Background Scripture: Luke 19:28-40; Matthew 26:17-30, John 13:1-17; Matthew 27
Quotes of the Week:
“We sinned for no reason but an incomprehensible lack of love, and He saved us for no reason but an incomprehensible excess of love.”
Peter Kreeft, Jesus-Shock
As Easter rolls around, we generally think of the resurrection of Christ, but this lesson focuses on aspects leading to Christ's death. Each of us will have to deal with death, at one time or another. Many have lost loved ones, in a variety of ways and at variety of ages. We can read about people that live to be older than 100 and eventually die of complications associated with old age. There are others who have died prematurely in accidents, or through all types of diseases, as well as some who have been killed by others or who have even taken their own lives. We know that, assuming that the world does not come to an end before we die, that we all will experience death one day.
The death of Christ, at some level, is no different than any other death. He lived and then He died. However, if that is all one knows about Christ's death, they are missing some key aspects of who Christ is. It has been interesting to me to think about how much we know about some people's lives. There are Biographies on the lives of people, as well as TV shows and movies about the lives of famous (and some not so famous) people. However, I would argue that we know more about the death of Christ than we know of anyone else's death. We understand not only what happened and the perspectives of those who were there, but we also have insight into what Jesus experienced in the process.
Many have seen the move "The Passion", which gave a rather graphic view of the death of Christ. In this lesson, we will begin to see the kinds of things that Jesus experienced in His last days and we may be able to briefly touch on what He must have been thinking. Through it all, we see many highs and lows, as well as how He viewed what was happening and how others played a part in His death.
As Jesus entered Jerusalem, He had the greeting from the common people (but not the Jewish leadership) as if He was a returning hero. Can you imagine what the people were expecting? Can you imagine what the disciples were expecting? A couple of weeks ago, Berkley and I were able to walk in the St Patricks Day Parade in Cottleville, Missouri. There were lots and lots of people having a good time along the route. However, they weren't there for me (or Berkley). The disciples continued to see that they were onto something that was going to be huge. The Pharisees and other leaders in the crowd were indignant and wanted things to stay as they had been (many people don't want a change to the status quo, ever!). They said that the disciples should stop praising Jesus. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees saying that if His disciples kept quiet, the stones would cry out, which further infuriated the Pharisees.
It is amazing at this time that Jesus was more concerned about others. So often, it takes an extreme life event before we will take our eyes off our own lives and see others. He was prepared to wash the feet of His disciples. In the 1st century, when wearing sandals was common, dirt was picked up along dusty roads each day. Foot washing was common, but it was the lowest slaves that washed the feet. In our day, would you expect a CEO to 'serve' employees? Sure, they may do this at a special work event, but in an ordinary daily task, you see how this would seem out of place. This set a powerful example to His disciples, showing that the One that they respected was truly the servant of others. The disciples did not want to see Jesus wash their feet, but He showed them extreme service in doing so.
What reasons do we have for not showing our love for God by day in and day out service? We tend to think that God might give us something big to do and we may wait for that. We sometimes get caught up into thinking that our faith is made up of the mysterious (creeds, theology, dogmas and beliefs), while forgetting that there is also the mechanical, daily aspect (actions and service). There are others who seem to live the converse, in that they are willing to serve at a moment's notice, but seem to give little regard to their beliefs. In our walk, we cannot separate our beliefs and actions. Jesus took a towel. What do you need to do?
As they were reclining at the table, Jesus said that one of His disciples would betray Him. Can you imagine how shocked and unsettled that must have made them feel? Do you think any of them would say (or even think) that they could be the guilty party? Even Judas likely didn't think it was him, as he may not have classified what he had planned as an act of betrayal. Jesus could have pulled Judas aside and talked to him, as opposed to exposing him. Jesus knew that it too was prophesied and was part of what was to come and He did not try and stop it. As the disciples were eating, they each said "Surely you don't mean me, Lord?" Judas even said "Surely you don't mean me, Rabbi?". Jesus answered Judas saying, "You have said so." Isn't it interesting that the others called Jesus Lord and Judas called Him Rabbi? Both are terms of endearment, but Rabbi implies more of a teacher and less of a Lord and Savior. Respect, yes, but not willing to give his life to Christ. Isn't this true of so many people today? Would you call Jesus "Rabbi or Teacher", or do you call Him "Lord"?
As the disciples were celebrating the Passover, they remembered the celebration of that night of nights in Egypt, when the Israelites put blood on their doorposts. Surely, the disciples had heard the story many times and were very well acquainted with the events of the Passover. However, when Jesus said "Take and eat; this is MY body" and "This is MY blood", they had to be taken back. He had told them that His death was imminent on multiple occasions. They just chose to ignore those words. They didn't realize that this would be His last drink with them, until He had risen. They didn't realize that His death, which they would have fought against and would have believed to rock their world, would bring forgiveness of sins (and rocked the world to come). Jesus knew what was coming, and they didn't have as much as a clue. In all honesty, none of us would have understood if we were in their position.
