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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 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 St Peter and Paul (Lutheran) Church in Weimar, Germany.
The Web Gallery of Art explains:
The crucified Christ is in the centre of the panel. His figure is repeated on the left side conquering an evil demon and death. In the background, a scene of the Expulsion from Eden reminds viewers of the presence of sin and the subsequent need for salvation. Immediately on the right of Christ, St John the Baptist points one of his fingers at the central figure and the index finger from his other hand to the Agnus Dei, the Lamb of God. Next to the Baptist stands Lucas Cranach the Elder. A stream of blood from Christ’s side flows directly upon his forehead, implying that no priest or saint is needed for intercession. On the far right, Luther points to a passage from his German translation of the Bible concerning Christ’s redemptive blood, which frees all believers from sin. In the background, the Old Testament tale of Moses and the Brazen Serpent and the New Testament story of the Annunciation to the Shepherds are depicted as examples of God’s grace.
Below is a back catalogue of posts I wrote about Good Friday, which readers might find useful:
Good Friday: in whom can we trust? (John 18:12-27)
We are in Year C of the three-year Lectionary. One of the epistle choices for Good Friday 2016 is Hebrews 10:16-25:
10:16 “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds,”
10:17 he also adds, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.”
10:18 Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.
10:19 Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus,
10:20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh),
10:21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God,
10:22 let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.
10:23 Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful.
10:24 And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds,
10:25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
The Book of Hebrews is thought to have been written for Hellenistic (Greek) Jews, not those living in Palestine. Its authorship has been debated throughout Christian history. It was probably written after St Paul’s death in 65 AD but before the destruction of the temple in 70 AD. The Hebrew audience for these letters were converts to the Church. They had also been persecuted and the book contains a number of encouraging messages for them to focus on Christ and the life to come.
It’s a beautiful book, explaining why Mosaic Law and Jewish customs are no longer required as Jesus Christ, through His death on the cross, was the ultimate, perfect, sufficient sacrifice for sin.
Hebrews is also a good book to use with atheists who continue to stubbornly insist that Christians follow Mosaic Law. It describes how the New Covenant replaces the Old Covenant.
Hebrews 10 begins with an explanation of Christ’s sacrifice is sufficient, thereby ending the old requirement for ritual sacrifice (verses 12-14):
12 But when Christ[b] had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. 14 For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.
The theme for our Good Friday reading is the full assurance of faith.
Verses 16 and 17 cite Jeremiah 31:33-34, which prophesy the New Covenant, the forgiveness of sin and the Church (emphases mine):
33 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”
Therefore, as Christ gave Himself as the sacrifice for our sins, there is no longer any need for continuing animal sacrifices (verse 18).
Matthew Henry’s commentary tells us:
… there shall be no more remembrance of sin against true believers, either to shame them now or to condemn them hereafter. This was much more than the Levitical priesthood and sacrifices could effect.
The author of Hebrews then discusses the temple and Jesus’s crucifixion (verses 19, 20). Through his sacrifice, He has opened the once forbidden Holy of Holies. As we know, after Jesus died, the curtain hiding the Holy of Holies in the temple in Jerusalem from the faithful was rent afterward. The author draws the comparison of Jesus’s pierced flesh to the torn temple curtain.
John MacArthur explains the staggering significance of this for a Jew — and those in Jerusalem at the time of the Crucifixion:
… in the Old Testament, as we’ve been studying, there was a Tabernacle or a Temple, and inside of the totality of this outer courtyard there was what was called the holy places, the holy place, and inside, separated by a veil, was the Holy of Holies. And in the Holy of Holies, God dwelt. And no man could enter into that place except the high priest once a year to offer atonement for the sins of the nation Israel.
But now He is saying, “You all can enter into God’s presence. The veil has been torn down, and you can all enter in, and you can enter in boldly.” So we have this new entrance, you see, into the holiest by the blood of Jesus. And, of course, this is a fantastic statement to a Jew, because, to a Jew, entering into the holiest is absolutely forbidden. And if a Jew ever tried to do that under the old economy, he would’ve been instantly consumed in the flames of the fire of almighty wrath. And no Jew would ever conceive of going into the Holy of Holies.
In fact, it’s interesting. If you go to Jerusalem, you’ll find out that there’s a certain area of the Temple ground where it is forbidden to Jews to ever walk there, because it may be the area where the Holy of Holies once stood, and no Jew would ever put his foot on the Holy of Holies. Therefore, there are big signs outside the gates of the Temple that say, “Orthodox Jews have been forbidden by the rabbi to enter in this place lest they step on the Holy of Holies.”
