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The painting above is by the Renaissance artists Lucas Cranach the Elder and Lucas Cranach the Younger, father and son. Lucas Cranach the Younger finished the painting in 1555. It is the centre altar painting in Sts Peter and Paul (Lutheran) Church in Weimar, Germany. Read more about it:

Meditations on the Cross

I have a variety of posts on Good Friday. The following three concern Martin Luther’s view of the Crucifixion:

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

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

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

The next set of posts present a number of perspectives on the Crucifixion:

Reflections on the Crucifixion

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

Holy Week and Easter — the two-part story

The greatest reality show ends with a popular vote

Barabbas: an inspiration for liberation theology?

John MacArthur’s sermon on Matthew 27  — ‘The Wickedness of the Crucifixion, Part 2’ — is one of the most comprehensive expositories on the events that we contemplate on Good Friday.

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.

The scourging

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!

The mocking

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

The crucifixion

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.”

A statement

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.

Amen.

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jesus-praying-mount-of-olives-leadedglassworldcomThe evening of Maundy Thursday marks the beginning of the Triduum — ‘three days’ in Latin — the most important days in the Church calendar, which conclude Easter evening.

Find out how Passover was celebrated in Jesus’s time and how important the Last Supper is to Christianity:

John MacArthur on Passover as celebrated at the Last Supper

Passover, the Last Supper and the New Covenant

It is important to know that some Jews held this supper on Thursday and others on Friday, according to John MacArthur (emphases mine):

There actually were two different evenings when the Passover was celebrated. I’ll just leave it at this. The northern people in Galilee celebrated it on Thursday evening while the Judeans, the Sadducees and the people in the south celebrated it on Friday evening. This is perfect, so that Jesus could celebrate the Passover with His friends in Galilee when they celebrated it on Thursday and still die as the Passover lamb on Friday at the time when the southern Judeans were slaughtering their lambs for their Passover. So there are actually two times; on Thursday for those in the north, and on Friday for those in the south. And that’s an important reckoning because there are texts in John’s gospel, in particular, that make it necessary to understand that.

This is because of the difference in the way the two groups of Jews calculated their days:

Study Josephus. Study the Mishnah, the codification of Jewish law and other historical sources. You find that the Jews in the north and the Jewish people in the south, the Galileans say as opposed to the Judeans, had different ways of calculating their days. These chronological aspects have been a wonderful study in anybody’s…anybody who makes an effort to studying this in the New Testament is greatly enriched by it. But in the north, they calculated days from sunrise to sunrise…sunrise to sunrise. That was a day. Whereas in the south, they calculated the day from sunset to sunset. So that’s a very clear distinction. In Galilee, where Jesus and all the disciples except Judas, had grown up, they calculated days from sunrise to sunrise. So the fourteenth of Nissan was sunrise on Thursday to sunrise on Friday. That puts the Passover Thursday night. For the Jews in the south, it was sunset to sunset, so that puts it in late Friday for the southern Jews. Same day calculated two different ways. And that worked well for the Jews.

By the way, the Pharisees tended to go with the northern approach. The Sadducees who were all around Jerusalem tended to go, of course, with the southern approach. What that did was solve a couple of problems. It split the number of animals to be killed into two different periods, Thursday night and Friday night. It also reduced what were called regional clashes cause the southern people didn’t think too highly of the northern people. So it just was easier to have them separated.

Holy Communion stained glass home2romeThe posts below are resources for John’s Gospel, which provides the fullest description of the Last Supper and Jesus’s final discourses to the Apostles:

‘One of you will betray Me’ (John 13)

Maundy Thursday and the Last Supper: Jesus’s words of comfort (John 14)

John 17 — the High Priestly Prayer: parts 1, 2 and 3

These posts discuss the words of consecration, which Jesus used at the Last Supper and continue to be part of Christian liturgy today:

Forbidden Bible Verses — Matthew 26:26-29

Forbidden Bible Verses — Mark 14:22-25

Peter’s three denials of Jesus took place after His arrest. Jesus foretold this when He and the Apostles were at the Mount of Olives that night:

Forbidden Bible Verses — Mark 14:26-31

So much happened that day. The Apostles had no idea what would happen on Friday. But Jesus knew full well, which is why He spent hours in prayer while the Twelve slept nearby.

Judas 9363-pact-of-judas-duccio-di-buoninsegnaWednesday in Holy Week is known by some traditionalist Christians as Spy Wednesday.

Find out why:

Judas offers his services

More on Spy Wednesday

More on Judas

The reading for Wednesday of Holy Week is John 13:21-32.

The painting shown is Judas Betrays Christ (1308-1311) by Duccio di Buoninsegna (1255-1319). Art and the Bible tells us that it refers to Matthew 26:15. Here are the relevant verses from Matthew 26 to put it in better context:

14 Then one of the twelve, whose name was Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests 15 and said, “What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?” And they paid him thirty pieces of silver. 16 And from that moment he sought an opportunity to betray him.

This is what happened on Good Friday (Matthew 27:3-10). Emphases mine:

Then when Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus[a] was condemned, he changed his mind and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” They said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” And throwing down the pieces of silver into the temple, he departed, and he went and hanged himselfBut the chief priests, taking the pieces of silver, said, “It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, since it is blood money.” So they took counsel and bought with them the potter’s field as a burial place for strangers. Therefore that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day. 9 Then was fulfilled what had been spoken by the prophet Jeremiah, saying, “And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him on whom a price had been set by some of the sons of Israel, 10 and they gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord directed me.”

Matthew Henry’s commentary has this analysis:

27:1-10 Wicked men see little of the consequences of their crimes when they commit them, but they must answer for them all. In the fullest manner Judas acknowledged to the chief priests that he had sinned, and betrayed an innocent person. This was full testimony to the character of Christ; but the rulers were hardened. Casting down the money, Judas departed, and went and hanged himself, not being able to bear the terror of Divine wrath, and the anguish of despair. There is little doubt but that the death of Judas was before that of our blessed Lord. But was it nothing to them that they had thirsted after this blood, and hired Judas to betray it, and had condemned it to be shed unjustly? Thus do fools make a mock at sin. Thus many make light of Christ crucified. And it is a common instance of the deceitfulness of our hearts, to make light of our own sin by dwelling upon other people’s sins. But the judgment of God is according to truth. Many apply this passage of the buying the piece of ground, with the money Judas brought back, to signify the favour intended by the blood of Christ to strangers, and sinners of the Gentiles. It fulfilled a prophecy, Zec 11:12. Judas went far toward repentance, yet it was not to salvation. He confessed, but not to God; he did not go to him, and say, I have sinned, Father, against heaven. Let none be satisfied with such partial convictions as a man may have, and yet remain full of pride, enmity, and rebellion.

John MacArthur, who wrote his seminary dissertation on Judas, tells us (emphases in bold in the original, purple highlights mine):

No man could be more evil than Judas Iscariot. Only eleven other men in all of history have had the intimate, personal relationship he had with the incarnate Son of God, No man has ever been more exposed to God’s perfect truth, both in precept and example. No man has been more exposed firsthand to God’s love, compassion, power, kindness, forgiveness, and grace. No man has had more evidence of Jesus’ divinity or more firsthand knowledge of the way of salvation. Yet in all of those three indescribably blessed years with Jesus, Judas did not take so much as the first step of faith.

In a way that defies comprehension, Judas persistently resisted and rejected God’s truth, God’s grace, and even God’s own Son. Also in a way that defies understanding, he managed to completely conceal his wicked rebellion from everyone but Jesus. His hypocrisy was so complete and deceptive that even when Jesus predicted that one of the disciples would betray Him, Judas was not suspected.

Judas was so totally trapped in the darkness and corruption of sin that he became a willing instrument of Satan. Because this false disciple had totally renounced Christ, “Satan entered into Judas who was called Iscariot” (Luke 22:3), and it was then a simple matter to persuade him to betray Jesus (John 13:2). Judas’s heart was so utterly hardened to the things of God that long before he consciously considered betraying Him, Jesus called him a devil (John 6:70).

