Lenten Devotional 2021
Ash Wednesday, the first Wednesday of Lent, marks the beginning of the Lenten season. During this time in the church calendar, a dark purple color enters the altar area, and a season of reflection begins. In some churches, people file into the church building to have ashes placed on their foreheads. “Remember, man, that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return,” says the priest or minister repeatedly. Why does the pastor repeat this phrase, and why is Lent an important time for each of us? Because many of us simply follow traditions rather than understand the significance of what we are doing, these are two very important questions.
“Remember, man, that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return,” is a very simple statement. In today’s society, people want everything. The wants have become needs. I need the stone countertop as seen on television. I need the top-of-the-line car which practically drives itself. I need the new smart phone to stay connected to anyone and everyone, except those who are closest to me. When in reality, those “I needs” are really “I wants.” We are a lot like Gollum in The Lord of the Rings trilogy whose desire for the ring of power consumed him until his lust for the ring killed him. Notice the word consumed in the previous sentence? Yes, we are consumers who want and want and want until we are consumed by them.
“Remember, man, that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return,” reminds us that one day each of us will die. Our bodies will be placed in the ground, or our ashes will be scattered to the four winds, and we will be no more a part of life. The stone countertop, the impressive car, and the phone will be left behind for others to use or dispose as they wish. The saying reminds each of us to look deeply into our hearts and reorganize our priorities. Do I really need the very expensive countertop, expensive car, or newest phone when another less expensive model or style is more suited to my lifestyle? How can I use the money I save to help someone else?
This is where the Lenten season comes into play. It is a time to search deep within each of our hearts. It is a time to rearrange our priorities. Where does the reorganization begin? Instead of putting my wants first, I need to put my Creator first in my life. Then, my second priority should be the needs of others.
29 “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.[a] 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ [b] 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[c] There is no commandment greater than these.”
Finally, my third priority is me. I come into play, but God already has me covered. If I put God first, He
will take care of me. How do I know? Because He promised me, and God never forgets a promise. He
will take good care of me; so I do not need to worry about anything.
25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will
wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or
reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?
27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life[a]
28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I
tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.
30 If that is how God clothes the
grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—
you of little faith?
31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we
32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek
first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry
about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
Though Lent is an important time to begin to reorganize our priorities, we must take the reorganization through the rest of the year. Each day is another step toward putting God first. Each day has new challenges and new desires. With God’s help, each day we can keep our priorities in order. Each new day, we can find deep within ourselves the joy that God desires each one of us to have. Have you noticed that joy bubbling up within you? Like your pulse throbbing inside you, joy will circulate with each breath you take. Remember, when your priorities are Jesus, Others, and Yourself, they spell JOY.
February / March / April 2021
“Leaving Nazareth, He went and lived in Capernaum, by the sea in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali so that what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: ‘The Land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles- the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.” Matthew 4:13-16
Time passed, and the baby born in a manger became a strong, kind carpenter.His cousin John baptized him, and He endured temptation for forty days in the desert by Satan.Jesus came through that trial with flying colors, for Satan has no power over Him.Many of us might assume that Jesus would have triumphantly gone into Jerusalem demanding to be made king; after all, He was one.Most of the Jews viewed the coming Messiah as One Who would rescue them from their enemies, not from themselves.Yet, Jesus did something completely unexpected.He went to live in Galilee, in the lake region of Zebulun and Naphtali.
Why did Jesus do this?He did it to fulfill the prophecy, which stated the people living in that area saw a great Light, for they lived in darkness.Throughout the Bible, God is referred to as Light, and Satan as the prince of darkness.Because Jesus is God the Son, He embodies Light, pure Light.This Light reaches through us and into the depths of our souls, illuminating every single secret, misdeed, hurt, and pain.Light cuts through the darkness and reveals the truth.Jesus is Truth, Life, the Way, and Light.Only He can cut through the darkness of hell and reveal us as we truly are.The people of Galilee were given a great gift, for they lived with the Light of Life for three full years.
Have you ever been through a storm at night when the power goes out?All around you is darkness.You stumble into things, hold your hands out in front of you, and pray that you can find the flashlight before you hurt yourself.Your hands close around that flashlight in the drawer, and your fingers find the on switch.Immediately, within its beam of light, the darkness dissipates.Where there is light, there can be no darkness.Light casts out darkness.What do you do next?You find lots of candles and matches and light them in every room of the house, dispelling the darkness.Darkness hides the dirty, the pain, the fear, the ugly, and so forth, for anything can hide in the darkness.Nothing can hide in the light.
I imagine that is why many are afraid of the dark.It is why our adrenaline kicks into high gear as fear gains control.It is why Satan masquerades as an angel of light, but is the angel of darkness.The people in Jesus’ time were no different than us.Each person had his own secrets, shame, pain, and sins to hide; each one lived in darkness.Jesus lived in Galilee for the same reason that He lives in the hearts of men today: the world needs to see His Light.The world is in darkness, and Jesus is Light.
We need Jesus to draw us into the light, revealing things as they truly are, not how we imagine them.Just like that flashlight or that candle lighting our rooms during an electrical outage, Jesus is our Light.He is the Beacon we see in the blackness.He is the Light of a match when hope is kindled.He is the Light that emanates from the good that people do.He is the Hope that is born when one more person finds and accepts Him as Savior.
There is one small difference between Galilee then and the world today.Back then, Galilee had Jesus in human form.Today, we have the Holy Spirit revealing Jesus to the world, for we represent Jesus.We are His light.Look into your heart, and ask yourself: what kind of light are you being?Are you drawing people to Jesus through your light, or is your light dimmed by the world?This world has enough darkness.We are called to be the light of the world for Jesus.This Lenten season let us light the world with Jesus’ light.“The people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.”May we all be Christ’s light in this darkened world.
“All these things Jesus said to the crowds in parables; indeed, He said nothing to them without a parable.This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet: ‘I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter what has been hidden since the foundation of the world.’”
Parables are earthly stories with heavenly meanings.Why did Jesus teach in parables?As a teacher, I understand why He spoke in parables.People learn better when they have reference points and familiar things to guide them.We learn from parables each and every day.
When I teach, I always try to connect what we are learning to something that is familiar to the children.When connections are made, they make a lasting impression or an indelible mark on our memories.In other words, it stays with us.Jesus wanted His words to last in every life touched by His words.Those who have the ears to hear and understand discover the nuances or hidden gems Jesus sought to reveal, like hidden picture games.When you first play them, you spend the time scouring the picture to find the hidden objects.However, the more you play, the more easily you pick up on the hidden items.
I believe that parables perform the same function.When taken at face value, they are nice little stories.However, if we care enough to dig a little deeper, we will uncover the hidden picture.We will uncover the gem hidden in each one.Once uncovered, those gems make an indelible mark on our lives, and they begin to change us from the inside out.Dig a little deeper, and find the heavenly meaning in those earthly stories.If you let them, they have the power to change your life.
“That times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that He may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus… 22 Moses said, ‘The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers. You shall listen to Him in whatever He tells you.” Acts 3:20,22
God bides His time until the perfect time for His plans.His plan of salvation was a work in progress for over four thousand years, and every single nuance of it was fulfilled.Over the ages, the Lord gave His people signs and wonders to help them remember that His promises were true.The above Scripture is taken from Acts.The Book of Acts recounts the early Christian church, after Christ’s ascension into heaven and the coming of the Holy Spirit.This passage helped to connect the dots for its readers, proving to each one that Jesus was the fulfillment of the promise made so many years ago.
In Hebrew society, Moses was one of the most influential people who ever lived; therefore, in proving that Jesus was the Messiah, Peter refers to what Moses prophesied so many years earlier.People possess the remarkable gift of hindsight.It is why history is so incredibly important.When we look back, we are able to see God’s hand at work in our lives.In the same way, Peter was proving to his audience that God’s hand was on every single situation, and His plan came to fruition in the Son of Man, Jesus.Moses, like so many other people that God used, spoke about the coming of Jesus.Because the Jewish people learned their history, they were able to understand the significance of Peter’s words.Their knowledge of history linked prophecies and fulfilments together allowed the people to see how Jesus was Who He said He was- the Messiah.
Today, we hear on the news how people want to remove certain parts of our own history, because it is uncomfortable, “offends” them, or does not fit the current popular but inaccurate American narrative.Eliminate the past, and the mistakes made then are repeated tenfold.Learn from it, and we can clearly see God’s hand at work.You see, God did not stop working after the early days of the church.He is still at work today, and Jesus is still the Messiah Who came to save.Jesus was appointed as the sacrifice for our sins; listen to His voice.He is calling you to be welcomed home.The fulfillment of grace is just around the bend, if we accept God’s promise fulfilled: Jesus.
“The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him.Unrolling it, He found the place where it is written: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’”
What is your life’s mission?Is it to be a physician? A lawyer?A farmer?A teacher?A shopkeeper?A mechanic?Is it something completely different?When Jesus returned from the desert, he went to His hometown of Nazareth and revealed His earthly mission to the community.Jesus’ mission was to save those who were lost, to restore people, and to rescue a dying humanity from itself.
The above Scriptures were familiar to its hearers, yet this did not mean that they understood the words or accepted them.However, whether or not people accepted Jesus was superfluous.The mission remained the same: to seek and to save those who are lost.His mission has not changed, and it will not change.Jesus came to earth to save us all.
Now, we come back to the original question.What is your life’s mission?As Christians, our mission is to lead people to the saving knowledge of Jesus.Regardless of what others say, think, or the manner in which the mission is fulfilled, it remains the same.People need Jesus, and, until He returns in power and glory, we are the only Jesus they will see.Let us fulfill our mission by showing people Who Jesus is.
The Great Divide Point of Grace
Songwriters: Matt Huesmann, Grant Cunningham
Trying to fathom the distance
Looking out 'cross the canyon carved
By my hands
God is gracious
Sin would still separate us
Were it not for the bridge
His grace has made us
His love will carry me
There's a bridge to cross the great divide
A way was made to reach the other side
The mercy of the Father cost His son his life
His love is deep, His love is wide
There's a cross to bridge the great divide
God is faithful
On my own I'm unable
He found me hopeless alone
And sent a Savior
He's provided a path
And promised to guide us
Safely past all the sin that would divide us
His love delivers me
The cross that cost my Lord His life
Has given me mine
There's a cross, there's a cross to bridge
There's a cross, there's a cross
There's a cross to bridge
There's a cross, there's a cross to bridge
There's a cross, there's a cross
There's a cross to bridge
There's a cross to bridge the great divide
“He came to that which was His own, but His own did not receive Him.” John 1:11
God-Incarnate came to earth, and His name is Jesus.The Creator of the universe chose to restrict Himself to human form to save us, yet His creation did not accept Him.The above verse is probably one of the most glossed over passages, yet it is also one of the most poignant.We know what it is like to not be accepted by those whom know us best.We know how crushed we are when people reject us for who we are.
Imagine the pain that tore through Jesus as He knew that by coming to earth His own creation would despise and reject Him.It was worse than even that, for Jesus knew that ultimately His creation would crucify Him.Despite this unimaginable cruelty, Jesus still came.He came to fulfill His mission: to redeem a fallen humanity.He came because He loved us first.
When we are rejected, we tend to fall apart, build barriers, or react negatively.I am quite certain that we all can name numerous instances when we have been rejected.Can we, with the same certainty, name an instance when we were accepted and celebrated for who we are?For many of us, that may be a little harder to do.We remember the bad, the pain, and the sorrow.It takes effort to remember the good, the love, and the joy.This was not the case with Jesus.
Jesus came to earth with His eyes wide open.He was under no illusions, for He knew what was going to happen.He is God the Son.Jesus sees and knows everything: past, present, and future.It is precisely for this reason that the above Scripture is so incredibly heart-wrenching.“He came to that which was His own, but His own did not receive Him.”Even before coming to earth, Jesus knew that He would not be accepted, known, or loved by the creation that He so lovingly created.He came anyway; He came to seek and save those who are lost.He came because He loved us before we were even remotely lovable.Jesus came to a world that did not receive Him in order that His world could be restored to Him.That is love, coming to earth to rescue the prisoners of sin and saving us all. He has a name: Jesus.Come and be introduced to Him, for He died and rose again so that we might know Him better.
Mark 11:7, 9-11
7 “When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, He sat on it.
9 Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted,
“Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord!”[b]
10 “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!”
“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
11 Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple courts. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, He went out to Bethany with the Twelve.”
Do you know where you are going?Are you traveling by plane, train, or car?When my family travels, we make plans. We know where we are going and what time we will leave.We plan what clothes to take, and we ready the car.We have a timetable too.We know where we will be in three hours.We know when we will eat and what we will eat.We have plans.
Jesus had plans too.Luke 9:51 states, 51 “As the time approached for Him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.”In Mark 11:1-3 11, Scripture states, “As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of His disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 3 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.’”
Jesus had a plan.He knew what would happen when they reached Jerusalem.He knew that His time on this earth was growing short.Jesus knew that He would be cheered, betrayed, tortured, and killed; but He also knew that His death was not the end.It was the beginning.Jesus knew that in order for us to be saved from the punishment for our sins He had to die and rise again.
Yes, Jesus had a plan to save us and nothing- nothing in heaven, in hell, or on earth- would stop Him from completing the plan.
Matthew 21:15 and 16
15 “But when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things He did and the children shouting in the temple courts, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they were indignant.
16 “Do you hear what these children are saying?” they asked Him.
“Yes,” replied Jesus, “have you never read,
“‘From the lips of children and infants
you, Lord, have called forth your praise’[a]?”
Why is it when we adults see someone doing good we become indignant?Everyone else can see the good accomplished, but, because we are not the center of attention, the good is not quite good enough for us.
On the other hand, children look at the good and are grateful.Their smiles, laughter, and joy brighten the darkest day.Additionally, their high spirits are infectious.Children can make the hardened heart soften and smile, unless, of course, you choose to harden your heart even more than it is already.
As Jesus came into Jerusalem, the adults and the children waved palm branches to usher in their King.Even though they might not have understood Jesus’ actions, they acknowledged His goodness and His many kindnesses.As with most young children, the children probably had no idea what was happening, but they knew Jesus.The children knew He was kind and loving.They heard His gentle tones, and they felt His gentle touch.They knew His love.And so, the children sang out their praises; they were expressing their love for Jesus.But the children’s praise had another benefit.It was through their praise that God the Father was protecting Jesus from His enemies, the Chief Priests.
Feeling that their high positions were being threatened, the Chief Priests struck at Jesus the only way they could: they wanted the children silenced.When Jesus spoke to the priests, it was with God’s authority through Scripture.Psalm 8:2 stated, “Through the praise of children and infants you have established a stronghold against your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger.”The priests left the children in peace and were silent once more.
Praise is powerful.Just like the people of Jerusalem, God’s gifts abound to us.Praising God is as simple as saying thank you.“Thank you, Father, for the gift of this sunny day.”“Thank you, Lord, for helping through that interview.”“You are wonderful, God, and I thank you for all the blessings you send to me.” Start praising God today, and you will be amazed at how pleasant a softened heart can be.
“Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in Him.This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet: ‘Lord, who has believed our message, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?’” John 12:37-38
How could anyone not believe Jesus after He had performed miracles?How can anyone possibly think that He is not Who He says He is?Every time I read the above Scripture, these questions swirl in my mind.On some level, I know the answer.People who do not want to believe that God exists, that He cares, that He saves, and that He loves will not believe even when the truth is staring them in the face.No evidence will be good enough for them.
Here is a case in point.How many of you remember that the scientists in Bern were going to replicate the Big Bang in the Big Bang Theory?No, I am not talking about the television show, but the scientific theory itself.I would venture to say that most people put it out of their memories.The news was swarming with stories and warnings from renowned scientists, such as Steven Hawkins; the scientists in Bern could potentially destroy the world as we know it if they succeeded.They were testing the theory in March of 2015.Scientists and the media alike hyped up this event; the world was waiting with bated breath for the Bern scientists’ results.
Does anyone remember the result of the tests?Anyone?I can tell you…it did not work.It simply did not work!Why?The answer is simple, because God created the world.There was no big bang; there was no evolutionary process.There was and is God the Creator Who spoke all things into existence and the laws to govern them.March came and went, and there was not a peep out of the scientists in Bern.It took almost a year before there was an announcement from Bern saying that the scientists were now researching to find the “God chromosome.”Allow me to help them out.The Bern scientists are not going to find the “God chromosome.”They are searching for answers in the creation, rather than the Creator.The evidence of design by the Creator is everywhere, but the Bern scientists cannot see it.
Things were no different in Jesus’ time.People did not want to acknowledge God, nor did they want to acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah.He performed miracle after miracle, and the people still refused to believe.When you acknowledge God as the Creator, the Messiah, the Savior, the omnipotent, omnipresent Being that He is, you acknowledge that you are not in control.People rarely want to give up control of their lives; therefore, although the evidence is before them, they refuse to see it.
In reality, the above statement is an incredibly sad commentary on human history, but it does not have to remain so.We can help people see Who Jesus is, and we can introduce them to the Savior of the world.Jesus has been revealed to us, and it is up to us to give the world all the evidence it will ever need.This Lenten season and always, let us be that evidence of God’s Saving Grace by showing people Jesus.They might not believe us, but we always must give the evidence.
“While He was still speaking a crowd came up, and the man who was called Judas, one of the Twelve, was leading them.He approached Jesus to kiss him, but Jesus asked him, ‘Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?’” Luke 22:47-48
A kiss is a symbol of friendship, family, and love.A bride and groom seal their wedding
vows with a kiss; mothers and fathers greet a newborn baby with a kiss; aunts and uncles kiss their nephews and nieces.In many cultures, a kiss is a mark of friendship.We tend to think of a kiss with fond memories of those who love and care about us.Likewise, in Jesus’ day, a kiss represented love, caring, family, and friendship.
In the Bible, the ultimate betrayal was also sealed with a kiss.Judas already betrayed Jesus; he had the money in his hand, and the agreement made.The final touches of the betrayal were all that was left to be carried out.Judas chose to carry out his diabolical plan with a kiss.It is amazing how Satan takes the most treasured actions and twists them into something evil.Jesus knew everything, and He knew that Judas already betrayed Him.The kiss was only the physical manifestation of the betrayal; in other words, the kiss was the betrayal that the world saw.The betrayal itself occurred in secret.
We tend to be like Judas when we betray Jesus by our actions, our words, our thoughts, and our attitudes.We keep secret the actual betrayal, and the world only sees the niceties of our actions.Meanwhile, we are hiding a whole closet full of betrayals.Fortunately, nothing is hidden from Jesus.He sees us just the way we are- all betrayals, all dishonesty, all the ugliness that goes along with fallen people.Jesus holds out to us the same forgiveness that He held out to Judas.May we be humble and softened enough to take the forgiveness that is held out to us.It may hurt to begin changing, but, as we are transformed, we will find that those niceties become the real us.Our kisses become true kisses, ones that represent all the love, family, and friendship that they are meant to represent.
Matthew 26:14, 15
14 “Then one of the Twelve—the one called Judas Iscariot—went to the chief priests, 15 and asked, “What are you willing to give me if I deliver Him over to you?” So they counted out for him thirty pieces of silver.”
Do you remember the last time you sinned?Do you remember the last time you got paid to sin?You may be thinking to yourself, “that’s crazy! Why would you get paid to sin!?”Well, getting paid to sin is exactly what happened to Judas Iscariot.You all remember Judas, right?He is the guy who gave Jesus up to the Pharisees and, ultimately, the Romans to be crucified.Judas was quite literally paid to sin.He received thirty pieces of silver, which at the time was no small sum of money.Here is the truly frightening part of all of this: Jesus’ betrayal by Judas did not happen overnight. Judas planned his betrayal.He thought and plotted to convince himself that his greed was justified.Judas committed first-degree betrayal and essentially first-degree murder of Jesus.
You might be thinking, “How does that relate to me?”Well… we all sin.Sometimes, sin happens spontaneously and so quickly that it is a knee-jerk reaction.Most times, however, we plot and carefully plan our sins.Instead of thirty pieces of silver, we are paid in having desires fulfilled, whether those desires be lust, greed, etc.We are not unlike Judas, whom we demonize as perpetrating the ultimate betrayal.Each time we sin, we are each betraying Jesus in some way.Just because we were not handed thirty pieces of silver does not make us virtually guiltless.Our sins are just as responsible for putting Jesus up on that cross as Judas’s.The next time you think about rationalizing your way into justifying sinning, just remember Judas and his thirty pieces of silver and realize maybe sins ‘great and small’ are all equally terrible.
The Glory Avalon
Songwriters: Jim Cooper, Reginald Hamm
In the solitary moment of His birth
On this barren dusty land
All of heaven kissed the face of the earth
With a miracle of love
God became a man
But He was sent away to draw his final breath
When he was only thirty-three
And in the shame of dying a criminal's death
He cleansed an angry world
And in his suffering I see
The glory of the blood
The beauty of the body
That was broken for our forgiveness
The glory of His perfect love
Is the heart of the story
The glory of the blood
I have tried to find salvation on my own
In a search for something real
There's a guilty heart inside this flesh and bone
I fall upon his grace
And I begin to feel
And when I close my eyes I can see Him
Oh the precious wounded Lamb of God
And all the majesty in this world cannot compare
To the glory
The beauty of the body
That was broken for our forgiveness
He was sent away to draw His final breath
When He was only thirty-three
The Chief Priests
13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
The chief priests were the most powerful religious leaders in Jerusalem. Because they were worship leaders, their authority was not questioned. Following the line of Aaron in the priesthood, God was the Author of their authority and position. Therefore, the chief priests believed that they were exempted from following God’s rules, the Ten Commandments.
In their own eyes, the chief priests were not like other men. Luke 18: 11 states, “The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’” But Jesus came to deliver those upon whom the chief priests looked down. Often, they twisted God’s Law to suit themselves with no obvious repercussions.
Jesus saw the chief priests and Pharisees in a different way. In Matthew 23:27 and 28, Jesus exposed the chief priests and Pharisees for whom they really were: 27 “’Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. 28 In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.’” Because Jesus saw their hearts, who they truly were, the chief priests became angry with Jesus and for all He stood. As time passed, that anger turned to hatred, and the hatred turned into the desire to kill Jesus. Matthew 26:3 & 4 states, 3 “Then the chief priests and the elders of the people assembled in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, 4 and they schemed to arrest Jesus secretly and kill him.” It took time for the anger inside of the chief priests to turn into the desire to murder Jesus. It did not happen overnight. The anger festered inside of them until it consumed them, and the desire to kill Jesus was born. Because the chief priests saw themselves as righteous, they tried to catch Jesus mis-speaking or acting contrary to the Law of Moses; they set a trap.
In Mark 12, the chief priests begin to set a trap into which they hoped Jesus would fall. 13” And they sent to him (Jesus) some of the Pharisees and some of the Herodians, to trap him in his talk. 14 And they came and said to him, ‘Teacher, we know that you are true and do not care about anyone's opinion. For you are not swayed by appearances,[c] but truly teach the way of God. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? Should we pay them, or should we not?’” However, Jesus was not fooled, 15 But, knowing their hypocrisy, He said to them, “Why put me to the test? Bring me a denarius[d] and let me look at it.” 16 And they brought one. And He said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said to Him, “Caesar's.” 17 Jesus said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's.” The chief priests marveled at Him. For each question, Jesus had a Godly answer, and they did not find any fault in His answers.
The chief priests did not show how they really felt about Jesus. Outwardly, they treated Him respect because they were afraid of what the people would do if Jesus were harmed. Mark 14:1 and 2 explains the mindset of the chief priests. 14 “Now the Passover and the Festival of Unleavened Bread were only two days away, and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were scheming to arrest Jesus secretly and kill him. 2 ‘But not during the festival,’ they said, ‘or the people may riot.’” The chief priests were not concerned with Jesus, but with appearances. How would the people accept their desire to kill Jesus?
As masters of deception, the chief priests’ actions were underhanded. Their high standing in the community aided them in their plot to kill Jesus. Since Jesus saw their hearts, he was never fooled by their actions toward Him. For Jesus already told the Twelve Disciples what would happen when He reached Jerusalem, as recorded in Luke 18:31 & 32. 31”Jesus took the Twelve aside and told them, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled. 32 He will be delivered over to the Gentiles. They will mock Him, insult Him and spit on Him; 33 they will flog Him and kill Him. On the third day He will rise again.” In the end, the chief priests fooled only themselves. With no teachable spirit, pride became the chief priests’ god. When faced with a decision, they chose to nurse their pride. Deception became their way of life. In time, the Chief Priests chose to walk away from God rather than walk towards Him. When offered forgiveness, repentance, and love, the chief priests chose the cold comfort of lies.
Judas Iscariot. The very name reeks with an age-old stench, one that turns one’s stomach. Why? How can one name possibly have so much hatred in it? Incidentally, Judas is not a common name anymore, and it quite possibly began its decline with the above-mentioned name. Judas Iscariot was the betrayer.
Judas was one of the twelve disciples whom Jesus specifically chose to be His closest friends. Judas was the treasurer, and he held the purse strings. It was his job to ensure that the money was well spent and lasted. To be fair, Judas probably wanted to know Jesus better; perhaps, he thought that Jesus would rescue Israel from the hands of the Romans. Perhaps, he thought that Jesus could help him. Perhaps, Judas wanted recognition, power, prestige, and money. If the latter was the case, then he was in the wrong line of work, and, if the former was true, then the tale is even more heartbreaking than before.
As treasurer, Judas had the disciples’ trust, yet he betrayed their trust right from the start. Can you see Jesus and his disciples sitting around the campfire, discussing their plans. Someone was practical: the plans required money. Out came the purses, and coins were dumped in the sand. Judas looked at the money. It called to him; he wanted it. All the disciples were aware that Judas was good with facts and figures; if they were not aware of it, then perhaps he could convince them that he was. Regardless, Judas became the treasurer.
With each passing day, Judas stole more and more money. With each passing day, his lust for the coins grew, and, with each passing day, Judas found it harder to meet Jesus’ eyes. Jesus knew what Judas was doing, and He saw deep into Judas’ soul. Nothing was hidden from His sight. Judas knew it. The curiosity and friendship turned to hatred for the One Who could save Judas from himself. Before long, Judas was plotting with Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin. Ultimately, he agreed to betray Jesus for thirty pieces of silver.
Finally, the time was upon them. Judas went to the chief priests and led them to Gethsemane, where Jesus was praying. There, in the garden, Judas did his fateful deed; he betrayed the Lord Jesus with a kiss. A kiss of brotherly love was used to betray Jesus into the hands of His enemies. The deed was purchased and done. At last, Judas had everything he wanted…except he did not.
Yes, the money was physically in his hands, yet Judas felt empty. He felt hopeless; he felt dirty. He felt like the thief, betrayer that he was. All at once, his world crashed down, and Judas realized that the only Person Who could possibly forgive him was Jesus, the very One Whom he betrayed. There was no way that Jesus would forgive him; there was no hope for him. Unfortunately, the hopelessness consumed him, and, with his heart breaking and hopelessness overwhelming him, Judas took his own life by hanging from a tree.
Ironically, Judas needed to return to Jesus and ask for forgiveness, for Jesus would have forgiven him. Instead, he chose to be listed among the worst betrayers of human history; in fact, Judas tops the list. Judas is a sad commentary in the Bible, for his story is the story of “If Only.” If only, Judas had asked for forgiveness; if only, he had admitted his wrongs to Jesus earlier. If only, he had not been seduced by the allure of money. If only, he had not given up hope. If only.
“Then some stood up and gave this false testimony against Him: ‘We heard Him say, ‘I will destroy this man-made temple and in three days will build another, not made by man.’ Yet even then their testimony did not agree.” Mark 14:57-59
The Easter story is by far the ultimate expression of Satan’s battle against God. Jesus came to earth to save mankind, and He was willing to die and rise again to do it. Satan had a field day with Christ’s earthly visit, and this was so clearly seen during the illegal trials of Jesus. Satan knew Jesus was God’s Son, and he wanted Jesus to die. Satan wanted to dance on Jesus’ grave in triumph. Fortunately, for us, God already planned Jesus’ death, and, ultimately, His resurrection.
Let us look at the case of Jesus. A bribed disciple led to Jesus’ arrest. Jesus’ judges had a conflict of interest, for they hated Him. One trial was held in the dead of night, secretly, not during the day in public view as the Law dictated. The Sanhedrin held this trial on the eve of the Sabbath and a religious festival, both of which were illegal. They brought the charge of sedition against Jesus so that the Romans would be responsible for His death, not the Sanhedrin. During this initial trial, the witnesses did not agree. In Jewish law, in order for a person to be found guilty of a crime, two or more witnesses whose stories agreed had to submit evidence. If two agreeing witnesses could not be found, the case was to be dropped, except in Jesus’ case. Finally, his trial concluded in one night, hardly enough time to come to an impartial decision. If something smelled rotten in Jerusalem, Satan was behind it.
By all accounts, Jesus’ case never should have gone before either Herod Antipas or Pontius Pilate, yet it did. Pilate was well aware of the gross miscarriage of justice before him and asked, “Why? What crime has He committed?” (Mark 15:14) Yet it happened. Amid this mockery of justice, God’s sovereignty worked, for He already worked it into His master plan. Through the trial, the beatings, and crucifixion, God wove it all together into His plan of salvation. Jesus was innocent of all charges, and only an illegal trial could bring Him to the cross. Jesus had to be innocent to save us, for, without His sacrifice, we could not be redeemed. What Satan meant for evil, God worked for our good and our deliverance. An illegal trial led to our forgiveness. Strange? Absolutely. In the end, Satan was the one skulking away, and God has been dancing with His redeemed ever since.
4 “So again Pilate asked Him, “Aren’t you going to answer? See how many things they are accusing you of.”
