|Series Theme: Short Meditations on the Cross|
Introduction to Short Meditations for Easter on the Cross
In the series we were following we came to an appropriate point where we could pause up and come back to it in a month's time. We are in the period referred to as Lent, and Easter Sunday is in 30 days' time.
To quote the Internet, “For Western churches, Lent begins every year on Ash Wednesday, the day after Shrove Tuesday. (This year  it began on February 14 . The date varies from year to year, starting in either late February or early March. Lent is the 40 days leading up to Easter (excluding Sundays), and is treated as a period of reflection and, for some, a time for fasting.”
I am aware, looking down the list of subjects and themes we have covered in the past, that I have written on ‘Aspects of Easter', another series simply called, ‘Easter' and another on the ‘Holy Week'. However, my attention was recently drawn to the number of references in the New Testament to either the ‘cross' or to the word ‘crucifixion' and so I would like to attempt a series of short meditations on single verses that contain either of those words. I do this in fear and trepidation because this is really holy ground and verses standing on their own do not form a theology and therefore this attempt denies creating a neatly structured or systematic approach.
Each day will thus stand on its own and may or may not follow on from the previous one. Their only link is that somehow, and it may be tenuous, every verse refers to that terrible event that we remember on Good Friday. I will say no more at this point and simply let them speak for themselves and trust that by the end we will have seen a fresh focus on this key episode in the life of the Son of God.
Short Meditations for Easter on the Cross: 1. Significance
1 Cor 2:2 For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.
For many across the world, the words, ‘the Cross' or references to the crucifixion of Christ, mean little. Others attribute a mystical sense to such words, others have a vague inkling of a mystery that just eludes them. For the apostle Paul, who we find writing here to the church in Corinth , the whole matter pertaining to the Cross, to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, is of absolutely crucial importance.
I like the Message version's take on verses 1 & 2: “You'll remember, friends, that when I first came to you to let you in on God's master stroke, I didn't try to impress you with polished speeches and the latest philosophy. I deliberately kept it plain and simple: first Jesus and who he is; then Jesus and what he did—Jesus crucified.”
Paraphrase versions are so helpful aren't they. The JBP version is even more enlightening: “ You may as well know now that it was my secret determination to concentrate entirely on Jesus Christ and the fact of his death upon the cross.”
Paul's life was amazing; he was absolutely sold out to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ wherever he went and here he makes sure we understand that the heart of that message was Jesus' death on the Cross, the event we remember on Good Friday. I nearly wrote, “that we are looking forward to on Good Friday” but unlike perhaps a birthday party, this terrible event is not something to be relished. It is absolutely horrible, and in this series, I do not intend to visit the events of the Cross in any great detail; I've done that already elsewhere.
The thrust that comes punching out of this present verse is that, as far as the apostle Paul was concerned at least, whatever else we might teach about Christ (and I recently wrote a long series which I found impacted me deeply called, ‘Focus on Christ') the most crucial part of our teaching about Christ, if we are to follow in the great apostle's footsteps, has to be the Cross, has to be the crucifixion of Christ. I think we are going to see that crucifixion focuses more on the event, the fact that Christ was put to death on our behalf, while ‘the Cross' refers more what Christ was achieving through that event on our behalf. So, when Paul speaks here of Christ's crucifixion (and later on we'll see his earlier reference to ‘the message of the Cross' (1 Cor 1:18), he is saying the gospel is anchored in the death of Christ and without it there would be no gospel. It is that important and for that reason we will consider it slowly in the days ahead as we look at both the event (crucifixion) and its significance (the Cross). Pray for help as we do this for we tread on holy ground.
Short Meditations for Easter on the Cross: 2. Objectionable
1 Cor 1:23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles
Again we start our focus on the Cross, the crucifixion of Christ, through the eyes of the apostle Paul. Yesterday I suggested that we will find a distinction between the events (crucifixion) and the significance or meaning (the Cross) as we go on. For the moment we are seeing Paul's focus on the events, the actual putting to death on a cross of Jesus Christ. Yesterday we saw him saying this was absolutely at the heart of the gospel, with the implication that without it there would be no gospel. No death, no Saviour.
