A Sinner Condemned and Unclean

35 And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed. 36 And Simon and those who were with him searched for him, 37 and they found him and said to him, “Everyone is looking for you.” 38 And he said to them, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.” 39 And he went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons.

40 And a leper came to him, imploring him, and kneeling said to him, “If you will, you can make me clean.” 41 Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, “I will; be clean.” 42 And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. 43 And Jesus sternly charged him and sent him away at once, 44 and said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, for a proof to them.” 45 But he went out and began to talk freely about it, and to spread the news, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter a town, but was out in desolate places, and people were coming to him from every quarter.  Mark 1:35-45 ESV

Mark has clearly established that Jesus exuded a certain power and authority that revealed itself in His words and actions. When spoke in the synagogue in Capernaum, the people took notice, but when He cast out the demon, they were blown away. Jesus simply spoke a word of command and the demon was forced to leave the man he had been tormenting. The same thing happened when Jesus healed Simon’s mother-in-law. With nothing more than a spoken word, Jesus exorcised her debilitating fever and restored her to health.

But in today’s verses, Mark provides a glimpse into the source behind Jesus’ power and authority. After a very full day of activities, Jesus rose very early the next morning, well before dawn. It is likely that His disciples were still fast asleep when Jesus rose and “went out to an isolated place to pray” (Mark 1:35 NLT).

Mark provides no details concerning Jesus’ destination or the content of His prayer.  But this early-morning excursion by Jesus reveals His intimate relationship with His Heavenly Father and His desire for fellowship and instruction. We know from the four gospels that Jesus made a habit of getting alone with His Father. He regularly sought the companionship of the Father and, in doing so, revealed His humble dependence upon His Father’s will. Jesus repeatedly expressed His complete reliance upon God.

“I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself. He does only what he sees the Father doing. Whatever the Father does, the Son also does.” – John 5:19 NLT

“I can do nothing on my own. I judge as God tells me. Therefore, my judgment is just, because I carry out the will of the one who sent me, not my own will.”  – John 5:30 NLT

“I don’t speak on my own authority. The Father who sent me has commanded me what to say and how to say it. And I know his commands lead to eternal life; so I say whatever the Father tells me to say.” – John 12:49-50 NLT

Jesus, the Son of God, regularly sought time alone with God, but not just for fellowship. He also sought to know the Father’s will. Isaiah provided a Spirit-inspired, prophetic glimpse into this unique relationship between the Father and His Son.

The Sovereign Lord has given me his words of wisdom,
    so that I know how to comfort the weary.
Morning by morning he wakens me
    and opens my understanding to his will.
The Sovereign Lord has spoken to me,
    and I have listened. – Isaiah 50:4-5 NLT

Mark gives no indication as to how long Jesus was gone but by the time His disciples woke up, they began to wonder where He was. They immediately began a search for Him, and when they found Him they inquired as to where He had been. This scene is reminiscent of one recorded in the gospel of Luke. It took place in Jerusalem when Jesus was only 12-years-old. He had made a trip to the capital city with the rest of His family for the annual Feast of Passover. But when the feast was over and His family had begun their return trip home, they discovered Jesus was missing. So, they returned to Jerusalem, and three days later they finally found Jesus at the temple, “sitting among the religious teachers, listening to them and asking questions” (Luke 2:46 NLT).

When Mary and Joseph expressed their frustration and concern to Jesus, He responded, “But why did you need to search?…Didn’t you know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49 NLT). This was actually a Hebrew idiom that could best be translated, “Didn’t you know that I must be in the [things] of my Father?” Even at 12-years-of-age, Jesus was seeking those things that concerned His Father. And more than 17 years later, Jesus was still seeking to be “in the things of” His Father.

Upon finding Jesus, the disciples informed Him, ““Everyone is looking for you” (Mark 1:37 ESV). Jesus was in great demand. But while the disciples and the crowds were desperately seeking Jesus, He had been spending some much-needed time alone with God.

This time, Jesus didn’t explain His actions, but simply replied, “We must go on to other towns as well, and I will preach to them, too. That is why I came” (Mark 1:38 NLT). Notice that Jesus puts the emphasis on preaching. This ties directly back to what Mark wrote in verses 14-15.

Later on, after John was arrested, Jesus went into Galilee, where he preached God’s Good News. “The time promised by God has come at last!” he announced. “The Kingdom of God is near! Repent of your sins and believe the Good News!” – Mark 1:14-15 NLT

It was for this reason that Jesus had been sent to earth by His Father. He would spend just over three years declaring the Good News of God’s Kingdom and then offer His own life as the atoning sacrifice that would make it possible for sinful men and women to enter into that Kingdom.

It’s interesting to note how Mark describes what happened next: “So he traveled throughout the region of Galilee, preaching in the synagogues and casting out demons” (Mark 1:39 NLT). He describes Jesus as preaching the Good News but also casting out demons. Jesus was declaring the coming of God’s Kingdom while, at the same time, singlehandedly and systematically dismantling the kingdom of Satan. In a sense, Jesus was telegraphing the future impact and import of His coming death. With His sacrificial death on the cross, Jesus would destroy Satan’s monopoly over the lives of men. The apostle Paul put it this way:

We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin. For when we died with Christ we were set free from the power of sin. – Romans 6:6-7 NLT

While Mark indicates that Jesus traveled throughout Galilee preaching in synagogues and casting our demons, the first miracle he describes Jesus performing involves a leper, not a demon. This man, who was obviously a Jew, suffered from a horrible disease that left him in pain and agony but also ostracized him from his faith community. Lepers were considered ceremonially unclean and the very visible symptoms of the disease would have made him an object of scorn and derision.

But this man made his way to Jesus, expressing his desperate need for help and his firm belief that Jesus could heal him.

“If you are willing, you can heal me and make me clean.” – Mark 1:40 NLT

Mark provides no explanation for this man’s remarkable expression of faith. It is most likely that news of Jesus’ healing power had spread to his community and this man saw in Jesus a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be freed from his disfiguring and, ultimately, deadly disease.

And with great specificity, Mark describes what happened next:

Moved with compassion, Jesus reached out and touched him. “I am willing,” he said. “Be healed!” – Mark 1:41 NLT

Jesus probably saw in this man a tangible illustration of every Israelite’s predicament. In a real sense, they were all unclean and condemned to a life of permanent separation. But, unlike this man, their separation was spiritual and left them alienated from God. They carried about them the scars and mars of their sins, which made them unacceptable and unclean to a holy and righteous God. And like the leper, there was nothing they could do to help themselves. But Jesus had compassion. He cared.

And this time, rather than just speak, Jesus reached out and touched. In spite of the man’s condition, Jesus willingly and deliberately touched the man. According to the law, this action would have rendered Jesus ceremonially unclean. But He was willing to take that risk. In a sense, Jesus took on the man’s leprosy and left the man with wholeness. Once again, this foreshadows what Jesus would accomplish with His death on the cross.

He personally carried our sins in his body on the cross so that we can be dead to sin and live for what is right. By his wounds you are healed. – 1 Peter 2:24 NLT

He took on our infirmities and carried our sorrows… – Isaiah 53:4 BSB

And Mark reveals that the man’s condition was changed instantaneously.

Instantly the leprosy disappeared, and the man was healed. – Mark 1:42 NLT

And Jesus commanded the man to tell no one but to go straight to the temple where he was to seek confirmation of his healing from the priest. Then he was to present a thanks offering. According to the Mosaic law, it was required that a leper be examined and declared free of the disease before he or she could be restored to fellowship within the community. Jesus also warned the man to refrain from telling anyone about what had happened. This may come across as a rather strange and unnecessary command but when the man violated it, it is easy to see why Jesus gave it in the first place. Of course, no one can blame the man for his enthusiasm and excitement. He wanted everyone to know that he had been healed and was absolutely clean for the first time in a long time.

But as the news of his healing spread, the crowds grew, forcing Jesus to take His ministry outside the crowded confines of the cities. But His relocation did little to stop the steady flow of people seeking healing, help, and hope.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

What Is That to You?

20 Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them, the one who also had leaned back against him during the supper and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?” 21 When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” 22 Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” 23 So the saying spread abroad among the brothers that this disciple was not to die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he was not to die, but, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?”

24 This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true.

25 Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. John 21:20-25 ESV

Jesus has just called Peter to follow Him. But Peter received this somewhat innocuous invitation immediately after hearing the kind of death he would suffer for feeding and caring for Jesus’ sheep. For Peter, following Jesus was to come with a death sentence. And Peter seems to have understood exactly what Jesus had inferred when He had said, “when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go” (John 21:18 ESV).

John even clarifies that Jesus’ words were intended “to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God” (John 21:19 ESV). In the Roman-dominated culture in which they lived, the term “stretch out you hands” had become a euphemistic and more palatable way of referring to crucifixion. It was a word picture that described the victim’s arms being stretched out and tied to the upper beam of the cross (Ernst Haenchen, A Commentary on the Gospel of John, 2:226-27).