They have a fear, still today, the Orthodox Jews, of ever going into the presence of God. But because of the new covenant, He says we can have boldness. We don’t even go in sheepishly, saying, “God, I’m coming, don’t step on me,” see. We can enter in boldly. It’s a fantastic concept for the Jewish mind to understand.
The ‘great priest’ in verse 20 refers to Christ Jesus. Therefore, the Hebrew audience may approach the tabernacle with true hearts as well as the full assurance and knowledge that their sins are forgiven (verse 21). Their sins have been forgiven and they should consider themselves washed clean (verse 22). Water refers to Baptism as well as their former ritual cleansing, still a part of Jewish life today. However, Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross has abolished the need for it. Instead, His blood was (figuratively) sprinkled on their hearts, making them clean.
Henry takes this a step further:
Our bodies washed with pure water, that is, with the water of baptism (by which we are recorded among the disciples of Christ, members of his mystical body), or with the sanctifying virtue of the Holy Spirit, reforming and regulating our outward conversation as well as our inward frame, cleansing from the filthiness of the flesh as well as of the spirit. The priests under the law were to wash, before they went into the presence of the Lord to offer before him. There must be a due preparation for making our approaches to God.
Therefore, the author says, the Hebrews should remain hopeful and not waver, because our Lord is faithful (verse 23). The author did not want to see his people go back to the Jewish faith, which is the reason for the next two verses (24, 25). The people were to meet together regularly so that no one fell away and returned to his original beliefs.
Henry goes on to apply this in another sense. God’s constant faithfulness is infinitely greater than ours, therefore, we owe Him our full devotion:
God has made great and precious promises to believers, and he is a faithful God, true to his word there is no falseness nor fickleness with him, and there should be none with us. His faithfulness should excite and encourage us to be faithful, and we must depend more upon his promises to us than upon our promises to him, and we must plead with him the promise of grace sufficient.
The rest of Hebrews 10 explains the divine judgement and eternal condemnation — ‘a fury of fire’ (verse 27) — that would result from going back to Jewish belief. However, it ends on a hopeful note, with a reminder of how they bore their persecution and imprisonment because they were contemplating Christ.
We, too, should share that same confidence and assurance in and through the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world. Good Friday is a time of sorrowful contemplation but also one for prayers of thanksgiving for our Lord Jesus Christ.
During Holy Week I watched two documentaries on Christianity.
One was Britain’s Channel 5’s Mysteries of the Bible: Jesus, which was excellent in that several American and British Bible scholars, historians and archaeologists took part. However, it was not without serious flaws.
First, the programme had an entire segment devoted to the legend that Joseph of Arimathea took a young Jesus with him on a trading expedition to England. The story goes that Jesus learned about nature from the Druids and, in turn, He taught them everything about healing. (Every time I encounter this legend, I am left incredulous.) I appreciated the too-brief soundbites from the scholars and historians who said that there is no evidence supporting any of those claims. The probable explanation, they said, was that the monks at Glastonbury invented the legend in the Middle Ages to ensure that pilgrims would continue to go there. However, what was going to stick in most viewers’ minds was the long explanation of this legend which took prominence over the refutation.
Secondly, the programme presented Jesus as a rebel intent on overthrowing the social, religious and political structure. Hmm. Only one scholar, from the University of Edinburgh, said that Jesus had fulfilled his divine mission by dying on the Cross.
Finally, the worst bit was at the end, when, after presenting the Crucifixion, the narrator said it was
the last great mystery of the Jesus story
and the only reason why Christianity spread the way it did.
No, no and NO!
Even though every Gospel includes an account of the Resurrection — what greater mystery? — the programme ended with the Crucifixion. My goodness me. What is Easter about?
This documentary is not the only vehicle to suggest that Jesus died on the Cross and that was the end. Children are also learning this in nursery school.
I think this is done to put our Lord on a par with founders of other religions, so as not to offend.
Jesus Christ was the only religious founder to have died a horrifying death for our sins, rise from the dead three days later in fulfilment of Scripture and, 40 days afterward, ascend to heaven. No other faith can claim that. He is the Son of God.
Documentary makers with access to a dozen experts would do well to ask them about the life of Christ. Perhaps they did and disregarded what they heard. In any event, they could have read the final chapters of the Gospels.
