Thursday, June 25, 2015

Why Did Jesus Die?

Is there any reason for good person to die young?  Why should someone be sentenced to death when they were declared innocent? Why should one dedicated to doing good suddenly have their life cut short?  And how can it be declared God’s will for such to happen?

            And yet, this is exactly the scenario that the New Testament proposes.  Jesus was a man who did good, who healed many and taught thousands to change from doing evil to doing good.  He claimed as a basic principle never to harm another.  But the authorities of Jerusalem branded him a rebel whose goal was to overturn their authority.  And because of his rebellion, he was killed.  And yet, all of this was, according to the New Testament, God’s plan and desire—the God of mercy and justice.  How could this be?

            We need to understand the underlying reasons for Jesus’ death—which from our perspective is insanity and injustice, but for the purposes of God it is right and good.

I. Historical Reasons for Jesus’ death

Jesus died because he threatened the temple of God.
“Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.”  (John 2:19) Jesus made this statement publicly, right after he cleansed the temple of the impurity of buying and selling.  Jesus never said that he would destroy the temple himself, but he did declare it impure, and he said that it would be destroyed by God (Mark 11:11-20; Mark 13:1-2).  But the temple was the center of Jewish religion in that day, and the leaders of Jerusalem needed it to remain that way.  The temple was the center of the authority of the priesthood and the ruling Council of the Jews.  If it was destroyed, then their power would be wiped away immediately.  Jesus seemed to threaten the temple (Mark 14:55-58), and so, in the mind of the Jewish authorities of Jerusalem, he must be stopped (John 11:47-57).

Jesus died because he claimed to replace the government of God’s people.
Jesus entered into Jerusalem as a great ruler, which was questioned by the Jewish authorities of Jerusalem (Matthew 21:1-9, 23-27).  When they questioned him directly about his claims to authority, he agreed that he was the one whom God established as king over God’s people and that he would reign over the priesthood and the ruling Council.  That a borderline heretic could rule over them was unacceptable to the Council and they made a final determination that he should die. (Mark 14:55-61).

Jesus died because justice was replaced by mob rule.
Because the Council was under the thumb of the Roman government, they had to ask permission to kill Jesus.  They presented Jesus to the Roman governor of Jerusalem as a rebel wanting to replace Caesar as lord of the earth.  Pilate questioned Jesus, and while Jesus declared himself to be king, it was clear that he was not king as Caesar was (John 18:29-38).  Because he had done nothing rebellious, the governor declared him innocent.  But the Jerusalemites listening to this trial demanded that Jesus be killed for sedition.  Finally, Pilate was swayed by the crowds, and allowed Jesus to be killed. (Mark 15:12-15).

II. Jesus’ Own Reasons for Dying

Jesus died because he chose to.
But Jesus did not die simply because of the injustice of the Jewish and Roman governments.  Jesus declared many times ahead of time that it was God’s plan for him to die at the hands of these governments (Matthew 20:18-19) and he accepted the will of God in this (Mark 14:36).  He could have escaped at his arrest, but chose not to (Matthew 26:50-56).  He could have phrased his answers to be more acceptable to the Council or to Pilate, but he was being deliberately unhelpful toward his release (John 19:9-10).  Jesus was prepared for his death and he did what he could to make sure it happened, even though the final decision was Pilate’s.

Jesus died to make himself king over God’s people.
Why did Jesus make that choice? Why did he act in agreement with his own death?  Because he saw his death as a means to an end.  He determined that he needed to rule over God’s people.  But to be a ruler under God, he couldn’t just be at the head of an army or gain the acclamation of the people.  Rather, he had to be appointed by God.  To do this, Jesus had to prove to be a perfectly righteous ruler, one who would do God’s will rather than act for his own benefit.  Also, Jesus needed to be oppressed by the ruling governments, to prove that they were unworthy to rule.  This would cause God himself to act, to put down the unrighteous who raise themselves to power and to raise up the righteous who lowered their own desires (Luke 14:11).  In this way, Jesus allowed himself to die to allow God to act for his ambition to rule.

Jesus died to free people from oppressive rule.
But Jesus didn’t want to rule from his own ambition alone.  Rather, he desired to rule, because he saw God’s people as being without decent leadership (Mark 6:34).  Jesus saw the people as under Satan, needing deliverance from his rule of misery and death (Matthew 12:43-45).  Jesus saw the teachers of God’s people as being too ready to judge, and unlearned in the ways of God’s mercy (Matthew 12:7).  And Jesus saw the whole priesthood and temple system as impure and idolatrous (Mark 11:15-17).  Jesus desired to sacrifice himself for the sake of all those who truly desired to worship and follow God, but had no way to do it (Mark 10:45).