Peter’s immediate response to this news reveals that he fully understood the import of what Jesus had said to him. As he and Jesus walked along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, Peter turned and saw John following close behind. And the sight of “the disciple whom Jesus loved” seems to have filled Peter with jealousy. Peter was a natural-born competitor. He was always jockeying for position, trying to establish himself as the lead-dog among the rest of the disciples. Yet, John always seemed to be the teacher’s pet, the obvious favorite of Jesus, and this must have infuriated and frustrated the highly-competitive Peter.

So, like a petulant child, Peter asked Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” (John 21:21 ESV). Peter’s unbridled and impetuous nature was on full display. He always had a difficult time controlling his impulses and words proved to be a particularly thorny problem. He habitually struggled to get his brain in gear before he put his lips in motion. Thinking before speaking was not a strong suit.

Peter, having heard the less-than-pleasant ending to his own life, wants to know what John’s fate will be.  What does God have in store for “the disciple whom Jesus loved?” Will he have his “hands stretched out?” Is John going to have to suffer death for following Jesus? It seems that Peter felt like he had been singled out. Perhaps he believed the death that Jesus had predicted he would suffer was a form of punishment for his earlier denial. Whatever the case, Peter was not asking out of concern for John. He was trying to determine whether the other disciples were going to end up like him. And the tone of Jesus’ response reveals that He understood the self-centered nature of Peter’s question.

“If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? – John 21:22 ESV

In a sense, Jesus told Peter, “that’s none of your business.” Jesus had just had a personal and intimate conversation with Peter, yet none of the other disciples were demanding to know what they had discussed. Jesus had plans for each of His disciples, but all Peter needed to know was what Jesus had in store for him. Obviously, Peter was not particularly pleased with how Jesus described the ending to his life’s story. There’s little doubt that Peter had always envisioned some much more positive. But he was discovering the difficult truth that God’s will was not obligated to mirror his own. In time, he would learn to pray as Jesus did in the garden, “Father, if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine” (Luke 22:42 NLT).

But for now, he was struggling with the twin demons of comparison and competition. He was jealous of John and his intimate relationship with Jesus. And his competitive nature made it difficult for him to accept the outcome Jesus had described. Peter didn’t want to die a martyr, despite his earlier claim that he would lay down his life for Jesus (John 13:37). Peter was naturally attracted to glory and gain. He was prone to seek credit for anything that he did. His actions tended to be driven by reward and recognition. But this brings to mend the words spoken by Jesus spoke in His sermon on the mount.

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. –Matthew 6:1 ESV

Peter didn’t need to worry about John. He needed to focus on the mission Jesus had given to him.

“Feed my lambs.” – John 21:15 ESV

“Tend my sheep.” – John 21:16 ESV

“Feed my sheep.” – John 21:17 ESV

If Jesus willed for John to live a long and prosperous life, that was none of Peter’s business. Even if John were divinely destined to live long enough to see the return of Jesus, that should be of no concern to Peter. He had his marching orders. He knew exactly what Jesus required of him. But he was allowing jealousy and envy to blind him from the task at hand. And James warns what happens when believers allow these twin temptations to take over their lives.

But if you are bitterly jealous and there is selfish ambition in your heart, don’t cover up the truth with boasting and lying. For jealousy and selfishness are not God’s kind of wisdom. Such things are earthly, unspiritual, and demonic. For wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and evil of every kind. – James 3:14-16 NLT

John adds an interesting side note that reveals how easy it is to draw false conclusions from God’s word. It seems that Jesus’ words regarding John had been wrongly interpreted to mean that John would never die. This statement from the lips of Jesus had taken on a life of their own, spreading throughout the early church in the form of a rumor that John would outlive all the disciples, being miraculously kept alive until the return of Jesus.

So the saying spread abroad among the brothers that this disciple was not to die. – John 21:23 ESV

But John put that rumor to rest by restating and clarifying what Jesus had said. The key word in Jesus’ statement had been the first one: “If…” Jesus had been making a propositional statement. It could have gone either way. If John lived until Jesus returned, it would have been God’s will. If he didn’t, that too would have been God’s will. Jesus had not guaranteed one or the other. He had simply been encouraging Peter to keep his mind focused on the revealed will of God for him.

As John prepares to wrap up his gospel account, he restates that he is its author. He has been an eyewitness to all that he has written. While he has constantly referred to himself in the third-person throughout his gospel, John had first-person knowledge of all that he has recorded. And because he is writing near the end of the 1st-Century, years after the events recorded in his gospel had taken place, he can boldly state that his testimony is true. They have been verified by time and the testimonies of others.

And John adds that his gospel was anything but comprehensive. He is not inferring that it is somehow incomplete or inadequate, but only that it would have been impossible to record all that Jesus had said and done during His earthly ministry. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, John had carefully and purposefully chosen which details to include. And they all supported his overall thesis.

these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. – John 20:31 ESV

The lofty goal John had set out for his gospel had been to establish Jesus as the Son of God and the Savior of the world. He began with his claim that Jesus was the Word of God made flesh. He was the second person of the Trinity, the very Son of God who, by becoming a man, made the invisible God visible. Jesus manifested or revealed the Father by demonstrating the Father’s love for mankind. And He did it by willingly taking the form of sinful man and dying as the sinless substitute required to satisfy the just demands of His Heavenly Father. Jesus became “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29 ESV).

And John painstakingly recorded the words and works of Jesus so that those who came to faith in Him long after His ascension would continue to believe in who He was and what He had come to do. The early church was under attack and believers were constantly being tempted to walk away from the faith. They struggled with doubts about Jesus’ true identity because false teachers were constantly bringing into question either His divinity or His humanity. Some claimed Him to be God, but not a man. Others taught that He was a man, but not God. But John has spent 21 chapters defending the deity of Jesus while, at the same time, strenuously defending His humanity. Jesus was the God-man. And it was that one-of-a-kind nature that allowed Him to do what He came to do: Give His life as a ransom for many.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

A Dreaded and Difficult Conversation

15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. 18 Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” 19 (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.” John 21:15-19 ESV

The moment Peter had been dreading finally arrived. Ever since he had peered into the empty tomb, he must have experienced a growing sense of irrepressible joy at the thought that Jesus was alive and he might get see Him again. But his excitement was tempered by a nagging sense of guilt over his public denials of Jesus. On that night in the upper room, when Jesus had announced that one of the 12 would betray Him, Peter had boldly proclaimed, “I will lay down my life for you!” (John 13:37 ESV). But Jesus had responded with an equally bold statement of His own:

“Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times. – John 13:38 ESV

And that very same night, as Jesus was being interrogated by the high priest and the members of Sanhedrin, Peter fulfilled Jesus’ prophecy.

The servant girl at the door said to Peter, “You also are not one of this man’s disciples, are you?” He said, “I am not.”  – John 18:17 ESV

Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. So they said to him, “You also are not one of his disciples, are you?” He denied it and said, “I am not.” – John 18:25 ESV

One of the servants of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, “Did I not see you in the garden with him?” Peter again denied it, and at once a rooster crowed.  – John 18:26-27 ESV

Three separate times, Peter had been asked about his personal relationship with Jesus. Three different individuals asked him to confirm his identity as a disciple or follower of Jesus, and three times he vehemently denied any knowledge of or relationship with Jesus.

Now, standing on the shore of the sea of Galilee, Peter’s worst fear was realized. He found himself alone with Jesus. Peter had been avoiding the inevitable. The weight of his guilty conscience must have become unbearable, preventing him from fully experiencing the joy of being with Jesus. Every time Peter looked at Jesus’ face or caught a fleeting glimpse of the nail prints in His hands and feet, a sense of shame and self-loathing must have welled up within him. It is difficult to imagine just how tortured Peter must have felt each time he looked on his resurrected Master and friend.

And now, Jesus approached him one on one. There is no way of knowing what was going through Peter’s mind at that moment, but one would expect that Peter had been rehearsing the apology he would need for just such a moment. Yet, mercifully, Jesus broke the awkward silence by speaking first. And what Jesus had to say to Peter speaks volumes. One might have expected Jesus to say something like, “I told you so” or “Well, what have you got to say for yourself?” But instead, Jesus asked Peter a series of three questions.

“Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” – John 21:15 ESV

“Simon, son of John, do you love me? – John 21:16 ESV

“Simon, son of John, do you love me? – John 21:17 ESV

Actually, it was one question asked three different times. That night in the garden, Peter’s inquisitors wanted him to confirm his relationship with Jesus, and three times he had denied having one. But now, Peter is being asked to publicly confess and confirm his love for Jesus. And this time, the one asking the questions is the very one Peter had denied.

