Monday, November 22, 2010

Luke 23, Part Two

Jesus led to Calvary (vs. 26-33)--Jesus actually endured six trials during the night and early morning of Thursday and Friday. Luke covers three of them, especially the two most important--where the Jewish leaders found a reason to put Him to death and then brought a capital charge before Pilate, who, as Roman governor, had power of life or death over Jesus. If Jesus had been a Roman citizen, He could have appealed His case to Caesar, as Paul did in Acts 25:11. But Jesus didn't have that option, so off to the cross He went. He endured much mistreatment at the hands of the Romans (Mark 15:16-20), which wasn't unusual. Interestingly, all His disciples forsook Him, but His female friends remained loyal to Him to the end, apparently walking with Him to Calvary. In verses 28-31, Jesus spoke of the coming destruction of Jerusalem; if there were any doubt about that issue left (and there really wasn't), the city's doom was certainly sealed by this act of crucifying God's Son. "Do not weep for Me," Jesus told them, "but weep for yourselves and for your children" (v. 27). The two thieves crucified with Him are mentioned in verses 32-33, and that's important, as we shall talk about in the next section.

Jesus on the cross (vs. 34-49) The Lord's compassion, even for His malefactors, is evident in verse 34: "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." Jesus simply provides an example here of the kind of attitude we should have--always a forgiving heart. God will not forgive unless someone repents, which is exactly what Peter told these sinners to do in Acts 2:38. Jesus continued to be mocked by the religious leaders and Romans (vs. 35-38), but verse 35 has an interesting comment: "And the people stood looking on." It's possible that the multitudes who had supported Jesus were finally privy to what was happening, but were powerless to do anything. One of the thieves who was crucified at the same time as Jesus obviously had a change of heart during the process. Mark tells us (13:32) that "even those who were crucified with Him reviled Him." But while one of these malefactors obviously continued his obstinance, the other, realizing that his death and eternity were imminent, asked the Lord for redemption (v. 42). Jesus, who knows all hearts, responded, "Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise" (v. 43).

There are a couple of thoughts I'd like to expound upon briefly regarding the "thief on the cross." Some have tried to find salvation without baptism by pointing to this man; "he was saved without being baptized, so we can be as well." This shows a misunderstanding of the two covenants. The thief was living under the Law of Moses, where immersion for forgiveness was not required. Thus, he was under no obligation to obey a command that is application only under the Christian law and dispensation. Jesus' statement "today you will be with Me in Paradise" indicates a few things. After death, the saved go immediately to a place of Paradise. We don't know as much about that place as we wish, but it is nice to know that our journey there will be immediate. And obviously we will know that we are there, for how can it be Paradise if we have no cognizance of it? Jesus spent His three days of "death" in that location, and the penitent thief would be there, too. As will we, if we are faithful to the Lord.

Jesus died the "ninth hour," or 3 PM. Some amazing things happened when He did--"the sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple was torn in two." Matthew mentions some other strange events that took place as well. (Mt. 27:51-53). Jesus, rightly, committed His spirit to the Father (v. 46), and passed into Paradise (v. 46). A Roman centurion recognized the character of Jesus and commented on it (v. 47), while the masses who had followed Him were distressed (v. 48). But they left the scene, while "His acquaintances and the women who followed Him" stayed within watching distance, no doubt to see what would happen to His body (v. 49).

Preparation for His burial (vs. 50-56)--A man named Joseph, from the city of Aramathea, and "a council member, a good and just man," (v. 50), who had not approved of Jesus' condemnation, and "who himself was also waiting for the kingdom of God" (v. 51), asked Pilate for the body of Christ. His request was granted and Jesus' physical remains were placed in Joseph's own tomb (v. 53). The hour being late, proper preparations for that burial could not be completed. The women, who "observed the tomb and how His body was laid" (v. 55), had to wait until after the Sabbath to continue that work (v. 56). They were to receive quite a surprise when they returned early Sunday morning.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Luke 23, Part One

Jesus before Pilate, number 1 (vs. 1-5)--Luke has it very nicely and very logically laid out for us. At the end of chapter 22, he explained the "justification" of the Jewish leaders for putting Christ to death. But as I noted, that wouldn't mean anything to the Romans, so here in the first part of chapter 23, when they bring Jesus before Pilate--who had power of life or death over Him--they accuse Christ of "saying that He Himself is Christ, a King" (v. 2). That was designed to get the governor's attention.