But here, a little earlier in his letter, we see him making an equally strong declaration, but it is in distinction to those who come from a different perspective: “Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom.” (v.22) The Jews had their Old Testament (as we would call their scrolls today) and had set views or interpretations, so demanded that Jesus perform signs to show he was their Messiah conforming with their understanding, while Greeks exalted in their wisdom or intellect and wanted reason.
For both groups, crucifixion was an anathema, a loathing. The Jews saw such a death as a proof of a cursed person (Gal 3:13) – and so no way could Jesus be the expected Messiah, the anointed and blessed of God – while the Greeks saw it as pure folly to talk about a condemned criminal being executed being a means to finding meaning and purpose in life. For both the religious and the intellectual this whole idea was preposterous.
Paul almost implies, ‘I don't care what you think, this IS God's method of bringing salvation to the world. You Jews may stumble over this, rejecting it as crass insensitivity to suggest that a crucified man can be our saviour, and you Greeks may scratch your heads and rumble on about it being pure nonsense, but this ‘crass insensitivity', this ‘pure nonsense' is the way that God has decreed to be the way people can be saved, it is the only way for meaning and purpose to be truly achieved.'
Which leaves us pondering on how we, ourselves, view the crucifixion, the Cross of Christ? Are we embarrassed by it? Do we try and convince people of their needs for a relationship with God without any reference to the Cross, the crucifixion, Jesus dying for them? Until we do include it we are preaching only half a gospel, which in truth is no gospel.
So, do we include the facts of the event – Jesus' death on a cross – and do we include the significance that we will go on to see in later studies – it was to take your sins and mine and declare us free of guilt and thus acceptable to God. That is the Gospel. Worship Him.
Short Meditations for Easter on the Cross: 3. To be endured
Heb 12:2 For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
In the first two meditations we considered how twice, as we've seen, the apostle Paul declared the vital importance of the crucifixion of Christ as the heart of the Gospel. There is also a sense within this verse from Hebrews of this same importance, but this time it was by Christ himself as perceived by the writer to the Hebrews.
There is within the words, “he endured the Cross” that same sense of its vital importance that we saw in Paul's understanding and which we sense when we see Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane as first he says to his disciples, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” (Mt 26:38) and then goes on to pray, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” (v.39)
Clearly everything human in Jesus revolted at the thing that was in front of him, his crucifixion, and if there was a way out, he would have taken it, and yet there wasn't because ultimately it was his Father's will, the will of the Godhead agreed before the foundation of the world (e.g. 1 Pet 1:20, Rev 13:8). No, he could not just walk away from it, that was not an option, but it was not a thing to be looked forward to.
Without doubt, for Jesus this experience of being abused, of being rejected, of going through agony, of being separated in awareness from the Father, and of taking into himself the awfulness of our sins, all of this was something utterly horrible, something that militated against everything that he was, something to be endured, suffered, tolerated and put up with. There was nothing romantic about what he was doing, there is nothing romantic about the Cross; it is just a vital necessity for the salvation of mankind.
But the writer to the Hebrews puts the crucifixion in context, for it is part of the divine plan but it is not the end of it, merely a stage of the plan to be endured. After the cross has got to come the resurrection (implied) and after that the ascension where he returns to heaven and again takes his place at the Father's right hand. Jesus knows that that is what will follow and that will be a time of great rejoicing as the plan of salvation has moved a stage on and the way is open for the salvation of whoever will come. It is only the wonder of that part of the plan that holds Jesus and helps his resolve as a human being to go through this terrible stage immediately ahead of him. It is a vital necessity if mankind is to be saved, and yet it is terrible, something to be endured, something ghastly to be gone through and it is only what will follow, that helps him through it. Be silent before the Lord.
Short Meditations for Easter on the Cross: 4. An Agreed Package
Mt 20:19 and will hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified.
Mocked, flogged AND crucified. The first two were bad enough without adding the crucifixion, but the Romans didn't do things by half measures – and anyway it had been agreed with the Jewish leaders that he would be put to death. That might stave off a riot.
I have added the word ‘agreed' to the title for the Godhead knew exactly what would happen when you put yourself in the hands of the harshest army on earth. This was, after all, the plan of God – and we'll come back to this because it is important to understand.
The whole ‘package' is going to include total rejection, which includes mockery, and we'll see that later as well. I suspect that the idea of flogging, which didn't leave much of a person's back intact, was a) it allowed everyone else to see what the Romans could do and, by implication, there was the threat not to cross them and b) by the time the flogging was finished the person was in no state to resist anything else they might want to do to them.
