Good Friday

Passion Week: The Grande Finale! (that wasn’t so final…)

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Passion Week - Easter Sunday

Today marks the last day of the 46-day season of Lent, a time that begins with Ash Wednesday and goes until Easter Sunday. Hundreds of years ago, the ancient Christian church fathers set aside this time to give believers season to purposefully remember and prepare themselves for the high-holy days of Good Friday and Easter Sunday. During that time believers are meant to meditate, fast and remember all that Jesus did while He ministered on earth – His teaching, His love, His grace, His sacrifice. Instead of being like the world and avoiding feelings of guilt, sadness, lament, suffering and sacrifice, we spend time asking ourselves hard questions, evaluating their lives and their souls, mourning and repenting from their sins, and fasting (giving up) things that distract us from God.

It is a time to think far less of ourselves and more about God our Father, Jesus our Saviour, the gift of the Holy Spirit, the believers around us, and those who do not know God. We shun consumerism and the life dedicated to the accumulation of pleasurable things, the idea that people are products who need to avoid pain at all costs, and commit ourselves to walking the path of Christ – the one that leads to the cross.

The last week of the season of Lent is often called Passion Week (or Holy Week). Each of these days is marked with a special significant event in the most eventful week of Jesus’ life – from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday.

Summary of the Week

Those of you who have been with us for the past four weeks have been on a journey going over each day in detail, others of you who haven’t been around perhaps know some of the stories already. Each one gives us an insight into the heart of God, the mission of Christ, and challenges us to look deeper into our own life.

On Palm Sunday Jesus rode into Jerusalem fulfilling many prophecies and declaring Himself to be the King and Saviour of Israel – but what troubled people was that He wasn’t the kind of King and Saviour that Israel were expecting.

Jesus did that a lot actually. Throughout His entire ministry He encountered people who expected Him to do one thing, but He ended up doing another – and their reaction was often awe, occasionally repentance and worship, but sometimes, they hated Him for it.

His teaching wasn’t like anyone else’s, neither was His power. He said things with authority that no one else had, and did could do things that no one else could do. He could gather crowds of thousands, but instead of relishing in His popularity and rising to power, He shied away and spent time in the wilderness. He would perform a miracle, driven by love and empathy for suffering people, and the crowd would react by trying to crown Him King. He literally had to run away from plans for His future.

Jesus treated people differently than a Jewish Teacher, especially the Messiah, was expected too. He talked to, healed, and even became close friends with all kinds of people: Romans, Samaritans, Gentiles, government officials, religious leaders, rich people, and poor peasants. His closest disciples were uneducated tradesmen, people who worked for the enemy government, rich-boys and even, perhaps, a former terrorist.

On that Palm Sunday the people were shouting “Save us! Save us! Hosanna in the Highest!” because they knew He was claiming to be their Saviour. But instead of being pleased, He began to weep over their foolishness and rebelliousness, knowing in five days they would reject Him. Instead, on that day in the height of his popularity, Jesus rode into town weeping, looked around at the Temple that would soon be destroyed, and then just left.

Monday

On Monday, Jesus returned, but did something strange again. He walked up to a fig tree, hungry and wanting to pick its fruit, but even though the leaves were green, it didn’t have any figs on it – so He cursed it to never bear fruit again! That seemed strange and harsh to the disciples, but when Jesus turned and went into the Temple we learned what he was doing – the fig tree was a picture of the hearts of the people.

In the midst of their Passover preparations, they looked very pious, with lots of religious activity in the Temple, everyone abuzz with activity – but their hearts were far from God. There were green leaves, but no true fruit. The Temple looked alive, but it was really dead. And that caused Jesus to do something else that surprised everyone. When he walked into the Temple Court of the Gentiles he saw that the religious frenzy had spilled over into the place where the world was supposed to come and worship God! They had turned the place of prayer into a mall where merchants and money changers could take advantage of poor travellers who wanted to worship God. This infuriated Him! It was so far removed from what God had intended that Jesus cursed them as He cursed the tree, kicking over the tables and driving them from the Temple.

Both of these days, Sunday and Monday, show Jesus’ hatred of people who are religious hypocrites who use the name of God to manipulate people, or try to use religion to manipulate God.

Tuesday

When He came back on Tuesday, Jesus was met on the steps by some of the most powerful men in the city. They wanted an answer for what he had been doing and saying against them and the Temple. He exasperated them to the point of murderous anger. They were sick of Jesus’ messages against them and their precious religious system, and His claims that He was the one sent by God to lead Israel.

They didn’t care that He could heal the sick, make the lame walk, the blind see, and raise the dead. He wasn’t playing by their rules, and made them look like fools. He was stirring up dissention against them, so they made a plan to trap Him in his own words and have him arrested as either a blasphemer or a traitor – but He was far too smart for them. After arguing with group after group of experts that tried to trip him up – and showing Himself to be wiser than all of them – they left Him alone to concoct a new plan to eliminate Him.

Jesus spent the rest of the day teaching about the destruction of the Temple and the end of the world.

Tuesday reminds me of how much people resent being under authority and how much they hate giving up control – even to the God who created them and Jesus who loves them. No matter how much evidence God gives them for His love and their need for Him to be their Lord, people still refuse to give up their lives to God.

But God doesn’t want to be one thing of many in our lives. He demands that we admit we are lost sinners who need Him to be in charge. But how many are willing to do that? The Sanhedrin, who knew the bible better than all of us, certainly weren’t. Even those who claim to be Christians struggle every day with turning over part of their life to Christ. Tuesday reminds me of my own rebelliousness and how we all have our favourite sins that we prefer over God, parts of our life that we refuse to give to God.

Wednesday

All of this controversy had a strong effect on one particular member of His inner circle, Judas, who, on Wednesday, decided he had had enough. For two years he had been watching Jesus build influence and show God’s power – and refuse to capitalize on it. For two years He had witnessed miracles that could have launched Him as a celebrity – and then watched Jesus tell people to keep it secret. Jesus could have been anything! He had the power to be rich, powerful, influential, King of the World – and shared it with his followers! But He refused to!

Judas was sick of hearing about how he would lose everything he had, be hated by everybody, and go through many trials on account of being a follower of Jesus. He was sick of seeing Jesus squander opportunities, so he took an opportunity to cash out. He left the disciples and went back to the Temple to find some of military guards that reported to the Sanhedrin, and promised to betray Jesus if they would give Him a large pile of money. Two years wasted – at least he’d get some cash out of it.

Thursday

On Thursday, Judas found his chance. Jesus and the disciples spent the day working out the details for the special dinner feast that would happen in the evening. As they sat down in the Upper Room to eat, Jesus got up and washed their feet – even Judas’ feet – and told the disciples that He knew that they would betray Him – and there would be one that would betray Him completely.

This confused the disciples, but it solidified in Judas’ heart what he needed to do. On that night during dinner, Jesus offered Judas friendship and a special place at His table. He offered Him a chance to turn around, to follow Him, to give up His plans, but Judas rejected Him.

He didn’t want Jesus as a friend… He wanted Jesus to be a conquering king! He didn’t want to eat at Jesus’ table… He wanted Jesus to give him his own country! Jesus was supposed to destroy the Romans and set His disciples up as Princes among men… but Jesus was talking about humility, suffering and death. No way! Satan entered into Judas’ heart and Jesus looked at Judas and dismissed him saying, “What you are going to do, do quickly.” (John 13:27)

Wednesday and Thursday remind us of how much we are like Judas. We want God to be the great Santa Clause in the sky, giving us all that we want, taking away our pain and giving us presents. We see no reason for God to allow us to suffer, for anything bad to happen. He’s God after all! He could make everything perfect!

We are frustrated that God doesn’t listen to us, that Jesus doesn’t do what He’s told. We know our way is so much better than His. So we, like Judas, go elsewhere to get what we think is best for us. We go to the world, leaving Jesus and His followers behind, to find someone else that will promise us the life we want – the life we deserve – the one we think is best. We are all like Judas.

Good Friday

When Judas left, Jesus began a long time of teaching and preparation for what would happen after He was arrested and crucified. He loved them so much, and wanted them to know that though He was going to die that evening, that they would scatter, that they would betray Him, and that He was leaving them, that it wasn’t the end.

He would forgive them, restore them, equip them for ministry, and always be with them. He would give them His presence, the Holy Spirit, to be with them, and He would give them each other to take care of one another. He warned them about the weakness of their hearts, and how to stay strong by being connected to Him. For hours, though the worst night of His life was coming, He spoke to them words of comfort and peace because He knew they were troubled.

As He sat there teaching, Thursday turned into Friday (which we call Good Friday) and when Jesus got up to leave the Upper Room, He invited His disciples – His closest friends – to come and pray with Him in one of His favourite places – an olive grove called the Garden of Gethsemane.

Eleven of the disciples had entered the garden with Him, and three, Peter, James and John, were invited to come in a little further to be with Jesus while He prayed. He shared His anguish with them saying: “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch.” And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him.” (Mark 14:34-35) As He prayed, the pain, sorrow and agony of the day – and all that would be coming – pressed fully into Him. A spiritual battle ensued, His sweat coming in drops of blood.

