My past few posts have looked at films made about Christ and well known people in the Bible by Cecil B DeMille and Nicholas Ray.

Nicholas Ray’s King of Kings starring Jeffrey Hunter was released in 1961. Another film released that year is Richard Fleischer’s Barabbas starring Anthony Quinn. As the film poster of the time said, Barabbas

begins where the other big ones leave off!

I remember as a child being disappointed to find that Jesus hardly figured in this film. However, I saw it again a few years ago and found it a remarkably contemporary exploration of the thought processes of the most (in)famous career criminal in history.

Plot

The story begins with the Crucifixion. Barabbas is relieved at his reprieve. He plans a return to his dissolute routine but seeks to find out what happened to Jesus. He cannot help but go to see His body on the Cross then follows along to see our Lord buried. On the day of the Resurrection, Barabbas is astonished that the tomb is empty.

Meanwhile, Barabbas’s girlfriend Rachel has been turning her life around — towards Christ. Barabbas comes face to face with believer after believer for the rest of his life.

Rachel, full of faith, meets her death whilst preaching about Christ in Jerusalem. Barabbas attempts to avenge her death and is arrested. His sentence is to serve in the Roman mines in Sicily.

Still resistant to Christian teaching in a way which is surprisingly reminiscent of today’s secularists, Barabbas finds himself chained to a Christian in the mines. Quinn portrays a hostile, angry man, a stark contrast to the patient and calm Sahak. Their being chained so close together in searing heat and punishing work serves to heighten the tension brilliantly. You feel as if you are there with them.

An earthquake leaves the two opposites as the only survivors of the mine. They end up in Rome, thanks to the wife of the local prefect. There they begin careers as gladiators. Fleischer makes gladiator school and the subsequent bouts come alive.

As the gladiators must swear allegiance to everything Roman, including the gods, Sahak falls foul of the system. He cannot help but proclaim his faith. For this, he is sentenced to death.

Barabbas proves his athletic prowess in the arena, to the delight of Emperor Nero. Nero frees Barabbas which gives him the opportunity to take Sahak’s body to the city’s catacombs — and encounter more Christians. Barabbas finds himself face to face with the Apostle Peter.

That’s not the complete story, but I hesitate to reveal the ending.

Worth seeing

Barabbas is in keeping with the epics of the 1950s and early 1960s. Those who like Roman-style action will appreciate the lengthy gladiator sequences.

Those who wish to examine unbelief and belief will find much to ponder in this film. Quinn’s character stays much the same from beginning to end. He reminds me of a hostile version of many unbelievers I have known over the years who shut the life of Christ out of their lives, even when faced with the truth presented with love and charity.

The Prayer Foundation sums it up elegantly:

This fictional account of the real-life Barabbas, who was released by Pilate instead of Christ, brings to life the time of Christ, and causes us to think more deeply on the truth that Jesus died in our place.  Barabbas (Anthony Quinn) is forced to consider this fact, whether he wants to or not, because it is even more true in his own case. 

Film students and amateur auteurs will enjoy Fleischer’s direction, composition and Aldo Tonti’s fine cinematography. Colour contrasts and innovative framing of shots effectively draw viewers into the story, holding their interest throughout. Fleischer shows us a Barabbas alone not only in physical but also spiritual darkness. Even the Christians lose their patience with him at the end.

Mario Nascimbene‘s soundtrack is another highlight of the film. Nascimbene, whose career spanned six decades was renowned for the innovative use of sound effects in his music. Nascimbene came from a well-off family and, even in the late 1950s, was able to set up a state of the art sound studio in part of his house. There he experimented with various award-winning musical effects and techniques. He used his own invention — called the Mixerama — which had every possible sound recorded on it. Using reel-to-reel tapes, he could combine and transform these into pleasing ‘living’ melodies.

Fleischer’s varied films

Today’s film makers often choose a particular genre and stick with it. However, Richard Fleischer made an eclectic variety of films.

Fleischer’s father Max developed Popeye into an internationally known cartoon figure. He bought the rights to the comic strip character from King Features Syndicate and brought the spinach-eating sailor alive through animation.

Richard Fleischer graduated from Brown University then went to Yale School of Drama. His first full time job was with RKO studios, where he produced short, factual features.

He then moved into film noir, directing thrillers between 1948 and 1952. His tight direction style came to Walt Disney’s attention in the early 1950s. Disney asked him to direct 20,000 Leagues under the Sea, which became an instant hit in 1954 and is still shown on television today.

Fleischer could direct any type of film, therefore, anyone reading this post has probably seen at least one of them. These include, among many others, Bandido (1956), Doctor Dolittle (1967), The Boston Strangler (1968), Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970), 10 Rillington Place (1971), Soylent Green (1973), Mandingo (1975), Amityville 3-D (1983) and Conan the Destroyer (1984).

Fleischer died in his sleep on March 25, 2006, aged 89.

Further reading:

Futures and Pasts: Barabbas (Film Comment)

On Barabbas (The Film Journal)

I was warned not to do it. Actors who play Jesus are supposed to have a hard time getting other roles to follow, but I felt this was a myth. After all, how can you be typecast as Christ?Jeffrey Hunter, King of Kings (1961)

Over Easter weekend, the Financial Times (FT) featured an article which tells us that biblical films are once again all the rage. With some (mostly sacrilegious) exceptions, we haven’t seen the likes of them for nearly 50 years.

Religious films are highly complex, particularly when one digs beneath the surface.

On Easter Sunday, I watched the 1961 version of King of Kings, which I recorded on Good Friday 2014, when BBC2 broadcast it.

Yesterday’s post discussed famous Episcopalian Cecil B DeMille‘s 1927 silent version with the same title. Both films take a different story line with the story of Jesus Christ according to the New Testament — and a few other sources, including their own imaginations.

The difficulty in making such films must be a testament to God’s sovereignty; man is incapable of perfectly translating a Bible story, especially our Lord’s life, to film. Some are better than others, yet, we can all sit back and criticise them.

After watching King of Kings, I did a bit of research, the results of which are below.

First, for all those who think that Nicholas Ray’s King of Kings looks dated, wait another 40 or 50 years and watch favourite movies which were released this year. If you don’t see how dated they have become by 2060, your children and grandchildren will certainly help point the way!

Another bit of evidence points to the manliness of the stars playing our biblical heroes. The FT points out in a comparison between then and now that Jeffrey Hunter’s Jesus in 1961 was promoted as showing ruggedness combined with integrity and humility. They ask whether the same could be said of Christian Bale playing Moses.

The article goes on to say that the Bible is no longer viewed as a sacred text but as one to exploit in film. The new release, Noah, from what I have read, is a paean to what are known as eco-Christians.  Noah, apparently, becomes isolated from his family as he becomes more concerned about the environment during the flood. Hmm. Yet this is not what Genesis was trying to say. First and foremost, Noah believed profoundly in God; otherwise, he would not have built the ark so painstakingly. He knew he had to save the animals as instructed; however, never did he think they or the planet were greater than humanity or God’s sovereignty. He believed that God would help him accomplish the divine plan. That’s what makes Noah’s trial a great story, not ecoscience.

The FT says that, with Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ (2004) and Mark Burnett’s television series, The Bible, there is room for more biblically-oriented films. Son of God, a feature length film adapted from The Bible, is soon to be distributed internationally.

As Joel Osteen says — like him or not — people will be more willing to see a film about the Bible before they enter a church. They want to find out about the big picture first, then get more detail.

This perspective is what has made religious films so popular over recent decades. Have people ever asked you, ‘Who was Jesus? What was He like?’ I’ve had that question several times, especially in recent years. The answer needs to be summed up well. Hence the difficulty in making a film of His life and, to a lesser degree, of an Old Testament prophet’s life.

King of Kings was released in 1961 during the era of Roman action epics, which seemed to capture the public’s imagination. Whether by accident or design, director Nicholas Ray takes us through a Roman epic combined with the life of Christ.

