Friday, March 25, 2016

Jesus Crucified

Jesus Crucified

Pilate has given in to the religious leaders who cried out for Jesus to be condemned. Before He is taken out to be crucified, we learn the fate of Judas. "When Judas, who had betrayed Him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. 'I have sinned,' he said, 'for I have betrayed innocent blood.' 'What is that to us?' they replied. 'That's your responsibility.' So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself." (Matthew 27:3-5)

The fever that overtook Judas through the influence of Satan has faded away. Satan is through with him. The chief priests are through with him. And this is exactly what sin does to us: it takes us a long way down a dead end road and it leaves us stranded there. Satan has no more use for Judas now that Jesus has been condemned. The chief priests couldn't care less what happens to Judas after their request is granted by Pilate. The only Person on earth who cares for Judas is the One he betrayed.

Matthew and Mark both tell us that, before Jesus was led away to be crucified, the soldiers dressed Him in a purple robe, forced a crown of thorns onto His head, and placed a staff in His hand. Then they mocked Him by bowing down and shouting, "Hail, king of the Jews!" These men for whose sins Christ is about to die actually spit in His face and strike Him on the head over and over again. And yet He says not a word...not one word of condemnation, not one word in His own defense. Even as they strike Jesus and spit in His face, He loves them.

Luke and John both pass over this portion of the mistreatment of Jesus. Luke skips over a great deal of the most distressing parts of Jesus' torment that day. Luke, being a physician, has a tendency to tell us more about medical conditions than the other gospel writers. We know that Luke says he personally questioned eyewitnesses of all the things concerning Jesus and no doubt Luke knows most of the details, but he has chosen not to dwell on them. The things our Lord endured on our behalf were so horrific that even Doctor Luke can't stand to talk about them. The Persians invented crucifixion and the Romans improved upon it to turn it into a form of torture as well as capital punishment. They believed it helped discourage criminals from committing capital crimes. The word "excruciating" was born of the Latin "excruciare", the root word being "cruciare" which meant "to crucify". It means "unbearably painful, extreme agony". And our Lord chose this fate for Himself so we could escape the fate we deserved. The holy died for the unholy, the sinless for the sinner.

Due to the severe beating Jesus withstood at the hands of the Romans, He is unable to carry His cross all the way up the hill. "As the soldiers led Him away, they seized Simon from Cyrene, who was on his way in from the country, and put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus." (Luke 23:26) I have often wondered what Simon was thinking when this happens. I wonder if he had heard of Jesus and His teaching and His miracles. Mark calls Simon "a certain man from Cyrene" and "the father of Alexander and Rufus". (Mark 15:21) It sounds as if the readers of Mark's gospel know Alexander and Rufus. I like to think that's because they became followers of Jesus after these events.

"A large number of people followed Him, including women who mourned and wailed for Him. Jesus turned and said to them, 'Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for Me; weep for yourselves and for your children. For the time will come when you will say, 'Blessed are the childless women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!'" (Luke 23:27-29) Even in all His agony, Jesus is still more concerned for others than for Himself. He gives a warning about the coming fall of Jerusalem. This will happen approximately forty years after the crucifixion and many of the younger people in the crowd will live to see it. When Jerusalem falls, 1.1 million Jews will be  killed and over 97,000 will be taken captive. Those who remain will deal with starvation and illness. Normally, in their society, childless women were looked down upon. But the day will come when the childless women feel blessed because they won't have to fear for the fate of their children.

Jesus goes on to predict the end times and the Great Tribulation, "Then they will say to the mountains, 'Fall on us!' and to the hills, 'Cover us!" (Luke 23:30) Jesus is giving a twofold prophecy, as most Biblical prophecies are: one which will occur during the lifetime of the listeners and one which will occur on some far-off day.

