Clothed: Day 14 (Conclusion)
"Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”
Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God." - Luke 24:44-53
He wasn’t staying. To the great joy of his disciples, Jesus had come back from the dead. But now, he might as well be dying again, for he was leaving them. But he had prepared them for this moment just a few weeks before: “Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you” (John 16:7). And so when he departed, they were not sorrowful but filled “with great joy.” Why? Weren’t they going to miss their Friend? Was he not their beloved King? Indeed, but he left them with a promise, and not just any promise: the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is absolutely central to this age in which the resurrected Christ is bodily absent. Just as Jesus walked this earth – healing, teaching, preaching, convicting, pitying, counseling, encouraging, exorcising, blessing, reconciling – so he sends the Holy Spirit to carry on the same ministry. The Holy Spirit is now with us to manifest the person of Christ to us. He does so regularly through the preaching of his Word, through the Lord’s Supper and baptism. But also, as the wind blows where it wishes, the Spirit also reveals him to us however he desires, through things as ordinary as the budding of a flower or as extraordinary as visions and dreams of Jesus himself.
The Holy Spirit is central to everything God’s people do, whether things as spiritual as corporate worship, prayer, and Bible reading, or things as earthly as washing dishes and having coffee with a friend. He is our power to believe and to obey, he is our strength to learn about God and love our fellow man, he is our deliverance from depression and addiction, and he maintains our fellowship with God and nourishes our weary souls. He is also our power for ministry, for preaching the gospel with boldness, for mighty works that verify the gospel, and for lives that draw people to the gospel. Everything that Christ won for us in his cross and resurrection – forgiveness and righteousness and power and life and wisdom and adoption and deliverance and everything else – this is all just religious jargon until applied to us and revealed to us through the work of the Holy Spirit.
For all these reasons and more, the disciples had no reason to grieve the departure of Jesus, for just as he had promised, “I will be with you always,” and so by the Holy Spirit, he would, indeed! He would “clothe them with power from on high,” continuing his ministry from the throne room of heaven, a ministry newly based on his accomplished work, a ministry performed through the mediation of the Spirit. And so, for all this, the disciples had great reason for joy. And so do we.
But let us not imagine that this is how it will always be. No, the age of the Spirit concludes with the return of the King. The Spirit is fast at work, preparing the nations for the revelation of the King of kings, purifying a people for his own possession, glorifying him through their works of love and justice, attesting to his worth through lives of costly obedience, witnessing to the truth that our God not only lives, but reigns.
Eleven: Day 13
"Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”" Matthew 28:16-20
Jesus did not say “Go and make disciples.” He said, “Go therefore and make disciples,” pointing back to a previous fact that makes sense of the command to make disciples. It is common – and no bad thing – to hear talk of the imperative to “go” to the nations for mission work or to “make disciples.” But let’s make sure that we don’t leave out the divine reasoning for the command! If we leave that out, who knows what our motivations for the work of the kingdom might be! “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” These are the grounds from which we are called to make disciples of all nations.
As we have seen, the crucifixion was not really the defeat it appeared to be. It was in fact the event by which Christ took the reins of the world back from sin, death, and the devil, who had ruled it since its first inhabitants (Gen 3). But the crucifixion leaves the faithful reader with an alarming question. How could Jesus rule the world if he were dead? How could the kingdom be advanced if its King were not alive? The authority won at the cross over heaven and earth was only any good if he were alive to wield it. The resurrection is therefore the foundation of all Christian mission.
Through the resurrection, Christianity is no longer a one-sided, human work. Just the opposite, by virtue of its risen Lord, Christian mission is essentially the work of Christ, not the work of his followers. The Lord is risen, and therefore able to rule and restore his creation. The Shepherd is alive, and therefore able to seek and find his lost sheep. The Physician has healed himself, and therefore is able to cure us of our rebellious wills, darkened minds and aging bodies.
How would justice ever be dealt to the evils of this world if the Judge is dead and unable to return for judgment? How would the earth, in all of its earthquakes and famines and tsunamis and melting ice caps, be subdued into peace and restored if its Creator-King lies in its ground? And how would we be given new bodies that aren’t subject to time and cancer and mutated chromosomes if our Maker is not able to overcome the decay of his own body?
But because he has risen, let it be known that the work of the Kingdom is not a human work. It is a divine work that we have been invited to participate in. Let us not think too highly of ourselves, imagining that we are able to save the world ourselves (or even a soul for that matter).
But let us also not forget that our King invites the world into his kingdom with good news announced by our lips; our Shepherd uses our voice to call after his lost sheep; our Physician applies his healing balm through our hands. But it is his work, as the living Lord. And that is the basis of all Christian work. To miss this is to make Christianity into nothing more than another ideology, psychology, philosophy, or religion of man.