Screenwriter Philip Yordan did an admirable job of portraying what John MacArthur often speaks of in his Gospel commentaries: the political situation at the time which caused the Jews to ultimately reject Jesus for Barabbas. A few years ago, I cited the Reformed pastor, the Revd P G Mathew of Grace Valley Christian Center in Davis, California, who posits that Barabbas probably was the first liberation theologian and religious terrorist. And, like so many of today’s terrorists, he came from what we would call a ‘good family’.

The dialogue in King of Kings points out that both Barabbas and Jesus of Nazareth share the same first name. Judas — portrayed extrabiblically — attempts to persuade Barabbas that he and Jesus also have the same political objectives in mind, just different ways of achieving them.

Orson Welles’s solemn, uncredited narration, which atheist sci-fi author Ray Bradbury wrote, provides all the continuity the King of Kings viewer needs to better understand the political atmosphere of the day.

Nicholas Ray, noted for his films of a few years before, Rebel without a Cause (1955) and Johnny Guitar (1954), attempted to blend the epic with the biblical, meeting with stunning yet mixed results. Apparently, the original version of the film had 45 minutes of extra scenes in it which did not make the final cut.

That said, cinematographers Manuel Berenguer, Milton Krasner and Franz Planer shot the scenes in a characteristic Ray fashion. Having seen Johnny Guitar many years ago for film class — an assigned viewing — the montage (composition) with Ray’s love of bright red juxtaposed against grey and blue was instantly recognisable. (I’ll never forget Joan Crawford’s bright red lipstick in Johnny Guitar.)

Jesus wears a bright red cloak in the Sermon on the Mount scene. Mary, with a white linen veil, wears a red cloak underneath her blue one, which plays to her traditional colour theme of blue, red and white as depicted in mediaeval religious art.

The Roman prison is characteristically grey. We see the slope of stone running from the prison floor to the small barred ‘window’. We see John the Baptist (Robert Ryan), desperate to touch Jesus’s hand, repeatedly — and unsuccessfully — attempting to scale the 45-degree angle of stone in the shadows.

These small yet significant details make Christ’s life and those of the others featuring in the Gospels more real for the viewer. Granted, as with DeMille’s version, based on different events, not everything shown happened in the New Testament. However, both films are evocative stories which withstand the test of time.

The main problem was balancing the Roman swash-and-buckle scenes with those of Jeffrey Hunter’s Christ. Bible Films Blog thinks the imbalance irreparably impedes the film (emphases mine below):

On paper King of Kings (1961) should have been one of the most successful Jesus films ever made. Producer Samuel Bronston and writer Philip Yordan were just months away from making the smash epic El Cid, Nicholas Ray was one of Hollywood’s hottest new directors, Mikos Rozsa wrote arguably his best ever score, and Jeffrey Hunter, possibly the most aesthetic Jesus ever, lead an impressive cast. Somehow, even despite the face of Jesus finally returning to cinemas after a long exile, it all went wrong. Whilst this film still ranks amongst my favourite Jesus films, it’s certainly the least defen[si]ble selection.

Rozsa’s score is beautiful and parts of it will still be going through one’s head a day later, particularly the haunting yet uplifting Hosanna-punctuated piece at the end of the film.

The revered New York Times film critic of the day, Bosley Crowther, wrote:

With Barabbas’ army to maneuvre and with the Romans on the scene, with horses and haughty women and sluggish elegance, Nicholas Ray, the picture’s director, stages battles and ambuscades that have nothing to do with Jesus or with credible personalities. They are the conventional trappings of melodramatic costume films, justified by the obvious intention of action and spectacle.

On the other hand, Mr. Yordan and/or Mr. Ray have missed or disguised certain happenings that were dramatic and important in Jesus’ life. They have obfuscated the healings, avoided the miracles and skipped altogether the judgment of Jesus as a blasphemer and seditionist by the Jews. They have passed Him along directly from Judas’ kiss to Pontius Pilate’s court and have there made His trial a tedious colloquy between Pilate and a Roman centurion.

In short, the essential drama of the messianic issue has been missed and the central character has been left to perform quietly in a series of collateral tableaux.

Whilst Crowther’s criticism is certainly valid, by the end of the film, I was still moved — as I had been when I first saw it as a child — by Jeffrey Hunter’s calm depiction of Jesus. Also, contrary to what some viewers say, the last scene, with Welles citing the Great Commission (Matthew 28) and Christ’s shadow forming the vertical part of a cross against the Apostles’ fishing nets laid out in a horizontal line is a beautifully unforgettable finish, particularly as it is accompanied by Rozsa’s moving soundtrack.

Today, depicting Jesus would not be a problem. Indeed, given the liberties which film makers take with our Lord’s life, it should become a problem once again. Ray’s King of Kings was the first film to show His face as depicted by an actor since DeMille’s film in 1927. Jeffrey Hunter had to redo the Crucifixion scene because a preview audience did not like his chest hair which had to be shaved.

These days, people object to Hunter’s WASPy looks: ‘Why doesn’t he look more Jewish?’ It would be better sometimes to not judge the past by our 21st century standards. The more one reads about King of Kings, the more one realises how lucky we are it was made at all! The studio, director, producer and everyone else involved in the film were very concerned not to offend the public. Today it would be exactly the opposite.

As Celluloid Dreams points out:

For several decades, filmmakers avoided showing the face of Jesus out of respect for the subject. In fully showing Hunter’s face, the film would be perhaps the first to completely depict Jesus on screen since perhaps the silent-film era and it would be followed a few years later by Max von Sydow’s commanding portrayal of Christ in the less ornate, and more meditative, production of The Greatest Story Ever Told.

I read in the Radio Times movie review that Hunter’s initial delivery was so weak that he had to redub all his lines. Agnes Moorehead (later Endora in Bewitched), a devout Presbyterian, coached Hunter on his voice delivery and inflection.

Another site said that Hunter took this role very seriously to the extent that he avoided the other cast and crew for the most part. Meanwhile, the filming was done in Spain, and hundreds of volunteers showed up to be extras for the Sermon on the Mount scene. When Hunter appeared on set, everyone — not just the Spanish extras but cast and crew, too — were awed to see him. So, his social reticence out of respect for the role served him well.

Readers might wonder what happened to Jeffrey Hunter after King of Kings. Although he continued working in film and television, his career was never the same.

Sadly, he suffered a concussion whilst filming in Spain in 1969. His wife was alarmed to find that he could not speak and could barely move. Once back in California, she took him to Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles, but doctors said he had no serious injuries other than the concussion and a displaced vertebra.

On May 26, 1969, he slipped on a set of steps in his home, fell, fractured his skull on the banister and died the following day of an intracranial hemorrhage, despite surgery. He was 42 years old.

Hunter’s funeral was held at St Mark’s Episcopal Church in Van Nuys, California, and he was interred at Glen Haven Memorial Park, Sylmar, California.

 

His name is still well known enough that probably most university students could confidently identify Cecil B DeMille as the director of blockbuster epics with a ‘cast of thousands’.

Cecil Blount DeMille was born on August 12, 1881, in Ashfield, Massachusetts. Ashfield was (and is) a small village in the western half of the state. His parents happened to be taking their holiday there at the time.

Family history and artistic endeavour

The original family name was spelled De Mil and is Dutch. Cecil’s father, Henry Churchill de Mille, was the son of landowner William Edward and Margaret Blount Hoyt de Mille. Born in 1853, Henry grew up on the family farm in Little Washington, North Carolina. He earned BA and AM degrees from Columbia College (as it was then).

He studied for the ministry before deciding to become a teacher and playwright but also served as an Episcopal lay reader throughout his life.

Henry de Mille taught school at Brooklyn’s Lockwood Academy, where he was promoted to vice-principal, and then at Columbia Academy in Manhattan. He also taught at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.

By 1882, de Mille was editing stageplays. In 1883, he began writing his own which were performed in Manhattan theatres.

He married Matilda Beatrice ‘Bebe’ Samuel in 1876. Samuel, born in Liverpool, was the daughter of Sephardic Jews who had left Germany to settle in England. She was related to Herbert Louis Samuel, 1st Viscount Samuel, a Liberal Party politician who was the first practising Jew to serve as a British cabinet minister. He was the first High Commissioner for Palestine.