5 But Jesus still made no reply, and Pilate was amazed.” Mark 15:4 & 5
Accusers point fingers. Typically, accusers do not care about the questions or the facts. Sometimes, a person will become an accuser because it makes him feel strong and powerful. Sometimes, it is because they receive money for lying. In the case of the high priests, Sanhedrin, and the other Jewish leaders, it was because they were envious of Jesus. Jesus’ love and compassion drew people toward him, while the Jewish leaders condemned the people, driving them away.
The case against Jesus Christ was filled with accusers. It had been a long night for Jesus. The Temple guards under the direction of chief priests and elders arrested Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. He was taken in front of Caiaphas, the high priest, scribes, and elders, where Jesus was questioned. Because they wanted Jesus condemned to death, the accusers were there too.
Jesus was alone. Where were His defenders? Where were all the people who knew Him? Where were His friends? They left Jesus to answer the questions all alone because they were afraid. Jesus knew that the accusations had to be made. Jesus also knew that, though He was isolated, He was not alone, for God, His Father, was with Him. Finally, Jesus knew why his accusers had Him arrested. They were envious. Mark 15:10 explains, 10” knowing it was out of self-interest that the chief priests had handed Jesus over to him.”
During this long night, Jesus was accused in three different trials in three different locations. The first “trial” was before the Annas and the Sanhedrin the night Jesus was arrested. The second “trial” was before Caiaphas, the high priest, and the Sanhedrin at dawn the next day. Since the ultimate goal was to have Jesus executed, the final “trial” was before the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate.
As Jesus was dragged from trial to trial, the charges against Him escalated. The first accusation was sedition; the second accusation was blasphemy, and the third accusation was treason. Each time, the witnesses could not agree. For example, in Luke 23:1-4 during the visit to Pilate, the Bible says, “Then the whole assembly rose and led Him off to Pilate. 2 And they began to accuse Him, saying, “We have found this Man subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be Messiah, a king.”
The accusation was treason, but the accusation was false. For the truth was revealed during a previous confrontation between Jesus and the Jewish leaders, as revealed in Matthew 22:20-22,
20 “and He asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?”
21 “Caesar’s,” they replied.
Then He said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”
22 When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left Him and went away.”
Rather than take the accusations at face value, Pilate questioned Jesus.
3 “So Pilate asked Jesus, “Are you the king of the Jews?”
“You have said so,” Jesus replied.”
Despite all the accusations that were leveled against Him, Jesus’ innocence was obvious. It was at this point that Pilate wanted nothing more to do with the travesty of injustice being played out before him. 4 “Then said Pilate to the chief priests and to the people, I find no fault in this man.” (Luke 23:4) Although Pilate disagreed with the Jewish rulers’ shenanigans, he wished to appease them, and, in that moment, Pilate lost because he no longer longed for justice- he wanted expediency.
“Then they spit in His face and struck Him with their fists. Others slapped Him and said, “Prophecy to us, Christ. Who hit you?” Matthew 26:67-68
As we go through life, it is unlikely that many of us will experience the pain of physical abuse. I pray that no one experiences abuse, yet, unfortunately, it happens because we live in a fallen world. For those who have endured such heart-wrenching pain and suffering, there is One Who understands your pain and sorrow; His name is Jesus. Jesus was abused, rejected, shamed, and beaten by those He loved. It sounds identical to those domestic violence cases about which we hear in the news, does it not?
For some reason, we do not associate the King of the Universe with physical abuse, yet it was physical abuse. Look at the facts. A victim of abuse usually loves the ones who are abusing him. Jesus was abused by people He loved, for He was willing to lay down His life for all humanity. Abuse takes many forms, including emotional, verbal, mental, and physical abuse. Jesus was verbally abused; the chief priests jeered and mocked Him. He was mentally abused, for the Sanhedrin treated Him as a worthless individual. He was emotionally abused; each cutting, derisive remark, Jesus cut to His very core. Finally, He was physically abused. The Sanhedrin, the religious leaders of Israel, God’s Chosen People, spit and struck Jesus repeatedly. They beat Him. Isaiah 53 says it this way:
“He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like One from Whom men hide their faces, He was despised, and we esteemed Him not.
Surely He took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered Him stricken by God, smitten by Him, and afflicted….He was oppressed and afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; He was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so He did not open His mouth. By oppression and judgment He was taken away.” Isaiah 53:3-5,7-8
Are you appalled yet? How many of us ever see Jesus’ sacrifice in this light? Looking at the Scriptures leading to Easter, we tend to gloss over His suffering to get to His resurrection.
Consider these Scriptures carefully. Do you see the suffering Jesus endured? He did nothing to deserve any of this battery, yet it happened. Jesus only ever demonstrated love, devotion, kindness, and compassion, but it was repaid with hate. What was the most revealing part of Jesus’ character? He knew it all in advance. Knowing every pain, heartache, and suffering that He had to endure, Jesus still chose to follow the will of the Father. He chose to endure the abuse.
You may be asking, “Why? I would not endure that abuse for anyone. Why did Jesus choose to permit it? After all, Jesus could have stopped it at any time, but He did not.” The answer is simple: Jesus chose to endure all the abuse for you, me, and every single person who has ever lived and ever will live. Jesus’ love for us was and is so strong that He was willing to do to die to reconcile us to Him. He chose His love for us over Himself. We never deserve Jesus’ love, and we never can deserve it. His love is always freely given, just as it was two thousand years ago. Yes, Jesus understands our every suffering, including the most horrifying. Because of His suffering, Jesus is able to hold out His arms to us and say, “I love you so much, My child, that I gave My All for you. Come to Me; allow Me to heal every single hurt and wipe every tear from your eyes. I am here, waiting; just come.”
“If I had not done among them what no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. But now they have seen these miracles, and yet they have hated both me and my Father. But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law: ‘They hated me without reason.’” John 15:24-25
Animosity towards another person is quite common in today’s world. Ironically, in the world’s desire to include everyone and everything, it holds an incredible hatred for those who fail to value its values. In today’s day and age, Christians and Jews are subject to jeering, hatred, and discrimination at every turn. In today’s society, if you are Caucasian, a Conservative, pro-life, believe there are only two genders, you are automatically considered racist, a bigot, traitor, enemy of progress, and deserve to be punished. How did it come to this?
We may think that the world has changed a great deal in the last two thousand years. However, Jesus endured this very treatment while on earth. Jesus had an incredible magnetism, which drew people to Him. Jesus embodied power, authority, and compassion. Stories spread like wildfire throughout the land, and people came to see the Man Who raised the dead, stopped storms, healed, and forgave. The people of Jesus’ time had their own opinions about Jesus, varying from belief in him to positive to malevolent hatred.
People are fickle, just like in Jesus’ time. The very crowds that followed Him around were the same ones who clamored for His death. These were people who watched Jesus heal multitudes. While many were drawn to His message, many others were engulfed by a hatred for Jesus. Why? What had Jesus done to deserve such animosity? The answer is absolutely nothing. People hated Jesus precisely because of His goodness, His power, His love, and His authority. These people heard Jesus speak, and they felt the tugging at their hearts with each spoken word. Despite this, the people chose to harden their hearts against the convictions that they felt, and they loathed the One Who made them feel less than perfect in themselves. The people saw Jesus heal person after person and raise others back to life, yet they hated Jesus. Does this sound familiar? What makes us think that the world will treat us any differently? People had no reason then or now to hate Jesus, yet they do.
When someone helps humanity, people immediately seek ways to degrade the individual. When the name of Jesus is proclaimed, people become “offended.” After all, how dare you proclaim Jesus Who loves us unconditionally! With Satan’s control of the world for a set time, anyone who has not been softened by the love of Jesus loathes Him, because Satan loathes anything of God. Christians are of God; Jews are of God. That self-same hatred from two thousand years ago is alive and well today.
Jesus knows the reception that awaits us, and He knew people’s intentions then. The above Scripture is Jesus’ Words. Since the beginning of time, all that represented God’s goodness has been under attack. We have only a set time here on earth, and we have two choices. We can become bitter and hurt by the hatred around us, or we can persevere toward the goal. As Jesus said, in Matthew 5:11-12, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” The world may hate Jesus, you, and all that God represents, but take heart, for great is our reward.
FFH “Power in His Blood” https://youtu.be/k5JfAXFxAnk
Written by Jeromy Deibler
I lie awake hoping that I will hear
Your voice inside my ear, telling me You're near
But I know I'll find my precious peace of mind
When You speak to me just in time
Let me know You still care
There's power in His blood
Forgiveness in His hands
A peace in His love that we can't understand
There's joy in His Spirit
There's power in His blood
Forgiveness in His hands
A peace in His love that we can't understand
There's joy in His Spirit
Sufficient and full, there's power in His blood
His love is all we need
There's joy in the Spirit of the Lord
You are the One Who has made me complete
Now I'm kneelin' at Your feet
Knowin' only You can lead me home
I'll stand through it all, waitin' on Your call
Knowin' that You hear my every prayer
And I know there's strength in His everlasting Word
And I know I'll find all the love I need in His arms
There's joy in the spirit of the Lord
In the spirit of the Lord
6” You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
In this day and age, we want to feel and to be powerful. For example, many of us would rather drive than be a passenger in the car. Control- life is all about control, but what if the control we feel is simply a mirage? What if we really have no control over anything? For most of us, once we realize that we really have no control over anything, we feel powerless. We feel small and insecure.
This need for control makes discerning right from wrong more difficult. Thus, God gave us the Ten Commandments. They are the guidelines that hold us steadfast. The Ten Commandments show us where we have strayed from truth. When we leave the path, we become unlovely inside. People can and do avoid us when we are in this state. We are powerless to change. Enter Jesus into our world.
Before you or I were even born, Jesus looked down through the ages. He saw you, and He saw me. He saw everyone who has ever lived. He saw everyone who is to come, and He saw that we needed Him. He saw when we were treated badly, but He also saw when we treated others badly. Jesus knew that no matter how hard we tried we would be unable to live a right life. He saw that we were unlovable. Jesus saw that we needed Someone to save us. In that moment, Jesus knew what He had to do: He had to save us all.
Jesus came to earth as a baby. He lived as a human being, but Jesus lived without sin because He knew we needed a Savior. He grew as we grow, and He suffered as we suffer. Jesus wept as we weep, and He laughed as we laugh. He worked, and He played. People gossiped about Him and tried to harm Him, but Jesus never retaliated. He spoke only the truth to all regardless of whom chose to listen.
Then one day, the time for speaking and healing was finished. Jesus knew His time had come to die for us- for you, for me, for everyone. So He asked his disciples to pray with Him while Jesus asked His Father, God, to strengthen Him for the ordeal to come. Sadly, neither His disciples nor we could not support Jesus even with prayer, for our love was not sufficient to reach the ultimate sacrifice. Therefore, Jesus took the abuse, the physical and mental anguish, and He died on a cross. The punishment for our sins was upon the sinless God Incarnate. Jesus died naked and alone for our sins. We cried, “Why, God, why? Why give us hope only to take it away?”
Only three days later, we had our first glimpse of understanding. Jesus was alive. He was dead, but He lives forever more, and the curse of our sins was broken. In the end, God’s love had triumphed. Jesus died for us, the unlovely. Have you accepted His gift to you? Christ’s gift is always before you, but only you can choose to accept His gift of love.
In the midst of the drama leading to Easter, the battle between Satan and Jesus was raged. The question of Jesus’ trial and guilt seemed to be an issue for the Jewish religious leaders to decide, and it was, until the Sanhedrin did not want the responsibility of killing Jesus. The stage was set in a Roman court, and the players waited with bated breath for the Roman who could issue death penalties: Pontius Pilate.
Pontius Pilate was a Roman prefect in Judea from A.D. 26 to A.D. 36. As the prefect, Pilate was the supreme judge in criminal matters, meaning only he could order a criminal’s execution. To be honest, most prefects only served between one and three years, yet Pilate served Judea for ten years. During his tenure, Pilate was the consummate politician. He dispensed justice. At the same time, Pilate learned quickly how to keep the tenuous peace in this troubled land. If negotiations did not keep the peace, brute force did. No, Pilate had no love for the Jewish people.
Therefore, when Pilate’s aide came to him and explained that some members of the Sanhedrin were waiting to see him, he quite likely wished that he lived in a completely different place. However, duty called, and Pilate received the Sanhedrin and their prisoner, a young Man from Nazareth named Jesus. Upon his arrival in Jerusalem, Pilate heard stories about Jesus, His teachings, and His miracles. Yet, Pilate did not fathom why the Man was shackled.
The Sanhedrin began to throw down their accusations, and it took every fiber of Pilate’s being not to smile, for the Sanhedrin accused one of their own of treason. No Jewish person in his right mind did that! Pilate listened, wished that they might vanish into wisps of smoke, and tried desperately to think of a way out of this. This case was dynamite, and there was no mistake about it!
Suddenly, Pilate remembered that Herod Antipas was in Jerusalem, and Pilate breathed a sigh of relief as he sent the delegation and prisoner off to Herod. Unfortunately, they were back within a short period of time. Outside, Pilate heard the crowds clamoring for Jesus’ head, yet Pilate heard nothing to convince him that Jesus was guilty of any crime. He questioned Jesus, but Jesus was not some country bumpkin. Consider the conversation between Pilate and Jesus:
“Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked Him, ‘Are you the king of the Jews?’
“Is that your own idea,’ Jesus asked, ‘or did others talk to you about Me?’
‘Am I a Jew?’ Pilate replied. ‘It was Your people and Your chief priests who handed You over to me. What is it You have done?’
Jesus said, ‘My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, My servants would fight to prevent My arrest by the Jews. But now My kingdom is from another place.”
‘You are a king, then!’ said Pilate.
Jesus answered, ‘You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born and for this I came into the world to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to Me.’
‘What is truth?’ Pilate asked. (John 18:33-38)
Pilate scratched his head and pondered that conversation as he returned to the Sanhedrin. This Jesus was an enigma, but He was no traitor, nor was He guilty of any crime. Pilate felt sure that when he presented his findings to the Sanhedrin that the charge against Jesus would be dropped. His answer to the Sanhedrin’s questions was, “I find no basis for a charge against him.” John 18:38
The Sanhedrin’s reaction was not one Pilate expected. As a matter of fact, it was downright dangerous. As Pilate struggled to sit on the fence and keep the peace, Pilate’s wife got involved with the action. His wife claimed she had a dream and begged Pilate to stay out of the kerfuffle. Still, Pilate was in charge, so he latched onto another option: let the people choose. After all, the Jewish tradition at Passover was to release one prisoner. Pilate thought that if he put Jesus against the worst criminal that the Romans had in their custody, then surely Jesus would be freed. To Pilate’s shock, he was wrong…again. The crowds became a mob as they shouted for Barabbas, a murdering thief. In Pilate’s thinking, all was not lost, for he had one more trick up his sleeve. He ordered Jesus flogged, hoping against hope that the people’s lust for blood would be satisfied with the flogging. Not even flogging satiated the people’s bloodlust.