III. What Jesus’ death shows us

Jesus died to display the way of faith.
Jesus knew that the one whom God was pleased with is the one who is so faithful to God that he is willing to sacrifice everything he is and everything he has for him (Luke 14:33).  Jesus determined to be a man so wholly devoted to God that he would die.  And he also said that anyone who would gain the life that God has to offer must be so completely devoted (Mark 8:31-38).  And so Jesus showed—not just taught—that the one who loves God most is the one who would obey God to the very end (Mark 13:13).

Jesus died to demonstrate the result of faith.
Jesus knew that if he died that God would act in certain ways.  Whoever, in God’s name, destroyed God’s obedient servant, would be destroyed by God (Mark 12:1-9).  Whoever lowered themselves for God’s sake and God’s people would be raised by God to rule (Luke 14:11).  And whoever died because of their devotion to God, would be raised from the dead (Mark 8:35).  Three days after Jesus’ death, God raised him from the dead to prove the third principle.  After showing himself to the disciples for many days, God rose Jesus up to political authority over heaven, under the Father.  And in 70AD, the temple and the priesthood and the ruling Council of the Jews were destroyed, even as Jesus predicted. 

The power of faith is self-sacrifice for others.

This is the way of freedom.

Peace Through Death

God’s promise to His People

God gave his people a promise, and for five hundred years and more it was unfulfilled.  People from the nations around would mock the God of the Jews, for he promised them a great kingdom, a peace for his people, but it was not fulfilled.
·         God promised that a land would be given to his people. (Ezekiel 36:24)
·         God promised that he would bring a new king. (Isaiah 9:6-7)
·         God promised that the new king would bring justice to everyone who lived in the land. (Isaiah 11:1-5)
·         God promised that people would be healed of their illnesses. (Ezekiel 34:4; Deuteronomy 7:15)
·         God promised that his people would be forgiven of their sins. (Ezekiel 36:25)
·         God promised that all oppressors would be judged. (Psalm 82)
·         God promised that the people would have his Spirit (Ezekiel 36:26-27)
·         God promised that the power of the nations would be destroyed by his new kingdom. (Daniel 2:44)
·         God promised that those of his people who had died would be resurrected. (Daniel 12:2-3)
·         God promised that there would be a time of peace. (Isaiah 11:6-10)
Yet for more than five hundred years after the promises were made, they were not fulfilled.  And God’s people were so focused away from devotion to God, that it looked like they would never be fulfilled.

Jesus—Devoted to Fulfilling God’s Promise

Jesus desired to see God’s promises fulfilled.  During his time on earth, he prayed daily for the promises of God to become reality on earth.  He insisted that God move—for God’s own glory and reputation.
So Jesus was appointed by God to be the “point man” of the fulfillment of God’s promises.  He commanded the healing of God on the sick, and they were healed.  He commanded the exile of oppressive, judging spirits, and they were gone.  He proclaimed the forgiveness of those devoted to God, and they were forgiven.  He taught mercy and justice, and false prophets were rebuked. 

The Final Requirement

But Jesus knew that to establish all the promises of God in a new kingdom, it would require more than healings and teachings.  It required the creation of a new contract, a new people.  To accomplish a new people, a new kingdom established by God required something different than most kingdoms to be established.  To do this, Jesus needed to die. If Jesus did not die, then the kingdom, the fulfillment of God’s promises, could never have been accomplished. 
There were four reasons the holy one of God, the one especially selected by the Father to be the righteous ruler, had to die:

1.      Jesus’ death proved he was a righteous king.
The kingdom of God could only come when a king had been proven to be righteous.  Proof of righteousness, the living out of God’s will, could only be done in the midst of testing.  Thus, Jesus proved that he was just, merciful and righteous by dying the death of the guilty when he was innocent. (Mark 14:36; Hebrews 5:7-8)

2.      Jesus’ death displayed the unworthiness of the current rulers.
The kingdom of God could only be established when the unrighteous rulers of God’s people were deposed.  Jesus proved that the rulers were unrighteous by allowing himself to be sentenced as a rebel, when he was one who waited on God’s will.  Because God saw his innocence, he destroyed those who killed him and refused to repent for it. (Mark 12:1-11; Acts 3:13-21)

