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Sunday, April 23, 2017 is the Second Sunday of Easter.
The Gospel reading for this day is John 20:19-31, the story of Thomas the Apostle, depicted below in a painting by Caravaggio called The Incredulity of St Thomas.
The Bible never states that Thomas actually touched Christ’s wounds. Nonetheless, it is a dramatic illustration of this encounter and poses an interesting thought: what if?
It is interesting that Caravaggio depicts Christ guiding Thomas’s forefinger into his wound. One can imagine Him saying quietly, ‘Go on, Thomas. Feel the spot where they pierced me. See for yourself.’ It’s a form of rebuke: ‘You stayed away for a week, doubting. Now you’ll find out.’
The links below provide more information about this Gospel reading:
This particular Sunday was known as Quasimodo Sunday for centuries. Today, it is called Low Sunday or, in the case of the Catholic Church, Divine Mercy Sunday.
Quasimodo Sunday was of particular importance to those who had been baptised the week before, on Easter Day.
Find out more below:
It is sad that so many denominational Christians — including clergy — know so little Church history. The more we know, the deeper the meaning. It can be compared to family history. Aren’t our families even more important to us once we have more background on our relatives and ancestors? So it should be with our church family.
Forbidden Bible Verses returns next week.
Happy Easter! He is risen!
I hope that all of us enjoy this feast day, the most important in the Church year.
I have many past posts on Easter:
The significance of Easter to the Church (various questions answered)
The Easter story: reflections on Mark 16:1-8 (Dr Gregory Jackson, Lutheran)
Judge Andrew Napolitano on the meaning of Easter (great, especially from a layman)
Easter, the egg and the hare (one of the fullest accounts about Easter symbolism)
Mary Magdalene and the legend of the egg (Christian — not pagan!)
Many of us have lingering questions about Easter, myself included, and this is probably because we are not that well acquainted with all the Gospel accounts of the time between Jesus’s death and the Resurrection.
Subheads and emphases mine below.
Anyone knowledgeable about the Christian faith is aware of the significance of the cross, where our sins were borne by the Lord Jesus Christ to free us from the penalty and guilt of sin. Just as significant is the resurrection of Jesus Christ–the single greatest miracle the world will ever know. It demonstrates Christ’s finished work of redemption and reminds us that His power over death will bring us to glory.
Why Jesus died within a few hours
Interestingly, there was discussion on some of my Holy Week posts this year about the rapidity of Jesus’s death on the cross.
Jesus was nailed to the cross at nine in the morning, but most victims lingered much longer on the cross, some for many days. No one took His life from Him; He voluntarily gave it up (John 10:17-18). Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor who ordered His execution, was astounded when He heard Christ was dead so soon (Mark 15:44).
Also significant is that the day He died was a Friday, meaning that Sabbath started at sunset that day:
It was imperative that Christ be dead early enough in the day so He could be put in the grave some time on Friday. That day had to be included as one of the three days He would be in the earth (the others being Saturday and Sunday).
John 19:31-33 states that the Jewish leaders were concerned about Jesus and the two criminals remaining on the cross before a Passover Sabbath. They would have to die and be removed beforehand. The quickest way of ensuring death was to have their legs broken:
31 Since it was the day of Preparation, and so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken and that they might be taken away. 32 So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first, and of the other who had been crucified with him. 33 But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs.
They derived this particular rule from Deuteronomy 21:22-23, which says, “If a man have committed a sin worthy of death, and he be put to death, and thou hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but thou shalt surely bury him that day (for he who is hanged is accursed by God), that thy land be not defiled.” Apparently they didn’t always follow that regulation since historians tell us that bodies were often left on crosses for days. But on this Passover they made sure to perform this particular injunction to the limit.
John 19:34:37 says:
34 But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. 35 He who saw it has borne witness—his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth—that you also may believe. 36 For these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken.” 37 And again another Scripture says, “They will look on him whom they have pierced.”
Why did the soldiers pierce the crucified?
the soldiers would give the victim what Jewish scholar Alfred Edersheim termed the “coup de grace” (lit., “the stroke of mercy”)–the death stroke (The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, 2 vols. [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1953], 2:613). A soldier would ram his spear into the victim’s heart … One proposal is that the pain of his shattered legs would traumatize the victim so that the spear thrust would be somewhat of a relief … The general idea behind the spear thrust and the leg breaking was to cause the victim to die immediately.
Onee prophecy fulfilled, mentioned in John 19:36, is in Psalm 34:20:
He keeps all his bones;
not one of them is broken.
Another prophecy fulfilled, regarding the piercing in John 19:37, is in Zechariah 12:10:
10 “And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn.
There were other prophecies fulfilled that day:
Verse 34 tells us that blood and water came out of Christ’s pierced side–a sign of death. That’s a fulfillment of a prophecy from Psalm 69–a psalm that contains prophecies of the crucifixion scene, such as verse 21: “They gave me also gaul for my food, and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.” Verse 20 says, “Reproach hath broken my heart.” Under the intense weight of all the sins of everyone who ever lived or will live, it is not inconceivable that a human heart could rupture. Thus another prophecy was fulfilled.
The importance of Jesus’s burial
a marvelous account of God’s intervention into every detail in the life of Christ. We see God’s testimony unfold through Joseph of Arimathea (vv. 57-60), the two Marys (v. 61), and the chief priests and Pharisees (vv. 62-66). They play important roles in the burial of Jesus, validating the truthfulness of Christ’s claim to be the Son of God.
Joseph of Arimathea — prophecies fulfilled
Joseph of Arimathea’s actions played a significant role in fulfilling two prophecies regarding Jesus:
57 When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who also was a disciple of Jesus. 58 He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. 59 And Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen shroud 60 and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had cut in the rock. And he rolled a great stone to the entrance of the tomb and went away.
MacArthur tells us:
The entire chapter of Isaiah 53 is devoted to the death of Christ. It says He was despised and rejected, truly a man of sorrows (v. 3). He bore our griefs and carried our sorrows (v. 4). He was wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities (v. 5). He was taken from prison into judgment (v. 8). Verse 9 says, “His grave was assigned to be with wicked men, yet [He was] with a rich man in his death” (NASB). That unusual prophecy would be difficult to understand apart from the scenario of Christ’s burial. He was supposed to have been buried with criminals, but instead was buried in a rich man’s tomb.
Then, there were Jesus’s words regarding Jonah (Matthew 12:40):
Jesus said, “Just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so shall the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (NASB). Jesus predicted that there would be three days between His death and resurrection–that He would be in the earth for three days.
God used Joseph of Arimathea to fulfill those prophecies, and thus provide testimony to the deity of Christ.
I don’t know what caused Joseph of Arimathea to publicly manifest himself as a follower of Jesus Christ. Perhaps it was the earthquake, the darkness, the graves opening, and the veil of the Temple ripping from top to bottom (Matt. 27:45, 51-54). Perhaps it was simply his love for Jesus and the agony he felt watching Him endure pain and suffering on the cross. One thing we can be sure of: God worked on his heart to bring to pass the fulfillment of prophecy.
The three days
How can we be sure there were three days between His burial and Resurrection? This is a recurring question, one which is sometimes hotly debated.
Some people have difficulty reconciling what Jesus said in Matthew 12:40 about the length of His stay in the grave: “As Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” Does that mean Jesus had to be in the earth three full days and nights? No. Many commentators take that view and back the crucifixion to Thursday, so the three days and nights are Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, with His rising on Sunday. The obvious problem with that view is that we are left with a fourth- day resurrection. Yet all the passages in Scripture dealing with this issue indicate He was to rise on the third day. That eliminates the need for interpreting Matthew 12:40 as referring to three 24-hour periods. The phrase “three days and three nights” was simply an idiom of the Jewish people referring to a three-day period.
For example, if you were to say, “I’m going to San Diego for three days,” does that mean you’ll be there for three 24-hour periods? Not necessarily. It could mean you’ll be there for a few hours one day, all day the next day, and a few hours the third day. That is how Scripture refers to Christ’s burial.
In Luke 24:21 the disciples traveling the road to Emmaus were bemoaning the death of Christ, saying, “We hoped that it had been he who should have redeemed Israel; and, besides all this, today [Sunday] is the third day since these things were done.” They understood that the Lord’s prophecy of His resurrection wasn’t going to take place after three 24-hour periods, but on the third day, which from Friday would be Sunday. After all, Jesus said He would “be killed, and be raised again the third day” (Matt. 16:21). Matthew 17:23 repeats, “They shall kill him, and the third day he shall be raised again.” The chronological, historical references to the death of Christ indicate a third-day resurrection, not one following three 24-hour periods. When Jesus referred to three days and three nights, we can conclude He was referring to a part of three 24-hour periods. Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah (who lived around A.D. 100) said, “A day and night are an Onah [a portion of time] and the portion of an Onah is as the whole of it“ (Jerusalem Talmud, Shabbath ix.3; cf. Babylonian Talmud Pesahim 4a).
The two Marys
Matthew 27:61 says:
Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb.
MacArthur tells us:
Mary Magdalene came from Magdala, a village on the west coast of the Sea of Galilee. The other Mary was the mother of James and Joseph (v. 56). John 19:25 calls her the wife of Clopas, or Alphaeus. (Matthew 10:3 refers to James as the son of Alphaeus to differentiate him from James the son of Zebedee.) She was one of the ladies who followed Him from Galilee to attend to His physical needs by providing food and sustenance. Other ladies had been present during the crucifixion and burial, but they apparently left with Joseph and Nicodemus (v. 60). Only these two women remained.
These two ladies also went to Jesus’s tomb on the third day (Matthew 28:1):
Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb.
They went to the tomb because they loved Jesus that much, but also, MacArthur says:
perhaps hoping against hope that what He said might come to pass.
The earthquake — the third day
The two Marys approached the tomb at dawn of the third day, when an earthquake took place and an angel appeared, whose appearance was ‘like lightning’ (Matthew 28:2-7). The words ‘and behold’ are a call to pay close attention:
2 And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. 4 And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. 5 But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. 6 He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he[a] lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.” 8 So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.