Jesus concludes by saying, "For if people do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?" (Luke 23:31) This is a difficult verse to interpret but I will give what I feel are the two best explanations I found in my research. The first is that if people dare to do such terrible things such as crucifying an innocent man during the green time (when Jesus, God in the flesh, is on earth) just imagine what terrible things mankind will do during the dry time (when Jesus, God in the flesh, is no longer among mankind in person). If this travesty of justice can take place while the Lord of glory walks among man, how much worse will it get after He is crucified? The second explanation is equally good in that the green tree represents Jesus Himself and the dry tree represents the unbelievers, those who reject Him. Jesus, as the green tree, gave light and life to those who believed on Him, but those who rejected Him were spiritually dry and dead. They will face the consequences of their unbelief at the fall of Jerusalem, just as the unbelievers in the end times will face the consequences of the Great Tribulation.

As Jesus is going to the cross, Luke tells us that, "Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with Him to be executed. When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified Him there, along with the criminals---one on His right, the other on His left." (Luke 23:32-33)

Our Lord prays for those who hate Him. "Jesus said, 'Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.'" (Luke 23:34a) I am reminded of what the Apostle Paul would later say about his own persecution of the church, "I did it ignorantly in unbelief." (2 Timothy 1:13) Jesus wants the Father to remember that these who are mistreating the Son are doing it ignorantly in unbelief. Jesus asks for mercy on His enemies even as they nail Him to the cross. God the Father could have sent fire down from heaven to consume the enemies of His dear Son, but instead Jesus pleads for mercy and patience from the Father. He wants the Father to give them time and opportunity to repent and to believe on Him.

"And they divided up His clothes by casting lots." (Luke 23:34b) John tells us that the soldiers divided the clothing of Jesus into four sections (apparently there were four soldiers doing the dividing) but that one of the garments was one whole woven piece and they didn't want to cut it up and ruin it, so they decided to cast lots for it. I wonder if maybe the mother of the Lord Jesus made this garment for Him. Jesus owned nothing but the clothes on His back and I can't help wondering if the clothes were made for Him with love. The casting of lots fulfills Psalm 22:18, "They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment."

Luke goes on to tell us, "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) This is an echo of the prophetic words of Psalm 22, a Messianic psalm, which says, "He trusts in the Lord,' they say, 'let the Lord rescue him. Let Him deliver him, since He delights in him." (Psalm 22:8)

"The soldiers also came up and mocked Him. They offered Him wine vinegar and said, 'If You are the King of the Jews, save Yourself.'" (Luke 23:36-37) The Messianic Psalm 69 speaks of this when David says, "They put gall in my food and gave me vinegar for my thirst." (Psalm 69:21) When Jesus thirsts He isn't given water but vinegar. Jesus took the bitter things of wrath onto Himself so we can enjoy the sweet things of the Father's grace.

In John's gospel we find extra details about the sign above Jesus' head, "Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: 'Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.' Many of the Jews read this sign, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the sign was written in Aramaic, Latin and Greek. The chief priests of the Jews protested to Pilate, 'Do not write 'the King of the Jews' but that this Man claimed to be King of the Jews.' Pilate answered, 'What I have written, I have written.'" (John 18:19-21) It was the practice of the judge to write out the charges for which the person was condemned and nail it to the top of the cross so that all who passed by could see what charges Rome considered worthy of death. The charge above Jesus read, "Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews." I think Pilate did this out of extreme irritation with the religious leaders because they tricked him and trapped him into executing an innocent man, but the charge was true. Jesus died for being the King of the Jews. Jesus died for being the Son of God. No false charges were going to be nailed above our Savior's head.

"One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at Him: 'Aren't You the Messiah? Save Yourself and us!' But the other criminal rebuked him. 'Don't you fear God,' he said, '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.' Then he said, 'Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.' Jesus answered him, 'Truly I tell you, today you will be with Me in paradise." (Luke 23:39-43) As Jesus hung on the cross, He had a hand outstretched to each of these guilty men. One accepted Him as Lord and one rejected Him. But the same offer was made to both of them, just as He makes the same offer to every one of us.

