Thursday, March 31, 2016

Prophets And Kings, Day 53. The Death Of King Ahab Of Israel

Prophets And Kings
Day 53
The Death Of King Ahab Of Israel

Today the prophecy of Micaiah comes true when King Ahab goes into battle against the word of the Lord and is killed.

1 KINGS 22:29-40
Ahab has determined to fight Ben-Hadad of Aram, even though Micaiah provided a dire prophecy about the battle. "So the king of Israel and Jehoshaphat king of Judah went up to Ramoth Gilead. The king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, 'I will enter the battle in disguise, but you wear your royal robes.' So the king of Israel disguised himself and went into battle." (1 Kings 22:29-30) Ahab's plot is as transparent as glass. He knows Ben-Hadad will be out to get him and disguises himself to blend in with the soldiers. But doing so while asking the king of Judah to wear his royal robes is like putting a target on Jehoshaphat's back. 

At first I wondered why Jehoshaphat, a man who proved yesterday he possesses wise discernment, falls for this idea. But then I realized he's too smart to fall for it. Yesterday Jehoshaphat heard the prophecy of a true prophet of God and he knows which king really has the target on his back. Micaiah's vision was of the army of Israel scattered about the countryside with no shepherd to lead them, then each soldier going home to his own house. This makes it clear that, during the battle, the king of Israel will die, leaving the men without their leader, and so they will forfeit the battle and go home. Jehoshaphat is a man of faith and he has no fear of going into battle wearing the clothing of a king because he believes the prophecy the Lord sent. One king will die today but it won't be the king of Judah.

"Now the king of Aram had ordered his thirty-two chariot commanders, 'Do not fight with anyone, small or great, except the king of Israel.' When the chariot commanders saw Jehoshaphat, they thought, 'Surely this is the king of Israel.' So they turned to attack him, but when Jehoshaphat cried out, the chariot commanders saw that he was not the king of Israel and stopped pursuing him." (1 Kings 22:31-33) Previously in our study of 1st Kings, Ahab was willing to show kindness to Ben-Hadad by letting him go in peace instead of killing him. In exchange for his life, Ben-Hadad was to return to Israel all the territories his father had captured. He has not kept up his end of the bargain and really has no right to hold a grudge against Ahab, but Ahab is his target in this battle. He knows if the king is killed the army of Israel will flee.

What was it about Jehoshaphat's cry that persuaded Ben-Hadad's chariot commanders he wasn't the king of Israel? 2 Chronicles 18:31b-32 gives us a clue, "So they turned to attack him, but Jehoshaphat cried out, and the Lord helped him. God drew them away from him, for when the chariot commanders saw that he was not the king of Israel, they stopped pursuing him." Could it be that Jehoshaphat's cry was to the Lord? Perhaps this is what convinced the chariot commanders he wasn't Ahab, because he cried out to the Lord. Ben-Hadad is aware that Ahab instituted Baal worship in Israel and the commanders would expect him to cry out to Baal, not to the God of Abraham.

The disguise of Ahab does him no good. His disobedience of the word of the Lord causes the prophecy about his death to come true. "But someone drew his bow at random and hit the king of Israel between the sections of his armor. The king told his chariot driver, 'Wheel around and get me out of the fighting. I've been wounded.'" (1 Kings 22:34) The archer isn't even aiming at Ahab when he hits him. Ahab escaped a prophecy of death earlier in this week's study by repenting of idol worship, but today he stubbornly continues in disobedience and ends up reaping what he has sewn in his disregard for the Lord. His life could have been saved if only he'd taken what Micaiah said to heart.

"All day long the battle raged, and the king was propped up in his chariot facing the Arameans. The blood from his wound ran onto the floor of the chariot, and that evening he died. As the sun was setting, a cry spread through the army: 'Every man to his town. Every man to his land!'" (1 Kings 22:35-36) Ahab, to his credit, remains with his men as they face the enemy, even as his life drains away. Likely most of his men don't even know he's been hit. He doesn't want to demoralize them and cause them to lose heart. Even though his death is a judgment for his disobedient ways, I think there is some mercy from God in his manner of death. Ahab dies like a brave man on the battlefield, as a warrior king, and can be buried with honors. 

When Ahab dies and slumps over in the chariot, no longer able to call out encouragement to the troops, it becomes impossible for those guarding the king to keep up the pretense that everything is alright. Now the second part of Micaiah's prophecy comes true, "These people have no master. Let each one go home in peace." (1 Kings 22:17b) It could be that Ahab is the only man who dies in this battle. It isn't the fault of the troops that their king disobeyed a warning from God about going up against Ben-Hadad. I think it's entirely possible that the Lord protected everyone on the field that day except Ahab. Ben-Hadad's escape with his life is a fulfillment of the prophecy that said Ahab would give his life because he spared the life of Ben-Hadad when he was in his hands at Aphek. Today we see Ahab killed in battle but Ben-Hadad surviving to fight another day. 

"So the king died and was brought to Samaria, and they buried him there. They washed the chariot at a pool in Samaria (where the prostitutes bathed), and the dogs licked up his blood, as the word of the Lord had declared." (1 Kings 22:37-38) Elijah had prophesied the dogs would lick up the blood of Ahab. It didn't happen when and how Elijah predicted because Ahab repented at his words, but because Ahab fell back into his pattern of stubborn disobedience, he still dies prematurely with the dogs licking up his blood. His temporary repentance granted him a reprieve.

"As for the other events of Ahab's reign, including all he did, the palace he built and adorned with ivory, and the cities he fortified, are they not written in the books of the annals of the kings of Israel? Ahab rested with his ancestors. And Ahaziah his son succeeded him as king." (1 Kings 22:39-40) Ahab leaves a sad legacy behind, for Ahaziah will be a wicked man, so wicked he will only reign two years and will die without a son to succeed him on the throne. The word spoken against Ahab will come true that his descendants will be cut off, but because Ahab did have somewhat of a change of heart in his later years, the Lord held off this judgment until after his death. 

We are going to be given a welcome break from studying wicked kings of Israel because tomorrow our study tells us some things about the godly king Jehoshaphat of Judah. We will take some time over the next few days to borrow some passages from 2nd Chronicles to study the life of a man of whom the Bible says, "The Lord was with Jehoshaphat because he followed the ways of his father David before him. He did not consult the Baals, but sought the God of his father and followed His commands rather than the practices of Israel." (2 Chronicles 17:3-4) Jehoshaphat will lead a revival in Judah and this will bring home the point that one person who is obedient to the Lord can accomplish great things. Sometimes we think, "What can I do? I'm just one person." But one person who stands bravely on the word of God can encourage thousands to stand bravely. After all, one wicked king in the person of Ahab managed to bring down a whole nation into Baal worship. Why can't one godly king bring a whole nation back to the Lord? 

We each may be only one person going out into the world in the name of the Lord but, "If God is for us, who can be against us?" (Romans 8:31) 

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Prophets And Kings, Day 52. The Prophet Micaiah

Prophets And Kings
Day 52
The Prophet Micaiah

A new prophet is mentioned today by the name of Micaiah. King Ahab of Israel and King Jehoshaphat of Israel consult him in regard to going up against Ben-Hadad of Aram.