MacArthur breaks this down for us:
Now this is the second earthquake in three days. There was an earthquake when Christ died, you remember, that split the rocks wide open and opened graves and dead people came alive among the saints. So this is the second earthquake. And God again is moving and God is demonstrating in a physiological way His activity. It’s not new for God. You can look to the past. For example, back in Exodus 19:18 at the giving of the law, 1 Kings chapter 19 verse 11, God came in an earthquake. You can look into the future and you read about it in Joel 2:10 that the time of the coming of the Lord there will be an earthquake. Revelation 6, Revelation 8, Revelation 11 describe that kind of thing. Jesus Himself even referred to it in the great Olivet Discourse, Matthew 24:7, about the earthquake that’s going to be coming or earthquakes attendant with His return. So when God begins to move in the world, the world shakes.
And here these women are approaching…they haven’t yet come to the garden. Instantly there is an earthquake. The epicenter of the earthquake is at the tomb. And the seismic radiation waves rumble through the ground beyond the grave and no doubt rock the land on which the women walk. They feel the earthquake not knowing what has happened.
Now what caused the earthquake? I suppose most people have just sort of concluded, “Well, the resurrection of Christ,” but that’s not the right answer. The resurrection didn’t cause the earthquake. Matthew tells us what caused the earthquake. “There was a great earthquake for or because an angel of the Lord descended from heaven.” When this angel hit the garden it created seismic waves. The word for “earthquake” is the root word seismos from which we get seismograph. And when the angel hit the land it sent out an earthquake. And these women not even knowing what was going on felt the movement of the earth, no doubt, as they approached the tomb. But the earthquake was not caused by the resurrection of Christ, it was caused by the arrival of an angel to open the tomb. Nothing, by the way, says that he let Jesus out of the tomb. That is a fallacy.
Have you ever seen a picture of an angel and a stone rolled back and Jesus coming out? That isn’t right. I mean, Jesus did not have the power to raise Himself from the dead and then wait in there until somebody moved the stone so He could get out. No one actually saw the resurrection. The women experienced the seismic ramifications of that event of the angel coming and the phenomena around the resurrection. The resurrection occurred in an invisible way, no one was in there to see it. Christ came out of that grave.
Put it this way very simply. The angel did not move the stone to let the Lord out. The angel moved the stone to let the women in so they could see that He was already gone.
You say, “Well, how could He get out of there?” Well the same way John 20:26 says the disciples were meeting on the eighth day and Jesus was in their midst, the door being shut. The same way He came through the wall into the upper room is the same way He went out of the rock of the grave which we shouldn’t imagine as any problem for one in His glorified form. So no one saw the resurrection. The angel came not to let the Lord out but to let the women in and to let the apostles in and to let us in and to let the whole world in to see that He wasn’t there.
Faith on display
The faith of the Marys was stronger than that of the disciples.
God honored their faith by allowing them to give testimony to what they saw. However feeble their faith may have been, it certainly was stronger than that of the disciples.
Remember, too, that the men were reluctant to believe the women:
The truth is that the disciples were reluctant to believe what the women said (Luke 24:6-12). Thomas was reluctant to believe when he heard from the other disciples who had seen their risen Lord (John 20:24-25). So God gave us first-hand witnesses to spread the word of the resurrection. Through eyewitness testimony and fulfilled prophecy in the burial of Christ, God was at work vindicating Jesus Christ as His Son.
What they saw
The Gospel accounts differ slightly in who went to the tomb and on the number of angels or men there.
Matthew 28 says only the two Marys went and that there was one angel. Only Matthew mentions the earthquake.
Mark 16 says that Salome (not Herod’s stepdaughter, by the way) accompanied the Marys. Mark says there was a ‘young man’ dressed in a white robe sitting inside the tomb.
Luke 24 names the two Marys, says there were two men present in dazzling apparel and records that Peter went to the tomb later.
John 20 records that only Mary Magdalene went and that Peter and an unnamed disciple went to the tomb after she met them. John himself was ‘the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved’. John mentions two angels later (verse 12) who appeared to Mary Magdalene after Peter and John left the tomb.
Regardless, MacArthur looks at Matthew’s and John’s accounts and describes what they saw.
In Matthew 28:
… there were the linen wrappings undisturbed the way they had been wrapped around His body. And the head napkin in a separate place. There was no turmoil, no big hurry to unwrap Him and throw everything on the floor and get out of there. It was just the way it had been when His body was in it only He was gone.
And then the angel came after He left to move the stone so the world could come in and see that He was gone and sat there as the heavenly witness to what had happened. What a scene.
I can’t imagine for a moment what that must have been like.
In John 20:
I believe this is the proper point to harmonize John’s special interest in Mary Magdalene. Mary was to the women what Peter was to the Apostles. She was impetuous. What happens here is fascinating. The women come into the garden and I think this is the best place to insert this, although we can’t be dogmatic, it seems to me to fit so perfectly here. When Mary comes in all she sees with her rather myopic viewpoint is this whole and the stone is gone. And she doesn’t take note of this angel. And seeing that the stone is moved and the grave is empty is enough for her.
John tells us her reaction. Let’s look at John chapter 20. “The first day of the week comes Mary,” and then he notes, “[She] started out when it was yet dark unto the sepulcher and sees the stone taken away from the sepulcher.” Now apparently that’s all she saw. She missed the angel. She saw just that the stone was removed. And then verse 2, “Then…without a delay…she ran.” She took off. “And she went right to the two most prominent apostles, she went to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved,” which is John’s term used to describe himself and the fact that it’s to Peter and to the other disciple probably indicates they were in two different homes during this Passover time. We can’t be certain. But anyway, she ran to Peter and John to tell them.
And what did she tell them? “They have taken away the Lord out of the grave and we know not where they’ve laid Him.” They’ve taken Him…they? I don’t know who they are. She didn’t know who they are…somebody. “Peter therefore went forth and so did John and they came to the grave.” Verse 4 says they ran and John outran Peter and arrived first.
MacArthur returns to Matthew 28 to tie these two accounts together:
So as we come to the women then in the confrontation with the angel, Mary Magdalene is apparently gone. She’s bolted to tell Peter and John that the body had been stolen. The other ladies stayed and they have the wonderful experience of an encounter with an angel.
As I mentioned earlier, John 20 records that, after Peter and John returned home from the tomb, Mary Magdalene stayed behind. Not only did she see two angels, but, even better, she also saw Jesus. What an indescribable moment that must have been:
11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. 12 And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic,[b] “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her.
MacArthur describes the angel in Matthew 28:
The angel is described for us in verse 3. “His countenance…or his face…was like lightning.” Now that’s a pretty graphic description, isn’t it? Like lightning flashing, brilliant, blazing. This, no doubt, to transmit the effulgence or the essence, the deity, the brilliance of the character of God. This is the glow of God. This is the Shekinah somehow transmitted from God to that angel, as it was on one occasion from God to Moses and shown on his face, do you remember that in the book of Exodus? This angel, this one representative of God, this messenger from God possessed the very character of deity. And it emanated from his glowing face. Also it says his raiment or garment was white as snow and this is emblematic of purity, holiness, of virtue.
So here is a holy angel…the holy angel sent from God bearing the very imprimatur of the character of God, an angel representative of deity, a created being who represents the uncreated cause of all beings, God Himself, this holy angel. This to distinguish him from some man, this to distinguish him from some demon, this to identify him as the agent of God, this beautiful, glorious, glowing, pure, holy being sitting on the stone as living witness to the risen Christ…God’s own assigned witness.
The angel’s presence frightened the guards in the extreme (Matthew 28:4):
And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men.
They went into temporary coma. They were knocked literally unconscious out of terror. Fear will do that. Fear will cause people to be paralyzed to the point where they go unconscious and that’s precisely what happened. They were knocked cold out of fear. They were victims of divine power. They had seen something they had never seen or thought of or ever been able to comprehend and they were not now able to comprehend it.
The women were afraid, too, but because they loved Jesus, they listened to the angel.
‘He has risen’
Matthew 28:6 states that the angel said:
He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he[a] lay.
6 He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7 that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.”
And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him.
MacArthur’s version of the Bible has ‘He was raised’. This indicates:
that He was raised by the power of the Father. Over and over again it says that in Scripture…Romans 6:4, Galatians 1:1, 1 Peter 1:3, a couple of those I mentioned to you. He was raised by the power of the Father. It also says, doesn’t it, in John 10:18, “I have power to lay My life down and I have power to…what?…take it up again.” So He was raised not only by the Father but He was raised by His own power. And then in Romans 8:11 it says He was raised by the power of the Spirit. “It is the Spirit of Him that raised up Jesus from the dead.” So the whole trinity is involved in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. And the angel gives this incredible announcement, “He’s not here He was raised.” The point is He’s alive.
And then I love this, “He was raised,” it says, “as He said.” Isn’t that great? I mean, He just jolts them with the memory that this is exactly what He said He would do on the third day, just like He said. And by the way, Luke 24:8 says, “And they remembered His words.” So, that’s what He meant…so that’s what He was saying.
What a day of drama and glory!
Truly, Jesus Christ is the Son of God.
Being there for the Lord
It amazes students of the Bible that the Apostles, who spent three years day in and day out with Jesus, were not the first to arrive at the tomb on the third day.
It was the women who were there. And they were blessed by the presence of an angel or angels. Mary Magdalene was further blessed by the presence of Jesus.
MacArthur says we can draw a lasting lesson from being faithful to and present for the Lord:
You know what that says to me? I don’t want to extrapolate too much on this but it’s nice if you’re there when the Lord does wonderful things. There’s a great spiritual truth in that somewhere and that is that the closer you stay to the Lord and what He’s doing, the more you’re going to enjoy what He’s doing. I don’t know about you but I’d rather be there and experience it than hear it from somebody else, wouldn’t you? I praise God for people who are there. I mean they’re there when the Lord is working. They’re there when His people gather together. They’re there when His Word is taught. They’re there when it’s time to come to your knees before Him. They’re there when it’s time to call on His power in ministry. And they’re the ones that experience first hand the moving of the power of God. No, they saw it because they were there.
I trust that you will be the kind of person like those women. What you may lack in faith you make up for in devotion, what you may lack in understanding you make up for in loyalty. And God will confirm your weakness and turn it into strength because you’re faithful enough and loyal enough to be where He is and where He’s moving and where He’s working.
Once again, happy Easter, everyone. I hope we have a beautiful day, rain or shine, as we reflect on the Resurrection of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ our Lord.
Lent ends on the evening of Holy Saturday, generally timed around the first Easter Vigil service.
