|Series Theme: Living with Uncertainty|
PART THREE: The Last Week
‘Living with Uncertainty' Meditations:
22. Plans Misfiring? Palm Sunday
Jn 12:13 They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the king of Israel!'
Mt 21:4,5 This took place to fulfil what was spoken through the prophet: ‘Say to Daughter Zion, “See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey,
A Roller-Coaster Builds: The sabbath has passed. Jesus prepares to enter Jerusalem in a provocatively prophetic manner – on a donkey. The synoptics describe how he sent his disciples to procure the donkey. He then mounts it and rides from Bethany to Jerusalem. As he approaches, the crowd build: “The next day the great crowd that had come for the festival heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem.” (Jn 12:12) The word has got out that Jesus is coming. Luke records, “When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen.” (Lk 19:37) The euphoria builds. John again adds, “Now the crowd that was with him when he called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to spread the word. Many people, because they had heard that he had performed this sign, went out to meet him.” (Jn 12:17,18) The testimony about the raising of Lazarus inflames the excitement. Something is about to happen. Two studies back I used the modern illustration from a Crocodile Dundee film of how these crowds and the accompanying excitement built. And so it is here.
Background Prophetic Fuel: But there is an added ingredient that could act as petrol on an already burning fire – the prophetic dimension that most Jews would have been taught in Synagogue, as Matthew records what was happening, especially in the light of Jesus riding on a donkey, “ This took place to fulfil what was spoken through the prophet: ‘Say to Daughter Zion, “See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”' (Mt 21:5,6 quoting Zech 9:9) Zechariah had spoken of a ‘king' coming to deliver Israel. Thus John records the people picking up on this: “They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the king of Israel!” Wow! It's happening, the Messiah is coming to deliver us! This miracle worker who has power over life and death must be the Messiah and, see, he is coming on a donkey to fulfil the prophecies. So the crowd cut palm leaves and lay a carpet for the conquering king to ride over. This surely must be it! Watch out Romans we're coming for you!
Anti-Climax: And so he rides into Jerusalem, entering by the east gate. Views differ on the layout of Jerusalem in those days but the crowd expect him to aim for the Antonia Fortress, the barracks of the Roman forces, but instead he enters the Temple precincts. What is happening? Is he going to call on God to come down and deliver them from Rome? The following crowd would be full of expectations, but instead, “Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple courts. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.” (Mk 11:11) Anti-climax! The euphoria subsides at the end of the day. Both the Jewish and Roman authorities breathe a sigh of relief.
Uncertainties: Everything about this day has been uncertain and it all hinges on what Jesus intends to do. The way he entered the city looked like he was proclaiming himself the royal deliverer, and yet he simply goes in, looks around and then leaves. It seems like the entry was just a prophetic set-piece to set everyone thinking. His followers thought it was the time of delivery, but at the end of the day, it's just another runup day to the feast. But again it is John who lets us in on what the disciples themselves were thinking about: “At first his disciples did not understand all this. Only after Jesus was glorified did they realise that these things had been written about him and that these things had been done to him.” (Jn 12:16) Hold onto that; they did not understand what Jesus was doing.
From our vantage point we can see that he was just stoking the fire of opposition; they had no such understanding. But what about Jesus himself? He continues to bring teaching – about a seed having to die? We see it, but they couldn't. But Jesus is not feeling easy with it. There on this Sunday he declares, “ ‘Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? “Father, save me from this hour”? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!” (Jn 12:27,28a) The human side of Jesus echoes what he will pray later in the week, in the Garden of Gethsemane. This is not something to be relished, this thing he knows has got to happen, and because it is so difficult, the Father brings encouragement: “Then a voice came from heaven, ‘I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.' The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him.” (Jn 12:28b,29) He continues teaching and then, “When he had finished speaking, Jesus left and hid himself from them.” (Jn 12:36) He purposely removes himself from the stage, so to speak, and the crowd are left leaderless. Peace descends on the city at the end of the day as darkness comes, but no doubt they were many hushed and not so hushed conversations about the affairs of the day and no doubt, for the reasons we have seen, there were many speculations as to what would follow – and most of them were wrong!
And Us? If the disciples were unclear what was happening and the crowd certainly were, I am sure we would have been as well if we had been there. But we see here something that I believe comes throughout the entire Bible that might be expressed in four propositions:
i) God is an initiator; He is the one who always takes the lead.
ii) He knows everything that is going on, what could happen, and what will happen, and He has plans laid out from before the foundation for the world that will not change.
iii) Those plans involve us, even though much of the time we are uncertain or confused, not seeing the whole picture, jumping to wrong conclusions and so on, and He will use us as much as we are available to Him.
iv) Those plans also involve the rest of the world so He will even make use of the wrong attitudes and actions of unbelievers.
Get those things clearly in your mind and worship Him, especially as we approach this Easter where the certain plans of the Godhead WILL be worked out just as the Godhead agreed them even before Creation. Rest in His sovereign knowledge and wisdom, power and authority, as well as His love, grace and mercy. These are amazing times.
‘Living with Uncertainty' Meditations: 23. Shock
Mk 11:15 On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple courts and began driving out those who were buying and selling there.
And so: It's a new day. Every day with the Master is a new day; you never know what is coming next. Yesterday was excitement as we followed him into Jerusalem as he rode on a donkey and the crowds welcomed him and called him king. We went into the temple, looked around and left. Some days we travel, some days we stay in one place, some days we see no one, some days we see many people. It seems, here outside Jerusalem, it's going to be a people day, staying here in Bethany waiting for Passover to come. In Jerusalem yesterday it was a people day, crowds shouting in the morning and then gradually in the confines of the city it was quieter. The master was talking quietly with us when Andrew came up – Andrew tells that Philip had had some Greek-Jews visiting for the Passover who had stopped him and asked if it would be all right to talk with the Master (Jn 12:20-22). People. But then we left the city and walked back to Bethany where we stayed overnight, and so here it is, Monday, a new day. It looks like the Master is getting ready to go back into Jerusalem.
