Down, But Not Out

55 There were also many women there, looking on from a distance, who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to him, 56 among whom were Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Joseph and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.

57 When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who also was a disciple of Jesus. 58 He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. 59 And Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen shroud 60 and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had cut in the rock. And he rolled a great stone to the entrance of the tomb and went away. 61 Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb.

62 The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate 63 and said, “Sir, we remember how that impostor said, while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise.’ 64 Therefore order the tomb to be made secure until the third day, lest his disciples go and steal him away and tell the people, ‘He has risen from the dead,’ and the last fraud will be worse than the first.” 65 Pilate said to them, “You have a guard of soldiers. Go, make it as secure as you can.” 66 So they went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard. – Matthew 27:55-66 ESV

Jean_Jouvenet_Descent_From_The_Cross

Man’s sin debt had been paid, but the cost had been high. Jesus, the Son of God, had given His life so that those condemned to death might experience eternal life. He died so that others might live. But, as the apostle Peter reminds us, “God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors. And the ransom he paid was not mere gold or silver. It was the precious blood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God” (1 Peter 1:18-19 NLT).

But as the Roman soldiers removed the lifeless body of Jesus from the cross, He was anything but spotless. His body had been beaten and bruised. His face had been slapped repeatedly leaving it swollen and practically unrecognizable. And hundreds of years earlier, the prophet Isaiah had described just how badly Jesus would be disfigured by this tragic event.

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 52:14 NLT

Jesus was covered with His own blood that had flowed from the wounds left by the large nails pounded into his hands and feet. He had a gaping wound in His side from the point of the spear that had been meant to ensure His death. The crown of thorns that had been mockingly pressed onto His head had caused blood to flow down His face and into His eyes. The sinless, spotless Lamb of God had been brutally and mercilessly murdered.

In the book of Revelation, John records a vision he received of Jesus in His resurrected and glorified state, standing in the throne room of God Almighty. And John’s description of Jesus is quite interesting.

…between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain. – Revelation 5:6 ESV

Jesus doesn’t appear in the form of a man but as a Lamb. And John adds the telling descriptor: “as though it had been slain.” The Greek word translated as “slain” is sphazō and was commonly used to refer to the slaughter of an animal for sacrifice. It can also be translated as “butchered.” Jesus was the sacrificial Lamb, offered for the sins of many, and the ordeal had left its marks on Him.

It’s interesting to note how Matthew describes those followers of Christ who had remained at Golgotha to the bitter end. He says they were looking on from a distance. Yet, he only mentions the names of women. Not a single one of the disciples is named. And among the women was “the mother of the sons of Zebedee” (Matthew 27:56 ESV).

One has to wonder what had been going through her mind as she watched Jesus being crucified between the two thieves. She is the one who had come to Jesus and begged Him, “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom” (Matthew 20:21 ESV). And Jesus had told her, “You do not know what you are asking” (Matthew 20:22 ESV). It’s likely that, as she watched Jesus die, she imagined her own two sons, James and John, hanging on the crosses to His right and left. Little had she shown that Jesus’ crowning as King was going to involve thorns, not gold. His entrance into His Kingdom was going to demand crucifixion, not a coronation. His exaltation would be proceeded by humiliation and death. And rather than taking up residence in a palace, Jesus would be placed in a borrowed tomb.

Joseph of Arimathea, a follower of Jesus, offered up his own tomb so that Jesus could have a proper burial. And once again, the prophet Isaiah spoke of this long before it ever happened.

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

As Joseph had the stone rolled across the opening to his own tomb, the entire scene has a sense of finality to it. Jesus was dead. The crowds had dispersed. The supernatural darkness had passed and the light had returned. And everyone in Jerusalem had gone back to their lives as usual. Only a handful of women stood by, watching as Jesus was buried. This sad and sobering scene was also foretold by Isaiah.

He was despised and rejected—
    a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.
We turned our backs on him and looked the other way.
    He was despised, and we did not care. – Isaiah 53:3 NLT

But the religious leaders, still wary of the influence Jesus had over the people, took steps to ensure that nothing would happen that might resurrect the memory of Jesus. They knew that Jesus had predicted that He would rise again. So, in order to prevent His disciples from stealing the body of Jesus and spreading rumors that He was alive, they stationed guards at the tomb with orders to remain there until the three days had passed. Evidently, they had attempted to get Pilate to provide Roman guards, but he had refused. “So they went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard” (Matthew 27:55 ESV).

And they waited.

This chapter ends in sadness. Its tragic conclusion provides the reader with little in the way of hope. Jesus is dead. The disciples have scattered to the four winds. The mother of Jesus and the women who loved and followed Him are in deep sorrow, having not been given the opportunity to anoint His body for burial. Which makes the anointing of Jesus in Bethany so important. Matthew records that “a woman came up to him with an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment, and she poured it on his head as he reclined at table” (Matthew 26:7 ESV), and Jesus had clearly pronounced, “In pouring this ointment on my body, she has done it to prepare me for burial” (Matthew 26:12 ESV).

As dark as this moment may appear, the invisible, yet sovereign hand of God is evident throughout the narrative. Everything is taking place according to His divine plan – down to the last detail.

…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

All of this had been pre-ordained by the will of God. And Jesus had willingly played His role in the whole affair – out of obedience to His heavenly Father and as an expression of His love for mankind. And while the closing verses of chapter 27 present a dark and dismal scene, we know that the story was far from over. There was more to come. God’s plan was not yet complete. And Isaiah provides us with yet one more premonition of what lies ahead.

And because of his experience,
    my righteous servant will make it possible
for many to be counted righteous,
    for he will bear all their sins. – Isaiah 53:11 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
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The Great Parenthesis

32 As they went out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name. They compelled this man to carry his cross. 33 And when they came to a place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull), 34 they offered him wine to drink, mixed with gall, but when he tasted it, he would not drink it. 35 And when they had crucified him, they divided his garments among them by casting lots. 36 Then they sat down and kept watch over him there. 37 And over his head they put the charge against him, which read, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.” 38 Then two robbers were crucified with him, one on the right and one on the left. 39 And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads 40 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.” 41 So also the chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked him, saying, 42 “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. 43 He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him. For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” 44 And the robbers who were crucified with him also reviled him in the same way. – Matthew 27:32-44 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 owed by sinful men to a holy and righteous God would remain unpaid. The penalty of death and subsequent separation from God for 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).