Viscount Samuel, incidentally, became a secular Jew but kept kosher law to please his wife and for hygienic reasons. He was, for all intents and purposes, an atheist.

Beatrice and her parents left England for Brooklyn, New York, in 1871. She later converted to Christianity, becoming an Episcopalian when she married Henry de Mille.

Henry and Beatrice had three children: William, Cecil and Agnes. They lived in New Jersey, dividing their time between the communities of Wayne and Pompton Lakes. Unfortunately, Henry died at the age of 39 in 1893 after a short illness. Agnes died of spinal meningitis two years later.

Needing to support the family, his widow founded the Henry C. De Mille School for Girls in Pompton and became America’s second woman playbroker, working with actors, playwrights and producers.

Cecil’s life

Cecil B DeMille, only 11 when Henry died, seemed to inherit his grit from his mother,  storytelling ability from his late father and a love of the dramatic arts from both.

Henry must have also instilled in his children a good grounding in the Bible and Christianity because Cecil later said that he got the idea to portray the story of the Ten Commandments whilst attending Christ Episcopal Church in Pompton with his family.

Beatrice was able to send Cecil to military academy in Pennsylvania. He and William both won scholarships to and graduated from the aforementioned American Academy of Dramatic Arts.

Whilst William moved into play and scriptwriting, Cecil turned to acting then directing and producing. He and his brother occasionally worked together.

Because Cecil started his career at the advent of silent film, he got to know the future stars of silent and sound films well. He directed dozens of silent films and segued into sound films in 1929 with Dynamite.

His last film was the epic, The Ten Commandments, released in 1956. DeMille was 75 at the time and suffered a serious heart attack on set. Ignoring his doctor’s advice, he returned to continue filming the masterpiece a week later.

However, his health took a turn for the worse and DeMille died in 1959. His funeral was held at St Stephen’s Episcopal Church on January 23 of that year. He was interred at the former Hollywood Memorial Cemetery, now known as Hollywood Forever Cemetery.

DeMille married Constance Adams in 1902. They had one daughter, Cecilia, and adopted two boys and a girl. Their adopted daughter Katherine later married actor Anthony Quinn.

Personality

DeMille didn’t suffer fools or weaklings gladly, especially on set. He expected his actors to use their intelligence to develop their characters properly instead of relying on him.

He also expected his direction to be followed. He lost all respect for Victor Mature when the actor refused to wrestle a tame, toothless lion in Samson and Delilah (1949). Paulette Goddard admitted she probably lost out on a role in The Greatest Show on Earth (1952) when she refused to risk her life in a scene involving fire in Unconquered (1947).

Yet, DeMille respected and was loyal to many stars of the time, including Gloria Swanson, Gary Cooper and Charlton Heston in more than one of his films. Paulette Goddard was also in that group for a time.

DeMille excelled in directing his casts of thousands as well as the big set pieces which characterised so many of his films.

Besides film, he was also known to Americans through his Lux Radio Theater which ran from 1936 to 1944.

On a personal level, he favoured conservative politics, although he did vote for Franklin Delano Roosevelt only because he wanted to see Prohibition repealed.

He was quite careful to downplay his Jewish heritage, a source of inner conflict for him.

King of Kings (1927)

Personally, no religious film can top DeMille’s silent, King of Kings. I saw it in school when I was eight years old. What a masterpiece it is. If it is ever released on DVD or remastered for television, it is a must-see.

It was instructive to see what effect it had on my classmates. By this point in the late 1960s, most of us had seen either Nicholas Ray’s King of Kings (1961) or George Stevens’s The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965).

Thankfully, the nuns saw fit to rent DeMille’s film and show it to us class by class. Two classroom groups might have viewed the film together at each showing; I don’t remember. In any event, we were between 30 and 50 in roughly the same age group.

I also don’t quite remember how the soundtrack was handled, whether the music was scored into the reprint of the film or whether there was a separate LP recording.

However, the effect King of Kings had on the boys in particular was memorable. Very few silent films were shown on television and most of what we watched was in colour. So to view a black and white silent and not hear any dialogue was disconcerting for some of my classmates. ‘You mean we have to read this? Aww!’ And the late 20s sets and makeup caused some to laugh and make jokes.

After the first 20 minutes, the room was silent. As the nuns changed reels, the kids said, ‘I can hardly wait to find out what happens next.’ We all knew the story of Jesus Christ, but DeMille’s film was compelling in a way that religious education class sometimes wasn’t.

One boy in particular — the least likely candidate — was very quiet during the final reel and for the next few days. He was, I think, a foster child, possibly through a Catholic charity which might have also given him a bursary to attend school in our small town. He was from a big city a few hours away and the child of a single mother. He went to see her every third weekend. No one really knew his story outside of the teachers and administration. I’m not sure if he ever knew his father. He was visibly moved and nearly shed a tear by the end.

Christians who know the Bible complain that religious films take liberties with Holy Scripture. They do, but they also tell a story with human interest which helps drive the message home.

From the King of Kings Wikipedia page, I was reminded of the following scenes:

Our first sight of Jesus is through the eyesight of a little girl, whom He heals. He is surrounded by a halo …

Jesus is also shown resurrecting Lazarus and healing the little children. Some humor is derived when one girl asks if He can heal broken legs and He says yes, she gives him a legless doll. Jesus smiles and repairs the doll. The crucifixion is foreshadowed when Jesus, having helped a poor family, wanders through the father’s carpentry shop and, himself a carpenter’s son, briefly helps carve a piece of wood. When a sheet covering the object is removed, it is revealed to be a cross towering over Jesus.

Nothing I have ever seen on film can match DeMille’s depiction of the hours after Jesus’s death on the Cross. I still think of this scene frequently and would really enjoy seeing it again before I pass from this mortal coil:

… a great earthquake comes up. The tree where Judas had hanged himself with the rope used to bind Jesus’s wrists is swallowed up amidst gouts of hellfire. The sky turns black, lightning strikes, the wind blows, the people who had mocked Jesus run in terror, and the veil covering the Holy of Holies in the Jerusalem Temple is torn in two.

The rending of the veil is a terrifying ending to an already sad and scary Crucifixion segment. It put the fear of God into the viewer. It is my favourite scene in cinema.

I believe the ending is what sealed the message for my classmate, the foster child (emphases mine below):

The tumult ends when Mary looks up at heaven and asks God to forgive the world for the death of their son. The chaos ends and the sun shines. Jesus is taken down from the cross and is buried. On the third day, He rises from the dead as promised. To emphasize the importance of the resurrection, this scene from an otherwise black and white film is shot in color. Jesus goes to the Apostles and tells them to spread His message to the world. He tells them “I am with you always” as the scene shifts to a modern city to show that Jesus still watches over His followers.

Many of the film’s intertitles are quotes (or paraphrases) from Scripture, often with chapter and verse accompanying.

This is cinema at its best, no doubt about it.

DeMille was intent on ensuring a reverent film:

In order to preserve the spiritual nature of the film DeMille made his stars enter contracts that prohibited them from doing anything “unbiblical” for a five-year period[citation needed]. These activities included attending ball games, playing cards, frequenting night clubs, swimming, and riding in convertibles.

This obligation was rather unsuccessful as the actress who played Mary was involved in a well-publicised divorce from her husband. The actor who played Jesus allegedly had an affair with an extra.

Speaking of extras, author Ayn Rand was one. She met her future husband, actor Frank O’Connor, during filming.

The Ten Commandments (1956)

Who living in the West today has not seen this often-shown DeMille epic, his final film? And who doesn’t identify the late Charlton Heston with Moses and vice versa?

Not all minor roles in film were credited at the time, and The Ten Commandments has its share of little-known actors who became big stars or entertainers not long after, including Herb Alpert, Clint Walker, Mike Connors and Robert Vaughn.