Funny thing happened on the way back in: he stopped by a fig tree but because it didn't have any fruit on it, he cursed it and it died. (Mk 11:12-14, 20,21) Arriving in Jerusalem it was clear he was going back to the temple and when he entered he caused a riot by turning over the tables of the money-changers and the sellers of doves for sacrifice and bellowed at them all, “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations'? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.” (Mk 11:17) His anger was great and the traders just protested feebly but it was clear the temple authorities were furious. I don't know what got into the Master. I mean he saw it all yesterday but didn't do anything about it, and he's seen it before. In fact, as I come to think about it, he did the same thing three years ago when he was starting his ministry (Jn 2:13-17), but it seems he's being purposely provocative, almost like he's working on an agenda to upset the authorities, what with coming in with the crowds yesterday and now this! He sometimes says or does thing that are hard to understand. I remember at that first time, the Jews got really upset and challenged him and demanded he reveal his authority for doing it by performing a sign (Jn 2:18) and all he said was, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” (Jn 2:19) I tell you that had them confused – me to if I'm honest. I mean what did that mean? I don't know what this present action is going to do. The people obviously love him and they seem to be rejoicing in him upsetting this mockery of religion, but it's equally obvious the authorities are getting more and more upset.
Following: “The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching.” (Mk 11:18) “When evening came, Jesus and his disciples ] went out of the city.” (Mk 11:19)
What if? To try and get into what is going on here, I want to ponder for a moment or two on what the disciples must have been thinking about all that was happening. They had surely been to Passover with Jesus on previous years and so there would have been a certain familiarity about going up to Jerusalem for this Feast. However it was the events we have been following which made it different. What if, back in Bethany, early in the morning, Jesus had got the twelve together and, in modern language, said, “Guys, I'm thinking of going into town today to clear out the temple.” Some furrowed brows, some lightening of spirits.
Disciple Responses? I have a feeling (and this is only speculation remember) that somehow Peter would have felt protective of Jesus and would not think it was a smart idea. Perhaps he would remember back to when he had challenged Jesus over his death talk (Mt 16:21-23). Maybe that challenge back then had not be so much that it just won't happen as more I won't let it happen to you. Anything now that puts Jesus under threat, he's going to be against. James and John? Maybe they were still smarting a bit at having been rebuked by Jesus when they suggested calling down fire on the Samaritans who had rejected Jesus (Lk 9:52-55) and had the feeling now, “Oh, come on Lord, one law for you, another for us. We can't do something violent but you can?” Maybe there was Judas, whose mind was confused, possibly wanting Jesus to reveal himself as king, and was ready to let him provoke such a declaration, or provoke it himself? Or, of course, there was the one of the twelve simply known as ‘Simon the zealot' (Mt 10:4) whose background would have been as a member of the party simply known as the Zealots, who were actively against Roman rule; perhaps he is thinking, “Awesome, Master, you've come round to my way of thinking. Go for it. But hold on that's against the Jews not the Romans. What's the point?”
And Us? The thing is, we all come to the crises of life with different agendas formulated by different backgrounds and different experiences. For us as Christians we come to these things with different understanding of Scripture. Some of us hold the “turn the other cheek,” attitude to the wrongs of the world – let them do their thing and God will sort it, all we've got to do is hold a right attitude – while others hold the ‘salt attitude' – we're to be changing the world, purifying it and sometimes that means we demonstrate, protest and so on. It is never an easy path to walk. It is perhaps easy to say, “Just listen to God and only do what He says,” which is the path I would prefer to take, but that can be a cop-out for doing nothing, it is not always easy to glean the will of God. As I had to text a friend the other day who was worrying about the part they had to play in the midst of the immense complexities of the 2020 Coronavirus Pandemic, “The complexities of the present often mean that we can only pray and then act and just trust in Him that He will be there for us in it, whatever the outcome.” If we get it wrong then we may have to appeal for forgiveness through the Cross, if we get it wrong we may upset other people, but if we get it right, whatever the outcome, we will have a sense that somehow we have managed to conform to the will of God.
Back to Jesus: The fact is Jesus said he always did what he did, following the Father's guidance. He knew the big picture that the Godhead had agreed upon before the foundation of the world, that he would come, reveal the Father and then die for the sins of the world. How that death would be procured – through the sinful acts of mankind against the perfect Son of God – starts being seen as the events we have been following are rolled out. It involved, on Jesus' part, doing good, teaching the people, healing the sick and raising the dead AND correcting wrongs – the wrong use of the Temple. All those things collectively raised the ire of sinful mankind in its many forms, to eventually take him and kill him. Thus they will, without realising it, offer the sacrifice of the Lamb of God, and progress the will of God to eventually bring glory to the Father and reconciliation of those who would hear and respond. Today's events have been part of that. Much to think about, but at the end of it, realise we are each part of the plans and purposes of God that are being worked out this very day. We may not understand them but our part is to listen, respond, act and trust, as imperfect as we sometimes feel that is. Be blessed in this day. Amen.
‘Living with Uncertainty' Meditations:
24. Teaching and confrontation
Lk 19:47,48 Every day he was teaching at the temple. But the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the leaders among the people were trying to kill him. Yet they could not find any way to do it, because all the people hung on his words.”
Hostile Background: It's Tuesday. However it is difficult to know exactly which day was which – late Monday through to early Thursday – but one thing is clear, Jesus used this time to teach and I want us to see what he taught and what effect it had. But before we do that I want to remind us of the strength of the hostile opposition that was there brewing in the background and to see that as the context into which Jesus taught.
If we may go back again to the weeks beforehand and the Lazarus incident, note again that the disciples had then this awareness of this hostile opposition. When Jesus had suggested they leave Piraeus and return to Judea the disciples had responded with, “But Rabbi, a short while ago the Jews there tried to stone you, and yet you are going back?” (Jn 11:8) and so a minute later when Thomas said, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” (Jn 11:16) that was almost a realistic fatalism, facing what could actually happen.
