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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.
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.
American readers will know that Andrew Napolitano is Fox News Channel’s Senior Judicial Analyst. Prior to that he served a distinguished eight-year term as Judge of the New Jersey Superior Court and pursued a writing, teaching and television career.
Last week, he wrote a thoughtful article on the meaning of Easter for Fox. He explains the meaning of the events of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter with concise clarity. Parents, Sunday School teachers and anyone working with converts may find the following excerpts useful. Emphases mine below:
On the first Holy Thursday, Jesus attended a traditional Jewish Passover Seder. Catholics believe that at His last supper, Jesus performed two miracles so that we could stay united to Him. He transformed ordinary bread and wine into His own body, blood, soul and divinity, and He empowered His disciples and their successors to do the same.
On the first Good Friday, the government executed Jesus because it was convinced that by claiming to be the Son of God, He might foment a revolution against it. He did foment a revolution, but it was in the hearts of men and women. The Roman government had not heard of a revolution of the heart, so it condemned Him to death by crucifixion.
Jesus had the freedom to reject this horrific event, but He exercised His free will so that we might know the truth. The truth is that He would rise from the dead.
On Easter, three days after He died, that manifestation was completed when He did rise from the dead. By doing that, He demonstrated to us that while living, we can liberate our souls from the slavery of sin … and after death, we can rise to be with Him.
Easter — which manifests our own immortality — is the linchpin of human existence. With it, life is worth living, no matter its costs or pains. Without it, life is meaningless, no matter its fleeting joys or triumphs. Easter has a meaning that is both incomprehensible and simple. It is incomprehensible that a human being had the freedom to rise from the dead. It is simple because that human being was and is God.
Jesus is the hypostatic union — not half God and half man and not just a godly good man but truly and fully God and, at the same time, truly and fully man …
What does Easter mean? Easter means that there’s hope for the dead. If there’s hope for the dead, there’s hope for the living …
The last three paragraphs really express the meaning of Easter. I spent a goodly amount of time yesterday — Easter Day — giving thanks for our Lord’s crucifixion and resurrection in hope and peace. It was a beautiful day in every way.
As we are in Easter Week, may we continue to reflect on the meaning of hope and salvation through Christ Jesus.
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.
On Monday, English home cook, author and former food journalist Mary Berry — star of The Great British Bake-Off and her own television shows (BBC) — introduced the British public to the traditions behind Good Friday and Easter foods.
The first of two episodes of Mary Berry’s Easter Feast on BBC2 saw her explore traditions in England, Jamaica, Russia and Poland. I highly recommend it. Below is a synopsis of the first programme with additional information from other sources.
Berry, an Anglican, told us that she is a regular churchgoer. She said she goes to Sunday services because ‘it is important to give thanks’. Easter is her favourite religious feast. (Finally, there’s someone who loves Easter as much as I do.)
Easter is the Church’s greatest feast. It has always been celebrated, from the earliest days after Christ’s death and resurrection. Christmas celebrations did not come about until much later.
Hot cross buns
Berry went to St Albans Cathedral to find out more about hot cross buns.
The cathedral’s historian explained that, in England, the precursor of this bun was the Alban bun. In 1361, Brother Thomas Rocliffe, a monk at St Albans Abbey, made highly spiced buns which the monks gave to the poor who appeared at the refectory door on Good Friday. The historian added that Brother Thomas was likely making peace with the locals who resented the Church. Monasteries at that time held an enormous amount of power.
St Albans Cathedral website tells us that their hot cross buns are still made locally — at Redbournbury Mill, which the abbey once owned. Anyone interested can find them the old fashioned way, by going to the Abbot’s Kitchen. They are available throughout Lent to Easter Monday.
The historian gave an Alban bun to Berry, who said it was much spicier than conventional hot cross buns. There is also no pastry or paste cross on the Alban bun, rather one which is formed with a knife before baking.
Although Berry and the historian did not discuss the significance of the bun’s ingredients, the spices symbolise those used to embalm Jesus after His crucifixion. I cannot find anything about the meaning of the dried fruit in them, but years ago, I read that it represents the gentle character of Jesus. I have also read that the fruit pieces suggest the drops of blood He shed for us.