This was a very disappointing programme, despite a promising first half exploring the Nativity and our Lord’s miracles.
Tomorrow: BBC1’s David Suchet: In the Footsteps of St Peter
A few years ago I despaired when I heard a female ex-colleague talk about the ‘marvellous’ lesson her son had had in crèche about Easter weekend.
For those in other parts of the world, England — with an established state church — largely has a four-day weekend, from Good Friday through Easter Monday.
This lady told me during Holy Week, ‘I’m so glad my son has had a good grounding in Easter. The crèche teachers told him and the class that Jesus died and that He was a great man.’
She looked so pleased with herself. I sat there in stony silence.
I asked her if they had a Part 2 to the course.
‘What do you mean?’ This woman took great pride in her Eastern Orthodoxy, which makes me wonder what exactly they teach.
‘Well, what happened three days after Jesus was crucified?’ I asked.
‘I don’t understand.’
Seriously, as this woman had been going on for the better part of two years about her devout Eastern Orthodoxy, I wanted to give her a verbal tongue-lashing. Not that I would view every adherent of Orthodoxy in that light, but her interpretation of it was grating and frustrating.
However, we were at work.
‘Erm,’ I whispered. ‘There is Easter Sunday.’
‘Oh. All Easter means to me is exchanging stinky boiled eggs in church. I never understood why we did it.’
Please, whether you are in charge of children, nieces, nephews, cousins or grandchildren — kindly ensure that you and they understand the Easter story. Thank you!
Today, continuing with the second part of Chapter 6, Bible Background, he gives us a variety of examples to illustrate his points. This is a long chapter, and I shall excerpt only a few salient points over the next two days, so, please be sure to read it in full to grasp the full meaning.
I have learned much from Keener’s introduction to hermeneutics in Biblical Interpretation and am certain that you will, too. Some conscientious pastors — as true shepherds — transfer this knowledge to their congregations from the pulpit every Sunday.
However, many other clergy ignore it for these reasons: ‘it’s too difficult for people to understand’, ‘it’s my (legalistic) way or the highway’ or — quite simply — ‘Scripture is dead except for a few favourite “golden rule” and “social justice” passages’. Yet, none of this is true, as Keener — and many other orthodox theologians, present and past — ably demonstrate.
The research below and in tomorrow’s post reveals interesting insights into the Christmas story, the Lord’s Prayer and the Crucifixion. For those among us (myself included) who find the parables perplexing, Keener sheds light on their cultural and legal background. Finally, as Keener used this course to teach students in Nigeria, readers will also find fascinating connections to Africa in both the Old and the New Testaments.
Emphases below are mine.
Examples of Background
Here we provide only a few limited samples concerning the use of background …
1. The New Word in John 1:14-18
Modern writers have proposed many valuable aspects of background for the “Word,” but probably the most obvious is what the “Word” was in the Old Testament: God’s word was the law, the Scripture he had given to Israel. John probably wrote his Gospel especially for Jewish Christians. Opponents of these Jewish Christians had probably kicked them out of their synagogues and claimed that they had strayed from God’s Word in the Bible. Far from it, John replies: Jesus is the epitome of all that God taught in Scripture, for Jesus himself is God’s Word and revelation …
Whole book context explains the point here more fully. God’s glory is revealed in various ways in Jesus (2:11; 11:4), but the ultimate expression of God’s glory here is in the cross and the events that follow it (12:23-24). We see God’s heart, and most fully understand what God was like, when we look at the cross where God gave his Son so we could have life.
2. Worship “in the Spirit” in John 4:23-24
Ancient Judaism often focused on the Spirit’s work in inspiring prophecy. The Old Testament speaks of inspired, prophetic worship (e.g., 1 Sam. 10:5), especially in David’s temple (1 Chron. 25:1-6). To “worship God in the Spirit,” then, may involve trusting the Spirit of God to empower us for worship truly worthy of our awesome God. Given the general belief that the prophetic Spirit was no longer active to this extent in Jesus’ day, Jesus’ words would have struck his contemporaries forcefully.
3. God’s message in the Tabernacle
Egyptians built temples differently than Mesopotamians; because the Israelites had been slaves in Egypt used in building projects, they undoubtedly knew what Egyptian temples looked like. They would have known about portable tent-shrines used in Egypt and Midian, as well as about the structure of Egyptian temples (and palaces), with an outer court, inner court, and the innermost shrine, the holiest place. God chose a design with which the Israelites were familiar so they could understand that the tabernacle they carried through the wilderness was a temple.