The result of the miracle was that the chief priests at the temple and the Pharisees got together and declared their dilemma: “Here is this man performing many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation.” (Jn 11:47,48) They feared that Jesus would cause an uprising and if that happened all the might of Rome might fall on Israel. Caiaphas the high priest that year (12:49) prophesies about how it is better for one man to die to save the nation and from that point on their hostility hardens, “So from that day on they plotted to take his life.” (v.53) THAT is the intensity of the hostile opposition that faces Jesus if he returns to Jerusalem and, indeed, “the chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that anyone who found out where Jesus was should report it so that they might arrest him.” (v.53) Bear that in mind as we try to follow what happened in the next few days.
To the Temple: Watch the different groups who come to attack Jesus in the temple precincts. In Matthew, chapter 21, we have the triumphal entry to Jerusalem and then as it moves on, coming to this day, “Jesus entered the temple courts, and, while he was teaching , the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him. “By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked. “And who gave you this authority?” (Mt 21:23) His answer, using John the Baptist, floors them (v.24-27) Teaching and conflict no.1 – almost before he has started teaching.
But he then challenges these ‘chief priests and elders', “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.” (Mt 21:31,32) He confronts them with their unbelief that had been seen in their negative response to the prophet God had sent them. He then tells a parable about a vineyard owner and concludes, “Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit,” (Mt 21:43) and Matthew adds, “When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard Jesus' parables, they knew he was talking about them. They looked for a way to arrest him, but they were afraid of the crowd because the people held that he was a prophet.” (Mt 21:45,46) Ongoing conflict no.2. Their anger is so great it is only the fear of the people that stops them arresting him then and there.
He then, presumably still in their presence, tells a parable about a wedding banquet (Mt 22:1-14) after which we read, “Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words.” (v.15) How did they do that? “They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians ,” and asked him about paying taxes to Caesar. Jesus again floors them with his wisdom (v.21) so, “When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away.” Conflict no. 3. Jesus 3, elders nil. Then it was the turn of the Sadducees to come and trap him (and remember the chief priests of the temple were all Sadducees) and he deals with them with, “ You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. ” (22:23-32) Conflict no. 4. Jesus 4, others nil. Seeing the Sadducees beaten the Pharisees have another go at him (22:34-40). Then Jesus takes the battle to them: “While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, “What do you think about the Messiah? Whose son is he?” (22:41,42) He again corrects them (v.42-46) Conflict no.5. Jesus 5, others nil.
But it continues, but now it is Jesus taking the initiative: ” Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach.” (Mt 23:1-3) He is rubbing salt into their wounds by directly speaking to the crowds about them. Then we come to his famous ‘seven woes' directed at the teachers of the law and the Pharisees (v.13,15,16,23,25,27,29). Listen to what he calls them: hypocrites (v.15,23,25,27,29), blind guides (v.16,24), blind fools (v.17), blind men (v.19), snakes, brood of vipers (v.33). No mincing words here! Note that v.34-39 turn prophetic as he warns of the judgment that will fall on them for rejecting God's messengers.
Into chapter 24 we see, “Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings.” (v.1) Jesus takes this opportunity to warn that the glorious temple built by Herod (hence the involvement of the Herodians) will be utterly destroyed, which of course happened in AD70. Chapter 24 is a listing of the things that will happen up to the Last Times.
And So? So what have we seen? We have seen Jesus boldly returning to the temple precincts to teach and even before he gets under way he is challenged as to why he is there. Five times we see the various groupings attack him and five times they are defeated. As they skulk away, Jesus seems to call after them, denouncing them seven times for their errors and their unbelief. This is all happening right outside the area where, only a day or so back he had stormed into the temple, taken authority and overthrown the market there. No doubt his actions and the words would have pleased the ordinary people but we have seen various groups of the powerful heart of Judaism been made to look fools and loudly rebuked – the chief priests, the elders, the scribes and teachers of the Law, the Pharisees, the Sadducees and the Herodians – no one gets missed out.
The religious establishment is being held to account and it is not a pretty sight! They are shown up for all of their hypocrisy and self-concern and error. If they hadn't been seething before, against Jesus, they certainly would be now! It is as if Jesus takes these last few days, not merely to build up the hostility against him to provoke his death, but also to reveal in absolute clarity the bankrupt nature of ‘religion' that is not utterly God centred. It is this that is going to rise up and have him destroyed. For centuries, as we see the history of Israel, the nation and individuals had again and again and again fallen away from God, from their calling, from their inheritance, and now it comes to a head. They are about the reject the Son of God, just like Jesus had indirectly prophesied in his Parable of the Tenants (Mt 21:33-41)
And Us: It is easy to be intellectual about this and exalt over Jesus control and purpose in these accounts, but remember, at the heart of it he is challenging ‘religion' and unbelief. The apostle Paul in his writings warned us Gentile believers not to countenance unbelief otherwise we will suffer the same ends as his people (see Rom 11:13-22). The warnings are there to check ourselves and the reality of our faith. May we not fail the inspection.
‘Living with Uncertainty' Meditations: 25. Awareness and Schemes
Mt 26:1,2 When Jesus had finished saying all these things, he said to his disciples, “As you know, the Passover is two days away—and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.”
Awareness & Plots: It's Tuesday still and at the beginning of chapter 26 Matthew tells of yet another of those times when Jesus speaks of his death, which we have seen a number of times before (see Mt 16:21, 17:22,23, 20:17-19). Matthew makes no comment on how the disciples receive this, but the main point is the clarity and determination of the Son of God: he knows what is coming.
But then Matthew shows us how the means of bringing this about is coming along: “When the chief priests and the elders of the people assembled in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, and they schemed to arrest Jesus secretly and kill him. “But not during the festival,” they said, “or there may be a riot among the people.” (Mt 26:3-5) The plan is twofold: to have him arrested and then, somehow, killed. I add the ‘somehow' because although it is not stated they do not have the legal power to do it; they will need the collaboration of the Roman authorities.
Stepping Back: But then Matthew (and I have warned previously that where it suits his purpose Matthew does step out of the chronological order) steps back to the previous days, which in Study no.20 we identified as the previous Friday, and takes us to the meal we considered previously, but Matthew does it for a reason. Note what happened: at the meal, a woman comes and anoints Jesus. When some complain about the waste of money, Jesus challenges them: “Aware of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.” (Mt 26:10-12) In Study No.17 we saw that (from John 12) this was Mary, but again perhaps because the family was still alive when Matthew wrote he spared them the publicity by not naming her. The point Matthew makes is that Jesus took this opportunity YET AGAIN to refer to his impending death.