For centuries, people ate hot cross buns only on Good Friday in contemplation of the Crucifixion. These days, sadly, they are available nearly all year round.
During the Reformation, England’s Protestants — and, later, Puritans — condemned the eating of hot cross buns as Catholic superstition. During Elizabethan times, one could only purchase them in London on Good Friday, Christmas or for burials.
Historians point out that fruit breads with a cross existed in ancient Greece. The cross made it easier to divide the bread into four pieces.
A number of superstitions about hot cross buns abound. As for them not going stale, I can assure you that they must be eaten within 12 to 18 hours. They get hard as a rock after that. And, yes, they also go mouldy.
Mary Berry makes hot cross buns for her family during Lent. The BBC has made her recipe available.
Berry spent time with Bettina, who is originally from Jamaica and belongs to a Baptist church in Nottingham.
Bettina makes Jamaican buns for the ladies at her church during Lent. They are actually large cakes, served in thin slices, often with Jamaican cheese. The buns are also very dark, because they have stout in them. This recipe looks like the one Bettina uses.
Bettina also made a standard Good Friday dish of escoveitch (ceviche) fish for Berry to try. After marinating in a ceviche manner, Bettina pan fried the fish, basting it regularly. It looked delicious.
She served it with peppers, chocho and chilis. This recipe is like Bettina’s.
Bettina explained that marinating fish in vinegar dates back to the Moors, who introduced it to Spain. The Spanish, in turn, took the technique with them to the New World.
Russian devilled eggs and pascha
Berry met with a Russian Orthodox home cook and a priest, who explained how their Church observes Lent.
Father Peter explained that church members continue to follow the centuries-old vegetarian Lent, which starts two weeks earlier than the Catholic and Protestant one. They do not consume any food at all on Good Friday. Lenten fasting does not end until the Easter Vigil service ends, which is sometime between 3:00 and 3:30 a.m. Afterwards, everyone — including children — enjoys a feast.
Holy Thursday, which the Orthodox call ‘Clean Thursday’, is a busy, yet contemplative day, Father Peter said. It is the traditional spring cleaning day and it is also when the Easter cake, pascha, is made. Pascha is the word for Easter.
Pascha is a cheesecake with dried fruit. It is put into a pyramid mould with a Russian Orthodox cross on one side and ‘XB’ (‘Christ is risen’) on the other.
Another Russian Easter favourite is the devilled egg. A home cook made this for Berry. It involves peeled hard boiled eggs which are left to steep in beet juice. The programme did not mention this, but the red juice symbolises Christ’s blood. After several hours, the eggs are cut in half, the yolks devilled and piped back into the egg white centres. Caviar is a favourite topping.
Berry went to meet a Polish family in Cambridgeshire. They explained the importance of getting their Easter food blessed at church on Holy Saturday. I wrote about that in 2010.
In addition to coloured eggs, onto which the children were busy etching designs, olives are also an important Easter food for the Poles, probably because of their egg-like shape. Both symbolise life.
The husband made Berry a babka, the traditional Easter cake, which takes three days to make properly. Most of that time involves the rise of the enriched dough, similar to a brioche. He used a babka mould, similar to a kugelhopf mould, and added a chocolate insert. You could use a bundt cake mould.
Those who do not care for chocolate can add dried fruit instead.
A number of babka recipes exist, however, I have not been able to find the one this man used, which is the traditional one. He used his mother’s and, watching him make it, that’s definitely the original. Beware of ‘quick’ or ‘easy’ babka recipes. If anyone can point to one, please share the recipe or a link by commenting below. Many thanks!
Incidentally, he explained that ‘babka’ is also a complimentary word for a woman and a gracious name for a grandmother.
I’ll watch next week’s show and let you know what else Mary Berry discovers in the world of Easter food traditions.
Good Friday is the most sorrowful day in the Church calendar as we recall our Lord’s crucifixion for our sins.
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.
This post explains the symbolism and significance of this painting to Good Friday. Please note that the link included no longer works.