He released His pain and gave His will over to His Father praying, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” (Mark 14:36) He stood up resolved to do what was necessary to obey His Father’s will and take the punishment, God’s wrath against sin, upon Himself… for the salvation of everyone who would believe in Him.

As Jesus prayed, the disciples struggled to stay awake because they were exhausted from sorrow (Luke 22:45). Jesus kept coming back from His prayer and waking them, trying to get His best friends to support Him and pray for themselves, but they were physically and emotionally exhausted from all they had been through that week.

Mark 14:41-50 tells us what happens next: “And he came the third time and said to them, ‘Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? It is enough; the hour has come. The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.’ And immediately, while he was still speaking, Judas came, one of the twelve, and with him a crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the scribes and the elders.”

This was the same group, the Sanhedrin, that had met him on the steps of the Temple. Since they couldn’t trick Him into condemning himself, and they were afraid of the large crowd following Him during the day, they had come in the night to arrest Jesus after everyone had already gone to bed.

Accompanying the Sanhedrin was Judas, and some Temple guards and a band of Roman soldiers. They “went there with lanterns and torches and weapons.” (John 18:3) This was no small group –potentially a hundred people – all descending upon Jesus in the middle of the night while He was praying in a garden, so they could illegally arrest Him.

They grab Jesus and are about to tie his hands when Peter decides to bring out His sword and fight this group of soldiers and policemen single-handedly. He’s prepared to show Jesus that he would never betray Him. He hacks off a servants ear, and Jesus tells him to put His sword away – it wouldn’t help and Jesus assures them that He is doing what He must do because it is the Father’s will. (Matthew 26:50-56) Jesus heals the servant’s ear, but after that outburst, the solders aren’t taking any chances and decide to arrest everyone.

And just as Jesus had predicted, all of His disciples, scared of what would happen “scattered, each to his own home” and left Him alone (John 16:32). Meanwhile, Judas has earned his ill-begotten wages, and disappears into the dark.

Many Trials

Jesus was then taken to be tried before many different courts, but none of them could find anything to charge Him with. He was first taken to Annas, the former High Priest’s who tried to intimidate Jesus into confessing to something. It didn’t work. Jesus wouldn’t even talk to him.

Then He was taken to Caiaphas, the reigning high priest, and the rest of the Sanhedrin who brought out false charges, false witnesses, and false accusations to try to find Him guilty of something deserving death. But even in their own, staged trial, they couldn’t find any way to condemn Jesus. Eventually Caiaphas had to do ask Jesus point-blank “Are you the Christ?” And of course, Jesus, who never lies – said Yes. He quoted scriptures that let them know that He is God, the Saviour, the Messiah, and the One who should be judging them! They wouldn’t listen and that was enough for the ruling leaders to want to condemn Him to death.

But they didn’t have permission to have Jesus crucified. They needed Roman permission for that kind of terrible punishment. So he stood trial before the Roman Governor Pilate – who kept finding him innocent! Over and over Pilate said Jesus was innocent. He didn’t want to condemn Jesus so he sent Him bound in chains over to the evil King Herod — who asked Jesus to perform tricks for him — and since He wouldn’t, Herod sent Jesus back to Pilate.

When Jesus returned, Pilate repeated to the crowds that Jesus was innocent, but they wouldn’t have it. The crowds, stirred up by their leaders, the chief priests, the elders and the scribes – started to chant, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!”

Pilate yells out, “But He hasn’t done anything wrong!” but they won’t stop chanting. Pilate tries something else: every Passover it was tradition that he would release a Jewish prisoner. Pilate idea was to bring out the baddest guy he possibly could – Barabbas, a notorious thief, terrorist and murderer – and make the crowd choose between Jesus and Barabbas. But without a pause, the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Scribes shout, “Release Barabbas to us!” Pilate is shocked at their hatred for Jesus and asks “What shall I do with Jesus who is called the Christ?” And the Sanhedrin begins to chant “Crucify Him, Crucify Him, Crucify Him!” (Matthew 27:17) Eventually the whole crowd joins them.

Pilate shouts above the crowd, repeating his finding of Jesus’ innocence, and comes up with a one last resort: He will have Jesus severely punished and then released. But this makes the crowd even more angry and it looks like they are going to start a riot. Pilate realizes that the only solution would be to punish and crucify Jesus in the place Barabbas. The Governor Pilate sends Jesus to flogged and then tortured to death in the worst way that humanity has ever conceived – He would be crucified.

On the Cross

You’ve no doubt heard the word “Excruciating”. It means “to torture, torment and cause anguish.” Inside the word “excruciating” you will find the root word “crux” or “cross”. It is a word invented to describe what happened to people who were crucified.

Jesus died on Good Friday. But before He did, He was beaten, humiliated, and then nailed to a wooden cross. He hung there for six hours, in ever-increasing and excruciating agony, gasping for air – only able to draw a breath when He put weight onto the nails driven through His hands and feet, He spoke in short sentences. Even as He hung there, He spoke words of Love and Hope.

His first words were “Father, Forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” (Luke 23:34). To the criminal beside Him, who only in his last moments, did He turn to God for help Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

Then, near the end, as God placed the sins of the world, and turned His wrath against Sin upon His Son– for the first and only time in eternity, Jesus was cut off from the favour and the fellowship He had had with His Father. He cried out in a loud voice with the words of Psalm 22, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46), expressing not only His anguish, but also His knowledge that this terrible time will end in victory.

And in the end, when He knew that the sins of His beloved people had been atoned for, and they no longer stood under the wrath of God, He gave up His life saying, “It is finished…” (John 19:30) and “Father into your hands I commit my spirit.” (Luke 23:46)

In that moment, creation itself groaned. The world grew dark, the earth shook, rocks were split, the veil in the temple was torn, tombs opened, and a Roman Centurion in charge of the crucifixion of Jesus – after seeing all of this, and Jesus character, purity, self-control, and deep love, says, “Truly, this was the son of God!” (Matthew 27:54)

Jesus is stabbed through the heart, to ensure He is dead. Then His body was taken down, wrapped tightly in cloths, and laid in a hewn out stone tomb. They rolled a large stone in front of the tomb, and Jesus’ enemies stationed a guard in front so no one could steal the body.

Jesus’ disciples went home, broken and bewildered, and stayed that way until Sunday Morning.

Easter Sunday

And we know what happened on Sunday, right? Two women went to the tomb, bearing spices so they could embalm Jesus’ corpse, but they didn’t find Him! Mary is worried someone has stolen him in the night and runs to Peter and John to tell them. They come running and find the tomb empty, with only the cloths Jesus was wrapped in, lying there. They too were confused, and decided to go home and tell the others.

But Mary stayed outside the tomb, weeping. She heard someone behind her, and when she turned around to ask the person whom she though was the gardener, “Where did you take Jesus?”, she saw that it was Jesus! Jesus tells her to go and tell the others, and she runs off to find the disciples – but they don’t believe her until Jesus Himself appears to them, and then to hundreds and hundreds of other people, proving beyond a doubt that He had conquered death!

Why?

Christians know what happened on Good Friday and on Easter Sunday. We remember that He died on Good Friday and was raised from the dead on Easter Sunday. But Easter time makes us ask the question “Why?” Why did they hate Him so much? Why did He go through that? Why did it happen that way?

I believe an answer to that question comes in a passage of scripture that spoke of what Jesus would go through 700 years before Christ.

The Prophet Isaiah spoke of the coming of the Messiah, and what He would do for His people. He said:

“Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:4-5)

Later, the apostle John would write:

“He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God.” (John 1:10-12)

These verses tell us why Jesus did what He did. It was we that needed to stand trial before God – and Jesus stood trial before human courts, and God’s court, for us. We had griefs and sorrows that we couldn’t carry – the weight of our sin that doomed us to our own cross – and He chose to carry the cross for us. Because of our sins, we are under the curse of death, condemned to prison in Hell, and Jesus chose to be afflicted and stricken on our behalf, to take the sentence for us. We have transgressions that need to be paid for, and He chose to be the payment. We needed chastisement (punishment) for all the things we’ve done wrong because sin must be paid for. All the things that happened to Jesus will happen to every sinner, and was supposed to happen to us, but Jesus took our punishment upon Himself. We needed healing, and He took the wounds, so we could be healed. We went astray and He came and found us – and our running away meant we needed to be penalised by God. Jesus chose to take God’s righteous wrath upon Himself, for all who would believe in Him.

And even though His world rejected Him, even though it didn’t recognize Him, He loved us anyway, and made it possible for us to become children of God. He made it possible for us to be like Adam and Eve before they had sinned! By believing in Jesus, the Son of God, we can become children of God.

Why did He do that? Out of obedience to God and a deep love for us. He went through all the pain of Good Friday so we wouldn’t have to. He rose from the dead on Easter Sunday to prove that He has the power to conquer every evil thing – even death!

When He was being arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, Peter tried to fight against what was happening and Jesus said to him:

“Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?” (Matthew 26:53-54)

He was telling Peter that He could have stopped at any time, but He wasn’t there for Himself. He was there out of obedience to His Father and love for us. Every step of the way to the cross was His decision. Every blow to His body was taken because He knew that the only way that sinners like you and me could be brought back into relationship with God, would be for Him to take the punishment for our sin.