Betrayal Plans: It is difficult to tell exactly when it happened but sometime in this run-up to Passover period – possibly Tuesday, possibly Wednesday – in direct contrast to this beautiful thing, one of the disciples is doing a distinctly unbeautiful thing: “Now the Festival of Unleavened Bread, called the Passover, was approaching, and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were looking for some way to get rid of Jesus, for they were afraid of the people. Then Satan entered Judas, called Iscariot, one of the Twelve. And Judas went to the chief priests and the officers of the temple guard and discussed with them how he might betray Jesus. They were delighted and agreed to give him money. He consented and watched for an opportunity to hand Jesus over to them when no crowd was present.” (Lk 22:1-6) Now I am suggesting the betrayal arrangements came this late on (it may have been slightly earlier) because we have read a number of times that the authorities were plotting Jesus arrest and death and yet were fearful of the people and also wanted to avoid the Feast. It Judas had come to them a lot earlier, we would not have those records of the frustrated plot, they would simply be at peace knowing that at the appropriate time Judas would be there for them.
Recap: And so as the Passover and the ongoing Feast of Unleavened Bread rapidly approaches the days have been filled with significant events:
Friday – the meal at Bethany where Jesus is anointed for death.
Saturday – a day for quiet refocusing on the Father.
Sunday – the triumphal entry to Jerusalem
Monday – overturning the Temple market and start of teaching
Tuesday – teaching that confronts and upset the various opposition groups.
Tuesday/Wednesday – further teaching and Jesus restating his coming death, while Judas agrees with the already scheming and plotting authorities that he will, at an appropriate time, give Jesus over to them and (assumed) do it in such a way that the rest of the world does not see it!
Awareness: Again let's just draw out what is going on in the minds of the various players:
Jesus: continues on as if everything is normal but is patently aware of his impending death and uses the time to be with his friends and his disciples, and then to teach in the temple precincts.
Mary: How aware she is of the significance of what she does is not stated but Jesus describes it as a prophetic anointing, preparing his body for death and burial.
The Disciples generally: From their later responses at the Last Supper, we can assume they still struggle with the idea of Jesus' death so just get on with their daily activities as part of the band with Jesus, doing things as required by him (e.g. getting a donkey for him to ride into Jerusalem, preparing the Passover meal shortly, etc.).
Judas: the character of Judas has apparently always been questionable and John brands him as a thief (Jn 12:6) as well as a betrayer that he is shown to be. We don't really know exactly why it was he agreed to betray Jesus, apart from being Satanically inspired (Lk 22:3), whether he was seeking to provoke Jesus to come out into the open as a rebellious Messiah, or some other lesser motive, we just don't know, but something unpleasant is going on in his mind during this time.
The Jewish Authorities: No question about this, they are all out to get Jesus and that means death for him!
And So? This is a series about uncertainty and I think I suggested early on that the Easter story is all about uncertainty, so let's go through the key people again and identify just where they were in this:
Jesus: absolutely certain what was to happen, not feeling humanly good about it but certain it would happen.
The Disciples: Certain that Jesus is great but totally uncertain about his words predicting his death. In themselves they are certain it cannot happen. Uncertain about the things Jesus is doing – entering the city as a king, upsetting the Temple market, provoking all the opposition in his teaching.
The Jewish Authorities: Certain they are going to get Jesus but uncertain about exactly how and when that will happen.
And Us? So much of the time we like to convey certainty of belief, in who we are, in who we know Jesus is, in what the Bible teaches – but those are on the good days! Like the disciples we can join in, celebrate and worship when the Lord is doing great stuff and we hear amazing teaching, participate in great worship, even see some wonderful healings – yes those are the good days. And then come the days of grey cloud, drizzle, rain, cold, spiritually speaking at least, days when things aren't going well, days when the Lord seems distant, days when the cries and anguish of the psalmist resonate with us – those are the days of fighting off doubts and fear, days or wondering and uncertainty. That is just life in this fallen world, a complete and complex mix. The key to growing up, to maturing, is learning how to handle both. Yes, let's fully join in the celebrations and relish the wonder of the good days, but let's also learn to grab for his grace on the bad days. Uncertainty is part of the package, but so it grace and there is plenty of both! Be blessed.
‘Living with Uncertainty' Meditations:
26. The Runaway Train - Thursday
Lk 22:7 Then came the day of Unleavened Bread on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed.
Approach: It's Thursday. I have been tempted, because so much happens this day, to spread it over two days but felt if we were to catch something of this day we need to pile it all in together. It strikes me that it is like a runaway train, flashing through the countryside so we almost miss everything we're passing. Perhaps it would be best to simply itemise the things that took place and leave you to look them up yourself. Let's start from, “Each day Jesus was teaching at the temple, and each evening he went out to spend the night on the hill called the Mount of Olives.” (Lk21:37)
- THE MEAL
- Jesus sends his disciples to prepare the Passover meal (Mt 26:17-19)
- in the evening (v.20, Mk 14:17) they participate in the Last Supper.
- Jesus washes the disciples' feet (Jn 13:1-12)
- Jesus declares one of them will betray him (Mt 26:21)
- Jesus instigates what we call Communion, The Lord's Supper, etc. (Mt 26:26-28)
- Judas slips out (Jn 13:30) to convey Jesus' intentions and prepare the arresting force.
- Jesus predicts they will all fall away but he will rise again (Mt 26:31,32)
- Jesus predicts Peter will deny him three times (Mt 26:33-35)
- Jesus gives extensive teaching (Jn 14-16)
- Jesus prays (Jn 17)
- THE GARDEN
- They go out to the Garden of Gethsemane outside the city (Jn 18:1, Mt 26:36)
- There Jesus prays three times while the disciples keep falling asleep (Mt 26:36-44)
- THE ARREST
- Judas, knowing where Jesus would be (Jn 18:2) arrives with the arresting party (Mt 26:47-50)
- When Jesus reveals himself, the whole arresting group fall back and down (Jn18:6)
- One of the group, Peter (Jn 18:10) lashes out with his sword taking off the ear of a servant (Mt 26:51) but Jesus heals him (Lk 22:51 – notice it is Dr. Luke who picks up on this detail!)
