as secure as you know how.’”

If the Jewish leaders were right, and the disciples wanted to commit a fraud, they would have to get past highly trained, heavily armed Roman soldiers to do so. That didn’t seem too likely. Jesus’ disciples were the same men that ran away in the Garden. Would they really be able to summon the courage to face a standing guard after watching soldiers crucify their Master? No regular band of citizens could get past a garrison of Roman soldiers. It was unheard of. Pilate knew that if all this was a fraud, there was no way that tomb would end up empty. On the other hand, if Jesus really was who He claimed to be, all bets were off. It didn’t matter how many soldiers were stationed at the tomb if Jesus was Divine.

Story 194: Proof of Death

John 19:31-37

Stained glass showing Jesus crucified

 

The Jews had a problem. They had successfully put Jesus, the radical young preacher, to death. It was worth it to them to disrupt their Passover Feast if it meant getting rid of their rival. No longer would He wander their countryside distracting their people with His miracles and extreme teaching. No longer would He confront them in the courts of their own Temple. Finally, after three years of this irritant, life could return to normal in Israel. Yet there was one more thing they had to do to seal the deal.

There were three dead or dying men hanging on crosses right outside the gates of Jerusalem. The Sabbath would begin at sunset. It broke the Law of God to have a dead man hanging from a tree on the Sabbath. Their bodies defiled the land. And what made it even worse was that this was no regular Sabbath. It was a high and holy day. It was Passover! So they went to Pontius Pilate and asked to have the legs of the crucified broken.

That might seem like a strange request, but in a morbid way, it actually made sense. One of the horrors of crucifixion was that it caused people to die through suffocation. As they hung by their arms, air wouldn’t flow to their lungs when they breathed. They would have to rise up on the nails in their ankles to inhale. The natural human instinct for breath would drive the condemned to keep pushing up on those wounds for hour after hour of excruciating misery. One way to quicken their death was to break their legs so they could no longer push their bodies up to breath. It was a gruesome business, but such was the world of the Roman Empire.

Pilate agreed with the religious leaders. He gave an order for his soldiers to break the legs of the men who had been crucified that day. But when the soldiers got to Jesus, He was already gone. Instead of breaking His legs, they took a spear and pierced His side. Blood and water came flowing out.

At this point in John’s Gospel, John wanted to make sure to testify that all of these things were absolutely true. He was there to see them. He was at the foot of the cross when it happened. In the days to follow, many rumors would spread about the life and death of Jesus. Many people would try to explain away that Jesus had risen from the dead. They would say that the disciples made up the resurrection…or they would say that Jesus had never really died in the first place.   But John was there for the very real death of his dearest Friend. He spent three days in total misery, but then Jesus came back to life. He wanted us to believe as surely as he did. That was the whole reason he wrote his book.

John also wanted to point out how God continued to fulfill Scripture though His Son in His death. Do you remember the ancient story of the Passover? The Egyptian Pharaoh refused to set God’s people free from murderous oppression. The Lord sent plague after plague, but still he refused. Finally, God came with His most terrible judgment. The Pharaoh refused to release God’s treasured possession, so God was going to take the greatest treasure of the Egyptian people. He was going to take the lives of their firstborn sons. The Pharaoh had been ordering the murder of the sons of Israel for a generation. Now that judgment was coming back on him and his people.

In order to protect the sons of the Israelites, he gave them careful instructions. They were to sacrifice a spotless lamb and have it as a meal. Then they were to take its blood and put it along the doorposts of their homes. As the angel of the Lord came to Egypt, he would pass by the homes protected by the blood. Here are a few of God’s instructions to His people about the lamb: “‘It must be eaten inside one house; take none of the meat outside the house. Do not break any of the bones. The whole community of Israel must celebrate it’” (Exodus 12:46-47).

Jesus was the Passover Lamb, and His blood was to become the protection of His people. All of these events that took place far in the distant past were a picture of what God was going to do in Christ. And just as the people were not to break the legs of the first Passover lamb, the legs of the Great Passover Lamb were not to be broken.

There another verse in the Old Testament that foretold the piercing of Jesus’ side. In the book of Zechariah, God said: “‘And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on Me, the One they have pierced, and they will mourn for Him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for Him as one grieves for a firstborn son.’” (Zech. 12:10).