Little known facts about this film include the following:

In some of his earlier films, DeMille had provided narration, especially at the beginning of the film. This was the first of only two times he was seen as well as heard (the other was in the 1958 remake of The Buccaneer, in which he also provided an onscreen introduction). He also narrated portions of The Ten Commandments, to provide continuity between scenes

Heston, who previously worked for DeMille on The Greatest Show on Earth, won the part after he impressed DeMille (at an audition) with his knowledge of ancient Egypt

Heston’s newborn son, Fraser, appeared as the infant Moses. According to DVD commentary by Katherine Orrison (a protege and biographer of Henry Wilcoxon, who played Pentaur in the film and served as associate producer), DeMille deliberately timed the filming of his scenes for when Fraser Heston was about three months old

Katherine Orrison says that many details of Moses’ life left out of the Bible are present in the Qur’an, which was sometimes used as a source. She also presents some coincidences in production. The man who designed Moses’ distinctive rust-white-and-black-striped robe used those colors because they looked impressive, and only later discovered that these are the actual colors of the Tribe of Levi. Arnold Friberg would later state that he was the one who designed Moses’ costume. As a gift, after the production, DeMille gave Moses’ robe to Friberg, who had it in his possession until his death in 2010. Moses’ robe as worn by Charlton Heston was hand-woven by Dorothea Hulse, one of the world’s finest weavers. She also created costumes for The Robe, as well as textiles and costume fabrics for Samson and Delilah, David and Bathsheba, and others.

Arnold Friberg, in addition to designing sets and costumes, also contributed the manner in which Moses ordained Joshua to his mission at the end of the film: by the laying on of hands, placing his hands on Joshua’s head. Friberg, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, demonstrated the LDS manner of performing such ordinations, and DeMille liked it.

Like me, you might be wondering how the parting of the Red Sea was achieved. The Ten Commandments was another film that I saw with my classmates, although it was when the film was re-released in 1972. Our teacher explained that gelatine was mixed with water to give the waves their distinctive effect. No one knew for sure at the time, because it was a cinematic secret.

Now we can read how that amazing special effect was created. Wikipedia tells us:

DeMille was reluctant to discuss technical details of how the film was made, especially the optical tricks used in the parting of the Red Sea. It was eventually revealed that footage of the Red Sea was spliced with film footage (run in reverse) of water pouring from large U-shaped trip-tanks set up in the studio backlot.[34][35][36]

Whilst we might quibble about DeMille’s stories outside of Scripture and some of his sources, few would disagree that his religious films were near-instant classics.

They might have also been an influence in attracting many to the Bible and to Christ Jesus. Last night I read an online posting where someone said that in one of their classes at a Christian college, the professor asked how many experienced a deeper appreciation for Scripture and our Lord after seeing one of the 1950s and 1960s religious epics. Nearly everyone raised his hand.

The Ten Commandments remains popular to this day. Within four years it outgrossed Gone with the Wind in North America and, even over the past several years, is in one of the top three ratings spots — most often in the first — when shown on American television.

Tomorrow: Nicholas Ray’s King of Kings (1961)

st_george 16th century greeceorgAlthough St George’s Day is on April 23, celebrations in England in 2014 may well take place on Easter Monday, April 21.

Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, is a big supporter of St George’s Day. Events in the capital on Monday will centre on Trafalgar Square with food, music and fun all ages. The London.gov.uk page states in part:

Organised by the Mayor of London, the Feast of St George is inspired by St George’s Day’s 13th century origins as a national day of feasting …

The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson says: “Our Feast of St George is set to be a day of revelry and merriment for all the family, with delicious food and a whole host of activities for all ages. London is one of the foodie capitals of the world and this banquet is the perfect showcase for some of our superb English fare. Happy St George’s Day.”

English beer aficionados can enjoy a tasting at The Phoenix pub in Clapham. Reservations required.

Classical music lovers might enjoy ‘A Gala for St George’, which actor Brian Blessed will present. This will be held on Sunday, April 27 at the Royal Albert Hall at 3 p.m.

The Telegraph lists these events as well as a few others around the country. Wherever you are in England either Bank Holiday Monday or the following weekend, you are likely to find a St George’s Day event near you.

Thanks to English Heritage, those readers who are near Bolsover Castle can enjoy dragon fighting displays while Chesters Roman Fort and Museum‘s events this year highlight Roman horsemanship and fort life, both of which our patron saint would have personally experienced. Please note that these two celebrations take place on April 26 and 27.  Both sound splendid, especially for children!

For more information on this famous patron saint, claimed by several countries, please see my past posts from 2010 and 2011.

Whenever you celebrate it this week, have a very happy St George’s Day! May we share his strong faith and emulate his valiant courage.

jesus-christ-the-king-blogsigncomHappy Easter to all my readers!

Newer subscribers might be interested in reading some of my previous posts on Easter, the Church’s greatest holy day:

Easter: the greatest feast in the Church year

Easter Sunday: Thoughts on this greatest of days

Happy Easter — He is risen!

Easter poems from an inspired Anglican, the Revd George Herbert

Part I of a Martin Luther Easter sermon: the story of Christ’s Resurrection

Part II of a Martin Luther Easter sermon: the fruits and benefits of Christ’s Resurrection

Today’s post looks at the significance of Easter in the Church.

John MacArthur is forensic in his examination and knowledge of the Bible, which is why I enjoy citing his sermons.

I shall cite yet another, ‘Witnessing Women and Doubting Disciples’, which takes for its text the first 12 verses of Luke 24.

Much scepticism has been written about the empty tomb and Christ’s Resurrection. This sermon of MacArthur’s as well as another, ‘An Empty Tomb with an Angelic Explanation’, goes through all the naysayers’ theories and, using the Gospel accounts, proves them wrong.

Resurrection established, what does Easter mean? I shall quote briefly from the first sermon to provide a few salient points. The subheads and emphases below are mine.

No Resurrection, No Christianity

… the resurrection of the Lord Jesus is not just a feature of Christianity, it is its essential truth. In fact, without the resurrection of Jesus Christ, there is no Christianity. The resurrection of the Lord Jesus is not the epilogue to the story. It is not the epilogue to the life of Christ, it is the goal of His life, it is the objective of His life, it is the purpose of His life. The church has always understood that. In fact, the church understood it right from the day of the resurrection on ...

Listen to the importance of the resurrection in the language of the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians chapter 15. “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain.” If Christ is not raised from the dead in bodily form, then all gospel preaching is useless which means the New Testament is useless because that’s where the first gospel preaching took place. You can cancel Christianity totally. There is no Christianity without the resurrection. None. If Christ is not raised, our preaching is useless, your faith is useless. Worse than that, we are found to be false witnesses of God because we witnessed against God that He raised Christ when He didn’t raise Him, if in fact the dead are not raised. If the dead aren’t raised, then Christ isn’t raised and we have no Christianity and what we’ve been preaching is a lie and a deception

But He has been raised. And this is the Christian message.

Why Christians Worship on Sunday

For since that time the church has chosen to meet on Sunday, the first day of the week, the day that Jesus rose from the dead to commemorate the most important event in His life and the most important event in human history, His resurrection from the dead. The church did not choose to meet on Friday. The church chose to meet on Sunday because Sunday is the interpretation of Friday. Easter is the interpretation of Good Friday. Resurrection is the divine interpretation of the death of Christ. Resurrection is the divine vindication of the work that He did on the cross. Without the resurrection, the cross means nothing for it has no validation, it has no vindication, it has no affirmation. But when God raised Jesus from the dead, He was affirming and validating and vindicating the fact that He had indeed bore our sins in His own body on the cross. And it satisfied the justice of God with His sin bearing. Without the resurrection, the cross is meaningless, just another death.

This is why I found it so disappointing that little children learned in one London nursery that Jesus died on Good Friday. No mention of Easter or the Resurrection. That doesn’t make any sense at all, which might be part of the teaching plan. It certainly helps the secularists out with their stance that ‘Jesus was a great teacher, nothing more. He lived, He died, the end’.

When did Jesus become Christ and Lord Jesus?

Although the New Testament refers to Jesus as ‘Lord’ — by the Apostles and a few others, Luke in his Resurrection account specifically refers to ‘Lord Jesus’. In Acts and the Epistles we read of ‘Christ’. This is MacArthur’s view from the aforementioned ‘Angelic Explanation’ sermon:

Lord Jesus, that is not a title used in the description of the death and burial of Jesus. But it’s a title of His by way of resurrection. God raised Him from the dead and declared Him Lord. In fact, that is exactly what Peter said on Pentecost, “Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ.” He is now the Lord. “He has now been given the name which is above every name, the name Lord, that at that name every knee should bow.”