Peter’s brash and impulsive nature had finally caught up with him. Over the years he had been with Jesus, he had made a habit of speaking his mind and trying to set himself apart from the rest of the disciples. He was naturally competitive and driven to do whatever it took to stand out from the crowd. All three of the Synoptic gospels record his pride-filled response when Jesus had declared, “You will all fall away because of me this night” (Matthew 26:31 ESV). Peter had boldly proclaimed, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away” (John 26:33 ESV). He was declaring himself to be better than the rest. He was made of better stuff. But little did Peter know that his bold claim was going to be put to the test and he would end up failing miserably.

But at the heart of Jesus’ questions is the issue of love. The very first iteration of Jesus’ question compared Peter’s love with that of the other disciples. When Jesus asked, “do you love me more than these?,” He was not asking if Peter’s love for the other disciples was greater than his love for Him. This was a question designed to expose whether Peter still harbored feelings of superiority, and considered himself to be more committed to Jesus than his fellow disciples.

Remember, Peter had accused the rest of the disciples of a lack of commitment. He had predicted that they would all fall away at the first hint of trouble. But he was different. He would stay the course and remain by Jesus’ side through thick or thin. Or so he had thought.

But standing face to face with Jesus, all Peter could say was “Lord; you know that I love you” (John 21:15 ESV). No comparison. No competition. He was not willing to speak for or compare himself with the other disciples. All he could do was confirm his own love for his friend.

Over the years, much emphasis has been placed on the two Greek words for “love” that appear in this passage. One is the word agapaō and the other is phileō. The first is said to be a description of divine love – a selfless, sacrificial love expressed by God to men. While the latter was more commonly used to refer to a lower, earthly form of love – the love between two human beings. And while there is some truth to this distinction, it is also true that these two words were often used interchangeably in the Greek language. Yet, John seems to establish a clear pattern in this passage. He records that Jesus repeatedly used the word agapaō, while Peter responded by using the word phileō. There is a subtle, yet important, point of clarification being made as Jesus discusses the nature of Peter’s love. Does Peter love Jesus in the same way that Jesus loved him?

Jesus had laid down His life for Peter. He had personally demonstrated the very definition of love He had given to the disciples.

“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” – John 15:13 ESV

Jesus had faithfully fulfilled His role as the Good Shepherd.

“The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them.” – John 10:11-12 ESV

By his actions that night in the courtyard, Peter had proven himself to be a hired hand. The wolf had come and he had fled. But now, Jesus was offering Peter an opportunity to prove his love. With each successive query, Jesus responded to Peter’s answer with a directive.

“Feed my lambs.” – John 21:15 ESV

“Tend my sheep.” – John 21:16 ESV

“Feed my sheep. – John 21:17 ESV

In essence, Jesus is demanding that Peter prove his love for Him by loving those for whom He died. Jesus had told the disciples, “I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd” (John 10:16 ESV). And now, Jesus was turning the care and feeding of the flock over to Peter and his companions. If Peter wanted to prove his love for Jesus, he was going to love and care for those whom Jesus gave His life.

In His teaching on the Good Shepherd, Jesus had stated, “he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice” (John 10:4 ESV). In a sense, Jesus was turning over to Peter the responsibility for shepherding and leading His flock. Peter and the other disciples would become under-shepherds, commissioned by the Good Shepherd to feed and tend His sheep. These men could express no greater love for Jesus than to care for His sheep. Jesus was leaving and He was going to turn over the care and protection of His flock to His disciples.

And then Jesus reveals to Peter that his shepherding of the sheep will be costly. Peter too will end up laying down his life for the sheep. This impulsive, self-assertive man will one day find himself being led by others. But as a sheep to the slaughter. This somewhat poetic-sounding prophecy by Jesus was meant to reveal to Peter “by what kind of death he was to glorify God” (John 21:19 ESV).

“I tell you the truth, when you were young, you were able to do as you liked; you dressed yourself and went wherever you wanted to go. But when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and others will dress you and take you where you don’t want to go.” – John 21:18 NLT

Peter’s life was going to be dramatically different from this point forward. No longer would he live the self-willed, ego-driven life he had known up until that day. He will live a long life, but one that will be dedicated the the flock of Jesus Christ and end in him laying down his own life for the sheep – just as Jesus did. And according to the early church father, Eusubius, Peter was crucified in the midsixties A.D. during the purges of the Roman emperor, Nero.

But when Jesus had completed His one-on-one conversation with Peter, He ended it the same words He had used when they first met: “Follow me.” But this time, Jesus wasn’t asking Peter to become His disciples. He was inviting Peter to follow His example of selfless, sacrificial love for the sheep. And one day, when Peter had fully followed Jesus’ example, he would follow Jesus to heaven.

“When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am.” – John 14:3 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

More Than You Need

Jesus said to them, “Children, do you have any fish?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea. The other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, but about a hundred yards off.

When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. 10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” 11 So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, 153 of them. And although there were so many, the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and so with the fish. 14 This was now the third time that Jesus was revealed to the disciples after he was raised from the dead. John 21:5-14 ESV

The sun was just coming up as the weary disciples began to pull in their net after an unsuccessful night of fishing. They had returned to the Sea of Galilee just as Jesus had told them to but, apparently bored with waiting, seven of them had decided to try their hand at fishing. But as they prepared to return empty-handed, they heard someone call out to them. Whether it was due to a combination of their distance from shore and the poor morning light, they were unable to make out the identity of the stranger who shouted to them from the shoreline.

But it seems likely that they were a bit put out by His impertinent and somewhat invasive question: “Children, do you have any fish?” (John 21:5 ESV). And you can hear the tone of irritation in their curt response: “No.”

Peter and his companions were worn out and probably a bit put out by their failure to catch a single, solitary fish. These men were professionals and they had probably used every trick of the trade they could think of – but all to no avail. Now, this nosy bystander was unknowingly rubbing salt in the wound, leaving what little pride they had left completely destroyed.

John makes it clear that they failed to recognize Jesus. Again, it could have been because of their distance from shore and the poor lighting conditions. But, like the two disciples who encountered the resurrected Jesus on the road to Emaus, these men could have been a case of divine disablement.

While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. – Luke 24:14-15 ESV

Whatever the case, the disciples had no idea that it was Jesus who was speaking to them. So, when this “stranger” suggested that they cast their net on the other side of the boat, they must have felt a strong urge to tell him to mind his own business. And yet, surprisingly, they did just as the man suggested. It could be that they did so out of respect. When the man had called out to them, he had called them “children.” The Greek word is paidion, and it was typically used to refer to a young child. It was a term of affection. So, perhaps they understood their well-meaning friend to be an older gentleman to whom they wanted to show honor by heeding his advice.

So, when he shouted out, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some” (John 21:6 ESV), they immediately complied. Yet, it is doubtful that they harbored any suspicions that this time would be any different than all the others. They had no expectations that their efforts would prove successful. They simply wanted to cast their net, haul it back in, and call it a day. But they were in for a big surprise.

John, still writing in the third-person just as he has done throughout his gospel, recounts what happened when he and his fellow disciples did as the man had suggested.

So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish. – John 21:6 ESV

It was a miracle. And John was the first to recognize the nature of what had happened and the identity of who was behind it all. He immediately called out, “It is the Lord!” (John 21:7 ESV). And in that split second of time, the eyes of every man in the boat shifted from the amazing sight of the net full of fish to the man standing on the shore. And forgetting all about the net, they began to row to shore. The always impulsive Peter, too excited to wait,  jumped into the water and swam to meet Jesus. Suddenly, the Giver became more important than the gift. The net full of fish lost its appeal as they recognized their resurrected Lord and Savior. 

When they finally made it to shore, they found Jesus standing by a charcoal fire grilling fish. It’s important to note that, in the Greek, the word for fish is in the singular tense. He is cooking one fish. And this entire scene should call to mind an earlier occasion that took place on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus and His disciples had encountered a large crowd of His followers and Mark recounts that Jesus “had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd” (Mark 6:34 ESV). Jesus, knowing that the people were tired and hungry, instructed His disciples to feed them. But they responded in disbelief, indicating that they did not have the resources to feed such a large crowd. And when Jesus asked them to gather what was available, they came back with fives loaves of bread and two fish. And Andrew, upon taking a look at the meager resources at their disposal, had responded, “what are they for so many?” (John 6:9 ESV). 

The disciples were full of doubts. They looked at the circumstances, assessed their potential for success, and concluded that the numbers were not in their favor. But they were wrong. John records that Jesus “took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted” (John 6:11 ESV).

Yet, as Peter and his companions stood on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, they were looking at a single fish roasting on a charcoal fire. And it seems likely that the famished Andrew once again thought to himself, “what is this for so many?” How were eight men going to satisfy their hunger with one measly fish? But Jesus refocused their attention on the net that still remained tied to the boat and lying in the water.

“Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” – John 21:10 ESV

John reveals that there were exactly 153 fish in that net. Many commentators have tried to come up with some hidden meaning behind that number, but it would seem that John is simply trying to compare and contrast the two stories. In the earlier case, the disciples had only been able to find two fish. But on this occasion, they had shown up with 153. And the difference between the two numbers the work of Jesus. He had been the one to instruct them to cast their net on the other side of the boat. So, the miraculous supply of fish had been His doing. But in graciously inviting them to bring what they had “caught,” Jesus was allowing them to contribute to the meal.

