Resurrection

And when [Pilate] learned from the centurion that [Jesus] was dead, he granted the corpse to Joseph” (Mark 15:45).

The resurrection of Jesus is at the heart of the gospel, for it is the resurrection that settles forever the identity of Jesus. The first sermon preached by the disciples after Jesus’ death mentions the resurrection three times. It is mentioned twice in the second sermon (Acts 3) and once in each of Peter’s two speeches before the Jewish ruling council (Acts 4 & 5).

Paul wrote that the resurrection is the declaration (the proof) that Jesus was the Son of God (Romans 1:4).

Of course, all that, and the total of Christianity, becomes but a lie if in fact Jesus didn’t really die, and over the years several theories have been offered. One is that Jesus didn’t really die, but just fainted – after all, no one died from crucifixion in just three hours. It was usually a long painful death, lingering for days before dying from exposure, thirst, or asphyxiation. In the cool of the tomb he revived and made his escape (though how he got past the guards is left unexplained).

Mark tells us that when Joseph of Arimathea asked for the body of Jesus, Pilate was surprised Jesus had already died. He sent an officer to make sure – someone experienced in the death business. The report was “yes.” Jesus was dead.

But he didn’t stay dead, and that’s the power behind the “good news” of the Jesus story. His resurrection provides hope for our own. “Through Christ you believe in God, who raised Jesus from the dead and glorified him, so that your faith and hope are in God” (1 Peter 1:21).

A Special Invitation

I wrote last week about the tearing of the curtain in the Temple at Jesus’ death and suggested its significance was that of an invitation: an invitation into the presence of God.

It’s a really big deal, speaking volumes about God’s grace.

Note that, normally, the only person who could enter the Most Holy Place was the High Priest of God’s people. He had to be a descendant Levi, the son of Jacob. He had to be a descendant of Aaron, Moses’ brother. He could only enter once a year, and when he did, it had to be with an offering of blood. To enter any other time carried a death sentence. For anyone else to enter was unthinkable.

But Jesus was not of the tribe of Levi. Though he was a High Priest, he was not a descendant of Aaron. Though his priesthood was much older than Aaron’s, entering into that Most Holy Place still cost him his life, for the blood of his admission was his own.

In doing this, God opened the way into His presence not just for one man, but for all. In doing it, God changed everything. He changed everything for us. Oh yes, the change was all a part of God’s original plan. But the plan was to involve a demonstration of the lengths to which God would go to give us fellowship with Him. It was a demonstration of His grace and love for us.

Consider what God has done for you. And then, consider what you can do for God.

An Open Invitation

“With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last. The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom” (Mark 15:37-38).

Matthew, Mark, and Luke all write about the tearing of the temple curtain – the curtain that separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place (the place of God’s dwelling).  Other than the fact of its tearing, they make no other point.

In the days of Moses, the curtain was made of “blue, purple and scarlet yarn and finely twisted linen, with cherubim worked into it by a skilled craftsman” (Exodus 26:31).  That curtain was replaced by Solomon when the temple was built and described as “made of blue, purple and crimson yarn and fine linen, with cherubim worked into it” (2 Chronicles 3:14).  The Jewish historian Josephus described the curtain in Herod’s day as ninety feet high and thirty feet wide.  It was a Babylonian curtain, embroidered with blue, and fine linen, and scarlet, and purple, and made with marvelous skill.  On the curtain was an image of the heavens.  That last part is important.

The writer of the book of Hebrews noted that Christ at his death entered the Most Holy Place with his own blood to obtain redemption for us all.  It is by that same blood that we too  enter into God’s presence (Hebrews 10:19).

I find it interesting that when the gospel of Mark begins, the heavens are torn open and God proclaims about Jesus: “This is my Son.”  At the end of the gospel, a curtain with the heavens depicted on them is torn open and I imagine the significance was not to announce Jesus’ divinity nor even to receive Jesus back, but to call all of us into God’s presence.

What Would You Do WIth A Second Chance?

But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have Pilate release Barabbas instead” (Mark 15:11).

Barabbas had been imprisoned for participating in a revolt in the city. Mark actually refers to it as “the revolt,” implying it was a memorable incident – at least for the time. Mark and Luke tell us he was a murderer, and Luke tells us the murder happened during the revolt.

Jerusalem, a large city, built on a hill, home to a great temple, was always in need of fresh water. Pilate determined to build an aqueduct to provide additional water, and who better to pay for it than the single greatest user, the temple? Every year Jews from all over the world sent money to pay for the administration of the temple and Pilate, rather heavy handedly, took that money to build the aqueduct. A revolt ensued and all this about the time of Jesus’ death.

Two things capture my attention:

First, Mark says the two crucified with Jesus were “revolutionaries” (though the word sometimes means “robber”). I’ve wondered if those two were Barabbas’ accomplices.

Second, it’s interesting that the name Barabbas, reduced to its parts, means “son of the father.” It’s even more interesting that some manuscripts give a fuller name: “Jesus Barabbas.” So here we have two men named Jesus, both called the “son of the father.” One was guilty of sedition and a murder. The other, innocent of any crime. And yet, it was the innocent who took the place of the guilty on a cross. What became true for Barabbas has become true for us all: Christ has taken our guilt, borne it Himself, and given us a new start. I wonder what Barabbas did with his?

What are you doing with yours?

Thursday, November 21. Mark 14 – 16

Sometimes it’s instructive when reading the Gospels to compare them and see what is unique to each one. Then, ask why the gospel writer saw fit to bring that up.

As we reach chapter fifteen, it is only Mark who tells us Barabbas was a murderer. Only Mark makes a point of telling us that the soldiers mockingly worshiped Jesus, that he was crucified the day before the Sabbath and at the 9th hour.

Matthew, Mark and Luke all mention it was Simon who was pressed into service to aid Jesus in carrying his cross, but only Mark tells us Simon was the father of Alexander and Rufus – two men who must have been known to Mark’s readers.

It is Mark who most underscores that it was the Jewish leadership who killed Jesus, opening the chapter with mention of the chief priests, the elders, teachers of the law and the whole Sanhedrin. In fact, Mark particularly makes the leaders of this murderous group the “chief priests.”

In the Old Testament, the chief priest (High Priest) was always to come from the house of Aaron. But by the days of Jesus, the priesthood changed every year, going mainly to the highest bidder (who paid the fee to the Romans, making him subject to them). Though only one person functioned as the “High Priest,” everyone who served made up the group of “chief priests” in Jesus’ time.

Finally, only Mark tells us Pilate, despite his insistence that Jesus was innocent, gave Jesus to be crucified to “satisfy the crowd.” The crowd had followed Jesus relentlessly. They were the ones on whom Jesus had compassion (6:34), the ones he fed (chapter 8), the ones who were so zealous for Jesus that the Jewish leadership decided to kill him (11:18), and those whose protection of Jesus made the leaders cautious in what they did.

But the tide turned.

That’s the way it is when you follow the crowd. People are fickle. What appeals one minute will repulse the next. That’s why being a part of the crowd, the majority, is so dangerous. The Christian must never find himself there – indeed cannot – because the life Jesus calls us to will never be embraced by them. When we are accepted by the crowd, we’re doing something wrong. This is not an excuse for being contrary. It’s the result of being Christ’s disciple.