It is fascinating to consider what these two statements reveal. While we’re familiar with the idea of Jesus being crucified alongside two common criminals, we probably haven’t given this dimension of His death much thought. After all, there is so much going on in the story that appears to be of greater importance. 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

Truly Blessed

And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Matthew 5:2-12 ESV

Jesus wastes no time. Once the crowd has taken their seats in front of Him, He jumps right into His lecture, and begins with what has come to be known as the “beatitudes.”  This portion of His message derives its name from the repetitive use of the word “blessed” that appears at the beginning of each line. The Greek word for blessed in the original text of Matthew’s gospel is makarios. In the Latin Vulgate, the word is beati, which is derived from the Latin beatitudo/beatus. Therefore, the name of this section of Jesus’ message became known as “The Beatitudes.”

In order to fully understand what Jesus was saying, we must know what He meant by using the word “blessed.”  There is no doubt that it has a positive connotation. To be blessed was a good thing. But what kind of blessing did Jesus have in mind? We tend to use the word quite loosely and indiscriminately. Perhaps you’ve heard someone say something like, “He’s been blessed with good genes” or “Grandchildren are such a blessing.” From our perspective, we can be blessed by good health, a new job, a strong constitution, a loving spouse, and good friends.

Even in Jesus’ day, the word carried the connotation of being “supremely blest; by extension, fortunate, well off” (“G3107 – makarios – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 21 Apr, 2017). The problem we face in reading The Beatitudes is applying our definition or understanding of what it means to be blessed and missing out on what Jesus was actually saying. Our natural tendency, just like the 1st-Century Jews sitting in Jesus’ audience that day, is to think that the blessings to which He refers are purely physical in nature and apply to our personal prosperity and happiness. But Jesus had something far more significant in mind.

Our natural tendency is to think that the blessings to which He refers are purely physical in nature and apply to our personal prosperity and happiness. But Jesus had something far more significant in mind.

Warren Wiersbe states that the blessing to which Jesus referred is “an inner satisfaction and sufficiency that does not depend on outward circumstances for happiness.” So, while we might connote blessing with personal prosperity and a lack of problems, Jesus was speaking of something entirely different. The root idea behind blessing is approval. God does not bless that which He does not approve. If you take the full context of Jesus’ message, it becomes clear that He is teaching about the Kingdom of Heaven and the character of those who belong to it. In essence, He is teaching about justification; how to be made right or approved by God. In the very next section, Jesus will bring up the Mosaic law. Why? Because for the Jews in His audience, the Law had always been the sole requirement for attaining a right standing with God. It was through the keeping of the Law that man attempted to gain God’s approval or blessing.

All the way back in the book of Deuteronomy, we have recorded the words spoken by Moses to the people of Israel on behalf of God.

“Now listen! Today I am giving you a choice between life and death, between prosperity and disaster. For I command you this day to love the Lord your God and to keep his commands, decrees, and regulations by walking in his ways. If you do this, you will live and multiply, and the Lord your God will bless you and the land you are about to enter and occupy.” – Deuteronomy 30:15-16 NLT

They were to live in obedience to the commands of God. If they did so, they would be blessed by God. If they refused to do so, they would be cursed. In the previous chapter, Moses made clear just what the blessing He promised would entail.

“You are standing here today to enter into the covenant of the Lord your God. The Lord is making this covenant, including the curses. By entering into the covenant today, he will establish you as his people and confirm that he is your God, just as he promised you and as he swore to your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” – Deuteronomy 29:12-13 NLT

By obeying God, they would enjoy the approval and presence of God. They would know what it was like to have His protection and to experience His provision. The curses would be the result of having lost that relationship. But the Jews had ended up placing a higher value on the material blessings they enjoyed than on God’s approval. The idea that the God of the universe approved of them was less important to them than the personal prosperity they enjoyed as God’s people. And this misunderstanding of the blessing of God had resulted in them turning the Law into a means to an end. They tried to keep the Law in an effort to keep God happy so that He would keep blessing them with the things that kept them happy. He had become nothing more to them than a conduit to more important things: health, happiness, material goods, crops, children, peace, long life, or whatever else they desired.

They tried to keep the Law in an effort to keep God happy, so that He would keep blessing them with the things that kept them happy.

So, here comes Jesus, preaching a radically different message of what it means to be truly blessed by God. And what He said must have rocked the world of His listeners. Much to their shock and dismay, He tied the blessing of God to such things as poverty, mourning, meekness, deprivation, and persecution. He talked about heavenly rewards versus earthly ones. He commanded His listeners to rejoice when they were persecuted, to turn the other cheek when they were slapped, to willingly go the second mile, to love their enemies, and to give to those who ask to borrow, expecting no payment in return.

None of this would have made sense to His listeners. None of it would have sounded the least bit appealing. In the mind of the average Jew, it was the wealthy who were blessed by God, while the sick and the lame were cursed by God. They believed material prosperity was a sign of God’s blessing, so poverty must be a curse.

But what Jesus says in this passage turns the tables on that kind of thinking. A great deal of His message is in direct contradiction to their skewed understanding of the Law and what they believed was necessary to be right with God. They tied proof of righteousness (a right relationship with God) to outward signs of His blessing. But Jesus was going to blow up that presupposition. He was going to go to the heart of the issue – literally. Because Jesus was out to change the hearts of men. With His coming, the days were finished when men would be able to judge their righteousness based on outward evidence.

God looks at the heart. And Jesus came to die so that men’s hearts might be redeemed, and their behavior radically changed. What Jesus describes in this passage is a new way of living, based not on human effort, but on divine empowerment.

What Jesus describes in this passage is a new way of living, based not on human effort, but on divine empowerment.

He is speaking to a pre-cross crowd, explaining to them a post-cross reality. He knows something to which they are oblivious. He recognizes that all He is saying to them is not only impossible for them to understand, but impossible to pull off until He has died, been resurrected, and the Holy Spirit comes. His words are preparatory in nature. He is expanding on His previous message of “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2 ESV).