Martin Luther tells us how to contemplate Christ’s sufferings:
The following posts also help us to better understand and reflect on what happened on this day:
Good Friday: in whom can we trust? (John 18:12-27)
Before concluding my series on John 17, the following posts about Holy Saturday might interest newer subscribers:
He has already prayed for Himself in advance of the Crucifixion and for His disciples in His absence.
Today’s passage is Jesus’s prayer for us. Emphases mine below.
20“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. 24Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. 25 O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. 26 I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”
If those words do not encourage one to repent, I’m not sure what will.
How marvellous that the Holy Spirit inspired John to include this beautiful prayer in his Gospel, my favourite.
Verses 20 and 21 tells us that not only does Jesus wish for holy unity among His disciples, He desires it for us as well.
That holy unity with each other is not a oneness with lukewarm believers or those in error, by the way. John MacArthur explains:
He’s not praying that some day all denominations will get together and we’ll have one big ecumenical hash. He’s not praying that we’ll have one-world church, as some have thought. He’s simply praying that believers who share common eternal life, the very life of God dwelling in them, will be united in their separation from all that is ungodly and worldly…expressing spiritual love and power and obedience, all affections for God burning with the same flame, all aims directed at the same end, all pursuing the harmony of love and holiness.
Jesus goes on to say that He has shared His own glory with us (verse 22) and He prays that God will unite us ‘perfectly’ with both Himself and the Father, just as they have been perfectly one since before the beginning of the world (verses 23 and 24). That glory enables us to manifest to the world that Christ is our Redeemer and Saviour.
Jesus says that those who believe in Him know that He is the Son of God (verse 25). He has accomplished this during His earthly ministry, now at an end, and will continue to do so afterward (verse 26).
Jesus expresses His enduring, generous love for us in this marvellous prayer. This love is so deep, abiding and comprehensive that we will never be able to appreciate it until we meet Him face to face, sharing His glory.
This is what the Holy Week, Easter, Ascension and Pentecost story is all about. Many of us can hardly wait to be in His presence and give God all glory. And one day we will.
This praying first for our holiness, our oneness in holiness even as the Father and the Son are one in holiness. But secondly, He prays for our eternal fellowship with Him. And this is this most overwhelming thing. This is how the whole prayer ends. It really is overwhelming. “Father, I desire that they also whom Thou hast given Me be with Me where I am.” I mean, there aren’t even too many famous people in this world who are interested in having us around, are they? We’re not many noble, not many mighty. Nobody in the palaces of the world is calling me. Nobody in the Oval Office ever calls me. Nobody in the Supreme Court wants to run around with me. Nobody is interested in most of us. In fact, I guess in some ways we’re sort of the dregs, aren’t we? Especially in this culture we live in today. Is it not remarkable that the glorious Son of the living God prays to His Father that He might have us with Him? Is that not a staggering thing, an overwhelming request? He asks for the Father to grant the eternal presence of all of us with Him …
He’s anticipating the time on the cross and He’s going to be going through the sin bearing and the suffering and He’s really just saying to the Father, “Hang on to them while I’m gone for a while. And, Lord, bring them to glory, I don’t want to lose any of them. Bring them to that place where they’ll trade this vile body for a body like unto His body.” We will have a body like Jesus Christ, reflecting His glory. To be with Jesus, that’s heaven, that’s heaven. To gaze at His glory, that’s heaven. That’s what it is …
And lastly, the final two verses, verses 25 and 26 …
These two verses just breathe the confidence that the Father will listen, that the Father will hear. He said, “I’m only asking for those who know You. I’m only asking for those who are Yours. I have known You,” and that’s the basis for asking, “and these have known You,” and that’s the basis for the petition and the blessing.
Here is a perfect illustration of prayer. He knows the will of God and He prays for it. Prayer is not so much about changing God’s mind about things as it is affirming God’s will. That’s why we pray, “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name, Thy kingdom come…and the next line says…Thy…what?…will be done.” I tell you, when we think about the Lord interceding for us, it is a staggering thing. And the Son always prays like the Spirit, according to the will of God and the Father will always answer.
As I mentioned in my first two posts on John 17, MacArthur has preached extensively about this one chapter in 1972, 1997 and again in 2002. He has several lengthy sermons on this great prayer.