1 KINGS 22:1-28
"For three years there was no war between Aram and Israel. But in the third year Jehoshaphat king of Judah went down to see the king of Israel. The king of Israel had said to his officials, 'Don't you know that Ramoth Gilead belongs to us and yet we are doing nothing to retake it from the king of Aram?' So he asked Jehoshaphat, 'Will you go with me to fight against Ramoth Gilead?'" (1 Kings 22:1-4a) In Chapter 20, when Ben-Hadad of Aram found himself defeated, he promised to return to Israel all the cities his father had taken from Ahab's father. Apparently he has not kept his word and still maintains control of Ramoth Gilead. After allowing Ben-Hadad to escape with his life that day, a prophet met Ahab by the roadway to remind him that it wasn't God's will for Ahab to let the king of Aram go. The prophet said, "This is what the Lord says: 'You have set free a man I had determined should die. Therefore it is your life for his life, your people for his people." (1 Kings 20:42) This prophecy will come true as we study Chapter 22 this week.

Up til now all we know about Jehoshaphat is from 1 Kings 15:24, that he succeeded his father Asa as king of Judah. Jehoshaphat is a king who believes in obeying the Lord. "Jehoshaphat replied to the king of Israel, 'I am as you are, my people as your people, my horses as your horses.' But Jehoshaphat also said to the king of Israel, 'First seek the counsel of the Lord.'" (1 Kings 22:4b-5) Ramoth Gilead was in close proximity to Jehoshaphat's capitol at Jerusalem, so it was in his best interests to ally himself with Ahab against Ben-Hadad. Nevertheless, he is a wise man who knows the value of seeking the Lord's will in his decisions.

"So the king of Israel brought together the prophets---about four hundred men---and asked them, 'Shall I go to war against Ramoth Gilead, or shall I refrain?' 'Go,' they answered, 'for the Lord will give it into the king's hand.'" (1 Kings 22:6) Scholars disagree on who these prophets are. Some think they are the pagan prophets of Baal while others believe they are the remainder of the prophets of the Lord. I tend to agree with the latter opinion. Ahab knew which Lord Jehoshaphat wanted to inquire of and I don't think he would have brought prophets of Baal before a godly man he hoped would help him in the battle. On the day Elijah had his showdown with the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. those prophets were calling out to Baal by his name; they weren't calling him Lord like the prophets of today's passage. So I think these four hundred likely represent the prophets Jezebel didn't manage to kill, but the problem with them is that they are either no longer seeking or no longer receiving the word of the Lord. The reason for this may be because they are so afraid of Ahab and Jezebel they don't dare tell the king anything he doesn't want to hear. Jehoshaphat, a godly man with spiritual discernment, sees through their lie.

"But Jehoshaphat asked, 'Is there no longer a prophet of the Lord here whom we can inquire of?' The king of Israel answered Jehoshaphat, 'There is still one prophet through whom we can inquire of the Lord, but I hate him because he never prophesies anything good about me, but always bad. He is Micaiah son of Imiah.'" (1 Kings 22:8a) There are several verses in the Bible that make me chuckle a little and this is one of them. Ahab repented of his idolatrous actions in yesterday's passage but he's still a sulky spoiled brat. When Jehoshaphat asks for a real prophet, I picture Ahab pouting and kicking up dust with the toe of his shoe and whining something like, "Aw, do we have to? The real prophet never tells me anything I want to hear. He doesn't like me and is mean to me. That's why I hate him."

Jehoshaphat isn't pleased with Ahab's attitude. "'The king should not say such a thing,' Jehoshaphat replied." (1 Kings 22:8b) Speaking against a true prophet of God shows that Ahab still isn't willing to be instructed by the Lord. He does not possess a teachable spirit and doesn't respect the prophets of the Lord.

"So the king called one of his officials and said, 'Bring Micaiah son of Imiah at once.'" (1 Kings 22:9) According to some Jewish traditions, Micaiah is the same prophet who stood by the roadway and gave the prophecy against Ahab in Chapter 20. He very well could be and this would explain why Ahab is reluctant to call him, but the prophet by the roadway was never named so we can't be sure.

"Dressed in their royal robes, the king of Israel and Jehoshaphat king of Judah were sitting on their thrones at the threshing floor by the entrance of the gate of Samaria, with all the prophets prophesying before them. Now Zedekiah son of Kenaanah had made iron horns and he declared, 'This is what the Lord says: 'With these you will gore the Arameans until they are destroyed.' All the other prophets were prophesying the same thing, 'Attack Ramoth-Gilead and be victorious,' they said, 'for the Lord will give it into the king's hand.'" (1 Kings 22:10-12) It just about makes my head hurt to imagine the noise and confusion of this circus of four hundred false prophets standing in the gateway, all talking at the same time, all eager to agree with each other and please Ahab. 

"The messenger who had gone to summon Micaiah said to him, 'Look, the other prophets are without exception are predicting success for the king. Let your word agree with theirs, and speak favorably.'" (1 Kings 22:13) The messenger tries to do Micaiah a favor by telling him what the other prophets have already said so his prophecy can line up with theirs. The messenger probably knows Ahab hates this true prophet and is likely to take his life for prophesying anything bad. His attitude is, "Okay, Micaiah, here's what four hundred prophets have already told the king and it's what he wants to hear. If you'd like to keep your head attached to your body today, you will tell him the same thing."

But Micaiah is faithful to the God of Israel and will not tell a lie in His name. "But Micaiah said, 'As surely as the Lord lives, I can tell him only what the Lord tells me.' When he arrived, the king asked him, 'Micaiah, shall we go to war against Ramoth Gilead, or not?'" (1 Kings 22:15a) Micaiah does an interesting thing here; he first answers the king just as the other prophets answered, but he evidently does it in such a way that the king knows he is making fun of the false prophets. "'Attack and be victorious,' he answered, 'for the Lord will give it into the king's hand.' The king said to him, 'How many times must I make you swear to tell me nothing but the truth in the name of the Lord?'" (1 Kings 22:15b-16) 

"Then Micaiah answered, 'I saw all Israel scattered on the hills like sheep without a shepherd, and the Lord said, 'These people have no master. Let each one go home in peace.'" (1 Kings 22:17) Micaiah's vision indicates Ahab will die in battle, that the soldiers of Israel will be scattered on the hills without their shepherd the king. 

Ahab knows exactly what Micaiah is saying. "The king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, 'Didn't I tell you that he never prophesies anything good about me, only bad?'" (1 Kings 22:16) I can just see Ahab turning toward Jehoshaphat, flinging his hands up and saying, "This is exactly why I didn't want to talk to this guy!"

"Micaiah continued, 'Therefore hear the word of the Lord: I saw the Lord sitting on His throne with all the multitudes of heaven standing around Him on His right and on His left. And the Lord said, 'Who will entice Ahab into attacking RamothGilead and going to his death there?' One suggested this, another that. Finally, a spirit came forward, stood before the Lord and said, 'I will entice him.'" (1 Kings 22:19-21) While some scholars believe this is an allegory or a parable Micaiah is giving to illustrate his point, I believe there is good Scriptural basis for agreeing with those who think Micaiah's vision actually showed him this scene taking place in heaven. In the book of Job we find that when "the sons of God" (angels) come into His presence, Satan also comes before Him to give an account of his work. Satan and the fallen angels who rebelled against God with him still have access to the throne of God and the book of Revelation backs up what is said in Job. In Chapter 12 of Revelation we find the archangel Michael and his army, in the end times, casting Satan and the rebellious angels out of heaven. There is rejoicing in heaven on that day because the one who accuses the godly before God day and night has at last been cast down. When the Lord asks for a volunteer to mislead Ahab, I think either Satan himself or one of the fallen angels steps forward. We wouldn't expect a faithful angel to do such a thing.