John and all of Christ’s followers believed passionately that everything that happened in Christ was an outflow of what God had done in the Old Testament. God had ordained every moment of Christ’s life and death and resurrection. He had also ordained every aspect of the life of His holy people so they would show the way to the Savior of humankind. As the disciples considered the life of Jesus in the years to come, they found imprints of Jesus in verse after verse from their Holy Scripture. God put them there thousands of years ahead of time to give confidence to those who heard the Gospel. Jesus was the One the Bible had been pointing to all along.

 

Story 193: Death and the Aftermath

Matthew 27:35-50 ; Mark 15:24-37 ; Luke 23:33-46 ; John 19:18-30

Prague - cross on the charles bridge - silhouette

Jesus travailed on the cross for six hours, bearing the punishment for the sins of humanity. It is impossible for us to imagine what it was like. The wretchedness of our every shameful thought, word, and deed was presented to God through the Person of Jesus. All the hatred and malice, the horrors of genocide, the viciousness of rape, the subtle manipulations of selfishness, gossip, and greed…the perverse, distorted sins committed in the dark, the hatred in theft and the chaos of lies and vanity, sloth, and wasteful gluttony. Jesus took the dark and dirty filth of our pollution and put it on Himself, so that the full measure of God’s wrath could fall upon Him instead. “He became sin, who knew no sin, so we might become His righteousness.” (See 2 Cor. 5:21)

The world sat in dark, oppressive gloom for three hours as Jesus suffered. The Father expressed His displeasure at the great evil committed in Jerusalem that day. He watched the horrific actions of the Jewish leaders and the cowardly injustice of the Romans against His Son. These actors had become tools in His hands. God turned the worst crime in the history of humanity into the greatest good ever seen. But that did not diminish the gravity of the sin committed by those who sent Jesus to the cross. The disfavor of God hovered over the world in a darkness they could feel to their bones. As God’s Son completed His work of magnificent grace, God the Father showed His grace through His somber warning in the skies.

And when God’s holy fury was exhausted, the Lord knew. “It is finished,” He said. And then…

“Father, into Your hands I commit my Spirit.’”

Immediately, the ground began to shake in a mighty, violent earthquake. Rocks were broken in two as the city of Jerusalem swayed and shook.

Imagine it.  The moment must have been stunningly terrifying!  A Roman centurion was keeping guard over Jesus when it happened. When the world shook at His death, the centurion was filled with holy fear.  He declared, “‘Truly this man was the Son of God!’” in awestruck praise.

When a Jewish person read this story about the death of Christ, they would have been shocked by this last sentence. A Gentile was the first to proclaim the Messiah after His great sacrifice? And not only a Gentile, a Roman centurion? The Jews would have been stunned…shocked! How could this be?

Until, of course, they came to accept the glorious truth of God’s grace. The Son of God had come to bring salvation, but it was not only for the Jews. The redemption of Christ was for the people of every nation, language, tribe, and tongue. He is Lord of all!

A large crowd had gathered at Golgotha that day. They had come to watch the spectacle. What would become of the Preacher who had so enlivened and infuriated the nation? Would God come and intervene? Would He send Elijah? Hour after hour they waited. Then Jesus cried out, the earth shook…and all was quiet. It was over.

Could this really be the end? The people began to turn back toward their homes, beating their chests as a symbol of their deep repentance and grief. Surely a terrible thing had come to pass.

Many of the women who loved and served Jesus stood off in the distance. Some of them had followed Him all the way from Galilee. The mother of James and John, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joseph all stood keeping watch, along with many of Christ’s followers and friends. What a silent shock they must have felt. What deep loss and horror.

How could this have happened? How could this be? How could He be gone? In the gloom of that dark day, they were not able to see the radiant hope on the other side.

How word must have spread out quickly through Jerusalem that Jesus had died.

How everyone must have wondered about the great earthquake. How strange that it seemed to happen at the exact moment that Jesus breathed His last breath. Every Jew in Jerusalem would have known that the coming of God was often marked by an earthquake in the Old Testament. The darkness of the day would have reminded them of the stories of God’s stormy presence on Mount Sinai.