Things were about to change. The Messiah had come. The Savior of the world was in their midst. And the means by which men might be made right with God, permanently and perfectly, had finally arrived. But before anyone could accept what Jesus had come to provide, they would have to recognize their need. And Matthew later records Jesus’ offer of the Great Invitation:

Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” – Matthew 11:28-30 NLT

The Sermon on the Mount is not intended to be a new list of laws, rules, and requirements for people to follow in order to gain God’s approval. It is a glimpse into the lifestyle of those who will find their approval by God through faith in the finished work of Christ on the cross. It is a pre-cross explanation of how right behavior will flow from having a right relationship with God made possible by the sacrificial death of Jesus for the sins of mankind. The key message behind the Sermon on the Mount is the approval of God. And Jesus is in the process of helping His audience understand that right behavior stems from having a right relationship with God, not the other way around.

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

Power Over Death.

45 Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. 46 And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 47 And some of the bystanders, hearing it, said, “This man is calling Elijah.” 48 And one of them at once ran and took a sponge, filled it with sour wine, and put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink. 49 But the others said, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.” 50 And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit.

51 And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. 52 The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, 53 and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many. 54 When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!” – Matthew 27:45-54 ESV

Jesus on cross

Jesus hung on the cross, a battered and bruised man, struggling desperately and agonizingly for His next breath. His body was racked with pain. His eyes were filled with blood and the salt from His own sweat. And surrounding Him was a crowd of people who relentlessly mocked Him. Even the chief priest and his fellow members of the religious high council cast insults at Jesus, shouting, “He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him” (Matthew 27:42 ESV). They found great delight in disparaging the claim of Jesus to be the Son of God, saying, “He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him. For he said, ‘I am the Son of God’” (Matthew 27:43 ESV). Even one of the criminals being crucified alongside Jesus got into the act, demanding of jesus, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” (Luke 23:39 ESV). 

But at Noon, the shouting stopped. The sky grew dark. Luke described it this way: “the sun’s light failed” (Luke 23:45 ESV). And that darkness would pervade the whole land for three full hours. It is reminiscent of the darkness that God brought on the land of Egypt by the hand of Moses during the days before the Exodus. 

“Stretch out your hand toward heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, a darkness to be felt.” So Moses stretched out his hand toward heaven, and there was pitch darkness in all the land of Egypt three days. They did not see one another, nor did anyone rise from his place for three days. – Exodus 10:21-23 ESV

This darkness was palpable and supernatural. It was out of the ordinary and inexplicable. And no one could ignore or avoid it. The light was gone.

One can’t help but think of the words of John, found in his gospel, and written long after the death of Jesus.

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

At that moment, on the hill outside the walls of Jerusalem, it would have appeared as if the darkness had overcome the Light. Certainly, the disciples and all those who had followed Jesus and placed their hope in His claim to be the Messiah, would have seen the darkness as a sign of defeat. The end had come. But John went on to record what was really taking place.

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. – John 1:9-11 ESV

Jesus was being rejected by His own. And the darkness was like a physical manifestation of that rejection, revealing the true spiritual condition of the nation of Israel.

And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. – John 3:19-20 ESV

After three hours of stifling darkness had passed, Jesus broke the silence by shouting, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46 ESV). Jesus was taking on the sins of mankind, bearing the full brunt of God’s righteous indignation and just judgment. And in doing so, He found Himself separated from His heavenly Father for the first time in all eternity. Jesus bore the weight of the sins of the world. As Paul so eloquently put it: “For our sake he [God] made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV).

At that moment, as He hung on the cross, Jesus was alone. He felt forsaken and abandoned by all, even by His heavenly Father. God was pouring out on His own Son the righteous wrath He was obligated by His holiness to dispense. The wages of sin is death. And God was offering His own Son as payment for the sins of men.

Jesus made one final statement from the cross, as He cried out, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” (Luke 23:46 ESV). Then, He took one final breath and died.

At that moment, when all appeared lost and it looked like the forces of the enemy had won the day, some incredible things took place. Jesus had died, but the action was far from over. Matthew records:

And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many. – Matthew 27:51-53 ESV

The death of Jesus was accompanied by incredible, inexplicable phenomena. There was an earthquake. The thick curtain in the temple that barred entrance into the Holy of Holies, was split in two, from top to bottom. And, by far the most bizarre of all events, was the opening of the tombs and the resurrection of the dead saints. As can be imagined, there is much debate and speculation about this particular event. But it is interesting that Matthew provides us with little or no detail. It would seem that the earthquake was responsible for the opening up of the tombs. But the text seems to indicate that the bodies contained within those tombs did not resurrected until Jesus did three days later. And, just as Jesus appeared to His disciples in His resurrected form, so did these people. We are not told who they were or whether they remained alive. Was their resurrection temporary or permanent? Matthew doesn’t tell us. But it seems likely that these people, like Lazarus, whom Jesus had raised from the dead, were merely resuscitated or brought back to life. They did not have resurrected, glorified bodies like Jesus had. Like Lazarus, they would die a second time.

But you can imagine the shock and surprise on all those who ran into these once dead saints in the streets of Jerusalem. The death of Jesus, while marking the end of His earthly life, was far from the end of His ministry. Even in death, He displayed His power over death. And the apostle Paul reminds us:

You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave all our sins. He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross. In this way, he disarmed the spiritual rulers and authorities. He shamed them publicly by his victory over them on the cross. – Colossians 2:13-15 NLT

The people mocked. The soldiers cast their insults. The religious leaders sneered and gloated over their defeat of Jesus. But even in death, Jesus had the last laugh. He shamed them publicly by his victory over them on the cross. And Matthew records that one solitary Roman centurion saw all that had happened and exclaimed, “Truly this was the Son of God!” (Matthew 27:54 ESV). Even in death, Jesus made an impression. This hardened Roman soldier was moved by what He saw and expressed a recognition in the deity of Jesus. His statement is not necessarily an expression of faith or belief in Jesus as his Savior. But it is interesting that the very first person to clearly articulate the deity of Jesus after His death was a Gentile and a Roman. The religious leaders were probably long gone. We hear no words spoken from Jesus’ disciples. But whether he realized the import of his words, this Roman centurion was the first to declare Jesus to be exactly who He always claimed to be: The Son of God.

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 Great Parenthesis.