In fact, asking a man to carry the cross of his coming death was a further inhumane way of treating him. ”Carrying his own cross , he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha ).” (Jn 19:17) So weak did it leave Jesus that it became clear he wasn't going to make it to the place of execution and so Matthew adds, ”As they were going out, they met a man from Cyrene, named Simon, and they forced him to carry the cross .” (Mt 27:32) We haven't even reached the act of crucifixion yet but what we have so far is something all of us would want to avoid if humanly possible.
Now bear this in mind when we put our starter verse in its context, spoken by Jesus to his disciples: “We are going up to Jerusalem , and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!” (Mt 20:18,19)
Our temptation on hearing those words spoken at that time might be to wonder at the knowledge of the Son of God and then marvel at the declaration concerning the resurrection, and in so doing miss the terrible things he was saying. When you face the awfulness of this ‘package' declared here, the greatest wonder is that the Son of God, who would have perfectly understood the Roman procedures, could keep a straight face and not break down in tears as he spoke them, but clearly, he didn't as it still didn't impact the disciples into believing it. Pause and ponder these things and quietly utter your adoration.
Short Meditations for Easter on the Cross: 5. Passover Sacrifice
Mt 26:2 “As you know, the Passover is two days away—and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified .”
It is almost an oblique reference made by Jesus that links his death with the Passover and yet it is a very real connection. John had recorded John the Baptist's words about Jesus, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” (Jn 1:29) Later Jesus was to be identified in prophecy as a lamb who had been slain (Rev 5:6)
Now a lamb featured strongly in Israel's history having been a key feature of the original Passover, a perfect lamb to be slain by each Israelite family in Egypt and the blood smeared on the doorposts of their home so that, “The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are, and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt .” (Ex 12:13)
At the Last Supper, speaking of the wine, Jesus said, “This is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Mt 26:27,28). The blood, the lamb, his death and our salvation are all closely linked.
I have referred to this, in the title, as the Passover sacrifice for the word ‘sacrifice occurs over 350 times in scripture. A dictionary defines it as, “the act of offering the life of an animal or person or object in propitiation (appeasement) or of homage to a deity,” and the central aspect of ‘a sacrifice' is the ‘giving up' or ‘relinquishing' of life.
Although Jesus himself is not recorded as having used that term of himself (which might sound a bit self-aggrandizing if he did), the apostle Paul did (see Rom 3:25, 1 Cor 5:7, Eph 5:2) and also the writer to the Hebrews (Heb 7:27, 9:26, 10:10-12) and the apostle John (1 Jn 2:2, 4:10) It is a clear and distinctive teaching.
Now we could use this term in a forensic or legal sense and leave it at that, but we have already noted in a prior study the fact that this act was something to be endured, something which Jesus naturally shied away from as he prayed in the garden of Gethsemane, yet he taught, “I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.” (Jn 10:16,17) i.e. this was a voluntarily, sacrificial laying down of his life for us.
One cannot at this point, help remembering Pauls challenge to us: “I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice , holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.” (Rom 12:1) It is a call to similarly give up claims to our own lives and instead submit them to the will of God, not in harsh conforming to the rules, but in loving response to how we see Christ gave his life for us.
Short Meditations for Easter on the Cross: 6. Helpless
Mt 27:40 “You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!”
We said in an earlier meditation that ‘crucifixion' tends to refer the event while references to ‘the Cross' tend to refer to the significance (in theology if you like) or meaning of it, but we have to amend that for there are references that use the word ‘cross' where it is no more and no less than that physical means of killing someone, the place or means where Christ eventually (and it was an ‘eventually') died.
