The Hidden Hope of Salvation

21 To Shem also, the father of all the children of Eber, the elder brother of Japheth, children were born. 22 The sons of Shem: Elam, Asshur, Arpachshad, Lud, and Aram. 23 The sons of Aram: Uz, Hul, Gether, and Mash. 24 Arpachshad fathered Shelah; and Shelah fathered Eber. 25 To Eber were born two sons: the name of the one was Peleg, for in his days the earth was divided, and his brother’s name was Joktan. 26 Joktan fathered Almodad, Sheleph, Hazarmaveth, Jerah, 27 Hadoram, Uzal, Diklah, 28 Obal, Abimael, Sheba, 29 Ophir, Havilah, and Jobab; all these were the sons of Joktan. 30 The territory in which they lived extended from Mesha in the direction of Sephar to the hill country of the east. 31 These are the sons of Shem, by their clans, their languages, their lands, and their nations.

32 These are the clans of the sons of Noah, according to their genealogies, in their nations, and from these the nations spread abroad on the earth after the flood.  Genesis 10:21-32 ESV

Compared to his younger brother’s genealogy, Shem’s lineage is far more pedestrian in nature. It contains no names that might raise eyebrows or elicit a sense of shock. And yet, within this list of obscure and difficult to pronounce names Moses provided a subtle, yet powerful, reminder of God’s sovereign authority over the affairs of mankind.

For most modern readers, this list of names seems rather superfluous. The individuals listed are unknown to us and, therefore, carry little weight. Yet, for the Jewish audience to whom Moses penned the book of Genesis, these names would have had a great deal of significance. At the mention of Arpachshad, Shelah, Eber, and Peleg, Moses would have had his reader’s undistracted attention, because these men were part of the family tree of Abraham, the father of the Hebrew nation. In fact, Moses will provide a more detailed and complete genealogy of Abraham in the very next chapter. He will go on to trace the lineage of Shem through the line of Peleg, all the way to the man who would become the patriarch of the Jewish people.

But in chapter nine, Moses chose to ignore the line of Peleg and traced the lineage of his brother, Joktan instead. Moses provides a rather strange aside when describing these two brothers.

To Eber were born two sons: the name of the one was Peleg, for in his days the earth was divided, and his brother’s name was Joktan. – Genesis 10:25 ESV

There has been much debate regarding the meaning of the phrase, “the earth was divided.” The Hebrew word is פָּלַג (pālaḡ), and it means “to split, cleave, or divide.” Based on the context of chapter 11, the most logical explanation is that Moses is referring to God’s dividing of the nations by the creation of languages. It seems that the events recorded in Genesis 11:1-9 occurred during the lifetime of Peleg. It was in Peleg’s lifetime that God decided to “divide or split” the earth by confusing the languages of the people. And Moses provides a detailed description of God’s momentous decision.

“Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.” – Genesis 11:6-7 ESV

And Moses goes on to describe how God “dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth” (Genesis 11:8 ESV). God literally “divided” or “split” the earth by creating new people groups with different languages. Their inability to communicate with one another caused an immediate parting of the ways, indirectly fulfilling God’s command that mankind “fill the earth.” In “dispersing” them, God was breaking humanity in pieces and scattering them abroad. That is the literal meaning of the Hebrew word, פּוּץ (pûṣ).

It would appear that Moses split the genealogy found in chapter 10 at the juncture of Peleg and Joktan because he was going to provide further details about Peleg’s lineage in the following chapter. During the lives of these two brothers, something significant and earth-shattering took place. And Moses will provide further insights into that momentous occasion. But it seems safe to conclude that when Moses states “in his days the earth was divided,” he is referring to the events surrounding the tower of Babel, as described in the opening verses of chapter 11. Another reason for reaching this conclusion is found in a psalm written by David. In it, he uses the very same word, (pālaḡ), to describe the dividing and confusion of languages.

Destroy, O Lord, divide (pālaḡ) their tongues;
    for I see violence and strife in the city. – Psalm 55:9 ESV

So, hidden within this somewhat meaningless and uninteresting genealogy is a subtle reminder of God’s sovereign will. As the sons of Noah procreate and populate the planet, God is operating behind the scene, sovereignly orchestrating His divine will. With the birth of each new son, another branch in the human family tree begins. Peleg and Joktan, while brothers, would produce two distinctively different progeny.  From Joktan would come the various Arabic tribes, the Yemenites, Assyrians, Lydians, and Aramaens. These “clans of the sons of Noah, according to their genealogies, in their nations, and from these the nations spread abroad on the earth after the flood” (Genesis 10:32 ESV).

God was orchestrating the creation of all those nations that were destined to play vital roles in His future plans for the world. By sovereignly forming such diverse groups as the Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, and Canaanites, God was putting in place all the pieces to His divine plan for mankind’s redemption. There was a method to the seeming madness. God had a reason for creating each of these distinct people groups. And Moses wanted his readers to understand that the existence of each of these nations had been decreed by God’s will. They didn’t just happen. They were planned by God Almighty. And while each of them would eventually become an enemy of Israel, God had a divinely ordained role for them to play.

There is no cosmic karma in the universe. Nothing happens by chance. Nations rise and fall by the sovereign will of God. The existence of languages was part of God’s plan. The birth of great nation-states was His idea. Each of the men listed in the genealogy of chapter 10 would go on to father a multitude of descendants. And these people would eventually form various nations, representing a diverse mix of ethnicities with each speaking their own unique language and displaying their own cultural distinctiveness. And it would be into this diverse and divisive milieu that God would sovereignly raise up a single man who would become the next “Adam” in the story of mankind’s eventual redemption from the fall.

This all takes us back to the protoevangelium (first gospel) found in Genesis 3:15. In pronouncing His curse against the serpent, God provided the promise of an offspring or seed, that would come from the woman.

“I will put enmity between you and the woman,
    and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
    and you shall bruise his heel.” – Genesis 3:15 ESV

There is far more to this statement than the prediction of mutual hatred between mankind and snakes. This was a divinely decreed promise of payback for Satan’s role in Adam and Eve’s rebellion against God. There would one day come a descendant of Eve who would restore fallen mankind to a right relationship with God. Jesus Christ, as outlined in the gospel of Luke, would be born a descendant of Adam (Luke 3:23-38). But as Matthew records in his gospel account, Jesus would also be the descendant of Abraham, who would be born from the line of Peleg.

…Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. – Matthew 1:1 ESV

Hidden within these somewhat obscure genealogical lists is the message of God’s sovereign plan to restore what Satan had attempted to destroy. When God sent the flood as a form of judgment against the wickedness of humanity, He could have destroyed Noah and his sons, and been completely just and right in doing so. While Noah found favor with God, he was not sinless. While Moses describes him as righteous and blameless “in his generation” (Genesis 6:9 ESV), this was intended as a statement of comparison, not commendation. In other words, Noah had not earned his salvation from God. God did not spare Noah because he was righteous. No, according to the book of Hebrews, God spared Noah because he believed and obeyed. He took God at His word and heeded the warning that judgment was coming.

By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith. – Hebrews 11:7 ESV

Noah’s faith was in the salvation of God. Despite the fact that none of God’s commands made much sense or the likelihood of a worldwide flood seemed remote at best, Noah believed and obeyed. He put his faith in God’s promise of deliverance. But in stepping on the ark he had helped to construct, Noah was foreshadowing a greater deliverance to come. And the author of Hebrews ends chapter 11, his great “Hall of Faith,” with the following words of encouragement and insight.

All these people earned a good reputation because of their faith, yet none of them received all that God had promised. For God had something better in mind for us, so that they would not reach perfection without us. – Hebrews 11:39-40 NLT

Out of all the offspring born to Adam and Noah, there would eventually come one “seed” that would provide a means of restoring broken humanity to a right relationship with its Creator.

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.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

More Than Alive

50 And he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. 51 While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. 52 And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, 53 and were continually in the temple blessing God. Luke 24:50-53 ESV

What’s Up with the Ascension?Luke is a stickler for details. So, it’s not surprising that he adds a very subtle but significant factor when describing the final moments of Jesus’ earthly ministry. He points out that Jesus led His disciples “out as far as Bethany” (Luke 24:50 ESV). This was the same village, located just a few miles east of Jerusalem, where Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead. He was returning to the very spot where He had earlier told Martha, the sister of Lazarus, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die” (John 11:25-26 NLT).