32 As they went out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name. They compelled this man to carry his cross. 33 And when they came to a place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull), 34 they offered him wine to drink, mixed with gall, but when he tasted it, he would not drink it. 35 And when they had crucified him, they divided his garments among them by casting lots. 36 Then they sat down and kept watch over him there. 37 And over his head they put the charge against him, which read, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.” 38 Then two robbers were crucified with him, one on the right and one on the left. 39 And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads 40 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.” 41 So also the chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked him, saying, 42 “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. 43 He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him. For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” 44 And the robbers who were crucified with him also reviled him in the same way. – Matthew 27:32-44 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 owed by sinful men to a holy and righteous God would remain unpaid. The penalty of death and subsequent separation from God for 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).

It is fascinating to consider what these two statements reveal. While we’re familiar with the idea of Jesus being crucified alongside two common criminals, we probably haven’t given this dimension of His death much thought. After all, there is so much going on in the story that appears to be of greater importance. 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

Faithful In the Face of Death.

36 Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray.” 37 And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. 38 Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” 39 And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” 40 And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? 41 Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” 42 Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” 43 And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. 44 So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again. 45 Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Sleep and take your rest later on. See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 46 Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.” – Matthew 26:36-46 ESV

agony-in-the-garden-1-1024x768.jpgHaving completed the Passover meal, Jesus and His disciples made their way through the city of Jerusalem, out the eastern gate, and onto the Mount of Olives. They stopped at a place called Gethsemane, which means “an olive press.” Here, Jesus took three of His disciples, Peter, James and John, and found a secluded place where He could pray. These are the same three men who had accompanied Him and been eyewitnesses to His transfiguration. But on this occasion, rather than seeing Jesus in His glorified state, they would watch as He agonized over His coming trials.

Jesus described to them His state of mind: “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death” (Matthew 26:38 ESV). His emotional state was one of deep and overwhelming sadness over what was about to happen. His sorrow alone was enough to kill Him. But what was it that caused such a drastic state of deep melancholy in Jesus? Was He afraid to die? Did He regret His decision to sacrifice Himself on behalf of sinful mankind? Was He having second thoughts? The text, along with the words and actions of Jesus, provide us with the answers.

Matthew relates that Jesus went off by Himself and immediately fell on His face before His Father in a state of prayer. He pleaded, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me” (Matthew 26:39 ESV).

One of the things this passage reveals is the human side of Jesus’ nature. He was 100 percent God, but also 100 percent human – a state often referred to as the hypostatic union. At His incarnation, Jesus, the eternal, second person of the Trinity, became the God-man. His assumption of a human nature was essential to the role He would play as the Savior of mankind. The author of Hebrews explains:

Because God’s children are human beings – made of flesh and blood – the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death. – Hebrews 2:14 NLT

The apostle Paul would put it this way:

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

Jesus never relinquished any of His divine attributes, but, in becoming a man, He combined His human and divine natures into one person. And as a man, Jesus felt pain, experienced hunger, grew tired, and, as we will see, became susceptible to death.

In His humanity, Jesus knew that what He was about to endure would be excruciatingly painful. He would be scourged mercilessly with a flagellum, a whip featuring multiple leather strands, each weighted with lead balls or pieces of bone. He would be beaten, spit upon, slapped, and degraded. And eventually, He would be nailed to a wooden cross and left to die by exposure and suffocation. Jesus’ human nature was repulsed by the prospect of facing such a painful and gruesome death. He longed for another way, a plan B.

But, in His divinity, He knew that this was all part of His Father’s sovereign will. This is why He stated, “nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39 ESV).

But there is a second explanation behind Jesus’ intense sorrow and His cry for an alternative plan. He was fully aware that, upon the cross, He would be taking on the sin debt of the entire world. He who never committed a single sin would bear the full brunt of God’s wrath against all the sins of men for all time.

For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ. – 2 Corinthians 5:21 NLT

Sin separates mankind from God. And Jesus knew that when He took on the sin debt of mankind, He would become separated from His Father for the first time in all of eternity. Their fellowship would be broken. And, in His divine nature, that prospect was unfathomable and unthinkable to Jesus. Yet again, He knew it was all part of God’s plan and, therefore, necessary.

Jesus longed for this “cup of wrath” to pass. If you recall, back in chapter 20, Matthew recorded an encounter between Jesus and the mother of James and John, the two brothers who were with Him in Gethsemane that night. She had asked Jesus to allow her two sons to sit on His right and on His left when He established His kingdom on earth. But Jesus had responded to her two sons, “You don’t know what you are asking! Are you able to drink from the bitter cup of suffering I am about to drink?” (Matthew 20:22 NLT).

Only He was worthy to suffer for the sins of mankind. He alone could meet God’s demanding criteria for an acceptable sacrifice – an unblemished, sinless Lamb.

And it’s interesting to note that when Jesus stopped to check on Peter, James, and John, He had found them asleep. While He had been agonizing over His coming death, these three were obviously unconcerned with and unsympathetic to His pain. They slept while Jesus wept. And Jesus made an interesting observation, stating, “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41 ESV). This was most likely aimed at Peter, who had been the one who had vehemently denied Jesus prediction that they would all bail on Him in His time of greatest need.

“Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.” – Matthew 26:33 ESV).

And yet, here was Peter finding it difficult even to stay awake while His master suffered under the weight of His pending death.

Three separate times Jesus expressed His feelings to His heavenly Father, and three times He communicated His willingness to do His Father’s will. He was committed. Every ounce of His humanity longed to escape what was to come, but His divinity provided the strength He needed to do what He had been called to do.

In his commentary on the book of Matthew, D.A. Carson writes:

“In the first garden ‘Not your will but mine’ changed Paradise to desert and brought man from Eden to Gethsemane. Now ‘Not my will but yours’ brings anguish to the man who prays it but transforms the desert into the kingdom and brings man from Gethsemane to the gates of glory.” – D.A. Carson, Matthew, p. 545.

Jesus was willing to face the fate God had planned for Him because He trusted His heavenly Father. He knew there was no other way. Salvation was only possible through His obedient submission to the sovereign will of God the Father. And the hour had come for Him to begin His journey from Gethsemane to Golgotha. Having finished His prayer time with the Father, Jesus turned to His disciples and said, “the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners” (Matthew 26:45 ESV).