Fishin': Day 12
"Simon Peter, Thomas (called the Twin), Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, do you have any fish?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea. The other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, but about a hundred yards off.
When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, 153 of them. And although there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and so with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus was revealed to the disciples after he was raised from the dead." - John 21:2-14
Peter is hard not to like. He puts his foot in his mouth constantly, his emotions swing drastically, and he talks big but can’t back it up. Not that these are admirable qualities in themselves, but they present Peter as a real person, just as human as any of us. By showing the ordinary humanity of this future leader of the church, the gospel narratives ring with authenticity. But his is not the only humanity that tolls through the Gospels.
After all the staggering drama of the cross and resurrection, Peter needs to clear his head. He says, “I am going fishing” (21:3). A trade he knows, a boat he is comfortable in, a sea that he grew up on. After catching nothing all night, a man on the beach yells out advice, “Try on the other side of the boat!” When they do, they haul in an absurd amount of fish. Peter thinks, “Wait a minute, I’ve seen this before…” And indeed, it was with this same miracle that Jesus first called his disciples (Luke 5).
The first time, Peter’s reaction was quite different. He fell down at Jesus’ feet and said, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Lk 5:8). This time, however, it’s a different story. “It is the Lord!” John cries out. And without a moment’s hesitation, Peter throws himself off the boat in Forrest Gump-like fashion to go and meet his risen Friend. No longer did he care for the fish or his friends or his boat. In his joy he forgot it all.
So what is it about this Man on the beach that turns Peter into such a giddy child? We are shown when they arrive at the beach. Here is the Lord of Creation, who commands even the fish of the sea, who has just recently won the most cosmic battle of history, sitting in the sand, stoking a charcoal fire, frying up a few fish and warming a loaf of bread. “Come and have breakfast,” he says (21:12). And so they sit around the fire, gazing at their divine Friend while he serves them breakfast.
This is why Jesus meant so much to Peter. In the Incarnation, God had become every bit as human as Peter, though without sin. God is no longer just an invisible, transcendent being in the sky, but a being so human that he can clean a fish, stoke a fire, and relax on the beach. The scene reminds us that the resurrection changed none of that. Jesus did not resurrect and suddenly lose his humble humanity. He is still every bit as “God-with-us” as he was in the stable. His new authority did not, in this sense, go to his head.
And still today he relates to us the same way. Though almighty, he is approachable; though holy, he speaks with sinners; though exalted, he dwells with losers; though just, he justifies the ungodly. God in Christ is altogether knowable by man. Man in Christ is altogether known by God.
Wounds - Day 11
"Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”
Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”"
Prove it! Thomas said. He wanted undeniable proof. The rest of the disciples had all seen the risen Christ, but not Thomas. Another eight days went by until Christ appeared again, this time specifically to speak to Thomas. Having, of course, heard the request for proof, Jesus gives him exactly what he asks for. “Come, Thomas, see the wounds? Touch the holes from the nails, place your hand where the spear entered.” Thomas, of course, didn’t need to touch and feel. He fell on his face and cried in confession, “My Lord and my God!”
There is much in this story worthy of note, but perhaps the most unique thing about this scene is not so much to do with Thomas, but with the resurrected body of Jesus. The holes from the nails remained. The gash from the entrance of the spear remained. Isn’t that strange? You’d expect the resurrection body to be wholly unblemished and restored. So why is it that these wounds remain, wounds that are so reminiscent of the old life?
It could be something unique to Christ himself, but the resurrected body of Christ is meant to be the basis of our hope, the promise of the resurrected body we will receive. So will our bodies have all the scars, and imperfections of this life? Even more, will our minds and hearts still carry the wounds and grief of this life? In one sense, absolutely not. In another sense, perhaps so.
Scripture sometimes refers to our present life in the body as a seed that must be buried in death (see 1 Cor 15, John 12:24). When the resurrection comes, everything that was invested in seed form will come to fruition. In the case of Christ, he sowed his crucifixion and reaped salvation for his people. The marks of the nails are no longer a cause for pain but joy. So the resurrection gives profound meaning and purpose to the lives we live in the present, since everything we do is a part of that seed that will come to fruition in the new creation.
Pete Peterson from The Rabbit Room speaks often on the meaning the resurrection gives to our life in the present. I’ll let him conclude: “In Christ, the old is not merely done away with, it is instead redeemed. Redeem means to consider something old in a new way, in light of new information. The old did not merely pass away, it passes “into” and is redefined in a new way. As Christians this is our hope…What we create in this present world, what we do, how we love and how we live, will all one day be the context for God’s new creation. We are surrounded by the metal out of which God will one day form a new heaven and a new earth. This world, this present, is the iron out of which something bigger and bolder is being wrought.”
