Tag: religious leaders

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 191: The Crucified King

Matthew 27:33-38; Mark 15:22-26; Luke 23:33, 38; John 19:16-22

Holy Week

The judgment had come against Christ. Though Pilate and Herod found nothing against Him, the rage and manipulations of the Jewish leadership prevailed. Jesus was to be crucified.

The Roman soldiers led Jesus on an exhausting journey through the crowds of Jerusalem to a hill outside of Jerusalem called Golgotha, which is Hebrew for “The Place of the Skull.” Two criminals were being led there with crosses as well. When they arrived, two soldiers offered Jesus a drink of wine mixed with gall. It would have been very bitter, and perhaps poisonous. It was another form of mockery. When Jesus tasted it, He refused to drink more.

The Roman soldiers laid the cross on the ground and stripped Christ of His clothes. Christ submitted with utter meekness as they stretched His body across the wooden planks. Yet He was not yielding to the authority of the soldiers, the religious leaders, or Pontius Pilate.  He was submitting to the will of His Father.  The love of God for you and I is so great that God the Father willed this for His Son.  The love of the Son for His Father was so great that He was willing to do it.

The soldiers drove nails into His wrists and ankles, fixing His body to the cross. What a horror.

Imagine the pain of those nails for Jesus.  Imagine the religious leaders as they looked on.  How could they continue to allow it?  Imagine the torture for Mary as she watched her Son in agony.  What it was like for John to watch his hero so shamed and degraded?  What pain tore through Mary Magdalene as she heard the hammer’s blow again and again?  What shock and dread filled the city of Jerusalem when the thousands upon thousands who had hoped that Jesus was the Messiah…who had travelled hundreds of miles to see Him…who had been healed by Him…realized that He was going to die at the hands of their own leaders.

The soldiers hoisted the cross up so that Jesus’ body would hang on the nails. For every breath He took, the Lord would have to push down on the nails in His ankles and raise His body so that air could fill His lungs. His bleeding, raw back would scrape against the splintered wood of the cross. Moment after moment brought excruciating physical pain. But that was nothing to the unseen agony that Christ was bearing through those terrible hours. For you see, in the spiritual realms, the pure and holy One, this Jesus, had taken on sin itself. He had chosen to become the wretched embodiment of sin before Almighty God. With every breath He was paying the price for the sins of us all.

Jesus did not need to have His arms nailed open wide to receive the onslaught of God’s fierce and driving wrath against the despicable fact of humanity’s rebellion. He had already determined to honor of the will of His Father in the Garden of Gethsemane. The fires of God’s rage against evil came upon Him in wave after wave of judgment as Jesus paid the punishment for every last sinful, selfish thought, word, or deed that mankind has ever done. Every murder, every rape, every genocide…all of the dark things of humanity that cause such suffering and devastation. Jesus was bearing the sins of the world and paying the ransom so that we could be set free. What a magnificent Savior!

The two criminals were crucified as well, one on each side of Jesus.   Meanwhile, the soldiers at Jesus’ feet were occupied with their own morbid business. What was to be done with Christ’s clothes? They had already torn His outer tunic into four parts at the seams so that each soldier received a section. But Jesus’ inner tunic was unique. It was woven as one piece of fabric. It was specially made so there were no seams. The soldiers didn’t want to tear it, so they decided to cast lots for it instead. The Apostle John pointed out that this was a fulfillment of Scripture. Psalm 22:18 says, “‘They divide my outer garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.’” When they were done, the soldiers sat down and kept watch over Jesus. By the time He had been crucified, it was about nine in the morning.

Meanwhile, Pilate was not finished with what he had to say about Jesus. He made a sign with the same words written in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek. He sent it to be nailed over Christ on the cross. It said:

“‘JESUS, THE NAZARENE, THE KING OF THE JEWS.’”

Jesus was crucified near the city, so many of the Jews would read it. But Pilate’s proclamation was also written in the languages that dominated the western world. Latin was the language of the Roman Empire.  The Romans had imposed their military power to dominate the western world for hundreds of years. Greek was the language of the philosophers and great thinkers of old. It was the rich, precise language that the Roman elites chose to speak and teach their children. It dominated the world of ideas. And if course, Hebrew was the language through which the eternal Word of God had come to humanity. How befitting that all three proclaimed the Kingship of Christ on the day of His great sacrifice.

Little did Pilate know that in the years to come, the Gospel would be proclaimed in Latin and Greek throughout the Roman Empire. One day, this Man that he sent to the cross would be worshipped as the eternal King throughout the world! Within a few hundred years, the emperors of Rome would bow their knees to the Lord Jesus Christ.

But that was all far ahead in the future. In the meantime, the religious leaders were unhappy about the sign over Jesus’ head. It was a declaration that Christ was King by a governor of Rome. They went to Pilate and said he should change it. They wanted the sign to read: “‘He said, “I am the king of the Jews.”’” This would make the sign another form of ridicule. Pilate would have none of it.

Imagine the thoughts of Pilate as he sent Jesus away to be crucified by the vicious, petty members of the Sanhedrin. In the years Pilate had spent ruling the Jews, what had he already witnessed in terms of their spiritual corruption, their power struggles, their deceit? Was there anything in their society that gave him reason to believe the Jewish people were more virtuous and honorable than any of the other nations in the world? The notion that they might be God’s holy people must have seemed laughable, which would make the arrogance of the Jewish leaders even more deplorable. If there was any high and eternal destiny for these people, it certainly could not be seen in the lives of the men who ran the Temple of their God.

But in Jesus, Pilate saw something altogether different. Pilate was an educated man, according to the most sophisticated wisdom and knowledge the worldly systems could provide. He had no doubt travelled the Empire and witnessed vastly different religions and cultures. He was a man with power to wield. He moved in circles with other rulers who debated and brought their own solutions to bear on the most complex realities of the human race. War and famine and education, societal breakdown, cultural clashes, and the rising and falling of nations throughout history were common themes and concerns for these men who ruled the Roman Empire.