Judas was on his way, bringing with him the guards of the high priest. The darkness of that night was about to deepen as the forces of evil began their ill-fated attempt to snuff out the Light of the world. But as John would later write:

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it. – John 1:5 NLT

God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil. All who do evil hate the light and refuse to go near it for fear their sins will be exposed. But those who do what is right come to the light so others can see that they are doing what God wants. – John 3:19-21 NLT

Jesus would end up buried in the darkness of a borrowed tomb. His life would be forcefully taken from Him, but as He had predicted, it would be on His terms.

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

Jesus lived to do the will of His Father. And He died in obedience to the will of His Father. When Jesus had stated, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30 ESV), He had meant it. Their wills were united, and their love for sinful mankind was unified around the sole solution to man’s problem: The sacrificial death of the sinless Son of God.

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

Blind, But Now I See.

29 And as they went out of Jericho, a great crowd followed him. 30 And behold, there were two blind men sitting by the roadside, and when they heard that Jesus was passing by, they cried out, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!” 31 The crowd rebuked them, telling them to be silent, but they cried out all the more, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!” 32 And stopping, Jesus called them and said, “What do you want me to do for you?” 33 They said to him, “Lord, let our eyes be opened.” 34 And Jesus in pity touched their eyes, and immediately they recovered their sight and followed him. –  Matthew 20:29-34 ESV

JerichoEarlyMtNebo.jpgJesus was on His way to Jerusalem where, as He has told His disciples, He would be betrayed, tried, and put to death by crucifixion. And yet, as Matthew records, the crowds continued to follow Him. They had no idea what was awaiting Jesus in Jerusalem. And even the disciples were having a difficult time accepting the truth of what Jesus had told them. The idea of Jesus being put on trial by the Jewish religious leaders sounded too far-fetched to consider. And the thought of Jesus being put to death was something they simply refused to believe.

But what’s important to notice in this short passage is that Jesus remained committed to meeting the needs of the people who crowded around him. He was not self-absorbed or throwing a pity party for himself. He was fully aware of all that awaited Him in Jerusalem and committed to carrying out the will of His heavenly Father. But that does not mean He had lost any of His compassion for the people.

On His way out of the city of Jericho, just to the east of Jerusalem, Jesus had an encounter with two blind men. Hearing the excited shouts of the crowd, these two men called out to Jesus, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!”

There would have been many people on the road from Jericho to Jerusalem, as they made their way to the capital city for the celebration of Passover. In his gospel account, Mark provides us with the name of one of the men.

…as he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a great crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the roadside. – Mark 10:46 ESV

So, it is likely that both men were begging at the gate, taking advantage of the large number of pilgrims headed to Jerusalem, and hoping to benefit from their generosity. But upon hearing that Jesus was there, they cried out for mercy. Matthew records that the crowds rebuked the two men, demanding that they remain silent. It is likely that this somewhat rude response by the people was based on their belief that physical infirmities like blindness were the result of sin. Even the disciples shared this commonly held view. On one occasion, upon seeing a man who had been born since birth, they had asked Jesus, “why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins?” (John 9:2 NLT). Poverty and illness were seen as curses from God, poured out as a result of the individual’s sin. So, apparently, the crowds saw these men as deserving of their lot in life and with no right to beg Jesus for mercy or healing.

It should not escape our attention that these two men, while physically blind, were spiritually perceptive. They could see what so many others could not. Their spiritual vision was 20/20, allowing them to perceive Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of David. Sometime earlier, Jesus had spoken of the spiritual blindness of the people of Israel, quoting from the prophet Isaiah.

“You will indeed hear but never understand,
    and you will indeed see but never perceive.”
For this people’s heart has grown dull,
    and with their ears they can barely hear,
    and their eyes they have closed,
lest they should see with their eyes
    and hear with their ears
and understand with their heart
    and turn, and I would heal them. – Matthew 13:14-15 NLT

Out of the huge crowd of people making their way to Jerusalem, only these two sightless men were able to recognize the Messiah standing in their midst, and they appealed to Him for mercy. They were unashamed to admit their need for healing. And they were unapologetic and unwavering in their cry for mercy. They would not be silenced or denied a touch from the Messiah. And when Jesus asked them what He could do for them, they were very clear. “Lord, let our eyes be opened.”

They desired to have their physical sight restored. They were tired of being treated as second-class citizens, relegated to begging for their daily sustenance. They were fed up with the rumors and innuendos regarding their apparent spiritual poverty. They wanted to be healed. They desired to be whole. And “Jesus in pity touched their eyes, and immediately they recovered their sight and followed him” (Matthew 20:34 ESV).

While others looked down on them, Jesus showed them compassion. While His disciples probably considered themselves better than the two blind men, Jesus was willing to expend His time, attention, and power on behalf of these two undeserving men. He did for them what they could have never done for themselves. Their cry for mercy was heard and answered. They longed for healing and took their need to the only one who could do anything about it.

It’s significant that this healing took place as Jesus made His way to Jerusalem, where He would end up dying on a cross for the sins of man. On another occasion, Jesus had an encounter with a Pharisee named Nicodemus. One of the things Jesus told this religious leader was, “as Moses lifted up the bronze snake on a pole in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life” (John 3:14 NLT). Jesus was referring to a scene recorded in the Old Testament book of Numbers. During the days of the Israelites’ wandering in the wilderness, they became disenchanted with God and Moses, particularly as it concerned their diet. They were sick of the manna God had been providing. So, they complained to Moses.

“There is nothing to eat here and nothing to drink. And we hate this horrible manna!” – Numbers 21:5 NLT

In response to their need for sustenance, God had provided them with manna, a wafer-like substance that miraculously appeared on the ground each morning. But the people had grown tired of manna. And they showed disdain for His gracious provision by complaining about the monotony of their diet.  As a result, God “sent poisonous snakes among the people, and many were bitten and died” (Numbers 21:6 NLT). That got their attention. This time, rather than complaining, they begged Moses to intercede with God on their behalf.

“We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take away the snakes.” – Numbers 21:7 NLT

They had a problem. And it was nothing they could fix on their own. They couldn’t stop the snakes from biting them. Their sin was resulting in their deaths. And they knew that only God could do something about the situation. So, God instructed Moses to make a bronze serpent and mount it on a pole.