According to the apostle Paul, between the time Jesus walked out of the tomb to the moment He stood before His disciples in Bethany, He had appeared to hundreds of individuals in His resurrected form.

He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said. He was seen by Peter and then by the Twelve. After that, he was seen by more than 500 of his followers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he was seen by James and later by all the apostles. Last of all, as though I had been born at the wrong time, I also saw him. – 1 Corinthians 5:4-8 NLT

So, as He stood among His disciples in Bethany, the scene of Lazarus’ death-to-life transformation, there was little doubt in their minds that He truly was “the resurrection and the life.” He was the literal epicenter for all hope of resurrection. Lazarus had been raised from death to life, but he had not been resurrected. His earthly body had been resuscitated, which is a miracle in and of itself, but he would live to die again. In other words, Lazarus’ new life was nothing more than his old one regained.

But what Jesus had said to Martha regarding the resurrection was something altogether different. He told her, “Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die” (John 11:26 NLT). To experience the resurrected life was to enjoy eternal life – a never-ending experience of life without pain, suffering, or physical death. It’s fascinating to consider that Jesus chose Bethany the point of departure for His ascension back to heaven. He had a new body that was prepared for its eternal existence with God the Father. Yes, He still retained the scars and visible wounds He had suffered during His crucifixion, but His “earthly tent” had been transformed into into its glorified state. The apostle Paul talked about this “eternal body” and its implications for all believers.

For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands. We grow weary in our present bodies, and we long to put on our heavenly bodies like new clothing. For we will put on heavenly bodies; we will not be spirits without bodies. While we live in these earthly bodies, we groan and sigh, but it’s not that we want to die and get rid of these bodies that clothe us. Rather, we want to put on our new bodies so that these dying bodies will be swallowed up by life. God himself has prepared us for this… – 2 Corinthians 5:1-5 NLT

I don’t think it’s farfetched to consider that Lazarus was in the crowd that day. He was a faithful follower of Jesus and was eternally grateful for the miracle of new life that Jesus had given him. But as Lazarus looked on, he was still inhabiting his old earthly tent, while Jesus stood before him in His new “house,” a heavenly body prepared for the joys of eternal life.

For Jesus, the goal was not restored life, but resurrected life. While Judas was living proof that Jesus could raise the physically dead back to life, that had not been His primary objective. New life was not enough. What sinful man really needs is resurrected life.  The apostle Paul would drive home this point in his first letter to the believers in Corinth.

…if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, then all our preaching is useless, and your faith is useless. – 1 Corinthians 15:13-14 NLT

Belief in a reanimated of a formerly dead Jew was not going to be enough. Jesus wasn’t just another Lazarus – a dead man who had been restored to life. He was the resurrected and glorified Son of God. And it was His resurrection, not His resuscitation that made the difference. Consider what Paul wrote.

…if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins. In that case, all who have died believing in Christ are lost! And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world. – 1 Corinthians 15:17-19 NLT

The point Paul was trying to make was that Jesus was not simply alive. He is the living hope for all those who have died. His resurrection was not an offer of renewed life on this earth but of eternal life in the coming Kingdom of God. And His resurrection was to stand as a guarantee of all the resurrections to come.

But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died. – 1 Corinthians 15:20 NLT

And then, Paul went on to compare Jesus to Adam.

So you see, just as death came into the world through a man, now the resurrection from the dead has begun through another man. Just as everyone dies because we all belong to Adam, everyone who belongs to Christ will be given new life. But there is an order to this resurrection: Christ was raised as the first of the harvest; then all who belong to Christ will be raised when he comes back.– 1 Corinthians 15:21-23 NLT

What’s important to consider is an often overlooked exchange that took place between Jesus and His disciples as they gathered together in Bethany. Luke records this conversation in the opening chapter of the book of Acts.

So when the apostles were with Jesus, they kept asking him, “Lord, has the time come for you to free Israel and restore our kingdom?” – Acts 1:6 NLT

As they stood looking at the resurrected Jesus, all they could think about was the fact that He was alive. Just days earlier, Jesus had been a corpse in a tomb. But now, He stood before them in the peak of health and what they hoped would be full fighting form. Their question reveals that they were still hoping Jesus was going to set up His kingdom on earth. They had not given up hope that Jesus would finally declare His Messiahship by overthrowing the Romans and establishing His reign over Israel. Now that He was alive, there was no time like the present.

But Jesus burst their bubble by announcing, “The Father alone has the authority to set those dates and times, and they are not for you to know. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:7-8 NLT).

They had their sights set on a display of military power that would put Israel back on the map. But Jesus promised them a far different kind of power – that which would come from the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. And the only way that kind of power would become available was if the resurrected Jesus returned to His Father’s side. And according to the gospels and the book of Acts, that is exactly what happened. 

After saying this, he was taken up into a cloud while they were watching, and they could no longer see him. – Acts 1:9 NLT         

and lifting his hands to heaven, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up to heaven. – Luke 24:50-51 NLT 

When the Lord Jesus had finished talking with them, he was taken up into heaven and sat down in the place of honor at God’s right hand. – Mark 16:19 NLT

In his gospel account, Luke records that they “worshiped him and then returned to Jerusalem filled with great joy. And they spent all of their time in the Temple, praising God” (Luke 24:52-53 NLT). But it seems that in between the time he wrote his gospel and then penned the book of Acts, Luke had gained further details concerning that fateful day. Through interviews or word of mouth, he discovered that the disciples had experienced one last divine encounter. Two angels had appeared and confronted them about their apparent delay in returning to Jerusalem.

“Men of Galilee,” they said, “why are you standing here staring into heaven? Jesus has been taken from you into heaven, but someday he will return from heaven in the same way you saw him go!” – Acts 1:11 NLT

They were standing there, probably slack-jawed and dumbfounded, as their able-bodied, fully alive Messiah slowly disappeared from sight. They had been hoping He would stay and fulfill all their hopes concerning the Kingdom of God. But He was leaving so that they might one day experience the reality of their own resurrections and the joy of life in His eternal Kingdom. And it was news of His promised return that filled them with joy and sent them back to Jerusalem in a state of heartfelt worship and praise. And we too should rejoice and worship the King for the unwavering promise of His return.

“Surely I am coming soon.” – Revelation 22:20 ESV

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 Best Is Yet To Come

36 As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, “Peace to you!” 37 But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. 38 And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 40 And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41 And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate before them.

44 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46 and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” Luke 24:36-49 ESV

Just as the two disciples were sharing about their recent encounter with Jesus, the eyes of everyone in the room were suddenly drawn away by the sudden and unexpected appearance of Jesus. The majority of the people in the room had not yet seen Jesus, so His arrival caught them completely off guard. According to John’s gospel account, “the disciples were meeting behind locked doors because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders” (John 20:19 NLT), and yet Jesus had no trouble gaining access. He just appeared out of nowhere. And in that moment, the rumors became reality.  The claims of Mary Magdalene, Peter, and the two disciples from Emmaus were miraculously corroborated by Jesus Himself. The could see Him with their own eyes and hear the sound of His voice as He said, “Peace to you!” (Luke 24:36 ESV).

But His words fell on deaf ears and His inexplicable appearance produced fear rather than joy. Their dazed and confused minds wrestled to make sense of what they were seeing and hearing. Unable to mentally process the scene taking place before them, they concluded that they were seeing things – specifically, a ghost. This was the same conclusion they had reached when Jesus appeared to them walking on the water (Matthew 14:26). They had no mental category for dealing with what they were seeing. Even though many of them had been present when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, they were having a difficult time believing that Jesus was truly alive. They were quick to write off His appearance as little more than an apparition.

But the ever-compassionate Jesus, lovingly asked them, “Why are you frightened?…Why are your hearts filled with doubt?” (Luke 24:38 NLT). The sound of His voice was meant to reassure them that He was real and not a figment of their imaginations. They were not experiencing a mass hallucination. There was no reason for them to fear and no cause for them to doubt. His appearance was living proof of what the angel had said. “He is risen from the dead!” (Luke 24:6 NLT). Jesus was standing right in front of them – in the flesh. And to prove He was anything but a ghost, Jesus showed them His wounds, stating, “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 24:39 NLT).