Emmaus - Day 10
"That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?” And they stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.” And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.
So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He acted as if he were going farther, but they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem. And they found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread." - Luke 24:13-35
Let’s recount this scene again. Two disciples of Jesus were walking home after visiting Jerusalem for the Passover when they were met by the risen Christ himself. But, as was the case with Mary Magdalene, “their eyes were kept from recognizing him.” When he joined their conversation on the dusty road home they began to pour out their sorrows to this unknown Stranger, speaking of their grief over the death of the “one to redeem Israel.” He began to comfort them with the Scriptures, such that their hearts burned within them at the hope given by this holy Acquaintance. Seven miles they walked alongside Jesus, strengthened and comforted by him, without ever a clue as to his identity. And then, finally, after inviting him into their home for a hot loaf of bread, their eyes were opened, and he vanished.
Their immediate reaction was to look back over the past few hours, and find them suddenly filled with new meaning: that was the risen Christ they walked, talked, and ate with; that was the risen Christ who comforted, taught, and listened. Now it all made sense to them, and like Jacob after his dream in Genesis, they thought, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it!”
These two men are not so different from you and me, you know. We are sadly too often blinded by our circumstances to recognize the living Jesus among us! As we are comforted and encouraged through trial and suffering, there he is! As we wrestle with our own depravity, there he is! As we go through an ordinary day of work and play and dinner and sleep, there he is!
Even if we have a hard time seeing him with us now (as the two disciples in this story), make no mistake, we will one day look back at the story of our own lives with clearer eyes, and interpret them with new meaning. We will say, “I didn’t know that was you!” Or, “You were there, too?” Or, “No wonder my heart burned within me!”
Do you see him with you now? In the midst of the complicated mess of your life, look for him! In the relational conflict and stress that attends your day, listen for him! When you sit with a friend for a cup of coffee and a slice of pie, acknowledge him! In the breaking of bread at the Lord’s Supper, dine with him! With the eyes and ears of faith, seek and ye shall find!
Where shall I go from your Spirit?
Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me.
Mary - Day 9
"But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her." - John 20:11-18
I have always found it bewildering that Mary Magdalene mistook Jesus to be the gardener. Why couldn’t she recognize him? In fact, the resurrection narratives contain much to be bewildered by. Rather than dispel this mystery (which is a part of worship, after all), let’s leave it alone and take a look at the way Jesus reveals himself to his grieving friend.
Not with an earthquake or a blinding light, but by the mere whisper of her name: “Mary.” That’s all, and her eyes were opened to see the Truth. Why her name? Why did that, above all things, reveal his identity? We would do well to think of Jesus’ words earlier in John, when, referring to himself as the Good Shepherd, Jesus said, “The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out” (Jn 10:3). The scene before us is nothing less than Jesus calling a sheep by name, and that sheep recognizing both its own name and the voice of its Shepherd.
Jesus knows Mary in a way that even Mary doesn’t know Mary. And it is with this divine intimacy that he pronounces her name. And it is with that same divine intimacy that he calls our names, an intimacy that is entirely familiar with us: our conception and birth, our first sins and first steps, the deep wounds beneath our shallow words, the ugly sins behind our pretty masks, the fears and hopes we’ve held since childhood. But the thing that makes his calling irresistible is that, in spite of his familiarity with our sin and weakness, it is spoken in a tone of grace that bids us come as we are.
Mary knew there was only one person in the world who could speak to her like that – her Shepherd, her Teacher. She turns to him in complete shock and cries in her native language, “Rabboni!” And by his next words, it would seem that in her joy she couldn’t help but leap upon him in an embrace. His words may sound harsh, “Don’t cling to me,” but his reasoning is profound: “for I have not yet ascended to the Father.” Then she may cling to him, when he has ascended to the throne of God.
I have heard it said, “If only I could have been there, known him in person, followed him in the flesh. Then I wouldn’t have such a hard time knowing Jesus.” This passage, however, says the very opposite. Only when he is as we know him today – invisible but made present by the Spirit and the Word – only now may we truly cling to him, in a sense that Mary Magdalene never imagined.
News: Day 8
"Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.” So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. And behold, Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.”" - Matthew 28:1-10
Did Mary Magdalene and her friends have any idea the news that awaited them at the tomb? Did they have a clue that this deepest grief into which they had fallen was about to be reversed into “great joy”? By the violent change of emotion, it would seem they were quite blind-sided by this bomb of good news.