Even so, Judas could not escape the divinely designed signal of guilt that reminds men of their sin and warns them of its consequences. Just as pain is an intrinsic and automatic warning of physical danger, guilt is an intrinsic and automatic warning of spiritual danger. It was not that Judas suddenly became afraid of God, else he would have turned in desperation to the One he knew could forgive him. Nor was he afraid of men. Although he was now discarded and despised by the Jewish leaders, they had no reason to harm him. It was rather that Judas suddenly realized the horrible wrongness of what he had done. An innate awareness of right and wrong is divinely built into every human being and cannot be totally erased, no matter how deep a person may fall into depravity or how consciously and rebelliously he may turn against God. This is intensified by the convicting pressure of the Spirit of God.

Judas’s remorse was not repentance of sin, as the King James version suggests. Matthew did not use metanoeo, which means a genuine change of mind and will, but metamelomai, which merely connotes regret or sorrow. He did not experience spiritual penitence but only emotional remorse. Although he would not repent of his sin, he could not escape the reality of his guilt. Genuine sorrow for sin (metamelomai) can be prompted by God in order to produce repentance (metanoeo), as Paul declares in 2 Corinthians 7:10. But Judas’s remorse was not prompted by God to lead to repentance but only to guilt and despair.

Because he was a kind of witness against Jesus, perhaps Judas thought that by admitting the wickedness of what he had done he would be punished as a false witness, as Deuteronomy 19:16–19 prescribed. Under that provision, he would have been crucified himself, suffering the penalty imposed on the one he caused to be falsely convicted. Instead of looking to Jesus’ for forgiveness and trusting in His atoning death, Judas’s perverted mind may have led him to believe that by dying he somehow could atone for his own sin.

Proof that Judas’s sorrow was ungodly and selfish is seen in the fact that he made no effort to defend or rescue Jesus. He had no desire to vindicate or save Jesus but only to salve his own conscience, which he attempted to do by returning the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders.

Heretics masquerading as Christians can write as much revisionist baloney as they like and make notionally new and revealing documentaries about Judas. They are wrong. Enough said.

Around the time that Jesus cleansed the temple during His last Passover week, He cursed a fig tree that was not bearing fruit.

Matthew and Mark record this slightly differently.

Matthew’s account is in Chapter 21. The fig tree episode is placed after the cleansing of the temple.

Mark’s account is in Chapter 11, where it bookends the cleansing of the temple (verses 12-14 and 20-25).

It is interesting that neither account of Jesus cursing the fig tree is in the three-year Lectionary for public worship. That said, Mark 11:20-25 — The Lesson from the Withered Fig Tree — is included.

I wrote about Matthew 21:18-22 in March 2016. This is about more than a hungry Jesus being unable to find and eat a fig:

This is an allegory for the curse to come to the Jews for their unbelief and hard hearts. Remember that the Romans destroyed the temple in 70 AD. No replacement was ever built.

The fig tree with leaves and no fruit symbolises the Jewish people of His day. The hierarchy were hypocrites, with one set of rules for themselves and an onerous one for ordinary Jews. The religious leaders felt that Jesus threatened their prestige and power. Instead of seeing Him as their long-awaited Messiah, foretold in so many places in Scripture, they plotted to kill Him. They looked religious — just as the fig tree looked fruitful, covered in leaves as it was. However, just as the leaders were devoid of faith and dead in sin, so the fig tree was devoid of fruit. Under the principles of divine judgement, both would have to go.

The ordinary people were no better. How many thousands followed Him to be amazed? How many followed Him and came to believe He was their Saviour? Very few.

This allegory also relates to Christians who look pious outwardly but have empty hearts with no faith. Works won’t make up for a lack of faith. True fruits of faith come spontaneously (emphases mine):

Fruit is a spontaneous product of real faith. It’s checking in on a sickly neighbour not because you think you ought to, but because you want to. It’s helping other people because you personally feel the urge to do so. Fruit is praying as if you were talking to a friend several times a day, whether asking for divine grace and assistance or giving thanks for blessings received.

My post on Matthew has good quotes from John MacArthur on those verses, including this one:

some of you are not seeing God work in your life simply because there’s no persistence in your prayer. There’s no continuance in your prayer. There’s no strengthening. You don’t get an answer so you quit. And it’s not mustard seed, it’s something else. Mustard seeds start small, gets big.

I wrote about Mark 11:12-14 in 2012. The themes explored in that post relate to true worship and a nation’s health. It dovetails nicely with yesterday’s post, ‘Monday of Holy Week: the righteous anger of Jesus towards the money changers’. In 2012, I wrote:

It is time for more of us to return to the Bible, to prayer, to faith. We can see that our apostasy — again, generally speaking — is spreading to our nations and governments, allowing evil to gain a foothold. What did Jesus and the authors of the Epistles say? Repent, repent, repent. All is not lost, however, we must mend our ways starting today.

A corrupt Church means a corrupt nation.

Yes, Christ’s bride the Church will ultimately prevail, but it is time to reread Revelation 2 and 3, namely, His letters to the seven churches: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.

It’s odd, isn’t it, that not one of those letters is in the Lectionary. Not a single one.

John MacArthur’s sermon on those verses has this:

The direct application of the curse is to the temple, but it expands to the temple leadership and the temple participants and thus to the nation and becomes very personal…very personal. Paul says they had a zeal for God but not according to knowledge. They made a fatal flaw. They didn’t worship idols, that wasn’t what they did, that’s what caused the destruction of the first temple. And an idol caused the destruction of the second temple. The destruction of this temple is not about idols, it’s about thinking you can establish your own righteousness, Romans 10 …

He went to the temple at the beginning. He went to the temple at the end. And He confronted the corruption of Israel’s religion all three years in between. When the temple is corrupt, it’s because the leaders are corrupt. When the leaders are corrupt, the people are corrupt. When the people are corrupt, the nation is corrupt. If it’s bad in the temple, it’s bad everywhere. And I say to you in a general sense, the measure of any society is its worship. You cannot judge a people by their economic status. You cannot judge a nation by its economics. God doesn’t. You can’t judge a nation by its social equity. You can’t judge a nation by its concern for protection of people from harm. That’s superficial. You judge a nation by its worship. That’s how God judges. And it’s worship that determines eternal destiny.

The Lord always goes to the temple, to the heart of worship … Judgment always begins with the house of God.

Holy Week is the ideal time, in light of these historical events, for us to take stock of our personal spiritual situation. Are we Christians for appearance’s sake, in public but not in private? Or are we truly on the road to sanctification, becoming ever closer to Jesus and God the Father in our daily journey?

John MacArthur says that the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, which we commemorate on Palm Sunday, actually took place on a Monday, which means that His cleansing of the temple took place on a Tuesday.

As I’d like to look at another event that happened 24 hours later, let us look at the righteous anger of Jesus towards the money changers today.

I wrote about Matthew 21:12-13 in 2009, discussing the reason for and the nature of Jesus’s anger:

Jesus and the money changers

John MacArthur has more on this scene, which created quite a stir, since the temple was teeming with people attempting to buy a proper animal for ritual sacrifice. In reality, these money changers — and those selling sacrificial animals — were running an organised racket.

Excerpts follow from MacArthur’s ‘Purging the Perverted Temple’, which examines Matthew 21:12-17:

12 And Jesus entered the temple[b] and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. 13 He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.”

14 And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he healed them. 15 But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying out in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were indignant, 16 and they said to him, “Do you hear what these are saying?” And Jesus said to them, “Yes; have you never read,

“‘Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies
    you have prepared praise’?”

17 And leaving them, he went out of the city to Bethany and lodged there.

Emphases mine below.

Now as we approach verses 12 to 17, which is the temple encounter, I want us to look at it from a very special perspective. I want us to see it as the presentation of Jesus’ Messianic credentials. I believe what He does is give the populous of Jerusalem and most specifically the chief priests and scribes a very clear testimony as to the nature of His Kingliness and the nature of His Kingdom. He makes a statement here that could never be misunderstood.