Yet when Pilate was faced with the great crisis, all he had to offer was a question: “‘What is truth?’” The great solutions of the philosophers of Greece and Rome, the solutions found in the power of the Roman Army and the peace they imposed by force, the crying out to the idols and gods of their myths…all bearing some small portion of distorted truth without ever being True. When the calloused, cynical, disappointed heart of Pilate beheld the meekness and purity and absolute assurance of the Lord Jesus, he knew that he had encountered something True.

There was something magnificent and unspeakably powerful about the silent, bloodied Man who claimed to be the King of an unseen world. Either He was insane, or He was right. If He was right, then all the chaotic frenzy of the world around them was the real insanity. Pilate had been around long enough to know that all the posturing of image and position and power was a farce, from the lowest school bully all the way to the emperor of Rome. But Jesus blew all of His categories.

If there is an eternal King, this was what it would be like when He entered a selfish, broken world. Out of their pathetic envy, the religious leaders of Jerusalem wanted to kill a Man whose soul was worth infinitely more than all of theirs put together.

We don’t know the exact thoughts that were going through Pilate’s mind as he sat in his palace. But we know that they led him to declare that Jesus was the King of the Jews. And against the protests of the Jewish leaders, he simply said, “‘What I have written, I have written.’”

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.

Story 188: Putting God on Trial

Matthew 27:1-2, 11-14; Mark 15:1-5; Luke 23:1-12; John 18:28-37

NEUBERG AN DER MURZ, AUSTRIA - SEPTEMBER 13, 2015: The paint of Jesus judgment for Pilate on side altar of gothic Dom by unknown artist from year 1505.

NEUBERG AN DER MURZ, AUSTRIA – SEPTEMBER 13, 2015: The paint of Jesus judgment for Pilate on side altar of gothic Dom by unknown artist from year 1505.

To a man like Pontius Pilate, the Jewish Sanhedrin must have seemed like a ridiculous horde of men. Pilate was the Roman governor appointed by the Roman Caesar, the most powerful man in the world. The Roman Empire had conquered the known world and dominated history for hundreds of years. The nation of Israel seemed like an insignificant smudge on the map. Their religious leaders were every bit as corrupt and power hungry as the men who created the political intrigues of Rome, but with none of the glamour. They were full of their own importance in a nation that seemed totally irrelevant to the rest of the world.

It was easy for the Romans to roll their eyes in contempt, but for Pilate, they posed a real threat. The Jewish leadership had tremendous influence over the people. They could whip the crowds into a rebellious frenzy. The last thing Pilate needed was a report to Rome that he couldn’t maintain his rule.

When the Sanhedrin arrived with Jesus, they refused to step inside the Praetorium. It was the large fortress where the Roman governor lived, and so its land was defiled. If the Jews went inside, they would become ritually unclean. It would disqualify them from celebrating the rest of the Passover.   Pilate was sensitive to the religious customs of the Jews, so he went out to meet them. There in front stood Jesus, bound at His hands and feet like a common criminal. His face was beaten with bruises.

What could this simple peasant have possibly done to get these religious leaders into such an outrage, and right at the high point of their highest festival? And why were they bringing Him here?

“‘What accusation do you bring against this Man?’” Pilate asked.

“‘If this man were not an evil doer, we would not bring Him to you,’” they exclaimed. “‘We found this Man misleading our nation and forbidding to pay taxes to Caesar, and saying that He Himself is Christ, a King!’”

All of these accusations were false, of course. And they were quite different from the accusations they had declared in their own trial. But Pontius Pilate and the Roman Empire did not care who called themselves the Jewish Messiah, and they would never give the death penalty for it. The Jewish leadership was well aware of this, so they made up false accusations that might convince Pilate to put Jesus to death. They were saying that Jesus had declared Himself to be against the powers of the Roman Caesar himself. It seemed like such a ridiculous claim to Pilate that he easily dismissed it. He said, “‘Take Him yourselves and judge Him by your own laws.’”

“‘It is not lawful for us to put anyone to death,’” they replied.

Ah. Their true reason for coming was revealed. They wanted to kill this Man in chains. The Romans prided themselves on their commitment to justice, and Pilate knew the religious leaders were not interested in telling him the truth. He would have to find out what was really going on some other way. So he summoned Jesus to come inside the Praetorium with him so they could talk in private.

“‘Are you the King of the Jews?’” he asked. Now even the Roman governor was suggesting that Jesus might be a king!

“‘Are you saying this on your own initiative or did others tell you about Me?’” Jesus replied.

“‘I am not a Jew, am I?’” Pilate said. “‘Your own nation and the chief priests delivered You up to me; what have You done?’”

Isn’t it interesting that Pilate wanted to listen to Jesus more than He wanted to hear what the Jews had to say? He was trying to give the Lord a chance to clear His name apart from the hysteria of the corrupt leadership.

Jesus answered, “‘My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting, that I might not be delivered to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.’”

Imagine how strange His answer must have sounded to Pilate. He asked Jesus, “‘So you are a King?’”

The Lord told him, “‘You say correctly that I am a King. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.’”

“What is the truth?’” Pilate asked.

It was clear to him that this Jesus posed no real threat to the Roman Empire. Rome was full of philosophers and teachers who spent their lives discussing high and lofty ideas, and they were a fairly harmless crowd. Pilate didn’t understand that Jesus actually was the Truth, alive and embodied in human form, and that He had the answers to every sincere question Pilate had ever asked. But Pilate did know that this Man was innocent of anything deserving death. He went back outside to the churning rage of the Sanhedrin and declared, “‘I find not guilt in Him.’”

The chief priests and elders began to harshly accuse Jesus. Imagine their fists and voices raised in violent passion. In the face of their vitriol, the Lord stood in silent, complete composure. He gave them no response. They had no interest in the truth.