- one of the party, a young man flees (Mk 14:51,52 – thought to be Mark who wrote for Peter)
- the rest of the disciples flee (Mk 14:50)
- They take Jesus to the High Priest's palace (Mt 26:57)
- Peter follows at a distance and his threefold denial takes place. (Mk 14:66-72)
- the mock trial takes place through the night, through what we would call Thursday night, Friday morning, but from Thursday sunset to Friday sunset is Passover.
Confusion: In formulating the list above, I have included at least twenty items, all things that occurred on this Thursday, starting from their return from overnight on the Mount of Olives, possibly back to the temple precincts and maybe some more teaching, preparations for the evening meal, probably taken after sunset, the meal and all the conversation that went with it, two lots of prayers, the betrayal and arrest and the denials. Yet, again, we must ascertain what was going on in people's minds:
- For Jesus it was time of absolute certainty, knowing exactly what would happen and who would react in the way they did, and never losing control.
- For the disciples generally, they are in the heart of the storm. It started off like an ordinary day except Passover was about to happen. How would it happen? Jesus directed them. Before the meal Jesus insists on washing their feet. Peter, in particular, found this especially confusing. They lounge around participating in the meal and then Jesus starts speaking of his death again. They must be struggling to take it in still. As we've seen from John's detailed account of the teaching at the Last Supper, Jesus again and again refers to his departure. They are still confused and various questions are asked. Then Jesus starts predicting that one of them would betray him. Uncertainty. Who? Then he predicts Peter will deny him three times. Uncertainty. Peter is almost heartbroken at the thought. The he predicts they will all fall away and desert him. Uncertainty. Surely not! He prays some things that must have left them even more confused in its nature (Jn 17 – read it and think about it from their viewpoint then.)
They follow him to the Garden of Gethsemane and he asks them to stay awake while he prays. They cannot and I guess felt bad about that. But it is late in the evening and they are no doubt tired and coming into constant semi-wakefulness they will be bleary eyed and muzzy-headed. Then there are voices and lights and the shambles of the arrest take place. The disciples flee in terror but Peter and John follow the arresting party at a distance. It is the middle of the night. They are confused, frightened and fearful of where this might end. It is the most terrible night of their lives. The word ‘uncertainty' cannot do justice to all they feel. They mostly hide away behind locked doors. Are the authorities going to come hunting for them? They are ordinary guys facing the might of institutional Judaism and maybe even the Roman authorities. What is going to happen to us?
- For the authorities, it must be exactly the opposite to the experience of the disciples. Whereas their day had started off without problems but turned worse the further on it went into the night, for the authorities their uncertainty earlier in the day, about how and when they could arrest Jesus, gave way to certainty when Judas turned up with the information where Jesus could later be found, and agree to go along in the dark with the arresting party to identify Jesus in the half light of lanterns.
- And for God the Father? Here is someone who is rarely considered, but let's speculate here, for that is all we can do. This is the Father who had led His Son on earth for three wonderful years, bringing good into this fallen world, day in, day out. This is the Father who had spoken His words of approval of His Son audibly more than once. This is the Father who delighted in His Son, the only one who could truly understand the wonder of who this being referred to as ‘Jesus of Nazareth' was, His divine Son who had put off his heavenly glory to live as a human on earth. And now that plan, formulated from before the foundation of the world, was coming to its awful climax. Two terrible things have got to happen. His Son in human guise is to experience the ghastliest death experience mankind has devised with all the physical agony that that would involve, made worse by the emotional sense of rejection as he is abandoned to his fate. And yet something far worse is to happen, but that we will leave to the next study with all it entails. The Father's heart must be breaking for His Son and it's going to get worse.
And Us? I'm not sure, having run through these things above, if I can make any further comment. Perhaps without sounding too trite, I can just sum up by saying we have been reading what the apostle Peter summed up: “This man was handed over to you by God's deliberate plan and foreknowledge and you, with the help of wicked men….” (Acts 2:23) There was no other way the Son of God could die for your sins and mine. Let's be staggeringly thankful in the midst of whatever other emotions we may have as we ponder these things. Enough said.
‘Living with Uncertainty' Meditations: 27. Catastrophe - Friday
Jn 19:6 Pilate answered, “You take him and crucify him. As for me, I find no basis for a charge against him.”
Approach: It's early Friday morning. The historian Max Hastings wrote a book entitled ‘Catastrophe', detailing the First World War and then a subsequent one detailing the Second World War, entitled, ‘All Hell Breaks Loose'. They are sobering reading and the folly of mankind is laid bare, but the description, ‘Catastrophe' and the following one, ‘All Hell Breaks Loose' are apt descriptions of what took place on this most shameful day in history. If we may, let's just itemise the things that happen in the next eighteen hours. It's very easy to forget all that happened so let's remind ourselves:
- night, Jesus is taken first to the house of Annas (Jn 18:13) where interrogated.