Now remember that from the first demonstration that really ever happened around Jesus in Galilee … He revealed His great power, His miracle ability. The people had tried to take Him and make Him a king by force so that He would overthrow Rome and provide all that they needed socially and economically and militarily and so forth. And all through His ministry, He had resisted those attempts. Whenever they tried to make Him a king, He resisted that. And on Monday, as we saw last time, in a great statement about the nature of His kingship, He had ridden into the city for His coronation on the foal of a donkey, sitting on a used robe thrown over that donkey by one of the disciples while people threw tree branches and old clothes in His path. He was weaponless and His retinue was a group of common nobodies. And He was saying, in effect, the nature of My Kingdom is not as the kingdoms of this world. You see no pomp and glory, you see no earthly majesty, you see no military might. But still in their hearts, they hoped that He would do that, that He would overthrow the Roman yoke, that He would break the bands of the Roman oppressor, that He would free them to the nobility they themselves believed as Jews that they should have, the nobility that comes only to free people.

And just to be sure that they haven’t missed His message, He enters into the temple and demonstrates to them again the nature of His kingliness and the nature of His Kingdom. And it is a far broader, a far greater demonstration even then was His lowly inauguration.

Now I want you to look at these verses and mark the kingly credentials of Christ. First of all, He showed He was on a divine mission…He showed He was on a divine mission. And that is simply pointed out in the first statement of verse 12, “And Jesus went into the temple of God.”

Now, there are some manuscripts that eliminate “of God,” some good manuscripts that eliminate it. There are some other good manuscripts that include it. It’s one of the more difficult textual issues to try to resolve …

He went to God’s temple. Now this to say that He was on a divine mission. I mean, that was His turf, you understand that? I mean, if He had done what the people wanted Him to do, He would have gone to Fort Antonius because Fort Antonius because Fort Antonius housed the Roman army, the Roman garrison. Or He would have gone to the abode of Pilate and He would have started the military coup. He would have overthrown Pilate and all of his retinue or He would have eliminated the Roman army and liberated the land and the people. But He didn’t go there. He didn’t go there at all, He went to the temple of God. That was where He wanted to be.

You see, the temple is the issue, not Rome

And this ought to be abundantly clear to any student of the New Testament because when Jesus came the first time to Jerusalem, this is exactly where He went also. And if you go back to John chapter 2 and notice verses 13 to 17, you will find there how He began His ministry at a Passover. And the Jews’ Passover was at hand. Jesus went to Jerusalem, found in the temple those that sold oxen and sheep and doves and the changers of money sitting. And when He made a whip of small cords, He drove them all out of the temple and the sheep and the oxen and poured out the changers money and overthrew the tables and said to them that sold doves, “Take these things from here, make not My Father’s house a house of merchandise.”

So, when He started His ministry, He started it at the temple and when He ends it, He ends it at the temple. Now I submit to you that He’s seen a lot of things in the years intervening. He has seen social injustice. He has seen economic inequities. He has seen oppression by the Romans. He has seen deprivation. He has seen the poor suffering abuse. He has seen lot of things. But His mission never changes. His whole ministry here is given very clear perspective. He was concerned with how people worshiped, with how people worshiped. He was concerned with their relationship to God, not their relationship to earthly kingdoms. It wasn’t so important to Him how it was with men and men as it was with men and God, you understand that? And so by going to the temple as the first official act after His inauguration, He is identifying for us clearly the turf, or the territory of His mission.

Peter picked it up from the Lord and said it this way in 1 Peter 4:17, “Judgment must begin at the house of God.” It begins at the house of God. As long as things were wrong in the house of God, they would be wrong in the nation. You see, the measure of any society is the relation it has to God. Worship is the issue. Read Romans 1, worship is always the issue. The problem with society is not that it has bad laws, the problem with society is not that it has human inequities. The problem with society is that it has abandoned God. And some would accuse us of being indifferent to the national political issues, indifferent to the social issues and the social scene, that is not true. We are not indifferent to those things but we know what Jesus knew and what Peter reiterated, that judgment must begin at the house of God …

Therefore, when Christians — Americans, in particular — advocate prayer for their own country, they are saying, ‘Look, we need to get right with God and national blessings will follow’. It is not necessarily a matter of saying, ‘My country has a certain divine exceptionalism about it’, it is more a case of social and political structures improving once more people improve their relationship with God through His Son Jesus Christ.

MacArthur describes the temple layout, which is in a series of courts — courtyards — each of which served a particular purpose. The money changers and the sellers of sacrificial elements were in the Court of the Gentiles:

And you paid dearly for those concessions because here’s how the system worked. Every offering had to be approved by the priests, right? When you finally got into the Court of the Israelites and you brought what you were going to give, it had to be approved. And maybe they had approving stations even before you got that far in. But the priests had to say your sacrifice is okay, and the odds were that if you bought it outside the temple, it was not going to be approved. If you had raised a lamb way out where you lived and brought that little lamb in to be offered, they’d say that lamb is not acceptable, you must have a lamb purchased in the Court of the Gentiles. Go see So-and-so. And so you’d go to buy a lamb from him, only according to Edersheim, the great Jewish historian, you would pay ten times the value of that lamb. So you were extorted, you were fleeced to reverse the picture a little. You were taken by robbers.

Poor people, according to Levitical law, didn’t have to bring a lamb because they couldn’t afford lamb, so they were allowed to have a dove or a pigeon in the place of a lamb. And most historians feel that in today’s currency, a couple of birds might be worth a nickel or a dime. But you would have paid four or five dollars for them there. And if you wanted to exchange your money because you had to have exactly a half shekel so you had to have the right change, and if you came from a foreign country with foreign currency and it had to be changed, you would pay twenty-five percent fee just to make small change.

And so, you can see that they would pay dearly for concessions inside the temple, right? Because they would work along with the priests to extort the people, to cheat the people. All this in the name of religion, if you can imagine. All this in the name of religion.

But this is Jesus’ turf because this is the house of God. And it has been turned into a cave for robbers. And so He comes and sees this horrifying but familiar scene. And it says to us something so important, it says that Christ came first of all to deal with men on a spiritual level, you understand that? That’s the point. He came to throw out corrupt worship and to bring in true worship. He is on a divine mission.

Second point, He has divine authority. He has divine authority. If we can’t see that He’s the Messiah because of His mission, boy, we ought to see that He’s the Messiah because of His authority. Now listen, the most powerful thing going on in that country was the temple … if you walked passed the Gate Beautiful, for example, and you were a Gentile, the Romans had given them the right to kill you. They had plenty of power. They had great authority within the walls of that temple precinct area.

the last thing that could have happened to themselves would have been to be made shameful in the eyes of the population of the city by some Galilean would-be Messiah, but that’s exactly what happened. Against all of what you would think would happen, it happened. It simply says, “He cast out all them that sold and bought,” just threw them all out. Not only the sellers but the buyers, too. He just threw everybody out of there that was involved in that enterprise. And the leaders, they couldn’t stop Him. There was no way

And then Mark adds a wonderful note. He says in Mark 11:16 that He wouldn’t allow anybody to carry any vessel through the temple … And they apparently were using the temple area just like a thoroughfare, a street like any other public street and He just stopped that immediately. And nobody carried anything through there.

It may also imply that nobody carried anything out of there. That they had to get thrown out and left all their debris there. Now if you can get all those people to split and run and leave their stuff behind, they’re scared. Now this is the same Jesus riding on the colt, the foal of an ass, meek and lowly and humble.

He came meek and lowly. He came as one who was to die in humility. But at the same time, He also gave a glorious demonstration of the reason for which He came and that is to change men from false worshipers to true worshipers. And so He went to the temple. He never used the same power He had to overthrow Rome, the only thing He wanted to do was clean up their corrupt worship. What power. I just wish I could have been there to see it. He kicked over everything, created chaos and they fled.

You say, “Well, why didn’t they stop Him?” Why didn’t they stop Him? They couldn’t…they couldn’t. I mean, they were pressed, the chief priests. They were really pressed because the crowd was hailing Him as the Messiah, for one thing. Secondly, the people hated the b[a]za[ar]s of Annas. By the way, they themselves started an insurrection that put them out of business, even before 70 A.D. when the temple was destroyed. So the people were with Him …

There’s a third credential that I want you to see in verse 13. He not only showed He was on a divine mission and demonstrated divine authority, but He revealed a commitment to divine Scripture. He revealed a commitment to divine Scripture. See, He vindicates what He does by this in verse 13. “He said unto them, It is written.” And then He quotes Isaiah 56:7, “My house shall be called the house of prayer.” And Isaiah adds and Mark also includes, “Of all nations.” Matthew leaves it out because his audience is primarily Jewish.