And what Jesus did next should not be overlooked.

Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and so with the fish. – John 21:13 ESV

There is little doubt that John had the feeding of the 5,000 in mind when he recorded this scene on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. What he describes is remarkably similar to what happened on that earlier occasion.

Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted. – John 6:11 ESV

They ate and were satisfied. Jesus had miraculously met their need by transforming what was insufficient into an overabundance. But in this story, we see Jesus providing an overabundance before He met the need. And He allowed them to be participants in the miracle of provision. They had cast the net. They had rowed the boat. And Peter had hauled it to shore. But there were far more fish than they could eat. The supply outstripped the demand.

This entire scene was intended as a lesson in the sufficiency of Jesus and the need for their complete dependency upon Him. It was reminiscent of His earlier words to them.

“Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me.

“Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.” – John 15:4-5 NLT

They were learning the invaluable lesson that the apostle Paul had learned.

I can do all things through him who strengthens me. – Philippians 4:13 ESV

And Paul would add:

And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 4:19 ESV

As Jesus prepared to return to His Father’s side in heaven, He was letting His disciples know that they would become His ambassadors, carrying on His mission and conveying His message of Good News to the world. But they would need to rely upon Him. They would need to abide in Him. In just a matter of days, they would receive the indwelling presence of the Spirit of God, who would provide them with the power of God so that they might do the will of God. They would have all the resources they needed to do all that Jesus would commission them to do.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Do Not Disbelieve, But Believe

24 Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”

26 Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. John 20:24-31 ESV

From beginning to end, the Gospel of John is filled with admonitions regarding belief. In the very first chapter, John records the initial encounter between Jesus and Nathanael, who would become of His disciples. When Jesus spoke to Nathanael as if He knew him, Nathanael was surprised. And when Jesus said, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you” (John 1:48 ESV), Nathanael believed what Philip had told him about Jesus: “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote” (John 1:45 ESV). And he expressed his belief by exclaiming, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” (John 1:49 ESV). 

But Jesus responded to Nathanael’s declaration of faith with a mild rebuke:

“Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” – John 1:50 ESV

Belief would become a central theme of Jesus’ ministry and message. For the next three years, He would teach, preach, perform miracles, and tell parables, in order to help His disciples grow in their understanding of who He was and the purpose behind His coming. But Jesus did not reserve His lessons on belief for the disciples alone. When He had His light-night encounter with Nicodemus, the Pharisee, Jesus had told him, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16 ESV).

In a later conversation with an adulterous Samaritan woman, Jesus shared with her that He was the Messiah and she had believed His words. She even ran and told her neighbors, “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” (John 4:29 ESV). And John reports, “Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony” (John 4:39 ESV). But then they had met Jesus for themselves, their belief became fully convinced as to His identity and mission.

They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.” – John 4:42 ESV

Chapter after chapter, John has provided illustrations and proof of the deity of Jesus. He has displayed the authority of Jesus over demons, disease, and even the natural elements. He has recorded the words of Jesus boldly claiming to be the bread from heaven and the source of living water. He has repeatedly emphasized Jesus’ unique relationship with God the Father, declaring their unity and the God-ordained nature of Jesus’ mission. John has made it clear that Jesus was sent by God and was faithfully accomplishing the will of God.

But the religious leaders refused to believe that Jesus was the Son of God, choosing instead to accuse Him of blasphemy. And Jesus had responded to their attacks by declaring that His miraculous works provided more than enough evidence to prove His claim.

“…why do you call it blasphemy when I say, ‘I am the Son of God’? After all, the Father set me apart and sent me into the world. Don’t believe me unless I carry out my Father’s work. But if I do his work, believe in the evidence of the miraculous works I have done, even if you don’t believe me. Then you will know and understand that the Father is in me, and I am in the Father.” – John 10:36-38 NLT

And now, after His death, burial, and resurrection, Jesus began to appear to His still disbelieving and doubtful disciples. Even though He had told them He would rise again from the dead, they had refused to believe. And when the women had gone to the tomb early Sunday morning to anoint the body of Jesus, they had been shocked to find an empty tomb and two angels, who told them, “Why are you looking among the dead for someone who is alive? He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead! Remember what he told you back in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be betrayed into the hands of sinful men and be crucified, and that he would rise again on the third day” (Luke 24:5-7 NLT). 

Luke tells us that they ran to tell the disciples the exciting news they had received. But their words were received by the disciples with doubt and derision.

It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and several other women who told the apostles what had happened. But the story sounded like nonsense to the men, so they didn’t believe it. – Luke 24:10-11 NLT

When Jesus later appeared to them, “he rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they did not believe those who had seen him resurrected” (Mark 16:14 NLT).

“Why are your hearts filled with doubt? Look at my hands. Look at my feet. You can see that it’s really me. Touch me and make sure that I am not a ghost, because ghosts don’t have bodies, as you see that I do.” – Luke 24:38-39 NLT

His resurrection should have been the final proof of His identity. Jesus had told Nathanael that he would see “greater things” and now they were all witnessing the greatest evidence that Jesus was the Son of God and the Savior of the world. And the proof was in His nail-scarred hands and feet. He was not a ghost or an apparition. He was the resurrected, fully restored, and miraculously revived Son of God. And He still the Word of God in human flesh. He challenged them to touch and examine Him. And then He ate a meal with them.

Still they stood there in disbelief, filled with joy and wonder. Then he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he ate it as they watched. – Luke 24:41-43 NLT

The author of Hebrews records a statement that Jesus made.

…when Christ came into the world, he said to God,

“You did not want animal sacrifices or sin offerings.
    But you have given me a body to offer.
You were not pleased with burnt offerings
    or other offerings for sin.
Then I said, ‘Look, I have come to do your will, O God—
    as is written about me in the Scriptures.’” – Hebrews 10:5-7 NLT

Jesus had become a man so that He might offer Himself as the perfect sacrifice to atone or pay for the sins of humanity. It was through the selfless sacrifice of His unblemished life that the just judgment of God was satisfied and all those who believed in Jesus would become set apart as the children of God.

For God’s will was for us to be made holy by the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ, once for all time. – Hebrews 10:10 NLT

But to enjoy our new status as the children of God we must believe in the Son of God.

But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God. – John 1:12-13 NLT

Which brings us to today’s passage. Thomas, one of Jesus’ disciples, had been absent when Jesus had made His unexpected appearance to His doubt-filled and fear-ridden followers as they cowered behind locked doors. And when his fellow disciples excitedly informed Thomas that they had seen Jesus, he responded with sarcastic and stubborn disbelief.

“Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” – John 20:25 ESV

His incredulous statement recalls the words of Jesus: “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe” (John 4:48 ESV). Thomas’ demand for tangible, touchable proof gives evidence of his own lingering doubt. He really did not expect to have his demands met, because he did not believe Jesus to be alive. But he was in for a big surprise. Eight days later, Jesus made a second impromptu appearance to His disciples as they gathered behind locked doors yet again. This time, Thomas was with them. And Jesus made a beeline to His doubting disciple, inviting him to dispel any further disbelief.

Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” – John 20:27 ESV

Jesus was graciously granting Thomas’ request. But Thomas had seen enough. He required no further proof. In a split second, his doubt turned to belief, and he declared, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28 ESV). With that statement, Thomas expressed his firm belief in the deity of Jesus. Whether he realized it or not, Thomas was committing blasphemy. He was declaring a man to be God. Here he was hiding behind locked doors out of fear of the religious leaders and yet, upon seeing Jesus in His resurrected state, Thomas was willing to risk everything to declare His belief that Jesus was exactly who He had always claimed to be.

And Jesus responded to Thomas with a powerful reminder that true belief requires no signs. While Thomas had been given the privilege of seeing the resurrection Messiah, millions upon millions of others would come to faith in Him without ever having had the joy of seeing Him.

“Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” – John 20:29 ESV

And John closes this chapter by addressing some of the very people to whom Jesus referred. He has written his gospel so that those who have never seen Jesus with their eyes, might be encouraged to believe by reading about all that Jesus said and did.

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. – John 20:30-31 ESV

It all comes down to believing. Thomas demanded evidence before he would believe. And John, anticipating the doubts of those who would later hear about Jesus, provides them with an entire gospel filled with proofs and personal insights into the deity and humanity of Jesus.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Breath of Life

19 On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 20 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” John 20:19-23 ESV

John has already described how he had been impacted by his experience of entering the empty tomb with Peter. As has been his habit throughout his gospel, John referred to himself in the third-person.

…the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed. – John 20:8 ESV

Unlike Mary Magdalene, John had not yet had the joy of seeing Jesus with his own eyes, but he still believed that He had risen from the dead. Some of the disciples had struggled to believe when the women had returned from the tomb with the message from the angel regarding Jesus’ resurrection.