Even in His resurrected body, Jesus retained the wounds He had received as part of His crucifixion. The holes from the nails were still evident. The wound caused by the spear still marred His side. The punctures from the thorny crown still adorned His head. The ragged stripes from HIs flogging were clearly visible for all to see. He retained all the marks associated with His sacrificial death. And yet, He was alive. In a sense, He still bore on His body the evidence of mankind’s sin debt. As the prophet Isaiah foretold, “he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed” (Isaiah 53:5 NLT). His wounds remained but man’s sin debt had been removed – as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12).

But even as they tried to take it all in, the disciples wrestled with an odd mix of joy and disbelief. They were ecstatic and skeptical at the same time. Their hearts were overjoyed and their brains were overtaxed. It was just too much to take in. Recognizing their troubled state, Jesus graciously provided them with further proof of His physicality. He asked for something to eat. And as the disciples looked on in awkward silence, Jesus ate the piece of broiled fish they had offered Him.

Having finished His meal, Jesus turned His attention once again to His disciples. His time on earth was coming to an end and He had much to tell them before He returned to His Father’s side in heaven. And, just as He had done with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, Jesus “opened their minds to understand the Scriptures” (Luke 24:45 ESV). Using the Old Testament Scriptures as His text, Jesus revealed how everything that had happened since the day of His incarnation had been all according to the sovereign plan of God the Father. He declared, “everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled” (Luke 24:44 ESV). And not long after He spoke these words, the last part of this phase of His mission would be fulfilled. He would ascend back to heaven and send the Holy Spirit to indwell His followers. All in keeping with and in fulfillment of the will of His Heavenly Father.

Jesus assured His disciples that His death had all been part of the plan.

“Yes, it was written long ago that the Messiah would suffer and die and rise from the dead on the third day.” – Luke 24:46 NLT

The Sanhedrin and the Romans had been little more than tools in the hands of God Almighty. They had been His instruments for fulfilling the divine plan of redemption through the selfless sacrifice of His one and only Son. Then Jesus reminded them of the role they would play in His absence. He would be leaving them but they would carry on His ministry.

“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.’” – Luke 24:47 NLT

They were to be a light to the nations. These men and women who had gathered behind locked doors out of fear for their lives would become the vanguard of a might movement of God that would shake the world. They were about to discover the truth of the promise Jesus had made to them.

“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

When He returned to the Father, the Holy Spirit would come, and with His arrival, they would experience a source of power that would transform them into agents of change who would revolutionize the world. And as He prepared to depart, He once again assured them that He would not leave them alone or powerless to face the future.

“And now I will send the Holy Spirit, just as my Father promised. But stay here in the city until the Holy Spirit comes and fills you with power from heaven.” – Luke 24:49 NLT

All they had to do was wait and believe. Jesus wasn’t demanding that they be successful. He was simply reminding them to be faithful. Wait and watch. Rest and be ready. They were about to become instruments in the hands of God Almighty, accomplishing His divine will through the indwelling presence and power of His Spirit. They were about to grasp the reality that Jesus death had been the beginning and not the end. The best was yet to come.

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

Their Eyes Were Opened

28 So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He acted as if he were going farther, 29 but they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. 31 And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. 32 They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” 33 And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem. And they found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, 34 saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” 35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread. Luke 24:28-35 ESV

The two disciples who had been making their way to Emmaus were joined by a stranger who seemed totally ignorant of all that had happened in Jerusalem. They had to inform Him all about Jesus’ arrest, trial, and crucifixion. But. to their surprise, this same man was extremely  knowledgeable about the Hebrew Scriptures. In fact, Luke records that He “took them through the writings of Moses and all the prophets, explaining from all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27 NLT).

So, as they walked along the path from Jerusalem to Emmaus, this stranger unpacked the Scriptures, revealing how “the Messiah would have to suffer all these things before entering his glory” (Luke 24:26 NLT). He provided them with an overview of the law and the prophets, opening their eyes to the many predictions concerning the Messiah’s role as the suffering servant. These prophetic pronouncements had been there all along but the Jews had chosen to ignore them or to rationalize them away. Yet, this unknown pilgrim seemed to know things that were hidden from the religious leaders of Israel. And it’s likely that this unknown scholar shared some of the following passages.

I gave my back to those who strike,
    and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard;
I hid not my face
    from disgrace and spitting.

But the Lord God helps me;
    therefore I have not been disgraced;
therefore I have set my face like a flint,
    and I know that I shall not be put to shame. – Isaiah 50:6-7 NLT

See, my servant will prosper;
    he will be highly exalted.
But many were amazed when they saw him.
    His face was so disfigured he seemed hardly human,
    and from his appearance, one would scarcely know he was a man. – Isaiah 52:13-14 NLT

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

As they considered these familiar passages in light of all they had just witnessed in Jerusalem, they couldn’t help but connect the dots and understand that the death of Jesus had been preordained by God – down to the smallest detail – even foreshadowing Jesus’ death between two criminals and His burial of Jesus in a borrowed tomb.

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

For the two disciples, time must have flown by as they listened to these exciting revelations from this unknown teacher. When they realized that they had reached their destination, they dreaded the thought of their conversation coming to an end, so they begged their new friend to stay overnight. Their curiosity had been peaked and they longed to hear more.

After making preparations, they reclined at the table to share the evening meal. And, surprisingly and rather presumptuously, the stranger took it upon Himself to play the role of host. He “took the bread and blessed it. Then he broke it and gave it to them” (Luke 24:30 NLT).

This scene is reminiscent of three other occasions from the life and ministry of Jesus. The first took place at the feeding of the 5,000.

Jesus took the five loaves and two fish, looked up toward heaven, and blessed them. Then, breaking the loaves into pieces, he kept giving the bread and fish to the disciples so they could distribute it to the people. – Luke 9:16 NLT

The second is the feeding of the 4,000.

Then he took the seven loaves and the fish, thanked God for them, and broke them into pieces. He gave them to the disciples, who distributed the food to the crowd. – Matthew 15:36 NLT

The third is the final Passover meal Jesus shared with His disciples.

He took some bread and gave thanks to God for it. Then he broke it in pieces and gave it to the disciples, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” – Luke 22:19 NLT

In all three cases, Jesus broke bread, blessed it, and then distributed it among His followers. And it was in keeping with His designation of Himself as the bread of life.

My Father…offers you the true bread from heaven. The true bread of God is the one who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

“Sir,” they said, “give us that bread every day.”

Jesus replied, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry again.” – John 6:32-35 NLT

So, that evening, in a home somewhere in the village of Emmaus, Jesus broke bread, blessed it, and then handed it to His two disciples, and immediately, “their eyes were opened, and they recognized him” (Luke 24:31 ESV). For the first time since they had met this unknown traveler, they could see Him for who He really was: Jesus, the Son of God and the Messiah of Israel. They not only recognized their friend and Rabbi, but they also comprehended the amazing truth about His identity as the anointed one of God. All those Scripture began to make sense for the first time in their lives.

Yet Luke states that, as soon as they recognized Him, Jesus “vanished from their sight” (Luke 24:31 ESV). One second He was there and, the next, He was gone. He simply disappeared from sight. But this time, His departure didn’t leave them saddened hearts. In fact, they immediately declared, “Didn’t our hearts burn within us as he talked with us on the road and explained the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32 NLT). What a contrast to the depressed and demoralized state they had exhibited when Jesus first encountered them on the road. All their dreams had been crushed.

“We had hoped he was the Messiah who had come to rescue Israel.” – Luke 24:21 NLT

But now, things were different. Their grief had been turned to joy. Their hope had been restored. And “within the hour they were on their way back to Jerusalem” (Luke 24:33 NLT). Since it was still evening, they must have made the trip back to Jerusalem in the dark, not exactly a safe thing to do. But this time they were motivated by the realization that their Messiah was alive. Nothing was going to stop them from returning to the “scene of the crime” and telling the rest of the disciples what they had seen and heard.