Many Christians enjoy attending Easter Vigil services to see the blessing and lighting of the Paschal Candle, which is lit at services for the next 40 days, until Ascension Day.
New holy water is blessed in Catholic and High Anglican churches. (Chrism Masses would have been held on Wednesday of Holy Week, at which time bishops bless the oil used in Baptism, Confirmation, Ordination and the Anointing of the Sick and Dying for the next year.)
Traditionally, catechumens — newcomers to the faith — are baptised at this service.
The following post has more information:
(Image credit: annhetzelgunkel.com)
The following post, with the help of the aforementioned website, explains the importance of these traditional ingredients:
Every Christian culture has certain food traditions. In 2016, Mary Berry, the doyenne of English home cooks, presented a two-part programme for the BBC in which she explored different Easter treats from around the world. Find out more below:
Easter food explored — part 1 (Mary Berry, BBC — 2016)
Easter food explored — part 2 (Mary Berry, BBC — 2016)
A French cooking site has an interesting article on Easter food in Europe and Algeria. ‘Gâteaux de Pâques traditionnels’ has excellent close-up photographs by way of illustration. A summary of the article follows along with my own commentary.
In Alsace, the traditional Easter cake is made in the shape of a lamb. It was originally called Osterlammele — Easter lamb — suggesting its German origins.
Easter cakes in other European countries are also in lamb shapes, using special moulds. Polish lamb cakes are elaborately iced and decorated.
The one from Alsace is plainer, lightly dusted with icing sugar. Traditionally, it was wrapped in fine paper in the colours of Alsace or the Vatican.
Regardless of decoration, lamb cakes are rich in eggs, which were traditionally forbidden during Lent.
Wherever it is used, the lamb shape reminds us of the goodness of Christ and that we should follow His example.
All Recipes provides the instructions. The video below might not be the most expert, but I did enjoy watching the two young lads make a lamb cake:
Pasteria Napoletana is a popular Easter tart.
Its origins go back to pagan times, when a special bread made from spelt was offered to Ceres, the goddess of agriculture and fertility, in springtime.
Wikipedia says that it is possible that early bread evolved into a ritual bread made of honey and milk which catechumens received after their baptism on Easter Eve during the reign of Constantine.
In the 18th century, one of the nuns at the convent of San Gregorio Armeno in Naples, which still exists today, was responsible for the version eaten today. She wanted to create a tart that symbolised the Resurrection, including orange blossom water from the convent’s garden.
The symbolism is as follows: wheat for rebirth, flour for force and strength, eggs for infinity, white ricotta for purity and orange blossom water — along with dried fruit, spices and sugar — for richness.
Wikipedia says that the nuns were ‘geniuses’ in preparing these tarts, which had to be made on Maundy Thursday in order to set properly for Easter. They were then given to wealthy benefactors for the Easter table.
Although variations exist — sometimes with pastry cream added — each must have wheat and ricotta to be considered authentic.
Laura in the Kitchen has a recipe and a video:
At Easter, the Portuguese eat folar, bread which can be sweet or savoury.
Sometimes folar is wrapped around whole eggs (before baking) to symbolise new life.
Other variations include chorizo or other charcuterie.
Traditionally, this bread is given to priests, godparents or godchildren as a symbol of happiness and prosperity.
The lady in the video below makes a savoury folar in the most traditional way — in a bread trough. The film is in Portuguese, but you can check it for consistency and shaping while you follow a recipe, in this case from Pocket Cultures:
Austrians celebrate Easter by including on their tables a rich brioche called Osterpinze or Pinza. (Oster means ‘Easter’.)
This brioche originated in southern Austria. It is shaped into three petals — no doubt to symbolise the Holy Trinity — and sometimes has a coloured Easter egg — the Resurrection and new life — in the centre. Orange blossom water is used in the dough. Some variations also include dried fruits for extra richness.
The Austrians adapted this recipe from pannetone. Italy borders the southern part of the country.
The Bread She Bakes has a recipe in English. Although the video below is in German, watch this gentleman’s techniques:
Although Algeria is primarily Muslim today, it is important to remember that North Africa was the cradle of the early Church. One could certainly put forward a case for Christianity being an African faith, because it spread to Europe later.
Christians in Algeria ate Mouna Oranaise at Easter. La Mouna — a mountain — is situated outside of Oran, Algeria’s second largest city. Christians from Oran went to this mountain to celebrate Easter and to break bread.
Although the French article does not say, it seems likely that the bread developed into a brioche when the French arrived and took its present-day form.
All good brioches take time, and the Mouna takes six hours to rise: four initially, after which the dough is divided into two and left to rise for another two hours.
The Mouna has a rich egg glaze and is topped with pearl sugar.
Christian pied-noirs brought the Mouna recipe to France as an Easter speciality. Make a brioche dough and include orange flower water or lemon zest. Knead the dough well — or use a food processor with a dough hook — to ensure the dough is nice and light:
I am sure that some of these Easter treats cross borders. I am particularly interested in hearing from others with regard to breads and pastries. Feel free to comment below!
In the meantime, I hope that everyone’s Easter preparations go well!
The painting above is by the Renaissance artists Lucas Cranach the Elder and Lucas Cranach the Younger, father and son. Lucas Cranach the Younger finished the painting in 1555. It is the centre altar painting in Sts Peter and Paul (Lutheran) Church in Weimar, Germany. Read more about it:
I have a variety of posts on Good Friday. The following three concern Martin Luther’s view of the Crucifixion:
The next set of posts present a number of perspectives on the Crucifixion:
Good Friday: in whom can we trust? (John 18:12-27)
Excerpts and a summary follow. Subheads and emphases are mine.
Society at that time
MacArthur cites a theologian, David Thomas, who described the social atmosphere of Jesus’s time as pure evil:
So, as we go through the passage in Matthew that describes the crucifixion, we see just unrelenting evil. David Thomas wrote, “For thousands of years wickedness had been growing. It had wrought deeds of impiety and crime that had rung the ages with agony and often roused the justice of the universe to roll her fiery thunderbolts of retribution through the world. But now it had grown to full maturity. It stands around the cross in such gigantic proportions as had never been seen before. It works an enormity before which the mightiest of its past exploits dwindle into insignificance and pale into dimness. Wickedness crucifies the Lord of life and glory,” end quote.
The Gospels record Jesus speaking of wickedness not only of the religious leaders but that generation as a whole. The disciples also experienced wickedness in their ministries.
Politically, the Jews looked for their Messiah to deliver them from the Romans and to make their land and their people into a mighty kingdom. As my aforementioned post on Barabbas explains, a small group of radical Jews banded together as the Zealots with the objective of throwing off the Roman yoke through violence and theft.
How people saw Jesus
The people directly involved with Jesus’s condemnation, scourging, mocking and death did not know who He was, even when they thought they did.
The crowd yelling for Barabbas to be freed thought that Jesus could not be their Messiah because he was not fighting the Romans.
MacArthur divides these people into four groups:
Let’s call them the ignorant wicked, the knowing wicked, the fickle wicked and the religious wicked. And I want to suggest to you that every person in the world who does not come to faith in Jesus Christ, every Christ‑rejecting person fits into these groups. They are constant. They were there at the cross. They’re around today. And everybody fits somewhere in these four groups.
The soldiers — the ignorant wicked
We saw that the callous soldiers basically were Roman Legionnaires stationed in Caesarea, no doubt, with Pilate. They didn’t really have first‑hand information about Jesus. They were not very well apprised of who He was. They may have had a very limited smattering of information. They basically are ignorant. To them Jesus is another criminal and a somewhat deranged one at that. There seems to be no legitimate criminal act that He has done. He seems to be more a maniac who thinks Himself to be a king but by who any … by any definition they know of a king is not a king at all. They no doubt think Him to be somewhat deficient intellectually and mentally and through all the tortures that they bring upon. Him, He never says a word which probably confirms their suspicion.
Pontius Pilate — the ignorant wicked
He has already stated on several occasions that Jesus is innocent. He has given the findings of the court when he said, “I find no fault in this man.” He really doesn’t want to execute a man he knows to be innocent. His wife has warned him against that and his own conscience has done the same. But he is being blackmailed into a corner by the Jews and he thinks maybe he can satiate their thirst for blood by showing Jesus to be such a foolish, foolish looking person that they will understand Him to be little threat to Rome or to Israel. And so he brings Jesus out and says, “Behold the man.” And the scream the more for His blood and say if you don’t kill Him we’ll report you to Caesar. And trapped for the fear of the loss of his position, he indicates that Jesus is to be crucified. And so it is determined.
The two robbers — the knowing wicked
They knew something of the claims of Jesus. They knew something about it as is evidenced by the future record of what they say. We find that in verse 44. “The lesti, the robbers also who were crucified with Him,” and the Authorized says, “cast the same in His teeth.” Actually, what the text says is “heaped insults at Him.” They heaped the same insults at Him. The same insults they were hearing from the Jewish leaders who were saying, “If You’re the king of Israel, come down. You say You trust in God, let God deliver You. You said You were the Son of God,” so forth. So they knew some of the claims of Jesus.
They were familiar because they were a part of the Jewish society with perhaps the work of Jesus Christ, may have been familiar with His person, may on occasion have heard Him in a crowd. We don’t know that. But obviously they knew something about Him, something more than the Roman legionnaires would have known who had nothing to do with life in that part of the world …
… these crass materialistic bandits, for them life revolves around possessions, materialism, loot. They have not thought about righteousness, truth, justice, honor, godliness. They have no concern for morality. They have no concern for Messiahs and kingdoms; they’re just out for the loot.
However, Luke recorded that one of the thieves did believe at the eleventh hour and that he rebuked the other (Luke 23:39-43):
39 One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him,[d] saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
The crowd — the fickle wicked
The people who joyously acclaimed Jesus on Palm Sunday were the same who wanted Him to die. They preferred Barabbas.
It was bad enough that they sentenced Jesus to death by shouting for the release of Barabbas (Luke 23:13-25), but, as He agonised on the cross, they walked by to taunt Him (Matthew 27:39-40).