Pilate was shocked. He took Jesus back inside and said, “‘Do You make no answer? See how many charges they bring against You!’”

Pilate was standing there, on Jesus’ side, prodding Him to say something so that Pilate could defend Him. But Jesus had already answered Pilate’s questions with the truth, and there was nothing more to say.

Pilate was amazed at Jesus. Against the Lord’s regal, surrendered silence, the religious leaders continued to demand the severest penalty. “‘He stirs up the people, teaching all over Judea, starting from Galilee, even as far as this place.’”

Pilate had a swarming problem before him. He knew these men were lying and that the charges were false, but they weren’t going to let this go. And this Jesus refused to defend Himself.   How could he get himself out of this mess?

When he heard that Jesus had come down from Galilee, he asked if Jesus was actually a Galilean. For you see, Herod Antipas was the ruler appointed by Rome to that region to the north, so perhaps Pontius could give the case to him. Let Herod handle this mess instead!

Herod happened to be in Jerusalem at that time, so Pilate sent Jesus over to him. Herod was glad to have Jesus come. He had heard all about the miracles and wanted Jesus would perform some kind of sign for him. This Herod was used to keeping people on a string, like puppets that were made to thrill him. He had once promised half his kingdom to his young step-daughter because she delighted his guests with her dancing. Her horrible request was the head of John the Baptist on a platter. King Herod lacked the courage to refuse such a revolting request, and so the cousin of Jesus was put to death that very day.

It is interesting to consider how Jesus responded to each person that the Father brought along His path.

To those who came to Him with the smallest amounts of faith, He brought miracles and messages of truth.

To those who continued to stand with Him in faith, like the disciples or Nicodemas or Martha and Mary, He gave deeper and deeper revelations about the mysteries of God.

Jesus answered Pilate’s questions with dignity and respect, sharing secrets about His high, eternal kingdom to a man who understood vast levels of authority and rule in the world.

To the hard-hearted religious leaders of God’s own people, Jesus had come again and again with opportunities to repent and be transformed. Even as they were putting Him on trial to kill Him, He explained that the reason He wasn’t giving answers was because they wouldn’t listen. Even that little explanation provided a crack in the door for any of the leaders who might want to change their minds. .

Jesus met each person at the place of their need and offered Himself in the ways they were ready understand, drawing each along as far as the Spirit led Him to go. Even His rebukes were a mercy, because they were the warnings of a compassionate God.

It is interesting to see that when the Lord was brought before Herod, Jesus offered nothing but stone cold silence.

The religious leaders had come along to Herod’s to make their accusations and demands. Herod had no great affection for them. They had spent many long years in mutual contempt for each other. Instead, he turned to Jesus with question after question, but Jesus had nothing to say. The Son of God would not allow the power and truth of God to be used by this despicable man for his own entertainment. As Herod realized he had no sway with Jesus, his fascination turned to derision. He would find another way to entertain himself with this wandering preacher. He and the soldiers with him began to mock the Lord. They took a beautiful robe, fit for a king, and fastened it around Jesus’ shoulders, belittling any claims that this carpenter was fit for royal power. Then they sent Him back to Pilate.

Up to that point, there had been a quiet hostility between Herod and Pilate. But as they both faced the sneering Jewish leaders against the silent Preacher, they found common ground. They were both repulsed by the Sanhedrin, and yet both failed to bow their knees when the true King came. From that day on, they were friends.

 

Lesson 185: The Arrest: In the House of Annas

Matthew 26:55-75; Mark 14:48-72 ; Luke 22:52-71 ; John 18:12-27

GUIMARAES, PORTUGAL - AUGUST 7, 2014: Stained glass window depicting Jesus accused before Pontius Pilate in the Santos Passos church in Guimaraes, Portugal.This window is more than 100 years old, no property release is required.

GUIMARAES, PORTUGAL  Stained glass window depicting Jesus accused before Pontius Pilate in the Santos Passos church in Guimaraes, Portugal.

In the quiet of night, as His disciples fell into weary sleep, Jesus went to His Father in prayer. Three times He asked that the burden would be removed. Could the Father take away this task? Could Jesus somehow avoid the coming torment? Did He have to drink the cup of God’s wrath? Was it truly the only way to bring salvation to man? Imagine the breathtaking love of the Father as He held the redemption of humankind before His Son and said, “You are the only way.” Imagine the wholehearted, absolute love and surrender of the Son as He accepted the punishment that all of us should bear.

When the chief priests and soldiers came to arrest Jesus, the battle had already been won. The Son of God had already humbled Himself and made Himself as nothing before God. He would serve the Father through the darkness, totally assured of the glory on the other side. God would exalt Him to the highest place, the very throne of Heaven.   The name of Jesus would be above every name, and every knee in Heaven and on earth and under the earth would bow before Him, and every tongue would confess that Jesus Christ is Lord of all. And the lavish honor bestowed upon the Son would give honor and glory to the Father of His Great Love (see Phil. 2).

As Jesus faced the cross, He knew that all of these things lay on the other side…and it gave Him power to scorn it’s shame (see Hebrews 12:1-3). The men in the Garden that came to arrest Him were entirely mistaken in their belief that they were asserting any kind of real power in the events that were about to unfold. Even as Jesus gave Himself over to their venomous attacks and the agonies of physical abuse, He remained Lord of all.

Simon Peter and the disciples were growing in their faith, but they did not have the vision to see beyond the events of the moment. As Simon Peter surged forward with his sword, he invited the horrors of violence into a moment that was meant for surrender. Jesus commanded an end to strife and healed the ear of the man that Peter attacked.

Then he turned to the men who had come to seize Him and said, “‘Have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest Me as if I were a robber? Every day I was with you in the Temple teaching, and you did not seize Me; but this has happened that Scripture might be fulfilled. This hour and the power of darkness are yours.’”

