Wednesday, April 05, 2006

The Gospel (5)

This is part 5 of chapter 5 of my book, Biblical Glasses.

Jesus went to the Temple and, after getting rid of the marketplace set up inside, cured the sick and healed the lame. He spent the night in Bethany with His close friends, Martha, Mary, and Lazarus. Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, anointed Jesus’ body with expensive perfume and wiped His feet with her hair; the apostles were angry at the apparent waste, but Jesus told them that Mary was right to anoint Him. She was preparing His body for burial.

The next day, the Pharisees again questioned Jesus—this time about paying taxes. Had Jesus said it was okay to pay taxes to Caesar, they would have said He was not loyal to God alone. Had Jesus said it was okay not to pay taxes to Caesar, they would have said He was speaking out against the government. Jesus asked whose image was on the Roman currency; the Pharisees told Him that Caesar’s portrait was on the coin. So Jesus said: “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s” (Matthew 22:21; Mark 12:17; Luke 20:25). The Pharisees were amazed at His answer, and they left Him alone.

Then the Sadducees, a religious cult that did not believe in the resurrection of the dead, questioned Jesus about marriage traditions and marriage in the afterlife (since they knew Jesus taught about heaven and hell). Jesus told them there would be no marriage in heaven like we observe on earth. He also reminded them that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is the Living God, which the Sadducees would certainly not deny. Jesus was explaining that beliefs in God and the afterlife go hand in hand; but the finite minds of man cannot fathom the glory and splendor of eternal life in heaven.

The Pharisees came again asking Jesus which of the commandments is greatest. Jesus said: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37; Mark 12:30; Luke 10:27; Deuteronomy 6:5, 10:12; Joshua 22:5). He also said: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39; Mark 12:31; Luke 10:27; Romans 13:9; Galatians 5:14; James 2:8). If these two commands are followed, then all other laws will naturally be obeyed too! Because Jesus baffled the Pharisees, they went away, never again asking Him any other questions. Jesus criticized and condemned the religious leaders, calling them blind guides, fools, hypocrites, and snakes because of their evil, duplicitous ways.

Jesus taught about the end times from the Mount of Olives, saying to watch out for false prophets. He mentioned that famines, earthquakes, and wars—nations rising up against nations (see Matthew 24)—would be prevalent. Christians will be ridiculed and persecuted, but the Gospel will be preached to all nations. Then the end will come. Interestingly, more Christians have been martyred for their faith in the twentieth century than in the past nineteen centuries’ combined! Our ears have been desensitized to this fact by all the death and violence we hear about from the media today.

In the end times, there will be distress like never before. At that time, Christ will come back, descending from the clouds with a trumpet call to gather His chosen people from all over the world. Jesus made it clear only that God the Father knows when this time will come. It will come when the times are like the days of Noah, when society was violent, chaotic, and careless. It will come quickly and unexpectedly, like a thief in the night (see 1 Thessalonians 5; 2 Peter 3:10; Revelation 3:3, 16:15). Christians can be prepared by having their house in order, ready for Christ’s return.

Two days before the Passover celebration began, a Wednesday, Jesus reminded His apostles that the time for His death was near. The religious leaders, led by the high priest Caiaphas, prepared to arrest Jesus and put Him to death. Judas Iscariot had gone to the chief priests to find out how much money he could get to hand over Jesus at the appropriate time. Perhaps Judas was frustrated, realizing now that following Jesus would not guarantee him financial success and worldly wealth. Judas was offered only thirty pieces of silver, the going rate for purchasing a slave and the amount prophesied in Zechariah 11:12 in the Old Testament!

The next day, Jesus had the apostles prepare the Last Supper. During the meal, Jesus pointed out Judas as His betrayer. After spending some time dining, talking, and singing hymns, the group went out of Jerusalem to the Mount of Olives. There Jesus predicted that Peter would deny knowing Him three times before the next morning. All the apostles promised never to disown Jesus, but they would soon scatter at His arrest, as prophesied in the Old Testament. Zechariah 13:7 says: “Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered” (see also Matthew 26:31; Mark 14:27). Continuing to teach them, Jesus said the Holy Spirit would come upon them to comfort, guide, and empower them after He was gone. He told them there would be much persecution in their lives; He said: “A time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering a service to God. They will do such things because they have not known the Father or Me” (John 16:2-3). (That sounds like radical Muslim suicide bombers to me!) Jesus also said:

‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in Me. In My
Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am
going there to prepare a place for you. 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. You
know the way to the place where I am going.’ Thomas said to Him, ‘Lord, we don’t
know where You are going, so how can we know the way?’ Jesus answered, ‘I am the
Way and the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. …
I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have peace. In this world
you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world’ (John 14:1-6,

Telling the apostles that His soul was overwhelmed with sorrow, Jesus took them to the Garden of Gethsemane, where He had them wait, pray, and keep watch. Jesus went higher up on a hill and prayed alone. Between each of three prayer sessions, He checked on the apostles and found them sleeping. They were not strong enough to obey Him; the temptation of sleep was too much! Jesus said: “The spirit is willing, but the body is weak” (Matthew 26:41; Mark 14:38).