- he is then sent to Caiaphas's palace being interrogated by scribes and elders (Mt 26:57, Jn 18:24))
- “chief priests and elders and all the council” (i.e. the Sanhedrin) seek false witnesses (Mt 26:59-62)
- the chief priest demands him under oath to declare if he is the Son of God (v.63)
- Jesus affirms this is so (v.64) The high priest declares this is blasphemy (v.65)
- collectively they agree this is worthy of death (v.66)
- he is abused by some there (Mk 14:65, Lk 22:63)
- the ‘trial' continues to the morning (probably daybreak) (Mt 27:1, Lk 22:66)
- they then take him to Pilate (Mt 27:2)
- Pilate interrogates him, finds no fault, offers to free him, the crowd calls for Barabbas (Mt 27:11-23)
- Pilate sends him to Herod who returns him (Lk 23:6-12)
- Pilate washes his hands of the situation and gives him over to be crucified (Mt 27:24-26)
- Jesus is beaten and mocked by the soldiers (Mt 27:27-31)
- Jesus is crucified (Mt 27:35, Lk 23:33) It is midday (Jn 19:14)
- At three o'clock in the afternoon Jesus dies (Mt 27:45-50)
- As evening approaches Joseph of Arimathea takes the body and entombs him (Mt 27:57-60)
- On Saturday, a guard is placed over the still closed tomb (Mt 27:62-66)
Detail? I am aware that a list like this skims over the events but the truth is that there is so much that it would be impossible to cover it all in all four Gospels, so I leave it to you to read the accounts. The end result is that by late afternoon on this Passover day, Jesus is dead, the Lamb of God has been sacrificed for the sin of the world. Wonderful and terrible. The wonder will come with later understanding but for the moment, on this day, it is simply terrible, a catastrophe! All hell has broken lose. How else can we explain what has taken place?
Uncertainty? How does our overall theme fit here? Well, when we look at the appalling acts of the combined Jewish authorities – and they are all implicated – their only uncertainty, their only question mark, is whether they will be able to get Pilate to agree to their demands and have Jesus executed. When Jesus is before Pilate, the procurator's initial uncertainty is Jesus' guilt, and he is fairly sure he is guilty of nothing demanding death. His secondary uncertainty is how he can let Jesus off without displeasing the Jewish authorities and possibly causing a riot. He tries suggesting releasing Jesus – or the rebel leader Barabbas – but when that offer is rejected he tries to offload his responsibility by sending him to Herod but Herod gets no further with Jesus and so sends him back. When the crowd shout that he is no friend of Caesar (Jn 19:12,15) he capitulates and gives him up to be killed. He stands in history as a moral coward and thus Jew and Gentile share in the responsibility for the death of the Son of God.
But the peak of uncertainty must be seen in the disciples. Mostly they have simply fled and hidden. Their future is questionable. Peter has denied Jesus and is now in total despair. He, the one so often seen as the leader of the twelve, is now enveloped in guilt and shame. He has no future. The apostle John and a number of the women have witnessed Jesus' death on the cross and they are in no doubt that the one they love is dead. There is a massive question mark over the future. What were these three years all about? The anguish of what they had just witnessed overshadows everything else. There appears to be no thought given to Jesus words, reiterated so many times about his coming death AND resurrection. It has all been swallowed up in the awfulness of what has just happened.
I think it is probably impossible, this side of heaven, to see and understand the absolute awfulness of this day. We can catch a glimpse of it, how wrong it was, but let's try to stretch further, remembering all the time of the wonder of who it is we have been considering – the glorious Son of God who put his glory aside and left heaven to experience life in a human body, who waited patiently thirty years until he was able to bring about the most incredible three years the world has ever witnessed, with miracles, healings, deliverances, people being raised from the dead – the love of God being poured through him on a daily basis to bless humanity.
- the disciples – who betray Jesus, abandon Jesus, deny Jesus in his time of need,
- the Jewish authorities – who take this man full of utter goodness, and scheme to have him killed because he showed up the bankruptcy of their faith and their lives and put their nation under threat (at least as they saw it), and the Jewish people who allowed themselves to be used by the authorities to raise the threat level against Pilate, and thus enable the will of the authorities to proceed,
- the Roman Procurator, Pilate, who failed to stand up to the evil confronting him and abrogated his authority and that of Rome to let his men bring about the will of Judaism.
Questions for Us? As we read the accounts of Jesus on the Cross there is a measure of uncertainty that most of us never dare go near, questions arise over the Scriptures. It is the event plus what is said about it in the rest of the Bible. Let's consider two examples:
First, how about the prophetic Psalm 22 that starts with those terrible words that Jesus uttered, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (v.1) revealing a psalm that saw behind the scenes if we may put it like that. “All who see me mock me.” (v.7 fulfilled in, for example Mk 15:31). “all my bones are out of joint.” (v.14) the experience of hanging, nailed, on a cross. But then what about, “Many bulls surround me; strong bulls of Bashan encircle me. Roaring lions that tear their prey,” (v.12,13) and “Dogs surround me, a pack of villains encircles me; they pierce my hands and my feet.” (v.16) This is not merely people, this is the demonic hoard egged on by Satan, deriding him and seeking to provoke him to curse God so that he became less than the perfect sacrifice that the prophecies and Law required. I have referred to C.S.Lewis's Narnia book, “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” before, and if you read it you will remember the mob around Aslan as he is being sacrificed. I think Lewis got it right. On the cross on this day, there is a battle going on for the fate of the world that depends on a perfect lamb remaining perfect (Ex 12:5 etc. 1 Pet 1:19, Heb 9:14) and he never gave way (Heb 4:15). Hallelujah!
Second, bearing our sins? “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness,” (1 Pet 2:24 quoting Isa 53) How many times have we perhaps heard that in Easter sermons and yet we're still not sure what it means. Bore – carried, took on himself. In other words, in some way they defies our understanding he took every sin that has ever been committed and will be committed, wrapped them round himself on the cross as he died, taking the punishment for every one of them (That is not to mean every person is cleared – we still have to believe it, appropriate it for our own lives).
And So? We collectively as humanity were guilty of this awful result. It is too easy, in the light of retrospective study with the whole of the New Testament in our hands, to say we wouldn't have been part of all of this. But whether we would have remained silent and let evil have its way, or allowed ourselves get swept along with popular opinion (stoked from behind, maybe), or whether we might have been like a later Saul of Tarsus and thought that although he was a great teacher and healer, this man needed to be stopped for the sake of our country and our belief system, whatever… we would almost certainly have been in that mix somewhere. It leaves us (well, it does me at least) praying with Jesus, “Father, forgive us, we didn't know what we were doing, we didn't understand the dynamics of what was happening. Please have mercy on us. Amen” Silence.
‘Living with Uncertainty' Meditations: 28. Silence - Saturday
Jn 16:20-22 I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn over what is going to happen to me, but the world will rejoice. You will grieve, but your grief will suddenly turn to wonderful joy. It will be like a woman suffering the pains of labour. When her child is born, her anguish gives way to joy because she has brought a new baby into the world. So you have sorrow now, but I will see you again; then you will rejoice, and no one can rob you of that joy.