3.      Jesus’ death was the necessary sacrifice to establish a covenant.
In the ancient world, a legal covenant could only be established when a sacrifice was made to confirm it.  Thus, the kingdom of God could only begin when a blood sacrifice was made to create the covenant on which the kingdom was based.  The kingdom was ratified by Jesus’ sacrifice, which was perfect and blameless and according to God’s will. (Mark 14:24; Hebrews 9:18-26)

4.      Jesus’ death was the necessary price to free God’s people from oppression.
The kingdom of God could only come when God’s people could be delivered from exile.  Jesus died, allowing himself to be exalted to the right hand of God, and so made himself a mediator for the people of God, asking for their forgiveness.  Jesus also showed that those who showed enduring faith as he did on the cross are the righteous people of God who deserve to be in God’s kingdom. (Mark 10:45; Hebrews 2:14-15)

The Resurrection of Jesus

However, it was not enough that Jesus died.  Jesus died to do all that he could to establish God’s kingdom. But the rest was up to the Father.  God raised Jesus from the dead to prove that the kingdom was established and that the kingdom of God was established.  Jesus really did fulfill the promises God through his death.  (Romans 1:1-4) Now God’s people are forgiven by Jesus’ blood—if only they would repent and accept him as their Lord. (Acts 3:19) The Spirit can truly be given to God’s people, because through Jesus’ death there is a people who can receive the Spirit.  Healing and freedom from oppression can be given to many because God’s blessing flows to God’s people through Jesus.  And we know that we can gain resurrection because if we have the faith of Jesus, then we will gain the reward that Jesus received—eternal life. (John 6:47)

Jesus was worthy to be king through his death.  God sealed his approval of Jesus through the resurrection.  And now we can be free from oppression to be purely devoted to God.

“To this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.”  (Romans 14:9)

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The Real Defendents

Jesus stood before the ruling council of the Judeans, the Sanhedrin.  And he stood before Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea.

Yet, it is not actually Jesus on trial here.  It is those who condemned Jesus.

They had no evidence of wrong-doing.  They had witnesses that contradicted each other, and empty accusations.  Pilate even declared Jesus to be innocent, before he agreed to have him taken away and crucified.  Both trials determined that Jesus was innocent, without guilt.  And yet both trials sentenced him to death.

This does not mean that Jesus somehow had done wrong, but that the kingdom of God (Judea) was being ruled by partial, unjust systems.  They were more interested in political expediency than they were about justice.

Who was just in those courtrooms?  Who was the support to the weak?  Who judged with fairness and equity?  Who really cared for the people of God?  Clearly it was Jesus.  Jesus is the deserving ruler, not the Sanhedrin or Pilate.  Not the Jewish High Priest or the Romans.

So we have that same choice today.  Is our justice system ruling with justice?  Do they kill innocent people?  Do our legislatures pass laws that benefit the people or for their own political expediency? Does the police forces and the President execute people on the basis of a fair trial, or by assumptions made in back rooms and prejudice?

Who is more just, Jesus, or our nation?  Who should rule?

The choice is yours over which system you want to guide your life.  The nation you were born in, or the kingdom of God ruled by Jesus.

The Trials of Jesus

After all the time of Jesus claiming to be king of Jerusalem and of his work to show himself worthy as king, it is finally time.  Now he will be shown before the current leaders of Jerusalem.  If they decide they like what he says, he will be given more time to prove his case.  But if they reject him, he will be killed.  God has already determined that these hard-hearted, rebellious rulers will oppose God and kill his Son.  But if they do that, it will mean their end.

The Sanhedrin is the ruling council of the Judeans.  It is led by the High Priest, and all the significant laws and decisions about the Jewish nation is made here.  Jesus is taken to them at night, where many await to accuse him.  Some of them say, “We heard him say that he would destroy the temple!”  But the witnesses contradicted each other.  The High Priest went to Jesus and said, “Don’t you hear what these witnesses say against you?  Why don’t you answer?”  But Jesus remained silent. 

Finally, the High Priest, angry that Jesus would say nothing, demanded, “I command you by the Most High God—are you or are you not the Messiah, the Son of God?”  Jesus replied, “I am.  And you will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds at the right hand of power.”  The leader of all the Jews was infuriated that Jesus would claim to be beside God.  He tore his clothes in disgust and cried out, “Blasphemy!  He cannot claim to have God’s authority in heaven!  What do you say?”  And all of the Sanhedrin agreed that he should be put to death.  They released Jesus to the temple guards to be beaten and sent away.