Temporal life less important than eternal life

The purpose of the gospel is not just that we might experience the forgiveness of sin. The purpose of the gospel is that we having been forgiven of our sin could enter in to eternal life and live in the bliss of heaven forever in perfect holiness and perfect joy in glorified physical resurrected bodies. Bodily resurrection is peculiar to Christianity. And bodily resurrection is essential to Christianity.

The Christian gospel is not designed to deliver you from your troubles here, not at all, not even close

Christianity teaches a bodily resurrection and that is the goal of redemption, that we might in glorified human bodies live forever with our glorified Christ and serve Him and worship Him in joy and peace. 

What can compare?

The Christian message is that Jesus Christ rose from the grave in a glorified, physical body, in some way like the body you have now only stripped of all that is sinful and fatal and that we one day will receive a body like unto His glorified body and we will live in bodily resurrected form through all the eons of eternity. That is the Christian message, that is not the message of the other religions of the world. There is no resurrection in Buddhism. There is no resurrection of the body in Hinduism, just a recurring, cycling, reincarnation in some different form …

your body will be different, thankfully. It will have nothing about it that’s fatal, terminal, nothing about it that’s sinful, or wicked. Nothing about it that’s imperfect, but it will be a physical body in a glorified form. 

And Jesus even asked His Father that all believers share glory with Him and God the Father. John 17 is His High Priestly Prayer, covered here in three parts: 1, 2 and 3.

I especially hope this brief explanation of Easter gives any lukewarm believers and those beginning their Christian journey stopping by additional food for thought over the coming weeks and months. May God bless you in your search for the truth.

window_pfcross271w St Mary the Virgin Gillingham DorsetBefore concluding my series on John 17, the following posts about Holy Saturday might interest newer subscribers:

What happens on Holy Saturday?

Holy Saturday and food traditions

Now for the third and final part of John 17, Jesus’s High Priestly Prayer. You might wish to read Parts 1 and 2, if you haven’t already.

He has already prayed for Himself in advance of the Crucifixion and for His disciples in His absence.

Today’s passage is Jesus’s prayer for us. Emphases mine below.

20“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. 24Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. 25 O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. 26 I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

If those words do not encourage one to repent, I’m not sure what will.

How marvellous that the Holy Spirit inspired John to include this beautiful prayer in his Gospel, my favourite.

Verses 20 and 21 tells us that not only does Jesus wish for holy unity among His disciples, He desires it for us as well.

That holy unity with each other is not a oneness with lukewarm believers or those in error, by the way. John MacArthur explains:

He’s not praying that some day all denominations will get together and we’ll have one big ecumenical hash. He’s not praying that we’ll have one-world church, as some have thought. He’s simply praying that believers who share common eternal life, the very life of God dwelling in them, will be united in their separation from all that is ungodly and worldly…expressing spiritual love and power and obedience, all affections for God burning with the same flame, all aims directed at the same end, all pursuing the harmony of love and holiness.

Jesus goes on to say that He has shared His own glory with us (verse 22) and He prays that God will unite us ‘perfectly’ with both Himself and the Father, just as they have been perfectly one since before the beginning of the world (verses 23 and 24). That glory enables us to manifest to the world that Christ is our Redeemer and Saviour.

Jesus says that those who believe in Him know that He is the Son of God (verse 25). He has accomplished this during His earthly ministry, now at an end, and will continue to do so afterward (verse 26).

Jesus expresses His enduring, generous love for us in this marvellous prayer. This love is so deep, abiding and comprehensive that we will never be able to appreciate it until we meet Him face to face, sharing His glory.

This is what the Holy Week, Easter, Ascension and Pentecost story is all about. Many of us can hardly wait to be in His presence and give God all glory. And one day we will.

John MacArthur unpacks these verses for us:

This praying first for our holiness, our oneness in holiness even as the Father and the Son are one in holiness. But secondly, He prays for our eternal fellowship with Him. And this is this most overwhelming thing. This is how the whole prayer ends. It really is overwhelming. “Father, I desire that they also whom Thou hast given Me be with Me where I am.” I mean, there aren’t even too many famous people in this world who are interested in having us around, are they? We’re not many noble, not many mighty. Nobody in the palaces of the world is calling me. Nobody in the Oval Office ever calls me. Nobody in the Supreme Court wants to run around with me. Nobody is interested in most of us. In fact, I guess in some ways we’re sort of the dregs, aren’t we? Especially in this culture we live in today. Is it not remarkable that the glorious Son of the living God prays to His Father that He might have us with Him? Is that not a staggering thing, an overwhelming request? He asks for the Father to grant the eternal presence of all of us with Him …

He’s anticipating the time on the cross and He’s going to be going through the sin bearing and the suffering and He’s really just saying to the Father, “Hang on to them while I’m gone for a while. And, Lord, bring them to glory, I don’t want to lose any of them. Bring them to that place where they’ll trade this vile body for a body like unto His body.” We will have a body like Jesus Christ, reflecting His glory. To be with Jesus, that’s heaven, that’s heaven. To gaze at His glory, that’s heaven. That’s what it is …

And lastly, the final two verses, verses 25 and 26 … 

These two verses just breathe the confidence that the Father will listen, that the Father will hear. He said, “I’m only asking for those who know You. I’m only asking for those who are Yours. I have known You,” and that’s the basis for asking, “and these have known You,” and that’s the basis for the petition and the blessing.

Here is a perfect illustration of prayer. He knows the will of God and He prays for it. Prayer is not so much about changing God’s mind about things as it is affirming God’s will. That’s why we pray, “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name, Thy kingdom come…and the next line says…Thy…what?…will be done.” I tell you, when we think about the Lord interceding for us, it is a staggering thing. And the Son always prays like the Spirit, according to the will of God and the Father will always answer.

As I mentioned in my first two posts on John 17, MacArthur has preached extensively about this one chapter in 1972, 1997 and again in 2002. He has several lengthy sermons on this great prayer.

As generous as this prayer is, it is meant for those who truly believe in Christ. MacArthur warns:

And when it says in verse 20: “Who shall believe on Me,” in that word “Me” is everything that Jesus claimed to be and everything that He said … believing in the total content of Christ. The only way a man ever enters into a right relationship with God is by believing in Christ. I don’t care if he goes to church or does this or does that or has religious feelings, it’s only through believing in Christ, accepting His person, His work and everything He said as fact revelation direct from God. Good works, church membership and anything else have absolutely nothing to do with it.

Now pardon for sin, for example, comes by believing. The Bible says that man is a sinner and consequently will pay the penalty, but Christ comes along and pardons His sin by dying on the cross and bearing the penalty Himself. How do you gain this pardon? You gain this pardon by doing something? No. Acts 10:43 says: “Through His name whosoever believeth on Him shall receive remission of sin.” Pardon comes by believing.

The Bible also talks about the fact that a man can be made just before God. You’re dragged into the court of God, God says you’re a sinner, you’re a sinner, you’re a sinner every way you look at it you’re a sinner, every way you slice it, it comes out sin, from the beginning to the end of your life you’re a sinner. How in the world are you ever going to enter into His presence? Well, God has the right to declare you righteous by virtue of what Jesus did for you. But in order to receive that righteousness and be declared just, Acts 13:39 says: “By Him all that believe are righteous.” It is by doing what that we receive righteousness? By believing. You don’t earn it.

The Bible talks about the fact that God wants to make men His children, that He wants to make us sons of God, adopting us into His family. How do you ever get to be adopted into God’s family? How do you become a child of God? John 1:12: “To as many as received Him, to them gave He the right to be called the sons of God, even to them that do what? … believe on His name.”

The Bible talks about spiritual light that is available. How do you get spiritual light to understand spiritual truth? Jesus said: “Whosoever believeth in Me shall not walk in … what? … darkness.” Believing.

The Bible says that God has made available to men peace and joy. How do you get it? Romans 15:13: “Now the God of hope fill you with all peace and joy in believing.” It’s there all the way through the New Testament. Salvation is a matter of believing.