That’s why we make such a big deal out of Passion Week, Good Friday and Easter Sunday. They are the greatest days in history! They are the days that Jesus saved us.

Passion Week Series: Good Friday (Arrest & Crucifixion)

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Passion Week - Good Friday

[Due to technical difficulties, there is no podcast audio of this sermon. Sorry.]

We’re in the last days of our Passion Week series, the days from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday, and it’s been a harrowing week. On Palm Sunday Jesus rode into Jerusalem fulfilling many prophecies and declaring Himself to be the King and Saviour of Israel – but not in the way that people expected.

Summary of The Week So Far

Jesus had been breaking messianic stereotypes for His whole ministry. His teaching was unlike anyone else, and so was His power. Though He could gather crowds of thousands, he shied away from becoming any kind of spectacle. He healed Romans and became friends with tax-collectors, prostitutes, and Samaritans. Even on Palm Sunday, the day of His “Triumphal Entry” as He entered the city followed by a throng of people shouting “Save us! Be our Saviour! Hosanna in the Highest!” instead of being pleased, He was weeping over their foolishness and rebelliousness. On this day, at the height of His popularity, He rode into town weeping, looked around at the Temple, and then left.

On Monday, Jesus shows His displeasure with Israel by cursing a fig tree that looked healthy but bore no fruit, and then proceeded to drive merchants and money changers from the Court of the Gentiles in the Temple. When He came back on Tuesday, He was met on the Temple steps by some of the most powerful, influential men in the city, who wanted Him to answer for what He had been doing and saying. They wanted to trap Him in His words so they could have Him arrested as a blasphemer or a traitor – but none of it worked. He finished Tuesday teaching about the destruction of the Temple that would come in less than 30 years, and then expanding that teaching to talk about the end of the world.

This all had a strong effect on one particular member of His inner circle, Judas, who, on Wednesday, had decided he had had enough. He was sick of hearing about how they would lose everything, be hated by all, and go through many trials on account of being in a relationship with Jesus. He decided to cash out. He went back to the Temple to find some of the guys from the Sanhedrin and the military guards that reported to them, and promised to betray Jesus if they would give Him a pile of money.

On Thursday, Judas found his chance. Jesus and the disciples spent the day working out the details for the special dinner feast that would happen in the evening. As they sat down to eat, Jesus got up and washed their feet, and told them that one of them would betray him.

This confused the disciples, but solidified in Judas’ heart what he needed to do. Jesus offered Judas friendship and a place at His table, but Judas rejected Him, Satan entered in, and Jesus dismissed him saying, “What you are going to do, do quickly.” (John 13:27)

When Judas left, Jesus began a long time of teaching and preparation for what would happen after He was arrested and crucified. According to Jewish accounting of days, which start in the evening, Thursday had turned into Friday by the time that Jesus stood up to leave.

We left off last with Jesus just entering the Garden of Gethsemane, an olive grove on the Mount of Olives. Eleven of the disciples had entered the garden with Him, and three, Peter, James and John, were invited to come in a little further to be with Jesus while He prayed. He said to these three,

“‘My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch.[ And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him.” (Mark 14:34-35)

As He prayed, the pain, sorrow and agony of the day – and all that would be coming – pressed fully into Him. A spiritual battle ensued, His sweat coming in drops of blood. “What he must do is so awful that, if He could, He would avoid it. But He will not give in to His very human instinct for self-protection. He has not come to satisfy Himself.” (Crucify: Pg 250) He released His pain and gave His will over to His Father praying:

“Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” (Mark 14:36)

He stood up resolved to do what was necessary to obey His Father’s will and take the punishment… to have God’s wrath against sin poured out upon Himself… for the salvation of everyone who would believe in Him.

As Jesus prayed, the disciples struggled to stay awake succumbing to sleep over and over because they were exhausted from sorrow (Luke 22:45).

Jesus is Arrested

Jesus kept coming back from prayer and waking them, trying to get his best friends to support Him and pray for themselves, but they were physically and emotionally exhausted from the week and from all they had been hearing from Jesus that evening. Mark 14:41-50 tells us what happens next:

“And he came the third time and said to them, ‘Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? It is enough; the hour has come. The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.’ And immediately, while he was still speaking, Judas came, one of the twelve, and with him a crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the scribes and the elders.”

You’ll remember the phrase “chief priests and the scribes and the elders” from what happened on Tuesday (Mark 11:27).  This was the same group, the Sanhedrin, that had met him on the steps of the Temple. Since they couldn’t trick Him into condemning himself, and they were afraid of the large crowd following Him during the day, they had come in the night to arrest Jesus after everyone had already gone to bed.

Accompanying the Sanhedrin was Judas, and some Temple guards and a band of Roman soldiers. John says they “went there with lanterns and torches and weapons.” (John 18:3) This was no small group – we’re talking about potentially up to a hundred people – all descending upon Jesus in the middle of the night while He was praying in a garden, so they could illegally arrest Him. This wouldn’t be the first illegal thing they would do that day. Let’s keep reading in verse 44:

“Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, ‘The one I will kiss is the man. Seize him and lead him away under guard.’ And when he came, he went up to him at once and said, ‘Rabbi!’ And he kissed him. And they laid hands on him and seized him. But one of those who stood by drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear. And Jesus said to them, ‘Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to capture me? Day after day I was with you in the temple teaching, and you did not seize me. But let the Scriptures be fulfilled.’ And they all left him and fled.”

They grab Jesus and are about to tie his hands when Peter decides to bring out His sword and fight this group of soldiers and policemen single-handedly. He’s prepared to show Jesus that he would never deny Him. He hacks off a servants ear, and Jesus tells him to put His sword away – it wouldn’t help and Jesus assures them that He is doing what He must do because it is the Father’s will (Matthew 26:50-56). Jesus heals the servants ear, but after that outburst, the solders aren’t taking any chances and decide to arrest everyone.

Mark 14:51-52 says, “And a young man followed him, with nothing but a linen cloth about his body. And they seized him, but he left the linen cloth and ran away naked.” We don’t know who this is – some think it was Mark, others that it was John, but it shows how scared the followers of Jesus were, and that as He had predicted, His disciples, terrified of what might happen, “scattered, each to his own home” and left Him alone. (John 16:32)

Judas has earned his ill-begotten wages and disappears into the dark.

Jesus’ Before Annas

The Sanhedrin’s plan has only just begun, and there is much work to do if they are going to be able to get rid of Jesus once and for all. “For [their] plan to work, it is imperative that they get into town before the city and the pilgrims camping on the nearby hills begin to awaken…. Everything hinges on the Sanhedrin officially condemning Jesus before the city is alerted and rumors of the arrest begin to circulate. Word must not get out before the cynical play they are orchestrating reaches its dramatic climax.”(Crucify: Pg 256-257)

According to the Gospel of John, Jesus was first led to the home of the former High Priest, Annas’. To get an idea of what’s going on here, picture Jesus being walked into the courtyard of the compound owned by Vito Corleone in The Godfather movies.

Annas is Vito, the Godfather, an elderly, extremely wealthy, well connected, member of one of the three major families in the city. This Godfather once held the extremely important position of High Priest, but after a time had relinquished it to his son-in-law, Caiaphas – played by Al Pacino. They still paid the Godfather respect by calling him “High Priest”, even though his son held the official position.

Peter is brave enough to try to follow him, but can’t possibly get past this mob-boss’s detachment of goons, and decides to sit in the courtyard. The Godfather gets first crack at trying to break Jesus, but Jesus shows Him very little respect.

“So the band of soldiers and their captain and the officers of the Jews arrested Jesus and bound him. First they led him to Annas, for he was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, who was high priest that year. It was Caiaphas who had advised the Jews that it would be expedient that one man should die for the people….  The high priest then questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching. Jesus answered him, ‘I have spoken openly to the world. I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret. Why do you ask me? Ask those who have heard me what I said to them; they know what I said.’ When he had said these things, one of the officers standing by struck Jesus with his hand, saying, ‘Is that how you answer the high priest?’ Jesus answered him, ‘If what I said is wrong, bear witness about the wrong; but if what I said is right, why do you strike me?’ Annas then sent him bound to Caiaphas the high priest.” (John 18:12-14; 19-24)

Peter’s situation overtakes his courage and he realizes where he is… sitting around with the cronies and servants of one of the most dangerous men in the world – and when people start to pick him out as a follower of Jesus, he caves and denies that He even knows the man who is being questioned inside. Before the end of the night Jesus’ prediction will have come true, the rooster will have crowed, and Peter will run away weeping bitter tears.

Jesus Before Caiaphas

Jesus’ next trial is before. Caiaphas is going to try a different tactic than his father-in-law. He know he needs this to be an official arrest so He can get Jesus killed by the state. Romans wouldn’t let them execute prisoners, so Caiaphas needed to get him tried before a real court and then sent to a Roman court, before Jesus could face capital punishment. So his plan was to stage a mock trial.