They had a place for Jesus, they wanted His miracles, they wanted His signs and wonders, they listened to His teaching. The crowd was fascinated by Jesus, to some extent. And they knew full well who He claimed to be and they knew there was a demonstration of the veracity of those claims …
Jesus didn’t fulfill their expectation. In fact, when Jesus rode in, they thought He would attack the Romans. He came back into town and attacked the Jews by wiping out the temple buying and selling. And that was not in His favor. They thought He ought to attack Rome, not them. And now how could this be the Messiah? All week long and He’s done nothing. He’s been here all week and now look at Him, He’s hanging on a cross, put there by the Romans. He is a victim. This is not our Messiah …
Because they assumed the Messiah would come in a military triumph over Rome and all the other nations. It all was coming to pieces and they had forgotten their hallelujahs and hosannas and now in their disappointment over Jesus’ failure to give them what they wanted when they wanted it, they had turned against Him and were blaspheming His name. So fickle.
The Jewish leaders — the religious wicked
The wors[t] group is yet to come in verses 41 to 43, the religious wicked. They are illustrated to us by the canting, and that word basically means insincere and hypocritical, the canting leaders, insincere, hypocritical, the lowest level of blasphemers, religious hypocrites who parade their pi[e]ty, who want to appear to represent God and know the truth and be pure and godly and virtuous and represent the Word of God. And the truth of it is they’re filled with hate and vilification toward the very Christ of God Himself.
In verse 41 we meet them. It wasn’t just a fickle crowd, likewise also the chief priests. All those various orders of priests that operated within the temple ministries were mocking Him along with the scribes who were the authorities on the law and the elders who were suppose to be the revered and renowned men of maturity and wisdom in the land. They constitute the Sanhedrin, the ruling body of Israel.
So, all of these leaders who are supposedly the religious elite, who suppose … are supposed to know everything there is to know about the truth of God and the Word of God and the mind of God and the heart of God, who pretend to love God and revere His Word and hold up His name. They come along and what did they say? And notice, please, that the crowd talked to Jesus, the leaders don’t talk to Christ. They hate Him. He is so despised by them they will not talk to Him, they only talk about Him. So they talk to each other about Him.
Verse 42, “He saved others.” And they mean by that His healing ministry, His deliverance from demons. “He did it for others, Himself He cannot save.” They never denied ever in the New Testament the miracles of Jesus, never. It was impossible to do that. There, is never an indication that the religious leaders of Israel denied His miracles. They said they were by Satan done, by Satan accomplished, but they never denied them. They said He does what He does by the power of Beelzebub, but they never denied them.
And now, to see Jesus hanging on the cross unable to come down, will affirm in their minds that indeed He did have power but it was Satan’s power. So when we put Him on the cross, we can be sure He’ll stay there because God is on our side. Look, the fact that He is there shows that His power is not as great as ours. His is Satan’s, ours is God. God’s with us.
They’re mocking His power. If He is the king of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross and we’ll believe Him, if He has such sovereignty and such authority and such power, let us see it now. They put in the word “now,” right now. They were forever and always asking for a sign. The truth of the matter is even if He had come down from the cross, they wouldn’t have believed, their hearts were so evil.
The horror of Jesus’s suffering
MacArthur describes in detail how horrifically Jesus suffered that day for our sins — the sins of the whole world, believers and unbelievers alike.
One thing is made abundantly clear throughout the pages of Holy Scripture and that is that man is wicked, that he is sinful. And given over to his own devices unrestrained will perpetrate crimes beyond imagination. Now the wickedness of man is no more clearly seen, nor does it reach a higher apex than it does in the execution of Jesus Christ. The crucifixion of the Savior is the greatest expression of human evil in history, the epitome of demonstration of the depth and comprehensiveness of the sinfulness of human nature …
Yes, the crucifixion was the greatest act of love on the part of God and that seems to be John’s focus and even more the emphasis of Mark and Luke, but it was also the greatest expression of human evil which seems to be Matthew’s particular interest under the direction of the Spirit as he writes …
… wickedness is not content just to execute Jesus Christ. It must torment Him also in the process. It must taunt Him in the process. It must heap on Him all imaginable evil. It cannot just kill Him, it must slap Him and punch Him and stab Him and spit on Him and defame Him and blaspheme Him and keep that up all the time He is dying. Inconceivable. But such is the cruelty of the human heart when fully exposed.
… according to Isaiah 53:4, He carried our griefs and He carried and bore our sorrows and in addition to that His own sorrow in being alienated and separated from His Father. So He not only suffered more than any man has suffered, but He suffered more than all men together have ever suffered.
During His earthly life, Jesus suffered for us temporally through poverty and self-denial. He also suffered spiritually by temptation from Satan. As if those were not bad enough, He suffered continual rejection by His own people. On the day He was crucified, He also suffered His father’s wrath because of mankind’s wickedness:
God then had to pour out all of heaven’s fury against all of earth’s sin and it all came on Jesus Christ. So He suffered the unmitigated wrath of God.
MacArthur described how the aforementioned soldiers scourged Jesus:
… they’ve tied His wrists to a post, His feet suspended from the ground, His body taut and they have taken leather thongs attached to a piece of wood and in the end of the leather thongs are bits of stone and bone and metal and they have lashed Him until His flesh is ripped off and His internal organs are laid bare and exposed and blood rushes from out of His body.
If you have seen Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, you saw exactly that. (MacArthur had not written from Gibson’s perspective, because he wrote his sermon in 1985. The film came out in 2004.) I was quite disgusted with every other Christian I know in the offline world, none of whom liked the film because it was too gory and violent: ‘It never would have happened like that!’ NO! It did happen like that — for our sake!
They have then clothed Him again. They brought Him back into Pilate’s hall and they start a little game under the watchful supervision of Pilate. And that little game is to make Jesus to appear as a king. And you’ll notice what happens in verse 28. They stripped Him. They took off His own robe which had been placed over His open wounds and they put on Him a scarlet robe, that’s the heavy outer robe Rome…worn by a Roman soldier. No doubt causing excruciating pain to those open wounds, a mock royal robe. And then they braided a crown of thorns and put it around His head. Put a reed in His right hand representative of a crown and a scepter. They bowed their knees before Him and mocked Him saying, “Hail, king of the Jews.” And as they rose from the ground they spit in His face. Then they took the reed out of His hand in a mocking gesture of snatching away His pitiful sovereignty and smashed Him in the head with His own scepter. In John 19:3 it says they kept on punching Him. He is a fool. He is a clown. He’s a buffoon. He is an object of mockery. This one who claims to be a king, what a farce, what a joke, how ridiculous. And the soldiers with joy and glee trained in the art of killing and maiming people enjoy to the very fullest their leisure expression on Jesus Christ at His expense.
By the way, this is the second time He has been punched and spit on. The Jewish leaders did it back in chapter 26 verses 67 and 68. There they spit on Him because He claimed to be a prophet. Here they spit on Him because He claimed to be a king. Little did they know the King that He was and long will they know it in hell in eternity. Little did they know that indeed He was a King and indeed He will wear a robe and a blood‑spattered robe at that. In Revelation chapter 19 and verse 13 it shows Jesus Christ coming in Second Coming glory out of heaven and He is indeed wearing a robe of royalty and it is a robe spotted with blood but it is not, at that time, His own blood but rather the blood of His enemies. And indeed some day He will wear a royal crown. It will be far different from this crown, not a stephanos, not a crown made of some earthly thing but a diadema, a diadem, a royal regal crown. Yes, Revelation 19:12 says He will wear many crowns for He will not only have His own but He will wear the crown that once belonged to every other sovereign in the world for He alone will be King.
And some day He will wield a scepter and it will be no reed, it will be according to Revelation 19:15, a rod of iron with which He will bring instant judgment on the unbelieving world …
The blows from the reed which was heavy enough to cause a painful blow to the head are added and more bumps and bruises appear. His body is dripping with blood, oozing from His pores. A lack of sleep, the anguish of sin has contorted and twisted His face so that He is hardly recognizable as human, let alone as Jesus of Nazareth. And He is thought to be nothing more than a fool.
The way of the cross
They put back on His own garment. And they lead Him away to crucify Him. As they leave the city in verse 32, they conscript a man by the name of Cyrus … of Simon who is from Cyrene. And this man, as we saw last time, is to carry the cross of Christ. They then, verse 33, come to a place called Golgotha, meaning skull place named for the shape of the hill. They give Him vinegar to drink, actually wine, oinos in the better texts. They give Him wine to drink and mingled with bitter herbs. That’s a general term. Mark tells us the bitter herbs were in fact myrrh. And myrrh would act like a sedative. This was provided by Jerusalem women. There was an association of women who provided this for people who were to be crucified as an expression of the fulfillment of Proverbs 31 where it says that strong drink is for those who face death. These women did it out of kindness. The soldiers appreciated it not because they wanted to show kindness, but because it was easier to crucify a drugged victim. So it accommodated them as well.
He tasted it and wouldn’t drink it because He wanted to go to the cross with all of His senses acute and alert …
I’m so amazed at the fact that the crucifixion itself is passed over with such brevity. In fact, as I told you, in the Greek text it actually says the having crucified Him on[ce] parted His garments. It almost throws away the crucifixion in the original text. And we really don’t have anything given to us about the details of it so we need to kind of fill in just for a moment. The cross would be lying on the ground, the victim would be placed down on the cross and first His feet would be extended, His toes pulled down and then a large nail would be driven through the arch of one foot and then the arch of another foot. And then His hands would be extended allowing His knees to flex a little bit and there would be great nails driven through His wrists just below the bottom part of His hand, the heel of His hand because there is the place where it would hold. In the middle of the hand it wouldn’t hold, it would pull through the fingers.
Once the victim was nailed there, the cross would be picked up and dropped into a hole. And when it hit the bottom of the socket, of course, it would rip and tear the flesh and send the nerve impulses to make explosions in the brain in regard to pain. The victim is now crucified. Slowly He would begin to sag down more and more the weight being placed upon the nails running through His wrists, excruciating fiery pain would shoot up the arms and into the mind. Pressure put on the median nerves would be beyond almost the ability to endure.
The Lord then would try to push to relieve the pain and so He would push with His feet and be pushing on the two wounds in His feet. And the same thing would happen. And hour after hour this wrenching twisting torment of the body back and forth, trying to relieve one and then the other, the hands and the feet, it would become very impossible after a while to do any pushing upward because of the pain and the sagging would put the greatest weight upon the hands.