But the Lord says I vindicate what I do because I am doing something consistent with the Word of God. Oh, that’s so great. As Messiah He was always hooked to the Word of God. In John He says, “I never do anything that the Father doesn’t show Me to do. I never do anything that the Father doesn’t tell Me to do.” Everything He ever did was consistent with the Word of God. He vindicates His anger by basing it on Scripture. He says, Isaiah said it, God said through him, “My house shall be called the house of prayer.” See, the temple was to be a place of prayer. It was to be a quiet place, a place of worship, a place of devotion, a place of meditation, a place of contemplation, a place of confession, a place of prayer, a place of praise, a place where people went to commune with God, to seek God, to open their hearts to God, not to be a business, not a stockyard, not a crooked bank, not a thoroughfare for people carrying on their worldly business …

There’s a fourth thing I want you to see. He not only shows His divine mission, His divine authority, and His commitment to the divine Word, but we see Him as the Messiah because of His divine compassion. As I said, for a moment, the place was clean. And in that moment verse 14 comes to beautifully to us, “And the blind and the lame came to Him in the temple and He healed them.” He’s still there. He’s standing there in the midst of all the debris and it’s clean for a moment. And here come the blind and the lame who always hung around the temple anyway because that’s where God was and that’s where the people were and they needed to beg from the people and they needed to beg from God so that was the best place to be. And they, no doubt, filled the Court of the Gentiles, begging God and men for help. And when Jesus did that, you would have thought that they would have also gotten out of there one way or another. I mean, if the fury of Jesus was enough to dispense all the able bodied people, I mean, if they ran for their lives under His authority, we would think that these people would be cowering in some dark corner…scared to death. But not so, because ever and always in Jesus Christ is the perfect exhibited balance of holy vengeance and compassion.

And so, those who were guilty see His anger and those who are true seekers see His compassion. It’s marvelous. And He stands in the temple and they come to Him. I love that. I love that. You see, if you want to see the compassion of God in Christ, you see it in His healing ministry …

And then another mark of divine credential, if you will. We see His divine mission, His divine authority, His commitment to the divine Word, divine compassion and also His divine power…and we can’t ignore that. Verse 14 says that He healed them. I mean, that is a display of divine power. He just healed them all, the blind, the lame and they’re probably only representative of the deaf and the dumb and whoever else was ill and begging. And He healed them in front of everybody that was left. And everybody else would have known very soon when they started running around town saying, “Hey, it’s us, only now we see and hear and speak and walk.” And even the chief priests in verse 15 saw the wonderful things that He did.

The chief priests were livid. They cared only for themselves, not the notional little people. They became angrier when the children sang His praises.

And Jesus says, “Have you heard this, Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings,” two Hebrew words used in Psalm 8:2 to refer to infants under the age of three because Hebrew mothers suckled their babies until they were about three, “Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings, Thou has perfected praise.”

Jesus then took His leave and returned to Bethany for the night.

In conclusion, MacArthur warns that we cannot be lukewarm about Jesus Christ:

You either embrace the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior or you refuse Him. You either stand with, as it were, in the symbolic sense the children singing His praises, or the religious leaders whom He leaves and to whom He has nothing more to say.

Anyone in any doubt would do well to make the most of recalling the biblical events surrounding Holy Week in preparation for Easter, the greatest feast in the Church year. Pray and study the Gospels.

We now start the holiest week in the Church calendar, the days between Palm Sunday and Easter.

Lazarus Saturday

The Saturday before Palm Sunday is known by the Eastern Orthodox Church and Eastern Catholic Churches (Byzantine Rite) as Lazarus Saturday, recalling Jesus’s last healing miracle when he raised his friend from the dead (John 11:1-45, ESV). Read more about the story and the traditions behind it:

Holy Week begins tomorrow – today is Lazarus Saturday

Our Church of England parish had John 11:1-45 as last Sunday’s Gospel reading (April 2, 2017). Our priest’s sermon centred around God directing events in His own time, not ours. Jesus’s timed his response to Lazarus’s death in obedience to His Father.

Lazarus was Martha and Mary’s brother. The three, who lived in Bethany, were good friends of Jesus. When Lazarus fell ill, Martha and Mary sent word to Him:

But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”

Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus[a] was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.

Then, He told the disciples that Lazarus had fallen asleep and He would go to awaken him. The disciples thought that He spoke of normal sleeping:

14 Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died, 15 and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”

When they reached the outskirts of Bethany, two miles from Jerusalem, they discovered that Lazarus had been buried for four days. Mary was in the house, as many people were paying their respects. Martha left to greet Jesus, and showed that she understood Jesus and His Father, although she was not expecting what was to come (emphases mine):

21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.”

What followed is one of the most beautiful exchanges in the New Testament:

23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life.[d] Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” 27 She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”

Martha went home to fetch Mary, saying that the Teacher wanted to see her. Of course, the mourners also followed. Note the varied reactions:

32 Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved[e] in his spirit and greatly troubled. 34 And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus wept. 36 So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?”

They walked to the tomb. The King James Version of verse 39 is more striking than any other:

39 Jesus said, Take ye away the stone. Martha, the sister of him that was dead, saith unto Him, Lord, by this time he stinketh: for he hath been dead four days.

Returning to the ESV for the rest of the story:

40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?”

It is important to note that God wanted Jesus to raise Lazarus from the dead in front of others, not just Martha and Mary, who already believed in Him. Observe that the first thing Jesus did was to thank His Father for giving Him this opportunity to foreshadow His own Resurrection:

41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.” 43 When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” 44 The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

45 Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him,

However, others went to report the resurrection to the Pharisees. Our Lord’s raising Lazarus from the dead was the final straw. Look at their thought process:

47 So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the council and said, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. 48 If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.”

Caiaphas, the high priest, responded saying that it was better that one man die rather than a whole nation perish. John points out:

51 He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, 52 and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.

John MacArthur says that this was not a holy prophecy, yet God put the words into Caiaphas’s mouth:

He said what he said.  It just so happened that God ordered every word and gave it a completely different meaning, but every word was correct.  This is a backdoor into understanding verbal inspiration, verbal inspiration …

Do you know what this man did, this autocratic, self-exalting, dictatorial, brutal, sly, corrupt man?  He gave a clear statement on the substitutionary atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ.  He talks about substitutionary atonement.  He has no idea what he’s saying.  Not surprising … He meant one thing, but God meant something different.

Consequently:

53 So from that day on they made plans to put him to death.

Jesus knew what was coming, so He and the disciples left Bethany for Ephraim — Ephron — away from the crowds.

MacArthur says that Lazarus was probably raised from the dead on the Wednesday preceding Jesus’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem, which we know as Palm Sunday.

Palm Sunday

By the time Jesus was ready to enter Jerusalem the next day, news of His raising Lazarus back to life had spread like wildfire.

The Jews were headed for Jerusalem for purification rituals prior to Passover. They wondered if He would show up or remain in hiding.

John 12 tells the story of our Lord’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem:

12 The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. 13 So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!”

 palm-sunday-donkey-landysadventures_com.jpgJesus fulfilled a prophecy from Zechariah (Zechariah 9:9), which John calls our attention to:

15 “Fear not, daughter of Zion;
behold, your king is coming,
sitting on a donkey’s colt!

When I last heard a sermon on the donkey in my Anglican parish several years ago, the priest mentioned no prophecy being fulfilled. Yet, that is highly important to this event. John tells us:

16 His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him.

John has the crowds — and the Pharisees’ — reaction:

17 The crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to bear witness. 18 The reason why the crowd went to meet him was that they heard he had done this sign. 19 So the Pharisees said to one another, “You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him.”

Of course, John was not the only Gospel writer to document this event. Luke 19:28-40 tells us more about the donkey, as do Matthew 21:1-12 and Mark 11:1-11. In 2011, I wrote:

Palm Sunday: Why a donkey?

Then there is the controversy over whether people laid cloaks (Luke’s version) or palms (John’s) before Jesus. Matthew’s and Mark’s say that they had both. However, I read a post several years ago wherein a layman wrote that palms were unbiblical, which is why I made the above highlight in purple.