 “And they led Jesus to the high priest. And all the chief priests and the elders and the scribes came together. And Peter had followed him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest. And he was sitting with the guards and warming himself at the fire. Now the chief priests and the whole council were seeking testimony against Jesus to put him to death, but they found none. For many bore false witness against him, but their testimony did not agree. And some stood up and bore false witness against him, saying, ‘We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.’’ Yet even about this their testimony did not agree.

And the high priest stood up in the midst and asked Jesus, ‘Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?’ But he remained silent and made no answer. Again the high priest asked him, ‘Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?’ And Jesus said, ‘I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.’ And the high priest tore his garments and said, ‘What further witnesses do we need? You have heard his blasphemy. What is your decision?’ And they all condemned him as deserving death. And some began to spit on him and to cover his face and to strike him, saying to him, ‘Prophesy!’ And the guards received him with blows.” (Mark 14:53-65)

By now it was early Friday morning, likely before daybreak, and Jesus was brought – already bloody and bruised – before the Sanhedrin so they could make him stand trial. The law required that the entire Sanhedrin was to be present for an official verdict to be entered and a sentence to be imposed, so they have to wait until everyone gets there. But they’ve decided to “dispense with the legal niceties of meeting in their official quarters, and they ignore the prohibition against holding proceedings on feast days. Some rules must be bent when matters of national interest are at stake.”(Crucify: Pg 261)

They try desperately to get enough witnesses to bring testimonies so they could trump up charges to have Jesus declared guilty of something deserving death. False-witness after false-witness stood up, but they contradict each other and makea real mess of the trial. Even during their own staged trial they couldn’t find a way to condemn Jesus. Until Caiaphas tried His final tactic of asking Jesus, point-blank, “Are you the Christ?”

This was the make it or break it time for the whole plot. Matthew 26:63 says that Caiaphas went so far as to put Jesus under oath, requiring by God’s law for Jesus to answer (Lev 5:1):

“I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.”

And Jesus does answer. He uses the divine name, “I AM”… which was the name God had given Moses for Himself. He says that they are looking at the One whom the Messianic Psalm 110 was talking about — The Lord and Ruler of All and Priest forever, the One that will shatter kings on the day of His wrath – who will fulfil the prophecy given in Daniel 3:13-14, “…behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.”

The High Priest knew exactly what Jesus was saying. He tears his tunic from his chin to his waist, a violent, dramatic action showing public indignation and grief, and called for the immediate charge of blasphemy against Jesus – a capital offence worthy of death. The verdict is unanimous, and they have their judgment.

Remember, they don’t have the authority to have Jesus crucified, so they had to bring him to the Roman governor, Pilate. This also allowed the Sanhedrin to shift any blame that the crowds might have for Jesus’ murder onto the Romans, who they hated anyway.

Jesus Before Pilate

Another local ruler, another court that can’t find anything to charge him with, another weak leader who does the wrong thing for selfish reasons:

“And as soon as it was morning, the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council. And they bound Jesus and led him away and delivered him over to Pilate. And Pilate asked him, ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’ And he answered him, ‘You have said so.’ And the chief priests accused him of many things. And Pilate again asked him, ‘Have you no answer to make? See how many charges they bring against you.’ But Jesus made no further answer, so that Pilate was amazed.

Now at the feast he used to release for them one prisoner for whom they asked. And among the rebels in prison, who had committed murder in the insurrection, there was a man called Barabbas. And the crowd came up and began to ask Pilate to do as he usually did for them. And he answered them, saying, ‘Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?’ For he perceived that it was out of envy that the chief priests had delivered him up. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release for them Barabbas instead. And Pilate again said to them, ‘Then what shall I do with the man you call the King of the Jews?’ And they cried out again, ‘Crucify him.’ And Pilate said to them, ‘Why, what evil has he done?’ But they shouted all the more, ‘Crucify him.’ So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified.” (Mark 15:1-15)

Pilate knew he was being manipulated, and saw right through the smokescreen of lies that the Sanhedrin was trying to use against Jesus. He was puzzled that Jesus didn’t defend himself, but he also didn’t want an uprising – he’d been warned in no uncertain terms, by the Emperor himself, to not let that happen again – so he tries to let Jesus off, but the outcry from the Jewish leaders is too much.

He tries to punt the problem over to Herod, sending Jesus to be tried by Him, but Herod is of no help and sends him back. As the Roman guards march Jesus from Pilate’s to Herod’s and back again, the city has woken up and the huge crowds were starting to gather, many likely seeking out Jesus to hear more teaching and see more miracles. Many must have seen Jesus marched through the streets and rumours must have been flying all around. They head to Pilate’s to see the spectacle.

By now the crowds are huge. Upon Jesus’ return Pilate tries to release Him again, but the crowds, egged on by the Sanhedrin, start to cry out and yell even more accusations about Jesus.

Pilate tries something else – his traditional release of a prisoner. Perhaps that will get him out of this. He brings out the baddest guy he can find – Barrabas, a notorious thief, terrorist and murderer. He asks the crowd to choose – and without a pause, they chant “Crucify Him, Crucify Him, Crucify Him! Release Barabbas to us!” (Matthew 27:21-23)

Pilate repeats his finding of Jesus’ innocence and comes up with a last resort: He will have Jesus punished and then released. But this makes the crowd even more violent. The riot that Pilate had been warned to never let happen was forming in front of his eyes, and the only solution would be to condemn this innocent man – to punish and crucify Him in the place of Barrabas.

John 19:1-16 describes the scene:

“Then Pilate took Jesus and flogged him. And the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head and arrayed him in a purple robe. They came up to him, saying, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ and struck him with their hands. Pilate went out again and said to them, ‘See, I am bringing him out to you that you may know that I find no guilt in him.’ So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, ‘Behold the man!’

When the chief priests and the officers saw him, they cried out, ‘Crucify him, crucify him!’ Pilate said to them, ‘Take him yourselves and crucify him, for I find no guilt in him.’ The Jews answered him, ‘We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has made himself the Son of God.’ When Pilate heard this statement, he was even more afraid. He entered his headquarters again and said to Jesus, ‘Where are you from?’ But Jesus gave him no answer. So Pilate said to him, ‘You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?’ Jesus answered him, ‘You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin.’

From then on Pilate sought to release him, but the Jews cried out, ‘If you release this man, you are not Caesar’s friend. Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar.’ So when Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judgment seat at a place called The Stone Pavement, and in Aramaic Gabbatha. Now it was the day of Preparation of the Passover. It was about the sixth hour. He said to the Jews, ‘Behold your King!’ They cried out, ‘Away with him, away with him, crucify him!’ Pilate said to them, ‘Shall I crucify your King?’ The chief priests answered, ‘We have no king but Caesar.’ So he delivered him over to them to be crucified.”

Good Friday?

We take time out of each year, during the season of Lent and Easter, to remember all that Jesus did while He ministered on earth – His teaching, His love, His grace, His sacrifice. And we take time during Passion week especially – starting today and ending on Easter Sunday – to remember why He did it.

Reading what we’ve read today, we have to wonder why we would call it, “Good Friday”. None of it was good, was it? Well, we call it Good Friday because Jesus went through all of what we have read today – for us. When He was being arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, Peter tried to fight against what was happening and Jesus said to him:

“Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?” (Matthew 26:53-54)

He could have stopped at any time, but He wasn’t there for Himself. He was there out of obedience to His Father and love for us. Every step of the way was His decision. Every blow to His body was taken because He knew that the only way that sinners could be brought back into relationship with God would be for Him to take the punishment for their sin.

All of the people around Him, all those who had come before, and all those who would come after, needed Him to do this. God’s law requires that sin be paid for by the shedding of blood. “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.”  (Hebrews 9:22) And Jesus knew that His blood was the payment for the sins of all who had believed and would believe in Him as their Saviour.

The sinless one and judge of mankind was arrested in the middle of the night, dragged into a mockery of a trial where he was falsely accused publically humiliated. The King of Kings was and brought before the foolish and wicked Herod Antipas, who had beheaded his cousin John the Baptist and wanted Jesus to perform tricks for him. The Lord of Lords stood before Pontius Pilate, a prefect who knew Jesus was innocent, whose wife was warned in a dream to let him go, but succumbed to the pressure and bloodlust of the crowd.

Jesus died so that sin could be paid for. He died so His enemies could live. “His own people did not receive Him” (John 1:11), but He loved them anyway. It is Good Friday because that was the day that Jesus fulfilled the Law and made our salvation possible.

I encourage you to take time this week to contemplate all that that means, to join in remembrance of all that happened during this week, and to thank God for the gift of His Son.

“Forgive Them”

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Forgive Them

 

The sinless One and judge of mankind was arrested in the middle of the night, dragged into a mockery of a trial where he was falsely accused publicly humiliated. The King of Kings was and brought before the foolish and wicked Herod Antipas, who had beheaded his cousin John the Baptist and wanted Jesus to perform tricks for him – while the religious experts of the day vehemently accused him. The Lord of Lords was then sent to Pontius Pilate, a cowardly prefect who knew Jesus was innocent, whose wife was warned in a dream to let him go, but succumbed to the pressure of the crowd and had Jesus severely beaten in hopes of quelling their blood lust.