Early the next morning, the chief priests and elders made their plans to have Jesus executed. I feel sure that they wanted to give the appearance of justice, in that the death penalty had to be decided in the day time. Isn't it amazing that while they were convicting the Son of God, they made sure they followed the law (both civil and religious)? At times, we forget that God is more concerned about who we are and less about what we do (or don't do). It isn't as if we can do whatever we want, but when we get caught up in a life of legalism, many tend to place their focus on the do's and don'ts, all the while forgetting others around them.
Judas, the one who had betrayed Jesus, saw Jesus condemned and he became remorseful. Perhaps he believed he was forcing Jesus' hand, so that He would finally take the steps to assume leadership (which is what Judas and others wanted Jesus to be - they assumed that was His purpose). However, things did not go as Judas had planned and Jesus was condemned as an innocent man. Judas returned the money that he had been paid and said that he had sinned. The religious leaders, the ones who should have been the go to guys to deal with sin, didn't care at all about Judas and his guilt feelings, as they had their own agenda.
Jesus said nothing. Why didn't He reply? When Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane, He was very unsettled, but after that event, nothing was going to stop Him from fulfilling the purpose God gave Him. Arguing or protesting against Pilate would not have helped, and if He kept talking, they likely would have come up with some other cause to convict Him.
During this time of festival, there was a custom to release a prisoner chosen by the crowd. Pilate saw no threat in Jesus and he knew that another prisoner, Barabbas, was indeed a threat to Rome. He surely assumed that the crowd would want Jesus to be let go. It is apparent that Pilate was most concerned about keeping peace and was much less concerned about doing the right thing.
Even Pilate's wife sent him a message saying that he should not have anything to do with Jesus. Jesus was an innocent man and she had suffered a great deal in a dream because of him. Pilate was not interested in her or any other similar viewpoint. As the crowd got more and more restless, he asked which of the two prisoners he should release. On an aside, have you ever considered how God has placed people in your life, and it may be very wise on your behalf to listen to their council. Berkley and I certainly have been blessed with folks in Bible Studies, Growth Groups and have other Christian friends that have been helpful in us trying to make godly choices in some life situations, especially when those decisions were very difficult to make. As believers, we also have the presence of the Holy Spirit that indwells in us and often helps to mold our consciences, so that we can sense where God is leading. We have many who will help us in our walk, but ultimately it comes down the decisions that we all make. Are you listening to God's voice coming through other believers, the Holy Spirit and through seeking Him?
The crowd cried out "Barabbas". Pilate was willing to release Barabbas (a revolt leader), which he knew would be a bad idea, but then he asked the people what he should do with Jesus. There was no charge against him, but the people answered saying that they wanted Him crucified. Pilate, rather than handling as a leader should, delivered Jesus to the people. Even if Pilate wanted to do the right thing, the people wanted to something else and Pilate was seeking the approval of the crowd. We have even see similar instances in our world where leadership decisions have been based more on what people want when they should be based on what is right to do. Pilate washed his hands of any responsibility (prompting a commonly used phrase today). He released Barabbas and then, to add insult to injury, Pilate had Jesus flogged and handed him over to the people to be crucified. Perhaps he thought flogging Jesus would appease the crowd and then they would do the right thing, since he was unable to do it.
The soldiers mocked Jesus and 'poked fun' at Him, but they were really mocking the Jews. It was as if they were saying, "this pitiful person is your king?" Some things don't really change over time. There are many people that treat Jesus with disrespect today, largely due to ignorance and others that are just defiant. If they truly understood that they were dealing with the Son of God, surely things would have gone differently.
Jesus was offered wine, mixed with gall to drink. It was an anesthetic drink, but He refused. While we tend to want to deaden pain when we face it, Jesus chose to endure pain. In giving of His life for us, He did not want to take the edge off. We read that they divided His clothes, which is just one of many prophecies fulfilled in the death of Christ. Psalm 22:18 says "They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment." You have heard it referred to over and over in these lessons, but a very key aspect of faith is found in prophetic Scriptures. No other holy book has prophecy, yet the Bible is full of it.
They put a sign over him which stated "This is Jesus, the King of the Jews". This was an attempt to clearly mock the Jews. It was written in three languages (Hebrew, Latin and Greek). Hebrew was the language of Israel and the Jewish religion. Latin was the language of Rome, law and the government. Greek was the language of culture. Surely this sign upset the Jewish leaders, as they certainly did not want to claim Jesus as their king.
It is important for us to realize, as have other believers throughout history, that Jesus' crucifixion on the cross was on our behalf. It was part of God's plan. It was according to Scripture. He was there in our place. Frankly, I can't explain how that transaction happens. I sin. Jesus dies. I believe in Jesus and live my life for Him and I am forgiven. I continue to sin and I make poor decisions at times in life, yet Jesus died for me and I am forgiven. I can say the words, but the mechanism of how God handles that transaction is certainly beyond my intellect to understand. Yet, I believe it and I know it is true.