Another post from 2011 explains why people used palms historically and on that particular day:

Palm Sunday: Why palms?

palms-mexconnectcom.jpgOn that subject, it seems these days that most palms have already been made into crosses. However, if you are fortunate enough to receive plain palm fronds, this post tells you how you can preserve them the rest of the year:

If this is the first time you have received palms

Two other posts describe the human frailty and sinfulness on display in the days ahead. The crowds were fickle, the religious hierarchy devilish:

The greatest reality story of all time begins on Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday and the Jesus watchers

Our Lord knew that only too well.

Bible read me 2The three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Matthew 26:30-35

Jesus Foretells Peter’s Denial

30 And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. 31 Then Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away because of me this night. For it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ 32 But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” 33 Peter answered him, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.” 34 Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” 35 Peter said to him, “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!” And all the disciples said the same.

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The Last Supper had just ended (verse 30).

Jesus had sent Judas away long before then and commemorated Passover with the remaining eleven apostles in instituting the Sacrament of His Body and Blood.

Passover supper concluded with a hymn, a sung Psalm. John MacArthur tells us:

After the main meal of the lamb, the bitter herbs, and the sauce, the unleavened bread, they would take a cup, then they would sing the hallēl, which would be the latter part of the hallēl, Psalm 115 to 118.  Then they would take the fourth and final cup, and then they would sing the final song, which was Psalm 136, called the great hallēl.  And every verse in Psalm 136 ends with the same line, “For His mercy endureth forever – for His mercy endureth forever – for His mercy endureth forever” – every one of them.  So they would have sung that. 

Hallēl means ‘to praise’. Hallelujah is is the plural imperative of hallēl.

MacArthur describes the walk Jesus and the apostles took to the Mount of Olives. We often think they were alone in a quiet Jerusalem. However, as it was Passover, the streets were teeming with faithful Jews (emphases mine):

… the leaving was very significant.  It was nearly midnight.  They go out of this upper room, down the stairs, out into the street, and the city is alive as if it was midday.  It is alive because it is Passover time.  It is the time of the feast of unleavened bread, and there’s activity everywhere and people are hurrying around.  Some are in the midst of eating their Passover meal.  Remember, the Galileans and the Pharisees ate it late Thursday night.  Some are still eating it, so the lamps are burning in the houses.  Some are getting ready to have it the next day, the Judeans and the Sadducees, and so, they’re getting the preparations ready.

The temple gates will be thrown open at midnight for the special festival.  And so people are surging toward the temple wanting to get in that place.  Visitors are everywhere; people negotiating for a place to have the Passover the next day, who had come from out of town, animals being collected and carried all around to be sacrificed the next day.  It’s alive, even though it’s night, and so they’re pushing their way, no doubt, through this kind of crowd at night, down the eastern slope of the temple mount.  They’ve crossed the Kidron valley, where the little brook is running as full as it ever runs because of winter rain, and it’s even more full because of the blood of all the thousands of animals that have been slain, and the blood runs out the back of the temple, down the slope, into the stream to be carried away.  And so the disciples, eleven of them now, and Jesus cross that in the dark, and they ascend the Mount of Olives, headed for a very familiar place that they have gone to many times called the Garden of Gethsemane, which means “olive press;” Mount of Olives, many olive trees, and a place called olive press.

People in the city didn’t have gardens in the city.  There was no place for that.  They had gardens out on the slopes around the city, and they would cultivate those, and those would be the gardens that belonged to the people that lived in the city.  And Jesus went to a familiar place, and they were headed for that place, but it must have been up the slope a ways, and as they went up they needed to stop and rest – maybe in a similar place that they had stopped the night before when He gave them the great Olivet Discourse of Matthew 24 and 25 on His Second Coming. 

Jesus had something important to tell the apostles. He told them they would ‘all fall away’ because of Him that night (verse 31). Some older translations, such as the Bible Matthew Henry used, say ‘shall be offended’. In modern English, the connotation is ‘to desert’.

To illustrate His point, He cited Zechariah 13:7. I’m going to highlight that below and give you subsequent verses to better put it into context:

“Awake, O sword, against my shepherd,
    against the man who stands next to me,”
declares the Lord of hosts.

Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered;
    I will turn my hand against the little ones.
In the whole land, declares the Lord,
    two thirds shall be cut off and perish,
    and one third shall be left alive.
And I will put this third into the fire,
    and refine them as one refines silver,
    and test them as gold is tested.
They will call upon my name,
    and I will answer them.
I will say, ‘They are my people’;
    and they will say, ‘The Lord is my God.’”

MacArthur explains Zechariah in the prophet’s context then in Jesus’s. Note that MacArthur is using another version of the Bible, but the words will make sense in the same way:

In Zechariah 13, Zechariah is talking about some false prophets who will be wounded in their idol houses.  He’s talking about false prophets that God is going to come and wound in their idol houses.  In other words, God is going to judge false prophets.  And the prophet is speaking against those false prophets, who are worthy only of the judgment of God.  And then he comes right behind that in verse 7 and says, “I will smite the shepherd and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered abroad.”  And it might seem at first that he’s referring here to a false shepherd, that God is going to come down and smite a false shepherd – makes sense – and scatter all of the followers of that false shepherd.  And we might think that, except for the clear interpretation of Christ, who says, “The smiting is Me, and the flock is you.”  And so the smitten shepherd of Zechariah 13:7 has to be the Messiah, and the scattered flock has to be His people.  And if you understand that, you understand the meaning of Zechariah 13:7, and it makes sense out of that passage, especially as you look a little closer to it.

Now, look at Zechariah 13:7 for just a moment, and I’ll show you some interesting things.  It says, “Awake, o sword,” and this is God, Jehovah God speaking, “Awake, O sword, against My shepherd.”  Now, that tells you right away that it’s not a false prophet.  God is not slaying a false prophet whom He calls “My shepherd,” God’s personal representative.  God says, “My sword will slay My shepherd” – “Awake, O sword, against My shepherd.”  And then this most interesting phrase, “And against the man,” and he uses a Hebrew word here that is not the normal word, not the generic word, but means “mighty man” or “man of great strength.”  So first of all, the shepherd to be slain is called “the shepherd of God, My shepherd, a mighty shepherd.”  And then it says, “Who is My fellow.”  Literally, “the mighty man of My union,” or “the mighty man equal to Me.”  Marvelous statement, isn’t it?  Who is equal to God?  Christ.  Who was God’s shepherd?  Christ.  Who is the mighty shepherd?  Christ.

So clearly, Zechariah is turning a corner from the false, saying, “Yes, God will wound the false shepherd in the house of his idol, but God will also wound the true shepherd, and His sheep will be scattered as well.”  And the end of the verse, “And I’ll turn My hand on the little ones,” there will be a remnant – there will be a remnant.  What Zechariah was saying is the day is coming when God is going to smite His own shepherd, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the sheep are going to be scattered.  Now, the sheep I believe Zechariah has in mind is the nation Israel.  Israel went into chaos after the death of their Messiah.  Seventy A.D., the city was destroyed, the temple and everything else, and they’re still in the same chaos resulting from the rejection of Messiah.  But the disciples being scattered were sort of the first phase of the chaos that hit the nation Israel.  So Zechariah sees God smiting the shepherd, the nation disintegrating, and the first phase of it the Lord applies to this group of His own disciples, who will be scattered.

Jesus then said that when He was raised, He would go before the apostles into Galilee (verse 32). He was not only telling them what would happen but also making sure they were not filled with despair. Matthew Henry explains the verse in light of Zechariah:

Though you will forsake me, I will not forsake you though you fall, I will take care you shall not fall finally: we shall have a meeting again in Galilee, I will go before you, as the shepherd before the sheep.” Some make the last words of that prophecy (Zechariah 13:7), a promise equivalent to this here and I will bring my hand again to the little ones. There is no bringing them back but by bringing his hand to them. Note, The captain of our salvation knows how to rally his troops, when, through their cowardice, they have been put into disorder.

Then Peter piped up with another grand pronouncement of his loyalty and fidelity (verse 33). He said his faith was so much deeper than everyone else’s that night. They might fall away but he would remain steadfast until the end.

But Jesus knew what was going to happen, and it was not as Peter imagined. Jesus told him that before the rooster crowed, Peter would deny knowing Him three times (verse 34).

If you’re familiar with cockerels, they start crowing very early, between midnight and three in the morning, known to the ancient Jews as the rooster crow. Therefore, Peter’s denials would come in relatively quick succession that night.