“Make a replica of a poisonous snake and attach it to a pole. All who are bitten will live if they simply look at it!” – Numbers 21:8 NLT

And that’s exactly what Moses did. But notice God’s instructions to the people. Those who were bitten had to look at the image of the serpent, the very thing that was bringing God’s judgment upon them. They had to trust the word of God and do exactly as He said. Any hope they had for healing was based on their willingness to look and believe.

And Jesus had told Nicodemus, “as Moses lifted up the bronze snake on a pole in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life.”

When Jesus was nailed to the cross, His naked, beaten, and bloody body represented the punishment for the sins of mankind. He took on Himself what we deserved. He hung in our place. And when anyone looks to Him in faith, recognizing Him as their God-given sin substitute, they are healed from the deadly consequences of their sins. Peter expressed the substitutionary nature of Christ’s death this way:

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

But what does any of this have to do with the two blind men? Everything. When these two men heard that Jesus was nearby, they cried out to Him for help. They couldn’t see Jesus, but they could turn to Him for what they desired: The restoration of their sight.

These two sightless men received healing because they “looked” to Jesus. They placed their faith in who He was and what He could do, and as a result, they had their sight restored. But notice what Matthew says. He states that Jesus had pity on these men. While the crowds had tried to silence them, Jesus felt compassion for them and healed them. He did for them as they asked. He gave them the gift of sight.

Just days after this encounter, Jesus would hang on a cross, giving His life as a ransom for many. And, like the serpent on the staff in the wilderness, Jesus’ death would provide spiritual healing to all those who, in faith, look on Him and believe. Those who recognize their own spiritual blindness and helplessness and look to Him will find healing. But more than physical sight, they will receive eternal life.

Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem, where He would give His life as a ransom for many. And His death would be a litmus test, differentiating between those who recognized their sin and their need for a Savior, and those who stubbornly clung to their own self-righteousness and self-sufficiency. Jesus’ death would become a source of justification for some and judgment for others.

“For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.” – John 9:39 ESV

The blind will look, believe, and see. But those who see will find themselves blinded to the reality of their sin and their need for a Savior.

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

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

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

The Cross Before the Crown.

17 And as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside, and on the way he said to them, 18 “See, we are going up to Jerusalem. And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death 19 and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day.”

20 Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came up to him with her sons, and kneeling before him she asked him for something. 21 And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” 22 Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.” 23 He said to them, “You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.” 24 And when the ten heard it, they were indignant at the two brothers. 25 But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 26 It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant 27 and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, 28 even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” –  Matthew 20:17-28 ESV

Mocked, flogged, crucified, and raised.

For the third time, Jesus brings up the unexpected and unwelcome news of His impending arrest and crucifixion in Jerusalem. Matthew’s placement of this latest announcement is intentional, following closely on the heels of Jesus’ lengthy address to His disciples after their debate about which of them was the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. He has touched on the topics of pride and humility. He has addressed the need for childlike faith. He has exposed the dangers associated with a love of the things of this world. He appealed to them about the need for faithfulness in marriage and forgiveness toward those who sin against them. And the last words He spoke to them before bringing up his imminent death were, “So the last will be first, and the first last.

Everything Jesus told them was tied to life in the kingdom of heaven. And He had been trying to get His disciples to understand that things were not going to be as they expected. While they believed Him to be the Messiah, they were defining the term according to their own standards. In their minds, the Messiah would be a conquering king. He would come with power and set up His kingdom in Jerusalem, from where He would rule and reign, placing Israel back in a position of political prominence. But here was Jesus, once again, announcing that His journey to Jerusalem would end with a cross, not a crown. And His death would be the direct result of His betrayal into the hands of the Jewish religious leaders, who would condemn Him to death. Rather than welcome Jesus as their long-awaited Messiah, they would hand Him over to the Roman government to be mocked, flogged and crucified.

While we know how this story turned out, the disciples did not. They were oblivious to the “good news” associated with Jesus’ death. In fact, it seems evident that they never grasped what Jesus meant when He said, “he will be raised on the third day.” The reality of the resurrection escaped them. All they heard was the shockingly bad news regarding Jesus’ death. And, as before, this news left them dazed and confused. But we know from Matthew’s account, that at least a few of them simply ignored what Jesus had to say, choosing instead to focus on their own self-centered expectations.

Both Matthew and Mark record an encounter between Jesus and the two brothers, James and John. At some point, not long after Jesus’ announcement about His coming death in Jerusalem, they approached Jesus in order to make a request. Matthew adds the important detail that they brought their mother along with them. These two grown men made a shockingly selfish and insensitive request of Jesus, asking, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory” (Mark 10:37 ESV). And their mother put in her two-cents worth, asking, “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom” (Matthew 20:21 ESV). Perhaps James and John thought that if Jesus refused their request, He would be swayed by the pleas of their mother. Whatever the case, Jesus responded, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” (Matthew 20:22 ESV).

He didn’t reprimand them. He didn’t express shock or disappointment at their insensitivity and selfishness. He simply let them know that their request was based on ignorance of the facts. They were thinking in terms of power, position, and prominence. They were hoping for glory. Their sights were set on an earthly kingdom in which they would rule and reign alongside Jesus. And, in their defense, they probably had the words Jesus had spoken to them earlier, still ringing in their ears:

Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” – Matthew 19:28 ESV

If anything, their request reveals a desire for even greater prominence. By asking Jesus for the privilege of sitting on His right and left, they were jockeying for position over their fellow disciples. It wasn’t enough to sit on thrones alongside their peers. They wanted positions of preeminence. In spite of what Jesus had said, they wanted to be first, not last.

When Jesus asked them, “Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?,” they quickly responded, “We are able.” Most likely, they were thinking in terms of a victory drink, a toast to Jesus’ new kingship. But what He had in mind was His suffering. It would not be long before Jesus would find Himself in the garden, praying to His heavenly father, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 28:39 ESV).

On that same night, when the soldiers came to arrest Jesus, Peter would attempt to protect him with a sword, but Jesus would tell him, “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?” (John 18:11 ESV).