As if this wasn’t enough, some astonishing rumors began to spread. Tombs around Jerusalem had opened, and the bodies of saints long dead had come to life. They were appearing to people all over the city in the days after Christ’s resurrection. What did it all mean?

Then word began to leak out about something that had happened in the Temple. At the very moment of Jesus’ death, the veil that separated the Holy of Holies was torn in two from top to bottom. This veil was not a thin segment of fabric. It was a massive curtain, sixty feet high and four inches thick. What hand could tear such a great tapestry in the blink of an eye? It was impossible, yet it was true. The religious leaders could not deny it.

It is hard for you and I to imagine the stunning impact this news would have had on the Jews of Christ’s day. The veil in the Temple had been a powerful symbol in the life of God’s people since the days of Moses. The Temple was God’s palace, and the Holy of Holies was the sacred chamber of God’s throne room on earth. He came down in His glory to reside there in a special, intensified way. It was the great privilege of His holy nation to have the Most High God draw near. The deep blue richness of the veil enclosed the throne room of God, bringing the necessary separation between the high holiness of the Lord and His people.

For you see, God longed to be with His people. They were His treasured possession…and it is the nature of His love to draw near. But the immense purity of God’s holiness would not withstand the presence of sin. Just as a moth cannot fly into a burning flame without being utterly consumed, a person contaminated by sin cannot draw near to God’s holiness without being utterly destroyed.

But the Most High God is full of powerful, pursuing love, so He made a way for the nation to come into His holy presence. He gave them His Law, teaching them how to live righteously. Then, knowing that weakened humanity would never be able to honor the Law perfectly, He gave them a way to come to Him in repentance. He taught them a system of sacrifices where they could bring Him their grain and the blood of their animals as offerings of confessed guilt and gratefulness. The blood was thought to act like a cleansing agent from the pollution brought by sin. Each person was responsible to keep his own life right before God through constant, ongoing self-evaluation.

And once a year, on the highest holy day of the Jewish faith, the high priest would perform a ritual of national repentance.   On behalf of all the people, he would step behind the veil and enter the Holy of Holies. He would bring with him the blood of a special animal sacrifice and sprinkle it on the Mercy Seat of God’s throne room. Somehow, God ordained that this would cleanse the sacred space of God from the toxic pollution that His people brought through their sin as a nation. Somehow, the nation’s repentant obedience to this ritual satisfied God’s holy wrath so that He could remain with His children. God had made a way.

These rituals and this way of understanding the world was so deeply embedded in the Jewish culture that it was how they organized their entire national life. Their everyday life was pinned to the hope of God’s calling on their nation. Godly Jews felt responsible every day to consider their lives in the light of God’s holy Law, and they took great care to remember to bring their sacrifices to His holy Temple in Jerusalem. They were confident that God was the One who gave instructions to Moses for the building of His Holy Palace, and they were right! The Law and the rituals were His idea, too. They crafted the veil exactly as God had instructed. What could it mean that it was torn?

It would take the disciples and followers of Christ many years to realize all of the powerful and mysterious things that happened on that Friday when Jesus died. As God revealed the many wondrous things that Christ accomplished, one of the magnificent new gifts to the world was the New Covenant. The Lord had given the nation of Israel the Old Covenant with all its Laws and rituals for a very specific time. It had a high and holy purpose: to prepare the nation for the coming of the Messiah.   The sacrifices of Israel throughout the centuries were pointing to Jesus, giving the people of God an image of how He was going to destroy sin and death forever. Now God’s Son had come and had offered Himself up as the great sacrifice, and with it He made a whole New Covenant. Under this Covenant, no more sacrifices were necessary. There was no need for separation from God. There was no more need for a thick, impenetrable veil to hang between the holiness of God and His beloved children! Jesus had made a way so that everyone who believes in Him can enter the Holy of Holies with freedom and confidence. A new era of faith had begun.

 

 

 

Story 192: Christ on the Cross

Matthew 27:35-50 ; Mark 15:24-37 ; Luke 23:33-46 ; John 19:18-30

Jesus christ in heaven

As Jesus hung on the cross in those early hours of His suffering, many stood by and watched. Even then there was a chance that something might happen. Would He prove Himself to be powerful enough to overcome this travesty?