Matthew and Mark say that both men scorned Jesus but Luke tells us of the conversion of one of them. Jesus hung on the cross for six hours that day and somewhere in those six hours the one criminal became a believer. That one criminal acknowledged his own guilt and the justice of the sentence he had received. But something about Jesus tells him that Jesus doesn't belong there. Jesus "has done nothing wrong". We all belong on a cross with these two criminals, sentenced to death for our sins and failures, condemned for our tendency to turn away from the God who loves us. Not a single one of us is able to save ourselves or to do enough works to redeem our souls. This criminal who became a child of God wasn't able to do a single thing for the Lord Jesus or for His kingdom. The very life of this man was seeping out of him with each minute that passed. All he could do was believe. It's the believing that saves us. The idea that the world has about our works being weighed on a scale doesn't hold up to anything found in Scripture. The hope that we will be saved for doing more good than bad is completely against the word of God. It's faith that saves us and faith alone. Good works will naturally flow out of that faith but the works aren't what save us. We see this truth played out for us at the crucifixion. The criminal became a true believer and we know it when he says, "Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom." This man believed the charge written above Jesus' head, that He was a King and that He was going to inherit the kingdom. This man asks Jesus to remember him kindly when that day comes. We know his faith has saved him when Jesus replies, "Truly I tell you, today you will be with Me in paradise."

An eclipse occurs around noon and lasts until 3pm. Something was happening on the cross, a transaction between the Father and the Son, and it was hidden from the eyes of mankind. As Jesus literally became sin and the Father looked away from Him, out of respect for the Son the Father shrouded these events in shadows. "It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, for the sun stopped shining." (Luke 23:44) Matthew tells us that at 3pm, "Jesus cried out in a loud voice, 'Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?' (which means 'My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" (Matthew 27:46) These are words from Psalm 22. Can you imagine this voice calling out of the darkness? The anguish in that voice? All the way back into eternity past the Son had never been separated from the Father. Even while He was on earth they remained connected. But now in the darkness, as the entire weight of our sins are laid upon Him, as that weight crushes Him, the Father has to look away. The Father has to take His protective hand off the Son. Have you ever been through such a dark time that you couldn't feel the presence of God? Did you ever doubt that He was listening or that He cared? In the case of Jesus Christ we see that the Father actually did turn His back, close His eyes and ears, and let the hour of darkness reign.

At 3pm, the time of the evening sacrifice, when the pieces of the sacrificial lamb were laid upon the altar, Luke says, "And the curtain of the temple was torn in two." (Luke 23:45b) Matthew tells us that it was torn from top to bottom. This curtain separated the holy of holies from the outer room. Once a year, on the day of atonement, the high priest would enter the holy of holies with the blood of the sacrifice and this would roll away the sins of the people til the next year. Nobody but the high priest could enter this room and enter the presence of God. As Jesus took His last breath on the cross, the Father reached down from above and took hold of the top of the curtain and tore it in two, for the Lord Jesus Christ entered in once into the holy of holies with His own blood to roll back our sins for all time. The curtain which once separated mankind and God was now open. Because Jesus entered in ahead of us, by His blood we too can enter in. The writer of Hebrews tells us, "He did not enter by the means of the blood of goats and calves; but He entered the Most Holy Place once for all by His own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption." (Hebrews 9:12)

Just as the Father tears the temple curtain in two, "Jesus called out with a loud voice, 'Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit.' When He had said this, He breathed His last. The centurion, seeing what had happened, praised God and said, 'Surely this was a righteous man.'" (Luke 23:46-47) The centurion sees something he never saw before. No doubt he's witnessed many an execution but he's never seen a man dismiss his own spirit. Usually the soldiers had to break the legs of a person on the cross so they could no longer keep pushing themselves upward in an effort to breathe. The position of crucifixion caused a slow and torturous asphyxiation and in order to hasten death near the end of the day they would break the prisoners' legs. John explains to us, "Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. Because the Jewish leaders did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down. 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." (John 19:31-33) Just as no bone of a Passover lamb could be broken, no bone of our Passover Lamb could broken. Jesus died before the soldiers had a chance to do so, fulfilling the prophecy of Psalm 34:20, "He protects all his bones, not one of them will be broken."