And thus it is in our verse above. Christ is now hanging on the wooden cross in agony and here, in this glimpse, this quick frame in history, we see something that is incredible, something I find that almost takes my breath away. It is Christ's voluntary helplessness. The same thing is implied a few verses later: “He saved others,” they said, “but he can't save himself! He's the king of Israel ! Let him come down now from the cross , and we will believe in him.” (Mt 27:42)
Just think about this, not what we know of Jesus who is the Son of God who has left heaven and come down, but Jesus the miracle worker, Jesus the caller of men. For three years and throughout the pages of the four Gospels we see Jesus in total control. He resists Satan's temptations (e.g. Mt 4:1-10), and when a crowd manhandle him out of the synagogue and go to throw him down a hill, he simply “walked right through the crowd and went on his way.” (Lk 4:30) He walks on water (e.g. Mt 14:25), he stills a storm (Mk 4:39), he heals hundreds (Mt 4:24, 12:15, 14:14 etc.) delivered from the demonic (e.g. Mt 9:33, 17:18 etc.) and he raised the dead (e.g. Lk 7:12-, 8:49-, Jn 11). He would not be cajoled into premature action (see Jn 2:3,4, 7:1-6).
No, what we see in all these examples, and we could add even more, is the Son of God in complete control of the circumstances. He IS the Son of God with all power and authority given to him, an authority which caused men to marvel (e.g. Mk 1:27) and yet, now, we find him hanging on a cross, gradually dying, with passers by (v.40) and the religious establishment (v.41,42) deriding and mocking him – and he takes it!
It has been commented upon by others that in this we see the incredible humility of God. At his arrest he held back impetuous Peter with, “Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?” (Mt 26:53) We might say all of the power and resources of heaven were at his disposal but that was not the way. Instead it was the way of total submission to the forces of evil in mankind and utter helplessness. Worship him!
Short Meditations for Easter on the Cross: 7. Exposed
Jn 19:25 Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.
When things go wrong in your life, you make a major error in judgment, or do something that turns out to be very silly, the last people you want to let know about it are your parents or your family. Your shame being exposed to them is something most of us want to avoid, and among all the other terrible things happening to Jesus as he is being slowly executed is (and yes, it is a lesser thing but nevertheless something his humanity would have preferred to avoid) the fact that his mother and her friends are all looking on.
Together with this shame (even though he has done nothing wrong) must come a sense of anguish that his mother is there having to witness the terrible thing that is happening to him and the anguish she must be feeling. Whichever way you put it, there is emotional turmoil added to this awful event by the presence of family. No doubt his mother is there out of loyalty, but it is a truly gruesome thing she has come to witness and something which will never leave her memory.
It is probable that Jesus is either hanging there naked – to truly expose and humiliate him in these terrible hours, to be seen by any an all who pass by – or he perhaps had a loin cloth, but nothing else. They would be hanging there with the heat of the sun adding to their discomfort. Everything about this experience was designed to make it as unpleasant as possible.
Psalm 22, that prophetic psalm that seems to have so many links to Jesus' death, at one point declares, “Many bulls surround me; strong bulls of Bashan encircle me. Roaring lions that tear their prey, open their mouths wide against me.” (v.12,13) Whether this refers to the deriding ones we have already referred to or speaks of the demonic hordes of Satan who would have joined in the derision but from the spiritual realms, we cannot be sure, but one thing is patently clear, Jesus is completely exposed and open to not only the gaze of all who see him – including his mother, her friends and the apostle John, those who love him – but also to the mockery and derision of every other onlooker – the thieves either side of him, the passing crowds, the temple hierarchy, and the demonic hordes.
Rejection is bad enough, exposure is even worse. It is doubly bad when we don't deserve it but when false accusations, misunderstandings and wrong judgments are dumped on you in the full sight of the whole world it is a terrible time and in Jesus' case, just one more thing designed by the enemy to demean him and bring him down. If you've known this, anguish with him.
Short Meditations for Easter on the Cross: 8. Planned (1)
Acts 13:29 When they had carried out all that was written about him, they took him down from the cross and laid him in a tomb.
We have already referred in earlier meditations to the fact of the Godhead having planned the ministry, death and resurrection of the Son of God, before the foundation of the world. In this and the next study we will consider that further.
The context for the above verse is the apostle Paul preaching to the people of Pisidian Antioch, but the thrust of this verse is about the fact that what had just happened to Jesus, happened in conformity to the many prophetic words found in the Old Testament.
For example, Psalm 22, which we have already referred to, speaks in verse 1, and catches our attention with, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (v.1) Verse 7 adds, “All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads.” Then v.15 “My mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth.” Then v.18 “ They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment.” In Psa 31:5 we find, “Into your hands I commit my spirit.” Zech 12:10 adds, “They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him.”