When the disciples heard Jesus and realized that He was giving Himself up, they panicked and fled the scene. Imagine how the religious rulers sneered as the soldiers put shackles on Jesus’ hands and feet. As they led Him away, a young man came along behind. He had no clothes on except a sheet that was wrapped around him. When the soldiers realized he was a friend of Jesus, they tried to seize him, too, but he ran, leaving the sheet behind. Off he went, naked into the cold night, devastated by the seeming fate of his Lord.

The mob moved through the dark to the house of Annas, the former high priest over Israel. He was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the current high priest. It was Caiaphas who declared that it was better for Christ to die in order to save the nation. He declared that if the Romans grew weary of all the excitement Jesus seemed to raise, they might clamp down on all of their freedoms.

This, of course, was ridiculous. The Romans had shown no concern over the travels of Christ or the message He preached. But it was a good excuse. Little did the high priest know that his venomous declaration was actually a prophecy from God (see John 11:45-53).

The true reason of Caiaphas’ malice toward Christ was more personal. He was jealous, greedy, and had a problem with a lust for power. He was from a family of longstanding prestige and influence. This family was used to wielding power and controlling the direction of the nation. This young preacher was a threat to their agenda, and He had to be eliminated. No longer would Jesus be allowed to sneak around the valleys and cracks of the nation, catering to the ignorant crowds. He was finally going to have to face the men whose leadership He had dared to defy on their terms. How viciously Caiaphas and his fellow rulers savored the anticipation of humiliating Him. Caiaphas was no innocent, spiritual man who was getting the story wrong. He was a calloused abuser of power who could care less about the things of God. God would use the sin of this man who lead His chosen nation to bring about His perfect purposes through His righteous Son.

As Jesus moved towards the House of Annas, Simon Peter had recovered from his initial panic. He followed the crowd, threading his way along to keep watch on the unfolding events. John had come along, too. He was known in the household of Annas, so as Jesus was led in for questioning, he was allowed onto the estate. Peter had to wait outside, but John went to the doorkeeper for him. While Peter waited for him, a little slave girl who worked at the door came up to him and said, “‘You are not also one of this Man’s disciples, are you?’” In a split second reaction, Peter declared, “‘I am not.’” Before he even had time to think, he had denied his Lord the first time.

John was able to get Peter inside the door, so Peter walked into the courtyard and stood by a charcoal fire where slaves and soldiers were standing to warm themselves.

Meanwhile, Annas started to question Jesus, grilling Him about His disciples and the messages He taught. Jesus looked back at him and stated the facts, “‘I have spoken openly to the world; I always taught in the synagogues, and in the Temple, where all the Jews come together; and I spoke nothing in secret. Why do you question Me? Question those who have heard what I spoke to them; behold, these know what I said.’”

At this, an officer struck Jesus and scowled, “‘Is this the way you answer the high priest?’”

Jesus boldly replied, “‘If I have spoken wrongly, bear witness of the wrong; bit if rightly, why do you strike Me?’” Jesus answered with a reminder of the Old Testament Law. In Exodus 22:28, God told the nation of Israel that it is righteous to speak in self-defense if it is the truth. Clearly, the officer was more concerned about protecting the former high priest than honoring righteous decrees of the Word of God.

Jesus stood before Annas with the superior power of moral authority. Annas had nothing to say. Perhaps he was a bit rattled. It was obvious he had no ability to intimidate Jesus.   He dismissed Him and sent Him along to the home of his son-in-law where men from the Sanhedrin, Israel’s highest court, had already gathered.

This had all been plotted out ahead of time. In the deep, dark of night, they had come to preside over the questioning and condemnation of the One who preached such infuriating messages in the courts of their Temple.

Story 184: The Arrest: When Everyone Falls Away

Matthew 26:46-56; Mark 14:43-52; Luke 22:47-65; John 18:2-11

JERUSALEM, ISRAEL - MARCH 3, 2015: The mosaic of the arresting of Jesus in Gethsemane garden in The Church of All Nations (Basilica of the Agony) by Pietro D'Achiardi (1922 - 1924).

Jesus knelt in prayer in the darkness of the Garden of Gethsemane. In an agony of prayer, He asked His Father to remove the terrible trial before Him. The Father’s answer was no, and so He surrendered to His Father’s will. Then Jesus rose up to His feet and went over to His disciples. He found them sleeping once again.   “‘Sleep and take your rest later on,’” He said. “‘See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going.’”

Jesus hadn’t even finished speaking when they came. The jangles of armor and thudding of feet could be heard and the flame from torches flickered against the dark cloak of the garden trees. Judas was leading the way with a host of men behind him. The chief priests and elders and Pharisees had come with their lanterns and weapons, eager to be a part of the night’s events. They had brought a company of Roman soldiers with them. There was at least two hundred men, each carrying his own weapon as if prepared for battle.

“‘Whom do you seek?’” Jesus asked, knowing full well they were coming after Him.

“‘Jesus the Nazarene’” they answered.

“‘I am He,’” The Lord said. At His words, the mob drew back and fell to the ground. Imagine it. Did the men fall back because God had declared Himself before them, or were they blown away with the sheer boldness of His announcement?   Whatever the cause, it must have been disorienting to rise up again and realize it was their job to arrest the One who had spoken.

Again Jesus asked, “‘Whom do you seek?’” There was no fear in Jesus, and there was no attempt to hide. He was already set on the course of obeying His Father, and these were the events that He ordained. When they recovered, they said, “‘Jesus the Nazarene.’”

The Lord said, “‘I told you that I am He; if therefore you seek Me, let these others go their way.’” Jesus was talking about His disciples. He had stepped forward to identify Himself clearly and to protect His men. Just the night before He said He would not lose one of the disciples God had given Him. Only one among the twelve was lost, but his actions showed that he had never belonged to Christ in the first place.