“He has risen!” the angel announced to this group of mourning women. “What? No, can't be…can it?” A bewildered hope arose in their hearts, a wild faith that looked beyond the limp Body taken down from the cross to the power and faithfulness of God. The domesticated ears of the world would have heard this news as a sensational tabloid, but these women knew – somehow, some way, Jesus really had risen from the dead. The stone was rolled away, the tomb was empty, and there were angels loitering about saying he is alive and well.
Their belief in this good news delivered these women from their sorrow into a mysterious mixture of “fear and great joy.” Fear because they were witnesses of the holiest event in history. Joy because they could hear the voice of their Friend again. Fear because their Friend, with whom they had shared meals and stories and laughter, had just proved himself to be of divine stock. Joy because God had won – all the ungodly powers of this world that had conspired together were not able to hold his Son in the grave.
But perhaps the most fearful, joyful news of this Sunday was that the cross of Friday was, after all, a good thing. The very thing that caused such grief was now a cause of joy. The very thing that had humiliated their King now exalted him. For his death was not the end of his kingdom, but its inauguration. Apart from the resurrection, Jesus was just another martyred prophet. It was his resurrection that declared his sacrifice an acceptable payment for the sins of his people. What a fearful, joyful thing that our God can take news as terrible as the crucifixion of the Son of God and turn it into the Good News that we know it to be today. This is why the cross has for so long been the defining symbol of Christianity.
The resurrection also serves, in this sense, as the basis of Christian hope. For if even the death of God’s Son can be made into such good news, what sorrow of ours will not undergo the same transformation? Let us not doubt God’s power and promise to apply the resurrection to our own sufferings. Let us not say of a certain sorrow, “‘No future bliss can make up for it,’ not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory” (Lewis). Christ, in his risen body, is the Living Hope that one day all who believe in him will share in the blessings of his resurrection.
Tomb: Day 7
"When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who also was a disciple of Jesus. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. And Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen shroud and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had cut in the rock. And he rolled a great stone to the entrance of the tomb and went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb."
We must never forget that before the resurrection occurred, the cross was everything but victorious. Friday was everything but Good Friday. What sickness must have been in the hearts of these two women as they watched the limp body of Jesus laid in the tomb! What wind must have been knocked out of the disciples as the stone was rolled in front of the tomb! They had placed every last ounce of hope in Christ and the kingdom that he promised to establish. They had entered into Jerusalem just five days ago with their heads held high as their Master was praised with palm branches as King. And now those same heads wagged with shame over the complete humiliation of that King.
What happened? Where did things go wrong? Did evil / sin / the devil win? Why didn’t God protect his Holy One from corruption? Why didn’t God preserve the honor of his Son? Maybe Jesus wasn’t the Holy One after all. Maybe he wasn’t the Son. Maybe all this religion stuff really is just a load of bull after all.
Doubts of this nature surely passed through some, if not all, of the disciples’ minds. The overwhelming mood of the disciples before the news of the resurrection is one of complete shock. They can’t remember a thing Jesus said about coming back from the dead (Jn 20:9). All they know is that the person they had come to love above all things was gone.
We have all felt it in some measure, that void that is left when a loved one dies. The thought, “But you were just here.” The thought that just yesterday there was life in that body that is now so cold. The disciples had left everything and followed Christ. He had become their everything. And now – he was simply gone.
But there is always that disbelief, that strange hope when we lose a loved one, that we will find them still sitting in their favorite recliner when we return home, that we will see them pulling up in the driveway for a visit when we look out the window. But then, of course, we realize such hope is in vain – we’ve forgotten that our beloved is no longer there. And what grief when the realization comes!
Perhaps the disciples were experiencing the same strange “foolish” hope concerning Jesus, thinking that they would find him just around the corner chewing out a Pharisee or see him reclining at the dinner table at Lazarus’ house in Bethany. For the disciples, however, that hope wasn’t so foolish. In just another couple of days, their Beloved would, indeed, be just around the corner. He would actually be eating and drinking with them again.
Now behold, I tell you a mystery – because Jesus came back from the dead, so too may your loved one.
Intercession: Day 6
"Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments. And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”
One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, while the sun’s light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last." Luke 23:32-46
Throughout the rest of the Gospel, Jesus has forgiven sins of his own accord, but now as he is hanging from the cross, he pleads with the Father to forgive sins. Jesus clearly has the divine authority to forgive sins, so why would he now turn and ask the Father to do so?
Jesus does so in order to reveal himself as the Intercessor for sinners, the Great High Priest who pleads for the forgiveness of his guilty people. Jesus knew exactly what he was doing, fulfilling a line found in Isaiah 53:12: “Yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors.”