Upon their return, they found the 11 disciples gathered together along with some other of Jesus’ followers. They entered the room just in time to hear the exciting news that Peter had also seen Jesus alive. And they added to the joy of the occasion by announcing “how Jesus had appeared to them as they were walking along the road, and how they had recognized him as he was breaking the bread” (Luke 24:35 NLT). The room must have been electric with excitement as everyone asked questions and began to speculate as to the meaning of all these things. Jesus was alive! Did that mean He would finally set up His earthly Kingdom? Was He about to pay back the Romans for their brutal treatment of Him? Would He hold Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin responsible for their role in His arrest and crucifixion. Was the Kingdom they had longed for about to begin? But as they peppered one another with questions and shared their opinions about what lie ahead, an unexpected visitor suddenly appeared.

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

Limited Expectations

13 That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14 and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. 16 But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17 And he said to them, “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?” And they stood still, looking sad. 18 Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” 19 And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. 22 Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, 23 and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.” 25 And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. Luke 24:13-27 ESV

Luke opened his gospel by clearly confessing that he had not been the first to chronicle the story of Jesus’ life and ministry. He even admitted that he investigated those other resources as part of the extensive research he did for his own writing project. 

Many people have set out to write accounts about the events that have been fulfilled among us. They used the eyewitness reports circulating among us from the early disciples. Having carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I also have decided to write an accurate account for you, most honorable Theophilus, so you can be certain of the truth of everything you were taught. – Luke 1:1-3 NLT

Luke, a physician by trade, appears to have been a stickler for details. He went to great lengths to locate and interview those who had been eyewitnesses to Jesus’ earthly ministry, including many of the disciples. But it seems that his detective work uncovered some whose stories had not been included by the other gospel authors. Luke’s goal all along had been to write an accurate and detailed account that disclosed as much about the life of Jesus as was humanly possible. And in his research, he ran across the testimonies of two disciples of Jesus whose recounting of their post-resurrection encounter with their former Rabbi and friend just begged to be included in his gospel account.

When Luke interviewed these two individuals, they shared with him the remarkable story of their unexpected encounter with the risen Messiah. On the same Sunday when the women had come to the tomb of Jesus and discovered it to be empty, these two disciples had been traveling from Jerusalem to the village of Emmaus, located just seven miles away. They had to have been emotionally drained as they discussed the events of the last 3-4 days. It had all begun with the arrest and crucifixion of Jesus. Like all of Jesus’ followers, they had been devastated by this unexpected end to their hopes and dreams. They had believed Jesus to be their long-awaited Messiah who would usher in His earthly kingdom and restore Israel to glory. But instead, He had suffered a brutal death at the hands of the Romans. It’s likely that these two individuals had taken part in the raucous and celebratory triumphal entry that marked Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem earlier the previous week. They had heard the shouts of “Hosanna!” and had watched as the crowds threw down their cloaks and declared, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” (Luke 19:38 ESV).

But now, they were walking away from the city of Jerusalem, their minds filled with confusion and questions. They were having a difficult time reconciling all that had happened. The death of Jesus had left them completely devoid of hope. The one whom they had believed to be the rightful king of Israel was dead. Their dreams of Him ushering in the end times by restoring David’s dynasty and fulfilling all the Messianic prophecies had been crushed. But these two men had been in the room when the women showed up and made the mind-blowing announcement that Jesus was alive.

“…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!” – Luke 24:22-23 NLT

It seems a bit strange that these disciples were on their way out of Jerusalem when they had heard reports that Jesus had been spotted in the city. But it could be that they were acting on the report of the women, who had delivered the following message from Jesus.

“…go and tell his disciples, including Peter, that Jesus is going ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there, just as he told you before he died.” – Mark 167 NLT

Perhaps they were going to make a stop in their home village of Emmaus and then head on to Galilee. But as they walked along the way, they couldn’t help but discuss all that had happened. It was all a mind-bending blur of confusion and contradictions. There is no indication as to the exact content of their discussion, but it seems clear that they were wrestling with doubt and disbelief. Was Jesus truly alive or were the women simply delusional? How could anyone have survived such a brutal death?

And as they were busy debating and discussing the events of the last three days, a stranger suddenly appeared alongside them. Noting the intensity of their conversation, the stranger asked them what they were talking about. And Luke reports that they “stopped short, sadness written across their faces” (Luke 24:17 NLT). This statement suggests that they were anything but hopeful. The womens’ report that Jesus was alive had failed to convince them. And this stranger’s apparent ignorance of all that had happened in Jerusalem surprised them. 

Then one of them, Cleopas, replied, “You must be the only person in Jerusalem who hasn’t heard about all the things that have happened there the last few days.” – Luke 24:18 NLT

With His identity somehow hidden from them, Jesus played the part of the innocent and uninformed stranger perfectly. He asked them, “What things?” (Luke 24:19 NLT). And this led them to disclose not only the events of the last three days but the state of their own hearts.

“He was a prophet who did powerful miracles, and he was a mighty teacher in the eyes of God and all the people. But our leading priests and other religious leaders handed him over to be condemned to death, and they crucified him. We had hoped he was the Messiah who had come to rescue Israel. This all happened three days ago.” – Luke 24:19-21 NLT

Notice their use of the past tense. He was a prophet. He was a mighty teacher. We had hoped he was the Messiah. They make no mention of the news they had received from the women. For whatever reason, they can’t bring themselves to believe that Jesus might be alive. All the evidence pointed to a very different and disappointing outcome. They had hoped Him to be the Messiah but obviously, He wasn’t.

They admitted that some of their fellow disciples had run to the tomb and found it to be empty, just as the women had declared. But they were having a difficult time accepting the possibility that Jesus had somehow survived His crucifixion. There was absolutely no way He could be alive. And yet, the irony of it all was that Jesus was standing right in front of them. Blinded by their doubt, they had failed to recognize their Lord and Savior walking right beside them as they gloomily made their way to Emmaus. Then Jesus spoke.

“You foolish people! You find it so hard to believe all that the prophets wrote in the Scriptures. Wasn’t it clearly predicted that the Messiah would have to suffer all these things before entering his glory?” – Luke 24:25-26 NLT

Jesus didn’t scold them for failing to believe the testimony of the women. He rebuked them for refusing to believe the word of the prophets. These good, God-fearing Jews had completely missed the predictions of Messiah’s suffering and sacrificial death. Like all their fellow Jews, they had focused all their attention on the conquering Messiah, the warrior-king who would bring the Kingdom of God to earth and re-establish Israel as a superpower in the region once again.

All throughout His earthly ministry, Jesus had attempted to open the eyes of His disciples so that they might understand the true nature of His coming kingdom. It would not come as they expected. And His reign would not appear in the form they so greatly desired. He had not come to establish an earthly kingdom and bring heaven to earth – at least not yet. For centuries, the Jewish people had read the Hebrew Scriptures through a distorted lens that blurred the truth regarding the Messiah and His coming kingdom. They had made the Messiah’s arrival all about themselves. He would be the Jewish Messiah who would bring victory to the Jewish people. But Jesus had come to fulfill the promise that God had made to Abraham.

“…in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.” – Genesis 22:18 ESV

And the apostle Paul would later explain the significance of that promise.

And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.”

Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. – Galatians 3:8, 17 ESV

So, Jesus, His identity still hidden from the two disciples, “took them through the writings of Moses and all the prophets, explaining from all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27 NLT). The “offspring” of Abraham gave these two descendants of Abraham an Old Testament survey class that revealed God’s sovereign will concerning the Messiah. This must have been a mind-altering experience for these two men as they received a masters-level lecture on all that the prophets had written about the coming of the Messiah. It was a paradigm-shifting, mind-bending revelation that would radically transform their myopic view of the kingdom.

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 Inexplicable Ways of God

50 Now there was a man named Joseph, from the Jewish town of Arimathea. He was a member of the council, a good and righteous man, 51 who had not consented to their decision and action; and he was looking for the kingdom of God. 52 This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. 53 Then he took it down and wrapped it in a linen shroud and laid him in a tomb cut in stone, where no one had ever yet been laid. 54 It was the day of Preparation, and the Sabbath was beginning. 55 The women who had come with him from Galilee followed and saw the tomb and how his body was laid. 56 Then they returned and prepared spices and ointments.