Pilate turned to the Sanhedrin, washed his hands, and gave in. In his mind, it was better to crucify Jesus and let the Jews take responsibility for their actions. As he watched Jesus carry His own cross, what thoughts played in Pilate’s mind? His conversation with Jesus might have been replayed. Perhaps Pilate wondered why Jesus did nothing to protect Himself from the vitriol onslaught. Maybe Pilate looked down at his hands and realized that though he did nothing, nothing was still an action. Maybe Pilate felt relief that the ordeal was over, but maybe Pilate feared that the riotous mob. Certainly, the Jews were responsible, but Pilate could not help feeling some responsibility. After all, he sentenced an innocent Man to His death. By doing nothing, Pilate was equally responsible.
Jesus’ trial and execution occurred during the latter half of Pilate’s tenure as prefect. We may never know if Pilate ever thought about that day, and we may never know if he was changed by the events he witnessed and his own decisions. However, Pilate went down in history as a man who sat on the fence, denied justice, and passed his responsibility onto anyone else. He went down in history as a man who could be ruthless and, at the same time, weak. Pilate went down in history as a judge who turned a blind eye to justice, but he played a part in the salvation of man. A man with great power and authority, Pilate was afraid to stand up to the Jews.
“What is truth?” Pilate asked. Truth was staring him in the face, for Jesus is Truth. Pilate saw the Truth, but to appease the Jews, he ignored it. Appeasement allows for all sorts of horrible crimes. It is the effort not to offend anyone. Appeasement is the desire to keep the peace at all costs. This peaceful desire has caused wars throughout history, and it has permitted atrocities that never should have occurred. Appeasement sees the truth and reality of the situation and chooses to ignore truth. It allows evil in the name of peace. Pilate can be described in one unflattering word: appeasement. May we learn the dangers of appeasement from Pilate’s example, and may we see and stand for Truth.
27 “With Him they also crucified two robbers, one on His right and the other on His left. 28 So the Scripture was fulfilled[a] which says, ‘And He was numbered with the transgressors.’”[b] Mark 15:27:28
“So the Scripture was fulfilled which says, ‘He was numbered with the transgressors.’” Jesus was numbered with us: you and me. Have you ever asked yourself why? Why would you want to surround yourself with sinners? Even to the end, Jesus came to help those on whom others turned their backs.
Often when I think about the two thieves, my mind goes to a Disney image of Goofy with an angelic white-robed, halo-headed Goofy on one shoulder, and a red-suited, horn-headed, pointy-tailed Goofy standing on the other shoulder. The angelic Goofy is kind and loving, while the Devilish Goofy is mean and malicious. Typically, the two phantom Goofy’s argue with each other about how to solve a dilemma in which the real Goofy finds himself. Sometimes Goofy picks the wrong image to follow, but the angelic Goofy never gives up trying to help Goofy choose the better path. We smile at cartoons with similar scenes to the aforementioned scene because it touches a chord deep within each one of us: the choice between good and evil. Sometimes the choice is an easy one, and we choose kindness. Other times, we know what is right, but we want to let the other fellow feel our pain. The choice is a hard one.
Jesus hung on the cross, and His suffering was intense. Cutting through the pain, Jesus focused on the words coming from both sides of Himself. Scripture says, “One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: ‘Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!’” This first thief refused to acknowledge his sin. He wanted the easy way out of his pain, and, since there was no easy way, he battered another with his words.
“But the other criminal rebuked him. ‘Don’t you fear God,’ he said, ‘since you are under the same sentence?” The second thief took responsibility and acknowledged that he deserved his punishment. This second thief went even further when he said to his co-conspirator, “We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.’” Running short on energy and breath, when all was concluded, the second thief asked for forgiveness. “Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’[a]”
Jesus could have called angels from heaven to save Him. He could have permitted us to receive the punishment that we so richly deserve. He could have let us be separated from Him for eternity, but He did none of those things. Instead, He held out His hands so they could be nailed to a cross. He did not fight or argue or accuse. He did none of those things not because of what we do or who we are, but because of His love for us. He chose to hang on the cross identified with the transgressors because of His great love for us.
In the end, the second thief made the right choice. He asked for forgiveness from the only One who could forgive him: Jesus. “Jesus answered him, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Have you made your choice, or are you still listening to the voices? There comes a time when there is no more time. Jesus is waiting to tell you, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:39-43)
“Then He said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; see My hands. Reach out your hand and put it into My side. Stop doubting and believe.’” John 20:27
“Stop doubting and believe.” Doubting seems to be the way of society; in fact, it probably could be made into an Olympic sport. Someone tells us something, and we immediately begin to doubt his words. We have been told that a picture is worth a thousand words, and we want to see with our eyes to believe it. However, that is the opposite of faith.
God tells you an aspect of His plans for your life, and, for a time, you believe it. You believe, that is, until life becomes hard, until the weariness sets in, until the fulfillment of His plans seems to be in the distant future. It is in that moment when the kernel of doubt has sprouted. We sit and debate the matter over and over, becoming more confused by the second. I wonder how many people have failed to follow the plans that God has for them because they began to doubt. I wonder how different this world could be if we stopped our doubting and believed God’s plans for us will come to pass.
After Jesus’ resurrection, most of the disciples and several of the women saw Jesus, but not all did. Thomas was not with the other disciples when Jesus first appeared to them, but they told him all about seeing Jesus face to face. Despite the corroborating evidence from his multiple friends, Thomas refused to believe until he saw Jesus with his own eyes. At this point in time, Thomas had not received the memo that “faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1) When Thomas did see the Lord Jesus, Jesus said to him, “Stop doubting and believe.” (John 20:27) It should have been enough for Thomas to hear the reports; it should have been enough for Thomas to remember that Jesus is always true to His Word. We look at “doubting” Thomas, and we puff like a peacock, saying, “He should have known better.” After Thomas saw Jesus, there never was any doubt in his mind, heart, soul, or spirit; every fiber of his being knew beyond any shadow of any doubt that Jesus had risen.
Let us take a moment to look at our proud, boasting selves; surely, we are better than Thomas, for we believe without seeing Jesus face to face. Are we? Do we really believe and trust without doubting? Do we believe that God is faithful to bring to pass every plan for our lives, or do we doubt it? Are we willing to lay it all on the line, even when common sense tells us that we are wrong? Sadly, if we are truly honest, most of us do doubt. We doubt that God is bigger than our problems; we doubt that the dreams we have will ever come to fruition. We doubt that Jesus is leading us to the person that was created for each of us, and we settle for less than what God has for us. We doubt God’s goodness, His power, and His faithfulness.
However, we do not have to spend any more time doubting. The message Jesus had for Thomas is the same one that He has for you and me. “Stop doubting and believe.” Throw away the doubts and replace them with trust. “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” God is bringing our dreams to pass, for we are certain that what cannot be seen physically will be reality in His time. Now is the time to be like Thomas, cast off the doubt, and believe. “Stop doubting and believe.” Jesus is waiting, and He is the only One that you never need to doubt. He is not going anywhere, and He is always true to His Word.
35” The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at Him. They said, “He saved others; let Him save Himself if He is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.” Luke 23:35
We are very short-sighted people. We expect things to happen right away. In a word, we are impatient. We expect things to be done yesterday, and we expect them to be done in a way that pleases us. Step out of the preconceived pathways, and you will find mistreatment.
Jesus was the One Who stepped from the preconceived pathways into His Father’s plan. The idea that the Hebrew Savior would come in power and glory was clearly documented in the Bible. The Jewish people expected Rome’s violent demise when the Messiah came. The Jews of the time accepted the idea that the Savior was coming armed for battle, such as in Micah 7:6, Psalm 89:27, 35-37, or Isaiah 53:5.
But Jesus came as the Passover Lamb. He came not as the King, but as the Suffering Servant. Old Testament prophecy verified this image of the Messiah, for the Psalms are filled with images of the Suffering Servant. There was enough evidence for the Jews understand that Jesus was their Savior. However, coming as a Servant Savior did not meet the expectations of the conquered Jews.
When Jesus spoke in His Father’s Name, some of the people heard His voice, but others chose to ignore the message He brought. 30 “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’[a] 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:30-31) Blinded by their own preconceived notions of the victorious Messiah, the Jewish leaders missed their opportunity to seek Him while, 14 “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the one and only Son, Who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)
As Jesus hung on the cross, the supposed fulfillment of Jewish leaders’ plan, some of the Jewish leaders heckled their dying Savior. “They said, ‘He saved others; let Him save Himself if He is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.’” Yet Jesus could not come down from the cross because God’s plan had to be fulfilled. Jesus suffered the consequences of our sin. His suffering and death was the atonement for our sin. If only the hecklers remembered the words from Isaiah, they would have known Who hung from the cross. The prophet Isaiah wrote why the Messiah had to die. (Isaiah 53:1-10)
“Who has believed our message
and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
2 He grew up before Him like a tender shoot,
and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to Him,
nothing in His appearance that we should desire Him.
3 He was despised and rejected by mankind,
a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
He was despised, and we held Him in low esteem.
4 Surely He took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered Him punished by God,
stricken by Him, and afflicted.
5 But He was pierced for our transgressions,
He was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on Him,
and by His wounds we are healed.
6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on Him
the iniquity of us all.
7 He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet He did not open His mouth;
He was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
so He did not open His mouth.
8 By oppression[a] and judgment He was taken away.
Yet who of His generation protested?
For He was cut off from the land of the living;
for the transgression of my people He was punished.[b]
9 He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
and with the rich in His death,
though He had done no violence,
nor was any deceit in His mouth.
10 Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush Him and cause Him to suffer,
and though the Lord makes[c] his life an offering for sin,”
Have you heard His words, and have you read and understood His meaning? The Jewish leaders listened without hearing, and they read without comprehending because their hearts were hardened. This Lenten time, is your heart hard? Are you one of the hecklers standing below the cross? Do you listen without hearing and read without comprehending? Like the Jewish leaders so many years ago, your eternal life depends on your accepting God’s gift of salvation. Today is the day to start listening.
(2 Corinthians 6:2)
For He says,
“In the time of My favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.”[a]
I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.”
What does evil look like? Because people are the faces of evil, it can look like you or me. When God created the world and everything in it, He pronounced it good. That means evil had to come from somewhere else, and it did. Evil came from the antithesis of God: Satan or the Devil. Yes, Satan is alive and well and dwells in the hearts of men as sin. This is why we need a Savior, Someone Who came into world to save us from our sinful hearts. We need God to come to us in the form of a Man. He had to be without sin, and He had to die in our place so that we might live again. But Satan does not want to give up control of our hearts easily. He wants evil to continue in this world. When the Savior came into the world, Satan tried to destroy Him.
During the time that Jesus was in the world, there were many faces of evil. First, Herod the Great ordered the murder of every male child two years old and younger who lived in Bethlehem or in the areas nearby. After Jesus was baptized, the Devil came to Jesus while He was in the desert in the form of temptations and lies which Jesus destroyed with the Word of God or Scripture. Later, when Jesus announced His ministry in His hometown of Nazareth, the men in the synagogue rose up as one in a rage to kill Him. There was the storm that tried to destroy the boat in which Jesus slept while He and His disciples crossed the Sea of Galilee. In the later days of Jesus’ ministry on earth, the Jewish leaders became the faces of evil when they permitted envy to rule their hearts. However, one Jewish leader stood out from the rest of the group. His name was Caiaphas.
In the Jesus’ thirty-third year, His final year on earth, the high priest was Caiaphas. It was Caiaphas, and only Caiaphas, who was permitted to enter the Holy of Holies in the Temple. He was the only one who could enter into the very presence of God. During the Passover, Caiaphas was the only one who could offer the one and only sacrifice to atone for the sins of man for that year. Even though there were other accomplices, Caiaphas was the face of evil.
You would think that the high priest would be appointed by the precepts which God laid down when Moses was alive, but Caiaphas was not. Instead, he was appointed by the Roman procurator. Caiaphas, whose name ironically means “searcher”, was Annas’s son-in-law. In today’s world, Annas would be a “Godfather” in a crime syndicate, and Caiaphas would be the “enforcer.” Though originally an office to serve God, by the time Caiaphas became high priest, the position was totally self-serving.
As Jesus went from place to place “teaching and healing,” large groups of people followed Him. For the Jewish leaders who prized their position in society, this was a tragedy in the making. For Jesus taught about God, His Father, and the love God has for His children. The Jewish leaders had man-made laws, which valued condemnation more than loving God or your neighbor. Also, as guardians of the Temple, the Jewish leaders had a vested interest in how much money the moneychangers brought into the Temple treasury.
When God gave Moses the plan for the Temple and its surrounding areas, there was no “Court of Gentiles.” After the Israelites returned to Jerusalem from the Babylonian Captivity, the area was added to the existing plan. Gentiles were only permitted in the Court of Gentiles, and went no further into the Temple area. Here, the Jewish leaders, through the moneychangers, stole from the people who came into the Temple to offer their sacrifices or to pay the Temple tax. The Temple went from being a sacred place to a place of commerce.
God designated that the animals to be sacrificed were to be the firstborn without blemish. Often the merchants sold animals that were diseased or not worth keeping anymore for high prices. Since the people came from far and wide to offer the sacrifices, they had no choice but to pay the inflated prices. To pay the Temple tax, people exchanged their money for Temple coinage. The rate of exchange always benefited the moneychangers and, in turn, the Jewish leaders. When Jesus came to the Temple, He called it a “House of God” and a “House of Prayer.” Where God is, deceit and deception have no place. Jesus cleansed the Temple. Jesus did what Caiaphas and the other Jewish leaders should have done: He threw the liars and thieves out of the Temple area.
Later, Jesus went to Bethany because His friend Lazarus died. Jesus called Lazarus from the tomb, raising him back to life. The Jewish leaders decided to act against Jesus, and they held a meeting.
"Then the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered a council and said, "’What shall we do? For this Man works many signs. If we let Him alone like this, everyone will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and nation.’ And one of them, Caiaphas, being high priest that year, said to them, ‘You know nothing at all, nor do you consider that it is expedient for us that one man should die for the people, and not that the whole nation should perish.’ Now this he did not say on his own authority; but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for that nation only, but also that He would gather together in one the children of God who were scattered abroad. Then, from that day on, they plotted to put Him to death." (John 11:47-54)
Enter Caiaphas. As head of the Jewish leaders, he and Annas profited the most from the money, power, and prestige that their positions held. In their eyes, Jesus moved from the position of nuisance to dangerous. Caiaphas spoke what each leader thought, “We must kill Jesus.” The final act began.
Jesus endured questioning before Annas and Caiaphas during the long night of illegal trials. It was Caiaphas who, though forbidden to tear his clothes (Leviticus 12:10), eventually charged Jesus with blasphemy, and it was Caiaphas who sent Jesus to Pilate.
In the background, the evil one, Satan, was gleeful. The plan that he devised since the fall of man was coming to fruition, and he did not need to “lift a finger.” Before Caiaphas were two paths, one was a righteous path which put God first in his life, and the other was a self-serving path which put Caiaphas first in his life. The self-serving path was the path Caiaphas was most used to traveling; it was the one he traveled again on that night. Was Jesus surprised by Caiaphas’s choice? No, for He saw what was in Caiaphas’s heart. In that night, it was Caiaphas who was the face of evil. Could he have chosen a different path? Of course, God gave Caiaphas many chances to do the right thing, but, when given a choice, he always chose Satan’s way.