Others walked by, shaking their heads and ridiculing Him. “‘You who are going to destroy the Temple in three days, save Yourself! If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross!’”

The scribes and elders and chief priests were marinating in their seeming victory. “‘He saved others; let Him save Himself if this is the Christ of God, His Chosen One.’” Imagine how deep and dark their malice went. Even as they acknowledged His great compassion for others, they showed none themselves. Even His great suffering did not satisfy their rage. “‘If He is the king of Israel; let Him come down from the cross, and we shall believe in Him,’” they declared.

Others quoted the Old Testament to testify against Him, “‘He trusts in God; let Him deliver Him now, if He takes pleasure in Him; for He said, “I am the Son of God.”’”

As the thieves on both sides of Jesus hung on their crosses, they joined in the insults against the Lord as well. The soldiers joined in, offering His parched lips sour wine. “‘If you are the King of the Jews, save Yourself,’” they mocked.

To this utter surrounding of contempt and ridicule, Jesus gave no response. Thousands upon thousands of angels stood at the ready as they watched the Holy One bear the agony of a long and tortured death. Jesus could have called on them. He could have removed Himself in an instant.  He could have pulverized the planet with a Word and sent the universe back to nothing.  But these options were not the will of His Father.

As the hours rolled by, as Jesus continued to suffer and bear the sins of the world, one of the criminals next to Him threw another insult His way. “‘Are you not the Christ? Save Yourself and save us!’”

But the other thief was having a change of heart. He had listened to all the insults and disparaging words. He had even spoken some of them. And then He watched the Lord Jesus in His silence and fortitude. Who was this Man that hung beside him?

 

“‘Do you not even fear God?’” he asked the other thief. “‘You are under the same sentence of condemnation. And we are here justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this Man has done no wrong.’”

Then he spoke to the Lord. “‘Jesus,’” he said, “‘remember me when you come into your kingdom!’”

Wow….what kind of man was this Christ, that His royalty could be magnified on a cross! The Lord heard the sincere confession of the thief and said, “‘Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in paradise.’”

Oh, the breathtaking, tender grace of Jesus, even as He was wracked with the suffering of our sin. What a greatness of soul had He. Surely He is God!

But these words reveal more to us than His compassion…they reveal His vision. He did not set His heart on the things going on around Him. His work was not without purpose, and He looked to what His suffering would accomplish. His heart was set on the hope that was coming.

There were a few who had made their way to Golgotha who loved Jesus. Mary, His mother, the mother of James and John, and Mary of Magdala had all come. John the disciple was with them, too, and they drew near the cross. When Jesus saw His mother, He said, “‘Woman, behold your son!’” Then he looked to John and said, “‘Behold, your mother!’”

For you see, Jesus was the eldest son, and Mary was a widow. It was His role in the family to make sure that Mary was taken care of. John, His beloved disciple, was also His cousin, and Jesus passed that role onto him. From that time on, John took Mary into his own home.

As Jesus’ mother watched the suffering of her Son, what was going through her mind? Had she guessed that this would be His end?

Many years before, just after Christ was born, Simeon the prophet came to Mary, filled with the Holy Spirit, and spoke the Words of God to her. Simeon had spent his life waiting for the promised Messiah. God had promised that he would see the Savior with his own eyes before his death. When Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the Temple, Simeon was there, and he recognized the baby Jesus as the One God had promised for hundreds of years of Israel’s history.

Yet what he prophesied was not only hope and goodness. Simeon also saw the pain that was coming. He told Mary, “‘This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul, too.” Now the great piercing of Mary’s soul had come with the piercing of her Son.

Jesus had been on the cross for about three hours when something strange began to happen. A deep darkness fell upon the whole land. It was noon, but the sun was cloaked. The judgment of the Father against the sin of the injustice was shrouding the world.  And still the Son of God travailed.

For three more hours, the earth was deeply dimmed. Minute by minute rolled by until the time of the ninth hour had come. It was three o’clock in the afternoon. At the Temple, the priests would be offering the evening sacrifices. Jesus cried out:

“‘Eloi, Eloi, Lama sabachthani?’”