If you know your accounts of the crucifixion of Christ, you will know that all these old references specifically match things found in the New Testament accounts. Indeed, one cannot but believe that sometimes Jesus says the things he says on the cross, specifically to fulfil words from the Old Testament prophecies to highlight even more his messiahship. For example, “ About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”. (Mt 27:46) and, “Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last.” (Lk 23:46)
The other more general ones matching the above verses include, “When they had crucified him, they divided up his clothes by casting lots .” (Mt 25:37 and “Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” (Jn 19:28) Also note, “ But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus' side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water.” (Jn 19:33,34)
There is, therefore, no doubt that there is a correlation between Old Testament prophecies that the scribes had long pondered over, and the express fulfilments seen in the Gospels. As you look at them, wonder, marvel and worship.
Short Meditations for Easter on the Cross: 9. Planned (2)
Acts 2:23 This man was handed over to you by God's deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross .
We have mentioned it several times, but we need to look into it in detail, this fact that all that happened to Jesus was preplanned. The Godhead – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – had agreed even before the foundation of the world that these things would come about. But rather than just mention them in passing, let us make sure they are embedded in our understanding. Observe the following verses:
Jn 17:24 - you loved me before the creation of the world – speaks of Jesus with Father in a loving relationship
1 Pet 1:20 - He was chosen before the creation of the world – they agreed Jesus was the means of salvation for the world.
Eph 1:4 - For he chose us in him before the creation of the world – they agreed how we would come, and who would come.
Rev 17:8 - The inhabitants of the earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the creation of the world – they saw who would not come
Rev 13:8 - the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world – they agreed Jesus would die
2 Tim 1:9 - This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time - agreed God's grace would be given us
Tit 1:2 - eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time – they agreed he would give us eternal life
There it is, seven times (7, the perfect number) in the New Testament we have this put before us, verses that cry out to all with ears to hear, none of this was an accident, all of it was planned by God. Understand that God knew that Sin would flow from free will and with that Sin would come guilt, shame and justice crying out to be appeased. Something had to be done, all of that guilt had to be removed and the only way could be by someone – someone ‘big enough' – taking the punishment that justice demands, and that someone was the Son of God, disguised as Jesus, the carpenter from Nazareth.
But note those original words on our starter verse - God's deliberate plan and foreknowledge. This does not mean that God forced mankind to sin and it does not mean that He forced men to kill Jesus, but it does mean that He knew it would happen and how it would happen. All it needed was the circumstances being set up so that sinful man would respond and do what their sinful natures did naturally – rise up again Jesus righteousness and perfection and go to arrest, falsely try him and then execute him. The guiltless One took our guilt. Marvel & worship.
Short Meditations for Easter on the Cross: 10. Mistaken?
1 Cor 2:8 None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.
So we have just had two studies considering how the life, ministry, death and resurrection were preplanned by the Godhead before the Creation, and spoken about through the prophets in the Old Testament period, and we concluded the last one by noting that God never forced men to crucify His Son, but simply set up circumstances in which their sinfulness would come to the fore and they would then do it.
What we have here, we might say in this present verse, is the greatest sense of mistaken identity in the history of the world. Consider, here is Jesus, who comes down from heaven (see Jesus' references to this in Jn 6:35,33, 41,48,51), the all-glorious Son (see Jesus' description of himself in Jn 17:5,22,24), and “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.” (Mt 11:5), fulfilling His Father's mandate, “to proclaim good news to the poor ….to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour,” (Lk 4:18,19)
However, all they can see is a potential cause of upset and upheaval that would cause a Roman backlash: “We have found this man subverting our nation,“ (Lk 23:2) and “If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him and then the Romans will come and take way both our place and our nation.” (Jn 11:48), and blasphemy (Mt 26:65). It may seem incredible to us looking back on history, that they ignored all that Jesus was doing and rejected him yet, as Paul says in our starter verse, any person in their right mind, watching what Jesus was doing, could not help applauding the wonder of what was going on.
So what is it that blinded these men, blinded this people, both Jews and gentiles, from seeing the wonder of who he was? The answer is given by John: “Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they would not believe in him. This was to fulfil the word of Isaiah the prophet: “….. he has blinded their eyes and deadened their hearts and so they can neither see… nor understand…. Isaiah said this because he saw Jesus' glory and spoke about him.” (Jn 12:37-41)
How are eyes ‘blinded'? By people being godless and self-centred so that their vision is filled with things they want, things they feel, making assessments based on what appeals to them. Focusing on self, shuts out God and this is what these people – the crowds, the temple authorities, the scribes and the Pharisees – were all doing, and thus they failed to see Jesus' glory. How terrible.