But it didn’t work. The crowd of Jews, the people of God through whom Yahweh had chosen to love despite all of their wickedness, started chanting “crucify him, crucify him!”. Pilate tried again, hoping to use custom of releasing one prisoner during the feast of Passover to free Jesus – but the crowd wouldn’t have it. Instead, the people of God, the scribes and elders of the people, chose to release Barabbas – a murdering terrorist – instead of the one who had taught peacefully, harmed no one, healed the sick, and raised the dead.

Since his arrest at midnight Jesus had faced six different trials, three before Jewish officials, three before Roman officials – full of false accusations, foolish judges, and cowardly officials.

The sun had only began to rise when Pilate succumbed to the crowd’s anger, looked Jesus in the face, and condemned him to crucifixion – the most terrible form of punishment they had, usually inflicted on slaves and enemies of the state.

The first stage of crucifixion would be to take Jesus – who had already been beaten once – to the Praetorium to be stripped and scourged with a leather whip that had pieces of sharp instruments embedded in the cord, designed to remove flesh quickly. Then the soldiers took him so he could be mocked further by having a crown of hard thorns driven into his head and beaten with a make-shift scepter made out of a reed. “Hail, King of the Jews!” they would shout as they spit on him and beat him with their fists.

He was then forced to carry his own heavy, wooden cross through Jerusalem, from the Praetorium to Golgotha – a 600 meter trip that took three hours to complete – all the while being ridiculed and beaten. Because of His wounds and blood-loss, Jesus wasn’t physically able to carry the cross, so another man, Simon, was forced to carry it for him.

When they finally reached the place where the crucifixion would take place, Golgotha, called the Place of the Skull, Jesus, who had done nothing wrong, was laid upon the cross, had his feet and hands nailed to it, and was raised up for all to see.

As He hung there, for six hours, in ever-increasing and excruciating agony, gasping for air – only able to draw a breath when He put weight onto the nails driven through His hands and feet, He spoke in short sentences.

His first words – the very first words He spoke from the cross – are recorded in Luke 23:34:

“And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. And Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’”

Forgive Them

“Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing.”

“Father, forgive the ones who stand before me now, grinning in their senselessness, in total ignorance of the cosmic treason they are committing. Forgive the soldiers who drove nails through my hands that healed the sick and blessed their children, and the feet which went from town to town teaching truth and offering peace. Forgive the ones who scourged this flesh – the body I chose to take so I could come to this place to save them. Forgive the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law who stirred up the crowd to call for my crucifixion. Forgive the crowd who chose a murderer over the One who offered them life. Forgive the rulers and judges who bent the laws and cowered to pressure, sentenced me to be here, perverted justice and condemned the only person to ever live a perfect life. Forgive my disciples who abandoned me, most of whom are too afraid to admit they know me, let alone stand with me in my most dire hour. Father, forgive them all. They have no idea the depth of evil they are committing, the depravity of their action, the utter darkness of their words and deeds, that they were killing the Son of God, the Light of the World.”

Jesus Loved His Enemies

It wasn’t just words when Jesus said:

“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44).

He lived and died by these words. At the beginning of the Gospel of John it says:

“The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.” (John 1:9-11)

Jesus loved His enemies. He came and “His own people did not receive Him”, but He loved them anyway. His loved showed His love for us by dying on the cross.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:16-17)

Jesus died so His enemies could live. From the cross that they had nailed Him to, Jesus was able to forgive them. Was this just pious platitudes from a holy man who wanted to impress people with His holier-than-thou goodness? Certainly not. These words were spoken out of real and true love for the people He came to save. Love for blind fools who preferred their sin, pride, idols, and pleasures, more than they loved anyone or anything else – and certainly more than they loved the God who created them.

Did His words change anything? No. As Jesus spoke, the Jews continued to mock Him, the Romans continued to cast lots for His clothes, the criminals that hung next to Him hurled more insults. He gained nothing from these words – except to demonstrate His infinite love for humanity.

Christian Forgiveness

Christians know what we are no different than those who stood at the foot of that cross. We too have hurled insults at Jesus, mocked His ways, made ourselves Lord of our lives, worshipped ourselves, and revelled in sin. We know that it was our sin that put Jesus there. It was not just the world’s sin that Jesus died for, but our sin. We are as guilty as those who traded Barabbas for Jesus, as guilty as the ones who drove nails through His hands, as guilty as the disciples who abandoned Him, because we have also traded righteousness for sin, unholiness for holiness, darkness for light.

And yet, Jesus forgave us. He forgave me? He has no reason to. I’ve given him every reason to feel resentment, bitterness, anger and coldness towards me. I don’t deserve His forgiveness – and certainly not His love, kindness and blessing.

“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:2-9)

Our Response

What amazing love. Our response to the amazing love that Jesus has shown us must be to show that kind of love to others. Especially forgiveness.

“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” (Colossians 3:1-4)

Do you see how this section starts? “If then…”. If you’re a Christian, if you know the deep love of God, if you have admitted your sin and met the Saviour… then it’s going to change your heart. Instead of living like one of the normal people “on earth”. If you’re a believer, then you’re not normal. Your heart is now connected to things that are “above, where Christ is”. Jesus is the longing of your heart, the preoccupation of your mind, the North that your compass points to. And so, “set your minds on things that are above”.

Forgive As You’ve Been Forgiven

In light of what Jesus has done for us – the love He’s shared, the example He’s shown, the commands He’s given, and the Holy Spirit He’s placed inside us – we have all that we need to fight against sin. When you became a Christian, Jesus changed your identity. He took off your old self (the one that loved sin), destroyed it, gave you a new self (one that loves Jesus), and has promised to give you everything you need to live a new life in Him.

After this declaration comes a whole list of sins, and then something that is given special emphasis. Look at verses 12-13.

“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”

There it is. As a chosen one of God – a special person that Jesus chose, not because of anything you had done or ever would do, not because you deserved it, but only because the Amazing Grace with which He loved you – share that love with others. How is that love demonstrated? Through compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, and forbearance. There is one action that epitomizes and exemplifies everything in that list: Forgiveness.

“Forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”

This is, for many, the hardest command that Jesus gives us. To love our enemies and to forgive those who have wronged us. To love them and forgive them as much as we’ve been loved and forgiven by Jesus. That’s hard. Actually, that’s impossible without God changing our hearts first. But God takes it very seriously.

God Takes Forgiveness Seriously

There’s no place in scripture that says it’s easy. And there’s no place that says you have to feel like it. Forgiveness is an act of love and obedience, not towards the one who offended you, but towards the One who forgave you. You muster the strength to forgive only because of the miracle that Jesus has done in your heart – it’s impossible otherwise. Unless Jesus has taken off your old self and given you a new self, there are going to be some kinds of forgiveness that are impossible. Some kinds of forgiveness require a movement of God’s Spirit, and an act of total humility before Jesus to accomplish.

Jesus takes forgiveness so seriously that He says:

“For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:14-15)

And elsewhere, at the end of the parable of the unforgiving servant:

“And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” (Matthew 18:33-35)

Why does God take forgiveness so seriously? Because our response to forgiveness shows our understanding of what He’s done for us. (Tweet this.)

If Jesus has transformed your heart, then it will result in a changed life. (Tweet this.) A person who has experienced the immeasurable mercy, grace and forgiveness that Jesus purchased for them on the cross, cannot look at another person and not grant a smaller portion of it to someone else. Unforgiveness shows that a person hasn’t really experienced God’s forgiveness. It diminishes what Jesus did on the cross.

Conclusion

“Forgive them Father, they don’t know what they are doing.” is sometimes the only thing we can say to a deep hurt, and is often the only place we can start to grant forgiveness. Sometimes all we can pray is:

“God, they don’t know how much they hurt me, and I don’t know how to get over it. I loved them, opened my heart to them, and they crushed it. But, in obedience to You, out of love for You, because of the love you’ve shown me, in light of the sin debt that you forgave in me, I will choose to forgive them. I don’t feel like it right now, but I will forgive them anyway. I’m still hurt, but I will forgive them anyway, so You can help me heal. I’m still angry, but I will forgive them anyway, and trust your justice. I’m still sad, but I will forgive them anyway, and come to you for comfort and peace.”

I implore you, in the light of what Jesus has done, to begin this year by forgiving those who have sinned against you. Kill the bitterness inside you. Put resentment to death and live in the life and light of the love of Jesus Christ.

Jesus Died

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As the sun gets warmer and the trees start to bloom, I find myself looking forward to summer vacation. I’ve heard of one place that sounds nice… but I’m not sure that I’d ever go there for a holiday. I think you’ll understand why once I tell you about it.

A Not So Lovely Vacation Spot

Behind the University of Tennessee Medical Center is a lovely, little wood-lot on a hillside where people are often seen lying in the sun or reclining in the shade, as squirrels and other little forest creatures play in the trees.

It is out on this hillside where a man named Arpad Vass, a scientist at the University’s Anthropological Research Facility, works every day. All those folks spread out there in the Tennessee heat didn’t get there on their own. They are not lying down because they need a tan, but because they’re all very much dead — they are cadavers, sprawled out intentionally as a way of studying modes of human decomposition.