It was the desperate wail of a beloved Son, for it meant,

“‘My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?’”

His cry rang out with penetrating grief, burning itself on the memory of the people gathered at the foot of the cross.

Why did Jesus say that? Had He forgotten the reason that He was on the cross? Did He not know that this terrible separation was to bear the sins of humanity? Did He really believe that God had left Him behind forever?

The Jews who were gathered on Golgotha would have recognized the words of Jesus. He borrowed them from a Psalm of the Old Testament. King David, the great ancestor of Christ, wrote them in a time of great distress. Yet they were not words of doubt. At this point in the Psalm, David’s faith was not wavering…it was being strengthened as he waited on the Lord. He was standing in faith, refusing to look to any other source for help. He would not turn to the solutions of men or to sin, he would not grow bitter towards God for bringing suffering.

In this Psalm, King David fixed his hope on God’s deliverance, crying out and pleading to his trusted Lord alone. It is a picture of a deep nearness to God, where His beloved servant could come with his most heartfelt need. Let’s read a little bit more of the Psalm:

“My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?

Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?

O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night,

but I find no rest.

Yet You are holy,

enthroned on the praises of Israel.

In You our fathers trusted;

they trusted, and You delivered them.”

Psalm 22:1-5

Do you see how quickly King David rose to praise God and declare that He was worthy of trust…even as he waited for God’s deliverance from trouble?

Jesus wasn’t asking why God had abandoned Him. He was crying out as a human who was suffering for God in perfect obedience, longing for the Lord to bring His trial to an end.

By this time, Christ had suffered for six hours. The holy wrath of God had come in wave upon wave against the ravaging malice of humanity’s sin. It was a devastating force that Christ willingly bore in His own body. Yet He knew that this limitless suffering would not last forever. Glorious victory waited on the other side. In His human exhaustion, He was simply pleading, “How much longer, Lord?

As Jesus cried out the words of His great ancestor, He also fulfilled them, for this Psalm was a prophecy. It was both an expression of David’s own personal prayer, and a foretelling about the coming Messiah.

When those standing around heard Him, some said, “‘He is calling for Elijah.’” Others were saying, “‘Let us see whether Elijah will come to save Him.’”   They were still wondering who this Man on the cross really was.

The Lord Jesus knew that the time had come. He had accomplished everything the Father sent Him to do, and His Father heard His cry. Yet there was another fulfillment of Scripture left for Him to do, so He said, “‘I thirst.’”

There was a jar of sour wine nearby, so some men took a sponge and dipped it in the wine. Then they jabbed it with a branch of hyssop and lifted it up the Christ’s lips. This fulfilled the words of Psalm 69:21 “…for in my thirst they gave me sour wine to drink.”

When Jesus was done drinking, He declared:

“It is finished.”

In that solitary moment on the hill of Golgotha, Jesus announced that it was over. The victory was won. Everything had changed. With the sin of Adam, humanity had mutinied against God and given its loyalty to Satan, and the result was the devastation of sin and death. But Christ had come as a human and conquered both, and won the path to life. The purpose of His life on earth was complete, so He cried out in a loud voice,

“‘Father, into Your hands I commit my spirit!’”

Then He bowed his head, breathed His last breath, and yielded His spirit to God.

 

Story 190: The Way of the Cross

Matthew 27:27-32; Mark 15:16-21; Luke 23:24-31; John 19:16

The Flagellation of Christ (stained glass)

The sentence against Jesus was pronounced by Pilate. His soldiers led Jesus into the Praetorium. They called the whole Roman battalion of soldiers to the courtyard. There were over a hundred men gathered around the Lord, ready to use Him for sport to relieve their boredom. They stripped Him of His clothes and put a purple robe on Him. They put the crown of thorns back on His head and shoved a reed into His right hand to act as a scepter.

Doesn’t it seem strange that they would choose to mock Christ in this way? Isn’t it ironic?

Can you imagine what it might have been like for the angels, watching the One who, for all eternity past, sat on the Throne of Heaven, at the right had of the Father…the One who they had worshiped in His blazing glory, honor and power. What was the angelic scene on Heaven and earth as they saw Him subjected to this humiliation, this nakedness, this shame?