I hope this short series helps to make the Holy Week and Easter story clearer and Jesus Christ more relevant to us.

May we use the time from Easter to Pentecost to contemplate Christ’s immense and eternal love for us. May we turn from sin by asking for more divine grace and profound faith.

Happy Easter to you all!

 

 

Stained glass cross turbophotocom imagesCAGIG2KHBefore I continue with a miniseries on John 17, newer subscribers might find the following posts about Good Friday helpful:

The greatest reality show ends with a popular vote

Barabbas: an inspiration for liberation theology?

Meditations on the Cross

Reflections on the Crucifixion

Good Friday: in whom can we trust? (John 18:12-27)

Martin Luther’s ‘How to Contemplate Christ’s Sufferings’: the false views

Martin Luther’s ‘How to Contemplate Christ’s Sufferings’: the true views

Martin Luther’s ‘How to Contemplate Christ’s Sufferings’: the comfort

Incidentally, our Lord’s Crucifixion date showed up in a news email I receive from the French site l’Internaute. It was in their ‘on this day in history’ section. The actual date was April 7, 30 AD.

Now on to today’s topic, which relates to Good Friday, that of John 17 — Christ’s High Priestly Prayer with which He concluded the Last Supper.

Yesterday’s post began a three-part study of this prayer which He prayed before going with the remaining eleven Apostles to await His arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Up to now, Jesus had protected His followers from harm. However, now was His time — as God preordained from the beginning and prophesied in the Old Testament — to die an excruciating death on the Cross for our sins.

The High Priestly Prayer is the only example we have of how Jesus communicated directly with His Father. And, despite the fact that both are divine and have been forever, Jesus still prayed.

Perhaps John included this beautiful and perfect prayer in his Gospel to give us that example in detail. As Christ prayed, so shall we.

This prayer is divided into three parts. The first five verses are Jesus’s prayer for Himself as he meets His Crucifixion. The next several verses — 6 to 19 — are His prayer for the Apostles and disciples now and as they establish the Church.

The third part — covered tomorrow — is His prayer for us.

Today’s entry concentrates on verses 11 – 19, a continuation of His prayer for the disciples. Emphases mine below:

11And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. 12 While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. 13But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. 14 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 15I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.

Jesus acknowledges that His time on earth is coming to an end (verse 11). For that reason, he prays that God protects His followers and keeps them unified in glorifying Him and holy love (verse 11).

Jesus proclaims that He was a faithful shepherd and lost only the one Apostle in name only — Judas — but says that this was part of His Father’s plan as unveiled in the Old Testament (verse 12).

Verse 13 is particularly striking. He wants His followers to experience His own sense of joy in God.

He goes on to state that His disciples are in the world but not of it and, to this end, preserve them from the snares of Satan (verse 15).

He also asks God to keep them holy, following His word — ‘truth’ (verse 17) — during their ministry (verse 18).

In the final verse — 19 — He says that he must set Himself apart — ‘consecrate’ Himself — by dying so that the people God gave Him can be redeemed eternally.

John MacArthur unpacks the verses at length in several sermons from 1972, 1997 and 2002. One of his sentences sums this passage up beautifully:

What He’s really praying for is this…I want them to continue to radiate My glory even when I’m not there. And that is what He prayed for. He prayed that we would manifest the glory of Jesus Christ even in His absence. The glory of God was revealed in Christ on earth and when He left, Jesus said I want My glory revealed in My church, in My disciples, in My people.

Even though His prayer for us comes later in the chapter, we, too, can derive comfort from His intercession for the disciples.

Those of us who went to Catholic or Protestant schools probably remember teachers, religious and clergy telling us to do everything well ‘for His glory’. Some of us probably took it the wrong way from time to time asking why we had to slave for God. Yet, Jesus’s entire life on earth was lived beginning to end ‘for His glory’. And if Jesus felt such a deep desire to please His Father, shouldn’t we in our Christian walk?

In another sermon, MacArthur discusses what this entails:

we have a divine call to holiness. We, in answer to the prayer of Jesus Christ, must radiate holiness. As an individual, I gain it through the Word. And then as we all grow in the Word, there becomes a oneness of holiness that stands as a testimony in the world. I pray, God, that will be our testimony.

He also tells us what this does not entail, contrary to some denominational beliefs:

God wants faith. God does not want your works, He does not want your religion, He does not want your piousity, that’s, you know, being super religious, you all know that. He does not want your activity; He does not want your membership in the church. He wants your faith commitment to the person of Jesus Christ. And that’s the only kind of person who ever knows God, who ever knows Christ and that’s the only person for whom Jesus intercedes. There are a lot of religious people but they are not those for whom Jesus prays. To be a part of Jesus’ intercessory work, you must believe.

As for the unity and oneness which Jesus prayed the disciples would have, MacArthur says:

there’s an element of this prayer that was fulfilled on the day of Pentecost when the Spirit came and indwelt every believer and continues to do so that we share one common eternal life. There is a spiritual unity that did come to pass in direct answer to this prayer. But I think more than that it’s oneness of a separated body of those who belong to God. It’s a oneness of separation from the world, that we would be one body opposed to the world.

He’s not praying that some day all denominations will get together and we’ll have one big ecumenical hash. He’s not praying that we’ll have one-world church, as some have thought. He’s simply praying that believers who share common eternal life, the very life of God dwelling in them, will be united in their separation from all that is ungodly and worldly…expressing spiritual love and power and obedience, all affections for God burning with the same flame, all aims directed at the same end, all pursuing the harmony of love and holiness.

That’s an essential takeaway message from Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

So often, by the end of Lent, we wonder why we made our voluntary effort for personal sacrifices or extra devotions. Easter comes and a week later, it’s all forgotten for another year.

I think of it differently. Perhaps you also share this outlook. Each Lent to me represents a chance to build up faith and holiness — it’s a concentrated, dedicated time of focus, prayer and private contemplation whilst going about our daily lives.

Each Lent gives us a marvellous time to step back, take stock and pray for more faith, holiness and oneness. It’s a chance to ask the Holy Spirit for more fortitude or wisdom, to ask Jesus to make us more like He is, to ask God for more of His divine grace. All those together — and there are millions of more requests like these — enable us to build our path of sanctification.

That path, bearing the fruits of our faith, will never be completed in this life, but, with the help of the Holy Trinity, may it lead ever heavenward with fewer regrets on our part as we take our last breaths here on earth.

In our final moments, may we say that we, albeit imperfectly, lived for His glory.

Stained glass cross crown 3rexesblogspotcomBefore exploring John 17, what follows are my past posts on Maundy (or Holy) Thursday. They explain the events and traditions surrounding the Last Supper in which Christ instructed us to commemorate His Body and Blood through consecrated bread and wine:

‘One of you will betray Me’

Passover, the Last Supper and the New Covenant

Maundy Thursday and the Last Supper: Jesus’s words of comfort (John 14, mentions the divine mystery which is the Holy Trinity)

John MacArthur on Passover as celebrated at the Last Supper

What is Tenebrae?

What is the Triduum?

Now on to a unique chapter in the New Testament, John 17, which reveals how Jesus prayed to His Father.

We often read that Jesus prayed to Him, but often we have only a statement that He did so or a brief prayer of a verse or two. Of course, we have His Lord’s Prayer for our use, however, John 17, the High Priestly Prayer, gives us the fullest sense of how Christ communicated with God during His time on earth.

As there is much to look at here via John MacArthur’s many sermons on this chapter through the years (1972, 1997 and 2002), it is best covered in three parts. Emphases mine below.

The first is Jesus’s prayer for Himself and a review of His earthly ministry. He said these words after a long discourse and discussion at the Last Supper (John 13 through John 16):

1When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, 2since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. 3 And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. 4I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. 5And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.

 6 “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. 8For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. 9I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. 10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them.

Verses 1 – 5

In the first five verses Jesus prays for Himself. He knows His Crucifixion is approaching (verse 1), but instead of praying for the ability of enduring unimaginable pain through scourging, piercing and hanging on the Cross, He instead prays for the ability to glorify God on this fateful day (verse 2).