Peter, however, was adamant in his loyalty. The other apostles also pledged their fidelity (verse 35).

The rest of the chapter — indeed, the rest of Matthew’s Gospel — is in the three-year Lectionary.

However, let’s remind ourselves of how events unfolded.

Jesus asked Peter, James and John to wait for Him while He went off alone to pray (verse 36):

39 And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”

What unspeakably deep sorrow He must have experienced at that moment.

Yet, when He returned, Peter, James and John were asleep:

40 And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour?

Jesus’s next words were — and continue to be — pivotal:

41 Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

The flesh is always weak. That has been an enduring fact starting with Original Sin.

Satan is always on hand to prey on our weakness. He doesn’t sleep. This is why we need to be alert, on guard against temptation.

Jesus went off to pray a second time. Even after his admonition about being watchful:

43 And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy.

He went off a third time to pray. When He returned, the apostles were asleep.

Jesus told them to rest later (verse 45):

46 Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.”

This should have been enough to penetrate and concentrate their minds, but it wasn’t.

Jesus had not finished speaking when a crowd of high priests and scribes armed with swords and clubs appeared with Judas (verse 47):

48 Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I will kiss is the man; seize him.” 49 And he came up to Jesus at once and said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” And he kissed him. 50 Jesus said to him, “Friend, do what you came to do.”[f] Then they came up and laid hands on Jesus and seized him.

‘One of those’ with Jesus — Peter, as John 18:10 identifies him — drew his sword, but Jesus told him to put it away:

52 Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword.

He said He does not need earthly defence; He has His Father in heaven and legions of angels (verse 53).

Matthew 26 ends with Peter’s three denials in the early hours of Good Friday morning:

Peter Denies Jesus

69 Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. And a servant girl came up to him and said, “You also were with Jesus the Galilean.” 70 But he denied it before them all, saying, “I do not know what you mean.” 71 And when he went out to the entrance, another servant girl saw him, and she said to the bystanders, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.” 72 And again he denied it with an oath: “I do not know the man.” 73 After a little while the bystanders came up and said to Peter, “Certainly you too are one of them, for your accent betrays you.” 74 Then he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know the man.” And immediately the rooster crowed. 75 And Peter remembered the saying of Jesus, “Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.

Parallel verses for today’s reading are found in Mark 14:26-31.

Parallel verses for Matthew 26:34 are found in Mark 14:30, Luke 22:34 and John 13:38. Note that the links I have supplied are all from my Forbidden Bible Verses series. This means they do not appear in the three-year Lectionary. More’s the pity, because they teach us a valuable lesson as Christians.

It is hard not to be suspicious of churchgoers who boast of their faith. A few have commented on this site. They make themselves sound better than everyone else, just as Peter attempted to elevate himself above the other apostles. Matthew Henry has this observation:

Note, It argues a great degree of self-conceit and self-confidence, to think ourselves either safe from the temptations, or free from the corruptions, that are common to men. We should rather say, If it be possible that others may be offended, there is danger that I may be so. But it is common for those who think too well of themselves, easily to admit suspicions of others. See Galatians 6:1.

Peter was so puffed up with himself because he was in his comfort zone. No doubt boastful churchgoers are also in their own bubble. They live in a safe place. They have a roof over their heads. They feel no outside threat. They have food, family and friends. They have a church and a congregation they love. Their needs are met, which gives them a prideful, false confidence about their faith. Henry warns us:

Note, 1. There is a proneness in good men to be over-confident of their own strength and stability. We are ready to think ourselves able to grapple with the strongest temptations, to go through the hardest and most hazardous services, and to bear the greatest afflictions for Christ but it is because we do not know ourselves. 2. Those often fall soonest and foulest that are most confident of themselves. Those are least safe that are most secure. Satan is most active to seduce such they are most off their guard, and God leaves them to themselves, to humble them. See 1 Corinthians 10:12.

We need to be careful in Christian witness when we talk about ourselves!

Even John MacArthur grapples with human weakness, so we should all pay attention to what he says on the matter:

As much as we would like to think of ourselves as strong Christians, the fact of the matter is that, in and of ourselves, we are weak.  We would like to think that we could never be caught in a situation where we would deny the Lord, where we would deny His Word, where we would be ashamed to name His name or to be associated with Him.  But the truth of the matter is from time to time, we do just exactly that.  We are caught in an environment of unrighteousness, and we say nothing.  There is a time to speak of Christ, and we do not speak.  There is a time when someone would identify us as a Christian, and we shun such an identification for fear of social pressure or social ostracization.  There are times when we should be bold for the cause of Christ, and we are anything but bold.

I remember when I was young I used to think about how it would be when in the future I went to serve the Lord, and should He call me to a very difficult place, I was faced with death or denial of Christ.  I had read missionary stories about those people who affirmed their faith in Christ all the way to death, and I wondered whether I would do that, and I wanted so desperately to believe that I would.  I really wanted to be able to say, “I’d do that – I’d name Christ right down the wire, and if they were going to burn me at the stake, I’d keep naming the name of Christ.”  I wanted so much to be able to say that about myself, but I really had a lot of doubts.  And what gives me the doubts, and did then and still does, is that there are times when I don’t even say what I ought to say in a situation far less intimidating than death.  There are times when we just retreat from the identification with Christ that we should have.  There are times when as disciples, we desert, we go AWOL, we defect for shame’s sake.  We’d rather not be identified with Jesus Christ.  We just don’t want to step out and stand firm

How true.

America is the last bastion of Christianity, but the number of agnostics and atheists there is growing. It might become taboo one day to say one is a Christian, especially if one lives in a big city. It can affect the number of friends one has and even one’s employment.

There is a price to pay for Christianity, even when one lives in the West. I know. I have experienced it in the UK more often than not.

In closing, this is my final post on the Gospel of Matthew.

Let us recall how it ends. The Great Commission — which holds true for us — is Jesus’s command to the disciples after the Resurrection (Matthew 28:18-20). Note that He preceded them to Galilee (Matthew 28:16-17) as He said after the Last Supper (Matthew 26:32):

18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in[b] the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

May God grant us His heavenly grace and may the Holy Spirit give us the fortitude to witness for the Gospel, through Jesus Christ our Lord, our only Mediator and Advocate. Amen.

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Next week, I will begin a study of the Book of Acts. There we will see what happened to Peter and Paul in their respective ministries.

Next time: Acts 2:12-13

CranachWeimarAltarCyberbrethren

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:

The greatest reality show ends with a popular vote

Barabbas: an inspiration for liberation theology?

Meditations on the Cross

Reflections on the Crucifixion

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

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

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

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

Holy Week and Easter — the two-part story

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.

Last Supper Byzantine Museum San Giorgio Venice Byz-LastS-BR750 paradoxplace_comThose looking for resources on Maundy — Holy — Thursday and an explanation of Passover and the Last Supper might find the following posts useful:

What is the Triduum?

‘One of you will betray Me’

Passover, the Last Supper and the New Covenant

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

John MacArthur on Passover as celebrated at the Last Supper

John 17 — the High Priestly Prayer: parts 1, 2 and 3

(Image credit: Paradoxplace.com)

The Epistle for Maundy Thursday in Year C of the three-year Lectionary is 1 Corinthians 11:23-26:

11:23 For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread,

11:24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”

11:25 In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

11:26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

John MacArthur tells us that 1 Corinthians existed before the gospels were written. That makes it:

the first statement of God, in print, regarding the Lord’s Table.  For a full understanding of all of it, you need to read the account in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, but here is the earliest account of the institution of the Lord’s Supper, and Paul says it was directly from the words of Jesus.  He Himself instituted it.

In the preceding verses, Paul took his converts to task for abusing Christ’s body and blood. MacArthur explains that:

they were coming to the Lord’s Supper drunk, gluttonous, that the rich were stuffing themselves in a gluttonous drunken manner and withholding from the poor so that they had nothing to eat in the love feast which proceeded the Lord’s Supper in that era.  That they came to the Lord’s Supper hating one another, with factions and divisions and bitternesses and unconfessed sin.  And the result of all of it is in verse 20.  Paul says, “When you come together therefore into one place,” and here’s the literal Greek, “it is impossible that you should eat the Lord’s Supper.”  You may be having something you think is the Lord’s Supper, but that’s an impossibility because of your attitude.  Some of you are drunk.  Some of you are deprived.  Some of you are gluttonous.  Some of you are hating one another.  There is bitterness, there is faction, there is division.  There are class divisions.  There are divisions over theological viewpoints.  There are divisions over every conceivable opinion within the church.  There is no real communion of the believers.  There is no real communion with Christ because of all the sinfulness.  You have debauched, desecrated the Lord’s Supper, and what you’re doing is not the Lord’s Supper.  Whatever you call it, it is not.