As Judas plotted and planned with the Jews, he told them about the Garden where Jesus went with His disciples every night to sleep. It would be the perfect place to arrest Him. The crowds who were loyal to Jesus would be far away and fast asleep. They wouldn’t be able to defend Him. They could seize Jesus without having to deal with His impossible questions in front of the people.

But there was a problem. In the darkness of night, it would be difficult to figure out which of the men in the garden was actually Jesus. Only Judas knew Jesus and the ways of His disciples well enough to identify the Lord immediately. So they made a plan. When they arrived in the Garden, Judas would go to Jesus and kiss Him on the cheek. That was the sign that would tell the soldiers who they should arrest.

Judas went up to the Lord and said, “‘Greetings Rabbi!’” and kissed Him.

“‘Judas,’” the Lord said, “‘Are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?’” Then He said, “‘My friend, do what you have come for.’” How gently He treated His betrayer.

All of these things had taken place in the space of a few moments. Imagine the chaos and confusion for the disciples as they emerged from their bleary, sorrow-sodden sleep. Suddenly, Roman soldiers and the faces of their poisonous Jewish leaders were standing there in the light of torches and lanterns. And there was Judas. What was happening? Was this it?

Fear and tension and panic took over. Their fierce determination to stand loyal to Jesus arose in their hearts. “‘Lord, shall we strike with the sword?’” they asked. Surely it would have been a hopeless battle in any other circumstance, but they were on the side of the Messiah! They meant it when they said they would die for Him.

Before waiting for an answer, Simon Peter drew his sword and struck out against the men who advanced to seize Jesus. His blade grazed the head of a man named Malchus, a slave of the high priest. Peter’s blow sliced off his right ear! Imagine Malchus’ cry. Imagine the massacre that would have come next if the soldiers had raised their swords in defense of the Jewish leaders.

But Jesus declared, “‘Stop! No more of this!’” Everyone froze. As Jesus reached out and healed Malchus, He told Peter to put his sword away. “‘All who take up the sword will perish by the sword,’” He said. “‘Or do you think I cannot appeal to My Father, and He will at once put at My disposal more than twelve legions of angels? How, then, shall the Scripture be fulfilled. It must happen this way. The cup my Father has given to Me, shall I not drink it?’”

Wow. Peter did not understand. Jesus was not at the mercy of the men who came to arrest him. His Father had orchestrated the events of that night. The religious leaders didn’t understand, either. They thought they were coming to destroy a defiant young preacher.

But Jesus knew who He was. He understood His authority in Heaven. He knew that there were thousands upon thousands of magnificent, powerful angels standing at the ready, fully prepared to obey His every command.

Can you imagine them there in the heavenlies? Straining in their obedience to God as they watched their Lord under attack? His angelic warriors could have laid every man in that Garden to waste in the blink of an eye. They could have decimated the entire city of Jerusalem in a moment. They could have wiped out all of the Lord’s Jewish enemies and the entire Roman Empire in a day and made Him King.

But they didn’t.

It was not the plan of the Father. He had a far greater and deeper victory in mind. When the Lord came to conquer the world, it was not by brute force. The greatest exhibition of power in the universe does not come in the form of violence. It comes in the form of surrender to the Most High God.

The Father and the Son had planned this salvation before the world began. They gave hints and images of it to the world through the nation of Israel and their sacred Word. Now that the time had finally come for the Son of God to bring redemption, nothing would stop Him from accomplishing it.

 

Story 180: The Last Supper: Remaining in the Love of the Trinity

John 15

JERUSALEM, ISRAEL - MARCH 3, 2015: The mosaic on the portal of The Church of All Nations (Basilica of the Agony) by Professor Giulio Bargellini (1922 - 1924). Jesus and God the Father.

As Jesus sat with His disciples in the Upper Room, He continued to give them His last lessons before His journey to the cross. Over and over again, He showed the deep interconnectedness that they would have with Christ and His Father through the Holy Spirit. This time, He used a picture where He was a grapevine and His followers were the branches that stem off from it. This is what He said:

“‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in Me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit He prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in Me, and I will remain in You. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in Me.’”

John 15:1-4

Jesus was trying to show just how close they would be with Him, even after He was gone. A branch finds its whole life from what it receives from the vine. His followers are meant to live in complete dependence on Him. The branch that does not honor Christ does not truly belong to Him, and God the Father will cut it off and cast it away. That was the very thing that was happening in the nation of Israel. The religious leaders were like bad branches. They weren’t loyal to the plans of God and they were betraying His Son with their every rejection. God was going to cut them off from the New Covenant blessings.

For those who did have faith, God would prune the same way a good farmer will cut back His vineyard. The vines look stark and empty as God does His work, but the branches will be freed from giving nourishment to leaves and branches that are not going to bear fruit. They will have energy to have new growth so they can bear new fruit.

The job of the followers of Jesus is to act like the branch. We are to stay in connection and utter dependence on the Person of Jesus Christ. As His followers draw their strength and hope from Him, Jesus will bear fruit through them! This is how Jesus described it:

“‘I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in Me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in Me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up and thrown into the fire, and burned. If you remain in Me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be My disciples.’”

John 15:5-8

When Jesus says that His disciples can do nothing apart from Him, He does not mean that they will become blobs on the ground that can’t move. God gives all human beings their ability to get up and move and breathe and have their being every day, whether they believe in Jesus or not. By His lavish, common grace, He keeps the whole universe going at all times. Jesus sustains it all by His powerful Word. But when those who are called to be Jesus’ disciples begin to live for the Kingdom, they are joining the work of the Spirit. It simply cannot be done apart from the Lord! They must make nearness to Jesus their highest goal. They must be so closely connected to Jesus that it is like the physical connection between a vine and its branches. From that deep connection and that transformed life, the Spirit will flow into the lives of others. And the rewards are pretty amazing. Listen to what Jesus said next:

“‘As the Father has loved Me, so have I loved you. Now remain in My love. If you obey My commands, you will remain in My love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in His love. I have told you this so that My joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.’”