As generous as this prayer is, it is meant for those who truly believe in Christ. MacArthur warns:
And when it says in verse 20: “Who shall believe on Me,” in that word “Me” is everything that Jesus claimed to be and everything that He said … believing in the total content of Christ. The only way a man ever enters into a right relationship with God is by believing in Christ. I don’t care if he goes to church or does this or does that or has religious feelings, it’s only through believing in Christ, accepting His person, His work and everything He said as fact revelation direct from God. Good works, church membership and anything else have absolutely nothing to do with it.
Now pardon for sin, for example, comes by believing. The Bible says that man is a sinner and consequently will pay the penalty, but Christ comes along and pardons His sin by dying on the cross and bearing the penalty Himself. How do you gain this pardon? You gain this pardon by doing something? No. Acts 10:43 says: “Through His name whosoever believeth on Him shall receive remission of sin.” Pardon comes by believing.
The Bible also talks about the fact that a man can be made just before God. You’re dragged into the court of God, God says you’re a sinner, you’re a sinner, you’re a sinner every way you look at it you’re a sinner, every way you slice it, it comes out sin, from the beginning to the end of your life you’re a sinner. How in the world are you ever going to enter into His presence? Well, God has the right to declare you righteous by virtue of what Jesus did for you. But in order to receive that righteousness and be declared just, Acts 13:39 says: “By Him all that believe are righteous.” It is by doing what that we receive righteousness? By believing. You don’t earn it.
The Bible talks about the fact that God wants to make men His children, that He wants to make us sons of God, adopting us into His family. How do you ever get to be adopted into God’s family? How do you become a child of God? John 1:12: “To as many as received Him, to them gave He the right to be called the sons of God, even to them that do what? … believe on His name.”
The Bible talks about spiritual light that is available. How do you get spiritual light to understand spiritual truth? Jesus said: “Whosoever believeth in Me shall not walk in … what? … darkness.” Believing.
The Bible says that God has made available to men peace and joy. How do you get it? Romans 15:13: “Now the God of hope fill you with all peace and joy in believing.” It’s there all the way through the New Testament. Salvation is a matter of believing.
I hope this short series helps to make the Holy Week and Easter story clearer and Jesus Christ more relevant to us.
May we use the time from Easter to Pentecost to contemplate Christ’s immense and eternal love for us. May we turn from sin by asking for more divine grace and profound faith.
Happy Easter to you all!
Before I continue with a miniseries on John 17, newer subscribers might find the following posts about Good Friday helpful:
Good Friday: in whom can we trust? (John 18:12-27)
Incidentally, our Lord’s Crucifixion date showed up in a news email I receive from the French site l’Internaute. It was in their ‘on this day in history’ section. The actual date was April 7, 30 AD.
Now on to today’s topic, which relates to Good Friday, that of John 17 — Christ’s High Priestly Prayer with which He concluded the Last Supper.
Yesterday’s post began a three-part study of this prayer which He prayed before going with the remaining eleven Apostles to await His arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Up to now, Jesus had protected His followers from harm. However, now was His time — as God preordained from the beginning and prophesied in the Old Testament — to die an excruciating death on the Cross for our sins.
The High Priestly Prayer is the only example we have of how Jesus communicated directly with His Father. And, despite the fact that both are divine and have been forever, Jesus still prayed.
Perhaps John included this beautiful and perfect prayer in his Gospel to give us that example in detail. As Christ prayed, so shall we.
This prayer is divided into three parts. The first five verses are Jesus’s prayer for Himself as he meets His Crucifixion. The next several verses — 6 to 19 — are His prayer for the Apostles and disciples now and as they establish the Church.
The third part — covered tomorrow — is His prayer for us.
Today’s entry concentrates on verses 11 – 19, a continuation of His prayer for the disciples. Emphases mine below:
11And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. 12 While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. 13But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. 14 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 15I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.
Jesus acknowledges that His time on earth is coming to an end (verse 11). For that reason, he prays that God protects His followers and keeps them unified in glorifying Him and holy love (verse 11).