Jesus knew He would die crucified. Of this, there was no doubt or no ‘plan gone wrong’. This is what He was sent to accomplish.

Note that He is also aware that it is time for Him to shortly rejoin His Father in heaven and regain the glory they shared together ‘before the world existed’ (verse 5). John includes this in the opening verses of his Gospel (John 1:1-3):

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.

Also notice that in verse 2 Jesus specifically mentions the granting of eternal life to all whom God has given to Him. Therefore, not everyone will be saved, only those whom God has given to Jesus Christ. He refers to this again in the next several verses.

John 6 tells us that Jesus also talks about this in verses  37-40:

37 All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. 38For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. 39And this is the will of him who sent me,that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. 40For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”

John MacArthur unpacks these first five verses for us in light of the Crucifixion:

To men the cross appears as an instrument of shame, to Christ it meant glory … glory … glory. And so He says, look at it — verse 1, “The hour is come,” what’s the next statement? What’s the next word? “Glorify Thy Son.” How are You going to do that? How You going … to lift Him up and make Him king of Israel? How [are] You going to glorify the Son? How was He glorified? On a cross, wasn’t He?

Now, it seems strange because from a human viewpoint you’d think He would say — Father, exalt Me now to some great role of rule in the world. If it was real glory why you wouldn’t think it would have anything to do with suffering, but it does. Because, you see, the glory came in the purchase of eternal life and the purchase of eternal life depended upon death and so He had to die. And so, Jesus is simply saying – Father, grant that by means of this event, My death … and you must include death, resurrection, ascension and coronation all in it … that by means of this event I may be glorified.

Now, to glorify God or to glorify Christ means to render what is due because of the glory of His attributes. Because of who He is and because of the display of all of His attributes it is to render Him the honor that He is due. And so Christ is simply saying — Father, let’s get at it so I can display these attributes and receive the honor that is due. The cross was glory for Jesus.

Now some have said — Well, Jesus had an ego problem. And He was very selfish. He was saying — Glorify Me. But if you look at the verse again you’ll see that that’s not the case. It says this: “Glorify Thy Son — hina– in order that Thy Son also … what? … may glorify Thee.” See, He didn’t even have Himself in view. He had the Father’s glory in view. And what’s the key to the whole universe? The glory of God.

In another sermon on John 17, MacArthur explains:

God planned into His master plan, the death of Jesus Christ who atoned for the sins of the world. That makes the men who did it no less responsible for their own guilt and their own hate and their own unbelief. But God had designed the death of Christ as a part of His plan. He was born to die.

Why, you read Isaiah 53 and you’ll read the details of His death. You read Psalm 22; centuries before He was ever born, and it gives explicit instruction about what He’s going to say when He’s hanging on the cross, the very words are there. It was no accident when Jesus went to the cross, no accident at all. The cross and all the events ignited by the cross, the resurrection, the ascension and the coronation of Christ and His second coming even, all of those events ignited by the cross were planned by God before the world began, it was no accident. The sovereign God of history said it would happen, prophesied throughout the entire Old Testament that it would happen and it happened. The cross was no accident. Jesus Christ was not just a self-styled martyr dying as an example of a guy who thought something was right and willing to give His life for it. He died as one foreordained before the world began to bear the sins of the world.

Verses 6 – 10

In verses 6 – 19, Jesus prays for His disciples. We’ll look at verses 11-19 tomorrow.

The message here is that Jesus has worked with the people God gave Him. Early in His ministry, Jesus prayed in isolation to make the right choice when selecting His Apostles; here, He acknowledges God gave those men to Him. In turn, Jesus taught them as His Father wished and revealed God to them through Himself.

He also tells God that the men have been faithful to His teachings. He knows — and we know through the Gospels — that they were not perfect, but they attempted to be, with the exception of Judas Iscariot. And God planned Judas’s betrayal, too.

MacArthur explains the difference between the Apostles and the disciples:

as Jesus prays for His disciples, that it is a very specific prayer, He’s praying for the eleven Apostles and for the few disciples that were also with Him. Now you know that there’s a difference between an apostle and a disciple. There are only eleven Apostles plus Matthias who made up the twelfth [later in Acts], plus whom? Paul [also later in Acts]. But then they were specific. But of all of the others who believed in Him, they are all disciples. They are all disciples. Now apostles are also disciples, but not all disciples are apostles, there were only eleven plus Matthias, plus Paul. There are a total of thirteen if you want to include Judas in there; he was by name an apostle, not in fact.

All right, so you and I are disciples but we’re not apostles. Right? So, others who followed Jesus were disciples but they weren’t in that group that belonged to the Apostles.

Now, Jesus then in this prayer, verses 6 to 19, directs His thoughts to this little group of eleven plus the others who believed in Him. How many were there? We don’t know. Maybe 500, for that’s how many saw Him after His resurrection, there were 120 in the upper room praying together, waiting for the Spirit of God and so perhaps somewhere around 500 would be a maximum. Can you imagine the Son of God in human flesh, 33 years on the earth and when it was all over with, 500 believed? But Jesus was pleased because they were the 500 the Father gave Him, see. And they were the 500 who were about to do the impossible

You say — Well, He’s just specifically praying for them? Yes, but in a general sense you will see in this the pattern of His mediating work for all believers because it’s so … it’s so much the same for us. It’s very general.

Now, the disciples, as you know including the eleven and I’ll use the word disciples collectively to refer to all of them; the disciples had really depended upon Jesus Christ. So much so that the thought of losing Him paralyzed them, didn’t it? And He knew in His own heart that even with all the promises that He’d given them in the table-talks in chapter 14, 15 and 16, with all of those wonderful promises, it was really going to be trauma when it all finally broke and when they saw what happened, they were going to scatter as sheep just to the winds … when the shepherd was smitten. And He knew that. And He knew that it would hurt. And He knew that it was going to be a shock like no shock they had ever had. And so, He comes to the Father, not only does He lay on them all these promises one after the other, but He comes to the Father and He prays — Now, Father, make it all happen, care for them. I have to give them to You.

While He was going to go to the cross and bear the sins of the world, He committed them to the care of the Father, that’s essentially what we see here. And though Jesus had promised that He would return, in the form of the Holy Spirit, and that that would even be better because He would not be just with them, He’d be in them, though He had given them all kinds of promises He knew that they were still heading to a trial that would shatter them and so He now prays that the Father would keep them. He had always been their guide, He had always been their guardian, He’d always been their all-sufficient friend, He had borne their infirmities, He had upheld their weaknesses, He had protected them from evil. And He loves them with the fullest capacity of God to love, in the gentleness that is uniquely Jesus Christ; He gives the Father the task of caring for them while He goes to the cross to die for them. You know, you’d think that Jesus Christ somewhere along the line would get a little bit preoccupied with His own problem, but He never does. All He can think about is — Father, Listen, I love them so much I’m going to go die for them, and while I’m dying for them will You watch them?

Tomorrow: John 17:11-19

 

thirty-pieces-of-silver-3cf58ff031d96b76We are now nearing the middle of Holy Week.

The plot against Jesus thickens.

So far, Jesus has confronted the money-changers at the Temple in Jerusalem.

The High Priests, looking on, yearned to arrest Him. But, after their great outpouring of affection for Him on Palm Sunday, what would the people say?

Judas Iscariot visited the Jewish leaders, offering his services. That day is known in traditionalist Catholic circles as Spy Wednesday.

Please visit the links for more information about the most tragic week in history before and since.

This year, my Anglican parish’s Palm Sunday reading included Psalm 118 but omitted the middle verses.

Some clergy think that ‘too much Bible’ bores the congregation. I disagree. This psalm is a case in point.

This is what we heard for the first reading:

1 Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
   for his steadfast love endures forever!

 2 Let Israel say,
   “His steadfast love endures forever.”
3 Let the house of Aaron say,
   “His steadfast love endures forever.”
4 Let those who fear the LORD say,
   “His steadfast love endures forever.”

 5 Out of my distress I called on the LORD;
   the LORD answered me and set me free.
6 The LORD is on my side; I will not fear.
   What can man do to me?