It must have been awful, and yet what else could so fully display the profound, stunning goodness of their God? That He would endure such agony for those who are so undeserving…that He would set aside His glory for the sake of the ones who would beat and kill Him? It is a story that has captured the attention of humanity for 2,000 years…and thankfully for us, it is the myth that turned out to be true.

As the soldiers continued to harass the Lord, they began to cry, “‘Hail, King of the Jews!’” and bow down to Him in mock reverence. Then they began beating His head with the reed and spitting on Him.

Through it all, Jesus said nothing. Though He could call those angels to His aid in a moment, though by His own power He could destroy them with a Word, He stood there in absolute surrender and obedience to the will of His Father.

It was a magnificent strength, a glorious meekness. His devotion was to the High King of Heaven, and He knew that His Father was watching it all. He understood the victory that awaited Him on the other side, and He scorned the shame of all that was to follow for the sake doing His Father’s will (see Heb. 12:1-3).

When the soldiers were done mocking Jesus, they took off the purple robe and put His clothes back on Him. They lay the beam of His cross on His back and led Him out through Jerusalem on the path to His crucifixion. Meanwhile, the whole city of Jerusalem had learned about what was going on, and crowds had filled the streets.

As Jesus went along the path, the weight of the wooden beam became too much for Him. His body was in a terribly weakened state, and He fell. The soldiers took hold of a passer-by named Simon of Cyrene. He had come into Jerusalem from the country for the Passover celebration. He had no idea what God had in store for him. The soldiers pressured him into carrying the cross for Jesus. As Jesus walked on, Simon carried the heavy wooden beams, and the great multitudes followed behind.

The nation had been holding its breath to find out if this Jesus was the Messiah. The tension had been building for three years. The clashes between this radical, miracle-working teacher and the established religious leaders had only intensified with time. As Jesus made His way through Jerusalem, the rumors flew.

Everyone expected things to come to a head at the Passover Feast, but nobody expected this. How could this be? The Messiah was supposed to come in power! He was meant to rule with an iron scepter! He was supposed to conquer the nations!

Stories of the midnight trial in secret, the savage beatings, the trip to the palace of Herod, and the trial before Pilate were circulating like mad. As Jesus progressed through the city, everything came to a standstill. The noise of the morbid parade could be heard throughout Jerusalem.   The crowds came to catch a glimpse of the famous young teacher who was about to be crucified. How weak and bloodied He was! He couldn’t even carry His own cross!  Was this really the end? His teachings were so beautiful, so straight and right. For many, it must have seemed as if goodness itself was dying.

How many of them had been healed by Jesus?

How many of them had walked mile upon mile to listen to Jesus…and now watched in horror at the outcome of His life?

The humiliation of Christ had come on the one day in the year when the highest number of Jews would be in Jerusalem. It was the day of the Feast when the Passover lamb was sacrificed, but this day would also see the sacrifice of the Lamb of God. The Passover lamb had been an image or a shadow of what Christ had come to do. It had been a ritual and a symbol for the nation of Israel for thousands of years. Would they recognize that the True Lamb had come?

The people who flocked to Jerusalem would all witness the sin that their nation, the one that had been chosen by God to be a blessing to all the other nations of the world, would commit against their own Messiah.

Some of the women who loved Jesus followed along behind Him, lamenting and weeping over the suffering of their Lord. Jesus turned to speak with His faithful ones:

“‘Daughters of Jerusalem,’” He said, “‘Do not weep for Me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For behold, the days are coming when they will say, “Blessed are the barren wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!” Then they will begin to say to the mountains, “Fall on us,” and the hills, “Cover us.” For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry.’”

Luke 23:28-31

For you see, Jesus knew that the time was coming when Jerusalem would receive the consequences for this rejection of the Savior. That very morning, the high priests had declared their loyalty to the Roman Caesar, and the people had cried out that the blood of Jesus would be on their own heads and on the heads of their children. In times to come, God would let them have their way.