…these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. – Luke 24:11 NLT

In his hurry to recount the moment when he and his fellow disciples finally saw the resurrected Jesus, John skips over a lot of details that the other gospel writers include. John fast-forwards from early Sunday morning to later that evening when the disciples had gathered together in one place. He sets the scene by indicating that they had the doors locked “for fear of the Jews” (John 20:19 ESV). This is a reference to the Jewish religious leaders who had conspired to have Jesus put to death. John and his fellow disciples knew that they were marked men because of their association with Jesus. So, they had been keeping a low profile ever since the crucifixion had taken place.

His reference to the locked doors also helped to set up what happened next. Despite the inaccessible nature of the room in which they were meeting, suddenly Jesus was standing in their presence. John simply states that “Jesus came and stood among them” (John 20:19 ESV).

Luke provides a bit more context. He and Mark both cover the encounter between Jesus and the two disciples who had been on their way from Jerusalem to Emmaus. They had been returning home after having witnessed the devastating events surrounding Jesus’ death. Suddenly, these two disheartened disciples were joined by another individual who asked them what they were discussing. They recounted all that had happened in Jerusalem, even sharing the news about the new from that morning.

“Then some women from our group of his followers were at his tomb early this morning, and they came back with an amazing report. They said his body was missing, and they had seen angels who told them Jesus is alive! Some of our men ran out to see, and sure enough, his body was gone, just as the women had said.” – Luke 24:22-24 NLT

It was not until later in the day, as they shared a meal with their unknown traveling companion, that Jesus revealed Himself to them.

Suddenly, their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And at that moment he disappeared! – Luke 24:31 NLT

Rather than continue home to Emmaus, they returned to Jerusalem in search of the disciples so that they might share their exciting news. And they wasted no time. Luke records that “within the hour they were on their way back to Jerusalem. There they found the eleven disciples and the others who had gathered with them” (Luke 24:33 NLT). But Mark adds another vital detail to the unfolding scene: “no one believed them” (Mark 16:13 NLT). The testimony of these two eye-witnesses was rejected by the disciples.

But despite the doubt and disbelief that filled the room, Luke records that “Jesus himself was suddenly standing there among them” (Luke 24:36 NLT). All John records is that Jesus appeared and spoke to them, saying, “Peace be with you” (John 20:19 ESV). But Mark and Luke both reveal that Jesus had a bit more to say to them.

He rebuked them for their stubborn unbelief because they refused to believe those who had seen him after he had been raised from the dead. – Mark 16:14 NLT

Luke adds that “the whole group was startled and frightened, thinking they were seeing a ghost!” (Luke 24:37 NLT). And Luke provides the exact nature of Jesus’ rebuke.

“Why are you frightened?” he asked. “Why are your hearts filled with doubt? Look at my hands. Look at my feet. You can see that it’s really me. Touch me and make sure that I am not a ghost, because ghosts don’t have bodies, as you see that I do.” As he spoke, he showed them his hands and his feet. – Luke 24:38-40 NLT

And Luke reveals that even after all the evidence Jesus provided, “they stood there in disbelief, filled with joy and wonder” (Luke 24:41 NLT). John simply states, “the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord” (John 20:20 ESV). He paints a much more flattering image of the disciples than do Mark and Luke. But this makes sense when you consider that neither of these men had been in the room that night because they were not part of the original group of disciples. Their recounting of the events surrounding the death and resurrection of Jesus were based on interviews with those who had been there. John was writing from first-hand experience. He shared his own personal recollections of what he saw and heard.

And rather than focusing on Jesus’ rebuke of His unbelieving disciples, John chose to highlight His commissioning of them. John had believed from the moment he had entered the empty tomb. He had not shared the doubt and disbelief of his fellow disciples. So, he was thrilled when he heard Jesus say, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you” (John 20:21 ESV). John didn’t need to see the hands and feet of Jesus to believe. The empty tomb had been enough for him. And now, he was thrilled to hear that their mission was far from over. Jesus had more for them to do.

Luke and Mark add additional details that give a more well-rounded picture of what took place that night. Luke reveals that Jesus provided the disciples with an in-depth overview of Old Testament Scriptures and how they pointed to Him.

“When I was with you before, I told you that everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and in the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. And he said, “Yes, it was written long ago that the Messiah would suffer and die and rise from the dead on the third day. It was also written that this message would be proclaimed in the authority of his name to all the nations, beginning in Jerusalem: ‘There is forgiveness of sins for all who repent.’ You are witnesses of all these things.” – Luke 24:44-48 NLT

Mark provides even more information that helps complete the scene.

“Go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone. Anyone who believes and is baptized will be saved. But anyone who refuses to believe will be condemned.” – Mark 16:15-16 NLT

Despite their disbelief and fear, this ragtag group of disciples was being given a divine mandate to carry on the work of Jesus in His absence. They were being trusted to take the message of the Gospel to the world, and Jesus reminded them that their ability to carry out their commission would not be left up to them.

And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. – John 20:22 ESV

There is much debate as to what is actually being described here. Was Jesus imparting the Holy Spirit to His disciples? This seems unlikely because they would not receive the indwelling presence of the Spirit until Jesus had ascended back to heaven. It would only be after His glorification that the Spirit would be sent. That’s why Jesus later instructed them to wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit.

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” – Acts 1:8 ESV

Also, there is no indication that the disciples experienced any significant change as a result of what Jesus said and did that night. It appears to have been a symbolic act, designed to remind the disciples of the ultimate source of their coming power. The Spirit would be a personal gift from Jesus to His disciples. And when Jesus “breathed on them,” He was mirroring the gift of life given by God in the garden of Eden.

…then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. – Genesis 2:7 ESV

John understood the significance of this act. He is the one who wrote, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:1-3 ESV).

John also wrote that “In him was life” (John 1:4 ESV). Jesus was the source of all life. And in breathing on His disciples, Jesus was letting them know that they were already recipients of the “breath of life” – eternal life – that would be sealed by the coming of the Holy Spirit. With His death, Jesus had provided these men with His righteousness. They had been cleansed and purified by His blood and were now fully acceptable in God’s eyes. They were also worthy of receiving the coming Holy Spirit. It would not be the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost that made them holy. They were already holy because of what Jesus had just accomplished on the cross. By breathing on them, Jesus was assuring them that they were acceptable before God. They were clean vessels, worthy of containing the presence of God’s Holy Spirit.

The apostle Paul reminds us of what Jesus accomplished for us through His death on the cross.

But now God has shown us a way to be made right with him without keeping the requirements of the law, as was promised in the writings of Moses and the prophets long ago. We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are. – Romans 3:21-22 NLT

These doubting men were being commissioned by Jesus. He knew their weaknesses and He understood their reticence. But He was letting them know that it was He who was the author of all life, and He was imparting to them His very breath as a sign of His life-giving power.

But John adds one more important note regarding the events of that evening. He records something else that Jesus told them.

If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” – John 20:23 ESV

Their commission was accompanied by incredible responsibilities. With the sharing of the Good News, they would be offering people the choice between forgiveness and condemnation. It was the same message that Jesus had given to Nicodemus.

“God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him. There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him. But anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son.” – John 3:17-18 NLT

Now, that message would be theirs. And, like Jesus, they would find some willing to receive the message and the forgiveness of sins that accompanies it. But there would be others who “hate the light and refuse to go near it for fear their sins will be exposed” (John 3:20 NLT). Some will receive forgiveness while others will find themselves condemned by virtue of their unbelief.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

One More Thing to Do

11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. 12 And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her. John 20:11-18 ESV

John indicates that he and Peter left the empty tomb and “went back to their homes” (John 20:10 ESV). The Greek phrase eis ta idia can also be translated as “to their own.” and since it is unlikely that either of these men had private homes in Jerusalem, it seems more plausible that John is saying that they rejoined the other disciples. But he also indicates that Mary Magdalene lingered at the graveside. She had returned with the two disciples after she had told them about the empty tomb and the missing body of Jesus.

Left by herself, Mary Magdalene stood outside the tomb weeping. She was overcome with sadness and grief at this second blow to her hopes and dreams. Not only was Jesus dead, but now His body was missing as well. Could things get any worse? But she decided to take one last look into the empty tomb.

And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. – John 20:12 ESV

Imagine the shock and surprise she must have felt at this unexpected sight. While John describes these two individuals as angels, there is no indication that Mary Magdalene recognized them as divine beings. When one of them asked the reason for her tears, she responded rather matter-of-factly, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him” (John 20:13 ESV). Her answer reveals her lingering sorrow over the loss of her friend, the one who had miraculously cast seven demons from her (Luke 8:2). Jesus had freed her from demonic possession and she had hoped that He was Israel’s Messiah, who would free them from their subjugation to Rome. 