On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment.  Luke 23:50-56 ESV

The death of Jesus was a devastating and demoralizing blow to His followers. He had repeatedly told them that His trip to Jerusalem would end in His death, but they had refused to believe Him because His words did not comport with their understanding of the Messiah. Peter had even rebuked Jesus for making such illogical and unacceptable statements. These men had no place for a dying Savior in their Messianic vision. They had been longing for Jesus to curtail His preaching ministry and begin His campaign to destroy the Romans and set up His kingdom in Jerusalem.

Earlier in the week, as the disciples sat with Jesus on the Mount of Olives, they asked Him, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:3 ESV). They were distraught because Jesus had delivered some devastating news to them. On their way to the Mount of Olives, they had passed through the eastern gate of the city near the temple mount. When the disciples mentioned the beauty of the temple complex, Jesus surprised them by stating, “You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”

Now, as they sat on the Mount of Olives, with the temple mount in view just across the Kidron Valley, they wanted to know if the destruction of the temple was the sign they should be looking for. They were desperate to know what would be the sign or evidence of His coming as the Messiah. Up to this point, Jesus had done nothing king-like. He had healed, preached, and taught, but none of that was what they expected the Messiah to do. They were looking for some kind of tangible proof that His kingdom was about to begin. But Jesus went on to tell them that things were going to get dramatically worse before they got better. The “sign” they longed for would come, but not when during their lifetimes and not before they would face difficult days.

“Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake.  And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” – Matthew 23:9-14 ESV

Everything about the death of Jesus was unexpected and unacceptable to the disciples. They had envisioned a far different ending to the story. In their minds, Jesus should have been seated on the throne of David and not hanging on a cross like a criminal.  And yet, it was all according to the will of God. As dark as the moment may have appeared to Jesus’ followers, the invisible, yet sovereign hand of God was evident throughout the narrative. Everything was taking place according to His divine plan – down to the last detail. Every facet of the story was unfolding just as the prophet Isaiah had written centuries earlier.

…he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins… – Isaiah 53:5 NLT

…He was beaten so we could be whole. – Isaiah 53:5 NLT

…He was whipped so we could be healed. – Isaiah 53:5 NLT

…He was oppressed and treated harshly. – Isaiah 53:7 NLT

…He was led like a lamb to the slaughter. – Isaiah 53:7 NLT

…Unjustly condemned, he was led away. – Isaiah 53:8 NLT

his life was cut short in midstream… – Isaiah 53:8 NLT

…he was struck down for the rebellion of my people. – Isaiah 53:8 NLT

he was buried like a criminal; he was put in a rich man’s grave. – Isaiah 53:9 NLT

And, as Luke points out, the rich man Isaiah prophesied about was none other than Joseph of Arimathea, “a member of the council, a good and righteous man” (Luke 23:50 ESV). Everything about the death of Jesus was unexpected and counterintuitive. It made no sense. And, as further proof, here was a well-respected member of the Sanhedrin, unknowingly fulfilling the preordained will of God. Matthew describes Joseph as “a disciple of Jesus” (Matthew 27:57 ESV). Luke states that “he was looking for the kingdom of God” (Luke 23:51 ESV). Somewhere along the way, this high-ranking member of Israel’s religious elite had determined that Jesus was the Messiah. He had broken ranks with the rest of his brothers on the high council and begun to believe that Jesus was who He claimed to be: The long-awaited Messiah of Israel. In fact, Joseph had risked his reputation by refusing to give his consent to the council’s decision to have Jesus arrested and crucified (Luke 23:51).

And now, he was further jeopardizing his livelihood and life by asking Pilate for permission to remove the body of Jesus from the cross. Luke provides no insight into the motivation behind Joseph’s actions, other than the fact that he was a follower of Jesus. And it’s interesting to note that the Gospels provide the name of only one other individual who assisted in the burial of Jesus, and he too was a member of the Sanhedrin.

Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight. – John 19:39 ESV

This was the same man whose curiosity had compelled him to schedule a late-night, clandestine meeting with Jesus.

Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” – John 3:1-2 ESV

Jesus had gone on to tell this highly educated Pharisee about the key to seeing and experiencing the Kingdom of God. And it was not what Nicodemus had expected. In fact, Jesus’ words confused him. When Jesus had stated, “unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.,” Nicodemus responded, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” (John 3:3-4 ESV). None of this made sense to Nicodemus. As a Jew and a highly-respected member of the Sanhedrin, Nicodemus believed himself to have a permanent place reserved for himself in the kingdom. He truly believed he had earned his rightful place in the coming kingdom of the Messiah. But Jesus revealed that entrance into the kingdom would require far more than good deeds and the right genes.

“…unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” – John 3:5 ESV

And then He added the one vital element that was missing from Nicodemus’ understanding of the coming kingdom.

“…as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” – John 3:14-15 ESV

The Messiah would have to die. Jesus would have to be “lifted up” on the cross. And He would later restate this unexpected requirement for the coming kingdom.

“And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.” – John 12:32 ESV

Nicodemus had left that night confused and concerned by all that he had heard. But evidently, he had come to the conclusion that the words of Jesus were true and that He was the long-awaited Messiah of Israel. He showed up at the cross of Jesus, carrying 75-pounds of spices in order to properly prepare the body of Jesus for burial, and he had gone to great expense and was taking a great risk to do so.

There at the cross of Jesus, these two members of the Sanhedrin carefully removed the lifeless body of Jesus and prepared it for burial. They “took it down and wrapped it in a linen shroud and laid him in a tomb cut in stone, where no one had ever yet been laid” (Luke 23:53 ESV). And then they “rolled a great stone to the entrance of the tomb and went away” (Matthew 27:60 ESV).

What a remarkable and totally unexpected scene. It’s fascinating to consider that, over the centuries, countless paintings have been created that attempt to depict this event. But most of them portray images that are figments of the artist’s imagination. They show a dejected Mary cradling her dead Son in her arms, surrounded by compassionate and equally mournful disciples. But that is not what happened. Matthew reports that “Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb” (Matthew 27:61 ESV). Luke indicates that the women watched as Joseph and Nicodemus prepared and buried the body of Jesus. They took note of where the tomb was located and made plans to return with spices so that they too might anoint His body. But the 11 disciples of Jesus are strangely absent from this scene. It appears that only John was near enough to know the details surrounding Jesus’ burial place, and he reports that “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” (John 19:41 ESV).

In the place of death, there was a garden, and in the garden, there was a tomb. And as the lifeless body of Jesus was placed in the ground, a remarkable and unexpected reality was about to take place, just as Jesus had predicted.

“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.” – John 12:23-26 ESV

Don’t overlook the fact that it was two Pharisees who buried “the grain of wheat” in the ground. This unlikely pair was given the privilege of sowing the seed that would produce a harvest of righteousness. They served the Savior by placing His body in the tomb. They risked their reputations and their lives so that the Son of God might be given a proper burial. But what they didn’t realize was that they were planting the seed that would produce fruit for generations to come.

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 Inextinguishable Light

44 It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, 45 while the sun’s light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46 Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last. 47 Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, saying, “Certainly this man was innocent!” 48 And all the crowds that had assembled for this spectacle, when they saw what had taken place, returned home beating their breasts. 49 And all his acquaintances and the women who had followed him from Galilee stood at a distance watching these things. Luke 23:44-49 ESV

The cross is one of the most recognizable symbols in all of human history. And its image conjures up all kinds of emotions and associations. For some, it elicits a strong sense of reverence and veneration. Yet others are repulsed by the sight of it, seeing in its simple form a sinister reminder of man’s inhumanity to man. And there are those who view the cross as an archaic religious icon that no longer holds any relevance in the more complicated and scientifically sophisticated age of post-modernity.

Yet, over the centuries, the cross has left a lasting and indelible impact on the lives of countless millions and continues to do so to this day. Jesus had told His disciples, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32 ESV). And John, the one who recorded those words, added the explanatory note: “He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die” (John 12:33 ESV). Jesus was clearly predicting that His death would have long-lasting and life-altering implications. And it began the very day He was crucified.