They are the lifeless bodies of people who have donated their bodies to science, and it is Doctor Vass’s job is to evaluate how these bodies decompose under various conditions: buried in shallow graves, stuck in car trunks, wrapped in plastic bags, submerged in a man-made pond, just to name a few. He figures out all the different ways the human body can be disposed by a murderer. The data collected helps detectives throughout the world catch murderers.

Maybe you’ve heard of this. There is a TV show that I used to watch called Bones. At its core, Bones is a drama about forensic science. Each episode focuses on solving the mystery behind someone’s murder by examining the remains. They are brought to Dr. Brennan’s forensic anthropology team at the Jeffersonian Institution, and by studying whatever is left over of the person, they are able to figure out ‘who-dun-it’. The series is somewhat based on the life and writings of a real life forensic anthropologist named Kathy Reichs.

Death Sanitized

The truth is that in the 21st century, death has been almost thoroughly sanitized for our protection. We simply don’t like to think about death. We don’t even like to say that someone died. We’ve come up with all sorts of nicer ways to say it. They “Passed away”, are “deceased”, have “ceased to be”, are “no more”, have “gone to the other side”, , “shuffled from this mortal coil”, “gone into that good night”, are “in a better place”, have “crossed over”, are now “asleep”, are “dearly departed”, “pushing up roses” or have  simply “kicked the bucket”. We’ll come up with any way to say it other than, “They died.”

Consider funerals. Many people spend thousands of dollars to pay an expert to prepare the body for us, so we don’t have to see it. We get them to put makeup on the body so they will look like they are only sleeping and not really dead. Then we pay them to put the dead person into very nice clothes, complete with jewelry and a new hairdo, and lay them into ornately carved, plush box full of silken pillows. Then after paying all this money to dress up the body, we close the box so no one has to see it, cover the box in flowers, so we don’t have to think about the box, and then we bury it in the ground — and put up a very expensive, beautifully carved piece of stonework to mark the spot. Even the hole we dug for the body gets decorated.

And sadly, people don’t even have to be dead for us to put them out of sight. It seems that anyone that reminds us of death is locked up and sent away. The elderly, the sick, the dying are stuffed away in special hospitals and homes, away from eyes of our society, so we don’t have to think about death – especially not our own.

Easter & Death

The way we celebrate the Easter season points to our phobia about death. These days, when most people think of Easter, their minds are filled with pink bunnies, new bonnets, marshmallow chicks, plastic grass, colorful eggs and candy! Even crosses – the symbol of the bloody death of Jesus Christ – is sanitized and decorated to make it easier on the eyes. We want to fast forward to Easter Sunday – and forget about the crucifixion.

But, scripture teaches us that as important as new life in Christ is – and the wonderful truth of the resurrection – it doesn’t overshadow the death of Jesus. Please open up your bibles to 1 Corinthians 15:1-8:

“Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.”

Nearly every year since it came out I’ve watched “The Passion of the Christ.” Not because I like the movie, but because it remind me of the price that Jesus paid for my sin. It shows me courage Jesus showed on His march to the cross. It reminds me of the love our Heavenly Father has for us, that He would send His Son to go through that for our sake.

Think back to you you’ve done on Good Fridays in the past, and how you’ve responded to Holy Week – from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday. Have you taken the time to remember what happened – to acknowledge the death of Jesus Christ – or do you avoid thinking about it in favour of more pleasant things?

The thing is, if we had to pick a decoration theme that the Easter season, it wouldn’t include flowers and bunnies – it would more resemble Halloween! There’s a corpse, burial clothes, embalming, a tomb, ghosts, screaming, torture…

I hope you come to the Good Friday service this week. Even though I don’t have control over what all happens there, I do get to preach, and it is my hope to remember the Amazing Grace of God and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on Good Friday that was necessary because of our sins.

Why? Because, as Paul said to the Christians in Corinth, it is of “first importance.”

Uncomfortable Friday

You see, along with our discomfort with death comes the same kind of discomfort with Good Friday. We know the story and want to skip to the good part. We don’t like the part where Jesus is wrongly arrested, falsely accused, beaten, tortured, abandoned, crucified, stabbed in the heart and then placed in a borrowed tomb, alone. We want to skip to the good part on Easter Sunday.

We like to forget that the disciples and the women who went to the tomb on Sunday morning were fully expecting to the dead and already decaying body of their friend and teacher, Jesus. They did not go to His tomb to see His resurrection. They intended to make certain that the body of their friend, their mentor and their rabbi was properly and respectfully prepared so that it could decompose quickly and with dignity. That’s what the spices they were carrying were for. And then, later, the bones could be taken and put in an ossuary or “bone box” and then buried somewhere else.

We can make no mistake. The women and disciples expected to find a corpse. Although Jesus had told them of His resurrection all the time, they really didn’t get it. Even though He said that He would rise in 3 days, they didn’t really believe it. Jesus said in John 14:1-3,

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”

Jesus said it over and over, but on Easter Sunday, there was absolutely no doubt in the minds of the women who were coming to the tomb (Luke 23:56-24:1, 10), that that when they arrived they would find the lifeless body of Jesus… and they wouldn’t need a forensic scientist to tell them how He died. Most of His followers didn’t have the stomach to stay and watch, but they knew. He’d been on a Roman cross – and while you go up on a cross alive, you always come down dead.

RABBONI!

That’s why they panicked! Let’s read the story from John 20:

“Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.’ So Peter went out with the other disciple, and they were going toward the tomb. Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first.

And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples went back to their homes.

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.’ Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary.’ She turned and said to him in Aramaic, ‘Rabboni!’ (which means Teacher).”

In a lot of translations there’s exclamation point there on “Rabboni!” That’s possibly the most under-rated exclamation point in the entire Bible. Seeing Jesus alive was the most incredible thing that she had ever seen – and the last thing she would ever expected!

First Importance

And that’s the point the apostle Paul drives home in 1 Corinthians 15 when he writes to the church about 20-30 years later. Verses 3 and 4:

“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried…”

You see, back then there was no funeral homes to preparing bodies for burial. Family and friends were the default morticians. Their culture knew what death smelled like, what death looked like, what death does to a body. Tombs were closed, barricaded by large rocks and stone, but everybody knew what was happening inside the darkness of the sealed tomb. In fact, before Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, Martha reminded Jesus of how much it would smell.They knew what tombs were like, and what went on in them.

When Easter happened, those first witnesses saw something unprecedented in the history of human remains. The material, fleshly body of Jesus of Nazareth, somehow became a former-dead-body! They had seen Lazarus come to life after 4 days, sure… but that was Jesus healing someone else. What they were seeing here was different. This was someone actually bringing himself back to life! No one performed a miracle. There was no doctor, no prophet, no prayers. But He came back!

Even modern science hasn’t found a way to change dead bodies into live ones. They can take the parts from a recently dead body and transplant them into the living – like heart or lung…. but they can’t raise the dead.

The Miracle of Resurrection

When Paul is writing this to the Corinthians he’s addressing something that was being wrongly taught in the church. Some people were saying that there was no resurrection from the dead… no life after death. Even people today have a problem with that concept. But the church in Corinth had people who were teaching that there was no such thing as someone rising from the dead. Paul’s whole point here… his whole reason for writing this section… is to give proof and testimony to the fact of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, which is a critical, uncompromising part of the Christian faith. It is the central part of the Christian faith – that DEATH HAS BEEN OVERCOME!

Paul hammers this message here: Jesus was dead, and then He was alive. And Jesus, as a live, post-crucified person, was seen by numerous individuals whom he lists in verses 5-8.

“…and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.”

The disciples did not make the resurrection up. To them it was a crushing defeat. Peter returned to fishing… the disciples has scattered… the followers of Jesus knew He was dead. They were not just gullible witnesses who were testifying to a hope that they had… they were people who were telling the story of the hard evidence that had stood right in front of them!

Resurrection = Hope

Here’s why it’s important: Look at verses 16-19 of this same chapter:

“For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.”

This is how monumental the death of Jesus is to Christians. Our salvation is only possible if Jesus died and rose again. As Hebrews 9:22 says,“… without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” That’s a restatement from the Law of Leviticus 17:11, “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement…” Jesus had to die.

If Jesus didn’t die, our sins wouldn’t be paid for. And if He didn’t die, then he couldn’t be resurrected. And if there is no resurrection, then we have no hope.