Some aspects of the tabernacle parallel other temples, and the parallels communicate true theology about God. In the tabernacle, the most expensive materials were used nearest the ark of the covenant: gold was more expensive than copper, and blue dye than red dye. These details reflect an ancient Near Eastern practice: people used the most expensive materials nearest the innermost sanctuary to signify that their god should be approached with awe and reverence. The tabernacle uses standard ancient Near Eastern symbols to communicate its point about God’s holiness …
Some features of the tabernacle contrast starkly with their culture. The climax of other ancient Near Eastern and northern African temples was the image of the deity, enthroned on its sacred pedestal in the holiest innermost sanctuary; but there is no image in God’s temple, because he would allow no graven images of himself (Ex 20:4) … God communicated his theology to Israel even in the architecture of the tabernacle, and he did so in cultural terms they could understand. (Some of the modern interpretations of the colors and design of the tabernacle are simply guesses that have become widely circulated. The suggestions we offer here represent instead careful research into the way temples were designed in Moses’ day.)
4. Why Sarah used Hagar’s womb and later expelled her
As an Egyptian, Hagar may have been one of the servants Pharaoh gave to Abraham and Sarah several years earlier (Gen 12:16). (Some of those Egyptians would have been from southern Egypt or Nubia.) In passing, we should note what the presence of Egyptian servants of Abraham implies for the matter of some African elements in Israel’s ancestry. Abraham later passed his entire estate on to Isaac (25:5); when Jacob went down to Egypt with “seventy” people in his immediate family (46:27), this number does not include all the servants who also went with him, who were presumably retained as slaves when the Israelites were later enslaved (Ex 1:11). This means that the later Israelites included much Egyptian blood, in addition to the two half-tribes of Joseph (Gen 41:50).
But returning to the matter of Hagar: in some ancient Near Eastern cultures, if a woman could not bear her husband a son some other way, she might have her servant do it for her. So Sarah, following some assumptions of her culture, had Abraham get Hagar pregnant (16:2-3). In such cases, however, it was understood that the child would be legally the child of Sarah; but Hagar began to boast against Sarah as if she were better than Sarah (16:4).
After Isaac is born, Sarah finds Ishmael mocking him (21:9), and she realizes that Ishmael’s presence threatens the birthright of the son God had promised, Isaac. According to some ancient Near Eastern customs, if Abraham had regarded Ishmael as his son, Ishmael would be treated as his firstborn. The way to prevent this was to free Hagar before Abraham’s death, and send her and Ishmael away without the inheritance (21:10).
It was Sarah’s initial suggestion that got Hagar in trouble, Hagar’s arrogance that perpetuated it, but in the end, Sarah did act to preserve God’s promise that she had endangered by her previous suggestion to Abraham. With the exception of Jesus, all biblical characters, including Abraham, Sarah and Hagar, were flawed in some ways; but understanding the customs of their day helps us better understand the decisions Sarah made.
5. Matthew 2:1-16
… Magi were a caste of Persian astrologers–that is, they practiced a profession explicitly forbidden in the Old Testament (Deut 18:10; Is 47:13). The term is actually used in Greek translations of the Old Testament to describe Daniel’s enemies who wanted to kill him! One of their jobs as Magi was to promote the honor of the king of Persia, whose official title was “king of kings and lord of lords.” But these Magi come to honor the true king of kings born in Judea. Matthew thus shocks his Jewish-Christian readers by telling them of pagans who came to worship Jesus, implying that we cannot predict beforehand who will respond to our message; we must share it with everyone ...
Most troubling of all, however, are the leading priests and scribes (2:4). These were the Bible professors and leading ministers of their day. They know where the Messiah will be born (2:5-6), but do not join the Magi on their quest … And a generation later, when Jesus could no longer be taken for granted, their successors wanted him dead (Matt 26:3-4). The line between taking Jesus for granted and wanting him out of our way may remain rather thin today as well. Especially when background helps us learn more about the characters in this narrative, it warns us in stark terms not to prejudge who will respond to the gospel–and not to think of ourselves more highly than we ought.