Jesus proclaims that He was a faithful shepherd and lost only the one Apostle in name only — Judas — but says that this was part of His Father’s plan as unveiled in the Old Testament (verse 12).
Verse 13 is particularly striking. He wants His followers to experience His own sense of joy in God.
He goes on to state that His disciples are in the world but not of it and, to this end, preserve them from the snares of Satan (verse 15).
He also asks God to keep them holy, following His word — ‘truth’ (verse 17) — during their ministry (verse 18).
In the final verse — 19 — He says that he must set Himself apart — ‘consecrate’ Himself — by dying so that the people God gave Him can be redeemed eternally.
John MacArthur unpacks the verses at length in several sermons from 1972, 1997 and 2002. One of his sentences sums this passage up beautifully:
What He’s really praying for is this…I want them to continue to radiate My glory even when I’m not there. And that is what He prayed for. He prayed that we would manifest the glory of Jesus Christ even in His absence. The glory of God was revealed in Christ on earth and when He left, Jesus said I want My glory revealed in My church, in My disciples, in My people.
Even though His prayer for us comes later in the chapter, we, too, can derive comfort from His intercession for the disciples.
Those of us who went to Catholic or Protestant schools probably remember teachers, religious and clergy telling us to do everything well ‘for His glory’. Some of us probably took it the wrong way from time to time asking why we had to slave for God. Yet, Jesus’s entire life on earth was lived beginning to end ‘for His glory’. And if Jesus felt such a deep desire to please His Father, shouldn’t we in our Christian walk?
In another sermon, MacArthur discusses what this entails:
we have a divine call to holiness. We, in answer to the prayer of Jesus Christ, must radiate holiness. As an individual, I gain it through the Word. And then as we all grow in the Word, there becomes a oneness of holiness that stands as a testimony in the world. I pray, God, that will be our testimony.
He also tells us what this does not entail, contrary to some denominational beliefs:
God wants faith. God does not want your works, He does not want your religion, He does not want your piousity, that’s, you know, being super religious, you all know that. He does not want your activity; He does not want your membership in the church. He wants your faith commitment to the person of Jesus Christ. And that’s the only kind of person who ever knows God, who ever knows Christ and that’s the only person for whom Jesus intercedes. There are a lot of religious people but they are not those for whom Jesus prays. To be a part of Jesus’ intercessory work, you must believe.
As for the unity and oneness which Jesus prayed the disciples would have, MacArthur says:
… there’s an element of this prayer that was fulfilled on the day of Pentecost when the Spirit came and indwelt every believer and continues to do so that we share one common eternal life. There is a spiritual unity that did come to pass in direct answer to this prayer. But I think more than that it’s oneness of a separated body of those who belong to God. It’s a oneness of separation from the world, that we would be one body opposed to the world.
He’s not praying that some day all denominations will get together and we’ll have one big ecumenical hash. He’s not praying that we’ll have one-world church, as some have thought. He’s simply praying that believers who share common eternal life, the very life of God dwelling in them, will be united in their separation from all that is ungodly and worldly…expressing spiritual love and power and obedience, all affections for God burning with the same flame, all aims directed at the same end, all pursuing the harmony of love and holiness.
That’s an essential takeaway message from Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday.
So often, by the end of Lent, we wonder why we made our voluntary effort for personal sacrifices or extra devotions. Easter comes and a week later, it’s all forgotten for another year.
I think of it differently. Perhaps you also share this outlook. Each Lent to me represents a chance to build up faith and holiness — it’s a concentrated, dedicated time of focus, prayer and private contemplation whilst going about our daily lives.
Each Lent gives us a marvellous time to step back, take stock and pray for more faith, holiness and oneness. It’s a chance to ask the Holy Spirit for more fortitude or wisdom, to ask Jesus to make us more like He is, to ask God for more of His divine grace. All those together — and there are millions of more requests like these — enable us to build our path of sanctification.
That path, bearing the fruits of our faith, will never be completed in this life, but, with the help of the Holy Trinity, may it lead ever heavenward with fewer regrets on our part as we take our last breaths here on earth.
In our final moments, may we say that we, albeit imperfectly, lived for His glory.