“Love Is Neverending” Written and Recorded by Twila Paris
Love is neverending, love is neverending
I am here to confess the same old thing.
How can He still be listening?
How many times will He forgive?
Rescue me from the way I live.
What does it take
To weave a net that will not break?
Everlasting, neverending love without condition
Everlasting, neverending, neverending love
It can seem every time you turn around
Somebody else has let you down
How many times must we forgive?
Following Him, how should we live?
What does it take
To weave a net that will not break?
Love that chose to die for those
Who don’t deserve to live.
As we are forgiven
So must we forgive.
Everlasting, neverending love without condition
Everlasting, neverending, neverending, neverending love
Love is neverending. Love is neverending.
Love is ever forgiving, never ending love.
3 “For even Christ did not please Himself but, as it is written: “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on Me.”[a]
One time, my family visited my mother at the same time as my brother. Since my mother no longer lived in the house in which I grew up but in an apartment, we always went out to eat. On this particular occasion, my mother chose to go to a more upscale restaurant. As we perused the menu, my brother solicitously offered various suggestions that my mother might like to eat. All the while, my mother grumbled under her breath and decried the restaurant she chose from our suggestions. Suddenly, my mother set her jaw, and, in a very deliberate voice, said in no uncertain tones, “I don’t like scrod!” TO say she was unhappy was an understatement. Even though that story happened over ten years ago, I still remember the set to my mother’s jaw and the steely determination in her voice. We were all shocked by this unusual turn of events, and my family as one individual vowed never to vary from our usual grandma visit routine ever again.
Jesus was on a mission, and that mission was in its final passage. Doubts and uncertainties played through His mind. Satan always tries to dissuade us from Godly purposes. Jesus was no different. With the hardest part of His Godly visit hurtling toward Him, Jesus was a prime candidate for Satan’s missiles of doubt. Where did Jesus go for help? He turned to His Father in prayer. Knowing that His spiritual battle was before Him, Jesus asked for prayer support. Jesus gathered His closest disciples to pray with Him. In the end, it was Jesus’ battle, and Jesus’ prayers that took Him through the final hours of His earthly life.
32 They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to His disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” 33 He took Peter, James and John along with Him, and He began to be deeply distressed and troubled. 34 “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” He said to them. “Stay here and keep watch.”
35 Going a little farther, He fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from Him. 36 “Abba,[a] Father,” He said, “everything is possible for You. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what You will.”
37 Then He returned to His disciples and found them sleeping. “Simon,” He said to Peter, “are you asleep? Couldn’t you keep watch for one hour? 38 Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
39 Once more He went away and prayed the same thing. 40 When He came back, He again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. They did not know what to say to Him.
41 Returning the third time, He said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Enough! The hour has come. Look, the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners. 42 Rise! Let us go! Here comes My betrayer!” (Mark 14:32-42)
“Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.’ And they divided up His clothes by casting lots.” Luke 23:34
Forgiveness. How can one forgive when he has suffered such atrocities? How can one forgive in the midst of the crisis? When people have been wronged, it is rare that that forgiveness is given immediately after the fact. Many times, it can take years for the wronged person to even consider forgiving those who wronged him. Sometimes, forgiveness is never given. However, to forgive in the midst of the pain and suffering takes supernatural help. It takes the love of God.
Two thousand years ago, the Son of God was beaten, nailed to a cross, and hung. His mangled body fought for air, and his accusers mocked Him as He hung between life and death. The soldiers who stood guarding beneath Him gambled over His clothes. Jesus hung stripped bare, bleeding, shivering, and smarting with pain; His mental anguish was just as intense as the physical trauma His body endured.
In the midst of all of this suffering, Jesus took on the sins of the world-- past, present, and future. His love for us drove Him to the cross, yet He did not open His mouth. Humanity’s sins held Jesus on that cross and caused His Father to turn His back on His only Son. Yet, despite the pain, the suffering, and the unjust cruelty, Jesus never cursed those who hurt Him. Instead, Jesus asked God the Father to forgive them. In the middle of His pain, He asked the Father for our forgiveness, not vengeance, not justice, forgiveness. Would anyone blame Him if He wanted revenge? Would anyone fail to understand had Jesus chosen to withhold forgiveness? No, in Jesus’ place, we would have done what Jesus chose not to do. Jesus chose to ask the Father to forgive our sin; He sought humanity’s forgiveness.
“The punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed.” Isaiah 53:5 The punishment for our sins was laid on Jesus, and, in the middle of the punishment, Jesus actively sought forgiveness for us. What a great love our Savior has for us! He took the punishment for our crimes because of love. He forgave us because of love. How can we do any less?
35 “When they had crucified Him, they divided up His clothes by casting lots. 36 And sitting down, they kept watch over Him there.”
When we think about Christ’s final hours, we tend to focus His last words. But life continued as Christ suffered. Babies were born, and people died. People bought and sold in the marketplace, and the Roman soldiers carried out their duties.
Crucifixions were terrible events that lasted hours or even days depending upon the strength of the individual hanging upon the cross. It was the duty of the Roman guards to remain on duty until the last person died. Their job was two-fold. The first part, the execution, concluded. The condemned persons hung for all to see. The second part, the vigil, required more soldiering. The soldiers were there to maintain order and to keep loved ones from interfering in the execution.
These Roman soldiers were rough men with rough manners. They were toughened from years of battle and maintaining order among the peoples who despised them. To them, Jesus’ execution was similar to all the other crucifixions in which the soldiers participated before. It was not a time for softness; it was, for the Romans soldiers, a time to pass the time in the best way possible.
As the thieves and Jesus hung on their crosses, harsh words were thrown at Jesus like harpoons, but, to the Roman soldiers, the crowd appeared to be docile. There was no need of crowd control on that day. With no physical or mental actions required, the soldiers turned avarice.
Because dice was a popular sport among the soldiers, the soldiers below Jesus’ cross turned to gambling for their diversion. The only things that Jesus owned were the clothes on His back. According to custom, the soldiers were permitted to take whatever the condemned had with them at the time of their execution. Therefore, the soldiers rolled the dice for Jesus’ clothes.
The Gospels make it clear that there were four soldiers at Christ’s execution. They took Jesus’ four outer garments and divided them into four parts, one for each soldier present. However, Christ’s inner garment was a seamless tunic of fine quality. Being a remarkable piece, woven from top to bottom, it presented two problems to the soldiers. First, it was without seams. Without cutting it into pieces, how could each of the four men have a share of it? They could not divide it up according to the seams, for it had none. Second, if it were cut into pieces, it would be ruined. “When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom.24 ‘Let’s not tear it,” they said to one another. “Let’s decide by lot who will get it.’” (John 19:23-24) And so, it was decided.
Written one thousand years before Christ was crucified, prior to the Romans’ invention of the crucifixion, Psalm 22 was written. Called the “Song of David,” King David described the events of Christ’s crucifixion right down to the division of clothing. The end of the Scripture from John 19:23-24 includes the Messianic prophecy:
”This happened that the scripture might be fulfilled that said,
“They divided my clothes among them
and cast lots for my garment.”[a]
So this is what the soldiers did.” (Psalm 22:18)
Bad things happen to good people every day, and every day we ask, “Where is God?” When Jesus died on the cross, God turned away from His own Son so that we could be forgiven. Where was God? God’s heart was with us because He loves us. When seemingly bad or evil things happen, other things about which we know nothing and do not understand are at work. God saw the big picture. He saw our need for a Savior, and He gave us His Son as that Savior. Evil was at work because we humans gave control of this world to Satan, but evil did not, could not, and will not triumph because ultimately God is in control.
Joseph was a man who was tested repeatedly during his lifetime. When his trials were resolved, he told his brothers, “’Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? 20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.’” (Genesis 50:20) Likewise, Jesus knew the end of His story was not with the soldiers throwing dice for His clothing, but with His resurrection which was to come.
46 “About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli,[a] lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).
“You won’t forget me, will you?” my young grandson asked in a small, but serious voice. I truly did not understand why he would think such a thing, but suddenly his urgency lit a concern in me too. It was as if he knew or sensed something to which I was not privy. My heart broke a little bit more with each passing second, and even as I reassured him that he was already in my heart, and there was no way I would ever forget him, I sensed that something momentous was on our horizon.
As he hung on the cross, Jesus cried out. He did not cry out for someone to save Him, nor did He cry out to let everyone know how much He suffered. When Jesus spoke, He spoke as a prayer to God His Father. “God, God, why have You abandoned Me?” “Why have You forgotten Me?” It was a plaintive cry from His heart.
The time came for Christ’s separation from God the Father. The two had never been separated before, and Jesus was in more agony than He had physically suffered up to this point. During His ministry on earth, Jesus stated, “I and my Father are one.” (John 10:30) Yet, as Jesus shouldered all of our sins, our righteous God could no longer look upon His only Son. This was spiritual separation at its most extreme.
Did Jesus know what would happen when He became the sacrifice for everyone’s sins? Of course, He knew. He was there when the plan was devised. Over and over again, Jesus had the opportunity to let each one of us suffer for our own sins, but He would not let us be separated from Himself. Jesus loved us too much to permit us to be permanently separated from God; so He accepted the punishment for us. It was at this point that the reality of that separation truly made itself known to Jesus.
Like David the Psalmist before Him, Jesus cried out to God, His Father.
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me,
so far from my cries of anguish?” Psalm 22:1-2
God, the Father, turned away from Jesus until the sacrifice was completed. Until, as Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up His spirit.” (John 19:30)
Now, it is up to us to choose if His sacrifice was for nothing because the only way that we can be separated from God is if we choose to be separated. 6 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. (John 14:6) It is time for you to choose. God’s invitation is always open to you to accept, but you might not have another chance to accept His invitation.
“The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other. But when they came to Jesus and found that He was already dead, they did not break His legs…These things happened so that the Scripture would be fulfilled: ‘Not one of His bones will be broken,’” John 19:32, 33, 36
The hours dragged for those watching Jesus die on the cross. With each choked gasp, the onlookers shuddered and felt their hearts break within them. On either side of Jesus, the thieves pushed themselves up a little higher to make it easier to breathe. However, Jesus did not have that luxury, for His feet were nailed to the cross. While those executed with Jesus had the nails in the hands, only Jesus had the nails in His feet and His hands. Why? Why was Jesus the only One to be nailed in both the hands and feet?
Perhaps the Roman executioners wanted to cause Jesus more pain, but perhaps the executioners’ pity caused them to nail to Jesus’ feet. How could nailing another person’s feet to a cross be an act of mercy? A crucifixion was one of the worst executions, reserved for the most heinous criminals. The punishment was as excruciatingly painful as humanly possible. The Romans perfected crucifixions to make them painful beyond description. First, they nailed through the wrists’ bones into the cross; next, one’s legs were bent at odd angles as they were tied in place; third, as the person hung on the cross, his joints became dislocated, due to gravity’s pull on the body’s weight thus dislocating the joints. Because of the pressure placed on the ribs, it was impossible to take a full breath; therefore, the person only took shallow breaths. If one’s feet were tied to the cross, one was able to inch up to breathe more easily, contrary to those whose feet were nailed. The increase of carbon dioxide in the lungs and decrease of the lungs’ oxygen strained the heart, until the heart failed. In other words, one suffocated to death. A person languished on the cross for days, until he died of asphyxiation, dehydration, and starvation.
At the end of an incredibly long day, the thieves were barely alive, but alive nonetheless. Because their legs were only tied to the cross, the thieves used their feet to push their bodies up the cross ever so slightly allowing them freedom to breathe more easily. Because Jesus’ feet were nailed, He did not have the availability to prolong His suffering. The soldiers came down the line of crosses, stopping at each of the thieves before going to Jesus in the middle. When the soldiers saw the thieves breathing, they broke the thieves’ legs, effectively causing the lungs to collapse and the heart to fail.
Finally, the soldiers came to Jesus. Looking up, they immediately saw that Jesus was dead, and there was no need to break His bones. These hardened soldiers chose to go to the thieves first and break their legs, thereby killing the thieves, before looking in Jesus’ direction. The only logical explanation for the difference was pure pity, for the Romans knew that Jesus was innocent. However, because the leaders of the Sanhedrin lusted for Jesus’ blood, Jesus had to die. Nailing Jesus’ feet to the cross was the only way the Romans could possibly ease His suffering, by ending it sooner rather than later. By their act of mercy, the soldiers fulfilled the prophecy given hundreds of years earlier. (Numbers 9:12; Psalm 34:20)
Jesus’ death led to our salvation, and every single prophecy made was fulfilled. Those witnessing the crucifixion did not understand the significance of this event. The soldiers ordered to execute Jesus certainly did not try to fulfill any prophecy as they went about their duties. Despite this, the prophecy was fulfilled. Through the only act of mercy available to them, the prophecy surrounding Jesus’ death was fulfilled. None of God’s plans can be thwarted; what He ordained will come to pass. God used the most unlikely sources to fulfill His plans, and He saved all of mankind by giving us the most wonderful gift of all: Himself.
Did you know Him? If you did, you probably could tell that something happened. Did you feel it? Did you see it? Even now, after His execution, there was a hush in this loud, brash city.
I heard of Jesus of Nazareth; of course I did. His name was on everyone’s lips last week, but in a good way. When He rode into Jerusalem riding on a donkey, everyone noticed Him. Everyone shouted at the top of their lungs, “Hosanna,” and “9 The crowds that went ahead of Him and those that followed shouted, “Hosanna[a] to the Son of David!”
“Blessed is He Who comes in the name of the Lord!”[b]
“Hosanna[c] in the highest heaven!” (Matthew 21:9) It was really something to see.
Then last night, my superior officer took me aside. My men and I received our orders: crucifixions were to take place first thing this morning. At that time, there were two thieves who were scheduled for execution, but early this morning word came down that this Jesus of Nazareth was to be crucified as well. I was stunned!
Battered and bruised beyond recognition, Jesus of Nazareth bore no resemblance to the Man Who rode on the back of a donkey earlier this week. Even though Pilate found nothing wrong with Jesus, I heard that Pilate ordered Him flogged anyway. I thought the whole episode was over, but those Chief Priests were persistent. It was peculiar.
As the day unfurled, the very same crowd who hailed Jesus as the “Son of David,” cried out for His crucifixion. How could the mob choose that criminal Barabbas to go free instead of Jesus? Yet, Pilate gave the crowd a choice.
“Here is your king,” Pilate said to the Jews.
15 But they shouted, “Take Him away! Take Him away! Crucify Him!”
“Shall I crucify your king?” Pilate asked.