6. Keeping God’s Word in Matthew 5:18-19
… One could not say, “I am righteous because I do not kill, even though I have sex with someone I am not married to.” Nor could one say, “I am godly because I do not steal, even though I cheat.” All of God’s commandments are his word, and to cast off any is to deny his right to rule over us, hence to reject him. Thus Jesus was saying in a similarly graphic way, “You cannot disregard even the smallest commandment, or God will hold you accountable.”
7. The Kingdom [Lord’s] Prayer in Matthew 6:9-13
… Jesus used some things in his culture, which was already full of biblical knowledge. Jesus here adapts a common synagogue prayer, that went something like this: “Our Father in heaven, exalted and hallowed be your great and glorious name, and may your kingdom come speedily and soon…” Jewish people expected a time when God’s name would be “hallowed,” or shown to be holy, among all peoples. For Jewish people, there was a sense in which God reigns in the present, but when they prayed for the coming of God’s kingdom they were praying for him to rule unchallenged over all the earth and his will to be done on earth just as it is in heaven. Jesus therefore taught his disciples to pray for God’s reign to come soon, when God’s name would be universally honored.
To ask God for “daily bread” recalls how God provided bread each day for Israel in the wilderness; God is still our provider. To ask God to forgive our “debts” would stir a familiar image for many of Jesus’ hearers. Poor peasants had to borrow much money to sow their crops, and Jesus’ contemporaries understood that our sins were debts before God. To ask God not to “lead us into temptation” probably recalls a Jewish synagogue prayer of the day which asked God to preserve people from sinning. If so, the prayer might mean not, “Let us not be tested,” but rather, “Do not let us fail the test” (compare 26:41, 45).
8. Enemy Soldiers Torture and Mock Jesus in Matthew 27:27-34
… Roman soldiers were known for abusing and taunting prisoners; one ancient form of mockery was to dress someone as a king. Since soldiers wore red robes, they probably used a faded soldier’s cloak to imitate the purple robe of earlier Greek rulers. People venerating such rulers would kneel before them, as here. Military floggings often used bamboo canes, so the soldiers may have had one available they could use as a mock king’s sceptre …
Spitting on a person was one of the most grievous insults a person could offer, and Jewish people considered the spittle of non-Jews particularly unclean …
Normally the condemned person was to carry the horizontal beam (Latin patibulum) of the cross himself, out to the site where the upright stake (Latin palus) awaited him; but Jesus’ back had been too severely scourged beforehand for him to do this (27:26). Such scourgings often left the flesh of the person’s back hanging down in bloody strips, sometimes left his bones showing, and sometimes led to the person’s death from shock and blood loss. Thus the soldiers had to draft Simon of Cyrene to carry the crossbeam. Cyrene, a large city in what is now Libya in North Africa, had a large Jewish community (perhaps one quarter of the city) which no doubt included local converts. Like multitudes of foreign Jews and converts, Simon had come to Jerusalem for the [Passover] feast. Roman soldiers could “impress” any person into service to carry things for them. Despite Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 16:24, the soldiers had to draft a bystander to do what Jesus’ disciples proved unwilling to do.
Crucifixion was the most shameful and painful form of execution known in the Roman world. Unable to privately excrete his wastes the dying person would excrete them publicly. Sometimes soldiers tied the condemned person to the cross; at other times they nailed them, as with Jesus. The dying man thus could not swat away insects attracted to his bloodied back or other wounds. Crucifixion victims sometimes took three days to finish dying.
The women of Jerusalem prepared a pain-killing potion of drugged wine for condemned men to drink; Jesus refused it (cf. 26:29). The myrrh-mixed wine of Mark 15:23, a delicacy and possibly an external pain reliever, becomes wine mixed with gall in Matthew; cf. Ps. 69:21 and the similarity between the Aramaic word for “myrrh” and Hebrew for “gall.” Even without myrrh, wine itself was a painkiller (Prov 31:6-7). But Jesus refused it. Though we forsook him and fled when he needed us most, he came to bear our pain, and chose to bear it in full measure. Such is God’s love for us all.