Wow. Do you see how love the love of God expands? First, Jesus and the Holy Spirit respond to God the Father with devoted obedience. The Father sent the Son to earth. He was going to send the Spirit next. In the richness of their divine love, they work in perfect harmony and unity. Each follower of Christ is drawn into that powerful love and that beautiful work. It is a place of infinite joy! And the outpouring of that nearness to God flows to the people around them. We are to love one another with the love of God Himself. This is how Jesus described it:

“Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from My Father I have made known to you. You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit–fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in My name. This is My command: Love one another.’”

John 15:9-17

 Wow. That is the second time Jesus issued that command on the night of His arrest. This was something He wanted His disciples to pay special attention to. Their love for each other had to be so extreme that they would be willing to die for one another. It was the same love Jesus gave. He had every right to demand it from us. The children of God’s Kingdom are called to radically love one another. But that was not what they could expect from the rest of the world. Jesus also said:

“‘If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated Me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.   Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than His master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed My teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of My name, for they do not know the One who sent Me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin. Now, however, they have no excuse for their sin. He who hates Me hates my Father as well. If I had not done among them what no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. But now they have seen these miracles, and yet they have hated both Me and my Father. But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law, “They have hated Me without reason.”’”

John 15:18-25

As Jesus prepared to return to His Father, He knew He was leaving a situation on the ground that His disciples were going to have to live with. The disciples could expect the same kind of terrible treatment from the very same men that were about to put Jesus to death.

What terrible guilt hung over the religious leaders and those who followed them! They had been given chance after exhaustive chance to see the beauty of the miracles. They knew the Old Testament law, they understood the prophets. As Jesus taught the true interpretation of the Word of God from God’s point of view, they could have let it light their way to an even deeper, purer understanding! These priests and scribes and Pharisees of Israel had been given the unimaginably great honor of leading God’s holy nation, but when God came to serve them, they killed Him.   When they showed hatred for the Words of Jesus, they showed that they hated God the Father as well. If they were so grounded in their hatred of God, so deeply steeped in rebellion and sin, why would they listen to Jesus’ disciples as they carried on with His message?

The followers of Christ throughout time have continued to face the same hostile opposition from the people of their own generations. Jesus was leading an invasion of the Kingdom of Light into the Kingdom of Darkness, and those loyal to the enemy of God would fight against the work of God no matter which century they belong to. This message was meant for the disciples, but it was also meant for you and me.

 

Story 175: Passion Week: The Plot Against Jesus

Matthew 26:1-16; Mark 14:1-11; Luke 21:37-22:6

silver coins - stacked

 

The Sanhedrin was seething with fury. For three years they had endured the arrogant blasphemies of the young pretender named Jesus. They watched how He manipulated the people with His declarations and demonic miracles, intentionally ridiculing the leadership that God Himself ordained to rule over His chosen nation. He encouraged the rebellion of the people, flaunted the breaking of sacred commands, and garnered the support of the people by catering to their weaknesses. The nation of Israel had come upon challenges before, but this false prophet trumped them all.

Once again, at the Passover no less, Jesus had the nerve to come to the Temple. He proclaimed His lies in the very courtyards of the holy palace of the Living God. The foolish crowds were mesmerized. There were even members of the leadership that tried to argue on His behalf, but now He had gone too far. His twisting of the Word of God, His disregard for the Sabbath, His disrespectful contempt for thousands of years of tradition, His preference for sinners over men of ritual holiness and doctrinal purity, His claims to speak for God Himself, His talk of a Kingdom…He was a threat to the nation! There were rumors that He wanted to be king! The Romans wouldn’t put up with it, and neither would the high Jewish court.

The man had to die.

It was the only way to save the nation.

The plotting and plans of the religious leaders had been going on for months. They put the word out across the land that Jesus had a target on Him. It was imperative that they find some way to accuse Him. They had to catch Him in His words. They had to find proof that He was heretic. But this Jesus was cunning. It was as if Satan himself inspired the slippery words of the Carpenter. He tripped up the most brilliant lawyers in the nation and left them baffled.

The other problem was that He was hard to find. He had no synagogue of His own, and He had the oddest preoccupation of wasting His time wandering out with the mob, sleeping in their hovels and preaching among their weeds. He trekked around Israel like a gypsy…what with His calloused feet and His bedraggled band of so called “disciples.” Every one of them was the typical, ignorant type whose lack of education made them easy to fool. What would they do when their beloved Master was gone? Not one of them had the charisma to pull off what this pretentious carpenter from Galilee could do. As soon as He was dead, they would go running, and everything would calm down again.

Now that the Passover Feast had come around again, they finally had Jesus right in their grasp. The only problem was that the crowds made it impossible to arrest Him. He was annoyingly popular. The mob actually believed the rumor that He had raised His friend from the dead in Judea. Other stories were floating around about ten lepers that were healed. It didn’t matter how outrageous His claims were, as long as the crowds thought the miracles might be true, they had to wait. If they tried to arrest Him, there was sure to be an uprising. When the Passover mob cleared away, they could make their move. They would take Him by stealth and force and kill Him. They weren’t quite sure how they would pull it off, but their obsession to do so made it all but certain.

The day of the Passover Feast was two days off. The streets of Jerusalem were crammed with people. Jesus and His disciples would spend the daylight hours among them. Early in the morning, the people would rise to find Jesus, eager to listen to Him at the Temple. He fed a hunger that they didn’t even know they had before. In the evenings, Jesus would journey across the little valley of Kidron and up to the Mount of Olives that overlooked the city. They would spend the nights there in rest, only to go back over to the people again in the morning.

In the midst of all the hustle and bustle, something quiet and sinister was going on in the mind of one of Jesus’ disciples. His thoughts had turned to darkness. Luke says Satan himself entered him.