But how does John’s narrative fit in with that of Mark’s? In his gospel, Mark indicates that Mary went to the tomb with Mary the mother of James and Salome, in order to anoint the body of Jesus with spices (Mark 16:1). Finding the stone that sealed the tomb had been rolled away, they entered, and “saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed” (Mark 16:5 NET).

This “young man,” who was actually an angel, told them, “Do not be alarmed. You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has been raised! He is not here. Look, there is the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples, even Peter, that he is going ahead of you into Galilee. You will see him there, just as he told you” (Mark 16:6-7 NET). Despite the angel’s words, “they went out and ran from the tomb, terror and bewilderment had seized them. And they said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid” (Mark 16:8 NET).

But what about Mary Magdalene? Why does John describe her as being at the tomb alone and encountering two angels, not one? It would seem that Mary Magdalene and the other two women had traveled together to the tomb that morning, but that she was the first to arrive and find the tomb empty. She immediately left and ran to tell Peter and John. In the meantime, the other two women arrived and encountered the angel. In shock and terror, they ran from the scene but told no one what they had heard and seen. But Mary Magdalene had leter returned with Peter and John. When the two men had entered the tomb, they had seen nothing but the discarded burial cloth. But when Mary Magdalene had entered on her own, she had been greeted by the two angels.

Most likely, she believed these two men to be groundskeepers or gardeners, so John indicates that, having found the tomb empty, she turned to leave. And when she did, she found herself staring into the face of the risen Jesus. But she failed to recognize Him. John provides no explanation for her inability to recognize Jesus. Perhaps she was suffering from shock. But she would not be the only one who would encounter the risen Jesus and fail to recognize Him. Luke describes two unnamed followers of Jesus who were traveling from Jerusalem to Emmaus, having just witnessed the crucifixion of Jesus. They were discussing all that had happened in Jerusalem when, suddenly, they found themselves joined by a “stranger.”

Jesus himself approached and began to accompany them (but their eyes were kept from recognizing him). – Luke 24:15-16 NET

They too failed to recognize Jesus. And the text seems to indicate that they were miraculously prevented from doing so. This could have been the case with Mary as well. But whatever the reason for her memory lapse, when this third man spoke to her, she just assumed he was a gardener. He asked her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?,” and she sadly responded, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away” (John 20:15 ESV).

She had come to the tomb expecting to find the lifeless body of her friend and healer, and she had found nothing. At no point does she show any signs that she believed Jesus might be alive. There are no indications that she considered His resurrection as a possible explanation to the empty tomb. She was still hoping to find a body. And her failure to believe what Jesus had said about rising again is made all the more glaring by the fact that He was standing right in front of her.

But when He addressed her by name, everything changed.

She turned to him and cried out, “Rabboni!” (which is Hebrew for “Teacher”). – John 20:16 NLT

She was not even looking at Him when He spoke. She was too busy grieving over her loss and wondering what she was going to do next. But as soon as she heard Jesus speak her name, she turned abruptly and immediately recognized the one whom she had thought to be dead. Her grief was replaced by overwhelming joy and she impulsively wrapped her arms around Jesus, refusing to let Him go. But Jesus lovingly rebuked her, saying, “Don’t cling to me, for I haven’t yet ascended to the Father” (John 20:17 NLT).

For Mary Magdalene, the sudden reappearance of Jesus was more than she could have ever dreamed or imagined. He was alive! In a split second, her sorrow had been turned to joy. It must have been similar to the overwhelming sense of freedom and relief she had felt when Jesus released her from the control of the seven demons. But Jesus wanted Mary Magdalene to know that His reappearance would be short-lived. He would not be staying. And He knew that the vice-like grip with which she held Him revealed her desire that He never leave her again.

But there was more for Him to do. He had risen from the dead so that He might return to His Father’s side. His work was done. He had finished what He had come to do. And He had told the disciples that His departure would be necessary and for their own good.

But now I am going away to the one who sent me…But in fact, it is best for you that I go away, because if I don’t, the Advocate won’t come. If I do go away, then I will send him to you.” – John 16:6, 7 NLT

And Jesus gave Mary Magdalene an important assignment. She was to find the disciples and give them a message.

“But go find my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” – John 20:18 NLT

Notice the nature of Jesus’ message for the disciples. He didn’t instruct her to tell them that He was risen or alive. He wanted her to let them know that He was ascending to His Father, whom He described as “my God and your God.” Jesus was returning to His rightful place at His Father’s side. This was something Jesus had repeatedly told His disciples was going to happen.

“I will be with you only a little longer. Then I will return to the one who sent me. – John 7:33 NLT

“I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father. – John 14:12 NLT

“Remember what I told you: I am going away, but I will come back to you again. If you really loved me, you would be happy that I am going to the Father, who is greater than I am.” – John 14:28 NLT

“But now I am going away to the one who sent me…” – John 16:5 NLT

“Righteousness is available because I go to the Father, and you will see me no more.” – John 16:10 NLT

“Yes, I came from the Father into the world, and now I will leave the world and return to the Father.” – John 16:28 NLT

As vital as the crucifixion and resurrection were to God’s redemptive plan, the ascension of Jesus was absolutely crucial. With Jesus’ departure, the Spirit of God would come to take up residence within each and every one of His followers. They would receive “power from on high” (Luke 24:49 ESV), enabling them to “do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father” (John 14:12 NLT).

And Mary Magdalene faithfully followed His instructions, finding the disciples and telling them that Jesus was alive and well, and passing on to them the news that He would soon be ascending to the Father.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Empty Hopes and An Empty Tomb

1 Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” So Peter went out with the other disciple, and they were going toward the tomb. Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples went back to their homes. John 20:1-10 ESV

Joseph and Nicodemus, two members of the Jewish high council, had discretely removed the body of Jesus from the cross and carefully cleaned it, anointed it with burial spices, wrapped it in a linen cloth, and placed it in a tomb. And there it remained for three days, while the disciples remained in a state of mourning.

Their friend and teacher was gone. The one they had believed to be their long-awaited Messiah was no longer with them. And as they gathered together during those dark days, they must have discussed the words that Jesus had spoken to them.

“Listen,” he said, “we’re going up to Jerusalem, where the Son of Man will be betrayed to the leading priests and the teachers of religious law. They will sentence him to die. Then they will hand him over to the Romans to be mocked, flogged with a whip, and crucified. But on the third day he will be raised from the dead.” – Matthew 20:18-19 NLT

Everything had happened just as He said it would – down to the last detail. And this had not been the first time they had heard Jesus make prophetic statements concerning His death. Earlier in his gospel, Matthew records another occasion when Jesus divulged to His disciples the fate that lay in store for Him.

Jesus began to tell his disciples plainly that it was necessary for him to go to Jerusalem, and that he would suffer many terrible things at the hands of the elders, the leading priests, and the teachers of religious law. He would be killed, but on the third day he would be raised from the dead. – Matthew 16:21 NLT

And Peter had responded with outrage, even rebuking Jesus for saying such things.

“Heaven forbid, Lord,” he said. “This will never happen to you!” – Matthew 16:22 NLT

The outcome Jesus had described was unacceptable to Peter. He was unwilling to entertain thoughts of the death of his friend, teacher, and Messiah. The fact that Jesus had also declared He would rise again on the third day seems to have escaped him. And Jesus’ response reveals the true nature of Peter’s refusal to accept what was clearly God’s will.

“Get away from me, Satan! You are a dangerous trap to me. You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s.” – Matthew 16:23 NLT

Peter and his companions had always wrestled with viewing Jesus from their limited earthly perspective. They believed Him to be the Messiah, but those beliefs were weighed down with all kinds of faulty interpretations and personal expectations. They had high hopes that Jesus was going to reverse the centuries of abuse and subjugation that their people had been forced to suffer under Gentile nations like the Romans. And because they had been among the first to follow Jesus, these men had lofty expectations that they would be rewarded with positions in His administration when He set up His Kingdom.

But now that Jesus was dead, Peter, John, and the rest of the disciples were in hiding. We have no idea what they were doing or the nature of the conversations they were having during those three days. But all of the gospel writers tell us that it was the female followers of Jesus who made the first attempt to visit His tomb. Mark reveals that Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses had seen where Joseph and Nicodemus had buried the body of Jesus (Mark 15:47). And Luke adds that, because the Sabbath was about to begin, “they returned and prepared aromatic spices and perfumes” (Luke 23:56 ESV). They had every intention of returning after the Sabbath in order to anoint the body of Jesus.

Luke reports that “on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared” (Luke 24:1 ESV). Matthew provides the identities of these women: 

Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. – Matthew 28:1 ESV

Mark adds the name of Salome to the list of women who visited the tomb that morning (Mark 16:1). But regardless of how many women went to the tomb, Luke makes it clear that none of them had gone there looking for a resurrected Jesus. The burial spices they carried gave evidence that they fully expected to find a dead body, not a living one.  