Dr. Truman, Davis writes, “At this point, another phenomenon occurred as the arms fatigued, great waves of cramps sweep over the muscles nodding them in deep relentless throbbing pain. With these cramps comes the inability to push Himself upward. Hanging by His arms, the pectoral muscles are paralyzed and the inner costal muscles are unable to act. Air can be drawn into the lungs but it can’t be exhaled. Jesus fights to raise Himself to get even one short breath. Finally carbon dioxide builds up in the lungs and in the blood stream and the cramps subside. He would grasps short breaths of air, hours of limitless pain, cycles of twisting joint‑rending cramps, intermittent partial asphyxiation, searing pain as tissue is torn from His lacerated back as He moves up and down the rough timber. A deep crushing pain in the chest as the pericardium slowly fills with scorum (?) and begins to compress the heart. And this leads to death.”
‘King of the Jews’
After Jesus took His last breath, the soldiers had to nail to the cross the reason for His death. Pilate gave that to them:
They set over His head an accusation because it was required that a man who was crucified be crucified for some criminal reason. And there was no legitimate criminal reason to crucify Christ. Pilate, wanting to make his statement of the innocence of Christ and also wanting to affirm his … despising of the Jews, puts over the head of Jesus, “THIS IS JESUS,” the other writers tell us he put, “THIS IS JESUS OF NAZARETH THE KING OF THE JEWS.” And in all three languages of the times so everyone could read it. And the Jews … protested and said, “We don’t want that up there, we want, “He said He is king of the Jews.'” And Pilate said, “What I have written I have written.” And thus in cynical sarcastic words he mocked the Jews by saying to the whole world, “There’s your king, there’s your king, you despicable people, you deserve such a king.”
There is much more to read. This is a compelling sermon, not to be missed.
The same types of people who sentenced, mocked and killed Jesus are around today. Some even attend church.
All of them are convinced of their own self-righteousness. They reject Jesus Christ. They reject the Bible. They do not want to know. Their way is better.
They know more than the Christian humbly praying for more grace, praying for sanctification, praying to be delivered from temptation.
The day will come when we will be at the seat of divine and holy judgement. Where are we now? Where will we be then?
MacArthur concludes with this:
I don’t know where you are today. He longs to embrace you into His arms, to give you the salvation He so freely offered. He stayed on the cross not because He couldn’t come down, He stayed on the cross because He wouldn’t come down. And I believe that the Savior shed tears for those who shed His very blood. Such is the compassion of God and the gift of salvation. Let’s bow in prayer.
Thank You, Father, for the scene that we have viewed today from Your holy Word. Thank You for the friend of sinners who died for the very ones who crucified Him in all generations. Thank You that His arms are open to all who come. O Father, may we be grateful enough, thankful enough not only to receive the Lord Jesus Christ, but to live our lives totally in obedience to Him.
The evening of Maundy Thursday marks the beginning of the Triduum — ‘three days’ in Latin — the most important days in the Church calendar, which conclude Easter evening.
Find out how Passover was celebrated in Jesus’s time and how important the Last Supper is to Christianity:
It is important to know that some Jews held this supper on Thursday and others on Friday, according to John MacArthur (emphases mine):
There actually were two different evenings when the Passover was celebrated. I’ll just leave it at this. The northern people in Galilee celebrated it on Thursday evening while the Judeans, the Sadducees and the people in the south celebrated it on Friday evening. This is perfect, so that Jesus could celebrate the Passover with His friends in Galilee when they celebrated it on Thursday and still die as the Passover lamb on Friday at the time when the southern Judeans were slaughtering their lambs for their Passover. So there are actually two times; on Thursday for those in the north, and on Friday for those in the south. And that’s an important reckoning because there are texts in John’s gospel, in particular, that make it necessary to understand that.
This is because of the difference in the way the two groups of Jews calculated their days:
Study Josephus. Study the Mishnah, the codification of Jewish law and other historical sources. You find that the Jews in the north and the Jewish people in the south, the Galileans say as opposed to the Judeans, had different ways of calculating their days. These chronological aspects have been a wonderful study in anybody’s…anybody who makes an effort to studying this in the New Testament is greatly enriched by it. But in the north, they calculated days from sunrise to sunrise…sunrise to sunrise. That was a day. Whereas in the south, they calculated the day from sunset to sunset. So that’s a very clear distinction. In Galilee, where Jesus and all the disciples except Judas, had grown up, they calculated days from sunrise to sunrise. So the fourteenth of Nissan was sunrise on Thursday to sunrise on Friday. That puts the Passover Thursday night. For the Jews in the south, it was sunset to sunset, so that puts it in late Friday for the southern Jews. Same day calculated two different ways. And that worked well for the Jews.
By the way, the Pharisees tended to go with the northern approach. The Sadducees who were all around Jerusalem tended to go, of course, with the southern approach. What that did was solve a couple of problems. It split the number of animals to be killed into two different periods, Thursday night and Friday night. It also reduced what were called regional clashes cause the southern people didn’t think too highly of the northern people. So it just was easier to have them separated.
The posts below are resources for John’s Gospel, which provides the fullest description of the Last Supper and Jesus’s final discourses to the Apostles:
‘One of you will betray Me’ (John 13)
These posts discuss the words of consecration, which Jesus used at the Last Supper and continue to be part of Christian liturgy today:
Peter’s three denials of Jesus took place after His arrest. Jesus foretold this when He and the Apostles were at the Mount of Olives that night:
So much happened that day. The Apostles had no idea what would happen on Friday. But Jesus knew full well, which is why He spent hours in prayer while the Twelve slept nearby.
Wednesday in Holy Week is known by some traditionalist Christians as Spy Wednesday.
Find out why:
The reading for Wednesday of Holy Week is John 13:21-32.
The painting shown is Judas Betrays Christ (1308-1311) by Duccio di Buoninsegna (1255-1319). Art and the Bible tells us that it refers to Matthew 26:15. Here are the relevant verses from Matthew 26 to put it in better context:
14 Then one of the twelve, whose name was Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests 15 and said, “What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?” And they paid him thirty pieces of silver. 16 And from that moment he sought an opportunity to betray him.
This is what happened on Good Friday (Matthew 27:3-10). Emphases mine:
3 Then when Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus[a] was condemned, he changed his mind and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, 4 saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” They said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” 5 And throwing down the pieces of silver into the temple, he departed, and he went and hanged himself. 6 But the chief priests, taking the pieces of silver, said, “It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, since it is blood money.” 7 So they took counsel and bought with them the potter’s field as a burial place for strangers. 8 Therefore that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day. 9 Then was fulfilled what had been spoken by the prophet Jeremiah, saying, “And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him on whom a price had been set by some of the sons of Israel, 10 and they gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord directed me.”
Matthew Henry’s commentary has this analysis:
27:1-10 Wicked men see little of the consequences of their crimes when they commit them, but they must answer for them all. In the fullest manner Judas acknowledged to the chief priests that he had sinned, and betrayed an innocent person. This was full testimony to the character of Christ; but the rulers were hardened. Casting down the money, Judas departed, and went and hanged himself, not being able to bear the terror of Divine wrath, and the anguish of despair. There is little doubt but that the death of Judas was before that of our blessed Lord. But was it nothing to them that they had thirsted after this blood, and hired Judas to betray it, and had condemned it to be shed unjustly? Thus do fools make a mock at sin. Thus many make light of Christ crucified. And it is a common instance of the deceitfulness of our hearts, to make light of our own sin by dwelling upon other people’s sins. But the judgment of God is according to truth. Many apply this passage of the buying the piece of ground, with the money Judas brought back, to signify the favour intended by the blood of Christ to strangers, and sinners of the Gentiles. It fulfilled a prophecy, Zec 11:12. Judas went far toward repentance, yet it was not to salvation. He confessed, but not to God; he did not go to him, and say, I have sinned, Father, against heaven. Let none be satisfied with such partial convictions as a man may have, and yet remain full of pride, enmity, and rebellion.
No man could be more evil than Judas Iscariot. Only eleven other men in all of history have had the intimate, personal relationship he had with the incarnate Son of God, No man has ever been more exposed to God’s perfect truth, both in precept and example. No man has been more exposed firsthand to God’s love, compassion, power, kindness, forgiveness, and grace. No man has had more evidence of Jesus’ divinity or more firsthand knowledge of the way of salvation. Yet in all of those three indescribably blessed years with Jesus, Judas did not take so much as the first step of faith.
In a way that defies comprehension, Judas persistently resisted and rejected God’s truth, God’s grace, and even God’s own Son. Also in a way that defies understanding, he managed to completely conceal his wicked rebellion from everyone but Jesus. His hypocrisy was so complete and deceptive that even when Jesus predicted that one of the disciples would betray Him, Judas was not suspected.
Judas was so totally trapped in the darkness and corruption of sin that he became a willing instrument of Satan. Because this false disciple had totally renounced Christ, “Satan entered into Judas who was called Iscariot” (Luke 22:3), and it was then a simple matter to persuade him to betray Jesus (John 13:2). Judas’s heart was so utterly hardened to the things of God that long before he consciously considered betraying Him, Jesus called him a devil (John 6:70).
Even so, Judas could not escape the divinely designed signal of guilt that reminds men of their sin and warns them of its consequences. Just as pain is an intrinsic and automatic warning of physical danger, guilt is an intrinsic and automatic warning of spiritual danger. It was not that Judas suddenly became afraid of God, else he would have turned in desperation to the One he knew could forgive him. Nor was he afraid of men. Although he was now discarded and despised by the Jewish leaders, they had no reason to harm him. It was rather that Judas suddenly realized the horrible wrongness of what he had done. An innate awareness of right and wrong is divinely built into every human being and cannot be totally erased, no matter how deep a person may fall into depravity or how consciously and rebelliously he may turn against God. This is intensified by the convicting pressure of the Spirit of God.
Judas’s remorse was not repentance of sin, as the King James version suggests. Matthew did not use metanoeo, which means a genuine change of mind and will, but metamelomai, which merely connotes regret or sorrow. He did not experience spiritual penitence but only emotional remorse. Although he would not repent of his sin, he could not escape the reality of his guilt. Genuine sorrow for sin (metamelomai) can be prompted by God in order to produce repentance (metanoeo), as Paul declares in 2 Corinthians 7:10. But Judas’s remorse was not prompted by God to lead to repentance but only to guilt and despair.