On that subject, 1 Corinthians 11:27-32 sound a warning against receiving Holy Communion unworthily, because doing so can be fatal:

27 Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30 That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.[g] 31 But if we judged[h] ourselves truly, we would not be judged. 32 But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined[i] so that we may not be condemned along with the world.

The verses in between — this year’s Maundy Thursday epistle — are Paul’s explanation of the importance of remembering and proclaiming the Last Supper until Christ Jesus comes again in glory.

He begins by making it clear that the bread and the cup are God-given, not manmade traditions (verse 23). MacArthur says:

In other words, here is a divine reality. 

Matthew Henry’s commentary reminds us that Paul was not among the apostles at the Last Supper, however:

He had the knowledge of this matter by revelation from Christ: and what he had received he communicated, without varying from the truth a tittle, without adding or diminishing.

Paul quoted Jesus’s words regarding His body and blood (verses 24,25). We hear our clergy recite them in the prayers of consecration used in Catholic and mainstream Protestant churches. Paul was putting Holy Communion into an historical context for the Corinthians — and us.

Paul wanted his converts and us to know that whenever we come together to partake of this most blessed Sacrament, we proclaim our Lord’s death until He comes again (verse 26).

As with John 13, from which we have the gospel readings for Spy Wednesday and Maundy Thursday, we find the same juxtaposition of historic events and divine love in the epistle of 1 Corinthians 11.

The Last Supper was Jesus’s and the apostles’ commemoration of Passover. Passover recalls God’s mercy and love in delivering His people from bondage in Egypt when each household sacrificed a lamb. Jesus showed His mercy and love by dying on the cross as the once-sufficient sacrifice for our sins, which is why we call Him the Lamb of God. The night before, even though He knew Judas would betray Him, He washed His apostles’ feet and asked them to follow His example in future. He then broke bread and drank wine with them, recalling Passover and transforming those elements into His body and blood.

MacArthur explains:

If you study the gospels with that in mind, you can pick out just about detail by detail what they’re doing at each point in the Lord’s Supper, the Passover.  Somewhere along the line, at the point of unleaven bread being broken before the meal, Jesus took that bread that symbolized the exodus, broke it and said, “This bread is My,” what?  “Body.”  After the meal He took that third cup, and we know it was after the meal because it says, “After He had supped,” or after He had had supper, it doesn’t mean after He had drunk it first, it means after supper.  He took that third cup and said, “This cup which to you has represented the blood of a lamb at the Passover is no longer representative of that; this cup is My blood which is shed for you.”  And by that, Jesus transformed the Passover into the Lord’s Supper.  And He said, “Now, when you want to remember, you don’t want to remember exodus, you don’t want to remember Egypt anymore, you don’t want to remember Passover when you think of Savior God, when you think of God as deliverer.  You want to remember My death.  The Passover was a great thing that got you out of Egypt and ultimately into Canaan.  My death is going to get you out of bondage to Satan and ultimately into heaven.  The Passover provided for you only a physical release.  My death will provide for you an eternal and spiritual release.”  And when you want a contact point for God as Savior, for God as deliverer, it isn’t going to be the Passover feast, it’s going to be the Lord’s Supper. 

Henry’s commentary tells us:

The things signified by these outward signs; they are Christ’s body and blood, his body broken, his blood shed, together with all the benefits which flow from his death and sacrifice: it is the New Testament in his blood. His blood is the seal and sanction of all the privileges of the new covenant; and worthy receivers take it as such, at this holy ordinance. They have the New Testament, and their own title to all the blessings of the new covenant, confirmed to them by his blood …

Our Saviour, having undertaken to make an offering of himself to God, and procure, by his death, the remission of sins, with all other gospel benefits, for true believers, did, at the institution, deliver his body and blood, with all the benefits procured by his death, to his disciples, and continues to do the same every time the ordinance is administered to the true believers. This is here exhibited, or set forth, as the food of souls. And as food, though ever so wholesome or rich, will yield no nourishment without being eaten, here the communicants are to take and eat, or to receive Christ and feed upon him, his grace and benefits, and by faith convert them into nourishment to their souls. They are to take him as their Lord and life, yield themselves up to him, and live upon him. He is our life, {cf11ul Col 3:4}.

Paul called upon the Corinthians — and us — to partake of the Sacrament frequently with all reverence. It is a remembrance which, as Henry wrote, confers divine grace and eternal life.

At the start of Holy Week, prior to Jesus’s crucifixion, He drove the money changers from the temple and the high priests plotted against Him.

Wednesday of Holy Week is sometimes referred to as Spy Wednesday as Judas comes into the picture:

Judas offers his services

More on Spy Wednesday

More on Judas

(Image credit: whatshotn)

On March 15, 2016, I was appalled to read of two Anglicans — a bishop and an priest — coming forward to defend Judas. Even worse, on Good Friday morning — Good Friday, at 9 a.m., when children are watching! — BBC One will broadcast a programme about him: In the Footsteps of Judas.

The BBC should be broadcasting about Jesus’s suffering and dying so brutally for our sins — and how Judas fulfilled Old Testament prophecy in this regard.

The BBC, the programme makers and these two Anglicans are out of bounds.

The Telegraph has the full story. The Revd Kate Bottley says:

“This is not to say ‘Oh Judas, he’s all right really’, what we are saying is perhaps there is something else to this character than that kiss and that betrayal,” she said.

“I don’t think any of the other disciples were whiter than white – we just probably didn’t hear about it – because they were all human and we are all a bit messed up.”

The Rt Revd Nick Baines, Bishop of Leeds:

feels “a bit sorry” for Judas.

He said that the lost apostle, viewed by many Christians as a figure beyond redemption, has, he said had a “lousy press” for the last 2,000 years.

Apparently, clergy do not need to know the Bible anymore. Jesus knew early on that Judas would betray Him. He said that Judas was a devil (John 6:70-71, emphases mine):

70 Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you, the Twelve? And yet one of you is a devil.” 71 He spoke of Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the Twelve, was going to betray him.

He said that after He fed the Five Thousand, long before the final week of His ministry.

I suppose the aforementioned clergy would simply say they would discount that as John might have just put that in there and that we have no way of knowing whether Jesus ever said that.

And there are many ‘Christians’ who say that John’s gospel is an allegory.

Here’s what John MacArthur has to say about Judas:

Hatred for Judas was so deep in the years following the closing of the New Testament that several incredible legends about him evolved. They describe bizarre occurrences, characterizing Judas as ugly, evil, and totally repugnant. One, in the apocryphal Coptic Narrative, said that Judas, having betrayed Christ, was infested with maggots. Consequently, his body became so bloated that on one occasion he was trying to ride on a cart through a gate, and being too large to fit through it, he hit the gate, his body exploded, and maggots spewed all over the wall. Obviously, that story is not true, but it shows the high level of contempt for Judas in the early centuries.

When I was in seminary, I wrote my dissertation on Judas Iscariot. During the year that I spent working on it, and since then, I have found it extremely difficult to write or speak on. Sin is never more grotesque than it is in the life of Judas. When we study Judas and his motivations, we are prying very close to the activity of Satan. But there are valuable reasons for examining Judas and his sin. For one thing, to understand Jesus’ love in its fullness, it helps to look at the life of Judas, because despite the awfulness of Judas’ sin, Jesus reached out to him in love.

My links at the top of this post discuss Judas’s life in more detail. He was a bad man. A tragic, sin-filled human being. Look at the image at the top of the post. Jesus said it would have been good for Judas not to have been born.

How anyone — especially a bishop and a priest — can have sympathy for him is astounding. If I were the Archbishop of Canterbury I’d want to meet with each separately to discuss their future in the Church.