19 Open to me the gates of righteousness,
   that I may enter through them
   and give thanks to the LORD.
20This is the gate of the LORD;
    the righteous shall enter through it.
21I thank you that you have answered me
    and have become my salvation.
22 The stone that the builders rejected
   has become the cornerstone.
23This is the LORD’s doing;
   it is marvelous in our eyes.
24This is the day that the LORD has made;
   let us rejoice and be glad in it.

 25Save us, we pray, O LORD!
   O LORD, we pray, give us success!

 26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD!
   We bless you from the house of the LORD.
27The LORD is God,
   and he has made his light to shine upon us.
Bind the festal sacrifice with cords,
   up to the horns of the altar!

 28You are my God, and I will give thanks to you;
   you are my God; I will extol you.
29 Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
   for his steadfast love endures forever!

What follows is what was omitted. One wonders how many people opened their pew Bibles to read these verses (emphases mine below):

7 The LORD is on my side as my helper;
   I shall look in triumph on those who hate me.

 8 It is better to take refuge in the LORD
    than to trust in man.
9It is better to take refuge in the LORD
    than to trust in princes.

 10 All nations surrounded me;
   in the name of the LORD I cut them off!
11They surrounded me, surrounded me on every side;
   in the name of the LORD I cut them off!
12 They surrounded me like bees;
   they went out like a fire among thorns;
   in the name of the LORD I cut them off!
13I was pushed hard, so that I was falling,
   but the LORD helped me.

 14The LORD is my strength and my song;
    he has become my salvation.
15Glad songs of salvation
   are in the tents of the righteous:
“The right hand of the LORD does valiantly,
 16the right hand of the LORD exalts,
   the right hand of the LORD does valiantly!”

 17 I shall not die, but I shall live,
   and recount the deeds of the LORD.
18The LORD has disciplined me severely,
   but he has not given me over to death.

Bible scholars generally agree that David wrote this psalm after fully gaining the kingdom which God intended for him.

Matthew Henry notes that it could have been sung when the Ark of the Covenant was installed in David’s royal city and was sung thereafter during the Feast of the Tabernacles.

Henry explains, citing the King James Version of his time:

He preserves an account of God’s gracious dealings with him in particular, which he communicates to others, that they might thence fetch both songs of praise and supports of faith, and both ways God would have the glory. David had, in his time, waded through a great deal of difficulty, which gave him great experience of God’s goodness

There are many who, when they are lifted up, care not for hearing or speaking of their former depressions but David takes all occasions to remember his own low estateAll the nations adjacent to Israel set themselves to give disturbance to David, when he had newly come to the throne, Philistines, Moabites, Syrians, Ammonites, &c. We read of his enemies round about they were confederate against him, and thought to cut off all succours from him. This endeavour of his enemies to surround him is repeated (Psalm 118:11): They compassed me about, yea, they compassed me about, which intimates that they were virulent and violent, and, for a time, prevalent, in their attempts against him, and when put into disorder they rallied again and pushed on their design … Two ways David was brought into trouble:– (1.) By the injuries that men did him (Psalm 118:13): Thou (O enemy!) hast thrust sore at me, with many a desperate push, that I might fall into sin and into ruin. Thrusting thou hast thrust at me (so the word is), so that I was ready to fall. Satan is the great enemy that thrusts sorely at us by his temptations, to cast us down from our excellency, that we may fall from our God and from our comfort in him and, if God had not upheld us by his grace, his thrusts would have been fatal to us. (2.) By the afflictions which God laid upon him (Psalm 118:18): The Lord has chastened me sore. Men thrust at him for his destruction God chastened him for his instruction. They thrust at him with the malice of enemies God chastened him with the love and tenderness of a Father. Perhaps he refers to the same trouble which God, the author of it, designed for his profit, that by it he might partake of his holiness (Hebrews 12:10) howbeit, men, who were the instruments of it, meant not so, neither did their heart think so, but it was in their heart to cut off and destroy, Isaiah 10:7. What men intend for the greatest mischief God intends for the greatest good, and it is easy to say whose counsel shall stand. God will sanctify the trouble to his people, as it is his chastening, and secure the good he designs and he will guard them against the trouble, as it is the enemies’ thrusting, and secure them from the evil they design, and then we need not fear.

It takes profound faith to believe that God will preserve us through our greatest, most violent trials and tribulations. God used David’s enemies’ attacks to strengthen his love for Him. As Henry says at the beginning of his commentary for Psalm 118:

It appears here, as often as elsewhere, that David had his heart full of the goodness of God. He loved to think of it, loved to speak of it, and was very solicitous that God might have the praise of it and others the comfort of it. The more our hearts are impressed with a sense of God’s goodness the more they will be enlarged in all manner of obedience.

This is why it is so important for us to pray for more faith, especially when things are going well so that we can draw on it during times when it seems as if everything and everyone are working against us. Bible study will also help build our understanding of God’s purpose for us.

However, there is an even greater prophecy here which is why this psalm is chosen as a reading from Palm Sunday through the Easter season. It speaks of Jesus and Jesus himself cites it in referring to Himself.

Matthew 21 begins with His triumphal entry into Jerusalem on what we call Palm Sunday. This is the final week of His public ministry. Longtime subscribers of this blog will have followed my Forbidden Bible Verses series which recount the constant verbal assaults on Jesus not only by the Jewish Sanhedrin but also by ordinary people.

Palm Sunday was a brief moment of happiness in our Lord’s ministry on earth. The next few days, which we commemorate during Holy Week, turned so dark and treacherous that He suffered death on the Cross for our sins on Good Friday.

As Henry says of Psalm 118:

In singing this psalm we must glorify God for his goodness, his goodness to us, and especially his goodness to us in Jesus Christ.

Matthew 21 tells us that after riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, He went to the temple and toppled the tables of the money-changers. He then returned to Bethany, where He had been previously with Mary, Martha and Lazarus, whom He resurrected the day before.

Jesus returned to Jerusalem the following day. On His way there, He became hungry and cursed the barren fig tree when he found it had leaves but no fruit. That episode is analagous to those who do not bear fruits of faith; they will die eternally, never seeing God.

At the end of Matthew 21, Jesus had yet another confrontation with the Jewish leaders. He gave them two parables: those of the two sons and the talents. The chapter closes with His citation of Psalm 118:22-23:

22 The stone that the builders rejected
   has become the cornerstone.
23This is the LORD’s doing;
   it is marvelous in our eyes.

Matthew tells us that Jesus went on to warn of condemnation for unbelief:

43Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits. 44And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.”

The chapter ends with this:

45When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he was speaking about them. 46And although they were seeking to arrest him, they feared the crowds, because they held him to be a prophet.

Henry tells us that the last ten verses of Psalm 118 relate specifically to Jesus Christ. Of the gate in verses 19 and 20, he says:

Some by this gate understand Christ, by whom we are taken into fellowship with God and our praises are accepted he is the way there is no coming to the Father but by him (John 14:6), he is the door of the sheep (John 10:9) he is the gate of the temple, by whom, and by whom only, the righteous, and they only, shall enter, and come into God’s righteousness, as the expression is, Psalm 69:27. The psalmist triumphs in the discovery that the gate of righteousness, which had been so long shut, and so long knocked at, was now at length opened. 3. He promises to give thanks to God for this favour (Psalm 118:21): I will praise thee. Those that saw Christ’s day at so great a distance saw cause to praise God for the prospect for in him they saw that God had heard them, had heard the prayers of the Old-Testament saints for the coming of the Messiah, and would be their salvation.

And Peter says the same when the Jewish leaders confronted him and John after they healed a lame man at the temple in Acts 3. They later arrested and held both apostles overnight in custody for speaking of the resurrected Christ to the public. The next day the hierarchy questioned the apostles. This was Peter’s reply (Acts 4:8-12):

8Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, 9if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, 10let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well. 11 This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. 12And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” 

Psalm 118 tells us that, just as God saved David from death, so He also saved His only begotten Son.

We celebrate His Resurrection on Easter Sunday. He lives forevermore.

May we share the psalmist’s joy on Easter:

24This is the day that the LORD has made;
   let us rejoice and be glad in it.

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