Peter, meanwhile, was sitting outside the High Priest’s house, waiting for a verdict.  One of the girls recognized Peter and said, “Are you with that Galileean?”  Peter didn’t want to be caught, so he answered quickly, “No.”  Another said, “Surely you are—you can’t hide your Galillean accent.”  Peter replied, “No, I’m not.”  A soldier nearby said, “I think I saw you with him.”  Peter cursed and said, “I don’t know him!”  Then he heard a cock crow, and Peter realized that Jesus had predicted the denials Peter had just spoke.  And he ran away and wept.

The Sanhedrin could not kill Jesus legally without Roman agreement.  At that time, Judea was under the power of the Romans, who allowed the council to create laws, but demanded that a governor rule the province.  The most recent governor was Pilate, who was known to dislike Judeans, and not understand many of their customs.  The High Priest and others of the Sanhedrin brought Jesus before Pilate and accused, “This man has called himself a king and has been stirring up trouble in Jerusalem and Galilee.”  Pilate didn’t want to try him so he said, “Oh, is he from Galilee.  Fine, Herod is in town, and Galilee is Herod’s province.  Let Herod deal with him.”

They brought him to Herod, who had killed John the Baptist.  Herod had heard of Jesus and wanted to hear Jesus or to see him perform a miracle.  However, Jesus said nothing and did nothing before Herod.  Herod was enraged and sent Jesus back to Pilate to be killed.

The Sanhedrin accused Jesus of many evils before Pilate and the crowd that was forming.  Jesus said nothing.  Pilate looked at Jesus and asked, “So, are you a king?”  Jesus replied, “I have a kingdom, but it is not of this world.  If my kingdom was a worldly kingdom, my disciples would be fighting right now.  But it isn’t.”  Pilate said to the Sanhedrin and the crowd, “I find no guilt in him.”  The priests were encouraging the crowds to cry, “Crucify him!” 

Pilate said, “Look, I usually release one prisoner at Passover time.  I haven’t done that yet.  I have in my prison a man named Barabbas.  He is a rebel against the proper authorities and he has murdered a man.  Who would you rather me release, the murderer or this so-called ‘king’?”  The priests encouraged the crowd to cry out, “Barabbas!”  Pilate was shocked, but he released the murderer.

Then he decided to have Jesus whipped thirty nine times, so he could look weak.  Jesus was whipped bloody, and then brought out before the crowd.  Pilate cried, “Look at him!  See how pathetic he is!  He won’t harm anyone.  I am going to release him.”  The crowd shouted out, “Crucify him!  If you release this king, you are no friend of Caesar’s!  Crucify him!”  Pilate didn’t want any bad word to get to Caesar at this point, or his life could be at stake.  So he washed his hands and said, “I have nothing to do with this.  Take him away.”

And so Jesus was sent to be crucified.

Again the high priest was questioning Him, and saying to Him, "Are You the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?" And Jesus said, "I am; and you shall see THE SON OF MAN SITTING AT THE RIGHT HAND OF POWER, and COMING WITH THE CLOUDS OF HEAVEN."  (Mark 14:61-62)

Jesus answered, "My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm."  (John 19:36)

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Looking Through Jesus' Eyes

Here they come.  The crowds.  In a rage, stirred up by the high priest, Judas at the head.  They are ready to fight, to grab Jesus and to attack who they must.  Jesus knew it was coming, and he accepted it.  It is the most stressful night of his life.  He anticipated the suffering, the pain, the shame, but it means something different when it is thrust upon you.  Panic rises up in the throat, but you have to swallow it.

Judas kisses Jesus.  Peter swings a sword.  These erring disciples back off with a word.

But then Jesus sees.

For everyone in the Roman world, slaves are simply ignored.  They are there when they are commanded, when business must be done, but the rest of the time, they just live in the background, unimportant until they are needed.

But Jesus sees him.

He is a slave who is coached to harm Jesus and his disciples.  He is a slave ready to harm and to attack.  He is a soldier, a pawn, but still an enemy of Jesus.  In an action movie, he would be dispatched without notice.  A single shot to the chest and never seen again.

But Jesus notices him.

Jesus notices that he is in pain.  He sees that the man has lost an ear.  He sees his enemy, but he doesn't see him as an enemy.  He sees the slave, but he doesn't see him as a slave.  Rather, he sees a human being in suffering.