9. Adultery and Murder in Mark 6:17-29
Herod Antipas’s affair with his sister-in-law Herodias, whom he had by this time married, was widely known. Indeed, the affair had led him to plan to divorce his first wife, whose father, a king, later went to war with Herod because of this insult and defeated him. John’s denunciation of the affair as unlawful (Lev. 20:21) challenged Herod’s sexual immorality, but Herod Antipas could have perceived it as a political threat, given the political ramifications that later led to a major military defeat. (The ancient Jewish historian Josephus claims that many viewed Herod’s humiliation in the war as divine judgment for him executing John the Baptist.) …
Although Romans and their agents usually executed lower class persons and slaves by crucifixion or other means, the preferred form of execution for respectable people was beheading. By asking for John’s head on a platter, however, Salome wanted it served up as part of the dinner menu–a ghastly touch of ridicule. Although Antipas’s oath was not legally binding and Jewish sages could release him from it, it would have proved embarrassing to break an oath before dinner guests; even the emperor would not lightly do that. Most people were revolted by leaders who had heads brought to them, but many accounts confirm that powerful tyrants like Antipas had such things done …
10. A New King’s Birthday in Luke 2:1-14
… A tax census instigated by the revered emperor Augustus here begins the narrative’s contrast between Caesar’s earthly pomp and Christ’s heavenly glory. Although Egyptian census records show that people had to return to their homes for a tax census, the “home” to which they returned was where they owned property, not simply where they were born (censuses registered persons according to property). Joseph thus must have still held property in Bethlehem. Betrothal provided most of the legal rights of marriage, but intercourse was forbidden; Joseph was courageous to take his pregnant betrothed with him, even if (as is quite possible) she was also a Bethlehemite who had to return to that town. Although tax laws in most of the Empire only required the head of a household to appear, the province of Syria (then including Judea) also taxed women. But Joseph may have simply wished to avoid leaving her alone this late in her pregnancy, especially if the circumstances of her pregnancy had deprived her of other friends.
The “swaddling clothes” were long cloth strips used to keep babies’ limbs straight so they could grow properly. Midwives normally assisted at birth; especially since this was Mary’s first child, it is likely (though not clear from the text) that a midwife would have been found to assist her. Jewish law permitted midwives to travel a long distance even on the Sabbath to assist in delivery.
By the early second century even pagans were widely aware of the tradition that Jesus was born in a cave used as a livestock shelter behind someone’s home. The manger was a feeding trough for animals; sometimes these may have been built into the floor. The traditional “inn” could as easily be translated “home” or “guest room,” and probably means that, since many of Joseph’s scattered family members had returned to the home at once, it was easier for Mary to bear in the vacant cave outside.
Many religious people and especially the social elite in this period generally despised shepherds as a low-class occupation; but God sees differently than people do. Pasturing of flocks at night indicates that this was a warmer season, not winter (when they would graze more in the day); December 25 was later adopted as Christmas only to supercede a pagan Roman festival scheduled at that time.
Pagans spoke of the “good news” of the emperor’s birthday, celebrated throughout the empire; they hailed the emperor as “Savior” and “Lord.” They used choirs in imperial temples to worship the emperor. They praised the current emperor, Augustus, for having inaugurated a worldwide “peace.” But the lowly manger distinguishes the true king from the Roman emperor; Jesus is the true Savior, Lord, bringer of universal peace …
Tomorrow: More examples illustrating the importance of Bible background
Recently, I posted a comment on an atheist’s blog asking for his thoughts on Jesus Christ. One reads so much about their disbelief in God, but never anything about His Son. As we remember His one, holy and perfect sacrifice, this is the response I received from another atheist. I hope they do not mind my borrowing this comment from reader maryhelena. What she says puts things into perspective for me from their point of view, and I hope it will for you, too:
churchmouse: But, what do you make of Jesus Christ — true God and true man?
Step one for the atheist – ditch theism – the great ‘god delusion’
Step two for the atheist – ditch JC – the great ‘historical delusion’ …
Seriously, though, there cannot be any forward movement towards humanism while that figure on the cross is believed to be the very epitome of what it means to be human – the seat and the wellspring of Christian morality. This final roadblock to a humanist world needs to be bulldozed to the only place where it can have any rational expression – as a symbol of intellectual evolution. Mind and Matter – the two elements of our humanity – function according to two very different codes – one moral and the other amoral.
Meanwhile, today, many of us will spend time in prayer, at church or at home reading the scriptural account of the Crucifixion.
Recently, I came across an apposite sermon from the Revd P. G. Mathew of Grace Valley Christian Center in Davis, California. In ‘The Wondrous Cross’, Mr Mathew explains the significance of the Cross and of Jesus’s perfect obedience to His Father. Please find a few minutes to read it in full. Meanwhile, here are a few excerpts (emphases mine), which considers Romans 8:32:
32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?