The timing of his intercession (while suffering on the cross) is even more significant. Charles Spurgeon remarks on its importance: “The attitude of Christ when He prayed this prayer [Father, forgive them] is very noteworthy. His hands were stretched upon the transverse beam. His feet were fastened to the upright tree and there He pleaded! Silently His hands and feet were pleading and His agonized body from the very sinew and muscle pleaded with God! His sacrifice was presented complete and so it is His Cross that takes up the plea, “Father, forgive them.” O blessed Christ! It is thus that we have been forgiven, for His Sonship and His Cross have pleaded with God and have prevailed on our behalf.”
At the same time that Jesus is praying for our forgiveness, he is pouring out his blood to make that forgiveness possible. Jesus is granted the forgiveness of our sins because, as he asks, those very sins are being laid on him in his suffering. Alongside his words, his wounds plead perhaps the more loudly, for by his wounds he answers his own prayer.
And don’t forget that when Jesus said this, he was looking down on a Roman soldier whose hand still held the hammer that nailed him to the cross. He was looking down on his own people that praised him a week earlier, only to curse him now as a fraud and a failure. These are the kinds of people on whose behalf Jesus pleads. Likewise for you, reader, no matter if you hold a hammer in your hands or bear a curse on your lips, forgiveness is offered to you – reach out and take it! Take it from One who will not only make intercession for you but will become your intercession by his own blood. Whether you are as unfit for the kingdom as the thief next to Jesus or as unworthy as the soldiers below him, receive the offer of pardon ratified by his blood!
Caesar: Day 5
"Then Pilate took Jesus and flogged him. And the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head and arrayed him in a purple robe. They came up to him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and struck him with their hands. Pilate went out again and said to them, “See, I am bringing him out to you that you may know that I find no guilt in him.” So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Behold the man!” When the chief priests and the officers saw him, they cried out, “Crucify him, crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and crucify him, for I find no guilt in him.” The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has made himself the Son of God.”
From then on Pilate sought to release him, but the Jews cried out, “If you release this man, you are not Caesar’s friend. Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar.” So when Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judgment seat at a place called The Stone Pavement, and in Aramaic Gabbatha. Now it was the day of Preparation of the Passover. It was about the sixth hour. He said to the Jews, “Behold your King!” They cried out, “Away with him, away with him, crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.” So he delivered him over to them to be crucified." - John 19:1-7, 12-16
Before the eyes of the Jews stood the long-expected Messiah, the King for whom they had longed while under enemy oppression – but they couldn’t recognize him. There stood their Good Shepherd who had led them through the valley of the shadow of death, but they knew him not. There next to Pontius Pilate was the Holy One of Israel, the one in whom generation after generation had hoped for redemption, but now that he finally arrived with redemption in tow, they did not see him.
Even more tragic is that Pilate does seem to recognize him. Whether from this dialogue between Pilate and the chief priests or the “King of the Jews” sign that he hangs over Jesus’ head, Pilate has a much better idea of the identity of Jesus than the majority of Jerusalem. This is just one of many bitter ironies in Christ’s Passion that had to have been deeply painful. It is doubtful that the flogging and scourging Jesus had experienced just before this trial wounded him as deeply as this rejection by the very people he came to save.
Perhaps most ironic of all is that the purple robe and crown that he wears during the trial are, in one sense, very appropriate. He is the King, after all! He ought to wear the color of royalty and have a crown adorning his temples. But of course, it’s all too clear that he was not given this robe and crown because he was actually considered royalty. Just the opposite, the Roman soldiers gave him this regal garb to show what a complete joke of a king they considered him to be.
No one has described this irony better than the great hymnist Isaac Watts, when he asked,
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet
or thorns compose so rich a crown?
This is why Jesus is more worthy of honor than any earthly king, this is why he is worthy of worship: because he was willing to wear the crown of thorns rather than the crown he deserved, so that his people – yes, the very ones who twisted the thorns together – might be changed from the villains that we are into the saints of God. Have you ever known a Caesar to do such a thing? Of course not.
Still today, we face the same choice as the crowd did on that day with Pilate. It is the most important “election” of a ruler you will ever participate in. You have only two choices for King: Christ or Caesar. With whom does your loyalty lie? Either crucify Christ and side with Caesar, or be crucified along with Christ by Caesar’s soldiers. Who is worth your worship, your life, and your devotion – the gods who have the power to crucify or the God who chooses to be crucified in your place and has the power to resurrect afterwards? Don’t let appearances deceive you. Behold, your King!
This blog is written by the authors of Cypress Press, meant for the creative illustration and application of God's Word.