Before exploring John 17, what follows are my past posts on Maundy (or Holy) Thursday. They explain the events and traditions surrounding the Last Supper in which Christ instructed us to commemorate His Body and Blood through consecrated bread and wine:
Maundy Thursday and the Last Supper: Jesus’s words of comfort (John 14, mentions the divine mystery which is the Holy Trinity)
Now on to a unique chapter in the New Testament, John 17, which reveals how Jesus prayed to His Father.
We often read that Jesus prayed to Him, but often we have only a statement that He did so or a brief prayer of a verse or two. Of course, we have His Lord’s Prayer for our use, however, John 17, the High Priestly Prayer, gives us the fullest sense of how Christ communicated with God during His time on earth.
As there is much to look at here via John MacArthur’s many sermons on this chapter through the years (1972, 1997 and 2002), it is best covered in three parts. Emphases mine below.
The first is Jesus’s prayer for Himself and a review of His earthly ministry. He said these words after a long discourse and discussion at the Last Supper (John 13 through John 16):
1When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, 2since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. 3 And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. 4I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. 5And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.
6 “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. 8For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. 9I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. 10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them.
Verses 1 – 5
In the first five verses Jesus prays for Himself. He knows His Crucifixion is approaching (verse 1), but instead of praying for the ability of enduring unimaginable pain through scourging, piercing and hanging on the Cross, He instead prays for the ability to glorify God on this fateful day (verse 2).
Jesus knew He would die crucified. Of this, there was no doubt or no ‘plan gone wrong’. This is what He was sent to accomplish.
Note that He is also aware that it is time for Him to shortly rejoin His Father in heaven and regain the glory they shared together ‘before the world existed’ (verse 5). John includes this in the opening verses of his Gospel (John 1:1-3):
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.
Also notice that in verse 2 Jesus specifically mentions the granting of eternal life to all whom God has given to Him. Therefore, not everyone will be saved, only those whom God has given to Jesus Christ. He refers to this again in the next several verses.
John 6 tells us that Jesus also talks about this in verses 37-40:
37 All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. 38For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. 39And this is the will of him who sent me,that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. 40For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”
John MacArthur unpacks these first five verses for us in light of the Crucifixion:
To men the cross appears as an instrument of shame, to Christ it meant glory … glory … glory. And so He says, look at it — verse 1, “The hour is come,” what’s the next statement? What’s the next word? “Glorify Thy Son.” How are You going to do that? How You going … to lift Him up and make Him king of Israel? How [are] You going to glorify the Son? How was He glorified? On a cross, wasn’t He?
Now, it seems strange because from a human viewpoint you’d think He would say — Father, exalt Me now to some great role of rule in the world. If it was real glory why you wouldn’t think it would have anything to do with suffering, but it does. Because, you see, the glory came in the purchase of eternal life and the purchase of eternal life depended upon death and so He had to die. And so, Jesus is simply saying – Father, grant that by means of this event, My death … and you must include death, resurrection, ascension and coronation all in it … that by means of this event I may be glorified.
Now, to glorify God or to glorify Christ means to render what is due because of the glory of His attributes. Because of who He is and because of the display of all of His attributes it is to render Him the honor that He is due. And so Christ is simply saying — Father, let’s get at it so I can display these attributes and receive the honor that is due. The cross was glory for Jesus.
Now some have said — Well, Jesus had an ego problem. And He was very selfish. He was saying — Glorify Me. But if you look at the verse again you’ll see that that’s not the case. It says this: “Glorify Thy Son — hina— in order that Thy Son also … what? … may glorify Thee.” See, He didn’t even have Himself in view. He had the Father’s glory in view. And what’s the key to the whole universe? The glory of God.
God planned into His master plan, the death of Jesus Christ who atoned for the sins of the world. That makes the men who did it no less responsible for their own guilt and their own hate and their own unbelief. But God had designed the death of Christ as a part of His plan. He was born to die.