Jesus was going to have to endure the judgment of God in order to pay for the sins of mankind. The cross would have to precede the crown. His humiliation must come before His glorification. The agony of the crucifixion would have to take place before the glory of the resurrection. And Jesus informed James and John that they too would eventually drink from the same cup. According to Acts 12:2, James would become the first of the disciples to suffer martyrdom. John would later be exiled on the island of Patmos “on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus” (Revelation 1:9 ESV).

Jesus informed James and John that it was not up to Him to assign places of prominence in His coming kingdom. That was up to God. And God, in His predetermined will, had already made that decision.

Of course, this little exchange didn’t remain a secret. Before long, the other disciples caught wind of what had James and John had done, and they were not happy about it. In fact, Matthew records that they were “indignant.” And Jesus, knowing what they were all thinking, responded:

“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave…” – Matthew 20:25-27 ESV

Once again, Jesus tried to help the disciples understand that the kingdom He had come to establish was going to be radically different in nature. It would not mirror the worldly systems of power and authority. It would not be based on the commonly held views of greatness that seemed to motivate everyone, including the Pharisees. In His coming kingdom, servanthood would take precedence over any thoughts of superiority. Greatness would be associated with humility, not pride. And Jesus let them know that His own life was an example of what it means to be great in the kingdom of God.

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

As the Messiah, Jesus came to give His life as a ransom for the sins of mankind. His reign would follow His sacrificial death. His death on behalf of sinful mankind was a selfless act motivated by love. Our good took precedence over His own glory. And Peter would later encourage every follower of Jesus Christ to emulate His example.

You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. – Philippians 2:5-8 NLT

Mocked, flogged, crucified, and raised.

These words were not what the disciples wanted to hear, so they simply tuned them out. The message of Jesus concerning His pending death was nonsensical to these men. It was repugnant because it ran counter to all that they believed about the Messiah and His mission. What good was a dead Messiah? How would the Jews ever regain their power and prominence if their King was killed before He had a chance to retake the throne of David? None of this made sense. It was madness.

But it was the will of God. It was the divine plan for bringing about the reconciliation of sinful men and a holy God. Before men could be made right with God, Jesus would have to pay the penalty for the sins of mankind. As the author of Hebrews wrote: “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:22 ESV). The penalty for sin is death. And Jesus came to earth so that He might give His life as a ransom for many. He came to die so that men might live. The one who deserved to be first was willing to make Himself last, giving His life in the place of those who deserved death.

…he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. – Philippians 2:8 NLT

All so that we might live.

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

Spiritual Warfare.

Saul sent messengers to David’s house to watch him, that he might kill him in the morning. But Michal, David’s wife, told him, “If you do not escape with your life tonight, tomorrow you will be killed.” So Michal let David down through the window, and he fled away and escaped. Michal took an image and laid it on the bed and put a pillow of goats’ hair at its head and covered it with the clothes. And when Saul sent messengers to take David, she said, “He is sick.” Then Saul sent the messengers to see David, saying, “Bring him up to me in the bed, that I may kill him.” And when the messengers came in, behold, the image was in the bed, with the pillow of goats’ hair at its head. Saul said to Michal, “Why have you deceived me thus and let my enemy go, so that he has escaped?” And Michal answered Saul, “He said to me, ‘Let me go. Why should I kill you?’”

Now David fled and escaped, and he came to Samuel at Ramah and told him all that Saul had done to him. And he and Samuel went and lived at Naioth. And it was told Saul, “Behold, David is at Naioth in Ramah.” Then Saul sent messengers to take David, and when they saw the company of the prophets prophesying, and Samuel standing as head over them, the Spirit of God came upon the messengers of Saul, and they also prophesied. When it was told Saul, he sent other messengers, and they also prophesied. And Saul sent messengers again the third time, and they also prophesied. Then he himself went to Ramah and came to the great well that is in Secu. And he asked, “Where are Samuel and David?” And one said, “Behold, they are at Naioth in Ramah.” And he went there to Naioth in Ramah. And the Spirit of God came upon him also, and as he went he prophesied until he came to Naioth in Ramah. And he too stripped off his clothes, and he too prophesied before Samuel and lay naked all that day and all that night. Thus it is said, “Is Saul also among the prophets?” – 1 Samuel 19:11-24 ESV

Saul’s fear of and subsequent hatred for David continued to intensify. To a certain degree, Saul could not seem to help himself. Throughout the story, we will see that Saul had an underlying, deep-seated love for David. All the way back in chapter 16, when David first came into Saul’s employment, we are told, “And David came to Saul and entered his service. And Saul loved him greatly, and he became his armor-bearer” (1 Samuel 16:21 ESV). But Saul had to deal with a “harmful spirit from the Lord” (1 Samuel 16:14 ESV) which tormented him on a regular basis. This spirit, more than likely demonic in nature, would possess Saul and cause him to lose all control. It was while under the control of this spirit that Saul attempted on three different occasions to kill David with a spear. While the text describes this tormenting spirit as coming from God, that does not mean God was the cause of Saul’s possession. This would be contrary to the character of God. The apostle James cautions us: “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one” (James 1:13 ESV). By removing the Holy Spirit from Saul, God knowingly and willingly made Saul susceptible to demonic possession. He removed the protective power of the Holy Spirit and left Saul vulnerable to the influence of Satan. This was all part of His divine plan.

Saul’s evil bent was by the permission and plan of God. We must realize that in the last analysis all penal consequences come from God, as the Author of the moral law and the one who always does what is right. – Gleason L. Archer Jr., Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, p. 180.

Saul’s obsession with David’s death was most likely the result of his own possession by a demonic spirit. This reveals that the conflict between Saul and David was really a spiritual one. Satan was using Saul in an attempt to thwart the plan of God for David. David had been anointed by Samuel to be the next king of Israel. David was a man after God’s own heart. Unlike Saul, David was obedient to God and lived his life in an effort to please and honor God. Obviously, Satan preferred Saul over David. And Satan’s real objective was the destruction of the people of Israel. From the first moment when God placed His curse on the serpent in the garden and pronounced his pending doom, Satan had been out do destroy the offspring of Eve.

“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

When God later chose Abraham and revealed that He would make of him a great nation and through him all the nations of the world would be blessed.

“I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” – Genesis 12:2-3 ESV

God would go on to clarify His promise to Abraham…

“I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you. And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.” – Genesis 17:6-8 ESV

And the apostle Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, would give a further, more detailed understanding of what this promise of God really entailed.