If Jesus wasn’t raised, if the tomb isn’t empty, if death can’t be reversed somehow, then, as verse 14 says, “your faith is futile”. If Jesus’ death didn’t pay our penalty for sin… then we “are still in our sins.” If There is no resurrection, then all those who have died before us… no matter what they did… “Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.” They’re dead in their sins because “the wages of sin is death, and the gift of God is eternal life, through Jesus Christ …”(Rom 6:23)

Paul says, “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” If the only reason that we are Christian is because of the perks we get while we are alive on earth… then we are to be pitied. One of my commentaries says it this way:

“If all the preachers lied (15:15) and no one will be raised, then not only is faith meaningless for this life, it is meaningless in death. Those who believed in Christ believed a lie; those who died because of persecution for their faith perished for no reason. The consequences of believing the lie that there will be no resurrection shake the very foundations of the Christian faith…. If the only promise of the Christian faith applies to this life, then why believe in it? Why believe in a faith that brought –in this culture and even still in many places in the world – persecution, sorrow, death, ostracism, separation? Without the resurrection, there would be no hope for final judgment and justice or hope for a final dwelling place with God. There would be nothing but death to look forward to. If the end is the same for everyone, then why not live like the pagans in sensual pleasure (15:32)? Why deny oneself? Why be miserable if the other choices bring the same result?” (Life Application Bible Commentary – 1 & 2 Corinthians)

The bodily death and burial of Jesus is truly of “first importance” and is the very linchpin of human history. His dead body, coming to life, has made all the difference, and has given hope everyone who believes.

Three Things to Remember

So there are three important things that I want us to remember during the next week of the Easter Season, and they are found in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4.

1. Jesus’ Death was Always the Plan

First… Jesus died for our sins “according to the scriptures”. The death of Jesus as the substitute for our sins wasn’t something that the church or the Apostles came up with. It’s wasn’t something that God came up with on the spot. The crucifixion of Jesus was always God’s plan to save humanity from the consequence of sin, right from the beginning.

The Phrase, “according to the scriptures” refers to the Old Testament prophecies regarding this event that would come true in the future. Plans that God wrote into every book of the Bible. Plans He would carry out.

The People of Israel were waiting for God to send them a Saviour, and the reason they were waiting was because of the prophecies about the Messiah that would come, that God would send!

It is so important that we know that Jesus’ death as a sacrifice on our behalf wasn’t a way to make good of a bad situation. It was exactly the way the scriptures said He would save us – hundreds and thousands of years before.

2. Jesus Was Buried

The second thing I want us to remember is that Jesus was “buried.” The fact of His death is revealed in His burial. Everyone in Paul’s day there were false teachers of trying disprove the death of Jesus Christ.

But Jesus did die on the cross and was buried in a tomb. It’s a historical fact. Some have tried to say that Jesus only passed out… usually called the “swoon theory”. But consider that it was a Roman Soldier who told Pilate that Jesus was dead… not a follower of Jesus or someone with a political agenda.

And remember, they didn’t break His legs because they knew He was dead. They even stabbed Him in the side, right into his pericardium (his heart sac), making “blood and water” pour out of Him (John 19:34). Then Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus took him and wrapped his whole body in traditional fashion and placed it in the tomb themselves (John 19:38-42). Then the enemies of Jesus, the Pharisees, stationed a round-the-clock guard so no one could mess with the body. Jesus did die.

Consider for a moment the lives of the apostles after they saw Jesus alive. One theologian (David Strauss) said this, “It is impossible that a being who had stolen half-dead out of the sepulchre, who crept about weak and ill, wanting medical treatment, who required bandaging, strengthening and indulgence, and who still at last yielded to His sufferings, could have given to the disciples the impression that He was a Conqueror over death and the grave, the Prince of Life, an impression which lay at the bottom of their future ministry. Such a resuscitation could only have weakened the impression which He had made upon them in life and in death, at the most could only have given it a [mournful] voice, but could by no possibility have changed their sorrow into enthusiasm, have elevated their reverence into worship.”

3. Jesus’ Resurrection is a Historical Event

And the third thing that I want us to remember is that it is this week, as we gather together to celebrate and remember Holy Week, is that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead. Permanently. He did not die again.

This is not just a belief, but a historical fact. Jesus said Himself that He would be in the tomb for three days and rise again… and even though no one believed Him… He did. He was seen in the flesh by many people, and even ate and taught publically only days after his very public crucifixion. Hundreds of witnesses attested to this fact. Look at 1st Corinthians 15:6. Paul seems to be saying, “If you don’t believe me ask one of these other 500 or so people. Don’t take my word for it… go ask one of the witnesses who had seen Him live, die, be buried, and then come back to life!”

Believe it or not, there are those who doubt that Jesus rose from the dead. And there are lots of supposed “arguments” against the resurrection.

Some say that the women went to the wrong tomb… but they were present when Jesus was placed there and new the area well. (Matthew 27:61)

Some say that the followers of Jesus stole the body and then pretended He rose again.… but no one questions that there were soldiers stationed there to guard against that.

Most of the disciples ran away like scared little girls when the guards came to get Jesus in Gethsemane, so it’s hard to believe that they would suddenly became so brave that they would be willing to face a detachment soldiers to steal Jesus’ body and fake a resurrection.

Some say that Jesus’ resurrection was some kind of group hallucination, but it’s hard to believe over 500 people had the same hallucination. Not to mention that if it was all in their minds, there would be an actual body that could be produced to discount their story.

We simply cannot get away from the fact the historical evidence points to the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Sure, the details of the crucifixion, burial and resurrection of Jesus is a subject of debate among scholars, historians, philosophers and theologians… I admit that. You almost get the sense in reading chapter 15 that Paul himself was trying to describe a process that is somewhat mysterious to even him. But the bottom line is that somehow, at God’s initiative, and through the resurrection of Jesus, death became a lot less about blood and guts, bodies and decay, and a lot more about the power of new life – and the very temporary, unscary nature of death – now that Jesus has defeated it.

After His resurrection, Jesus invited His disciples to check him out — to put their hands in the wounds, feel inside, touch him. To be sure that it was Him, and that He had conquered death. It was a proclamation to everyone that this secret, dark world of the grave had been exposed — the gruesomeness of Friday had turned into the glorious light of Sunday morning.

For a while there’s still a lot of darkness in this world, but believers have the promise that it won’t always be that way. The cure for death has been found — and we learned it from the only One who could teach us… from the one who Himself died… and was buried… and rose again… so that we might live with Him.

“Why?” – An Easter Sermon

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(Click here for the sermon video)

I’ve watched the Passion of the Christ on Good Friday almost every year since it came out in 2004. It’s not that I love the movie, or that I find it entertaining… in fact most years it’s not even convenient. If you were here on Good Friday, or perhaps in your own personal reading time this week, then you’ve been through the story of the crucifixion of Jesus. It’s a powerfully intense section of scripture to read. The movie The Passion brings out that intensity in a very meaningful way to me, and I am both repulsed by it and captivated by it at the same time.

Why - Easter

The reason that I watch The Passion is because I am drawn to the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. Part of me wants to look away and never turn it on again, or read that section of scripture again, because it’s so intense. However, because of my relationship with Jesus Christ, and my understanding of His sacrifice on the cross for my behalf, I make myself read it, and watch it, and remember why He was there.

Though we all come from very different perspectives, everyone who knows the story of the crucifixion of Jesus asks the same question when they are done reading or watching it: “Why?”

Why did they hate him so much?

Why did He put Himself through that?

Why didn’t He just come down off the cross?

Why was it so violent?

Why did it have to be done that way?

Why would Jesus endure such pain and agony especially if He is the son of God?

If you understand the story of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and you are in a personal relationship with Him, then you are probably in a place where you can answer some of those questions… at least intellectually. But even if you have a good understanding of the gospel, you still don’t have all the answers to those “why?” questions?

Especially when the question changes from “Why did it happen that way?” to “Why did Jesus do that for me?” or “Why, if I believe His agony was a payment for my sin, do I keep sinning, complaining, and wondering if God loves me?” Somehow, the simple (though right) answer of “Because He loves me” doesn’t seem good enough. When we start to comprehend what Jesus did, and the gift of salvation He made available to us, we are overwhelmed and can’t fathom a love that sacrificial, that strong, that deep. Not for us anyway.

Perhaps you have come today with a true and real understanding of the cross, the resurrection, and the cost of your sin. Perhaps you have come today because it is your tradition, but not because you really understand or believe in the Easter story. Perhaps you have a small faith, but there is something that is holding you back from really believing and exercising that faith in your daily life. Or perhaps you once believed with all your heart, but you have fallen away from that belief. Whatever reason brings you today, I’m glad you are here because I want to share with you the gospel. I believe all men and women everywhere have a hunger for truth and love. And I believe that the deepest desires of our heart are found in Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ as it is told to us in the Bible.

Startled by the Love of God

I want to share the story of Jesus from a section of scripture that you may not usually associate with the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus – the Old Testament book of Isaiah. Part of what amazes me about the Bible is how well it holds together, and how it all points to Jesus. The scripture I want to read with you was written about 700 years before Jesus was born – and about 100 years before crucifixion was invented, but it describes the day of Jesus crucifixion in great detail. It talks about what Jesus would go through, why He would need to, and what He would make available to the world by doing it. Fee free to open up and follow along with Isaiah 52:14. I’m going to read it from the New Living Translation, so your Bible might be a little different.

 “But many were amazed when they saw him. His face was so disfigured he seemed hardly human, and from his appearance, one would scarcely know he was a man. 15 And he will startle many nations. Kings will stand speechless in his presence. For they will see what they had not been told; they will understand what they had not heard about.”