“We have no king but Caesar,” the chief priests answered.” (John 19:14-15)
With the choice made, Pilate gave the order, and Jesus was made ready for the long walk to Golgotha. With dignity, Jesus placed one foot in front of the other. It seemed that the Nazarene was on a mission. Suddenly, He stumbled under the weight of His burden, the cross. After several missteps, I volunteered a man from Cyrene, who stood in the crowd, to carry Jesus’ cross. Docilely, Jesus stumbled His way to the “Place of the Skull” (Matthew 27:33) where He was stripped of His clothing and nailed to the cross. Though He groaned from time to time, Jesus spent much of His time on the cross simply trying to breathe. When He did speak, I heard love and compassion in His voice. As Jesus hung dying, I could not understand how He could be so caring of others. His mother, His friend, and the thieves who flanked Him, Jesus thought of them before He thought of Himself. When the people taunted Him, Jesus remained silent. I found my hard heart breaking. Why? How could anyone think Jesus deserved such punishment?
Finally, the time came. I saw His life slowly ebbing away, but I knew His end was near at hand. “It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, 45 for the sun stopped shining. 46 Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit My spirit.”[a] When He had said this, He breathed His last.” (Luke 23:44-47), and “At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split 52 and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. (Matthew 27:51-52)
I was terrified! I could not show fear to my men, but I never experienced anything like what happened before in my life. As the world whirled around me, I suddenly realized what my heart had been telling me through all of Christ’s sufferings that horrible day: I realized that Jesus was the Son of God. Deep inside me, I knew that I had to tell someone what I just discovered. I felt the words flowing from my mouth almost of their own volition, “Surely this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 19:39) “Surely this was a righteous man.” (Luke 24:47)
I wanted no part of the rest of the crucifixion, but my job was not finished. I had to stay on that hill a few hours longer; however, inside, I felt different. Because the feeling was so new, I cannot explain what that change was, but I do know that Jesus forgave me before He died. I know because 34 “Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.’” (Luke 23:34) I wish I could have known Him better.
Michael W. Smith “The Wonderful Cross”
Songwriters: Chris Tomlin, Jesse Pryor Reeves, J.D. Walt
When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of Glory died
My richest gain I count but loss
And pour contempt on all my pride
See from His head, His hands, His feet
Sorrow and love flow mingled down
Did e'er such love and sorrow meet
Or thorns compose so rich a crown
Oh the wonderful cross (2x)
Bides me come and die and find
That I may truly live
Oh the wonderful cross (2x)
All who gather here by grace
Draw near and bless Your name
Were the whole realm of nature mine
That were and an off'ring far too small
Love so amazing so divine
Demands my soul, my life, my all
Life so amazing, so divine
Demands my soul, my life, my all
And the beauty and the shame
In the glory of His Name
Oh the wonderful cross
“Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water.” John 19:34
“Love is never ending…” Those are the beginning words from Twila Paris’s “Neverending Love,” and this sentiment has never been so eloquently displayed as it was that day two thousand years ago at Calvary. The omnipotent, omnipresent God restricted Himself into human form for the expressed purpose of dying as the sacrificial Lamb for you, for me, and for all of humanity- past, present, and future. That is love; to give one’s life for another is love. God the Son, Jesus, chose to give Himself for us because He loves us. He endured one of the most gruesome deaths for us. When Jesus died, God the Father turned His back on His only Son. Our Heavenly Father turned His back on Jesus as Jesus took on the sins of the world. God Incarnate without sin hung on a cross with our sins. What an incredibly lonely, horrible death it must have been!
Jesus died prior to the end of the day, and the soldiers guarding Him heard His words, “It is finished.” (John 19:30) Perhaps the soldiers scratched their heads in wonderment. More likely, they only wished for the day to end. Finally, the sun began to set, and the soldiers went about their business ensuring the prisoners were dead. As they approached the first thief, the soldiers could see life still in the man, and the soldiers quickly broke the thief’s legs. Now, Jesus was next in line, yet the soldiers bypassed Him entirely and went to the other thief, knowing that this man too was still alive. Once again, the soldiers brought the execution to a timely end.
Only after the soldiers went to both thieves did they turn to Jesus. If they did not already know that Jesus was dead, they certainly suspected it. Sure enough, these seasoned soldiers could tell that Jesus had indeed passed away. However, they knew enough about the politics of the day to know that someone higher up in authority was going to want proof of His death. They took a spear and pierced Jesus’ side. It was the only way that the soldiers knew beyond any doubt that Jesus was dead without physically climbing onto the scaffolding to touch Jesus. When a person dies, the blood flow ceases because the heart is not pumping the blood throughout the body. Therefore, the water and the blood separate. When we bleed, we see a mixture of the blood platelets and blood plasma. With the advent of death, that mixture separates the two parts, and the water in the blood becomes noticeable. Thus, with a simple movement of a spear, the soldiers determined Jesus’ death.
Once again, actions that seemed to be only logical to the Romans held a much higher purpose for God. Roughly four hundred year before Jesus’ crucifixion, God told the people of Israel what was to happen to the Messiah. The prophet Zechariah spoke these words, “And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on Me, the One they have pierced, and they will mourn for Him as one mourns for an only child and grieve bitterly for Him as one grieves for a first-born son.” (Zech. 12:10) The Roman soldiers knew nothing of a prophecy, nor did they care. They knew their heinous duties were finished.
For us, Jesus endured the beatings; He endured the ridicule. For us, He allowed Himself to be executed, and He allowed the sins of the world to come on Himself. For us, Jesus gave up heaven and was nailed to a cross and pierced with a spear. All of it was for us, for Jesus could not imagine an eternity without us. His love was that strong. There is more to the song “Neverending Love,” and it goes like this: “Love that chose to die for those who don’t deserve to live. As we are forgiven, so must we forgive. Everlasting, neverending, love without condition. Everlasting, neverending, neverending, neverending love. Love is neverending. Love is ever forgiving, neverending love.” This is what Easter is all about: the love of a Savior Who chose to be pierced for us and Who rose again that we might live with Him.
57” As evening approached, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who had himself become a disciple of Jesus. 58 Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body, and Pilate ordered that it be given to him. 59 Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, 60 and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock. He rolled a big stone in front of the entrance to the tomb and went away. (Matthew 27:57-60)
Matthew’s account of Jesus’ burial is very brief. Because Matthew answered the primary journalistic questions: Who, What, Where, When, and How, he made a wonderful newspaper reporter. From his account, we know that Joseph was a rich man. We know that Joseph had enough influence in the community to have an audience with Pontius Pilate. Among the facts, we find that Joseph of Arimathea was Christ’s disciple. Matthew clearly states that Jesus’ body was cared for and placed in a new, unused tomb. These are very important facts, but they are only facts. Only a small part of Joseph’s caring heart is open for us to see.
42 “It was Preparation Day (that is, the day before the Sabbath). So as evening approached, 43 Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Council, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. 44 Pilate was surprised to hear that he was already dead. Summoning the centurion, he asked him if Jesus had already died. 45 When he learned from the centurion that it was so, he gave the body to Joseph. 46 So Joseph bought some linen cloth, took down the body, wrapped it in the linen, and placed it in a tomb cut out of rock. Then he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. 47 Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joseph saw where he was laid.” (Mark 15:42-47)
The Gospel of Mark spells out the when: “It was Preparation Day.” It was the evening before the Sabbath. Mark added more information about the day Jesus died on the cross. In these few lines, we discover that Joseph of Arimathea was a member of the Council. He was a member of the group who wanted Jesus to die on the cross. However, Joseph, though he was a member of the Council, wanted to care for Christ’s body. Adding a few more details to his narrative, Mark reported that Pilate was surprised that Jesus was already dead. In keeping with his high office, Pilate checked with the Centurion in charge just to be sure that the information he was given was correct. Finally, we find that there were witnesses to Christ’s burial. Two women, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joseph, witnessed where Jesus’ body was laid.
50 “Now there was a man named Joseph, a member of the Council, a good and upright man, 51 who had not consented to their decision and action. He came from the Judean town of Arimathea, and he himself was waiting for the kingdom of God. 52 Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body. 53 Then he took it down, wrapped it in linen cloth and placed it in a tomb cut in the rock, one in which no one had yet been laid. 54 It was Preparation Day, and the Sabbath was about to begin.
55 The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it. 56 Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment.” (Luke 24:50-56)
Luke’s Gospel provides important information. Luke tells us more about Joseph of Arimathea. Joseph was a member of the Council, but he was a “good” man who disagreed with his fellow Council members. Anticipating the time when they could anoint Jesus’ body with burial herbs, the women who followed Joseph to the tomb went home to prepare the burial spices. From Luke’s reporting, we know that these women rested in deference to the Sabbath.
38 “Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jewish leaders. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away. 39 He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds.[a] 40 Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs. 41 At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid. 42 Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.” (John 19:38-42)
Finally, John explains that Joseph of Arimathea was not alone when he went to Pilate to ask for Jesus’ body. Nicodemus accompanied him. Mentioned earlier in John’s Gospel, the Pharisee Nicodemus met Jesus at night. It is in John’s Gospel where we learn that spices as well as strips of linen were used to prepare Jesus’s body for placement in the tomb. Finally, we learn that the tomb where Jesus was laid was no ordinary tomb- it was located in a garden.
One incident, but there are four accounts of the same story offered in the New Testament. Why were we offered a variety of storytellers? God knew our stubborn hearts. He knew that in order to get a true picture of that terrible evening, we needed four voices to tell the whole story. This portion of the Easter story does not focus on Jesus, but it focuses on the people who were left behind.
Though they were around, there is no mention of the eleven remaining disciples. But, in permitting us a peek into the final hours of that day, we find people who were touched by Jesus’ love. The man, Nicodemus went to Jesus by night to inquire, “How can a man be born when he is old?” It is in this final retelling that we know that Nicodemus became Jesus’ follower and that he was no longer hid in the darkness. It is during these verses of Scripture that we are introduced to a good man from Arimathea: Joseph. It is through Joseph that the Gospel is for us all of us. Being a follower of Jesus does not depend on material wealth, but on how open our hearts are to Jesus and His teachings. Through the women, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joseph, we learn God’s Word is available to us all- male and female. God’s mercy and love transcends gender. God’s love is not earned, and He has no favorites in His creation. God loves us all.
Through the ladies one final truth becomes evident. The story has no end. Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea had their spices and linen ready for Christ’s burial. Matthew, Mark, and Luke mention the preparation the men did before putting Jesus’ body in the new garden tomb and rolling the stone in its entrance. Only John’s Gospel explains that the women went home to prepare more spices and perfume for Christ’s final burial. However, the ladies never made it back to the tomb that day. Like God on His final day of creation, the women observe the Sabbath rest.
Because Jesus’ story has no end, a new day and a new beginning are awaiting everyone who trusts in Christ as their Lord and Savior. Christ is alive, and if we invite Him into our lives, He will live in each person’s heart of hearts. Because Christ’s story has no end, a believer’s story has no end either, for Christ died for each one of us. Those who accept Him as Lord and Savior will live with Him for all eternity, forever and ever. It is never too late to ask for God’s forgiveness of your sins. Today is the perfect day.
39 “He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds.[a] 40 Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs. 41 At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid. 42 Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.” (John 19:39-42)
“They laid Jesus there.” Say that sentence to yourself. Read it out loud. “They laid Jesus there,” are such final words. It leaves no room for discussion. It was the end. In reality, it left no room for any hope.
Both Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea were powerful leaders in Jewish society, and, as both men requested Jesus’ body, they stepped away from all that they held dear to stand with the deceased Rabbi. For it was the Jewish leadership who pushed for Jesus’ crucifixion over the objections of their fellow leaders: Nicodemus and Joseph. Now Nicodemus and Joseph stood, seemingly alone, in their desire to give Jesus a proper burial.
As Jesus’ followers, they wanted to honor Him one last time. Armed with spices, linens, and a deep commitment to their Lord, Nicodemus and Joseph prepared their friend’s body for burial. When they stood before Pilate to retrieve Jesus’ body from the Romans, Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea declared their loyalty to their Teacher.
Though they had to hurry their burial preparations, Joseph and Nicodemus chose a new tomb located in a garden for Jesus’ final resting place. With heavy hearts, and mournful spirits, they left Jesus there- the end.
But how could the men know what would happen in just a few days? During His last supper here on earth, Jesus spoke words of comfort to His twelve disciples.
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God[a]; believe also in me. 2 My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” (John 14:1-3)
Joseph and Nicodemus missed Christ’s words of comfort. Since Nicodemus and Joseph were not present, they did not have the information that Jesus would return. As they rolled the stone in front of the tomb with Jesus’ body inside, Joseph and Nicodemus sealed their hope.
“The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it. Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment.” Luke 23:55-56
When a loved one dies, preparations are made to say the final goodbyes. The same has been true for thousands of years. A death results in a void in the surviving loved ones’ lives. Time and again, people struggle with saying goodbye, for we do not want to let go.
The same was true of the women who followed Jesus. Their Master was dead. They watched Him die on the cross. These women were not of noble birth, nor did they hold any prestigious place in society. They watched helplessly as Jesus’ limp body was taken down from the cross, and they followed silently as Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus moved His body to a newly hewn tomb. The women memorized the landmarks surrounding the grave, and they saw the men hurry through initial burial preparations prior to the start of the Sabbath. To the side sat a huge stone which the women knew sealed the tomb
With this seemingly final knowledge, the women left. Rather than weep and cry, the women began their own burial preparations. They purchased the necessary items in the marketplace on their way home, and as was their custom, they went prepared spices and perfumes used for anointing a dead body. What was the point? A stone blocked their entrance to the tomb, and Joseph and Nicodemus made certain that Jesus was given a proper burial. Why did these women prepare their own burial spices and perfumes? The answer is surprisingly simple: they needed to say goodbye.
Anointing the corpse with spices and perfumes was more than just a custom. It was how the Jewish people said their last goodbyes. These women needed the closure that came with anointing the body, for they too wanted to say goodbye to their Master, their Savior, their Friend, their Brother, their Teacher, and their Messiah. It was how they chose to show their love for Jesus. The depth of their grief was as great as their love. These women chose to demonstrate their unwavering love for Jesus, even after death. The women chose to be counted among the disciples, and they chose to publicly declare their devotion to Jesus.
When Jesus died, life ceased to exist. Jesus’ death threw the women’s lives into tailspins, and closure was the only cure. With these thoughts, the women finished their preparations, observed the Sabbath, as Jesus would have wanted them to do, and waited until they also could say goodbye to their Savior.
Jesus said, “For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more.” Because Jesus gave Mary her freedom from spiritual bondage, Jesus gave Mary from Magdala a rare and precious gift- one that Mary always treasured.
Mary is first mentioned in Luke 8:2, “2 And certain women, which had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities, Mary called Magdalene, out of whom went seven devils…” The Scripture did not clearly define the demons because the “what” was not as important as the “why.” Wherever Jesus traveled, He spoke about His Father in heaven. Jesus spoke of the love He had for all people, and He spoke about the bondage of sin. 12 “He said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)
Mary was given “much,” and she knew it. Though Jesus never asked for her love, Mary gave it freely to her Savior, brother, and friend. Mary followed Jesus and His chosen twelve disciples because, like them, she wanted to learn more about God and His kingdom. So Mary followed, and, as she followed, she learned. She was an apprentice as she learned about God at the feet of the Master Craftsman.