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 3:16 ESV

Satan had it out for David because David represented the faithful people of God. He had been anointed by God for a reason and Satan realized that this young man presented a threat to his rule and reign over the world and mankind. All throughout the Bible we see a cosmic conflict taking place between Satan and God, as Satan continually attempts to thwart the will and divine plan of God to bring into existence the “offspring” of Abraham, Jesus Christ the Messiah. And this conflict would intensify all the way into the New Testament and reach its apex at the cross, where Satan through he had defeated the plan of God once and for all.

But back to the story of David. An earlier attempt by Saul to eliminate David by using his son, Jonathan, had failed. Now he would be foiled by his own daughter. She would betray her father by protecting David, warning him of Saul’s plot and helping him escape. She would even lie to Saul, risking his anger and possible revenge. It is interesting to note that Michal would use a household idol, a false god, to thwart the plans of Satan, the god of this world. A lifeless image of a non-existent god would be used to spare the life of the man whom God had chosen to lead his people. What an amazing picture of the sovereign power of God Almighty. And when Saul sent men to capture David, God would intervene again, turning David’s pursuers into prophets – “the Spirit of God came upon Saul’s men, and they also began to prophesy” (1 Samuel 19:21 NLT). This would happen three separate times to three different groups of troops. Finally, Saul would get fed up and go after David himself. But he would suffer a similar fate.

…the Spirit of God came even upon Saul, and he, too, began to prophesy all the way to Naioth! He tore off his clothes and lay naked on the ground all day and all night, prophesying in the presence of Samuel. The people who were watching exclaimed, “What? Is even Saul a prophet?” – 1 Samuel 19:23-24 NLT

Men who were set on capturing the servant of God ended up prophesying on behalf of God. The enemies of God became the tools of God. The plan of Satan was radically altered by the sovereign will and power of God. This was a spiritual battle being waged behind the scenes and by powers far beyond the comprehension of Saul and his minions. The war going on here is not between Saul and David, but between God and the forces of Satan. And that has always been the case. The apostle Paul reminds us that it will always be the case, until Jesus Christ returns and completes God’s redemptive plan.

A final word: Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. – Ephesians 6:10-12 NLT

So in the meantime, we must be strong in the Lord. We must rely on His power and stand firm in the knowledge that the battle is His. David would have to do the same thing. He was going to learn that this battle was far more than one man’s personal vendetta against him. This was the forces of wickedness waging war against the sovereign reign of God.

 

The Wisdom of the Cross.

Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But, as it is written,

“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
    nor the heart of man imagined,
what God has prepared for those who love him”

these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. – 1 Corinthians 2:6-13 ESV

Earlier in this same chapter, when Paul had written, “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2 ESV), he was stating that the knowledge of and belief in Christ and His death was all he needed to know. It was the very wisdom of God revealed to men and was sufficient to make men right with Him. It was a secret and hidden wisdom that had been unknowable up until the point that God had revealed it to men through His Spirit. Paul claimed that if the rulers in power when Jesus was alive had understood this wisdom, they would not have crucified Him. But in their human wisdom, they had been ignorant of the reality that Jesus really was the Son of God and the Savior of the world. From Pontus Pilate and Herod the king to the high priest of Israel, none of them were able to recognize who Jesus was and what God was doing through Him. Their human wisdom proved insufficient. And while they believed they were doing the right thing by eliminating Jesus as a threat to their way of life, they were only accomplishing the divine will of God. Peter made this point clear in his prayer after having been released from arrest by the high priest for preaching the resurrection of Jesus.

for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.” – Acts 4:27-28 ESV

Only those who have placed their faith in Jesus Christ, recognizing Him as the Son of God who died on the cross in their place, can recognize the wisdom of God in this seemingly hopeless event. And only the Spirit of God can make the wisdom of Jesus’ death make sense. It was not until the Holy Spirit descended upon the disciples at Pentecost that they were able to recognize the wisdom behind God’s plan of redemption. Jesus had to die. Without His death, there would have been no means by which men might be restored to a right relationship with God. As the writer of Hebrews states, “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:22 ESV). Jesus’ death had made no sense to the disciples in the days immediately following His crucifixion. In their minds, the whole cause for which they had signed up, had been an abysmal failure. Their Messiah had been murdered and all hopes tied to His kingdom died with Him. His death had meant a death of their dreams. But they had been wrong. God’s ways are not our ways. His wisdom is greater than ours. His Son’s death, viewed as a tragedy from the perspective of the disciples, was actually a victory over sin and death. Jesus had not been a helpless victim, but a conquering King. As Paul states later on in this letter:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
   “O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. – 1 Corinthians 15:54-57 ESV

Quoting from the prophet, Isaiah, Paul states, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9 ESV). The death of Jesus had been a part of God’s divine redemptive plan long before the creation of the world. Even before sin entered into the world, God had ordained that His Son would die for the sins of mankind. And our ability to see and understand this reality is made possible by the Spirit of God. It is only with the help of the Spirit of God that man can understand the wisdom of God. Otherwise, it all sounds like foolishness. As Paul said earlier, “we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:23-24 ESV). The only way we can comprehend the wisdom of God in the cross of Christ is through the insight provided by the Spirit of God. He is the one who helps us “understand the things freely given us by God” (1 Corinthians 2:12 ESV). As the Spirit of God, He alone can understand the thoughts and ways of God, and He makes known to us the wisdom of God – “interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual” (1 Corinthians 2:13 ESV).

Paul’s use of the phrase, “those who are spiritual” is not a reference to those who happen to be somehow more mature or further along in their faith. He is simply referring to all those who have placed their faith in Christ and in whom God has placed His Spirit. It is the presence of the Spirit of God within us that makes us spiritual. He provides us with the capacity to understand the mind of God – “For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God” (1 Corinthians 2:10b ESV). It is the Spirit of God who helps us comprehend the wisdom behind the cross of Christ. With His assistance, we can understand how death brought about life, how seeming tragedy resulted in victory, how our condemnation has turned into a guarantee of our future glorification, and how we can enjoy the unfailing love of God rather than the inescapable wrath of God.

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts. – Isaiah 55:8-9 ESV