Within the lifetime of the crowds that clamored around Jesus’ pathway to the cross, the people of Jerusalem would learn what it meant to feel the full force and fierceness of the Roman army. There would be no mercy at all. Rome would lay siege to Jerusalem. The people inside the walls would spend months in anguish and starvation. They would turn on each other in despicable sin. Then the Roman army would attack with the full range of their powerful weaponry. The very streets that the people walked and the glorious Temple would be laid to waste, and the Jewish nation would be utterly destroyed.

Jesus knew that His terrible trial would come to a distinct end. In three days, He was going to rise again to eternal glory. But many horrors still lay ahead for the people of Jerusalem. The Spirit of Christ was so great that even in the midst of His terrible travail, He had compassion for those who were on a path to doom…and had the wherewithal to warn them.

Story 189: Behold the Man

Matthew 27:15-26; Mark 15:6-20; Luke 23:13-24 ; John 18:38b-19:16

JERUSALEM, ISRAEL - MARCH 5, 2015: The ceramic tiled station of Cross way in st. George anglicans church from 20. cent. by unknown artist. Jesus judgment for Pilate.

 

Jesus had spent the entire night after His arrest in the halls of the Jewish leaders. They had accused Him, beaten Him, and sent Him on to Pilate to make sure that His judgment would end in death. When Pilate witnessed the jealousy of the leaders and the breathtaking dignity of Christ, he could not bring himself to make the judgment that the leaders were demanding. Instead of making a decision, he sent Jesus to King Herod so he could deal with it. When Herod was not able to reach any conclusions about the case of Christ, he sent the Lord back to Pilate. By that time, the whole city knew that Jesus, the radical young preacher who so many thought was the Messiah, was on trial.

Pilate had a tradition with the Jewish people. Every Passover, he would let them request any one prisoner, and Pilate would set him free. At that time, the Romans were holding a notorious prisoner named Barabbas. He was part of a Jewish resistance movement that wanted to overthrow the power of the Roman government over Judea. His group had whipped up insurrections against Pilate. Barabbas himself had committed murder and robbery in the process. Many of the Jews held him in contempt for his crimes, while others loved him for his cause. They hated Roman rule, and so Barabbas was a kind of hero for his daring, deadly exploits.

The Jews had gathered outside the Praetorium to ask Pilate to release the Passover prisoner. Meanwhile, Pilate called up the religious rulers and chief priests and said of Jesus, “‘You brought this Man to me as one who incites the people to rebellion, and after examining Him before you, behold, I did not find this Man guilty of any of your charges against Him. Neither did Herod, for he sent Him back to us. Look, nothing deserving death has been done by Him. I will therefore punish and release Him.’” Pilate increasingly realized that the only reason these men had brought Jesus before him was out of envy. However, their jealousy was no reason for him to kill an innocent man.

Pilate went out to the crowd and sat on his judgment seat.   He said, “‘Who do you want me to release to you?   Barabbas, or Jesus who is called the Christ?’” Surely the crowds would side with the Preacher!   Once again the Jews had a choice…they were faced with an opportunity to repent of their accusations. They could have demanded the Jesus go free.

While Pilate was sitting there, he received a message from his wife. “‘Have nothing to do with that righteous Man; for last night I suffered greatly in a dream because of Him.’” Once again, Pilate was being offered a chance. He was given a warning. He had a choice.

Meanwhile, the chief priests and elders had been going out among the crowds, convincing them to ask Pilate to release Barabbas instead of Jesus.   They incited them to demand that Jesus be put to death. How active was their hate! How skilled they were at manipulating their people to their own ends.
Pilate called out, “‘Which of the two do you want me to release to you?’”

“‘Away with this Man!’” the mob declared, “‘and release for us Barabbas!’”

Imagine the position of Pilate. He had a riot on his hands, and yet he was a man committed to Roman justice. Rather then send Jesus to His death, Pilate had Him taken and scourged with whips by his soldiers. Perhaps if the religious leaders saw that Jesus had been humiliated and punished, they would be satisfied. Perhaps Pilate could save His life.

The soldiers had been listening to rumors of this Jesus all day. By the time He was brought to them, the accusation that He had claimed to be King was well known. It was such a ridiculous thing for a lowly little Jew to say that they couldn’t resist the temptation to make sport of Him.