In his typical, abbreviated style, John only mentions Mary Magdalene. This might be because she was the one who would return to the disciples and share the good news regarding Jesus’ resurrection. He also leaves out any mention of the earthquake and the appearance of the angel that Matthew includes. And he chose not to include the words spoken by the angel.

“Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” – Luke 24:5-7 ESV

It may be that John felt that all of these details had been adequately covered by the other gospel writers and were unnecessary for him to include. But John’s account seems to provide some missing details to the resurrection chronology. According to his version of the morning’s events, Mary Magdalene made her way to the tomb with the other women, but she was the first one to arrive. She found the stone rolled away and the tomb empty. John adds that he and Peter were the first two disciples to whom Mary Magdalene revealed this news.

…she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” – John 20:2 ESV

At this point, she was unaware that Jesus was alive. Meanwhile, the other women had made it to the tomb, only to make the same shocking discovery.

And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back—it was very large. And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” – Mark 16:4-7 ESV

As these women ran to tell the good news to the disciples, Peter and John were already on their way to the tomb. The report that the tomb was empty and the body of Jesus was gone had shocked them out of their state of mourning and energized them into action.

Peter and the other disciple started out for the tomb. They were both running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He stooped and looked in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he didn’t go in. Then Simon Peter arrived and went inside. He also noticed the linen wrappings lying there, while the cloth that had covered Jesus’ head was folded up and lying apart from the other wrappings. – John 20:3-7 NLT

It is important to remember that John, the one writing this gospel, was “the other disciple.” He admits that he was the first to arrive at the tomb because he outran Peter. John peered into the tomb but refused to go inside. Yet, the always impulsive Peter, arriving a few seconds later, barged into the tomb, only to discover the discarded burial cloth. The body was gone, just as Mary Magdalene had said.

But John adds a personal word of testimony.

…the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed… – John 20:8 ESV

Emboldened by Peter’s actions, John entered the tomb to have a closer look. And what he saw convinced him that Jesus was alive. He believed. And he admits that, until that moment, the disciples had not understood what the Scriptures revealed about the death and resurrection of the Messiah. The words of King David, recorded in Psalm 16, were a prophetic statement regarding the death and resurrection of the Messiah.

For you will not leave my soul among the dead
    or allow your holy one to rot in the grave.
You will show me the way of life,
    granting me the joy of your presence
    and the pleasures of living with you forever. – Psalm 16:10-11 NLT

And John admits that he and his companions had never understood these Old Testament passages to be applicable to Jesus. Not only that, they had not comprehended Jesus’ own words concerning His death and resurrection. But now, John saw and believed.

But he seems to speak only for himself. He doesn’t indicate whether Peter believed. Luke tells us only that, upon seeing the empty tomb, Peter “went home marveling at what had happened” (Luke 24:12 ESV). And John gives the impression that there was a bit of unbelief still lingering among the disciples. He simply states that “the disciples went back to their homes” (John 20:10 ESV).

John and Peter left the tomb as they had found it: Empty and abandoned. But they had yet to see the resurrected Jesus. The same was not true of the women. As they had made their way from the tomb, with the words of the angel echoing in their ears, “Jesus met them and said, ‘Greetings!’” (Matthew 28:9 ESV). And Matthew adds that “they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me’” (Matthew 28:9-10 ESV).

The good news was about to get better. Soon, John would not be the only one of the 11 who believed. The rest of his confused and disheartened brothers would soon find themselves face to face with their risen Lord and Savior.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Lifeless, Yet Priceless

38 After these things Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus, and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took away his body. 39 Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight. 40 So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. 41 Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. 42 So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there. John 19:38-42 ESV

Using His final breath, Jesus declared “It is finished,” and then He died. Only in His third decade of life, Jesus had brutally tortured and killed, by means of one of the most inhumane forms of capital punishment ever devised: Crucifixion. From the perspective of His mother and what remained of His followers, all that remained of Jesus was His beaten, bruised, and lifeless body.

Three times in five verses, John refers to “the body of Jesus.” There is a sense of finality in these closing verses of chapter 19. One almost gets the impression that John is bringing his gospel to an abrupt and unexpected end. With Jesus dead, this must be the end of the story. And everything John records in these verses seems intended to portray the shocking end of Jesus’ life and the disappointing failure of His mission.

John describes the efforts of Joseph of Arimethea, who came to Pilate asking for permission to remove the body of Jesus from the cross for burial. John provides no insights into this man’s identity, other than he was a disciple of Jesus. But in his gospel, Mark reveals that Joseph was “a respected member of the council, who was also himself looking for the kingdom of God” (Mark 15:43 ESV). So, Joseph was a member of the Sanhedrin, the religious governing body of the Jews who had condemned Jesus to death. But Luke adds that he “had not agreed with the decision and actions of the other religious leaders” (Luke 23:51 NLT).

This dissenting member of the Sanhedrin risked not only his reputation but also his place in the religious community of Israel. The Sanhedrin had threatened anyone who showed allegiance to Jesus with ex-communication from the synagogue. But out of love for Jesus, Joseph was willing to put it all on the line. And he was not alone. He was joined by Nicodemus, another member of the high council. This is the same man who had made a light-night visit to Jesus and received a head-scratching lecture on the need to be born from above in order to enter the kingdom of heaven.

These two unlikely characters are the ones who remove the lifeless body of Jesus from the cross and prepare it for burial. It should not be overlooked that these men were members of the very same council that had condemned Jesus to death. Matthew records that when Caiaphas the high priest had asked the members of the council for their verdict, they had shouted, “Guilty! He deserves to die!” (Matthew 26:66 ESV). And then, Matthew describes the scene that followed:

Then they began to spit in Jesus’ face and beat him with their fists. And some slapped him, jeering, “Prophesy to us, you Messiah! Who hit you that time?” – Matthew 26:67-68 ESV

Yet surprisingly, from out of this prideful and hate-filled mob emerged two men who showed their final respects for Jesus by ensuring He received a proper burial.

So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. – John 19:40 ESV

John’s emphasis on the body of Jesus is crucial. All throughout his gospel, John has stressed the deity and humanity of Jesus. These two aspects of Jesus’ identity are inseparable and equally vital in John’s understanding of the Gospel. Jesus was the Word made flesh (John 1:14). He was the Son of God who came from heaven and became a man so that He might dwell among us and reveal the glory of God to us. According to John, Jesus, in HIs incarnation, made God known (John 1:18). The apostle Paul declares that Jesus, by virtue of His humanity, was “the visible image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15 NLT).

But there was far more behind the miracle of the incarnation than making God known. Jesus came to make God accessible. Paul describes that Jesus’ coming to earth “in a body like the bodies we sinners have,” had much more long-term and radical implications.

He [God] sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. – Romans 8:3 NLT

The physical body of Jesus had profound spiritual implications. It was His body that allowed Him to live as a man and to be “tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15 ESV). And it was His sinlessness that made Him the perfect sacrifice for the sins of mankind. The author of Hebrews goes on to describe the absolute necessity that Jesus be fully human so that He could serve as the substitutionary atonement for the sins of a guilty and condemned humanity.

“You did not want animal sacrifices or sin offerings.
    But you have given me a body to offer.
You were not pleased with burnt offerings
    or other offerings for sin.
Then I said, ‘Look, I have come to do your will, O God—
    as is written about me in the Scriptures.’” – Hebrews 10:5-7 NLT

For God’s will was for us to be made holy by the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ, once for all time. – Hebrews 10:10 NLT

The body of Jesus, while lifeless, was also priceless. And John’s emphasis on the extravagant and expensive quantity of burial spices brought by Nicodemus is intended to drive home the infinite worth value of the body of Jesus. And Peter also emphasizes the priceless nature of Jesus’ sacrifice.

For you know that God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors. And it was not paid with mere gold or silver, which lose their value. It was the precious blood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God. – 1 Peter 1: 18-19 NLT

And Peter would go on to describe how Jesus paid the price for our sins with the offering of His own body on our behalf.

He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. – 1 Peter 2:24 ESV

And Peter was simply restating the prophetic words of Isaiah, who centuries earlier, described in stunning detail the atoning work of Jesus.

But he was pierced for our transgressions;
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
    and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
    we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all. – Isaiah 53:5-6 ESV

And John reveals that Joseph and Nicodemus treated the body of Jesus with utmost respect and dignity, washing it and anointing it with burial spices, then wrapping it in linen cloths. Then he adds that they placed the body of Jesus in “a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid” (John 19:41 ESV). Matthew notes that the tomb belonged to Joseph and this point becomes significant because of the prophetic words of Isaiah.

He had done no wrong
    and had never deceived anyone.
But he was buried like a criminal;
    he was put in a rich man’s grave. – Isaiah 53:9 NLT

The sinless one was treated like a criminal. He died the death of a sinner even though He was without sin. He was “pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins…beaten so we could be whole…whipped so we could be healed” (Isaiah 53:5 NLT). He was “struck down for the rebellion of my people” (Isaiah 53:8 NLT).