Short Meditations for Easter on the Cross: 11. Two Stages?
Acts 5:30 The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead—whom you killed by hanging him on a cross.
There is a danger, as we view the last days of Jesus on the earth, that we compartmentalise each part of Jesus' ‘experience' on earth – born, growth, ministry, death, resurrection, ascension and, indeed, this is often helpful but it can detract from a key fact – every phase is linked and every phase is part of the overall plan that we have previously considered, the plan formulated by the Godhead before Creation.
Yet when we come to accounts of preaching in Acts, death and resurrection go hand in hand. The above quote is Peter before the Sanhedrin, and earlier on the day of Pentecost he spoke of Jesus' death (Acts 2:23) and then immediately about the resurrection (v.24). Later after healing the cripple as he speaks to the crowd, he closely links the two: “You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead.” (Acts 3:15) Still later, when speaking to the household of Cornelius, he again linked them closely: “They killed him by hanging him on a cross, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen.” (Acts 10:39,40)
In a different series recently, it crossed my mind that there could not be (and in our case cannot be) resurrection without a death. Now I don't want in any way to diminish the work of Christ on the Cross, but I do want to pick up on what comes through in these verses, that the cross was stage one of a three stage exultation of Jesus: cross – resurrection – ascension. The latter two are dependent on the first.
Those closing words in verse 40 immediately above are important, “and caused him to be seen”. If you read the apostle Paul's testimony about the number of people who saw the risen Christ (in 1 Cor 15:5-8) the word ‘appeared' is used four times. It was important that Christ was seen after he rose from the dead. This may sound obvious but think about it. As God he could have quietly risen from the dead and ascended back to heaven without anyone seeing him, but the fact is he was seen, again and again by well over five hundred people and they bore testimony (and we'll come to this in the next study) and thus Christ was vindicated, he showed that he was who he had said he was, the glorious Son of God.
Thus these two interlinked parts are vital and need to be held together: Jesus died for our sins, for our justification, but he rose from the dead – as he said he would (Mt 16:21, 17:9,23, 20:19, 26:32) – to be seen to confirm, justify and vindicate all he said he would do and thus confirm all the teaching that would follow of ‘the work of the Cross'. The resurrection confirms the purpose of the life AND the death.
Short Meditations for Easter on the Cross: 12. Confirmed
Acts 10:39 “We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a cross ,
There are those who question whether Jesus Christ ever existed as an historical figure. Well, not being unkind, but they are now part of an uneducated, ignorant group. Scholars of all shades now agree he did. Then there are those who deny he was crucified and those who said he never died, and others that he rose again (e.g. Mt 28:12-15)
Stop and think about this for a moment or two because such people need help, and you and I should have answers. Stop and think about what would have to be the greatest fraud in history, a fraud that would have had to have totally conned so many people.
As to Jesus himself: clearly an historical figure and listen to Dr. Luke, a scholar: “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.” (Lk 1:1-3) Not the words of the gullible. Four clearly different Gospel writers, all taken in by dozens of “eyewitnesses”?
As to Jesus' death: brought about by trained killers whose lives would be under threat if they messed up this job, the Roman soldiers, who knew what death looked like when they saw it. A mutilated body consigned to a cold cave for several nights; no way he is going to be walking out looking on top of the world!
As to Jesus' resurrection: family and friends who looked on as he died, men and women utterly convinced he died, and yet men who were prepared to die for their belief that he rose again, so that ten of the original twelve died as martyrs.
Who are these doubters kidding? Whatever else we might say, we have to go along with the apostle Peter as he shares his testimony with Cornelius and his household: “we are witnesses” and not just witnesses of one or two little bits of Jesus life but, “we are witnesses of everything he did,” and so he is absolutely sure: “They killed him by hanging him on a cross” and, just for the record, note how he continued: “but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen.” There it is again, as we saw it in the previous study – “caused him to be seen.” This is all about witnesses, people who saw what happened, people whose lives were transformed by what happened, and a key element was Jesus' death and resurrection, so utterly convincing that people wrote, and people lived and died. No it is only ignorance that can doubt.