Why, you read Isaiah 53 and you’ll read the details of His death. You read Psalm 22; centuries before He was ever born, and it gives explicit instruction about what He’s going to say when He’s hanging on the cross, the very words are there. It was no accident when Jesus went to the cross, no accident at all. The cross and all the events ignited by the cross, the resurrection, the ascension and the coronation of Christ and His second coming even, all of those events ignited by the cross were planned by God before the world began, it was no accident. The sovereign God of history said it would happen, prophesied throughout the entire Old Testament that it would happen and it happened. The cross was no accident. Jesus Christ was not just a self-styled martyr dying as an example of a guy who thought something was right and willing to give His life for it. He died as one foreordained before the world began to bear the sins of the world.
Verses 6 – 10
In verses 6 – 19, Jesus prays for His disciples. We’ll look at verses 11-19 tomorrow.
The message here is that Jesus has worked with the people God gave Him. Early in His ministry, Jesus prayed in isolation to make the right choice when selecting His Apostles; here, He acknowledges God gave those men to Him. In turn, Jesus taught them as His Father wished and revealed God to them through Himself.
He also tells God that the men have been faithful to His teachings. He knows — and we know through the Gospels — that they were not perfect, but they attempted to be, with the exception of Judas Iscariot. And God planned Judas’s betrayal, too.
as Jesus prays for His disciples, that it is a very specific prayer, He’s praying for the eleven Apostles and for the few disciples that were also with Him. Now you know that there’s a difference between an apostle and a disciple. There are only eleven Apostles plus Matthias who made up the twelfth [later in Acts], plus whom? Paul [also later in Acts]. But then they were specific. But of all of the others who believed in Him, they are all disciples. They are all disciples. Now apostles are also disciples, but not all disciples are apostles, there were only eleven plus Matthias, plus Paul. There are a total of thirteen if you want to include Judas in there; he was by name an apostle, not in fact.
All right, so you and I are disciples but we’re not apostles. Right? So, others who followed Jesus were disciples but they weren’t in that group that belonged to the Apostles.
Now, Jesus then in this prayer, verses 6 to 19, directs His thoughts to this little group of eleven plus the others who believed in Him. How many were there? We don’t know. Maybe 500, for that’s how many saw Him after His resurrection, there were 120 in the upper room praying together, waiting for the Spirit of God and so perhaps somewhere around 500 would be a maximum. Can you imagine the Son of God in human flesh, 33 years on the earth and when it was all over with, 500 believed? But Jesus was pleased because they were the 500 the Father gave Him, see. And they were the 500 who were about to do the impossible …
You say — Well, He’s just specifically praying for them? Yes, but in a general sense you will see in this the pattern of His mediating work for all believers because it’s so … it’s so much the same for us. It’s very general.
Now, the disciples, as you know including the eleven and I’ll use the word disciples collectively to refer to all of them; the disciples had really depended upon Jesus Christ. So much so that the thought of losing Him paralyzed them, didn’t it? And He knew in His own heart that even with all the promises that He’d given them in the table-talks in chapter 14, 15 and 16, with all of those wonderful promises, it was really going to be trauma when it all finally broke and when they saw what happened, they were going to scatter as sheep just to the winds … when the shepherd was smitten. And He knew that. And He knew that it would hurt. And He knew that it was going to be a shock like no shock they had ever had. And so, He comes to the Father, not only does He lay on them all these promises one after the other, but He comes to the Father and He prays — Now, Father, make it all happen, care for them. I have to give them to You.
While He was going to go to the cross and bear the sins of the world, He committed them to the care of the Father, that’s essentially what we see here. And though Jesus had promised that He would return, in the form of the Holy Spirit, and that that would even be better because He would not be just with them, He’d be in them, though He had given them all kinds of promises He knew that they were still heading to a trial that would shatter them and so He now prays that the Father would keep them. He had always been their guide, He had always been their guardian, He’d always been their all-sufficient friend, He had borne their infirmities, He had upheld their weaknesses, He had protected them from evil. And He loves them with the fullest capacity of God to love, in the gentleness that is uniquely Jesus Christ; He gives the Father the task of caring for them while He goes to the cross to die for them. You know, you’d think that Jesus Christ somewhere along the line would get a little bit preoccupied with His own problem, but He never does. All He can think about is — Father, Listen, I love them so much I’m going to go die for them, and while I’m dying for them will You watch them?
Tomorrow: John 17:11-19
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!