The gospel reading for Spy Wednesday in Year C of the three-year Lectionary is John 13:21-32:

13:21 After saying this Jesus was troubled in spirit, and declared, “Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me.”

13:22 The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he was speaking.

13:23 One of his disciples–the one whom Jesus loved–was reclining next to him;

13:24 Simon Peter therefore motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking.

13:25 So while reclining next to Jesus, he asked him, “Lord, who is it?”

13:26 Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.” So when he had dipped the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas son of Simon Iscariot.

13:27 After he received the piece of bread, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “Do quickly what you are going to do.”

13:28 Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him.

13:29 Some thought that, because Judas had the common purse, Jesus was telling him, “Buy what we need for the festival”; or, that he should give something to the poor.

13:30 So, after receiving the piece of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night.

13:31 When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him.

13:32 If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once.

What Jesus had just said before becoming troubled in spirit (verse 21) was (John 13:18-20):

18 I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But the Scripture will be fulfilled,[d] ‘He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.’ 19 I am telling you this now, before it takes place, that when it does take place you may believe that I am he. 20 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.”

When He announced that one of the apostles would betray Him, all (but one) were stunned to the point where Peter asked John to enquire of Jesus who it was (verses 22 – 24). John was the logical apostle to ask, because he was close to Jesus’s heart and was reclining next to Him at the Last Supper. People stretched out on the floor to eat in ancient times.

John duly whispered the question to our Lord, who whispered back that they would know when He gave one apostle a morsel of moistened bread (verses 25, 26). With that, he handed it to Judas.

Matthew Henry’s commentary has this analysis of what could have been going through Judas’s mind at that moment and Jesus’s continuing generosity:

[1.] That Christ sometimes gives sops to traitors worldly riches, honours, and pleasures are sops (if I may so speak), which Providence sometimes gives into the hands of wicked men. Judas perhaps thought himself a favourite because he had the sop, like Benjamin at Joseph’s table, a mess by himself thus the prosperity of fools, like a stupifying sop, helps to destroy them. [2.] That we must not be outrageous against those whom we know to be very malicious against us. Christ carved to Judas as kindly as to any at the table, though he knew he was then plotting his death. If thine enemy hunger, feed him this is to do as Christ does.

Once Judas took the morsel, Satan entered him (verse 27). In light of John 6:70, Henry explains:

now Satan gained a more full possession of him, had a more abundant entrance into him. His purpose to betray his Master was now ripened into a fixed resolution now he returned with seven other spirits more wicked than himself, Luke 11:26. Note, [1.] Though the devil is in every wicked man that does his works (Ephesians 2:2), yet sometimes he enters more manifestly and more powerfully than at other times, when he puts them upon some enormous wickedness, which humanity and natural conscience startle at. [2.] Betrayers of Christ have much of the devil in them. Christ speaks of the sin of Judas as greater than that of any of his persecutors.

Please, never think that Judas was a sympathetic character or that he deserves a hearing. If Jesus considered His betrayal worse than His persecution, Judas’s heart and soul were rotten.

Jesus dismissed Judas from the Last Supper (verse 28), but in a way that the apostles did not understand (verse 29).

Christ hereupon dismissed him, and delivered him up to his own heart’s lusts: Then said Jesus unto him, What thou doest, do quickly. This is not to be understood as either advising him to his wickedness or warranting him in it but either, (1.) As abandoning him to the conduct and power of Satan. Christ knew that Satan had entered into him, and had peaceable possession and now he gives him up as hopeless. The various methods Christ had used for his conviction were ineffectual and therefore, “What thou doest thou wilt do quickly if thou art resolved to ruin thyself, go on, and take what comes.” Note, When the evil spirit is willingly admitted, the good Spirit justly withdraws. Or, (2.) As challenging him to do his worst: “Thou art plotting against me, put thy plot in execution and welcome, the sooner the better, I do not fear thee, I am ready for thee.” Note, our Lord Jesus was very forward to suffer and die for us, and was impatient of delay in the perfecting of his undertaking.

Henry wrote that the apostles were too guileless to see the very worst sin was about to be committed:

Note, It is an excusable dulness in the disciples of Christ not to be quick-sighted in their censures. Most are ready enough to say, when they hear harsh things spoken in general, Now such a one is meant, and now such a one but Christ’s disciples were so well taught to love one another that they could not easily learn to suspect one another charity thinks no evil.

Judas left in the night (verse 30). Henry explains:

[1.] Though it was night, an unseasonable time for business, yet, Satan having entered into him, he made no difficulty of the coldness and darkness of the night. This should shame us out of our slothfulness and cowardice in the service of Christ, that the devil’s servants are so earnest and venturous in his service. [2.] Because it was night, and this gave him advantage of privacy and concealment. He was not willing to be seen treating with the chief priests, and therefore chose the dark night as the fittest time for such works of darkness. Those whose deeds are evil love darkness rather than light. See Job 24:13, &c.

After Judas left, Jesus announced that He was now glorified (verse 31), indicating His crucifixion to come:

The presence of wicked people is often a hindrance to good discourse. When Judas was gone out, Christ said, now is the Son of man glorified now that Judas is discovered and discarded, who was a spot in their love-feast and a scandal to their family, now is the Son of man glorified. Note, Christ is glorified by the purifying of Christian societies: corruptions in his church are a reproach to him the purging out of those corruptions rolls away the reproach. Or, rather, now Judas was gone to set the wheels a-going, in order to his being put to death, and the thing was likely to be effected shortly: Now is the Son of man glorified, meaning, Now he is crucified.

MacArthur explains that Jesus purposely chose Judas:

He chose Judas because Judas was necessary to bring about His death, which was necessary to bring about the redemption of the world.

Prophecy was clear that Christ would be betrayed by a close friend. Why did Jesus choose Judas, then? He chose him to fulfill prophecy–not only the prophecy specifically about Judas, but also the prophecies of His own death. Somebody had to bring it to pass, and Judas was more than willing. God used the wrath of Judas to praise Him, and through the deed that Judas did, He brought salvation. Judas meant it for evil, but God used it for good (cf. Genesis 50:20).

You see, Judas fit right into the divine master plan. Judas’ betrayal was predicted in detail in the Old Testament. Psalm 41:9 says, “Even my close friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted up his heel against me.”

The picture of David and Ahithophel in Psalm 41 is fulfilled in a greater sense in Jesus and Judas. The phrase “lifted up his heel” portrays brutal violence, the lifting of a heel and driving the heel into the neck of the victim. That is the picture of Judas. Having wounded his enemy, who is lying on the ground, he takes the giant heel and crushes his neck.

Psalm 55 contains another clear prophecy of Judas and his betrayal. Imagine Jesus speaking these words:

For it is not an enemy who reproaches me, then I could bear it; nor is it one who hates me who has exalted himself against me.  Then I could hide myself from him.  But it is you, a man my equal, my companion and my familiar friend.  We who had sweet fellowship together, walked in the house of God in the throng.

He has put forth his hands against those who were at peace with him; he has violated his covenant. His speech was smoother than butter, but his heart was war; his words were softer than oil, yet they were drawn swords. (vv. 12-14; 20-21).

And finally:

Zechariah contains a prophecy about the betrayal of Christ by Judas in even more detail. It gives the exact price he was paid for his treachery, just as it is recorded in the New Testament. Zechariah 11:12-13 prophetically gives the words of Judas, talking to the Jewish leaders:

I said to them, “If it is good in your sight, give me my wages; but if not, never mind!”  So they weighed out thirty shekels of silver as my wages.  Then the Lord said to me, “Throw it to the potter, that magnificent price at which I was valued by them.”  So I took the thirty shekels of silver and threw them to the potter in the house of the Lord.

That describes to the letter what Judas did after the death of Jesus Christ. He took the thirty pieces right back to the house of the Lord and threw them down. Matthew 27 says that the thirty pieces were picked up and used to buy a potter’s field, exactly fulfilling the prophecy of Zechariah 11.

It is important for children and those new to the faith to understand Judas’s story and his betrayal of Christ. Knowing that all was prophesied in the Old Testament will help them to understand why Jesus had to choose him as an apostle.

Now, wouldn’t such an explanation have made a much better television programme? Clearly, to borrow Martin Luther’s words to Zwingli — ‘another spirit’ — moves through Judas’s defenders.

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