Short Meditations for Easter on the Cross: 13. Regicide
Jn 19:19 Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: Jesus of Nazareth , the king of the Jews.
As we look at this verse, I suggest we need to consider two things: first, the use of that phrase, ‘king of the Jews' and then, second, the significance of it being used here.
In chronological order, we see it first in the Gospels when the ‘wise men' come asking, "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews ? (Mt 2:1,2). Next, we see Nathaniel using it directly of Jesus when he meets him: “you are the King of Israel.” (Jn 1:49). After feeding the crowds, John comments, “ Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.” (Jn 6:15).
On Palm Sunday the crowds welcome him into Jerusalem with "Blessed is the King of Israel!” (Jn 12:13).Then at his interrogation by Pilate, the governor asks him, "Are you the king of the Jews ?" "Yes, it is as you say," Jesus replied.” (Mt 27:11) Note Jesus acknowledging it.
More as an aside we should note that in the prophetic scriptures the Messiah would, “ reign on David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever .” (Isa 9:6,7) and in Psa 2, God declares of His Son, “I have installed my King on …. You are my Son;” (Psa 2:6,7) and of course there is the prophetic reference in Psa 110:1,2 echoed by the apostle Paul in 1 Cor 15:24,25.
By why is this so significant when it comes to the cross? Well, from Pilate's point of view, especially in the light of all the turmoil caused by the religious authorities beforehand, demanding Jesus' death, to put this notice over the head of Jesus was almost like Pilate declaring, “I am Governor from Rome and we Romans are the supreme power and so don't you Jews dare allow any upstart to come forward as a rebel leader to challenge my authority! If this is your king, see what we do to such pretenders”.
Of course, that was a double insult to the actual religious authorities because they were the ones who had insisted on Jesus being executed. Nevertheless, for the ordinary people it was still a real put down. Thus, Pilate was using Jesus as a poster-board – Rome rules OK!
But there is also another possibility. We have indicated above that the Messiah was to be a ruler and it was clearly there in the prophecies. So, was this action by Pilate prompted by Satan who, not foreseeing what would follow, also used it as a put-down of the Son of God as if to say, “See, all your plans have been foiled by me. I win, you lose!” Short sighted folly!
Short Meditations for Easter on the Cross: 14. Criminal & Rebel
Mt 27:38 Two rebels were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left.
There was a point of time when Jesus was with his disciples and he asked them, “Who do you say I am?” (Mt 16:15) Simon Peter came up with the amazing answer, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” (v.16)
Now in Study no.10 we saw the contrasting assessment of the religious establishment: “ “We have found this man subverting our nation,“ (Lk 23:2) and “If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him and then the Romans will come and take way both our place and our nation.” (Jn 11:48), i.e. they viewed Jesus as a rebel, an agitator who might bring the wrath of Rome down on them.
Thus, when the day of execution came, as far as they were concerned there were just three rebels hanging there. The fact that these other men being executed were rebels is again emphasised a few verses later: “ In the same way the rebels who were crucified with him also heaped insults on him (Mt 27:44)
In fact, the whole context of rebellion is added to when the Governor tried to release Jesus, using a custom that was common and we are told, “ A man called Barabbas was in prison with the insurrectionists who had committed murder in the uprising.” (Mk 14:7) and “the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have Pilate release Barabbas instead.” (v.11) How incredible! The chief priests are so determined to have Jesus killed that they incite the crowd to have a known murderer and rebel to be released instead.
What are we seeing here? We are seeing people branding Jesus with an unfair brand simply for personal expediency. It may be an emotional thing, or it may be a thing of personal pride. For the religious authorities of Jesus' day, he showed up the emptiness of their ‘system' and the absence of any spiritual authority - although they had lots of political authority! And so it was for those reasons, political expediency, that they orchestrated his death. A lowly fisherman could see him as the Messiah, the Son of God because his eyes had been opened the moment he allowed Jesus into his life (see Lk 5:3,8)
When it comes to political expediency or personal expediency, the tactic is to call Jesus names – a rebel, or ‘just a do-gooder' – and thus ignore the reality of who he is. I have read a well-known leading crusading atheist and I noted the emotion with which he spoke about his childhood and a wishy-washy religious person. Others reject Jesus because they know the moment they accept who he is, their lives will have to change as they have to then accept him as Lord.