The wondrous cross of Christ is the theme of Romans 8:32. Paul declared that the preaching of the cross is “foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18). When he was in Corinth, he says he “resolved to know nothing except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). To the Galatians he says, “Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified” (Gal. 3:1).
Without the gospel of the cross, there is no forgiveness of sins. Paul tells us, “May I never glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ through which the world is crucified to me and I unto the world” (Gal. 6:14). Jesus himself foretold, “But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me,” that is, “I will save them from all their sins” (John 12:32). May we get out of the mud of gloom, misery, depression, and self-justification, and be freed as we look to the wondrous cross …
In Romans 8:32 Paul puts forward a second unanswerable question to assure us that God’s infinite love toward his elect shall never diminish. It remains constant, from eternity past to eternity future. The apostle provides the most powerful argument he can for this assurance. We must therefore know this argument from the wondrous cross and meditate on it. Then we too can live and die for the glory of God in triumph …
This argument is the ground of all our confidence in life and in death. Before he died [by beheading], Paul said, “For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing” (2 Tim. 4:6–8) …
We must understand the significance of Paul’s usage of “his own Son.” Paul used this phrase earlier: “For what the law was powerless to do, God did by sending his own Son” (Rom. 8:3). We are adopted sons by grace, but God did not spare his own Son, his one and only Son by nature, the second person of the holy Trinity. He is the beloved Son, with whom the Father was well pleased.
Theological liberals do not believe Jesus is God’s own Son. For them, Jesus was a mere man, the son of Joseph and Mary by natural generation, a sinner who thought he was God. They would say, “Jesus was a moral teacher, a reformer, a revolutionary, the first Marxist, a friend of the poor and the downtrodden, and a community organizer. He was a good man, though somewhat deluded. And he died and never rose again” …
But Jesus is not a mere man; he is God incarnate. John writes, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. . . . The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. . . . No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known” (John 1:1, 14, 18). Thomas finally confessed and said to Jesus, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28) …
The Father did not spare the only Son of his bosom. Paul is reflecting on Gen. 22:12-13, which speaks of the sacrifice of Isaac when God tested Abraham’s love. It is not enough for us to profess love for God; that love must be tested, and God himself does it. So God demanded that Abraham prove his love by sacrificing his son, his only son, his beloved son Isaac—not Ishmael, but Isaac, the son of promise through whom nations and kings were to come, and through whom the Messiah was eventually to come. And in reality, Abraham did not spare his son. It was God who intervened and spared Isaac from instant execution …
Perfect justice will come only when Christ comes again to judge the living and the dead. But to satisfy the justice of God, the Father did not spare his own Son. No other substitute could make atonement for the sins of the whole world. Isaac was spared because his death could not atone his own sin, let alone the sins of the world. No rams or bulls or any other animals can atone our sins. The Hebrews writer declares, “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Heb. 9:22). Yet he then states, “It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sin” (Heb. 10:4). Not even the holy angel Gabriel can atone for our sins. Whose blood, then, can atone our sins?
We needed the incarnate Son of God to atone our sins. His blood alone avails. So the Father loved us so much that he did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us on the cross …
On the cross, Jesus experienced the hell of our death, which is the wages of sin. God the Father so loved us that he gave up his own Son to such a death to save us. Love gives the best, the most precious. The Father’s best was his one and only Son. He gave him up to save us through his substitutionary death. The cross of Christ preaches God’s eternal, undying, never-failing love to us. Our love for God may fail, but the Father’s love never fails …
The cross reveals the wisdom of God. By wisdom, God uses the best means to achieve his best goal. The best means to achieve our redemption was the death of his Son on the cross. This brings greater glory to God. The cross is foolishness, a stumbling block, and an offense to those who are perishing. But to us who are being saved, it reveals the power, wisdom, and surpassing love of God. So we glory in the wondrous cross! It is a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles, but to us it is life eternal …
Christ, who obeyed the Father perfectly in life and death, prayed three times that the Father would remove the cup of his wrath from him. But finally he said, “Yet not my will but thine be done.” It was God’s will to spare us by crucifying his own Son. This purpose of God was unchangeable. Yet Christ’s death was not the death of a martyr, for not only is Jesus true man, but he is also very God. Christ was without sin, but he died for our sins. He who knew no sin became sin for us that we sinners might become nothing less than the righteousness of God in him (2 Cor. 5:21). The Father did not count our sins against us; he counted them against his Son …
The cup of God’s wrath is empty; no more wrath can be poured out against us. All our sins have been forgiven, and Christ’s righteousness has been imputed to us. Oh, the glory of this double transaction! All our sin is imputed to God’s own Son, and all his righteousness is imputed to us. Now we are given a different cup. It is the cup of salvation (Ps. 116:13), the cup of blessing (1 Cor. 10:16), and the cup that runs over (Ps. 23:5). Jesus said, “I give them eternal life. I have come that they may have life and that more abundantly and overflowing” …
God freely gives us all things; everything we have, we receive by grace, not by our merit. Even God’s enemies live because of his common grace. They are given daily bread through their work. God’s sun shines upon them, the rain comes upon them, and the earth produces food for them.