Because he was a kind of witness against Jesus, perhaps Judas thought that by admitting the wickedness of what he had done he would be punished as a false witness, as Deuteronomy 19:16–19 prescribed. Under that provision, he would have been crucified himself, suffering the penalty imposed on the one he caused to be falsely convicted. Instead of looking to Jesus’ for forgiveness and trusting in His atoning death, Judas’s perverted mind may have led him to believe that by dying he somehow could atone for his own sin.
Proof that Judas’s sorrow was ungodly and selfish is seen in the fact that he made no effort to defend or rescue Jesus. He had no desire to vindicate or save Jesus but only to salve his own conscience, which he attempted to do by returning the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders.
Heretics masquerading as Christians can write as much revisionist baloney as they like and make notionally new and revealing documentaries about Judas. They are wrong. Enough said.
Around the time that Jesus cleansed the temple during His last Passover week, He cursed a fig tree that was not bearing fruit.
Matthew and Mark record this slightly differently.
Matthew’s account is in Chapter 21. The fig tree episode is placed after the cleansing of the temple.
Mark’s account is in Chapter 11, where it bookends the cleansing of the temple (verses 12-14 and 20-25).
It is interesting that neither account of Jesus cursing the fig tree is in the three-year Lectionary for public worship. That said, Mark 11:20-25 — The Lesson from the Withered Fig Tree — is included.
I wrote about Matthew 21:18-22 in March 2016. This is about more than a hungry Jesus being unable to find and eat a fig:
This is an allegory for the curse to come to the Jews for their unbelief and hard hearts. Remember that the Romans destroyed the temple in 70 AD. No replacement was ever built.
The fig tree with leaves and no fruit symbolises the Jewish people of His day. The hierarchy were hypocrites, with one set of rules for themselves and an onerous one for ordinary Jews. The religious leaders felt that Jesus threatened their prestige and power. Instead of seeing Him as their long-awaited Messiah, foretold in so many places in Scripture, they plotted to kill Him. They looked religious — just as the fig tree looked fruitful, covered in leaves as it was. However, just as the leaders were devoid of faith and dead in sin, so the fig tree was devoid of fruit. Under the principles of divine judgement, both would have to go.
The ordinary people were no better. How many thousands followed Him to be amazed? How many followed Him and came to believe He was their Saviour? Very few.
This allegory also relates to Christians who look pious outwardly but have empty hearts with no faith. Works won’t make up for a lack of faith. True fruits of faith come spontaneously (emphases mine):
Fruit is a spontaneous product of real faith. It’s checking in on a sickly neighbour not because you think you ought to, but because you want to. It’s helping other people because you personally feel the urge to do so. Fruit is praying as if you were talking to a friend several times a day, whether asking for divine grace and assistance or giving thanks for blessings received.
My post on Matthew has good quotes from John MacArthur on those verses, including this one:
… some of you are not seeing God work in your life simply because there’s no persistence in your prayer. There’s no continuance in your prayer. There’s no strengthening. You don’t get an answer so you quit. And it’s not mustard seed, it’s something else. Mustard seeds start small, gets big.
I wrote about Mark 11:12-14 in 2012. The themes explored in that post relate to true worship and a nation’s health. It dovetails nicely with yesterday’s post, ‘Monday of Holy Week: the righteous anger of Jesus towards the money changers’. In 2012, I wrote:
It is time for more of us to return to the Bible, to prayer, to faith. We can see that our apostasy — again, generally speaking — is spreading to our nations and governments, allowing evil to gain a foothold. What did Jesus and the authors of the Epistles say? Repent, repent, repent. All is not lost, however, we must mend our ways starting today.
A corrupt Church means a corrupt nation.
Yes, Christ’s bride the Church will ultimately prevail, but it is time to reread Revelation 2 and 3, namely, His letters to the seven churches: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.
It’s odd, isn’t it, that not one of those letters is in the Lectionary. Not a single one.
John MacArthur’s sermon on those verses has this:
The direct application of the curse is to the temple, but it expands to the temple leadership and the temple participants and thus to the nation and becomes very personal…very personal. Paul says they had a zeal for God but not according to knowledge. They made a fatal flaw. They didn’t worship idols, that wasn’t what they did, that’s what caused the destruction of the first temple. And an idol caused the destruction of the second temple. The destruction of this temple is not about idols, it’s about thinking you can establish your own righteousness, Romans 10 …
He went to the temple at the beginning. He went to the temple at the end. And He confronted the corruption of Israel’s religion all three years in between. When the temple is corrupt, it’s because the leaders are corrupt. When the leaders are corrupt, the people are corrupt. When the people are corrupt, the nation is corrupt. If it’s bad in the temple, it’s bad everywhere. And I say to you in a general sense, the measure of any society is its worship. You cannot judge a people by their economic status. You cannot judge a nation by its economics. God doesn’t. You can’t judge a nation by its social equity. You can’t judge a nation by its concern for protection of people from harm. That’s superficial. You judge a nation by its worship. That’s how God judges. And it’s worship that determines eternal destiny.
The Lord always goes to the temple, to the heart of worship … Judgment always begins with the house of God.
Holy Week is the ideal time, in light of these historical events, for us to take stock of our personal spiritual situation. Are we Christians for appearance’s sake, in public but not in private? Or are we truly on the road to sanctification, becoming ever closer to Jesus and God the Father in our daily journey?
John MacArthur says that the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, which we commemorate on Palm Sunday, actually took place on a Monday, which means that His cleansing of the temple took place on a Tuesday.
As I’d like to look at another event that happened 24 hours later, let us look at the righteous anger of Jesus towards the money changers today.
I wrote about Matthew 21:12-13 in 2009, discussing the reason for and the nature of Jesus’s anger:
John MacArthur has more on this scene, which created quite a stir, since the temple was teeming with people attempting to buy a proper animal for ritual sacrifice. In reality, these money changers — and those selling sacrificial animals — were running an organised racket.
Excerpts follow from MacArthur’s ‘Purging the Perverted Temple’, which examines Matthew 21:12-17:
12 And Jesus entered the temple[b] and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. 13 He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.”
14 And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he healed them. 15 But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying out in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were indignant, 16 and they said to him, “Do you hear what these are saying?” And Jesus said to them, “Yes; have you never read,
“‘Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies
you have prepared praise’?”
17 And leaving them, he went out of the city to Bethany and lodged there.
Emphases mine below.
Now as we approach verses 12 to 17, which is the temple encounter, I want us to look at it from a very special perspective. I want us to see it as the presentation of Jesus’ Messianic credentials. I believe what He does is give the populous of Jerusalem and most specifically the chief priests and scribes a very clear testimony as to the nature of His Kingliness and the nature of His Kingdom. He makes a statement here that could never be misunderstood.
Now remember that from the first demonstration that really ever happened around Jesus in Galilee … He revealed His great power, His miracle ability. The people had tried to take Him and make Him a king by force so that He would overthrow Rome and provide all that they needed socially and economically and militarily and so forth. And all through His ministry, He had resisted those attempts. Whenever they tried to make Him a king, He resisted that. And on Monday, as we saw last time, in a great statement about the nature of His kingship, He had ridden into the city for His coronation on the foal of a donkey, sitting on a used robe thrown over that donkey by one of the disciples while people threw tree branches and old clothes in His path. He was weaponless and His retinue was a group of common nobodies. And He was saying, in effect, the nature of My Kingdom is not as the kingdoms of this world. You see no pomp and glory, you see no earthly majesty, you see no military might. But still in their hearts, they hoped that He would do that, that He would overthrow the Roman yoke, that He would break the bands of the Roman oppressor, that He would free them to the nobility they themselves believed as Jews that they should have, the nobility that comes only to free people.
And just to be sure that they haven’t missed His message, He enters into the temple and demonstrates to them again the nature of His kingliness and the nature of His Kingdom. And it is a far broader, a far greater demonstration even then was His lowly inauguration.
Now I want you to look at these verses and mark the kingly credentials of Christ. First of all, He showed He was on a divine mission…He showed He was on a divine mission. And that is simply pointed out in the first statement of verse 12, “And Jesus went into the temple of God.”
Now, there are some manuscripts that eliminate “of God,” some good manuscripts that eliminate it. There are some other good manuscripts that include it. It’s one of the more difficult textual issues to try to resolve …
He went to God’s temple. Now this to say that He was on a divine mission. I mean, that was His turf, you understand that? I mean, if He had done what the people wanted Him to do, He would have gone to Fort Antonius because Fort Antonius because Fort Antonius housed the Roman army, the Roman garrison. Or He would have gone to the abode of Pilate and He would have started the military coup. He would have overthrown Pilate and all of his retinue or He would have eliminated the Roman army and liberated the land and the people. But He didn’t go there. He didn’t go there at all, He went to the temple of God. That was where He wanted to be.
You see, the temple is the issue, not Rome …
And this ought to be abundantly clear to any student of the New Testament because when Jesus came the first time to Jerusalem, this is exactly where He went also. And if you go back to John chapter 2 and notice verses 13 to 17, you will find there how He began His ministry at a Passover. And the Jews’ Passover was at hand. Jesus went to Jerusalem, found in the temple those that sold oxen and sheep and doves and the changers of money sitting. And when He made a whip of small cords, He drove them all out of the temple and the sheep and the oxen and poured out the changers money and overthrew the tables and said to them that sold doves, “Take these things from here, make not My Father’s house a house of merchandise.”
So, when He started His ministry, He started it at the temple and when He ends it, He ends it at the temple. Now I submit to you that He’s seen a lot of things in the years intervening. He has seen social injustice. He has seen economic inequities. He has seen oppression by the Romans. He has seen deprivation. He has seen the poor suffering abuse. He has seen lot of things. But His mission never changes. His whole ministry here is given very clear perspective. He was concerned with how people worshiped, with how people worshiped. He was concerned with their relationship to God, not their relationship to earthly kingdoms. It wasn’t so important to Him how it was with men and men as it was with men and God, you understand that? And so by going to the temple as the first official act after His inauguration, He is identifying for us clearly the turf, or the territory of His mission.