A Warning: I think I have lost count of the number of times I have written that I believe one of the greatest hindrances to our being able to enter into what it must have been really like to be in any of the situations that we find in the Bible, is that we have the whole Bible, we know the end, or what followed, and that robs us of the reality. Let's see if it is possible to touch something of the reality of this day.
The Day: It's the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the 15 th day of the month of Nisan. As we noted previously, “The Lord 's Passover begins at twilight on the fourteenth day of the first month. On the fifteenth day of that month the Lord 's Festival of Unleavened Bread begins.” (Lev 23:5,6) On the fifteenth day of this month there is to be a festival; for seven days eat bread made without yeast. On the first day hold a sacred assembly and do no regular work.” (Num 28:17,18) It is the day of ‘solemn assembly', it is the Sabbath, all is quiet. Jesus is dead and buried, the disciples are shut away behind locked doors and the authorities are getting on with their business – the Jews commemorating the Sabbath, the Romans glad that the goings on of the last week are over.
Reflections: But let's stay with the disciples. Because we are told nothing in the scriptures and so we will have to speculate. So let's see if we can put ourselves in their shoes and ponder on what they might be thinking today. Yes, it will be overlaid by grief but what, I wonder, would they have been thinking?
The Wonders: Surely the immense hole in their lives now – Jesus' absence - would be so acute, so specific, because of what had gone before. Did some of them sit there in silence thinking back to the beginning of the three years, when Jesus had first approached them and called them to follow him? Did Peter think of that time when Jesus had ordered that draught of fish for him (Lk 5:1-11), and then let his mind drift to that other time when he had walked on water with the Master (Mt 14:28-31), sharing his miraculous power? Did each of them reflect back on the parts they had played as the Master weaved his magic in the world, proclaiming freedom for the prisoners, recovery of sight for the blind, setting the oppressed free and proclaiming that this was the year of the Lord's favour (Lk 4:18,19), did they reflect on how he had sent them out and they did the same things? (Mt 10:5-8, Lk 10:1,17) Did they think back just a matter of weeks to the miracle of Lazarus being raised from the dead and the furore that brought about, how it caused the crowds to come when they heard what had happened? Did they think back just a week to that triumphal entry into Jerusalem with the adoring crowds who had wanted to make him king? And now it is all gone, seeming just a dream, a hazy shadow in the midst of their grief. He is gone, it is over. What next? Do we go back to our old lives?
The Anguish: But if the wonders of what had been make it worse in his absence, how much more would their own failings pour down on them. So often David in the Psalms shows us how good we are at plumbing the depths of our own inadequacies, sense of failure, low self-esteem and so on. Very often these things are unreal, just what we feel when we may be physically low, but sometimes they have good grounds – we blew it! And on this day, was part of their anguish, not only the loss of the Master, but that thing that so often comes when we lose a loved one, self-recrimination; if only I had been more appreciative when they were here, if only I had done this or not done that? We are good at ‘internal recriminations' and no doubt we are egged on in our misery by the enemy whispering half-truths or even blatant lies into our minds. All of these things make today worse.
Did they let their minds drift back, now free from the distractions of daily events, now opened up by the silence, the inactivity, to ponder on those things the Master had said that they failed to take on board? Did they let their minds run back to the number of times in the preceding months when he prophesied about his coming death? It didn't make it any easier but it was there and if they had accepted it, would they have been better prepared to protect him and stand up for him? The number of times he had more than hinted, just two nights back, of his impending departure and they had been so slow to understand!
Did Peter sit there in abject misery remembering the Master warning them they would all fall away, and how he had brashly denied it, pointing to the rest of them and declaring, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.” (Mt 26:33) And then the Master warning him that he would deny him three times, and again his brash response, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” (v.35) but, indeed, they had all said the same thing – and look what happened, we fled just like he said we would! He knew us better than we knew ourselves, but that's how it had been throughout the three years. Then there had been that time in the garden and although he asked us to stay with him, we kept falling asleep. What a hopeless bunch we were! And then, horror of horrors, I found myself in that yard outside and that wretched girl kept on pestering me so that three times – yes, it was the three times he said it would be! – I blurted out that I didn't know him. Why did he ever call me to go with him? He must have known what I was like. And as for Judas, I don't know where he is at this moment, but surely the Master knew what he was like, surely he knew what he would do? Why did he include him in the twelve? Was it a terrible mistake?
This is a day of emptiness and anguish. The Master has gone, we have let him down and they have killed him. It is ended. What a fiasco! What a bunch we are! Yes, it was also almost certainly a day of self-recrimination. This is the view from Saturday. Who knows what Sunday will hold? And of course they didn't. Our problem is that we know so we skip over this day to get to the glory, but before the glory must come the grief: “You will grieve, but your grief will suddenly turn to wonderful joy…. you have sorrow now, but I will see you again.”
And Us? I hope something of this day has come through in these ponderings, but may I suggest, even as I hinted above, that these feelings, these recriminations, are the things we all go through at some time. It may be we feel low because of being physically, mentally or even (if we can be honest) spiritually low, all of our resources having run down. It may be we feel low because of circumstances, of things imposed upon us, but the results are always the same – we feel down. Let's interpose some truths into all of today's speculations, all of today's low feelings, and they are truths:
1. In the events we have been reading about in these last two weeks, remember Jesus is still in control, is still Lord, even if we cannot for the moment understand all that is happening.
2. If your low point, as it must have been with the disciples, is about personal failure, realise afresh that Jesus chose you knowing exactly what you are like, knowing we are all prone to getting it wrong sometimes.
3. Again, if it is all about personal failure, know he does not give up on us as we'll see in the days ahead, and he still has good things – maybe even great things – for us in the days to come.
4. As we'll see tomorrow, and we all know, this time of ‘down' is limited: “weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.” (Psa 30:5)
So today may be a day of grieving, of mourning, a day of loss, a day of failure, confusion, uncertainty and, yes, we know what is coming tomorrow, but let's look today full in the face, at the reality of the human predicament, and realise that because of the awfulness of today, the glory of tomorrow will be even more wonderful. Hallelujah!