This beaten and bloodied Rabbi from Nazareth hung helplessly on the cross as a wooden placard placed above His head proclaimed His crime: “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews” (Matthew 27:37 ESV). Jesus was being executed for being exactly who He had claimed to be: The Messiah, the anointed one of Israel. He was the long-awaited seed of Abraham and the son of David. He was the fulfillment of every Old Testament prophecy that had predicted the coming Messiah and He was the divine culmination of every promise God had made to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and David. And yet, on that fateful day in the city of Jerusalem, the Son of God and Savior of the world hung between heaven and earth, nailed to a wooden cross. He had been beaten, spit upon, slapped, and mercilessly mocked. The skin on His back had been laid open by the sharp pieces of bone and metal attached to the flagellum or whip that was used to flog Him. He had endured the excruciating pain of having His wrists and feet pierced by the large iron spikes that were used to nail Him to the cross. And then for hours, He had been put on display and subjected to the ongoing mockery of the onlookers.

those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” – Matthew 27:39-40 ESV

So also the chief priests with the scribes mocked him to one another, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe.” – Mark 15:31-32 ESV

And as Jesus endured the pain of the cross and the unrelenting insults of His enemies, He could see below Him, the soldiers who callously gambled over His garments. Then suddenly, at Noon, “the sun’s light failed” (Luke 23:45 ESV). Inexplicably and unexpectedly, the brightness of day was replaced by the darkness of night. This disconcerting cosmic display got everyone’s attention. But few would have understood the relevance of the moment, except John, the one disciple who had faithfully stayed by his Master’s side all throughout His painful ordeal. John records in his gospel account how Jesus had placed upon him the responsibility for caring for Mary, the mother of Jesus.

When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home. – John 19:26-27 ESV

And as John stood at the base of the cross and watched the light fade, he must have recalled the words that Jesus had spoken.

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” – John 8:12 ESV

And years later, long after Jesus’ death and resurrection, he would open his gospel with the statement: “In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:4-5 ESV). Yet, on the day that Jesus was crucified, he must have seen the sudden appearance of darkness as an ominous sign. The one who had declared Himself to be the light of the world was suddenly plunged into darkness and, from John’s perspective, all hope must have drained from His heart. The Light of the world was about to be extinguished – forever. Or so he must have thought. As John looked up at the cross, with tears streaming from his eyes, he heard what he believed to be the final words he would ever hear from his Master’s lips.

“Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” – Luke 23:46 ESV

And then, Jesus died. The Light went out.

Yet even in death, Jesus made an impression. There at the foot of the cross stood a Roman centurion. We are not told his name or whether he was on official duty that day. But for some reason, he was struck by the injustice of all that he had observed, and declared, “Certainly this man was innocent!” (Luke 23:47 ESV). But even more surprisingly, this pagan military commander praised Yahweh, the God of Israel. What would have possessed him to do such a thing? Could it be that this was the same Centurion whom Jesus had encountered in the city of Capernaum sometime earlier? Luke recorded that scene in chapter seven of his gospel account and revealed how this pagan military leader had approached Jesus with a request. His servant was sick and in need of healing. When Jesus had agreed to come to the Centurion’s house, the man had responded, “Lord, don’t trouble yourself by coming to my home, for I am not worthy of such an honor. I am not even worthy to come and meet you. Just say the word from where you are, and my servant will be healed” (Luke 7:6-7 NLT). And having heard this man’s humble statement, Jesus declared that his servant had been healed. Then He declared, “I tell you, I haven’t seen faith like this in all Israel!” (Luke 7:9 NLT).

Perhaps this Centurion had received orders to bring his troops to Jerusalem to help manage the large crowds arriving for the Passover. And while he was there he heard about the arrest of Jesus and Pilate’s order to have Jesus crucified. This man had once told Jesus, “Just say the word from where you are, and my servant will be healed. I know this because I am under the authority of my superior officers, and I have authority over my soldiers. I only need to say, ‘Go,’ and they go, or ‘Come,’ and they come. And if I say to my slaves, ‘Do this,’ they do it” (Luke 7:7-8 NLT). Now, he had just witnessed Jesus doing the will of His Heavenly Father. He had heard Jesus say, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” (Luke 23:46 ESV). And putting two and two together, the Centurion realized that this man truly was the Son of God, who had come to do the will of His Father.

Whoever this Centurion was, his life was changed. We are not told what happened to him but it seems safe to assume that he walked away transformed by what he had seen. Even in the darkness of that moment, the Light still shone forth, illuminating the heart of a hardened Roman Centurion. And he praised God.

But not far from the very spot where the Centurion stood praising the God of Israel, the followers of Jesus looked on in sadness and hopelessness. Their Messiah was dead. Their dreams had been shattered. The darkness of the moment enveloped them like a flood, and they found themselves drowning in sorrow and self-pity as the stark reality of their circumstances began to sink in. From their perspective, the Light had gone out. But what they failed to understand was that the Light, while temporarily dimmed, had not been overcome.

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 Powerful, Parenthetical Statement

33 And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. 34 And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments. 35 And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” 36 The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine 37 and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38 There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”

39 One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”  Luke 23:33-43 ESV

Screen Shot 2018-10-18 at 9.10.59 AMThe crucifixion is a well-known and highly venerated part of Jesus’ earthly life. It is the fulcrum upon which the message of the Gospel balances. His sacrificial death on behalf of sinful mankind is what makes the Gospel good news. Had He not died, there would be no remission for sin. God’s righteous indignation for the rebellion of mankind against His sovereign rule would remain unsatisfied. The debt that sinful men owed to a holy and righteous God would remain unpaid. The penalty of death and the subsequent separation from God for all eternity would still loom large over the lives of every single human being, with no hope of a solution to their dilemma.

But Jesus died. And that scene, described by the gospel writers, has been illustrated in countless ways by a vast array of painters, sculptures, and artisans. And while most are familiar with the details surrounding this well-documented scene, there is one aspect that begs further examination and concentration. Matthew records, “two robbers were crucified with him, one on the right and one on the left” (Matthew 27:38 ESV). John puts it this way: “they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, and Jesus between them” (John 19:18 ESV). And Luke adds, “they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left” (Luke 23:33 ESV).

It is fascinating to consider what these statements reveal. While we’re familiar with the idea of Jesus being crucified alongside two common criminals, we probably haven’t given this aspect of His death much thought. After all, there is so much going on in the story that appears to be of greater importance, that the deaths of these two unknown criminals appear to have no significance. Other than the conflicting statements each of them makes to Jesus while they are being crucified, these men seem to be little more than side notes in this grand drama.

And yet the gospel writers, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, make it a point to include these two men in their descriptions of Jesus’ death. And John makes it clear that they were crucified on either side of Jesus. In a sense, their crosses bracketed that of Jesus. And, as has been depicted in so many artistic renderings of the scene, John describes Jesus as hanging on the middle cross. Don’t overlook the scene as it is presented by the gospel writers. On either side of Jesus was a criminal, an unknown and unnamed individual whose guilt had warranted his execution. Each of them deserved to die. In fact, one of these men would freely admit their guilt and the appropriate nature of their executions.

“We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” – Luke 23:41 ESV

Why is this important? It is because this scene depicts the sinless Son of God surrounded by two sinful men. He is innocent, while they are guilty. They are receiving the just punishment for their sins, while He is dying as a substitute for their sins and the sins of all mankind. In a sense, these two men form a kind of human parenthesis, with Jesus, the focal point of all human history, located between them.

One of the men, unrepentant and angry at his fate, shouts at Jesus, “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” (Luke 23:39 ESV). While the other man, just as sinful and just as deserving of his death, cries out, “remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Luke 23:42 ESV). Two sinners, but two distinctly different responses to the Savior in their midst.

All three men were being executed for the crimes of which they had been accused. But one man, the one in the middle, was guiltless. The Jewish religious leaders had accused Him of blasphemy – of claiming to be the Son of God. Jesus had displayed the audacity and arrogance to declare Himself as divine. And they found His boasts unthinkable and unacceptable. 

But Jesus was the Son of God. He had been speaking truth, not blasphemy. He was innocent. Even the words inscribed on the sign attached to the cross of Jesus were intended to describe His crime: “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.”