The Bible never explains why Judas did the terrible thing he did. It doesn’t explain how Satan worked his evil upon the rebellion of his heart. It only tells us about the unimaginable betrayal. At some point in that week, he slipped off, away from the Lord and the disciples and the crowds. He slithered his way to the chief priests and asked, “‘What are you willing to give me to deliver Him up to you?’” Imagine the evil glances as they weighed out thirty silver coins. That was about four month’s wages.

The ground should have rumbled. The earth should have cracked. The sun should have covered its brightness with mourning. Someone should have wailed, “THE LORD OF THE UNIVERSE HAS BEEN BETRAYED!”

And perhaps in Heaven, they did.

Judas had seen the miracles. He had heard all the bright, clear lessons and walked with Him on the endless journeys. He spent nights in the cold with the hard earth for a bed. He followed the Lord everywhere and was invited into His inner circle! But when the time was ripe, he went scampering off to treachery. How could he? HOW COULD HE! How could he betray the Lord for a purse of coins? We don’t know why. It makes no sense. But he did.

Imagine the malicious delight of the religious leaders. Imagine how they sneered as they plotted with one of Jesus’ own men. Suddenly, the deed that seemed so complicated had become so simple. They had a scout on the inside. They wouldn’t have to arrest Him in public, where they would have to face the crowds. They could get Him in the night and outnumber Him. By the time the crowds learned about the arrest, it would already be too late. The leaders could issue a proclamation, and the crowds would have to accept it. They would humiliate and silence this troublemaker once and for all. Nobody would dare challenge their authority again.

In the midst of all their sin and rebellion, these men simply could not see how even their evil intentions were being used to bring about God’s unspeakably beautiful plan. He had ordained that Christ would offer up His life at the high point of the Passover Feast. This celebration honored the time when God brought salvation to Israel from the oppressive Egyptian Empire by the blood of a lamb and through the Red Sea. Now, God was making a new way, the fullest form of salvation, the final, ultimate victory. The blood of Jesus would make the way to salvation through the breaking of His Body. The religious leaders were prepared to wait until the crowds were gone. But Judas’ betrayal insured that it would happen on God’s exact appointed day.

Story 168: Passion Week: The Seventh Woe

Matthew 23:29-39

fire in a glass on a black background

Jesus was standing in the court of God’s holy Temple making powerful declarations against the Pharisees and religious leaders. Now it was time for the seventh and final woe (see Story 167 for the first six woes). The fullness of Christ’s righteous wrath and hatred for sin and corruption poured out in a stunning rebuke. Imagine the fierce and holy zeal of His voice:

“‘Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. And you say, “If we had lived in the days of our forefathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.” So you testify against yourselves that you are descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of the sin of your forefathers!‘”

How magnificent He must have been, standing in righteous glory, defying the arrogance of wicked and powerful men. The wrath of God is often described in Scripture as the filling of a cup. God endures with sinful humanity for a certain period of time until that cup is full. At that point, the cup will pour out and the unrepentant wicked will have no choice but to drink the consequences of what their choices have wrought (see Job 21:20-21; Is. 51:17-22; Jer. 25:15; Rev. 14:10 and 16:19). It is a frightening and awesome image that should drive each one of us to our knees in prayer!

For thousands of years, sinful leaders in Israel had persecuted God’s messengers. Wicked kings brought idols into God’s holy city and false prophets declared lies to the people. God sent His righteous servants…judges and prophets and kings…to purify His nation, but often, the evil men of their time would oppress them and try to silence them as they preached God’s Word. God’s wrath against those who persecuted His saints had been filling up throughout the history of God’s nation. As the religious leaders of Jesus’ day rejected the Savior, as they tried to silence His message and plotted His death, they were filling that cup all the more. The time was coming when God would fully vindicate His faithful ones. His wrath was going to be poured out.

With His final woe, Jesus cried out:

“‘Ýou snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to Hell?'”

The sin of the religious leaders was not only destroying the hope of the nation, it was sealing their own eternal fate. As the Son of God declared their final doom, did their hearts tremble at all?

“‘Therefore I am sending you prophets and wise men and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify: others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town. And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah’s son Berekiah, whom you murdered between the Temple and the altar. I tell you the truth, all of this will come upon this generation.'”

Wow. What a prophecy! Jesus declared that He was going to raise up people to proclaim His truth, and these very religious leaders would hunt them down and kill them, just as the evil men of history who were full of violence and murder had done. He declared that the fullness of God’s wrath against all the terrible times of history when His righteous ones were persecuted would be poured out on the religious leaders for their relentless evil and rebellion. And Jesus predicted that it would all come about in the lives of those who were standing in the Temple courts that day.

We can look back on that generation and see that the words of Jesus came true. These very religious leaders who rebelled against their Messiah would also persecute the servants of Christ. They would put His disciples to death, chase them out of Jerusalem, and hunt them down across the land. They would utterly reject God’s magnificent blessing of honoring the nation of Israel with the Savior of the world.

How the Lord Jesus grieved! How deep was His sorrow that they did not return His love! This is what He said:

“‘O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you, desolate. For I tell you, you will not see Me again until you say, ”Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.'”

Once again, the Lord was declaring a prophesy about the future. As He walked through the City of David over His years of ministry, He had longed and yearned to gather up His people in His arms, taking them under His wings in loving protection, but they would not let Him. And so a great desolation was coming. The city that was meant to welcome the Messiah had refused its purpose. And judgment would come in the form of a desolation.

We know now that this prophesy was absolutely true. Within Christ’s generation, Jerusalem would be utterly destroyed. In 70 AD, the city of Jerusalem was laid completely waste by the Roman Empire, and the nation of Israel was wiped off the map. The Jewish people fled out to other places, creating small, scattered remnants throughout the surrounding nations. They were expelled from the Land of Promise and exiled to pagan nations that had no regard for their way of life. Israel would not become a nation again for almost two thousand years. But one day, the time will come when Jesus will return. He prophesied that on that day, the people of Jerusalem will sing, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” Finally, finally, He will gather His people…those who put their faith in Him…under His wings for all eternity.