Never wavering in her devotion, Mary was one of the few disciples who followed Jesus to the cross, and, though she was not permitted near the cross, Mary kept her vigil as Jesus’ life seeped from His human body. 55 “Many women were there, watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph,[d] and the mother of Zebedee’s sons.” (Matthew 27:55-56)
Then Jesus was dead- gone. As those around her drifted off, Mary remained steadfast; her vigil continued. Together with “the other Mary” (Matthew 27:61), Mary Magdalene followed Jesus’ body to His place of burial, and Mary departed only when she was required to prepare for the Sabbath. Even as she left the garden tomb, Mary planned to return to Jesus’ grave.
Mary was faithful. “When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. 2 Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb 3 and they asked each other, ‘Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?’” (Mark 16:1-3) Because nothing would stop her act of love, the obstacles did not matter to Mary Magdalene. She dealt with whatever when she came upon it.
Though His disciples did not realize it, Jesus was only temporarily in the grave. When the women walked to the tomb that morning, they expected the tomb to be as they left it prior to the Sabbath. A very practical problem was foremost in their minds. Because God is God, He has very different plans, and He does not need to use people to fulfill them.
4”But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. 5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed. 6 “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, Who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid Him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see Him, just as He told you.’ 8 Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.” (Mark 16:4-7)
The unusual happened, and the women were afraid. Only Mary Magdalene stayed behind to mourn. Perhaps deep down in her heart she cried out to the Lord, “Why?” However, God’s way is not man’s way, and God had a different plan. The angels who were conspicuously absent during Christ’s passion were now very visible. But Mary was deeply bewildered, and the happenings at Jesus’ tomb made no sense to her.
11 Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12 and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.
13 They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”
“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put Him.” 14 At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.
15 He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”
Thinking He was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have put Him, and I will get Him.”
16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.”
She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).
17 Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” (John 20:11-17)
Jesus first appeared to Mary Magdalene, and, to Mary Magdalene, Jesus entrusted His important message. It was Mary who followed Jesus to the very end and beyond. Mary, who despite all the physical evidence, remained faithful. God’s Favor rested on Mary, and Mary received the important message to share with the others. 18 Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that He had said these things to her. (John 20:18) As is one of His principles, God entrusted the most important message of the Gospel to the one whom had much forgiven. Because God saw Mary’s heart, He was pleased. Mary was the one who spoke to and recognized her Savior before anyone else was permitted the privilege.
As we remember Christ’s final week on earth in His human form, where are you? Have you fallen away? Have the cares of this world pulled at you until you see only those cares? Like Mary Magdalene, we have a choice. We can be like Jesus’ many disciples and permit the concerns of the day to overwhelm us, or we can be like Mary Magdalene and follow Jesus to the grave and beyond. Like Mary, we have a choice. Which will you choose?
“When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, ‘Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?’” Mark 16:1-3
After Jesus’ death, the Sabbath was relatively quiet. The Romans were relieved as they believed that a riot was in their future. After all, the Sanhedrin made it quite clear that Jesus’ death could cause more problems than His life. Ironic, was it not? The Sanhedrin fought tooth and nail for Jesus’ death, before saying that His death was not enough. However, despite the Sanhedrin’s fears, the Sabbath passed without an incident. It was almost as if the entire earth held its breath.
Some of Jesus’ disciples waited on pins and needles for the Sabbath to finish. Maybe these ladies did not sleep that night. Whatever the case, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome were up bright and early. They packed the spices and perfumes they prepared and hurried out the door. On their way to the garden, the women stopped to purchase any last-minute spices needed for a proper burial. To be certain, the ladies were not laughing, jovial, or even remotely gladdened; despite their somber moods, they hurried on their way.
The women dressed in black rushed toward the garden. Suddenly, one of them stopped short, and the others looked back at her, wondering what could possibly cause such a reaction. They crowded around the one who stopped. She asked the question that they all forgot in their haste: “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?” Their eyes widened, and their mouths dropped open, as they all realized that there was no way that they, even with their combined strength, could possibly move the heavy stone. After all, grown men struggled to push the stone in front of the tomb’s entrance.
Then, the pent-up tears overwhelmed the women. To watch Jesus die had been horrific enough, but to not say goodbye? It was unthinkable. The women felt as if their hearts broke anew within them. Was there no justice in the world? How could God permit all of this to happen to Jesus, the Messiah? All the women wanted was to say goodbye, and even that was denied them.
With downcast eyes, the women agreed to continue to the tomb; at the very least, they could weep at Jesus’ grave. Could there be a more melancholy image? The women walked, talked, and wept as they made their way into the garden. Perhaps someone would show them some kindness. Perhaps they would be able to cry in relative peace and solitude.
This is where we leave Mary Magdalene, Mary, and Salome rounding the bend on the way to Jesus’ tomb. For us living two thousand years later, we have been given the gift of hindsight, for we know that the story continues, but for those women, the book closed without a single cloud with any silver lining. It closed until the women arrived at their destination.
Michael W. Smith Secret Ambition
Songwriters: Wayne Kirkpatrick, Michael W. Smith, Amy Grant
Young man, up on the hillside
Teaching new ways
Each word winning them over
Each heart a kindled flame
Old men, watch from the outside
Guarding their prey
Threated by the voice of a paragon
Leading their lambs away
Leading them far away
Nobody knew His secret ambition
Nobody knew His claim to fame
He broke the old rules steeped in tradition
He tore the Holy Veil away
Questioning those in powerful positions
Running to those who called His name
But nobody knew His secret ambition
Was to give His life away
His rage, shaking the temple
His word to the wise
His hand healing on the seventh day
His love wearing no disguise
Some say, “Death to the radical
He's way out of line”
Some say, “Praise be the miracle
God sends a blessed sign
A blessed sign for troubled times”
Ohh... Oh... Oh...
No, no, no, no
I tell you nobody knew
Until He gave His life away
Have you met my Jesus? Until a few days ago, I followed Him. I listened to Him preach, and I ate with Him. He was my Friend and my Teacher. I thought that He would live forever, but He did not. Can you walk with us, as I explain what happened these past few days?
A few days ago, one of Jesus’ close disciples, Judas, betrayed Him to the Chief Priests and the Pharisees. Everyone knew that those men wanted to harm Jesus. Why Judas sold Jesus into their hands, I will never know.
Accusing Jesus of all sorts of crimes, the Chief Priests charged Him with blasphemy, a crime punishable by death, and took Him to the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate to be executed. But Pilate believed Jesus was innocent and wanted to release Jesus from custody. Because Pilate realized that too many members of the Sanhedrin wanted Jesus’ death, he permitted the crowd to act as judges. To Pilate’s amazement, the people chose to set free a convicted thief and murderer. According to the people’s choice, Jesus was crucified.
Late in the afternoon of Jesus’ crucifixion, other followers of Jesus claimed His body and swiftly buried Him in a new tomb. Because it was almost our special Sabbath day, there was not time to complete the preparation process. There was only enough time to roll an extremely heavy boulder in front of the entrance. Once the Sabbath ended, several women went to the tomb to finish the burial ritual. (Do you know Mary Magdalene? She was one of the women.)
When they arrived at the garden tomb, the women realized that the heavy rock which barred the tomb’s entrance had been moved. Fearing the worst, Mary and the rest of the women searched for Jesus’ body. In frustration and anguish, the women wept bitterly. When Mary Magdalene and the other women sensed that there was a young man sitting at the entrance to the tomb, they entered the room. There they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.
Reassuring them, the young man spoke to them about Jesus. According to the women, he said,
“You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, Who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid Him. 7 But go, tell His disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see Him, just as He told you.’” The bewildered women went out and fled from the tomb.” (Mark 16:4-8)
When they heard the news, Jesus’ disciples, Peter and John, ran to the tomb to confirm the women’s discovery. After they left, and only Mary remained behind standing outside of the tomb.
“As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12 and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.
13 They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”
“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put Him.” 14 At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.
15 He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”
Thinking He was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have put Him, and I will get Him.”
16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.”
She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).
17 Jesus said, “Do not hold on to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to My brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to My God and your God.’
18 Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that He had said these things to her.” (John 20:12-18)
Of course, we were all amazed, but with nothing for us to do but to wait, my friend and I began our journey to Emmaus. Suddenly, a fellow Traveler joined us. Hearing our discussion, the Man asked us, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”
We told Him about Jesus of Nazareth. We explained that Jesus was a powerful Prophet Who was sent from God. We explained that even as the Chief Priests and rulers handed Jesus to be sentenced and crucified, we hoped that He was the One Who was going to redeem Israel. Even more amazing was the women’s testimony. They came and told us that they saw a vision of angels, who said that Jesus was alive. 24 “Some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.” (Luke 24:24)
Then the Man spoke to us. He told us that we were foolish because we were slow to believe what the prophets said long ago. Then He explained that in order for the Messiah to enter into His glory, He had to suffer all the things He suffered. To make sure that we understood everything, and we would not be confused, the Man went through the Scriptures beginning with Moses and all the Prophets. Almost at our destination, we asked the Man to join us for the evening since nighttime was fast approaching, and we wanted to continue our conversation with Him. So He stayed with us.
30 “When we were seated at the table, the Stranger took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to us. Suddenly, our eyes were opened, and we recognized Him. It was Jesus. No sooner had we discerned that it was in fact Jesus when He disappeared from our sight. As usual, Jesus made the Scriptures come alive. We wasted no time. Immediately, we returned to Jerusalem and the disciples. There we found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together 34 and said, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” (Luke 24:13-34)
It was a perfect opportunity for us to relate our experience to them.
He is alive! Jesus is alive! I have to tell somebody. No, I have to tell everybody that Jesus is alive! Now you know too. It is your turn. Do you believe? He died for your sins, just as He died for mine. He rose again to break sin’s power over us. Ask Him to forgive you now, and He will. Then you can tell somebody too.
“’Don’t be alarmed,’ he said. ‘You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, Who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid Him. But go, tell His disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see Him, just as He told you.’” Mark 16:6,7
Can you imagine what it was like two thousand years ago on the first Easter morning? One minute you wept in sorrow; the next, you came face to face with an angel. With a few carefully chosen sentences, this messenger told you that Jesus Whom you watched die is alive. Then, the angel gave you a message to pass onto Jesus’ closest friends and companions. Is it any wonder that Mary Magdalene, Mary, and Salome were at a loss for words?
Here these women pondered how to roll a massive stone away from the front of Jesus’ tomb so that they could anoint His body. They turned a corner and came face to face with an angel?!?!?! They were afraid of the angel standing before them; after all, angel sightings were not common occurrences. Fear and alarm turned to confusion and bewilderment, as the angel shared the good news.
We might think that the women were thrilled, that shouts of praise, laughter, singing, and dancing broke loose in that graveyard garden so many years ago. Yet, this was not the women’s reaction at all. Look at what the angel said. First and foremost, “Don’t be alarmed.” The angel knew the ladies were afraid of him, for an angel is an awesome sight to behold. Next, he told them why they were in the garden at all. How often are people startled and forget what they were doing? Then the angel shared with them the good news that Jesus had risen. He offered them positive proof, for the stone was rolled away, and the burial clothes were folded on the bench. The angel invited the ladies to see for themselves what happened. Finally, he gave them a job to do. Mary Magdalene, Mary, and Salome were to tell the disciples and Peter specifically, that Jesus was alive to meet them in Galilee, just as He said. Then, the angel left them.
In the women’s confusion and fear, they did not say a word to anyone as they hurried out of the garden. It took them some time to calm down, sort through all that the angel said to them, and, finally go to the disciples and Peter with the message that they were given. Would we have been any different? If an angel appeared to us today, would we tell anyone? Would we keep it to ourselves, even if we were charged with a mission? Would we be confused, afraid, and thrilled all at once? If we answer honestly, most of us would say, “Yes.” The celebrations that we associate with Easter were most emphatically delayed that first Easter morning, for Jesus’ disciples needed time to process what occurred. Once reality set in, then they rejoiced.
With the angel’s words, all of humanity was turned upside-down as people came to understand that the Savior of the world conquered death so that we might live forever. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, Who was crucified. He has risen!” The cross redeemed us, but the resurrection reconciled us to our Heavenly Father so that we might live forever. This is the good news that is given to us; Easter is the celebration of that good news.
“He is risen! He is risen, indeed!
Peter was what one might call the bombastic disciple. Peter identified Jesus as the Messiah and said that he would never fall away from Jesus. Brave Peter cut off the ear of the slave of the high priest and followed Jesus to His illegal trial. It was also Peter who denied that he ever knew Jesus, not once, not even twice, but three times. (Matt. 6, 26) Can you imagine Peter’s sorrow, his shame, and his pain?
Here he was, the one whom Jesus called “The Rock.” It was Simon who had his name changed to Peter by his Lord and Savior. Peter was one of the ones chosen to witness Jesus’ transformation on the mountain. Jesus was more than his Savior; Jesus was Peter’s best Friend, closer than a brother. Despite that, as he sat in that courtyard, surrounded by Jesus’ enemies and suspicious characters, fear crept into Peter’s heart. The one who stood by Jesus so bravely only a few hours before cowered by a campfire and prayed that no one would take any notice of a fisherman from Galilee.
Unfortunately, Peter had not gone unnoticed. The servants in the yard recognized him as Jesus’ friend. It may be that the servants wanted to talk to him about Jesus, to find out if the stories were true, but to Peter, they were not only questions but also accusations. Peter saw the shackles coming closer and closer to him with each insistent assertion. In a panic, Peter denied ever knowing Jesus. Yet, another person took up the cry, and, once again, in an effort to save face, Peter said he did not know about what they were talking. Others recognized his accent, and Peter emphatically announced that he was unaware of the trial. After all, he was only a lowly fisherman keeping warm by the fire. What did he know of this Jesus?
Through his panicked haze, a sound broke through Peter’s consciousness. A cock crowed, as morning approached. Immediately, with growing clarity, Peter was flooded with memories of the previous evening. His mind snapped back to what Jesus said: “This very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.” (Matt. 26:34) As the realization enveloped him, Peter fled from the courtyard. He had to get away; he needed to be alone. Peter wanted to be alone with his shame; his heart broke within him. The sobs tore at his very soul. How could he, Peter, have done such a heinous thing? How could he have denied his Lord?
And, yet…yet, there seemed to be something that told him that all was okay. Peter sobbed out his tale of woe to God the Father and to Jesus. It did not matter to him that Jesus was not physically there, for Peter knew that Jesus still knew how incredibly sorry he was. No matter how low Peter felt, no matter how much his heart broke within him, no matter how black it seemed, Peter knew that Jesus forgave him. Perhaps with time, Peter could prove just how much he loved Jesus.
In the wee hours of the morning, Peter came to the decision that he would never again deny Jesus. He did not know if Jesus would ever give him a second chance, and Peter did not know if he had the strength to stand so tall ever again. In spite of all that had occurred, Peter knew that Jesus held out forgiveness to him, and Peter asked for it. Peter exhibited true repentance, and he called on the One Who graciously forgave him.