John records that the words on this placard had been placed there by the command of Pilate. And the charge it carried had been written in Aramaic, Latin, and Greek. The Jewish religious leaders had been incensed at the words inscribed on the sign and had demanded that Pilate have them altered. They wanted the statement amended to say, “This man said, I am King of the Jews” (John 19:21 ESV).

But Pilate had refused to change a thing. The sign remained, and the charge stuck. And of this particular charge, Jesus was guilty. He was the King of the Jews. He was guilty of being exactly who He had claimed to be all along. He was the Messiah of Israel, but His own people had rejected Him. He was the sovereign King of the nation of Israel, but they had refused to acknowledge Him as such. Just as the ancient Israelites had rejected God as their King and had demanded that He give them a king like all the other nations, the Jews of Jesus day had rejected the King of kings.

Three men, all accused of crimes. Two of them were guilty as charged, having broken the laws of the land. Their crimes were deserving of death, and they were simply receiving what the law required. But the man in the middle, Jesus of Nazareth, was only guilty of being who He claimed to be: The King of the Jews. He was dying because He was the Savior of the world. He was dying in order to save the world. He was sinless, and yet He would die a sinner’s death. He was completely blameless, and yet He would willingly take on the sins of mankind in order that the penalty for our sins could be marked “paid in full” by God.

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

God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. – Romans 3:24-25 NLT

It is no coincidence that as Jesus hung on the cross, He was bracketed by two guilty sinners who were experiencing the just punishment for their crimes. In-between them hung the Savior of the world. They both had access to Him. They could both see Him and hear the words He spoke. But one chose to curse and insult Him, while the other begged to be remembered by Him. In the midst of his pain and suffering, caused by his own sinful choices, this man called out to Jesus, and he received a response.

“Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” – Luke 27:43 ESV

And that’s the way it has always been. The life of Jesus has always been bracketed by two parenthetical marks, in the form of two diametrically opposed responses made by equally guilty sinners. One sees Jesus as nothing more than a man, equally hopeless and helpless to do anything about the sinful condition of mankind. But the other sees the suffering, yet sinless Savior who has a kingdom and the power to restore life to all those who submit to His Lordship. Jesus came to the world, a place filled with darkness and mired in sin. He inserted Himself into the hopeless state that plagued mankind and provided a solution to man’s condition. And John puts it in terms that describe why Jesus’ death between two sinners forms the great parenthesis.

He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. 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 1:10-13 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

You Can Mourn Now or Mourn Later

26 And as they led him away, they seized one Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, and laid on him the cross, to carry it behind Jesus. 27 And there followed him a great multitude of the people and of women who were mourning and lamenting for him. 28 But turning to them Jesus said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. 29 For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ 30 Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ 31 For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?”

32 Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. Luke 23:26-32 ESV

Jesus’ legal trials may have come to an end, but His physical trials were just about to begin. A condemned criminal had been allowed to walk free, while Jesus, an innocent man, was subjected to a range of violent physical and verbal abuse. Luke goes out of his way to record the overwhelming consensus of opinion that Jesus was an innocent man.

Then Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, “I find no guilt in this man.” – Luke 23:4 ESV

“…behold, I did not find this man guilty of any of your charges against him. Neither did Herod, for he sent him back to us. Look, nothing deserving death has been done by him.” – Luke 23:14-15 ESV

A third time he said to them, “Why? What evil has he done? I have found in him no guilt deserving death.  – Luke 23:22 ESV

“…this man has done nothing wrong.” – Luke 23:41 ESV

Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, saying, “Certainly this man was innocent! – Luke 23:47 ESV

As soon as Pilate relented to the demands of the Jewish religious leaders and authorized the crucifixion of Jesus, the matter fell under the jurisdiction of the Roman soldiers. These hardened legionnaires were responsible for carrying out the governor’s orders by subjecting Jesus to the gruesome ordeal of crucifixion – the Roman government’s preferred form of capital punishment. But like a cat cruelly playing with a mouse before subjecting it to death, Pilate’s guards decided to subject Jesus to a range of degrading physical and emotional abuses. With the entire regiment looking on, “They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him. They wove thorn branches into a crown and put it on his head, and they placed a reed stick in his right hand as a scepter. Then they knelt before him in mockery and taunted, ‘Hail! King of the Jews!’” (Matthew 27:29-29 NLT).

These men, having overheard the accusations leveled against Jesus, found it laughable that this powerless and unimpressive Jewish Rabbi would consider Himself to be a king. So, they ruthlessly and mercilessly mocked Jesus, with every cruelty they poured out intended to leave Him humiliated and degraded. And Matthew describes with painful clarity the unsparing nature of their torturous treatment of Jesus.

…they spit on him and grabbed the stick and struck him on the head with it. When they were finally tired of mocking him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him again. Then they led him away to be crucified. – Matthew 27:30-31 NLT

John provides the added detail that Pilate ordered Jesus to be flogged. This barbaric practice, also known as scourging, was an especially cruel and inhuman form of punishment that was designed to inflict extreme pain and hasten death. According to an article by Ian Tuttle published in National Review, “The Romans meted out whippings with particular zeal, inventing new tools to increase the misery: on the mild end, a flat leather strap; on the mortal end, long whips with, at their ends, balls of metal with protruding metal fragments or pieces of bone. It was not uncommon for the scourging that preceded a crucifixion to prove fatal” (https://www.nationalreview.com/2015/01/flogging-through-centuries-ian-tuttle/).

By the time Jesus left the Roman governor’s palace, He would have been in a severely weakened state, suffering from extreme pain and blood loss. Yet, as a condemned man, Jesus was expected to carry His own cross to the place of crucifixion. But it appears that the flogging had taken its toll on Jesus, leaving Him incapable of bearing the weight of the cross. So, the Romans conscripted a stranger from the crowd to assist Him. And as Jesus painfully navigated the final steps to the crucifixion site, He was followed by “a great multitude of the people and of women who were mourning and lamenting for him” (Luke 23:27 ESV).

But rather than thank them for their compassionate display of sorrow, Jesus turned to these individuals and gave them a sobering word of warning.

“Daughters of Jerusalem, don’t weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For the days are coming when they will say, ‘Fortunate indeed are the women who are childless, the wombs that have not borne a child and the breasts that have never nursed.’ People will beg the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and plead with the hills, ‘Bury us.’” – Luke 23:28-30 NLT

His words are similar to the ones He spoke to His disciples while they sat with Him on the Mount of Olives, just prior to His arrest in the garden.

“Then those in Judea must flee to the hills. A person out on the deck of a roof must not go down into the house to pack. A person out in the field must not return even to get a coat. How terrible it will be for pregnant women and for nursing mothers in those days. And pray that your flight will not be in winter or on the Sabbath. For there will be greater anguish than at any time since the world began. And it will never be so great again…“ – Matthew 24:16-21 NLT

In both cases, Jesus was speaking of future events. He was warning them that even darker days lie ahead, when the judgment of God will fall upon the world for its rejection of His Son. Those weeping at the sight of Jesus’ deplorable condition and mourning the thought of His pending death had no idea He was referring to events associated with the end of time. The book of Revelation describes a future day when God will reign down judgment upon the earth.

Then everyone—the kings of the earth, the rulers, the generals, the wealthy, the powerful, and every slave and free person—all hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains. And they cried to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of the one who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb. For the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to survive?” – Revelation 6:15-17 NLT

This was the day to which Jesus was referring. While His death would be the key to salvation and eternal life, it would also result in God’s wrath being poured out on all those who refused to accept HIs Son as Savior. And that would include many in Israel. God’s chosen people would refuse to accept God’s Son as their Messiah and King. In fact, they would participate in His execution, demanding that He be put to death. When He had entered Jerusalem just a few days earlier, the crowds had shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” (Matthew 21:9 ESV). But those joyous shouts of adoration and acclimation had quickly turned to cries of “Crucify Him!” And one day, all those who have chosen to reject the King of kings and Lord of lords will suffer the consequences of their decision and mourn, not for Jesus, but for their own coming destruction.