So does God entice anyone to sin? The Lord's brother James makes it clear He does not, "When tempted, no one should say, 'God is tempting me.' For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death." (James 1:13-15) The Lord knew Ahab had already made up his mind. Ahab's desire was to go to war against Ben-Hadad, whom he should never have allowed to go free in the first place, and no word by a true prophet of God was going to sway him. The words of James perfectly sum up what's going on with Ahab. He is tempted because he is dragged away by his own evil desire, which then causes him to sin by disobeying the Lord, and that sin is going to cause his death. The Lord allows a fallen angel to induce the prophets to prophesy the lie that Ahab wants to hear, but the prophets had a choice whether or not to do it. They could have prophesied the truth instead. Likewise, when faced with a real prophet in the presence of the godly king of Judah who knows true prophecy when he hears it, Ahab had the opportunity to heed the warning of the Lord. Nobody forced him to ignore godly advice; he chose to ignore it because that's what he wanted to do.

In Micaiah's vision the Lord is still speaking to the one who volunteered to entice Ahab, "'By what means?' the Lord asked. 'I will go out and be a deceiving spirit in the mouths of all his prophets,' he said. 'You will succeed in enticing him,' said the Lord. 'Go and do it.'" (1 Kings 22:22) No one is making Ahab do anything but the Lord knows the deceiving spirit will be successful because he knows Ahab's heart. He knows Ahab has already decided on a course of action and will not be persuaded otherwise even by God Himself.

"So now the Lord has put a deceiving spirit in the mouths of all these prophets of yours. The Lord has decreed disaster for you.' Then Zedekiah son of Kenaanah went up and slapped Micaiah in the face. 'Which way did the spirit from the Lord go when He went from me to speak to you?' he asked. Micaiah answered, 'You will find out on the day you go to hide in an inner room.'" (1 Kings 22:23-25) I am reminded of the way the soldiers of the high priest's household slapped Jesus for telling the truth. Micaiah takes this abuse meekly but foretells of a time when Zedekiah will hide in an inner room, trembling in fear. It appears to be unknown exactly when or how this prophecy is fulfilled, but it could be that the false prophet runs and hides on the day Ahab is killed in battle. Zedekiah predicted victory but Ahab will be defeated. Zedekiah even went so far as to make iron horns to dramatically illustrate how mercilessly Ahab would gore Ben-Hadad to death. It makes sense to assume that this bold false prophet will see the need to make himself scarce after the death of his king.

"The king of Israel then ordered, 'Take Micaiah and send him back to Amon the ruler of the city and to Joash the king's son and say, 'This is what the king says: Put this fellow in prison and give him nothing but bread and water until I return safely.'" (1 Kings 22:26-27) Since Ahab is sending Micaiah back to Amon, he was likely already in prison for prophesying things that didn't please the king.

But Micaiah gets the last word in, "Micaiah declared, 'If you ever return safely, the Lord has not spoken through me.' Then he added, 'Mark my words, all you people!'" (1 Kings 22:28) The people will know that Micaiah was the only true prophet at the gate that day when his words against Ahab come true. 

We see from today's passage that trouble comes on us all. Trouble may come even when we are in the will of God; trouble will certainly come when we get out of the will of God. Micaiah is mistreated for telling a wicked king what he doesn't want to hear, but his imprisonment is better than the death Ahab will face for going into battle against the word of God. If we suffer for obedience, at least we have the comfort of our God and the peace He gives us and the vindication we receive when we are proven right. If we suffer for disobedience, we must endure the regret and shame that comes from knowing we purposely did the wrong thing and brought our trouble on ourselves. 

As we studied when we looked at the godly man Naboth this week, life isn't a bed of roses even when we are walking the right path, but as the Apostle Peter said, "For it is better, if it is God's will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil." (1 Peter 3:17) None of us wants to suffer. But if some suffering in this world is unavoidable, better it should be for following Christ than for following wickedness. Better we should suffer for the One who suffered for us. 

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Prophets And Kings, Day 51. Naboth's Vineyard, Part 2

Prophets And Kings
Day 51
Naboth's Vineyard
Part 2

Yesserday Jezebel hads Naboth killed so King Ahab coulds take hims vineyard. Today the Lord sends the prophet Elijah to Ahab wif a message.

1 KINGS 21:17-29
"The the word of the Lord came to Elijah the Tishbite: 'Go down to meet Ahab king of Israel, who rules in Samaria. He is now in Naboth's vineyard, where he has gone to take possession of it. Say to him, 'This is what the Lord says: Have you not murdered a man and seized his property?' Then say to him, 'This is what the Lord says: in the place where dogs licked up Naboth's blood, dogs will lick up your blood---yes, yours!'" (1 Kings 21:17-19) Jezebel is the one who had Naboth murdered but the Lord holds Ahab primarily responsible for it because he willingly gave his power over to her. He gave her the signet ring off his hand, the ring with his royal seal that she used to send out the letters that sealed Naboth's fate. Ahab was happy to hand the problem over to Jezebel and let her handle it any way she pleased. He knew what a wicked woman she was and that her plot would likely end in the death of an innocent man but he didn't care so long as he got what he wanted.

"Ahab said to Elijah, 'So you have found me, my enemy!'" (1 Kings 21:20a) Ahab counts Elijah as an enemy because he tells him the truth. King David repented when the prophet Nathan came and confronted him with his sins. David counted Nathan his friend because he told him the truth. The Apostle Paul was a man who told people the truth because he was their friend, but when the Galatians seemed to be turning from the grace of the new covenant to the laws of the old covenant, Paul confronted them with their errors and mourned, "Have I now become your enemy by telling you the truth?" (Galatians 4:16) The condition of our hearts is made clear by how we react to the loving truth told to us by someone who cares.

"'I have found you,' he answered, 'because you have sold yourself to do evil in the eyes of the Lord. He says, 'I am going to bring disaster on you. I will wipe out your descendants and cut off from Ahab every last male in Israel---slave or free. I will make your house like that of Jeroboam son of Nebat and that of Baasha son of Ahijah, because you have aroused My anger and caused Israel to sin.' And also concerning Jezebel the Lord says: 'Dogs will devour Jezebel by the wall of Jezreel.' Dogs will eat those belonging to Ahab in the city, and the birds will feed on those who die in the country." (1 Kings 21:20b-24) This is a dire prophecy. For a king to have no descendants to sit on his throne is a judgment of God, plus it was horrifying for anyone to think of their body remaining unburied and being eaten by animals. 

"(There was never anyone like Ahab, who sold himself to do evil in the eyes of the Lord, urged on by Jezebel his wife. He behaved in the vilest manner by going after idols, like the Amorites the Lord drove out before Israel.)" (1 Kings 21:25-26) One commentary I consulted states that in comparing the ten northern tribes of Israel to the Amorites, God is setting the stage for the future expulsion of the northern kingdom from the land. Just as He drove the Amorites out of the promised land for their idolatry, He will allow the idolatrous northern kingdom to lose her territory.

Suddenly, something new happens. Elijah's words get through to Ahab. In his heart, I think Ahab is still not very excited about the idea of fellowship with the Lord, but he is interested in escaping the fulfillment of this awful prophecy. "When Ahab heard these words, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and fasted. He lay in sackcloth and went around meekly." (1 Kings 21:27) The sackcloth and the meek spirit are intended as an outward symbol of what's happening on the inside. They indicate Ahab's sorrow. 

"Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah the Tishbite: 'Have you noticed how Ahab has humbled himself before Me? Because he has humbled himself, I will not bring this disaster in his day, but I will bring it on his house in the days of his son.'" (1 Kings 21:28-29) Ahab's repentance has more to do with fear that with love for the Lord, but because he is now setting a better example for the people, the Lord grants a reprieve on the house of Ahab. In going about dressed in sackcloth and with a humble spirit, Ahab is telling the nation he has been in the wrong. He is telling the nation He believes the word of the Lord that came through the prophet Elijah. He is admitting there is a judgment for disobeying the God of Israel. This attitude honors the Lord and so the Lord holds off on bringing Ahab's house down while he reigns on the throne. 

However, Ahab doesn't have long to live, because as we continue on in the next chapter we find him dying in battle about three years later. Because he was sorrowful for his sins, he will be buried at Samaria with all the funeral rites of a king. But the remainder of Elijah's prophecy begins to come true upon Ahab's death. As his blood from the battle is rinsed from his chariot, dogs will come and lick up the blood, just as Elijah foretold. The prophecy about cutting off Ahab's descendants will also come true. His son will be so wicked he will only reign two years, and he will die without a son to succeed him as king. Jezebel doesn't escape the prophecy about her either: she meets her end in 2 Kings 9 when she is thrown from her own window and is eaten by dogs beside the wall, just as Elijah foretold. 

We find in today's passage both the grace and the judgment of God: grace for the sinner who repents, judgment for the sinner who does not repent. Ahab was sorry for his sins and the consequences of them and so the Lord had mercy on him, allowing Ahab to die honorably in battle, allowing him to be buried in a tomb with all the glory of a king of Israel. Jezebel never repents and so the prophecy about her wretched end comes true. She perishes in disgrace, with no regal funeral as the queen of Israel, with not enough left of her to even bury. Her name becomes synonymous with idolatry, harlotry, and pride. The apostate church of Revelation is called Jezebel because she is unfaithful to the one true God. She is called Jezebel because she scorns the One who died to purchase her soul back from death, and so the apostate church will also meet a disgraceful end.

If only we could go back and undo some of our mistakes! I can think of several I would like to undo. But our God is so gracious. He gives us a brand new future. He takes us off the dead end road to destruction and places us on the path of life. When we come to the Lord in repentance, we find no condemnation, only grace. He doesn't bombard us with a list of our sins before accepting us into His presence. Instead He says, "Yesterday is gone. I'm making you a brand new tomorrow."

Monday, March 28, 2016

Prophets And Kings, Day 50, Naboth's Vineyard, Part 1

Prophets And Kings
Day 50
Naboth's Vineyard
Part 1

When we left off ours study in 1st Kings, King Ahab hads just been condemned by a prophet for not killing King Ben-Hadad of Aram when him hads the chance. Ahab got angry and pouted and went home. Today Ahab pouts like a baby because a godly man says no to him, leading to that mans death.

1 KINGS 21:1-16
"Some time later there was an incident involving a vineyard belonging to Naboth the Jezreelite. The vineyard was in Jezreel, close to the palace of Ahab king of Samaria. Ahab said to Naboth, 'Let me have your vineyard to use for a vegetable garden, since it is close to my palace. In exchange I will give you a better vineyard or, if you prefer, I will pay you whatever it is worth.'" (1 Kings 21:1-2) There's nothing overtly sinful about Ahab spotting a piece of land he wants and making a good offer for it. Land transactions happen every day. The land is in a good spot because of its proximity to the palace, making it handy for Ahab's palace cooks to gather vegetables. But it's how Ahab reacts to being told "no" that's sinful. He isn't used to not getting what he wants. He's arrogant and prideful, a spoiled brat who can't handle being refused. 

"But Naboth replied, 'The Lord forbid that I should give you the inheritance of my ancestors.'" (1 Kings 21:3) Naboth's reply is Scripture based. In Leviticus 25 we find regulations about real estate transactions. A man was not to sell the land of his ancestors, the land which God allotted to each tribe, unless great hardship forced him to do so. Even then, he was to sell to his nearest relative so the land would stay within the tribe. The seller retained the right of first refusal as well; if his circumstances improved and he wished to buy his land back, he got first chance at it. In the next Jubilee year, which we studied about when Solomon dedicated the temple, the land was to be returned to the original owner. In Numbers 36:7 we find this law, "No inheritance in Israel is to pass from one tribe to another, for every Israelite shall keep the tribal inheritance of their ancestors." When Naboth refuses King Ahab, he is being obedient to the word of the Lord. Naboth isn't in financial hardship that he should need to sell the land. If that were the case, he would sell it to his closest kinsman from his own tribe, not to the king.

But Ahab has no regard for the word of the Lord. "So Ahab went home, sullen and angry because Naboth the Jezreelite had said, 'I will not give you the inheritance of my ancestors.' He lay on his bed sulking and refused to eat." (1 Kings 21:4) The pity party is in full swing at the palace. Ahab is immature and spoiled, believing he has the right to anything he desires. He doesn't care about Naboth's Scriptural reasons for denying him the land. He doesn't have any respect for Naboth, Naboth's ancestors who previously owned the land, or Naboth's descendants who will inherit the land. All he cares about is that someone has dared to say no to him, the king of Israel.

"His wife Jezebel came in and asked him, 'Why are you so sullen? Why won't you eat?'" (1 Kings 21:5) When Ahab doesn't join her at the dinner table, she comes to find out what is wrong. I tend to think Ahab's little temper tantrums are a common occurrence in the palace. When word comes to Jezebel at the table that her husband is pouting on his bed, she may have thought to herself, "What now?" Jezebel is a strong woman, the real power behind the throne, and I think it's likely she enjoyed having a weak man for a husband. Even so, his frequent childish tantrums must have been exasperating.

"He answered her, 'Because I said to Naboth the Jezreelite, 'Sell me your vineyard; or if you prefer, I will give you another vineyard in its place.' But he said, 'I will not give you my vineyard.'" (1 Kings 21:6) The whole problem is simply that Ahab asked for something and was refused. He doesn't explain to Jezebel why Naboth refused. Ahab knows the laws of Israel and he understands the reason behind Naboth's response but none of that matters to him. He is the king and feels his desires are greater than the laws of God. 

I picture Jezebel standing in the doorway to Ahab's room, now putting her hands on her hips and rolling her eyes at his words, "Jezebel his wife said, 'Is this how you act as king over Israel? Get up and eat! Cheer up. I'll get you the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite.'" (1 Kings 21:7) Jezebel says something like, "Does the king of Israel accept anyone's refusal? What kind of king lets somebody tell him no? What kind of man lets somebody refuse him? You know what? Never mind; I will take care of this problem. Get up and go to the dining room and eat your dinner like a good boy. Let someone who knows how to get things done take care of Naboth." 

Ahab is the type of man who doesn't want to lead his household. He's weak. He's immature. His marriage to Jezebel is a political alliance but I feel there's more to it than that. I think spineless Ahab sees something in her he admires: the ability to fearlessly take charge and get things done. This is lacking in his own character, which is why the nation has fallen even farther into idolatry. Unable or unwilling to stand up to his wife, Ahab has allowed Jezebel to institute a state religion of Baal worship. She is running the religious system of Israel and now, today, she is involving herself in political matters as well.

In any household, someone has to be the leader. Someone has to take charge. Everything will fall into disorder if nobody steps up to the plate. But God, in speaking to Adam in the garden, gave the command for the husband to set the spiritual example for the family to follow. He gave Adam, and all husbands, the responsibility of taking charge of the family and making decisions about what is best for them in a prayerful and godly way. This doesn't mean a man is to rule his home with an iron fist, or to make decisions based on his own personal desires and preferences. It doesn't give a man permission to mistreat his family or disrespect them in any way. The Bible instructs a man to love and care for his wife the way the Lord loves and cares for the church, which means he is to live in such a way that his wife can respect and honor him as the church respects and honors Christ. Christ is the leader of the church, setting the example for godly living, instructing the church in what is best for them. As a husband and a king, Ahab is commanded to set a good spiritual and moral example in his own home and as leader of the nation. He lacks the desire to do so. Because he refuses to be obedient to the Lord in this matter, and because he refused to obey the Lord by taking a wife of his own people, the ungodly pagan woman Jezebel steps up and takes control, leading both the household and the nation astray. 

