As we follow the events that led to Jesus’ death, we have to be dismayed by the dramatic change in circumstances from Sunday to Friday. Sunday Jesus was hailed as Savior and heir apparent to the throne of David. Overnight Thursday into Friday he has been betrayed, arrested, abandoned, lied about, beaten, whipped, and mocked. Friday he was nailed to a cross for public humiliation and execution.
You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6–8)
Why did Jesus allow all this to happen to him? These events came as no surprise. He foresaw them, and warned his disciples four times that these things would happen to him when they went up to Jerusalem.
Cyril of Alexandria, a theologian and bishop who died in 444 AD, give us some insight.
Christ’s Human Nature Had to Feel What We Feel
Only the death of the Savior could bring an end to death, and it is the same for each of the other sufferings of the flesh too. Unless he had felt dread, human nature could not have become free from dread. Unless he had experienced grief, there could have never been any deliverance from grief. Unless he had been troubled and alarmed, there would have been no escape from these feelings.
Every one of the emotions to which human nature is liable can be found in Christ. The emotions of his flesh were aroused, not that they might gain the upper hand, as indeed they do in us, but in order that when aroused they might be thoroughly subdued by the power of the Word dwelling in the flesh, human nature as a whole thus undergoing a change for the better. Commentary on the Gospel of John 8.
These things happened because of God’s love and plan to deal not just with our sin, but with every aspect of what it means to be human.
Thank you, Jesus, for your courage and love. Change us from the inside out by the power of your love for us. Amen.
The Gospels do not record exactly what Jesus was doing on Wednesday of that last week of his life — the life before his death before his resurrection. Luke 19, however, reports that every day he was teaching in the temple. Another excerpt, then:
Keeping a close watch on him, [the teachers of the law and the chief priests] sent spies, who pretended to be sincere. They hoped to catch Jesus in something he said, so that they might hand him over to the power and authority of the governor. So the spies questioned him: “Teacher, we know that you speak and teach what is right, and that you do not show partiality but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”
He saw through their duplicity and said to them, “Show me a denarius. Whose image and inscription are on it?”
“Caesar’s,” they replied.
He said to them, “Then give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”
They were unable to trap him in what he had said there in public. And astonished by his answer, they became silent. (Luke 20:20–26)
They fell silent because they tried to fool Jesus but could not. He sensed their duplicity and called them on it, and neatly avoided their intended dilemma. There was nothing left to say. They should have kept silent to begin with!
Earlier in Jesus ministry he had compassion and healed many in a large crowd. Matthew recorded this in his chapter 12, and cited Isaiah:
A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out,
till he has brought justice through to victory. (Matthew 12:20)
Jesus had compassion, but he was not soft. As we see in the episode of Caesar’s coin above, Jesus had no compassion on those who sought to be deceitful, and so here are our lessons:
Do not be afraid to come to Jesus when you are in need, whether that need is to be healed, or to be freed from your own sin, or from the effect of someone else’s sin. A bruised reed he will not break.
Do be afraid of trying to deceive Jesus. Do not whitewash, manipulate, or lie to him. He will see through it, and leave you behind. You will find yourself on the wrong end of justice. Jesus is the truth.
Lord, silence my lying tongue, quiet my foolish mind, and let me feel the depth of my need for you. Be merciful to me, a sinner. Then by the mercy of your life and death and life again set me free to follow you. Amen.
While in Jerusalem that final week Jesus taught against the chief priests and the elders, both of whom had vested interests in maintaining the status quo in the Temple. Jesus opposed them in public in the Temple courts. Here is one example:
“What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’
“ ‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.
“Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go.
“Which of the two did what his father wanted?”
“The first,” they answered.
Jesus said to them, “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. (Matthew 21:28–32)
Jesus’ pointed story shows up the hypocrisy of the chief priests and the elders. Apparently they were content to resist what God was clearly doing through Jesus even though they should have been among the first to recognize it. John the Baptist pointed out their spiritual idolatry, and they should have responded with humility and contrition when he did.
This of course does not mean that “tax collectors and prostitutes” were given a pass by John the Baptist or Jesus. Not at all. Both obvious sinners and subtle sinners alike must repent. The way to life and love and peace is through repentance — admitting our self-centeredness and turning to follow Jesus.
Good thing your sins are not obvious, right? Or your would need to repent, too.
Lord, save us from self-centeredness and sin. Free us from the self-deception that allows us to rationalize away our need to repent and turn to you daily. Amen.
During Lent we spend time talking about sin, and examining its effect on our lives. Sin brings pleasure, true, but also bondage.
Jesus [said], “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. (John 8:34)
No one wants to be enslaved, yet we find our hearts betraying us. How?
Tim Keller observes:
the true god of your heart is what your thoughts effortlessly go to when there is nothing else demanding your attention. What do you enjoy daydreaming about? What occupies your mind when you have nothing else to think about? Do you develop potential scenarios about career advancement? Or material goods such as a dream home? Or a relationship with a particular person? One or two daydreams are not an indication of idolatry. Ask rather, what do you habitually think about to get joy and comfort in the privacy of your heart? — Counterfeit Gods, p.168
Choosing what we think about is one of the most basic and powerful things we can do. If our hearts are to be fully set free from the burdensome entanglements of our self-centeredness, we must choose carefully, relentlessly what we allow our minds to dwell upon.
But the habits of our hearts and minds are turned only slowly, and only through the power of the Holy Spirit. It has been rightly said no one becomes a saint in a day!
Try this today: Notice where your thoughts drift when you have a few moments alone. Don’t fix, just notice. Notice what you drift to repeatedly. This may take several days of being aware of your thoughts for you to be able to discern a pattern.
As you begin to notice where you drift, ask the Holy Spirit, “So what’s going on here? Why do I love this? Why do I feel like I this?”
After you notice and ask, listen. The Spirit loves to teach our hearts.
Pastor Mark loves his wife and grown children, the Word of God, and words. And coffee, chocolate chip cookies, Apple products, small video projects, and the New England Patriots.