And His body, though lifeless, would not undergo the indignity of decay and decomposition. Because it was of immeasurable worth and value. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, King David would prophetically speak on behalf of Jesus when he wrote:

No wonder my heart is glad, and I rejoice.
    My body rests in safety.
For you will not leave my soul among the dead
    or allow your holy one to rot in the grave.
You will show me the way of life,
    granting me the joy of your presence
    and the pleasures of living with you forever. – Psalm 16:9-11 NLT

Years later, the apostle Paul would preach a sermon in Antioch of Pisidia, in which he stated:

“For God had promised to raise him from the dead, not leaving him to rot in the grave. He said, ‘I will give you the sacred blessings I promised to David.’ Another psalm explains it more fully: ‘You will not allow your Holy One to rot in the grave.’ This is not a reference to David, for after David had done the will of God in his own generation, he died and was buried with his ancestors, and his body decayed. No, it was a reference to someone else—someone whom God raised and whose body did not decay.” – Acts 13:34-37 NLT

The body of Jesus, while just like the bodies we sinners have, did not suffer the same post-death fate that all human bodies do. And while John’s description of Jesus’ burial has a sense of finality to it, he is simply preparing his readers for what comes next. He subtly hints that there is more to come when he mentions what all of this took place on “the Jewish day of Preparation” (John 19:42 ESV). This is a reference to Friday, the day before the Sabbath. Joseph and Nicodemus were under pressure to make sure the body of Jesus was interred before the Sabbath began and all forms of work would have been prohibited. But his reference to the day of preparation has far more in mind than the mandatory observance of the Sabbath. He is preparing his readers for something even greater.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

It Is Finished!

28 After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” 29 A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. 30 When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

31 Since it was the day of Preparation, and so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken and that they might be taken away. 32 So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first, and of the other who had been crucified with him. 33 But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. 34 But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. 35 He who saw it has borne witness—his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth—that you also may believe. 36 For these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken.” 37 And again another Scripture says, “They will look on him whom they have pierced.” John 19:28-37 ESV

Just as he did with his recounting of Jesus’ trials, John presents a highly truncated version of Jesus’ crucifixion. In some sense, John portrays the death of Jesus as the work of men. The Sanhedrin had plotted and planned for it to happen, and the Roman governor had given his official approval, commanding his troops to carry out the execution of Jesus. John has portrayed Jesus as the King of the Jews and purposefully juxtaposed Him with two of the most powerful men in Israel at the time: The chief priest and the Roman prefect. These two men played significant roles in the death of Jesus, ensuring that His crucifixion was carried out. And John’s abbreviated treatment of the death of Jesus may simply be His way of diminishing or downplaying the power of men over the Son of God.

During his interrogation of Jesus, Pilate had arrogantly proclaimed, “Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?” (John 19:10 ESV). Pilate was backed by the full power and authority of the Roman government. He had been appointed by Caesar and had thousands of well-trained and heavily armed Romans legionnaires at his disposal. He could issue a command and it would be carried out. But Jesus, unphased by Pilate’s boastful declaration, had calmly responded, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above” (John 19:11 ESV).

In His trial before the Sanhedrin, Jesus had been confronted by Caiaphas, the high priest, who had demanded that Jesus publicly state His claim to be the Messiah.

“I demand in the name of the living God—tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.” – Matthew 26:63 NLT

Caiaphas was looking for a confession from Jesus, not some kind of confirmation. He harbored no suspicions that Jesus might truly be the Messiah. He was simply wanting Jesus to condemn Himself by proclaiming His claim to be the Son of God – in public and in front of witnesses. This powerful and influential leader of Israel’s religious elite believed that he held the fate of Jesus in his hands. But Jesus had responded by stating, “…in the future you will see the Son of Man seated in the place of power at God’s right hand and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Matthew 26:64 NLT).

Like Pilate, Caiaphas had no power over Jesus. And for John, the crucifixion seemed to represent man’s vain attempt to thwart the plans of God. Their treatment of Jesus had been cruel and unjust. They were putting to death an innocent man. But little did they know that they were actually fulfilling the will of God and the desires of Jesus. They were not the ones in control. While they believed they were taking the life of Jesus, He had made it clear that no one had that kind of authority over Him.

“No one can take my life from me. I sacrifice it voluntarily. For I have the authority to lay it down when I want to and also to take it up again. For this is what my Father has commanded.” – John 10:18 NLT

The death of Jesus was the will of God. It was being carried out by men, utilizing a man-made instrument of death, but it was all according to the sovereign and providential plan of God and the full consent of the Son of God. So, John seems to fast-forward through the gruesome details surrounding the crucifixion, focusing only on a few carefully chosen scenes. He is more interested in what happens next.

After recording how Jesus had personally commissioned him to care for His mother, John provides an interesting first-person impression of what he saw. He describes Jesus as “knowing that all was now finished” (John 19:28 ESV). Somehow, John ascertains that Jesus was reaching not only the end of His life but also the completion of His mission. And he reports hearing Jesus say: “I thirst” (John 19:28 ESV).

The one who had stated, “whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again” (John 4:14 ESV), was declaring His own thirst. He was nearing the completion of His earthly ministry, having suffered greatly at the hands of sinful men, and He found Himself suffering from intense spiritual thirst. John indicates that the words of Jesus were in fulfillment of Scripture. It is likely that he is referring to two passages found in the Psalms that seem to prophesy this very moment.

I am poured out like water,
    and all my bones are out of joint;
my heart is like wax;
    it is melted within my breast;
my strength is dried up like a potsherd,
    and my tongue sticks to my jaws;
    you lay me in the dust of death. – Psalm 22: 14-15 ESV

You know my reproach,
    and my shame and my dishonor;
    my foes are all known to you.
Reproaches have broken my heart,
    so that I am in despair.
I looked for pity, but there was none,
    and for comforters, but I found none.
They gave me poison for food,
    and for my thirst they gave me sour wine to drink. – Psalm 69:19-21 ESV

But Jesus’ expression of thirst has even great implications because they tie back into His earlier declaration: “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work” (John 4:34 ESV). Jesus was about to complete the work of His Father, and that work had been grueling, painful, and exhausting. It had left Him physically and spiritually depleted. Jesus had told James and John that they would not be able to drink from the cup that He would be forced to drink (Mark 10:38). This cup represented the wrath of God (Jeremiah 25:15-16). In His crucifixion, Jesus was taking on Himself the full weight of God’s wrath against the sins of mankind. And, as He had told Peter, “shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?” (John 18:11 ESV).

Doing the work of His Father had left Jesus thirsting after righteousness. He was bearing the sins of mankind and, in doing so, feeling the displeasure of His Father for the first time in His life. And He longed to be restored to fellowship. Isaiah describes the extreme nature of His sacrifice.

because he poured out his soul to death
    and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
    and makes intercession for the transgressors. – Isaiah 53:12 ESV

It is impossible for us to comprehend the burden that Jesus bore on our behalf. When Isaiah states that “the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6 ESV), we have a difficult time understanding the gravity and intensity of that weight.

And in response to Jesus’ words, He was given a sponge dipped in sour wine. The one who had turned ordinary water into extraordinary wine was given sour wine to slake His spiritual thirst. He who had poured out His blood as a drink offering to satisfy the just demands of a holy God was given spoiled wine to satisfy His need for refreshment.

And then, John records the last words Jesus would utter from the cross: “It is finished” (John 19:30 ESV). With His final breath, Jesus proclaimed the successful completion of His God-ordained mission. He had done what He had come to do. Now, the rest was in the hands of His Heavenly Father.

In order to expedite death, the Roman soldiers broke the legs of the three men, making it impossible for them to push themselves up in order to breathe. But Jesus was spared this indignity because He was already dead. Yet, as a precaution, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ body with a spear. Even in death, Jesus was subjected to indignity and disrespect. And John declares that all that he has written is true because he saw it with his own eye.

This report is from an eyewitness giving an accurate account. He speaks the truth so that you also may continue to believe. – John 19:35 NLT

John reveals the reason why he chose to report the things he did. The facts that the legs of Jesus remained unbroken and that His side was pierced are crucial to John. For him, they provide further proof of Jesus identity as the Son of God. He sees these two details as evidence of the deity of Jesus because they fulfill Old Testament prophecy. John seems to have three primary passages in mind: Exodus 12:46; Numbers 9:12; and Psalm 34:20. The first two deal with the divine prohibition against breaking the bones of the Passover lambs. In His death, Jesus performed the role of the Lamb who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29). Paul ties Jesus directly to the Passover lamb, stating, “Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed” (1 Corinthians 5:7 ESV). Psalm 34:20 describes how God protects the truly righteous man, preventing anyone from breaking his bones.

Even in His death, Jesus was fulfilling the prophecies of Scripture, providing further evidence that He truly was the Son of God and the Savior of the world. And for John, the proofs for Jesus’ identity are far from over.

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