Yet, Pilate was suspicious. He asked Jesus, "Are you the King of the Jews," to which Jesus answered in the affirmative (v. 3). But then Pilate told the Jews, "I find no fault in this Man" (v. 4). The only conclusion I've been able to come to is that the governor thought Jesus was a harmless nut. The Jews responded to this by accusing Jesus of stirring up the people, creating dissension and civil disorder (v. 5). That would bother the Romans, too, but it's possible that Pilate had never heard of Jesus, or if he had, had no evidence that He had been creating disturbances. Pilate recognized, as Matthew wrote, that the Jewish leaders were simply jealous of Jesus and therefore, that He had done nothing wrong, much less deserving of death.

Jesus before Herod (vs. 6-12)--Luke provides this part of Jesus' trial, which is omitted by the other writers. When Pilate learned that Jesus was a Galilean, and thus under Herod's jurisdiction, he sent Him there, hoping that Herod could handle the matter. Herod had long wanted to see Jesus, "and he hoped to see some miracle done by Him" (v. 8). There's no pure motive here. Herod questioned Jesus, and when the Lord wasn't forthcoming with what was wanted, "treated Him with contempt and mocked Him," (v. 11), and returned Him to Pilate. Luke adds the curious thought that, though Pilate and Herod had been at odds up to that time, they now became friends. Why? Who knows? Maybe they had a good laugh together. Barnes suggests that the civility Pilate showed to Herod in the case may have had something to do with it, but it looks to me like the Roman governor was simply trying to get rid of Jesus, not show Herod respect. It's something we don't know for sure.

Before Pilate, number two (vs. 13-25)--So Jesus' fate rests in the hands of Pontius Pilate. Pilate again states that he found no fault with Jesus, "neither did Herod...and indeed nothing deserving of death has been done by Him" (v. 15). So, the governor was going to "chastise Him (a sop to the Jews, no doubt) and release Him" (v. 16). Pilate, who was not a good man (see my addendum at the end of Matthew 27, Part 1, for some history of the man), was, however, in this case being imminently fair--with the exception of having Jesus beaten. There was no cause for that. But the hatred and lack of control of the Jewish rabble that had been brought together by the chief priests caused the governor some concern. Luke plainly says that Pilate wanted to release Jesus (v. 20), but it had to have been equally obvious to him that by doing so, he would have small riot on this hands. Pilate was in a quandary. If he crucified an innocent man, the Roman government was going to want to know why; Roman law was fair on these matters. But if Pilate couldn't control the people he governed, Rome would want to know the answer to that one, too, and he would probably have been replaced. Finally, however, he bent to the will of the Jewish leaders and condemned Christ to death. It was the easy way out for the governor, and does not speak highly of his ruling abilities.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Luke 22, Part Two

Jesus predicts Peter's denial (vs. 31-34)--The Lord tenderly indicates that Peter will slip in his faith (vs. 31-32), but will return. Peter objects, saying "Lord, I am ready to go with You, both to prison and to death" (v. 33). Easier said than done, and Peter obviously didn't do it--at least while Jesus was alive. Peter sank very low, of course, but never completely fell away.

Prepare for the work (vs. 35-38)--Jesus' words in this section are a little confusing. When He first sent them out (the so-called “limited commission,” see Matthew 10), they didn't need anything--all was providentially provided for them (v. 35). Now He tells them that they must prepare, and in effect, be ready to--at least partially--take care of themselves, and even defend themselves--if you don't have a sword, buy one (v. 36). But then, when they show Him two swords, He says "It is enough" (v. 38). It's possible that Christ's rather curt answer was to end a conversation that His disciples surely didn't understand anyway. I think the major point here is, once again, priorities. You (apostles) will have needs, but don't emphasize the physical over the spiritual.

Jesus in the garden (vs. 39-46)--Jesus then went to the garden of Gethsemane, where He often went to pray, and which was located on the Mount of Olives right outside the city. Jesus asked His disciples to pray, and then withdrew from them "about a stone's throw." It's not exactly clear how far that was, but it was common saying among the ancients. His prayer was given an immediate response by an angel appearing from heaven, "strengthening Him" (v. 43). He prayed in agony (v. 44). The "great drops of blood" (v. 44) were not really blood but indicate the intensity of His feelings. The disciples had fallen asleep "from sorrow" (v. 45). They may not have understood what was about to happen to Jesus, but they no doubt caught His somber mood and were affected by it themselves.