But in Jesus Christ we are given also special grace, which flows to us from the cross of Christ—the blessings of regeneration, repentance, saving faith, righteousness, the Holy Spirit, the knowledge of God, adoption as sons, and glorification …
May God help all of us to trust in Jesus Christ today, that we may be saved and enjoy this glorious freedom from the wrath of God. Jesus said, “If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.” May we live in obedience to God and enjoy eternally … his love. Amen.
Oh, dear. What is wrong with humanity?
The cheering crowds that greeted Jesus on Palm Sunday have now turned into shouting mobs. Why? Here’s Jesus on trial for nothing, and according to Passover custom, Pontius Pilate must release a prisoner today. He doesn’t much care and he isn’t too fond of his posting in this part of the Empire, so he asks the crowd whom to release, ‘Jesus or Barabbas?’ Jesus has been found guilty of no crime. Barabbas is up on a charge of murder. The crowd cries out ‘Barabbas! Barabbas!’ Pilate says, ‘What about Jesus?’ They all cry back, ‘Crucify him! Crucify him!’ Pilate accepts the popular vote, washes his hands in front of the crowd and disappears to go back to his work.
Barabbas, the murderer, goes free. Jesus is charged with proclaiming that He is ‘King of the Jews’. Pilate could have released Jesus, especially as his wife had said He was innocent, but he would have risked a riot. And that would have been a blot on his copybook with his Roman superiors.
Why is the crowd so different from Palm Sunday to now? Perhaps different people have gathered. Where are the people Jesus healed being there to support Him? Perhaps they have been shouted down or intimidated or just unable to appear.
Jesus undergoes the worst torture possible at the hands of the Roman Centurions and their soldiers. He is taunted, reviled and flayed alive. The soldiers jam a crown of thorns on his head and cry out, ‘King of the Jews — save yourself!’ Jesus is faint, bloody and thirsty.
How can He carry a cross through the crowds to Golgotha? The cross to which He will be nailed, no less. Along the way, a lady named Veronica wipes his face (the cloth she used is said to be the Shroud of Turin). A man, Simon of Cyrene, helps Jesus carry the heavy cross. A woman approaches Jesus to tell Him how sorry she is for His suffering. He asks her not to feel sorry for Him but for Jerusalem, as God will judge the city accordingly.
His Passion comes to an end with an excruciating death. The weight of the body on a cross is agonising. His arms are nailed at the wrist and His feet at the ankles. The weight from His torso puts unbelievable strain on His arms. Besides flesh ripping, bones are broken and organs damaged from the strain.
On either side of Jesus is a thief. They have also been crucified. One of the thiefs mocks Jesus. The second thief — known as Dismas — rebukes the first. Dismas then asks Jesus to remember him. Jesus responds with those beautiful words, ‘This day you will be with me in Paradise’.
Jesus also forgives the crowd and his tormentors: ‘Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.’
Jesus stays on the cross for six hours. During the last three — between noon and 3 p.m. — the sky is dark. Upon giving up his spirit, He cries out. At this point, a terrible earthquake shakes the ground: tombs burst open and the curtain in the Temple is torn apart. A centurion guarding the site of the Crucifixion exclaims, ‘Truly this was the Son of God!’
The tearing of the Temple curtain exposes the Holy of Holies. From this point forward, nothing can come between God and His people. Later, in 70 AD, just 40 years after Jesus’ death, the Romans will slaughter the inhabitants of Jerusalem — His words fulfilled.
Jesus, the perfect person, half human and half divine, takes upon Himself punishment for the sins of the whole world. His death pays the price for our sins. And He will rise in glory on Easter. Stay tuned.