"So she wrote letters in Ahab's name, placed his seal on them, and sent them to the elders and nobles who lived in Naboth's city with him. In those letters she wrote: 'Proclaim a day of fasting and seat Naboth in a prominent place among the people. But seat two scoundrels opposite him and have them bring charges that he has cursed both God and the king. Then take him out and stone him to death.'" (1 Kings 21:8-10) This proves how much authority Jezebel has, that she can sign the king's name and seal letters with his seal. A king's seal was on the signet ring he wore on his hand all the time. We know by this that the king willingly takes the ring off and gives it to her and in so doing Ahab has handed over all his authority to Jezebel to do as she pleases. He has turned the problem over to her while he eats his dinner like a good little boy. 

"So the elders and nobles who lived in Naboth's city did as Jezebel directed in the letters she had written to them. They proclaimed a fast and seated Naboth in a prominent place among the people. Then two scoundrels came and sat opposite him and brought charges against Naboth before the people, saying, 'Naboth has cursed both God and the king.' So they took him outside the city and stoned him to death. Then they sent word to Jezebel: 'Naboth has been stoned to death.'" (1 Kings 21:11-14) At first I thought perhaps the elders and nobles believed Naboth really had cursed God and the king, making him a rebel and a threat to the throne. I thought maybe they believed Ahab actually signed and sealed these letters himself. But verse 14 tells us something else: the people know who is the real power behind the throne. Jezebel had to use Ahab's name and seal on the death warrant to make it legal, but these men know who ordered Naboth's death. We can be certain of this because, after Naboth has been stoned, the men send word to Jezebel, not Ahab. 

"As soon as Jezebel heard that Naboth had been stoned to death, she said to Ahab, 'Get up and take possession of the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite that he refused to sell you. He is no longer alive, but dead.' When Ahab heard that Naboth was dead, he got up and went down to take possession of Naboth's vineyard." (1 Kings 21:15-16) An innocent man is dead, his blood spilled on the ground simply because he honored the word of God. The charge that he blasphemed God is ridiculous; in obeying the laws God gave according to land inheritance, Naboth respected God. The charge that he spoke against the king is also a lie, for his refusal to sell came along with a respectful reason as to why he could not. Naboth only wanted to farm his own land in peace. He had no plots against the king and certainly no disrespect for the God of Israel.

Following on the heels of Easter weekend, where another Man was sentenced to death on charges of blaspheming God and plotting against the king, we see the similarities between what Christ was accused of and what Naboth was accused of. Naboth lost his life for following the Lord. And we are reminded that the road we walk in the Lord's footsteps is not always an easy road. Jesus didn't promise us a life of comfort but said instead, "Whoever wants to be My disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow Me." (Matthew 16:24) The road the Lord walked for us was not easy; it led Him straight up Calvary's hill to His own cross. We aren't His disciples because He promises us worldly pleasures and treasures but because He promises us spiritual comfort and power in this life and eternal fellowship with Him in the next life. The Lord didn't take up His cross because it was easy but because it was the right thing to do. Naboth didn't say no to King Ahab because it was easy but because it was the right thing to do. We don't take up our cross and deny ourselves because it's easy but because it's the right thing to do. 

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Jesus Is Risen

Jesus Is Risen

Matthew's gospel tells us that, after the burial but prior to the resurrection, the chief priests and Pharisees went to Pilate to request that guards be placed at the tomb. "'Sir,' they said, 'we remember that while He was still alive that deceiver said, 'After three days I will rise again.' So give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, His disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that He has been raised from the dead. This last deception will be worse than the first." (Matthew 27:63-64) We see these religious leaders unknowingly admit to their previous lies about Jesus saying He was going to destroy Herod's temple and rebuild it in three days. Obviously they knew all along that He was speaking of His own body and not the literal temple. Pilate agrees to their request and they put a seal on the tomb and set guards there. But early on Sunday morning, Matthew tells us there was an earthquake and that an angel of the Lord rolled the stone away, revealing the empty tomb.

The guards hurry into the city to report these things. Again the leaders concoct a scheme and they bribe the soldiers to claim they fell asleep and that the disciples came during the night and took the body of Jesus away. The chief priests and Pharisees keep on having to perform damage control, for if the problem were only that the body is missing, this lie might have satisfied the people. But Jesus appears in the flesh, alive and whole, to many people after the resurrection. He appears to the disciples, to the women, and to over five hundred people at once. (1 Corinthians 15:6)

"On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, 'Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; He has risen! Remember how He told you, while He was still with you in Galilee: 'The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.' Then they remembered His words." (Luke 24:1-8)

These two men at the tomb are most likely angelic beings. As is always true of the faithful angels who didn't rebel to follow Satan, they point to Jesus and to His words. They remind these women of the things Jesus said about Himself. Somehow, in the pain and fear and grief, the women have lost sight of what Jesus said about His resurrection. Maybe it was too much for them to believe after witnessing His death. They expect a body to be there for them to anoint but instead Jesus is alive and well and has left a sealed tomb behind. It was already empty before the stone was rolled away. The stone wasn't rolled away to let Jesus out but to let others in.

"When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense." (Luke 23:9-11) The disciples think this is a tale told by hysterical grieving women and they don't believe or understand that Jesus is alive.

"Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened." (Luke 24:12) John tells us that he went along with Peter. "So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there, as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus' head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed." (John 20:3-8) John, the youngest disciple, in the strength of youth outruns Peter but stops just short of going into the tomb. Finally he goes in and the two of them witness the empty tomb together, the grave clothes discarded because they aren't needed anymore. The men don't know what to do or think. John tells us that "They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead." (John 20:9) This tells us that when John says he "saw and believed", he means that he saw the open tomb with no body inside, the linens left behind, and he believed what the women had reported. "Then the disciples went back to where they were staying." (John 20:10)

Imagine their distress and confusion. The body of the Lord is missing and they don't know why. Why would someone take the body but leave the linen it was wrapped in? Who moved the stone? How did they get in with the guards standing there? On top of all this, who were the two men who told the women Jesus was alive? What does it all mean?

A glimmer of hope shines out of the darkness. What if all the things Jesus said, all the things they never understood before, are true? What if, despite seeing Him breathe His last on the cross, He has taken up His life again, just as He said He would? What if all is not lost? What if their years of following the Master haven't been in vain? What if the words Jesus spoke are about to be fulfilled? "But I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy." (John 16:22)

I picture the disciples safely back in the locked room where they are hiding out of fear of those who accused and arrested Jesus. I believe a lot of loud and lively discussion goes on in that room among the disciples, the women, and the other followers gathered there. They don't know who took Jesus' body or why. They don't know if anyone took His body or whether He is risen. And if He is risen, where is He?

Next we find two of Jesus' followers (men not of the Eleven) walking the Emmaus road, about seven miles outside of Jerusalem, and they are in despair because Jesus has been crucified. They are probably shuffling their sandals dispiritedly through the dust, heads down, shoulders slumped. They aren't in any hurry to get to Emmaus and back to Jerusalem because there is nothing to hurry back for now that their Master is in the tomb. Or so they think.

"Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking with each other about everything that had happened." (Luke 24:13-14) When Luke says "that same day" he means Sunday, the same day the women found the empty tomb. Whenever we go through a traumatic time it can be difficult to stop talking about it. The shock of it is so great that talking about it helps make it real in our minds. Plus we find it comforting to speak with others who feel the same as we do. These two men are trudging down the road in sorrowful fellowship with each other.

"As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus Himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing Him." (Luke 24:15) What a blessing it is to know that Jesus walks along the road of sorrow with us! We feel alone at times in our pain but Jesus is right there beside us just as He was right there beside these men. We may be so blinded by our sadness that we don't recognize Him, but we can be certain He is there.

"He asked them, 'What are you discussing together as you walk along?' They stood still, their faces downcast. One of them, named Cleopas, asked Him, 'Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?'" (Luke 24:17-18) According to John 19:25, the wife of Cleopas was one of the women with the mother of Jesus at the crucifixion. This man is very sad about the death of Jesus and he can't imagine this stranger not knowing what has taken place. The crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth is the talk of the town. He assumes this man has just arrived in the area and hasn't heard about it.

"'What things?' He asked. 'About Jesus of Nazareth,' they replied. 'He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed Him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified Him; but we had hoped that He was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning but didn't find His body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said He was alive. Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.'" (Luke 24:15-24) These men do not yet understand who Jesus is, for they call Him a prophet. While He was alive, they hoped He was the Messiah. But since His death they have given up hope. If Jesus had died and stayed dead, they could naturally have called Him only a prophet. All the prophets of old died and are still in their tombs. The problem is, the men of Jesus' time were looking for a military Messiah to save them from Roman oppression, not a Messiah who saves souls. They wanted Him to put the government back into Jewish hands. They expected Him to sit on the throne of David. They "had hoped He was the one who was going to redeem Israel". Oh, but they weren't wrong! The death of Jesus was the means by which He redeems those who believe in Him.

"He said to them, 'How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter His glory?' And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, He explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning Himself." (Luke 24:25-27) Jesus wants to know why they haven't taken the words of the prophets to heart. What about the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53, the One whose blood would make many righteous, the One upon whom our sins were laid? What about the Good Shepherd of Zechariah who was scorned and hated and valued at only thirty pieces of silver, the price of a slave? What of the Passover lamb, slain the night before the Exodus, which represented the true Passover Lamb who takes away the sins of the world? What about the promises made to King David of a coming King of his bloodline who would rule the world? What of the vision sent to Daniel about the King who will be given an everlasting kingdom? Jesus tells these men if they would just read and believe what the Scriptures say about the Messiah, they wouldn't be in despair right now, for they would realize that things have happened exactly the way they were foretold to happen. We note once again that Jesus calls Himself the Messiah and applies all the Scripture regarding the Messiah to Himself.

It may sound a bit harsh when Jesus calls them foolish and says they are slow to believe, but isn't this true of us all at one time or another? We have the entire Scripture at our fingertips, available for reading at any time. We even have the added benefit of being able to listen to it on CD or to pull it up on the internet or to watch it explained to us on TV. We don't even have to be very good readers in order to hear and understand the gospel. Many in Jesus' time couldn't read but they were free to go to the temple and hear the Scriptures read aloud. Jesus is pointing out that it's foolish not to believe the Scriptures. Our lives would be so much better if we simply made the choice to believe every single word in our Bibles. Jesus wants us to believe in faith, to take His holy words to heart, to stand on them and trust in them and count on Him to come through for us.

"As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if He were going farther. But they urged Him strongly, 'Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.' So He went in to stay with them." (Luke 24:28-29) There's something about this man that makes them want to spend more time in His company. That's the precious thing about the the Lord: the more we know Him the more we want to know Him. We can't get enough of Him. The thought of spending eternity with Jesus is thrilling. On a side note, as far as I can see in the Scriptures, Jesus never turned down an invitation to go home with someone. He was always willing to do so and He is willing to go home with you and me too.

"When He was at the table with them, He took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized Him, and He disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, 'Were not our hearts burning within us while He talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?'" (Luke 24:30-32) When we take the Scriptures to heart, they burn within us. We recognize them as truth. Here we see Jesus echo the actions of the upper room on the first night of Passover when He broke the bread and said that it symbolized His body, broken for us. The truth of God's word opens these men's eyes and suddenly they know this is the resurrected Lord at the table with them. The resurrected body is not like a mortal human body in that it doesn't appear to be bound by the laws of physics. Jesus was already gone from the tomb before the stone was rolled away. Here we see Jesus disappear from the table. Later we we will see Him appear in a room with a locked door. Although we can't fully understand what a resurrected body is, we know one thing: "Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is." (1 John 3:2) We will have a body like our Lord's body.

"They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together and saying, 'It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.' Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when He broke the bread." (Luke 24:33-35) It's nearly dark but these two men can't wait to run and tell the others about Jesus. But when they get there, they hear even more good news, that Jesus has appeared to Simon Peter. In 1 Corinthians 15:5 the Apostle Paul makes reference to the Lord appearing privately to Peter before He appeared to all the disciples together. The late Dr. J. Vernon McGee of the Thru The Bible Radio broadcast once said, "The Lord Jesus Christ appeared to Simon Peter privately because there was something that needed to be straightened out. Remember that Peter had denied Him. The restoration to fellowship was a personal and private transaction between Peter and his Lord."

The four gospels tell us of several appearances of Jesus following the resurrection and Luke tells us that, "While they were still talking about this, Jesus Himself stood among them and said to them, 'Peace be with you.' They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. He said to them, 'Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at My hands and My feet. It is I myself! Touch Me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.'" (Luke 24:36-39) The Lord's resurrected body still looks and feels like a natural human body. That gives me comfort, knowing that someday when we have a body like His, we will still have our own recognizable and familiar shape. We will still be us. In a resurrected body, the Lord was able to appear at will wherever He wanted. I can't say whether or not our own bodies will be able to do this, for at the resurrection our Lord took up His power and glory once again, the power and glory that rightfully belongs to the Son of God.

"When He had said this, He showed them His hands and feet. And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, He asked them, 'Do you have anything here to eat?' They gave Him a piece of broiled fish, and He took it and ate it in their presence." (Luke 24:40-43) The ability to eat conclusively proves to the disciples that Jesus is still made of flesh and bones, that the Son of God is still a man, that He isn't a vision of a spirit or ghost. I believe that in the kingdom of God we will be able to eat. The book of Revelation speaks of the marriage supper of the Lamb and of the fruit tree that bears fruit in all seasons. I don't, however, believe we will eat any meat there, because after the earth is restored to its former glory which it had before sin entered, the animal kingdom is once again at peace with each other. If this is true on earth then certainly I think there wont be any meat-eating in heaven. Just as before the flood mankind didn't eat meat, we won't eat it in the Lord's kingdom either.

"He said to them, 'This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about Me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.'" (Luke 24:44) Yet again we see Jesus declare Himself to be the Son of God, the Messiah, by attributing all of Scripture to Himself. The law spoke of Christ. The prophets spoke of Christ. The psalms spoke of Christ. From the first word of Genesis to the last word of Revelation, our Bibles speak of Christ on every page.

"Then He opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, 'This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. I am going to send you what My Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.'" (Luke 24:44-49) Jesus tells the disciples that they will be given what has been promised: the Holy Spirit. They are to stay in Jerusalem until this promise comes on the Day of Pentecost, which Luke describes in in the book of Acts.