Despite his own stress, his own anxieties, the fact that he is in the middle of being arrested, he heals the suffering.  He sees the mercy he can do in the middle of a chaotic scene.

That is the love of God's people. 

In The Garden

After Jesus’ last dinner with the twelve, Jesus led them to a Garden just outside Jerusalem.  He had a few more things he wanted to say to them, apart from Judas who betrayed him  “I am leaving you, and you can’t go with me now, but later you will go with me.”  One of disciples responded, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”  Jesus replied, “I am the way, the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.  Don’t be sad that I am going.  I am going to the Father to prepare a place for you. 

“It is good for you that I am going, actually.  If I didn’t leave, then you couldn’t receive the Holy Spirit.  No mater how long I am gone, the Holy Spirit will be with you to remind you of all that I taught and to give you all the truth you need.  The Holy Spirit will convict the world of their sin and their need to come to the Father.  But through him I will be with you always.

“The most important thing for you to do is to love each other.  Everyone will know you are my disciple if you love each other.  The greatest love is this: that you love each other.  You must follow my commands—that is how you will show your love for me.  And the command I most want you to follow is to love one another.  If you obey my commands then you will know that the Father loves you.”

Then Jesus stopped and prayed, “Father, glorify your Son that he may glorify you.  I have glorified You on earth.  I have given these your word and have done all that you asked me.  Now glorify me so that I may have the glory that I had before, with You.  Watch over these whom you have given me, may none of them fall away.  Make them holy.  Also I ask for those who will believe later.  Make them one in You, Father.  May they be one as you and I are one.”

Then Jesus became sad, and said, “You eight stay here and rest.  Peter, James and John, follow me.”  Jesus walked with them to the other side of the garden and said, “My soul is grieved, even to the point of death.  Stay here.  Watch and pray.  I will be over there, praying.”  Jesus, alone,  then cried out to the Father and said, “Abba! All things are possible for you!  Please remove this cup from me!”  After some time, then Jesus cried again, “Father, please take away this cup.  But not my will, but yours be done.”

Jesus walked back to check on the three disciples, and he found them asleep.  “Why are you sleeping?  You will never be prepared for the trial you are to undergo like this!  The Spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.  Stay awake and pray!”  Jesus went back to pray, and after a time, he came back and found the disciples sleeping again.  He left them and prayed more.  Then he returned and said, “Wake up!  It is time!  The betrayer is here, and the Son of Man will be handed over to sinners.”

Some soldiers came into the garden with Judas Iscariot.  Judas came up to Jesus and kissed him, saying, “Hello, Master.”  Jesus said, “So you will hand me over with a kiss?  How ironic.”  The kiss was the soldier’s signal, and they came and grabbed Jesus.  The disciples just woke them up, and were still groggy when they saw Jesus captured. 

Simon, remembering his words, grabbed his sword and started thrashing everyone around him.  He hit no one except the slave of the high priest, whose ear he cut off.  Jesus yelled, “That is enough!  Whoever lives by the sword will die by the sword.  And if I am not taken in this way, how will the Scriptures be fulfilled?”  Then Jesus picked the ear off of the ground and placed it back, healing the slave.

Then Jesus turned to the crowd arresting him and said, “I have been in the Temple every day, teaching.  But you are capturing me now, in secret with threat of violence.  Why are you treating me like a rebel against the proper authorities?  But all of this was done to fulfill the Scriptures.”  Confused as to what they should do, all of the disciples ran away.  And the soldiers and the crowd took Jesus to the High Priest’s house.

Keep watching and praying that you may not come into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak." Mark 14:38 

This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. You are My friends if you do what I command you.  John 15:12-14


At times, we are filled with disgust.  The man dumpster diving his dinner with a coat caked with filth.  The woman who is so misshapen that she cannot look at herself in the mirror.  The person who is so sexually degraded, that we can't say anything to him.  Think for a moment of the most disgusting person you know, and how you don't want to have anything to do with them.

Now think of Jesus.  He looked at the leper, full of disease, limbs falling off and he embraced that man and said, "Be clean."  Jesus wasn't talking just about healing, he was saying that the man was no longer disgusting-- he was embraceable.

Consider Jesus embracing the person you find most disgusting, because he does.  Jesus doesn't see that person as someone to avoid, but as the image of God.

Now we are in Jesus' place.  If Jesus allowed his betrayer to kiss him, if Jesus prayed for those who killed him, if Jesus ate with the worst of sinners, then so should we who follow Jesus.

Embrace the unembracable.