At times, we are all like Peter. We talk a good game, but when it comes to facing down our enemies, we quake in our boots, turn tail, and deny knowing anything at all. Our fears get the best of us. Like Peter, when the fears subside, we stand empty before God, crying out for forgiveness and unsure that we can ever be used again. Unlike Peter, we have the gift of hindsight, for Peter was reinstated by Jesus and gave his life for his Lord and Savior. May we remember that though we have denied Jesus, forgiveness is always offered. Like Peter, let us approach the throne of grace in our brokenness and seek the forgiveness available to us. Peter, the Rock, may have been cracked and broken, but Jesus took Peter as he was: a simple fisherman who had been overcome by fear to deny his Lord, but who was strong enough in his faith to seek forgiveness from His Savior.
The sun came up over the horizon, and a sleepy city awakened. As people went about their daily business, they instinctively knew that something was amiss. Many wandered over to the Roman seat of government, only to find that Pontius Pilate, the procurator, presided over a trial. The accused man was One Whom the crowds knew. He was a Man Who caused many to love Him devotedly or to hate Him passionately. There was no middle ground. Finally, Pilate sat in the judge’s seat in front of the growing crowd.
As the Hebrews were celebrating their Passover, Pilate offered to release to the crowd a criminal, a murderous thief, named Barabbas or the King of the Jews named Jesus. All at once, chaos erupted. People saw Jesus bloodied and bruised, and they began to mock the very same Man that they celebrated one short week ago. Oh, one short week was a lifetime away. Then, Jesus appeared in power, but here….here, Jesus appeared weak, little, and helpless. Certainly, this Jesus, this Nazarene, only perpetrated a lie. The leaders of the Sanhedrin wandered among the crowd, encouraging and prompting them to call for Barabbas, urging them to crucify Jesus. As one and then another person took up the call to crucify Him, the crowd began to shove each other, hitting those who tried to call out the name of Jesus.
Pilate watched the scene with growing astonishment. The crowd turned from a mob of people into a frenzied riot in a matter of seconds. What kind of Man was Jesus to elicit such a response from these people? Unaware of the situation, some in the mob were caught up in the emotions and found themselves yelling, “Crucify Him!” along with the rest. When Pilate acquiesced to their demands, the mob cheered. It was a hot time in old Jerusalem that day.
Was it enough that throngs of people condemned an innocent man to death? Perish the thought! The gates opened, and the Roman soldiers led out a battered, bloodied, scarcely recognizable Jesus wearing a crown of thorns on His head. The mob, now thoroughly out of control, thirsted for blood, and they jeered and sneered at His passing. They followed the soldiers and Jesus to Golgotha, and they watched as He was nailed to a cross and hung for all to see. What sport they had with Jesus hanging there! The cruelty of humankind was on display with every biting taunt that escaped their lips. The Man Who only ever healed could not even bring Himself down from the cross. How could they have possibly believed that He was the King of the Jews?
The memory of the previous Sunday vanished from their minds, and they forgot all the good that Jesus did. Gone were the palm branches that waved and the coats spread on the ground to hail the arrival of the Son of David, the King of the Jews. Their only concern was how much of His blood was spilled. Soldiers stood guard around Jesus as the mob threatened to tear Him from limb to limb; spears glinted in the morning light. The hatred was so intense that one slice it with a knife.
Suddenly, the sky turned black, and the ground shook. The mob fell silent instantly. Surely, this was not a typical day. It became almost impossible to see anyone in the inky blackness, and the earth seemed to groan with each of Jesus’ dying gasps. That oh-so-mighty mob became terrified of what happened before their eyes, and, with each passing minute, one by one, they turned and walked rapidly away, to cower in their homes. How could the death of one simple Carpenter from Nazareth cause the sky and earth to change? Unless it was true, Jesus was Who He said He was. But, no, to even think that was impossible. If Jesus was indeed the Son of God, then that mob killed God’s Son. By day’s end, every single member of the mob cowered in their homes and prayed the fear which gripped their souls passed. The only ones left watching Jesus die were the guards, the thieves on either side of Him, a handful of the leaders of the Sanhedrin, and a few of Jesus’ followers. The day that echoed with yells became eerily silent.
On the day Jesus died, two others were crucified. Unlike Jesus, these men were guilty of the charges leveled against them, for they were thieves. Unlike Jesus, their hands and feet were not nailed to the cross enabling them to breathe more easily. Unlike Jesus, these men deserved and received their just rewards. The thieves flanked Jesus, and both watched the Messiah die on a cross. They heard about Him, but neither understood why Someone powerful enough to raise others back to life would permit Himself to be killed. Therefore, one thief ridiculed Jesus, mocking Him as the mob below mocked Him.
One thief did not. This thief watched the mob rioting below. He watched the guards keep the mob at bay, and he saw the sky and earth violently react against Jesus’ death. However, this thief mostly watched Jesus. He was confused by Jesus’ silence, and he did not understand why Jesus did not hurl curses on those who cursed Him. As this thief watched, it occurred to him that Jesus was innocent of any crime. Here was a Man dying for a crime He never committed. This thief, a hardened criminal, was moved by the compassion on Jesus’ face, for it showed clearly in Jesus’ countenance. He was boggled by the love shown in the face of hate.
The thief listened to the crowd, and he listened for Jesus to reply. There was nothing, only silence from Jesus. Then, the thief’s attention was drawn to the voice of the other thief. The other man jeered, taunted, and sneered at Jesus just as the mob below jeered, taunted, and sneered. Suddenly, our thief heard his own voice reprimand his fellow thief, saying, “’Don’t you fear God, since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.’” The other thief was stunned into silence, and the first one turned his attention to Jesus, to the Man he watched for so many hours in silence. Something stirred in the first thief’s heart, and he felt that Jesus must be the Messiah. Almost before he realized what he was doing, the thief blurted out, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” (Luke 23:40-42)
Can you imagine this thief’s shock? Here as he was dying on a cross, next to a dying, innocent Man, the thief reprimanded the other thief, came to believe that Jesus was the Christ the Son of God, and asked Jesus to remember him. He must have thought that Jesus would laugh at him or, at the very least, turn him away. But, no, that was not Jesus, and the thief knew would accept him. He hoped that Jesus would accept him, but would He? Would Jesus accept a hardened criminal like he was? Of course, Jesus did. Jesus painfully turned His head toward the thief and said, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with Me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43) This thief’s heart soared within him, for he knew beyond any doubt that Jesus accepted and loved him. His physical life slowly ebbed out of him, but the thief knew that Jesus welcomed him home.
Jesus does the same today. The worst criminal in the world is not too lost for Jesus. The love that Jesus has for the tiniest baby, oldest person, kindest person, the ugliest person, most beautiful person, or cruelest individual is held out to each and every single one of us today. Our sins kept Jesus hanging on the cross, and His power over death gives us redemption. Just as that thief asked for forgiveness and believed two thousand years ago, Jesus is waiting for you to ask Him. He loves you enough to die for you, me, all who came before, and all who come after. Come just as you are, for everyone is welcomed by Jesus, just as a thief was welcomed two thousand years ago.
Joseph of Arimathea
At what point does one take a stand for what one believes? At what point will a person say, “Enough is enough!”? For Joseph of Arimathea that moment came with Jesus’ death. Not much is known about Joseph, but what is known is quite remarkable.
Joseph was a prominent member of Jewish society. As a part of the Sanhedrin, Israelites held him in high esteem. It is believed that Joseph was a wealthy merchant from a prominent family. Since Joseph lived in the area surrounding Jerusalem, he encountered Jesus. As he listened and watched Jesus, Joseph became convinced that Jesus was the Messiah and put his faith in Jesus. Yet, Joseph did not publicly announce his faith, nor did his fellow believer and friend Nicodemus.
With Jesus’ arrest in the dead of night, Joseph, Nicodemus, and the rest of the Sanhedrin were called to a meeting. To be fair, these two men were among those who most likely spoke in Jesus’ defense. However, their reputations were on the line. Joseph was older, making starting over more difficult. He might have objected, to a point, before the unruly menacing men surrounding Joseph silenced his concerns. As he knew the other leaders wanted Jesus’ death, Joseph could not stop the boulder from careening down the path of destruction.
At the trial before Pontius Pilate, Joseph was there. His voice of reason was drowned out by the mob surrounding them. As Jesus carried His cross, Joseph followed at a discreet distance, and he watched as Jesus was crucified. Every time Jesus cried out in pain or spoke, Joseph listened.
Somewhere between the order given for Jesus’ execution and Jesus’ death, Joseph changed. It was as if Joseph snapped inside; suddenly, Joseph was no longer afraid. He did not care if the leaders of the Sanhedrin cast him out, nor did Joseph worry about his reputation, his life, or his prosperity. Joseph only saw the Savior of the world with His arms stretched wide open as He took on the sins of the world. Joseph was there when Jesus cried out, “It is finished.”
The process of redeeming man was complete, and Jesus knew death held no power over Him. However, those watching Jesus’ lifeless body had no such comfort, and Joseph’s work began. When Joseph realized that Jesus was dead, he immediately sought an audience with Pontius Pilate, and he received one. Firstly, Pilate hated the Jews just as much as they hated him. Secondly, no matter how important a member of the Sanhedrin was, unless he was the high priest that year, Pilate did not have to talk with him. It stands to reason that Joseph may have been connected to Rome in some way, shape, or form. He may have been a Roman citizen, for Pilate was required to give Roman citizens an audience. Regardless of whether Joseph was a Roman citizen, Joseph obtained permission to bury Jesus’ body.
Under normal circumstances, executed criminals lost their right to a proper burial. However, Pilate knew that Jesus was innocent of any crime. As this was the case, Pilate waved official protocol and permitted Joseph to bury Jesus as was the Jewish custom. When Joseph asked for Jesus’ body, he publicly declared his faith regardless of the consequences. His friend Nicodemus helped carry Jesus to the tomb, and the two of them wrapped him in cloths and spices. Both men took a stand for their faith in Jesus. They chose to be labeled with the Nazarene, and they understood that their lives could be forfeit.
By this one simple act, Joseph took a stand, publicly saying that he believed Jesus was the Messiah. There was no turning back for Joseph, but he already knew that. The die was cast, and Joseph made the decision to be counted as a follower of Jesus. After this simple passage of Scripture, Joseph of Arimathea slipped behind the veil of time, space, and history, and nothing further is known. What is known? Joseph chose to be counted as Jesus’ follower; he counted the cost. He found the reward worth the risk, and his life was forever changed. Have you taken a stand? What will you decide? Eventually, you will have to choose. Choose Life.
Sandi Patti Was It a Morning Like This
Songwriters: James Charles Croegaert
Was it a morning like this
When the Son still hid from Jerusalem?
And Mary rose from her bed
To tend the Lord she thought was dead
Was it a morning like this
When Mary walked down from Jerusalem?
And two angels stood at the tomb
Bearers of news she would hear soon
Did the grass sing?
Did the earth rejoice to feel You again?
Over and over like a trumpet underground
Did the earth seem to pound "He is risen!"
Over and over in a never-ending round
"He is risen! Alleluia! Alleluia!"
Was it a morning like this
When Peter and John ran from Jerusalem?
And as they raced toward the tomb
Beneath their feet was there a tune?
Repeat Chorus Twice
Was it a morning like this
When my Lord looked out on Jerusalem?
He is risen!
Doubting Thomas. Thomas was the disciple who did not take the news of Jesus’ resurrection at face value. Thomas wanted proof that Jesus lived. Many Christians look at the story of Thomas and say, “He should have known better! Where was his faith?” Yet, are we truly any better? What right have we to say anything? Let us look at the facts for a minute.
Thomas was a close companion and friend to Jesus. He went with Jesus everywhere for three years leading to the crucifixion. Unlike Peter who was outspoken in support of Jesus, Thomas always seemed to view life negatively. When Jesus and the disciples went to visit Mary and Martha after Lazarus died, Thomas responded, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” (John 11:16)
During the Passover meal, Thomas ate the final meal with Jesus. As long as Jesus was with Thomas, everything was fine. However, there was that nagging little voice in the back of Thomas’ mind. We all know that particular voice, it was the one that says we are wrong. Then, Jesus told the disciples that He was leaving them, but not to worry because they already knew how to meet Jesus. That little voice began screaming in Thomas’ head. Suddenly, Thomas burst out, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” (John 14:5) Can you hear the panic rising in Thomas’ voice? The very thought of Jesus leaving had Thomas quaking in his sandals.
Things spiraled quickly out of control. With Jesus’ arrest, the deep-seeded fear within Thomas blossomed into a gigantic monster. He turned and ran for all he was worth. Then he heard that Jesus was tried by the Sanhedrin, brought to Pilate, and was condemned to die. Thomas’ world spun out of control, but he had to see the reality for himself. Thomas watched at a distance as Jesus took on the sins of the world. He saw Jesus draw His final breath, and he watched as the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side. It was as if Thomas had his heart yanked out of him and ground into the dirt. The Sabbath was quiet, but Thomas hardly noticed. He sat alone in shock, nursing the pain that enveloped his heart. There was nothing left for him. The very thing that Thomas feared most occurred: Jesus died. How could life continue? By the first day of the week, Thomas accepted that he must continue even though Jesus died.
Just as Thomas came to grips with reality, the other disciples barged into his house, claiming that Jesus was alive. Thomas’ heart fluttered within him, but, no, he would not, could not hope only to have his heart and hope dashed to pieces, not again. Thomas angrily lashed out at his friends in a single biting comment: “Unless I see the nail marks in His hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe it.” The pain was just too great. It took the other disciples a full week to get Thomas to eat with them again. They did not allow their close friend to lock himself away in his grief.
Is it any wonder that Thomas felt the way that he did? All for which he hoped, longed, and in which he believed died when he saw the lifeless body of his Master Jesus. When anyone is shattered as Thomas was shattered, a person naturally protects himself from ever being hurt again. Yet, Thomas sat and ate with the other disciples in a locked room. Suddenly, Jesus appeared among them. Thomas’ mouth fell open. Jesus spoke to him without malice or sarcasm, but with love. Jesus understood Thomas’ feelings of abandonment. Jesus knew that pain intimately well. Thomas needed to know beyond any shadow of doubt that Jesus was truly alive again. He needed to feel Jesus beside him.
As Thomas touched Jesus’ hands and side, the hope buried within him broke free. Thomas dared to allow his faith to blossom, saying, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28) Gone was the doubt, hopelessness, and despair, for Thomas knew that he knew that he knew that Jesus was alive forevermore. Tradition has it that Thomas traveled all the way to India spreading the Gospel of Jesus where he was killed for his faith. These coastal Indian churches were established in towns which traded with Israel as early as Solomon’s rule. As early as the fourth century at the Council of Nicea, the churches founded by Thomas were mentioned. (If you are familiar with Christian history, this was the council which established the Nicean creed.) Thomas died for his faith as a martyr. The man who doubted developed into a great man of unwavering faith.
We all have times when we doubt, but, like Thomas, we can turn to the One Who understands us completely and loves us unconditionally. Our life experiences may have taught us that we cannot trust or hope, but there is One Who is always trustworthy and Who gives us hope. Thomas knew Him intimately and died for Him. The one who doubted put his hope and trust in Jesus, and Jesus never let Thomas down. Jesus promises the same for us all. Will you trust Him?20201