Peter picked it up from the Lord and said it this way in 1 Peter 4:17, “Judgment must begin at the house of God.” It begins at the house of God. As long as things were wrong in the house of God, they would be wrong in the nation. You see, the measure of any society is the relation it has to God. Worship is the issue. Read Romans 1, worship is always the issue. The problem with society is not that it has bad laws, the problem with society is not that it has human inequities. The problem with society is that it has abandoned God. And some would accuse us of being indifferent to the national political issues, indifferent to the social issues and the social scene, that is not true. We are not indifferent to those things but we know what Jesus knew and what Peter reiterated, that judgment must begin at the house of God …
Therefore, when Christians — Americans, in particular — advocate prayer for their own country, they are saying, ‘Look, we need to get right with God and national blessings will follow’. It is not necessarily a matter of saying, ‘My country has a certain divine exceptionalism about it’, it is more a case of social and political structures improving once more people improve their relationship with God through His Son Jesus Christ.
MacArthur describes the temple layout, which is in a series of courts — courtyards — each of which served a particular purpose. The money changers and the sellers of sacrificial elements were in the Court of the Gentiles:
And you paid dearly for those concessions because here’s how the system worked. Every offering had to be approved by the priests, right? When you finally got into the Court of the Israelites and you brought what you were going to give, it had to be approved. And maybe they had approving stations even before you got that far in. But the priests had to say your sacrifice is okay, and the odds were that if you bought it outside the temple, it was not going to be approved. If you had raised a lamb way out where you lived and brought that little lamb in to be offered, they’d say that lamb is not acceptable, you must have a lamb purchased in the Court of the Gentiles. Go see So-and-so. And so you’d go to buy a lamb from him, only according to Edersheim, the great Jewish historian, you would pay ten times the value of that lamb. So you were extorted, you were fleeced to reverse the picture a little. You were taken by robbers.
Poor people, according to Levitical law, didn’t have to bring a lamb because they couldn’t afford lamb, so they were allowed to have a dove or a pigeon in the place of a lamb. And most historians feel that in today’s currency, a couple of birds might be worth a nickel or a dime. But you would have paid four or five dollars for them there. And if you wanted to exchange your money because you had to have exactly a half shekel so you had to have the right change, and if you came from a foreign country with foreign currency and it had to be changed, you would pay twenty-five percent fee just to make small change.
And so, you can see that they would pay dearly for concessions inside the temple, right? Because they would work along with the priests to extort the people, to cheat the people. All this in the name of religion, if you can imagine. All this in the name of religion.
… But this is Jesus’ turf because this is the house of God. And it has been turned into a cave for robbers. And so He comes and sees this horrifying but familiar scene. And it says to us something so important, it says that Christ came first of all to deal with men on a spiritual level, you understand that? That’s the point. He came to throw out corrupt worship and to bring in true worship. He is on a divine mission.
Second point, He has divine authority. He has divine authority. If we can’t see that He’s the Messiah because of His mission, boy, we ought to see that He’s the Messiah because of His authority. Now listen, the most powerful thing going on in that country was the temple … if you walked passed the Gate Beautiful, for example, and you were a Gentile, the Romans had given them the right to kill you. They had plenty of power. They had great authority within the walls of that temple precinct area.
…the last thing that could have happened to themselves would have been to be made shameful in the eyes of the population of the city by some Galilean would-be Messiah, but that’s exactly what happened. Against all of what you would think would happen, it happened. It simply says, “He cast out all them that sold and bought,” just threw them all out. Not only the sellers but the buyers, too. He just threw everybody out of there that was involved in that enterprise. And the leaders, they couldn’t stop Him. There was no way …
And then Mark adds a wonderful note. He says in Mark 11:16 that He wouldn’t allow anybody to carry any vessel through the temple … And they apparently were using the temple area just like a thoroughfare, a street like any other public street and He just stopped that immediately. And nobody carried anything through there.
It may also imply that nobody carried anything out of there. That they had to get thrown out and left all their debris there. Now if you can get all those people to split and run and leave their stuff behind, they’re scared. Now this is the same Jesus riding on the colt, the foal of an ass, meek and lowly and humble.
… He came meek and lowly. He came as one who was to die in humility. But at the same time, He also gave a glorious demonstration of the reason for which He came and that is to change men from false worshipers to true worshipers. And so He went to the temple. He never used the same power He had to overthrow Rome, the only thing He wanted to do was clean up their corrupt worship. What power. I just wish I could have been there to see it. He kicked over everything, created chaos and they fled.
You say, “Well, why didn’t they stop Him?” Why didn’t they stop Him? They couldn’t…they couldn’t. I mean, they were pressed, the chief priests. They were really pressed because the crowd was hailing Him as the Messiah, for one thing. Secondly, the people hated the b[a]za[ar]s of Annas. By the way, they themselves started an insurrection that put them out of business, even before 70 A.D. when the temple was destroyed. So the people were with Him …
There’s a third credential that I want you to see in verse 13. He not only showed He was on a divine mission and demonstrated divine authority, but He revealed a commitment to divine Scripture. He revealed a commitment to divine Scripture. See, He vindicates what He does by this in verse 13. “He said unto them, It is written.” And then He quotes Isaiah 56:7, “My house shall be called the house of prayer.” And Isaiah adds and Mark also includes, “Of all nations.” Matthew leaves it out because his audience is primarily Jewish.
But the Lord says I vindicate what I do because I am doing something consistent with the Word of God. Oh, that’s so great. As Messiah He was always hooked to the Word of God. In John He says, “I never do anything that the Father doesn’t show Me to do. I never do anything that the Father doesn’t tell Me to do.” Everything He ever did was consistent with the Word of God. He vindicates His anger by basing it on Scripture. He says, Isaiah said it, God said through him, “My house shall be called the house of prayer.” See, the temple was to be a place of prayer. It was to be a quiet place, a place of worship, a place of devotion, a place of meditation, a place of contemplation, a place of confession, a place of prayer, a place of praise, a place where people went to commune with God, to seek God, to open their hearts to God, not to be a business, not a stockyard, not a crooked bank, not a thoroughfare for people carrying on their worldly business …
There’s a fourth thing I want you to see. He not only shows His divine mission, His divine authority, and His commitment to the divine Word, but we see Him as the Messiah because of His divine compassion. As I said, for a moment, the place was clean. And in that moment verse 14 comes to beautifully to us, “And the blind and the lame came to Him in the temple and He healed them.” He’s still there. He’s standing there in the midst of all the debris and it’s clean for a moment. And here come the blind and the lame who always hung around the temple anyway because that’s where God was and that’s where the people were and they needed to beg from the people and they needed to beg from God so that was the best place to be. And they, no doubt, filled the Court of the Gentiles, begging God and men for help. And when Jesus did that, you would have thought that they would have also gotten out of there one way or another. I mean, if the fury of Jesus was enough to dispense all the able bodied people, I mean, if they ran for their lives under His authority, we would think that these people would be cowering in some dark corner…scared to death. But not so, because ever and always in Jesus Christ is the perfect exhibited balance of holy vengeance and compassion.
And so, those who were guilty see His anger and those who are true seekers see His compassion. It’s marvelous. And He stands in the temple and they come to Him. I love that. I love that. You see, if you want to see the compassion of God in Christ, you see it in His healing ministry …
And then another mark of divine credential, if you will. We see His divine mission, His divine authority, His commitment to the divine Word, divine compassion and also His divine power…and we can’t ignore that. Verse 14 says that He healed them. I mean, that is a display of divine power. He just healed them all, the blind, the lame and they’re probably only representative of the deaf and the dumb and whoever else was ill and begging. And He healed them in front of everybody that was left. And everybody else would have known very soon when they started running around town saying, “Hey, it’s us, only now we see and hear and speak and walk.” And even the chief priests in verse 15 saw the wonderful things that He did.
The chief priests were livid. They cared only for themselves, not the notional little people. They became angrier when the children sang His praises.
And Jesus says, “Have you heard this, Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings,” two Hebrew words used in Psalm 8:2 to refer to infants under the age of three because Hebrew mothers suckled their babies until they were about three, “Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings, Thou has perfected praise.”
Jesus then took His leave and returned to Bethany for the night.
In conclusion, MacArthur warns that we cannot be lukewarm about Jesus Christ:
You either embrace the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior or you refuse Him. You either stand with, as it were, in the symbolic sense the children singing His praises, or the religious leaders whom He leaves and to whom He has nothing more to say.
Anyone in any doubt would do well to make the most of recalling the biblical events surrounding Holy Week in preparation for Easter, the greatest feast in the Church year. Pray and study the Gospels.
We now start the holiest week in the Church calendar, the days between Palm Sunday and Easter.
The Saturday before Palm Sunday is known by the Eastern Orthodox Church and Eastern Catholic Churches (Byzantine Rite) as Lazarus Saturday, recalling Jesus’s last healing miracle when he raised his friend from the dead (John 11:1-45, ESV). Read more about the story and the traditions behind it:
Our Church of England parish had John 11:1-45 as last Sunday’s Gospel reading (April 2, 2017). Our priest’s sermon centred around God directing events in His own time, not ours. Jesus’s timed his response to Lazarus’s death in obedience to His Father.
Lazarus was Martha and Mary’s brother. The three, who lived in Bethany, were good friends of Jesus. When Lazarus fell ill, Martha and Mary sent word to Him:
4 But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”
5 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 So, when he heard that Lazarus[a] was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.
Then, He told the disciples that Lazarus had fallen asleep and He would go to awaken him. The disciples thought that He spoke of normal sleeping:
14 Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died, 15 and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”
When they reached the outskirts of Bethany, two miles from Jerusalem, they discovered that Lazarus had been buried for four days. Mary was in the house, as many people were paying their respects. Martha left to greet Jesus, and showed that she understood Jesus and His Father, although she was not expecting what was to come (emphases mine):
21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.”
What followed is one of the most beautiful exchanges in the New Testament:
23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life.[d] Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” 27 She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”
Martha went home to fetch Mary, saying that the Teacher wanted to see her. Of course, the mourners also followed. Note the varied reactions:
32 Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved[e] in his spirit and greatly troubled. 34 And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus wept. 36 So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?”
They walked to the tomb. The King James Version of verse 39 is more striking than any other:
39 Jesus said, Take ye away the stone. Martha, the sister of him that was dead, saith unto Him, Lord, by this time he stinketh: for he hath been dead four days.
Returning to the ESV for the rest of the story:
40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?”