Short Meditations for Easter on the Cross: 15. Casual
Mt 27:35 When they had crucified him, they divided up his clothes by casting lots.
As I read the Gospel accounts I am struck by the ordinariness of affairs by a certain group of people involved in the terrible circumstances that we find in the back quarter of each of the four Gospels – the Roman soldiers. I suspect we take this for granted but the reality was that these battle-hardened men had seen death many times and, in all probability, had crucified many men before Jesus. For them this is just another job.
For those of us who have been Christians for many years, who have probably heard the Cross preached on many times and have perhaps read the accounts many times before, it is possible that the terrible nature of these events has similarly become almost ordinary to us and we no longer weep, and we no longer marvel at them.
Perhaps for some of us, seeing the terrible events portrayed in Mel Gibson's film, ‘The Passion' (which I would not recommend for anyone to see) that ordinariness has been shattered. I think I would far rather recommend we pray each Easter, “Lord, please open my eyes afresh to see the wonder of what you were doing.”
But consider this; we have already considered something of this, in Study No,10 ‘Mistaken', so I will not repeat it all again here, but we would do well to remind ourselves, nevertheless, of the wonder of all that Jesus had been doing and the glory that was his in heaven.
Again, in Study No.6 ‘Helpless', we considered the power and authority of Jesus, that had been shown in the way he had been in total control of his life and circumstances as seen in the Gospels. He was completely Lord of all those circumstances.
But then now, we zoom in on this little episode, almost a little aside, and I know, as we saw in Study No.8 ‘Planned (1)', it was to fulfil prophecy, nevertheless what we have is almost the equivalent of a bunch of scavenging crows scrapping over the remains, but to avoid disharmony they do what they probably did time and again in these circumstances, they drew lots for who would get what. “OK, nice cloak; I wonder who the lucky man is. OK here are six straws. Shortest straw gets it… oh, the lucky man is….!” And that was it. “Next, a nice pair of sandals, somewhat worn but some miles left in them yet. Let's see who is going to get them.” And so it continued. But note, “when they had crucified him they divided up his clothes.” All the while this casual banter is going on, the glorious all-powerful Son of God is hanging in agony behind them, about to take the sin of the world. THE most important event of history – while they are being so casual!!!!!!
Short Meditations for Easter on the Cross: 16. A Pattern
Mt 10:38 Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me.
So far in these short meditations we have been focusing on the crucifixion, the actual events of Christ's death on a wooden cross at the hands of the Romans at the instigation of the Jews. Now we move on to consider something of the significance of ‘the Cross', the meaning behind the event.
We start with this somewhat enigmatic reference to a cross, being carried by any and every Christians – for that is what is implied here; this does apply to every Christian, every believer in Jesus, every follower of the Son of God. I use the word enigmatic because without quite a bit if thought it is puzzling, it is mysterious, it is unknowable.
Let's consider the basic picture, a man carrying a cross. What does it tell us? This is a man on his way to being crucified, to being put to death. This is a man as good as dead, because although the death has not yet occurred (and none of us know when we will die) if this man is now carrying a cross, it means he has been condemned and on his way to the place of execution; yes, he is as good as dead.
So what is Jesus saying? If you want to be worthy of Jesus, if you want to be considered one of his followers – a Christian – then (at the very least) you have to take on the attitude of one who has given up his claim to his life, one who considers they have put their future into the hands of God for His disposal if that is what He wants.
Later in Matthew we find the same thing but slightly extended: “Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. (Mt 16:24) Did you see the extension? “must deny themselves”. It's the same thing but put differently, i.e. give up their claims to their life, give up their claims to their future and put them all entirely in God's hands so that He can work out the best for us. He, of course purposes better for each of us than we do for ourselves, and how we struggle to believe that!
We plot, we plan, we organise, we scheme, we hope for the best, which sometimes comes and sometimes doesn't, and the thought of putting it into God's hands (really) is difficult if not impossible and yet, here it is laid out before us a number of times in the Gospels, this challenge that goes to the heart of being a Christian, this challenge that must haunt us we approach Easter. Will I opt for the imitation life that will be so fleeting (and which may even crash and burn) or will I trust it all into His hands and say, “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven – in my life”?