What was Jesus’ prayer? Jesus prayed for Himself, that He might glorify the Father with what He was about to do. Jesus also asked to be glorified for fulfilling the work He had been sent to accomplish. Jesus prayed for all of His disciples, that the Father would protect them. Jesus prayed for their sanctification by the Word of Truth. Jesus also prayed for all those believers yet to come. Jesus’ prayer continued:

I pray also for those who will believe in Me through [the apostles’] message,
that all of them may be one, Father, just as You are in Me and I am in You. May
they also be in Us so that the world may believe that You have sent Me. I have
given them the glory that You gave Me, that they may be one as We are One: I in
them and You in Me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know
that You sent Me and have loved them even as You have loved Me. Father, I want
those You have given Me to be with Me where I am, and to see My glory, the glory
You have given Me because You loved Me before the creation of the world.
Righteous Father, though the world does not know You, I know You, and they know
that You have sent Me. I have made You known to them, and will continue to make
You known in order that the love You have for Me may be in them and that I
Myself may be in them (John 17:20-26).

Jesus asked God the Father three times: “If it possible, may this cup be taken from Me. Yet not as I will, but as You will” (Matthew 26:39). Jesus, fully God, knew He was about to experience the most horrible form of death in crucifixion; fully man, Jesus did not want to suffer through it! Feeling such extreme anxiety, His sweat actually contained blood.

How could He have sweated blood? Sweating blood is a rare, yet well-known medical condition called hematohidrosis. There are several blood vessels around the sweat glands that constrict when under great pressure and stress. As anxiety passes, the blood vessels dilate and rupture, and the blood seeps into the sweat glands. As the sweat glands produce sweat, the blood is pushed to the surface and comes out as droplets of blood mixed with sweat.

Jesus sweated blood, because He was about to bear the weight and the guilt of all the sins of every believer who ever lived or ever would live. He knew that bearing this burden would separate Him from God the Father and cause God the Father to forsake Him in wrath. We could never imagine the intense anxiety that our Creator suffered to save us. Could Jesus have avoided this pain? Yes.

Jesus could have easily avoided all of this by disappearing, by calling on angels to protect Him, by making His skin impenetrable, or by numbing His body so He felt no pain. But He chose to do none of these things. Rather, “for the joy set before Him” (Hebrews 12:2), He chose to be genuinely wounded, suffering human death and truly paying for our sins, purchasing us with a ransom of His own life. Isaiah 53:2-12 told about Christ 700 years before He lived:

He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to Him, nothing in His appearance that
we should desire Him. 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. But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our
iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds
we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to
his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. 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. … 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. Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush
Him and cause Him to suffer, and though the Lord makes His life a guilt
offering, He will see His offspring and prolong His days, and the will of the
Lord will prosper in His hand. After the suffering of His soul, He will see the
light of life and be satisfied; by His knowledge My righteous servant will
justify many, and He will bear their iniquities. Therefore I will give Him a
portion among the great, and He will divide the spoils with the strong, because
He poured out His life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For
He bore the sin of many and made intercession for the transgressors.

After Jesus came down the third time from His solitary praying place, He was arrested by Roman soldiers who had followed Judas Iscariot to Gethsemane. Peter tried to stop the arresting officer by slicing his ear with a sword. Jesus told Peter to stop; this had to be done in order to fulfill Scripture. At that, the apostles scattered and Jesus was taken to the former high priest, Annas, and then to the home of the reigning high priest, Caiaphas, where a court session with members of the Sanhedrin had already prepared to try Him. Remember this happened in the middle of the night on Thursday. The religious leaders wanted to get it over with before the Sabbath, which was Friday night to Saturday night, so they uncommonly rushed through the proceedings without much care for legality.

According to Old Testament law, two people must accuse someone in order for a trial to begin (see Deuteronomy 17:6, 19:15; Matthew 18:16; 2 Corinthians 13:1; 1 Timothy 5:19; Hebrews 10:18; Revelation 11:3). After some delay, two accusers stepped forward, saying that Jesus committed blasphemy against God. “The high priest said to Him, ‘I charge You under oath by the Living God: Tell us if You are the Christ [the Messiah], the Son of God.’ ‘Yes, it is as you say,’ Jesus replied” (Matthew 26:63-64); the entire court said He was worthy of death.

To put Jesus to death, the Roman government had to approve, so they marched Him to Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, to get a death warrant. Pilate found no fault in Jesus; he sent Him to Herod Antipas. Antipas enjoyed meeting Jesus, but he had no jurisdiction to issue a death warrant. He sent Jesus back to Pilate, who again saw no reason why Jesus should be put to death.

Eventually Pilate gave into peer pressure and offered a choice to the crowd of Jews that had gathered. He would release a prisoner, either Jesus or a criminal. The crowds shouted for the release of Barabbas, a murderer and political extremist. They demanded that Jesus be crucified! Pontius Pilate then washed his hands in front of the crowd, so they would see he had nothing to do with their decision. Jesus was flogged, beaten and whipped, and sent with the Roman soldiers to prepare for crucifixion.