We can't do anything worthwhile for the kingdom of God in our own power. As Christians, it's the Holy Spirit living within us who enables us to live in a way that honors the Lord. This is why the disciples were to wait for the power that comes through the Holy Spirit. They will need this power to preach the forgiveness of sins in the name of Jesus. They will need this strength to face the hatred and persecution that is coming to them for the sake of Jesus. Luke tells us in Acts that during the forty days in which Jesus appeared after the resurrection, He said, "Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift My Father promised, which you have heard Me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit." (Acts 1:4-5) On the Day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit falls on all the believers, 3,000 souls are saved at the preaching of Peter. It was after receiving the Holy Spirit that the apostles began to preach in Jesus' name. It was after receiving the Holy Spirit that these men "turned the world upside down" with their testimony of Jesus Christ. (Acts 17:6) And its only through the Holy Spirit that you and I can do anything to lead others to Christ. If the Lord has no part in our work it won't bear fruit. But if we do the work through the power of the Holy Spirit, freely given by the Father to us who believe on the name of Jesus, the blessings will overflow from our lives into others.

Before we conclude today we will study the final appearances of Jesus and His ascension to heaven. First I want to take a passage from the book of Acts. Jesus has just told the disciples to remain in Jerusalem until they are baptized by the Holy Spirit. "Then they gathered around Him and asked Him, 'Lord, are You at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?'" (Acts 1:6) These men still want to see their nation be a sovereign power in the world once again. They feel they would be better off if they weren't under the iron fist of Rome. They wonder if now, in His resurrected body, Jesus will overthrow their oppressors and sit on David's throne. "He said to them: 'It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by His own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.'" (Acts 1:7-8) Sometimes we want to know more than we need to know. We want to look into things that are God's business, not our business. The Lord knew every one of us before we were even conceived and the Lord has a purpose and plan for each of our lives. We must concern ourselves with what the Lord gives each of us to do. It's His business about the times and the dates and the seasons.

Between the resurrection and the ascension, we find, "After His suffering, He presented Himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that He was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God." (Acts 1:3) We must remember that at the beginning of his gospel, Luke said that he personally interviewed eyewitnesses. This is their testimony about the risen Lord. And Luke found it convincing enough to stake his life on it.

The Apostle Paul wasn't a disciple but, after Jesus ascended to heaven, He also made a personal appearance to him. "And last of all He appeared to me also." (1 Corinthians 15:8) Salvation came to Paul quite some time after the ascension, during which time Paul persecuted the church. He was responsible for the imprisonment, punishment, and even death of the believers. Against all odds Christ came to him, long after the point Paul would have expected such mercy. But isn't that how He comes to us all? We have all denied Him somehow, or persecuted Him or His followers, yet Christ comes and extends mercy to us.

Paul also adds the same detail as Luke, that Jesus appeared privately to Simon Peter. This meeting is shrouded in mystery because of its personal nature. We don't need to hear the conversation between our Lord and the disciple who denied Him. I think we can be certain, though, that the Lord restored Peter during that meeting and told Peter he was forgiven. I believe there were words of grace and mercy. I think that manly man Peter cried a whole bunch of tears. Out of respect for this disciple who became such a great leader in the church, I too am happy to leave this meeting between him and the Lord in the dark.

Paul also tells us that Jesus appeared to over five hundred men and women at once, who witnessed Him in His resurrected body. At the time of Paul's writing, most of the witnesses were still living and available for questioning. Anyone reading the letter to the Corinthians was free to go ask them, just as Luke did. Luke didn't simply take Paul's word for it; he went in person and talked to every witness he could find. The testimony of these witnesses caused Luke to conclude that Jesus Christ is Lord.

Jesus appeared to His brother James privately. James will later become a leader in the church at Jerusalem and he is the author of the book of James. Before the resurrection none of Jesus' brothers believed in Him. They even attempted once to seize Him and take Him home to Nazareth, thinking He was becoming mentally unhinged. This meeting between our Lord and His brother is as shrouded in mystery as the meeting with Peter. They had things to sort out between them. Again I believe the Lord had no words of condemnation but only words of love and mercy. I think during this meeting the Lord commissioned James to lead the church at Jerusalem. Whatever took place between them, it convinced James that Jesus Christ is the Lord. He was willing, like Luke and Paul and Peter, to stake his life on it.

Following the forty days of ministry which Jesus performed after the resurrection, we are told, "When He had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, He lifted up His hands and blessed them. While He was blessing them, He left them and was taken up into heaven. Then they worshiped Him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God." (Luke 24:50-53) An additional detail is given to us from Acts 1:10-11, "They were looking intently up into the sky as He was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. "Men of Galilee,' they said, 'why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen Him go into heaven." These men need to be about their Father's business. There is work to be done. When Jesus returns for the church, He isn't going to miss any of us. We don't have to stand around staring into the sky, afraid we will miss the return of our Lord. Whether we are alive or dead at Christ's return, there is no danger of Him missing a single one of us. "For the Lord Himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever." (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17) We will all ascend to heaven to forever be with the One who made it possible for us to find redemption. In the meantime, our job is to do the will of our Lord and fulfill the commission He assigned us: to tell others of His love, His redemptive death, His resurrection, and His salvation.

On Monday we will return to our Prophets And Kings study on the books of 1st and 2nd Kings. In the meantime, let's rejoice along with the disciples over our risen Lord. Let's be about our Father's business in witnessing to others about the love of Jesus Christ and the plan of salvation. We have the promise that our Lord is coming back for us and that we will be reunited with our loved ones. We have the constant assurance of the Lord's love and presence with us in the Person of the Holy Spirit. No matter what kind of "road to Emmaus" you may be walking, Jesus is walking right beside you. We need not shuffle through this world in despair, heads hanging low, shoulders slumped, as if we have no hope. All our hope is fulfilled in the One who died for us, rose for us, and sits at the Father's right hand daily making intercession for us.

The gospel of Jesus Christ cannot be ignored, only accepted or rejected. There is no other option. And if we reject Him we are rejecting the testimony of men who gave their lives for what they believed was the truth: that they had seen the risen Lord. We would also have to reject the miracles that even the Pharisees couldn't dispute. We would need to reject the account of the empty tomb which even the enemies of Jesus didn't dispute. And we would have to reject the words of Jesus Christ Himself.

Because Jesus is alive our hope is alive and nobody can say this better than the Apostle Peter, a man who found grace in the eyes of the Lord, a man who found forgiveness and redemption in Christ. "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In His great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and to an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade." (1 Peter 1:3-4a)

Our Redeemer lives! Because He lives we too can live. Our hope is alive and nothing can take it from us.

Jesus In The Tomb

Jesus In The Tomb

When we left off yesterday our Lord hung dead on the cross, His body broken for us, His blood poured out for us. The loved ones of Jesus were still standing on the hill, their hopes and dreams shattered. Their shock was so great they don't know what to do next but a follower of Jesus comes now and ministers to them. He comes to perform an act of kindness and comfort to show them he cares, which is really all we can do for those who are bereaved: show them we care.

"Now there was a man named Joseph, a member of the Council, a good and upright man, 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. Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus' body. 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. It was Preparation Day, and the Sabbath was about to begin." (Luke 23:50-54) Matthew and John both say that Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the religious leaders. Joseph was a member of the Council that delivered Jesus to Pilate but he had not agreed with them. Some scholars think this means he voiced his dissenting opinion during the trial, while other scholars think he wasn't invited to the trial at all. It's possible the Sanhedrin only called together those who could be counted on to vote for the death penalty. Either way, the faith of Joseph is out in the open now when he asks Pilate for custody of the body. There is no hiding of his devotion to our Lord when he places the Lord in his own tomb that was intended for his own family.