There must have been many people present at the Crucifixion. Among those in attendance were the other thieves, the soldiers, the Jewish leaders, visitors to Jerusalem for the Passover, many who loved Jesus (including Mary, other women and His disciples), confused followers and those who became mockers. In Isaiah 53:12, we can read that "he was numbered with the transgressors", which is yet another prophecy, as He was crucified between two thieves. These were two common thieves, crucified along with Jesus, so that Jesus would be identified by those who watched as yet another 'common thief".
Isn't it amazing that nearly everybody turned against Jesus? They were so quick to follow Him when He came into Jerusalem, yet in a short time, they wanted Him dead. There could be many reasons, but some may have felt threatened by His existence. Others must have felt that Jesus didn't meet their expectations and others simply became part of a mob or riot mentality. Isn't this the case with people today? Some are threatened because they don't want to change their lifestyle. Others are disappointed because they expected following Jesus to mean that things would happen more favorably (and they find that there are still plenty of issues). Others may not have had an opinion, but they were ready to revolt (together with anybody) against anything.
Those who passed by hurled insults at Him, saying that He was not who He said He was. When you are goaded on by others, how does that make you feel? You likely have seen words said by one team against another that caused a team to play much harder, just to prove the words wrong. However, Jesus was on a mission and was not going to be turned away from it. The chief priests, teachers and elders mocked Him, saying that if He could save others, why couldn't He save Himself? Some wanted Jesus to perform a miracle and come down; saying that then they would believe. Many people today want to make Jesus jump through 'their' hoops, as if a miracle would bring belief. If it takes miracles to believe, it will always take more miracles to keep believing. Jesus heard what they were saying, but instead of caving in, He stayed true to His mission.
Then, we read that Jesus cried out to God, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" We cannot begin to understand the relationship that Jesus had with the Father, to realize that this relationship was temporarily broken. Even in our own lives, as we have a vibrant relationship with Christ, we may find it hard to not feel as if we have been left alone when things are going awry.
Some wanted to see what Jesus could or would do. There was a reference to Elijah, who was taken from the earth while alive in the Old Testament. There was a superstition that Elijah would come and rescue people. However, this didn't happen. Jesus cried out in a loud voice and gave up His spirit. The place of the cross was in God's plan, but that is not the end of God's plan in our world.
Not only did darkness cover the land, but the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open. These were not the types of things you would see everyday (or on any day). The curtain was a barrier in the temple, separating God and the people. It was much like a barrier in surgery, separating the sterile from the non sterile. The curtain was not torn in a corner, but split down the middle. No man could have split the curtain and this helps us to see that our coming to God is something only He can do. It also helps us to realize that there is no sinner too far gone to be offered God's forgiveness.
We read that the centurion and others guarding Jesus were terrified. Surely they had to be watching all that was going on and realizing that this was an innocent man. But, as these events unfolded, they realized that this was much bigger than the death of an innocent man, but they soon came to realize that the death of Jesus was the biggest mistake that could have been made. They exclaimed "Surely He was the Son of God!"
On the following day, the chief priests and the Pharisees went back to Pilate. I can imagine Pilate was getting tired of seeing all of these people. They told Pilate that Jesus had said that He would arise in three days. They asked Pilate to give the order for the tomb to be made secure so that the disciples would not come and steal the body, saying that Jesus had risen from the dead. These were the same disciples that went and hid - would they now be so bold as to face death by stealing the body and creating a ruse? I believe that the biggest fear of the Jewish leadership was not that the disciples would steal the body, but that Jesus may actually rise. Pilate ordered that a guard be taken to make the tomb as secure as possible. So, they went and put a seal on the stone and posted the guard.
In these passages, we learn that there are times when we are conflicted as to whether to do what we want or what God would want us to do. This is not unusual and while it may not be getting through those times easier for us, we see that even Jesus Christ wrestled with this. We also learn that Jesus was more concerned about those around Him, even as His death approached. It is very easy for us to become self absorbed in the midst of our muck, but we are called to be a community of believers. Are you praying for others in the midst of their dark times? Are you willing to see the needs of others and help when possible?
As we read this lesson, we see how important prophecy from the Old Testament is in being fulfilled in the events of Jesus' life and death. It is important that we understand how connected the Bible is and it should also help us to realize how crucial it is for us to understand what is contained within. However, there is a tendency by some to focus solely on deep theological constructs within Scripture, while forgetting about the needs of others. Yes, we should understand what we believe and why, but we should not neglect meeting needs and serving others in our lives.
As you prepare for Easter, spend some time thinking about what Jesus went through. And then, thank God for what Jesus endured for you and I. If that were never to have happened, we would never have the forgiveness that has been offered.