In the violence and malice of their own dark souls, they found true delight in beating Him with whips until Jesus’ blood ran down His back. By the time they were done, the flesh on His back was torn and raw all the way down to His muscles and bone. But the cruel savagery of the Roman soldiers wasn’t satisfied yet. Some of them had gone and cut branches with long thorns. They weaved it into a crown and crushed it onto His head. Then they put the robe of royal purple on across the shoulders of His wretched, bleeding back. “‘Hail, King of the Jews!’” they declared as they beat Him in the face.

The soldiers brought Jesus back to Pilate. The torture Christ had suffered was evident. Surely this would be enough. Pilate went out to the crowds and said, “‘Behold, I am bringing Him out to you, that you may know that I find no guilt in Him.’” Then Jesus was walked out before the people. Blood dripped from the crown of thorns on His head, and the purple robe clung to His bloody body.

Pilate declared, “‘Behold, the Man!’” Perhaps after the shock of seeing Jesus in such a terrible state, they would relent. But they did not. “‘What shall I do with Jesus, who is called the King of the Jews?’” he asked.

The chief priests began to yell out, “Crucify Him, crucify Him!’” The crowd joined in.   The people were working themselves into a fury.

“‘Why? What evil has He done? I have found in Him no guilt demanding death; I will therefore punish Him and release Him’” Pilate said. But the crowd only grew louder: “‘Crucify Him!’” they screamed.

In the midst of the chaos, some of the Jews told Pilate, “‘We have a law, and by that law He ought to die because He made Himself out to be the Son of God.’”

This only made Pilate more afraid. Jesus had already told him that He was a King of another place, and his wife was having dreams about Him. He went back into the Praetorium where Jesus was being kept. “‘Where are you from?’” he asked.

But Jesus wouldn’t answer. Pilate spoke with exasperation, “‘You do not speak to me? Do You not know that I have authority to release You, and I have authority to crucify You?’”

Jesus said to him, “‘You would not have authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above; for this reason he who delivered Me up to you has the greater sin.””

Wow. The assured, dynamic confidence of Christ vibrated  throughout every word. It rang out even in His silence. Pilate mistakenly believed that he was the highest authority that day. Jesus told him that in fact, Pilate received his authority from God…and the outcome of this sinful day was of God’s choosing.

When Pilate heard this, he began to make even greater efforts to save Jesus. But the Jews were growing more and more out of control. He could tell that there were about to break out into a riot. The some of the Jews declared, “‘If you release this Man, you are no friend of Caesar; everyone who makes himself out to be a king opposes Caesar’”

Their words were no true expression of loyalty to the Caesar of Rome. The Jews hated the emperor as much as they despised Pilate and Herod. They were making a threat.   If Pilate didn’t crucify Jesus, they would take a case of this all the way to Rome. They would accuse Pilate of treason. In Rome, treason was punishable by death. That was not a sacrifice that Pilate was willing to make for this Man.

When Pilate heard this, he went out and sat down again on his judgment seat. By this time, the early hours of morning had passed and midday was approaching. The events of the Passover celebration at the Temple were in full swing. At noon, the Passover lambs would be sacrificed in remembrance of the blood that saved the firstborn sons of Israel on that dark night in Egypt fifteen hundred years before. It paved the way for the salvation of the nation. Now the Firstborn Son of God would offer His blood to bring salvation to all the nations.

Pilate had Jesus brought out before the people. “‘Behold, your King!’” he said.

“‘Away with Him, crucify Him!’” the people cried. The frenzy of the mob had reached a fevered pitch.

“‘Shall I crucify your King?’” Pilate asked.

The chief priests declared, “‘We have no king but Caesar!’”

Wow. The chief priests of the nation of Israel had declared their utter rejection of the Son of God…and of God the Father, the King of Heaven.

Pilate took some water and washed his hands in front of the raging crowd. “‘I am innocent of this Man’s blood’” he declared. “‘See to that yourselves.’”

The crowd shouted back, “‘His blood be on us and on our children!’”

Then Pilate pronounced the sentence against Jesus. The demands of the religious leaders and the crowds were to be granted. Barabbas was released into freedom, and Jesus was delivered up to be crucified.

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