"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) The women follow Joseph to the tomb so they will know where to return after the Sabbath with the burial spices. Also I think they wanted to go with Jesus as far as they could go. This is what we do in our own times. We go to the graveside as our loved ones are placed in the ground or we hold a ceremony to scatter their ashes. We feel a sense of incompleteness if we don't follow that earthly body as far as we can. I picture the mother of Jesus keeping her eyes on His face until the linen cloth finally covers it, believing it will be the last time she sees Him on earth. Some of my readers may have had to leave one of your own children at a grave and you know how Mary felt. We have all had to leave a loved one at a cemetery and go home without them. Nothing more can be done for Jesus at this point except follow Him to the tomb and prepare to anoint the body after the Sabbath.

I once heard it said that after Jesus took His last breath, only the hands that loved Him ever touched Him. And only the hands that love Him ever will touch Him from now on. The hour of darkness will be defeated when Jesus takes up His life again on Sunday morning. Never again must He submit to cruel hands of hate. The temporary triumph of Satan will be crushed underfoot when Jesus rises from that garden tomb. Sin, death, hell, and the grave must admit defeat. The sting of death will be taken away. The power of the grave will be broken. And from that moment on, only the hands of those who love the Lord will ever touch Him.

But between His burial on Friday evening and His resurrection on Sunday morning, the mother of Jesus, the disciples, and the other followers will mourn in a way that I think nobody has ever mourned. It's not just the grief of losing a loved one, though that's painful enough. It's not just the shock of the travesty of justice that took place, though the unfairness of it cuts them to their souls. It's the loss of the thing they hoped for most, that Jesus would take His place in Israel as Messiah and King to rule from David's throne forever. He was the One they believed would deliver them from the oppression of Rome and make Israel a free nation again. He was the One they thought would reign in righteousness. He was the One they expected to turn the hearts of the people back to their God. Instead, Rome beat Him to a pulp and hung Him on a tree until His life drained away. Instead of crowning Him king, the people shouted at His trial before Pilate, "We have no king but Caesar!" Instead of worshiping Him as the Messiah and the holy Son of God, the religious leaders condemned Him to death for blasphemy because He claimed to be God.

Only a few days before, Jesus rode victoriously into Jerusalem on a donkey to make a public declaration that He was the king of Zechariah's Messianic prophecy, "Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your King comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. I will take away the chariots from Ephraim and the warhorses from Jerusalem, and the battle bow will be broken. He will proclaim peace to the nations. His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth. As for you, because of My blood covenant with you, I will free your prisoners from the waterless pit. Return to your fortress, you prisoners of hope; even now I announce that I will restore twice as much to you. I will bend Judah as I bend my bow and fill it with Ephraim. I will rouse your sons, Zion, against your sons, Greece, and make you like a warrior's sword. Then the Lord will appear over them; His arrow will flash like lightning. The Sovereign Lord will sound the trumpet; He will march in the storms of the south, and the Lord Almighty will shield them. They will destroy and overcome with slingstones. They will drink and roar as with wine; they will be full like a bowl used for sprinkling the corners of the altar. The Lord their God will save His people on that day as a shepherd saves his flock. They will sparkle in His hand like jewels in a crown." (Zechariah 9:9-16)

When Jesus rode into town on the donkey, an animal used by kings not in wartime but in peacetime, His followers believed He had come to vanquish Rome and bring them peace. As the people placed palm fronds and even their own cloaks in His path they were declaring their belief that He was Israel's Messiah and King when they shouted, "Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!" This is why the Pharisees urged Jesus to make the people be quiet, because the religious leaders clearly understood the statement He was making and they clearly understood the statement the crowd was making. By deliberately fulfilling the Messianic prophecy spoken by Zechariah, Jesus was calling Himself both Messiah and King of Israel. By calling Jesus "Son of David" the people were bestowing upon Him a Messianic title and a kingly title. But all prophecies of Scripture must be fulfilled and that is why Jesus refused to rebuke the people but said instead to the Pharisees, "'I tell you,' he replied, 'if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.'" (Luke 19:40) The prophecy stated that the Messiah and King would come to His people amid rejoicing and shouting. If the people had refused to do Him honor, the stones would have given Him honor.

The disciples and other followers of Jesus no doubt believed the next happening would be the overthrow of Rome and that the kingdom would come, the eternal kingdom of the Messiah. And indeed the kingdom would have come if Jesus had not ended up rejected and crucified. As He approached Jerusalem's overlook on the donkey, He looked down on the city, began to weep with a broken heart, and said, "If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace---but now it is hidden from your eyes." (Luke 19:42) He then went on to predict the fall of Jerusalem as He looked down on her from the very spot where the Roman general Titus would later sit on his horse plotting how to best attack the city.

But hope is not lost, not for the followers of Jesus and not for the people of Israel. Zechariah's prophecy is twofold just like most Biblical prophecies. The King of Daughter Zion did indeed come to her on a donkey amid the shouts of her praises. But the bringing of national peace, the breaking of the bow, and the freeing of the prisoners is for a later time. Had Israel accepted her Messiah and King at His triumphal entry, the kingdom would have come, but because she did not, the rest of Zechariah's prophecy is for another day. The peace Jesus brought at His first advent was the peace of being made right with God, not peace among the nations. Man must be at peace with God before he can be at peace with his fellow man. Man must be right with his God before he can be right with his neighbors.

I love the way Zechariah refers to the "prisoners of hope". The word "prisoner" is a negative word in all cultures but Zechariah intends it as a positive word. We are held fast by our hope in Christ, enclosed on all sides by our hope in Christ. By faith, we have placed ourselves in His custody and are kept by Him, captivated by His love, willingly shackled to Him at the soul.

On a grief-stricken Saturday in the first century AD, all the faithful followers of Jesus feel their hope is lost. The One they hoped would sit on David's throne lies cold and dead in a dark tomb. The One they hoped would overthrow the oppressors and give Israel peace on every side was unable to save Himself from His own enemies. But in their pain they have forgotten the remainder of Zechariah's prophecy. They have forgotten Jesus' prophecies of Himself. They have forgotten the prophecies of Isaiah who said their Messiah would suffer. He came not to bring military peace but to make peace between man and God, "The punishment that brought us peace was on Him." (Isaiah 53:5) Isaiah also spoke words of hope, that their suffering Messiah would live again, "After He has suffered, He will see the light of life and be satisfied." (Isaiah 53:5) And Isaiah also promised Messiah would someday reign as a conqueror, "Therefore I will give Him a portion among the great, and He will divide the spoils with the strong." (Isaiah 53:12)

As Mary the mother of Jesus and the other women sit weeping, they can't understand why their Lord is in a tomb and not on the throne. As the disciples hide in a locked room for fear of the authorities, they believe their dreams of peace are shattered. On this Saturday after the crucifixion, it looks like all hope is lost. But no Scriptural word of prophecy will ever fail. No word spoken by Jesus will ever fail. Messiah will see the light of life and be satisfied with His work. His sacrifice will make peace between man and God. He will step out of the tomb Sunday morning and prove that no one who trusts in Him trusts in vain. No one who hopes in Him hopes in vain. And someday, a day we "prisoners of hope" eagerly look forward to, He will return for His own and take us to heaven to be with Him until the final days of earth as we know it are completed. Then we will return in victory with Him as the kingdom comes and we will behold our Messiah and King seated on the throne of David to rule the earth in peace forevermore.

Take heart, prisoners of hope. Our King is coming.

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