Judas betrays Jesus (vs. 47-53)--The chief priests, etc., had brought a rabble with them to arrest Jesus (v. 47), in case there was resistance from the twelve. That rabble might not have recognized Christ, so Judas plants the most famous kiss in human history. Peter--it was he, so John tells us--was indeed disposed to fight (v. 49), but Jesus didn't allow it. Christ mocks the religious leaders in verses 52-53. They could have arrested Him at any time in a public place, but they didn't have the guts to do it. So, they get one of His followers to betray Him and do the nefarious deed under the cover of darkness. Other gospel writers tell us that when Jesus succumbed to willingly, His disciples fled (cf. Mark 14:50).

Peter's denial (vs. 54-62)—Jesus was taken initially to the high priest's house; his name was Caiaphas (Mt. 26:57). John tells us it was Annas (John 18:24). Annas had indeed been high priest for several years, but the Romans had deposed him. So, to the Jews, Annas was still the legitimate high priest. Mark wrote to a Roman audience so they would have recognized the Roman action of removing Annas from his position. Peter had followed Jesus and stood in the courtyard, watching the action. He was confronted three times with his association with Jesus, and as Christ had told him, he denied the Lord all three times. Verse 61 is gut-wrenching: "And the Lord turned and looked at Peter." Imagine how Peter felt. Well, he ought to have felt horribly for what he had just done. "Peter went out and wept bitterly" (v. 62).

Christ's conviction (vs. 63-71)--The Jews had no authority, under Roman law, to put someone to death, so they had to find a reason. First of all, however, they needed an excuse they could give to their own people. So they questioned Jesus until he confessed "Hereafter the Son of Man will sit on the right hand of the power of God" (v. 69). To the Jewish leaders, this amounted to blasphemy which was a capital crime under their law--but not under Roman. Before Pilate, they will accuse Jesus of claiming to be a king--which would have been treason and punishable by death under Roman law.

Luke 22, Part One

Judas agrees to betray Jesus--Technically, the Feast of Unleavened Bread was (in the Jewish calendar) Nisan 14 (the first month, our April), and Passover was from the 15th-21st. But the dates were so close that the events were called after the Feast. There would have been at least 100,000 people in Jerusalem at the time, so finding Jesus would have been tough for His enemies. "Satan entered Judas" (v. 3), and he agreed to deliver Jesus privately, and at a time when the masses would not be aware of it, or, as Luke says, "in the absence of the multitude" (v. 6).

Preparing for the Passover meal (vs. 7-13)--This semi-strange event--Jesus sending the Peter and John who found the man who opened his home to them--appears to have been a pre-arranged matter. Jesus had probably talked to the fellow beforehand. Men carrying a jar (v. 10) was an unusual thing, so he would be easy to spot.

The Last Supper (vs. 14-23)--This is such an important event that all four gospel writers record it. My thoughts in Matthew 26 cover the basic events, but I won't reproduce them here because I want to talk about the procedure of the Passover supper itself. It started with a prayer, and then the first of four cups of wine (perhaps unfermented) was drunk, plus a dish of herbs with a bitter sauce was eaten. The story of the institution of the Passover was then recited and Psalm 113 sung. The second cup of wine followed, and the main course was eaten: roast lamb with unleavened bread and herbs. Then there was a third prayer, the third cup was drunk, Psalms 114-118 were sung, and then the final cup of wine. We obviously get this information from secular Jewish sources. Luke adds an interesting statement by Jesus regarding the wine: "Take this and divide it among yourselves" (v. 17). This perhaps indicates that each apostle had his own individual cup, rather than all of them drinking from the same vessel. Obviously, the juice came from one container, but it is possible--probably likely--that each participant drank from his own cup.

Who is the greatest? (vs. 24-30)--The disciples then get into a petty discussion over "which of them should be considered the greatest" (v. 24). With Jesus on the verge of the cross, they could think of nothing but their own glory. And, even omitting Christ's immediate future, what were they doing arguing about this self-centered topic at the most important spiritual event in Judaism? Such indicates a gross immaturity and obtuseness on their part. Jesus tells them the world argues about such things, but "not so among you" (v. 26). His disciples will find true greatness in serving others (v. 26). For again, the world thinks of the servant as inferior to the master (v. 27), but Jesus gave the example of service as being the course they should follow (v. 27). Yet, He does make a promise to the apostles that their devotion to mankind will indeed be rewarded (vs. 29-30). No doubt He means eternally.