John goes on to say, "Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus' side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water." (John 19:34) This important detail should put to rest the modern theory of some skeptics that Jesus didn't actually die on the cross but fainted and was presumed dead, reviving later on in the tomb. The water indicates He was in hypovolemic shock as a result of His beating at the hands of the Roman soldiers. The massive amount of blood that prisoners lost in these beatings caused, among other things, the kidneys to shut down in an attempt to preserve fluids. The heart rate would then become so rapid that fluid would gather in the pericardium, the membrane around the heart. This is why both blood and water emerged when the soldier pierced the Lord. John, not being a medical man, didn't know the meaning of this but still thought it significant. And indeed it is, because if Jesus had not already been dead there would be no chance of survival now. Our Lord actually did die on the cross and there's no doubt about it.

The disciple John, Mary the mother of Jesus, Mary's sister, and Mary Magdalene have maintained a heartbroken vigil over the execution of Jesus all this long terrible day. In John's gospel he recorded that right before yielding His spirit, Jesus said, "It is finished." The death sentence that was upon the life of Jesus Christ since the day God created mankind has been carried out. Our redemption has been purchased. All the Old Testament prophecies about the suffering of Jesus are fulfilled. He finished what He came to do.
"When all the people who had gathered to witness this sight saw what took place, they beat their breasts and went away. But all those who knew Him, including the women who had followed Him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things." (Luke 23:48-49) I think they were unable to move away, even though the crucifixion was over. The loved ones of Jesus are in shock and so they keep standing there even as the other onlookers depart. Mary the mother of Jesus can't take her eyes from her son. This precious child of hers hangs before her in death and she can't stop looking at Him, burning all the features of His face into her memory, knowing He will soon be laid in the tomb and she will no longer be able to look upon Him.

Have you ever been so stricken by grief that you felt unable to move and you didn't even have the strength to speak? That's the condition of Jesus' loved ones as they stand at the foot of the cross after His death. They are bereaved. There are some words in the English language with the ability to provide a perfect description of what is intended and the word "bereaved" is one of them. When my precious pup of almost sixteen years, Belinda, lost her battle with congestive heart failure in October 2014, the grief of losing the companion I'd thought of as my child was almost unbearable. I'm not comparing my loss to anyone else's, and certainly not to the loss the loved ones of Jesus' endured, but I'm telling this story to explain the reason for my use of the word "bereaved." My husband and I didn't feel at peace anywhere, not at home or work or anyplace else. We couldn't even seem to settle down in any room of the house. Without her, the silence in our home was deafening. Her absence was so great it was like a presence. The grief lay on us heavy and dark like a thick fog it was too difficult to move through. And we were sitting in the house one night just staring at the wall, unable to muster the energy to speak, and suddenly my husband said, "We're bereaved." And that one word was exactly the right word. It was the only word that described what we were going through.

The dictionary describes being bereaved as, "being greatly saddened at being deprived at the death of a loved one; to deprive and make desolate, especially by death; to deprive ruthlessly or by force; to take away by violence". This perfectly sums up what has happened to Jesus and His loved ones in today's passage. His mother, His disciples, and His friends are greatly saddened at being deprived by the death of their loved One. They have been made desolate by His death. They have been deprived ruthlessly and by force because Jesus was taken away by violence. Imagine the hopelessness as they stand on that cruel hill known as "the Skull" with the broken body of Jesus hanging before them. They can't imagine life going on from here. They can't think of anything to do or anywhere to go to escape this crushing grief and so they remain there in an agony of sorrow. What a bitter, brutal, and unthinkable end to such a precious and holy life. Nothing really means anything to those standing beneath the cross right now. They can't fathom how anything will ever mean anything again.

But as the saying goes, "It's only Friday. Sunday's coming."

Join us in listening to today's worship song along with a video that so accurately portrays the bereavement on Calvary's hill that Good Friday.
Blessed Redeemer

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