‘Living with Uncertainty' Meditations:
29. Amazing, Incredible, Unbelievable! - Sunday
Jn 20:1 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance.
Uncertainty??????????: If you are not expecting something… no, if you know something is impossible, then if you were trying to measure the ‘uncertainty factor', on this day you would be right off the scale! At the risk of sounding tedious, but ever making this point about trying to get into the shoes of the disciples from this point of history, put aside (and I know it's impossible but imagine it) the fact that you have read Matt 28, Mk 16, Lk 24 and Jn 20 before. If you were one of the disciples, you DIDN'T know any of this. You are just shut in behind closed doors, grieving, fearful and no doubt full of guilt. And one further thing that you have learnt through life – dead men stay dead! You might have seen the Master raising the occasional person from the dead, but that was him. He's now dead, hung on a cross for hours, struggling to breath as he hung there until his body collapses, and some Roman sticks a spear in his side to make sure he was dead. No question about this; these guys are professional executioners and their lives depend on it – he's dead!
Expectancy Levels: Somebody said to me the other day that ‘hope' is a great word, but hope went out the door before sunset on Friday. When Jesus was put in a tomb and a mega-stone rolled over the entrance, what is the point of even thinking about rolling it back and taking the body out? Friday night they were all too devastated to even think about it – and what would you do with a dead body anyway? The Jewish authorities hadn't given it any thought then; it was only the next day that they thought about putting a guard on. (Mt 27:62-66)
At the end of Friday as sunset came Luke notes, “It was Preparation Day, and the Sabbath was about to begin,” (Lk 23:54) then adding in respect of the women who had wanted to bring spices, “they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment .” (Lk 23:56) No one has any expectations whatsoever now, of anything happening. But then early on Sunday morning there is a violent earthquake and the stone is rolled away (Mt 28:2), all this caused by an angel who scared the life out of the guards (Mt 28:2-4). The guards report all this to the authorities and are bribed to say the disciples stole the body (Mt 28:11-15). Confusion (and unbelief?) among the authorities. Uncertainty where Jesus' body might now be.
Further Struggles to Believe: The two Mary's who had gone to the tomb are spoken to by the angel and told that Jesus has risen (Mt 28:5-7). As they leave they meet Jesus (v.9,10). They dash back to the rest of the disciples and tell them, “But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense.” (Lk 24:11). Nevertheless Peter and John go and see for themselves that the body had gone. (Lk 24:12). Later in the day two disciples, on the way to Emmaus encounter Jesus, although they initially don't realise who it is, and return hastily to Jerusalem to tell the others (Lk 24:13-35). While they are telling them, Jesus appears with them.
Their responses to him are instructive: “They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost,” (Lk 24:37) and when he seeks to reassure them, “they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement.” (v.41) Their expectancy level, again and again, despite having been told of his resurrection by the women and then later by the two disciples returned from Emmaus, is zero. Don't be hard on them, you and I would have been the same. Dead men stay dead – even if they have prophesied this. Some things are just too hard to believe.
There is some more to come but that is for another day. This day has ended, Jesus is back but we don't know where he went after he had met them all. Uncertainty! It keeps on and there is more to come. The fact that he is back doesn't make everything great, there are still some questions to be answered, some serious conversations to be had, and we must be patient.
Certainty: But there one certainty that is impossible to deny – unless you are of the closed mind type – that Jesus has risen from the dead. If you've never come across it before, the book, “Who Moved the Stone,” by lawyer, Frank Morison, is worth a read, a very thorough and detailed assessment of all that happened with the ultimate-certainty conclusion, He is risen! One of the most compelling reasons to believe, I find, is the fact that these scared-for-their-lives disciples within a very short period are utterly fearless in their testimony that he had risen and of the remaining eleven (Judas having committed suicide), ten of them died martyrs deaths, John being the only one who died of old age, but even that after having been persecuted and sent for a time to the prison island of Patmos.
Bad Explanations: Various people over the years have sought to deny the possibility of Christ rising from the dead. One favourite was that the Jesus on the cross was a stand-in. Who would do that and would the disciples give their lives for a lie? Another favourite is that it was Jesus but he never actually died. Read again what happened to him, the awful beatings he received before being taken out, the awfulness of the crucifixion process, the spear in the side, the certainty of the Roman executioners that he was dead, being left in a cold tomb for hours, and then you expect us to belief this wreck of a body is able to walk about without causing consternation in those who met him, that he walked miles in the heat to Emmaus – and back at high speed – and again appeared fine to his followers; who are you kidding? A fourth favourite was that his body was stolen by the disciples. If you believe that you haven't been listening to the last few days, taking in this utterly dispirited bunch of disloyal, denying failures, who struggle to believe it when they meet him. These men don't have the ability to pull off such a thing – and then live and die in the face of what they know to be a lie.
All of these lame explanations actually fall at the first hurdle, and that being the required unbelief that says the whole story is a fairy-tale, and made up, and such wilful unbelief can only be put forward when the intellect is put to sleep and somehow you believe that all these writers, all these witnesses, and all the millions whose lives have been transformed by this piece of history, were utterly conned. Why should such large numbers give their very lives for such a belief if it were not true.
And So? At the end of this day our response need to be that of believing-Thomas, “My Lord and my God!” ( Jn 20:28) and if it takes a while, with him, to believe, that's all right, we'll see that next. Slow belief is better than no belief. For those who want to be secure with God, carefully read the records prayerfully, come to your own conclusions – and worship. Anything less than worship and you haven't seen the truth.
To conclude: “Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.” (Lk 1:1-4) Such clarity, such certainty.
And, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard , which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched —this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard , so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make your joy complete.” (1 Jn 1:-4) In a world of uncertainty, let this clarity, this certainty, dispel your uncertainties and rejoice in it, so that on this day we can be confident with all uncertainties swept away in this final, glorious truth: He IS risen, He us still with us! Hallelujah!