Story 167: Passion Week: Dirty on the Inside

Matthew 23:13-27; Mark 12:40; Luke 20:47

Dirty dishes waiting for wash.

As Jesus stood in a courtyard of the Temple, He had already begun to declare His indictment against the religious leaders of Israel.  It was a mighty confrontation.  Here was the Son of the living God, pronouncing God’s rebuke against the leaders of His holy nation…His treasured possession. The abuse of their power over God’s people was great.  It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (see Hebrews 10:26-31)

In the last story (see Story 166), Jesus said that while it was right for the common people to follow the teachings of their leaders that came from the Bible, they had to reject their way of life. True followers of God were meant to be people of great humility and service, which was exactly opposite of how those religious leaders lived.

Now Jesus was going to pronounce a declaration of seven woes against the Pharisees and scribes that would utterly expose them as religious frauds. Yet these woes had a far stronger power than mere accusation. Jesus was declaring the judgment of the Most High God on these men. This is what He said:

“‘But woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the Kingdom of Heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.'”

Wow.  Not only had these leaders failed to repent and worship their Lord, they did everything they could to force others to turn away from the Messiah as well. Instead of inviting the people into the presence of God’s love, they stood in the doorway and blocked the path.

And so Jesus declared the second woe :

‘Woe to you, teachers of the law, and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are.'”

Can you hear the righteous anger of the Messiah? Can you understand His holy rage? These were the men who had been given the great and precious promises! Out of all the people on earth, they had the privilege of spending their entire lives studying God’s holy Scripture.  Yet they used their positions of power for selfish ambition. They were such terrible models of God’s righteousness that everyone they mentored became just as despicable as they were.  Jesus went on:

‘Woe to you, blind guides! You say, “If anyone swears by the Temple, it means nothing; but if anyone swears by the gold of the Temple, he is bound by his oath.” You blind fools! Which is greater, the gold of the Temple, or the Temple that makes the gold sacred? You also say, “If anyone swears by the altar, it means nothing, but if anyone swears by the offering on it, he is bound by his oath.” You blind men! Which is greater; the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred? Therefore, he who swears by the altar swears by it and by the one who dwells in it. And he who swears by heaven swears by God’s throne and by the one who sits on it.'”

This third woe might seem confusing. Jesus was dealing with some very specific wrongs that the religious leaders were committing against the people of His day.  What were these oaths that Jesus was so angry about? Well, the scribes and Pharisees had developed a legal system with oaths. If someone made a promise with a certain kind of oath, it was legally binding. The person who said it had to follow through or receive a penalty. But if they said a different oath that was similar but had a few small changes in the words, then the oath wasn’t binding at all. The oath giver wasn’t legally bound to follow through.

Imagine how confusing that must have been for common people who didn’t understand all the rules. The religious leaders who knew what to say could trick the common people into believing they were making a binding oath that they didn’t really plan to keep. They could say, “I swear by the Temple” instead of “I swear by the gold of the Temple,” knowing that it didn’t count. They wouldn’t have to keep their promise.

Imagine how much this added to mistrust among the people of God’s holy nation.  Their own leaders were using the oaths of the Temple to manipulate them! In Matthew 5:33-37, Jesus said that a true follower of God who lived in His presence would want to speak the truth as clearly and consistently as possible. When he said, “Yes,” it meant “Yes.” When he said “No,” he really meant “No.” Imagine the trust this would build between people if they knew that whatever the other person said was really what they meant. They could be trusted to keep their promises. That is what the religious leaders should have been teaching the nation of Israel. That is the culture they should have been fighting for with everything they did! That is the way of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Jesus went on:

“‘Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices, mint, dill, and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law–justice, mercy, and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.'”

As Jesus declared the fourth woe, He blasted the religious leaders for their poverty of obedience. It was true that the Old Testament law commanded that they give a tenth of everything to God. The religious leaders were faithful to do that about the smallest things… even garden herbs like dill and cumin. But then they lived as if the great, glorious (and much harder) obedience of showing mercy and establishing justice in their land was as nothing. As leaders with real power, it was their job to protect the vulnerable from mistreatment and shame, but they refused. They made a big deal about the rituals of religious activity from the Law as if they were the most important things, while ignoring the things that were deeply important to God, who loves justice and mercy. They were carefully straining out the gnats of obedience while swallowing the camels of injustice and corruption.

The Lord continued:

“‘Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self indulgence. Blind Pharisees! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside will be clean.'”

The cup and dish are a metaphor of the lives of the Pharisees and teachers of the Law. They made sure that the outside of their lives was squeaky clean. Everything they did in front of people looked very holy and religious. But in their hearts and in the secret places, they were greedy and selfish.  They were filthy with their malice and ambition! Jesus commanded them to clean up their insides, to purify their hearts. If everything they did flowed from a heart devoted to their holy, Most High God, then they wouldn’t have to worry about what they looked like on the outside.

The sixth woe Christ spoke was a lot like the fifth. He said:

“‘Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.'”

In those days, the Jews would often whitewash with chalk the tombs where they buried their dead. By clearly marking the tombs, they made sure that anyone walking by would not defile themselves by touching them. (According to God’s holy Law, it would make them unclean for seven days if they were to touch one.) This was one of God’s wise codes to help protect His people from disease and degradation…to remind them that death had no part in the holiness of their God.  Rather, it was the consequence of the human choice to reject Him, the Author of Life.  These tombs that were marked with white chalk looked like something pure and clean…yet they were still the place where the dead were kept. The bodies inside were rotting away, and all that would remain was mere skeleton. The wicked hearts of these religious leaders were filled with the same death and decay. They looked like they were pure and clean, but it was all a cover up for the rot inside.

Christ was using powerful images in these six woes to provoke the scribes and Pharisees and warn the people. There was only one more woe left. Would the seventh woe bring them to repentance?

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