Monday, March 27, 2017

Long Night's Journey into Day Pt. 4 -John 19:17-30

In order to obtain a complete understanding of an object, person or place, one thing that photographers will do is take multiple snap-shots of the very same thing from varying angles. This allows for multiple perspectives to inform one’s thinking about what is being photographed.

Multiple perspectives are often obtained in the professional world for various reasons. For instance, realtors will take multiple pictures of the same room from different angles to help sell a house. Doctors will take multiple images in varying resolutions of a chest cavity in order to identify potential problems or measure a tumor. More often than not, important things are worth taking a look at from multiple perspectives. This is true of what is in focus today—the Cross of Golgotha.

As we take a look at one of the most significant scenes in all of history, it stands to reason that we observe it from different angles. Thankfully, John provides four perspectives to inform our understanding of what took place on that fateful day 2000 years ago in John 19:17-30. After observing these different snap-shots of the same spectacle, we will gain a more complete understanding of one important truth: Jesus has completely solved our problem of sin.  
Image result for matthias gruenewald crucifixion
The Perspective above the Cross-19:17-22

The first angle in which the passion scene is portrayed is from above the cross. This perspective allows for a bird’s eye view of the location, the crowd surrounding Jesus, and a close up shot of the inscription attached to the top of the beams. By this time, Jesus would have received the verberatio (the most severe of the beatings administered under Roman law). From this perspective, one can see Jesus, having been stripped naked and having received a series of whips with a gruesome instrument of torture, “bearing His own cross, to the place called the Place of a Skull, which is called in Hebrew, Golgotha” (19:17). Even the verbs used in this description draw attention to how heavy the cross was that Jesus carried. According to tradition, the condemned man would carry his cross to the site of crucifixion where a small foundation would have already been staked into the ground.

This particular site was “out” of the city as Jewish custom prescribed and was aptly named “the Skull” (Latin equivalent is Calvary) for its ominous and macabre features that resembled a human head. Perhaps this was a familiar spot for these kinds of executions, familiar even to Jesus throughout His life and ministry.

It was at this spot that “they crucified Him, and with Him two other men, one on either side, and Jesus in between…”(19:18). In ancient times, crucifixion was synonymous with horror and shame—a death inflicted on slaves, bandits, prisoners of war, and revolutionaries. Josephus even called it “the most pitiable of deaths.” Cicero described it as “that cruel and disgusting penalty” as victims were made a public spectacle, often being affixed to these cross beams in unusual configurations until vultures would devour the corpse. So gross was this specific program of execution that it was prohibited for a Roman Citizen unless the emperor Himself sanctioned it.

This was what Jesus was willing to go through for sinners everywhere. Once the long journey to Golgotha was complete, Jesus would have lied on His back and had His arms and legs outstretched and nailed to the beams. This apparatus of torture was then raised. Once in the air, the victim could hang in the hot sun for hours, even days. In order to breathe, the condemned would have to push with the legs and pull with the arms to keep air flowing into the chest cavity. This would incite agonizing muscle spasms. However, this painful pressure kept the victim from asphyxiation (the inevitable cause of death).

From above the cross you will also notice that Jesus is not alone. He is joined by two other criminals, fulfilling the prophecy that “he was numbered with the transgressors” and treated as any guilty criminal (although totally innocent) (Isa. 52:12).

Also from above the cross one is able to clearly read the label that Pilate attached on the top of this crude instrument, “Pilate also wrote an inscription and put it on the cross. It was written,  ‘Jesus the Nazarene, the King of the Jews” (19:19). This notice served to indicate that Jesus was ultimately condemned for the charge of treason (claiming to be a king—i.e. the first charge brought against Him). However, this is not the only message Pilate sent with this inscription. In fact, this inscription is one last jab at the Jews that pressured Pilate’s hand—a jab written in such a way that no matter who you were, you could understand it.

“Therefore many of the Jews read this inscription, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, Latin, and in Greek. So the Chief priests of the Jews were saying to Pilate, ‘Do not write, ‘the King of the Jews’; but that He said, ‘I am king of the Jews’…” (19:20-21). The Jews did not want to claim Jesus as King. In fact, they even denied God and claimed allegiance to Caesar to avoid this (see verse 15)!

However, the outrage of the Jews meant very little to Pilate. With newfound resolve, Pilate determines to keep the inscription as is in an effort to humiliate those who humiliated him earlier (see 19:1-15). He says, “what I have written I have written” (19:22). In Pilate’s mind, if the Jews did have their own king, it would be the kind of king seen here, a king that He believed was easily tortured and killed. Once again, this is an example of Pilate speaking well above what he knew, for Jesus was and is indeed the King of the Jews, even of the world!

It is not a pretty picture from above the cross. However, things don’t look much better from beneath the cross in verses 23-25a.