It’s amazing to me that we who sit here today are some of those who are “startled” by this. We are part of the nations that are startled, surprised, and wonder at the story of Jesus. Everyone, from the King to the lowliest person, once they grasp the message of salvation through the blood of Jesus Christ stand speechless in wonder. Even the most hardened atheist, the most jaded skeptic, can’t help but be moved by the story of One who would endure so much out of love for people who didn’t deserve it.

My heart breaks often for those who don’t understand that there is Someone who loves them. Perhaps even you have placed your personal value on what you have, what you can do, how you look, what you can produce. There are many who base their self-worth on things like their possessions, their education, their family status, their ego… and when it is taken away or found to be lacking, they lose their identity, their dignity, and even their self-worth.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ teaches us that God finds every person in the world to be valuable and worthy of love. You, despite any sin you have ever committed, before you had been born, before you had a chance to do anything of value, were loved, created for a purpose, and given a path that would lead you to into the very presence of God. That way was paved for you at great sacrifice.

Isaiah says that people who begin to grasp this kind of love from God, they “understand what they had not heard about”. When the love of God and the sacrifice of Jesus for their sins sinks deep into their souls, they are startled, speechless, standing in awe of God. It’s an amazing thing, and I hope you have experienced it.

A Different Kind of Saviour

Continue in Isaiah 53:1 and let’s read how Isaiah summarizes the life of Jesus. What brought Him to the cross? What kind of life did He have?

“Who has believed our message? To whom has the Lord revealed his powerful arm? 2 My servant grew up in the Lord’s presence like a tender green shoot, like a root in dry ground. There was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance, nothing to attract us to him. 3 He was despised and rejected—a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief. We turned our backs on him and looked the other way. He was despised, and we did not care.”

Here, Isaiah tells us about the contrast between the reality of who Jesus is and how we treat Him.  Jesus came to a world which was akin to a dry river bed during drought season, a land unable to produce good fruit. He came to a world that could not feed people what they need to grow closer to God, where rains had not come for a long time, and where no one was able to produce seeds of righteousness that would grow other healthy spiritual plants. Jesus defied logic. He was tender and green, despite the conditions. He was a deeply rooted, seed-bearing, fruit-bearing plant, growing in dry, cracked ground. He was different and had a source of power beyond what anyone else was able to connect to.

He is the Son of God, the creator of Heaven and Earth, the One whom angels worship, but when He came, He chose to leave that majesty behind Him.  He did not come as a super-attractive, physically strong, handsome superman who would whisk the world off its feet and blast evil with his laser eyes. He didn’t come as a slick talking, well tailored, lawyer that would twist words and make people feel foolish. He didn’t come as a rich man who tricked people into following Him with grandiose promises of worldly wealth. His beauty and majesty wasn’t worn on the outside… it was inside. Those who were attracted to Jesus, were those who needed to meet love incarnate, not some kind of cheap knock-off.

Women who were deeply hurting, rejected by society, living in sin, who were used and abused by men, came to Jesus because they found Him to be loving, forgiving, gracious and safe. Rich men who were hated by all of their own people, didn’t hate Jesus, but instead wanted to be near Him. People who were despised because of their physical sickness, came to Jesus because He loved them in a way they had never experienced, and could heal them with a power they had never seen before – not just from their sickness, but from their deepest emotional hurts. Wise men sought Him out so they could be wiser. Ordinary, cowardly, fishermen were changed at the core of their being to become leaders in the most influential group of people that has ever walked the earth.

Rejected and Despised

And yet, though He spoke nothing but the truth, showed nothing but grace, conveyed passion and love at all times, wept with the hurting, performed miracles for the sick, opened up the scriptures and taught things about God that no one had ever heard before… most people rejected Him.

As the Gospel of John 1:10-12 says it:

“He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. 11 He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. 12 But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God.”

He wept over Jerusalem, over the temple, over the world, over our sin. In the end, He was alone in Gethsemane, even His friends couldn’t stay awake long enough to pray with Him. At the cross, many people mocked Him openly while others turned their backs and walked away. There was only a handful that would stay with Him in the end.

He was despised by the world then, and even today the rejection continues. He died for us, we refuse to acknowledge His very existence  He lives for us, calls to us, speaks to us, gives us scripture, gives us the church to encourage us and be served by, and yet… many live as though they could care less.

And yet. Let’s read from verse 3, but verse 4 starts with one the most powerful words in scripture: “Yet…

“We turned our backs on him and looked the other way. He was despised, and we did not care. 4 Yet it was our weaknesses he carried; it was our sorrows that weighed him down. And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God, a punishment for his own sins! 5 But he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed. 6 All of us, like sheep, have strayed away. We have left God’s paths to follow our own. Yet the Lord laid on him the sins of us all.”

This is why I say that if you have an understanding of the Gospel, you cannot read the story of the crucifixion or watch the Passion of the Christ and walk away unmoved, unchanged.

When we see Him weak and weighed down with the cross, it was not His own weight He bore, it was ours. Mine and yours. When He is spit on, rejected, and insulted, He is bearing our insults. The rejection He is feeling from us, we should be feeling from Him. The fear we should be experiencing, the judgement we should be crushed by, the wrath we should be under… He took for our sake.

When the nails pierce His hands… I see my hand. I pray you see yours.

It is not His sin that put Him there… it is our rebellion that should have put us there… and yet there He was. Sometimes we are tempted to think that this has nothing to do with us. It was something in the past, something done for someone else. It’s not me, it couldn’t be me. But the truth is that every stripe, every part of that, was our doing. He took it for those who would believe in Him.

Costly Peace

“He was beaten so we could be whole, whipped so we could be healed.”

What a strange picture! The word “whole” is the word SHALOM, which means “peace, safety, complete, friendship, tranquility, contentment.” He was beaten so we could be at peace. He was buying SHALOM for us. We could not experience peace and contentment with God because of the sin which separated us from Him. We could not have friendship with the Spirit because of our unrighteousness. We could not know tranquility in this world, or with the people of this world, or even with ourselves, because of how warped our souls are because of Sin. If it wasn’t for what Jesus went through, we could never know peace!

We Are Sheep

The Bible calls people “sheep”.  Listen to what Jesus said in John 10:11-18.

“11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. 13 The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.

14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.

17 The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”

I looked up in my commentary what it means when we are called sheep in the bible. It means “Stupid and helpless”. We have all, like sheep, wandered from our shepherd. Put ourselves in danger. Went our own way. We don’t know how to save ourselves. We get ourselves into trouble all the time. We get stuck in the most foolish places. And we are helpless to do anything other than bleat that we are in trouble! God laid out a path for us to follow, and we decided we wanted to go another way – we though the grass would be greener somewhere else and we left the safety of our Shepherd. And it’s not. It’s like we were digging a hole and then fell in our own hole – and decided that the best solution would be to keep digging!

But instead of God writing us off as stupid, helpless, troublesome sheep who He would be better off without, He is the Good Shepherd, who came and got us. John 3:16, “For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.”

We were in debt far beyond our ability to pay. Jesus the good shepherd paid our debts in full. We were lost in the forest, surrounded by wolves, and Jesus, the good shepherd, fought off the wolves, and brought us back to His pasture. We left and sold ourselves into slavery, utterly rejecting who we were created to be, and Jesus didn’t leave us there but instead came and bought us back at His own expense, cleaned us up, and made us part of His family again.

It Is Finished

Skip down to Isaiah 53:11, and listen to the end of the story. After Jesus has been through the worst punishment ever conceived by humanity, He says from the cross “It is finished”, or “It is accomplished.”  And Isaiah says,

“When he sees all that is accomplished by his anguish, he will be satisfied. And because of his experience, my righteous servant will make it possible for many to be counted righteous, for he will bear all their sins.”

Jesus went to the cross, and came away satisfied. He made it possible for all who would believe to gain something they could have never gotten for themselves. He made it so that the unrighteous could be counted righteous. He made it so that the sinner could be called a saint. He opened up the door to eternal life for all who would believe.

And we celebrate at Easter time, the seal of this promise. The truth hangs on one event. It would be one thing to know that Jesus had done all of this and died for our sake. But there is more. Not only did Jesus die, but He rose again to new life.

How do we know the Gospel is true? How can we know that the love we’ve been talking about is available to us? How do we know that we can have new life and be reborn as a Christian? How can we trust what Jesus and the Bible says? Because of His resurrection!

The story didn’t end on Good Friday but on Easter Sunday when Jesus showed that He has the power to conquer sin, and conquer death. And by His resurrection He has opened the door for all who believe to be resurrected with Him. We need to fear judgement, sin, death, or anything else, because our Lord, our Good Shepherd, loves us, laid down His life for us, and then took it up again of His own accord. He made a way for us to experience a love beyond that which we can understand. It is through a relationship with Him that our greatest needs are met and our deepest desires are satiated.

This is what we celebrate today, and this is what has changed those of us who believe. We are radically different than before we knew this, because it has touched us at the deepest level of our self.

I urge you to investigate this truth, to investigate why Jesus did this for you, to accept that you are a sinner, tell Jesus you accept His salvation, and let Him be God to you. Today is the day of salvation. If you once believed, but have fallen away, ask forgiveness and start again with Him. He has never left you, and will never forsake you. Please, take that step today.