While Jesus was undergoing this illegal trial, Peter was trying to find out what was happening. He was accused of knowing Jesus on three separate occasions. Each time, Peter denied Jesus, the final time swearing on his own life that he did not know Him. Upon the third denial, a rooster crowed, and Peter recalled what Jesus had said: “Before the rooster crows today, you will disown Me three times” (Luke 22:61; Matthew 26:69-75; Mark 14:66-72; John 18:25-27). He wept bitterly upon realizing he had betrayed his Lord.

Probably as Jesus was being mocked, beaten, whipped, and spit on, Judas Iscariot realized what he had done by betraying Jesus was wrong. He went to the chief priests to return the thirty pieces of silver. They refused to take the money back, because it was blood money. Judas threw the money down, as prophesied in the Old Testament (see Zechariah 11:13), ran away, and hanged himself. His body fell from the place and broke open on the rocks below, spilling his insides all over the ground.

Jesus was severely beaten and given a crown of thorns by the Roman soldiers, who mocked Him as King of the Jews. They forced Jesus, along with two criminals guilty of robbery, to carry the horizontal portion of the cross of crucifixion to a hill known as Golgotha or Calvary. Jesus had some help from Simon of Cyrene, a North African Jew who was visiting Jerusalem with his sons for the Passover celebration. Upon reaching Golgotha, the soldiers offered Jesus some wine mixed with an anti-pain drug called gall, but He refused it and was crucified. Jesus endured the full extent of the pain of crucifixion.

I can imagine neither the loneliness of being ridiculed, spit on, and beaten by the very people Jesus loved, nor the agony of the thorns penetrating His head, neither the lashings on His back, nor the weight of the cross, neither the nails through His wrists and ankles, nor the struggle to grasp a breath while hanging on the cross. Jesus suffered the most painful death anyone could experience. In fact, crucifixion was so agonizing that a new word was coined to describe it—excruciating.

Jesus accepted the weight and punishment of all our sins as He hung there alone on the cross. That is why He quoted the Old Testament: “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me” (Psalm 22:1; Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34)? At that very moment, Jesus felt the weight of our sin and the wrath and denial of God the Father. He suffered immeasurably for you and me. King David described the death of the Savior 1000 years before it happened:

I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has
turned to wax; it has melted away within me. My strength is dried up like a
potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust
of death. Dogs have surrounded me; a band of evil men has encircled me, they
have pierced my hands and my feet. I can count all my bones; people stare and
gloat over me. They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing
(Psalm 22:14-18).

Then “Jesus said, ‘It is finished.’ With that, He bowed His head and gave up His spirit” (John 19:30). Interestingly, it is finished in the original Greek, tetelestai, means more than it is finished. Tetelestai means “the debt is cancelled, paid in full.” It signifies completion. Nothing more was needed. Jesus Christ died to pay the debt we owe God for our transgressions.

God said: “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool” (Isaiah 1:18). Jesus absorbed the wrath of God, the punishment we deserve, to make us pure before God. He is the final and completely sufficient sacrificial lamb we need to approach God in perfection and righteousness. No more sacrifices are needed for the forgiveness of sin.

At the moment Jesus died, the Temple curtain separating the Holy Place, where everyone could go, from the Most Holy Place, where only the priests could go, tore in half; it split down the middle from top to bottom, signifying that the duties of the priest were no longer needed. Jesus is the only Priest we need. The common people could approach God directly through His Son, Jesus Christ, the only Mediator between God and man.

There was also a great earthquake. Tombs broke open and many of those who died with faith in God’s plan of salvation prior to Christ’s death were raised to life, appearing in Jerusalem as a testimony to the actuality of life after death. When the Roman centurion saw all that happened when Jesus died, he cried out, “Surely this Man was the Son of God” (Mark 15:39)!

After being gouged in the heart with a spear to prove death had occurred, Jesus’ body was taken with permission from Pontius Pilate by Joseph of Arimathea, a wealthy member of the Sanhedrin and secret follower of Jesus. Joseph had Jesus’ body prepared and laid in his own tomb, a cave cut out of rock (similar to place where Jesus was born). A stone was rolled over the entrance. A short time later, the Pharisees recalled Jesus’ announcement that He would rise after three days. So they had the entrance to the tomb permanently sealed and guarded by Roman soldiers to keep the apostles from stealing the body of Jesus and announcing His resurrection.

Nevertheless, on Sunday morning, there was an earthquake, and Mary Magdalene, along with other female followers of Jesus, went to the tomb. There was an angel sitting on the stone, which was rolled away from the entrance. With perhaps the most famous words in all of Christianity, the angel said, “He is not here; He has risen, just as He said” (Matthew 28:6). On the way to tell the apostles, the women saw Jesus, Who told them to have the apostles meet Him in Galilee.

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