It is important to note that God wanted Jesus to raise Lazarus from the dead in front of others, not just Martha and Mary, who already believed in Him. Observe that the first thing Jesus did was to thank His Father for giving Him this opportunity to foreshadow His own Resurrection:
41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.” 43 When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” 44 The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”
45 Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him,
However, others went to report the resurrection to the Pharisees. Our Lord’s raising Lazarus from the dead was the final straw. Look at their thought process:
47 So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the council and said, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. 48 If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.”
Caiaphas, the high priest, responded saying that it was better that one man die rather than a whole nation perish. John points out:
51 He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, 52 and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.
John MacArthur says that this was not a holy prophecy, yet God put the words into Caiaphas’s mouth:
He said what he said. It just so happened that God ordered every word and gave it a completely different meaning, but every word was correct. This is a backdoor into understanding verbal inspiration, verbal inspiration …
Do you know what this man did, this autocratic, self-exalting, dictatorial, brutal, sly, corrupt man? He gave a clear statement on the substitutionary atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ. He talks about substitutionary atonement. He has no idea what he’s saying. Not surprising … He meant one thing, but God meant something different.
53 So from that day on they made plans to put him to death.
Jesus knew what was coming, so He and the disciples left Bethany for Ephraim — Ephron — away from the crowds.
MacArthur says that Lazarus was probably raised from the dead on the Wednesday preceding Jesus’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem, which we know as Palm Sunday.
By the time Jesus was ready to enter Jerusalem the next day, news of His raising Lazarus back to life had spread like wildfire.
The Jews were headed for Jerusalem for purification rituals prior to Passover. They wondered if He would show up or remain in hiding.
John 12 tells the story of our Lord’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem:
12 The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. 13 So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!”
Jesus fulfilled a prophecy from Zechariah (Zechariah 9:9), which John calls our attention to:
15 “Fear not, daughter of Zion;
behold, your king is coming,
sitting on a donkey’s colt!”
When I last heard a sermon on the donkey in my Anglican parish several years ago, the priest mentioned no prophecy being fulfilled. Yet, that is highly important to this event. John tells us:
16 His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him.
John has the crowds — and the Pharisees’ — reaction:
17 The crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to bear witness. 18 The reason why the crowd went to meet him was that they heard he had done this sign. 19 So the Pharisees said to one another, “You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him.”
Then there is the controversy over whether people laid cloaks (Luke’s version) or palms (John’s) before Jesus. Matthew’s and Mark’s say that they had both. However, I read a post several years ago wherein a layman wrote that palms were unbiblical, which is why I made the above highlight in purple.
Another post from 2011 explains why people used palms historically and on that particular day:
On that subject, it seems these days that most palms have already been made into crosses. However, if you are fortunate enough to receive plain palm fronds, this post tells you how you can preserve them the rest of the year:
Two other posts describe the human frailty and sinfulness on display in the days ahead. The crowds were fickle, the religious hierarchy devilish:
Our Lord knew that only too well.
The three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.
Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.
My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.
23 “When he was forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brothers, the children of Israel. 24 And seeing one of them being wronged, he defended the oppressed man and avenged him by striking down the Egyptian. 25 He supposed that his brothers would understand that God was giving them salvation by his hand, but they did not understand. 26 And on the following day he appeared to them as they were quarreling and tried to reconcile them, saying, ‘Men, you are brothers. Why do you wrong each other?’ 27 But the man who was wronging his neighbor thrust him aside, saying, ‘Who made you a ruler and a judge over us? 28 Do you want to kill me as you killed the Egyptian yesterday?’ 29 At this retort Moses fled and became an exile in the land of Midian, where he became the father of two sons.
Today’s verses are a continuation of Stephen’s address to the temple court.
Stephen was one of the first deacons, whom the Apostles appointed along with five other holy and wise men from the Hellenist (Greek) Jews. Acts 6 gives us the account of how and why the Apostles chose them.
As the Church at this time was centred at the temple in Solomon’s Portico, the Jews, including the religious leaders, could see and hear thousands of converts every day. They knew that the Apostles were teaching and doing miraculous healing, the way Jesus did. The threat to the Jewish authorities was expanding. It was bad enough that Jews from Jerusalem were becoming followers of Jesus, but now Jews from other nations were, too.
Stephen was brought before the temple council to defend himself against four charges of blasphemy: blaspheming God, Moses, the law and the temple. Acts 7 contains his address and the council’s action against him.
At this point, he accomplished two objectives: holding his audience’s attention and defending himself against the charge of blaspheming God.
As Stephen related his scriptural knowledge of the early patriarchs, he also indicted his audience for rejecting Jesus. His reason for mentioning Joseph was to get them to realise that Joseph’s brothers treated him the same way the Jews treated Jesus.
Stephen offered the first Christian apologetic: a defence of — reasoned case for — Jesus, in this case, as Messiah.
In last week’s verses, Stephen began his scriptural account of Moses: from the time of his birth through to his early adulthood. Please read that linked post if you haven’t done so, as it will help clarify today’s reading.
By the time Moses was born, several generations had passed since Joseph’s time. A new Pharaoh came to rule. He did not know the history of how the Israelites came to be there. Nor did he know the story of Joseph. Hence, he enslaved the descendants of the twelve patriarchs of Israel.
Despite having been adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter and educated in all the best Egyptian traditions, Moses never forgot that he was an Israelite. Aged 40, he decided it was time to meet his family members (verse 23).
Matthew Henry tells us of Moses at this point in time, as described in Acts 7:22: ‘mighty in his words and deeds’. Emphases mine below:
He became a prime minister of state in Egypt. This seems to be meant by his being mighty in words and deeds. Though he had not a ready way of expressing himself, but stammered, yet he spoke admirably good sense, and every thing he said commanded assent, and carried its own evidence and force of reason along with it; and, in business, none went on with such courage, and conduct, and success. Thus was he prepared, by human helps, for those services, which, after all, he could not be thoroughly furnished for without divine illumination. Now, by all this, Stephen will make it appear that, notwithstanding the malicious insinuations of his persecutors, he had as high and honourable thoughts of Moses as they had.
Stephen did not speak of Moses’s stammering, only his greatness. This was to clear himself of the charge of blaspheming Moses.
However, as with his account of Joseph, Stephen was trying to tell the Jewish court that their ancestors rejected leaders such as Joseph and Moses to their detriment. Stephen was using Joseph and Moses as comparative figures for Jesus. The Jews rejected Joseph, Moses and Jesus.
Through his apologetic, Stephen wanted to convince his audience that Jesus is Messiah.
Back now to our reading. Stephen said that Moses saw one of the Egyptians — probably a foreman — oppress one of the Israelite slaves. Moses, in turn, fatally struck the man (verse 24). Moses saw the Egyptian abuse one of his family members and wanted to avenge his kinsman.
that his commission from heaven would bear him out …
However, he also worked on the assumption that his kith and kin would recognise that he was one of them and that he was sent to deliver them from bondage to the Promised Land (verse 25):
… he supposed that his brethren (who could not but have some knowledge of the promise made to Abraham, that the nation that should oppress them God would judge) would have understood that God by his hand would deliver them; for he could not have had either presence of mind or strength of body to do what he did, if he had not been clothed with such a divine power as evinced a divine authority.
But that was not the case.
The incident elicited a lot of talk because, when Moses returned to the slaves the next day, they were quarrelling (verse 26). Some must have been saying, ‘He did a good thing. Could he deliver us? Is he fulfilling the promise made to Abraham?’ Others no doubt took the opposite view, ‘Who does that guy think he is?’
Moses, wanting them to make peace, asked why they were quarrelling. Instead of responding rationally, the Israelite contending with his neighbour pushed Moses aside and asked who made him judge and ruler over them (verse 27). He went further by asking if Moses was going to kill him, too.
Henry warns us about people like this:
Proud and litigious spirits are impatient of check and control.
That response was Israel’s rejection of Moses. That Israelite who spoke to him so aggressively was stubborn and spiritually blind. That is what Stephen was trying to convict the Jewish court of: a similar but infinitely more serious rejection of Jesus.
John MacArthur says of Moses:
He had done the first thing. He had shown that he was going to defend them. But they didn’t get the message. They understood not. So blind, they were blind to their own redeemer, their own deliverer, the one who was going to take them to the Promised Land. It was the time of promise, verse 17 said it, and it was time to go, but they weren’t going to go because they weren’t going to accept the deliverer.
Jesus came and offered a kingdom. They didn’t accept the King. Did they get the kingdom? No, it was postponed. Moses came and said, “I’ll give you the Promised Land.” Did they get the Promised Land? Forty years later they got it. No, 80 years later, because they didn’t believe when the redeemer came the first time. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
Verse 26, “And the next day he showed himself to them as they strove.” He came down there and two of them were arguing. He not only came to defend them from their enemies, he came to make peace among them. He was the truest kind of deliverer. His plans were not only political, they were personal. He not only saw the deliverance of Israel as a nation, he saw himself as a peacemaker between individuals. That’s the heart of a real deliverer, isn’t it? Great man.
Thus rejected, Moses exiled himself to Midian, where he fathered two sons (verse 29). MacArthur tells us:
Remember his wife, Zipporah? He married her over there and he fiddled around in the desert for 40 years herding sheep.
Stephen’s point to the court about Moses was that God postponed Israel’s deliverance because they were stubborn, blind, aggressive and disobedient. He punished them with 40 more years of slavery and another 40 in the journey to the Promised Land. Many Israelites died during that time because they rejected Moses in the first place. Had they accepted him, they would have adhered to God’s timetable.
Although Stephen did not know this — he was the first martyr — their rejection of Christ resulted in the destruction of the temple decades later by the Romans in 70 AD: God’s punishment. It was never rebuilt.
Yet, although he was convicting his audience of spiritual blindness and brutal rejection, Stephen wanted to open their eyes, to give them insight into Jesus as Messiah. Stephen was saying, ‘Accept Jesus as I accept Him as the Deliverer, the Promised One, the Messiah’.
Henry says that, with this apologetic, Stephen cleared himself of blaspheming Moses. Furthermore, he indirectly warned the court not to reject his message about Jesus, the way their ancestors rejected Moses. Finally, he warned them, again indirectly, that if they did reject Jesus as Messiah, God would take Him away from them in favour of the Gentiles.
The next reading continues Stephen’s discourse on Moses.
Forbidden Bible Verses continues after Easter.
Next time: Acts 7:30-34