But when Jesus arrived at the placed called Golgotha, He found himself joined by two other men, both criminals, who would be executed alongside Him, “one on either side, and Jesus between them” (John 19:18 ESV). This seemingly innocuous statement conjures up memories of the conversation Jesus had with James and John. On an earlier occasion, these two brothers had approached Jesus and asked, “Grant that one of us may sit at Your right hand and the other at Your left in Your glory” (Mark 10:37 BSB). And Jesus had responded to their presumptuous request by stating, You do not know what you are asking…Can you drink the cup I will drink, or be baptized with the baptism I will undergo?” (Mark 10:38 BSB).

Little did they know at the time, that the two places of prominence they had requested would not be royal thrones, but cruel Roman crosses. For Jesus, the cross was a place of honor. He had been chosen by God the Father to lay down His life, and it was something Jesus was prepared to do – willingly and gladly. Jesus had come to lay down His life for the sheep.

“…the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.” – Matthew 20:28 NLT

And that time had come.

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

Just Call Me Barabbas

18 But they all cried out together, “Away with this man, and release to us Barabbas”— 19 a man who had been thrown into prison for an insurrection started in the city and for murder. 20 Pilate addressed them once more, desiring to release Jesus, 21 but they kept shouting, “Crucify, crucify him!” 22 A third time he said to them, “Why? What evil has he done? I have found in him no guilt deserving death. I will therefore punish and release him.” 23 But they were urgent, demanding with loud cries that he should be crucified. And their voices prevailed. 24 So Pilate decided that their demand should be granted. 25 He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, for whom they asked, but he delivered Jesus over to their will.  Luke 23:18-25 ESV

As far as Pilate was concerned, the Jewish religious leaders had done a poor job of prosecuting their case against Jesus. The litany of charges they had leveled against Him were dubious at best and outright lies at worst. And Pilate knew from the moment Caiaphas and his little entourage had shown up at His palace that their real issue with Jesus was religious in nature. He had seen through their little charade of faux civic duty and told them, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law” (John 18:31 ESV). He wanted no part in what was obviously a doctrinal dispute among the Jews.

Even after his personal interrogation of Jesus, Pilate remained convinced that He was innocent and had done nothing worthy of death. And he told the Jewish religious leaders as much.

“Nothing this man has done calls for the death penalty. So I will have him flogged, and then I will release him.” – Luke 18:15-16 NLT

But to men who would settle for nothing less than a death sentence, Pilate’s decision was totally unacceptable and infuriating. They were out for blood – literally – and began to demand that Pilate rethink his position and give in to their demands.

For whatever reason, Luke chose to leave out a significant part of the evening’s proceedings. Matthew and Mark disclose that Pilate had offered what he believed to be a way to spare Jesus’ life. It seems that he sincerely doubted whether the Jews were truly concerned about Jesus being an insurrectionist who posed a danger to the community. So, almost as a test, he offered them a choice between the lives of two men. One was Jesus, whom Pilate had deemed as unworthy of death. The other was a man named Barabbas, a convicted insurrectionist and murderer (Mark 15:7 ESV).

Apparently, Pilate had made it a custom to allow the people to request the release of one prisoner, in honor of the Feast of Passover. The Jewish religious leaders, who were very familiar with this rather strange policy, began to demand that Pilate honor his annual commitment. Naturally, Pilate assumed they were asking for the release of Jesus.

“Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” – Mark 15:9 ESV

But much to his surprise, the Jews demanded that he set free a man who had already been condemned to death and deserved to be executed for his crimes. Yet Pilate really thought they would come to their senses and recognize that their hatred of Jesus was nothing more than a case of overinflated jealousy. Surely, they would listen to reason and not go through with this ill-fated inquisition. But he was wrong, and they vehemently vocalized their demands.

“Away with this man, and release to us Barabbas.”  – Mark 23:18 ESV

Taken aback by the degree of their hatred for Jesus, he asked,  “Then what shall I do with the man you call the King of the Jews?” (Mark 15:12 ESV). It seems apparent that Pilate was fully aware of the true intentions of the religious leaders. He was smart enough to know that they didn’t recognize Jesus as their Messiah, and by referring to Jesus as the “King of the Jews,” he was purposely poking the bear.

But Matthew reveals that there was another factor contributing to Pilate’s reticence to condemn Jesus to death. It seems that His wife had “suffered through a terrible nightmare” about Jesus (Matthew 27:19 NLT). She had even warned her husband, “Have nothing to do with that righteous man” (Matthew 27:19 ESV). She couldn’t put her finger on it, but there was something special about this man.

But when Pilate asked what was to be done with Jesus, the crowd shouted, “Crucify him” (Mark 15:13 ESV). Moved by the content of his wife’s nightmare and his belief that Jesus was an innocent man, Pilate continued to argue for his release. But the people shouted all the more loudly, “Crucify, crucify him!” (Luke 23:21 ESV).

This prompted Pilate to ask yet a third time: “Why? What evil has he done? I have found in him no guilt deserving death. I will therefore punish and release him” (Luke 23:22 ESV). And Luke records that the crowd, influenced by the high priest, members of the Sanhedrin, and their own elders, continued to demand that Jesus be crucified, “and their voices prevailed” (Luke 23:23 NLT).

Pilate finally gave up the fight. He acquiesced to the demands of the people and turned Him over to be put to death. Yet, Matthew noted that Pilate did so under duress.

Pilate saw that he wasn’t getting anywhere and that a riot was developing. So he sent for a bowl of water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood. The responsibility is yours!” – Matthew 27:24 NLT

He literally washed his hands of the matter and placed the responsibility clearly on the heads of the Jewish religious leaders. And their response is sad, yet insightful.

“We will take responsibility for his death—we and our children!” – Matthew 27:24 NLT

What an amazingly arrogant attitude these people displayed. They were basically calling down a curse from God on their own heads and those of their descendants. Driven by anger and a demonic-like hatred for Jesus, these men lost all sense of composure and reason. And their actions had just proven the veracity of the words that Jesus had spoken concerning them.

“For you are the children of your father the devil, and you love to do the evil things he does. He was a murderer from the beginning. He has always hated the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, it is consistent with his character; for he is a liar and the father of lies.” – John 8:44 NLT

Mark records that Pilate “ordered Jesus flogged with a lead-tipped whip, then turned him over to the Roman soldiers to be crucified” (Mark 15:15 NLT). John adds that “the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head and arrayed him in a purple robe. They came up to him, saying, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ and struck him with their hands” (John 19:2-3 NLT). And Luke provides the sobering statement: “he delivered Jesus over to their will” (Luke 23:25 ESV). This was exactly what the religious leaders had set out to do. It was their will. And yet, their will was subject to that of God. They did what they did of their own accord and driven by their own sinful hearts, but it was all according to the sovereign will of God Almighty.

But one of the most significant aspects of this story that often goes overlooked is the release of Barabbas. The details concerning this man are few and far between. The gospel authors simply reveal that he was a prisoner, charged with murder and insurrection, and likely facing execution for his crimes. And, of course, the primary form of capital punishment practiced by the Romans was crucifixion.  This man was a condemned criminal facing the most gruesome of deaths. He had already been convicted and condemned. His fate was sealed and there was nothing he could do about it.

Then, someone took his place. Jesus became the substitute for Barabbas, bearing his cross and suffering the death that had been intended for him. The sinner had been set free and the innocent man was crucified on his behalf. What an incredible picture of the entire redemptive story. Jesus, the innocent Lamb of God, was killed so that Barabbas could live. But it seems unlikely that Barabbas experienced a radical conversion experience, placing his faith in Jesus as his sin substitute. He probably went on to live his life just as he always had. He was a sinner, condemned, unclean and yet, Jesus had died in his place. Just as Jesus died in the place of all because all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23).

The apostle Paul reminded the believers in Corinth that they too had been like Barabbas. They had been people imprisoned for their rebellion against God and facing a well-deserved death sentence. Yet, Jesus took their sins upon Himself by taking their place upon a cross that had their name on it. And, as a result, they were free to enjoy the benefits of forgiveness and a restored relationship with God.

Don’t you realize that those who do wrong will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Don’t fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality, or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people—none of these will inherit the Kingdom of God. Some of you were once like that. But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. – 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 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