The Perspective beneath the Cross-19:23-25a

From beneath the cross the scene is very different, “the soldiers, when they had crucified Jesus, took His outer garments and made four parts, a part to every soldier and also the tunic;…” (19:23a). It was common practice for executioners to divvy-out the clothes and personal belongings of the condemned. Each of the four executioners received a piece of Jesus’ property (including, perhaps, a belt, sandals, head-covering, and outer garment).

However, when it came time to decide who received the tunic (the undergarment), things became more complicated, “now the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece. So they said to one another, ‘Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it, to decide whose it shall be’…” (19:23b-24). Not wanting to ruin the integrity of a perfectly good tunic (which was one large and intricately woven piece of cloth), the soldiers gamble for it. After all, ripping a perfectly adequate tunic into several pieces would have been barbaric!

However, another more important reason for gambling away the tunic was “to fulfill the Scripture: ‘They divided My outer garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.’…” (19:24-25a). This quotation comes from one of David’s prophetic Psalms (Psalm 22:18) in which the author is afflicted by both physical distress and the mockery of his opponents. Apparently, David uses the symbolism of an execution scene in which the executioners gamble for personal belongings to add emphasis to the degree of despair and abandonment that was felt by him. This is not lost on Jesus’ present predicament.

From above you see the horror of torture and mockery. From below you see the shame of indifference. However, our third perspective takes us beside the cross where something very different is happening.

The Perspective by the Cross-19:25b-27

In contrast to those who are indifferent to the man hanging 7ft. above them are those who loved Jesus, “but standing by the cross of Jesus were His mother, and His mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene…” (19:25b). This proves the theory of many historical scholars who say that loved ones were allowed for a period to come close enough to the place of execution to speak with the condemned. This small bunch is an unfortunate representation of followers (especially considering the thousands of people who cheered for Him upon His entrance into Jerusalem a week earlier). It is also a pitiful showing of support when one considers that twelve men had served alongside Him for three years! In Jesus’ darkest moment, He was largely abandoned. However, this does not keep Jesus from looking out for others.

When Jesus then saw His mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, He said to His mother, ‘Woman, Behold your Son!’ Then He said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother!’ from that hour the disciple took her into his own household…” (19:26-27). This kind gesture is the one shred of humanity we are given in this description of Calvary. Jesus’ mother, most likely widowed and in her fifties, was at this point totally dependent on Jesus for her livelihood. Therefore, in an effort to look out for her beyond His death, Jesus bestows her to John (the disciple whom He loved) so that she might continue to be taken care of.

In this small moment, Jesus reveals His totally others-centered mentality. Even in a moment when He could have saved His breaths for Himself, He spends some of His final moments looking out for those who cannot look out for themselves. This is grace under pressure and it is a moment capture beside the cross. However, this is not the last perspective given of the cross in this passage.

The Perspective On the Cross-19:28-30

The final perspective the reader witnesses is the perspective on the cross in verses 28-30. First, something totally practical takes place, “After this, Jesus, knowing that all things had already been accomplished to fulfill the Scripture, said, ‘I am thirsty.’ A jar full of sour wine was standing there; so they put a sponge fill of sour wine upon a branch of hyssop and brought it up to His mouth…” (19:29). John lets us know that at this point the “to-do list” has been completed. However, this was no ordinary to-do list. The items on this list included things like: be betrayed by one of your own, hand yourself over to the authorities, be tried in a circus court, be interrogated by an unbeliever, be condemned to die, be beaten within an inch of your life, carry a cross beam outside of town, lay down to have your hands and feet nailed, be raised up, hand over your clothes to be gambled away, take on the sin of the world! All this Jesus accomplished and more to fulfill all that the prophets said about the Messiah. Following this revelation, sour wine is offered to the God-man.

This sour wine, or vinegar as it is called in other translations, was a cheap drink used by soldiers to quench their thirst. It differs from the “wine mixed with myrrh” Jesus refused on the way to the cross (see Mark 15:23). The “wine mixed with Myrrh” was a sedative while the vinegar Jesus received prolonged life and hydrated (for lack of a better analogy, think of an electrolyte-rich drink like Gatorade). Jesus was not about speeding up His death or making it easier for Himself. He wanted to remain alive until the job was done.

By 19:30, the job was done. “Therefore, when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, ‘It is finished!’ and He bowed His head and gave up His spirit” (19:30). Existing as one word in the original language (tetelestai), this word is no cry of defeat; nor is it merely an announcement of imminent death. The verb describes carrying out a task and fulfilling one’s obligations. Here, Jesus had accomplished atonement for sin, having taken on the sin of the world and the punishment along with it. Here, Jesus had accomplished His God given mission to redeem the world, standing in the place of sinners in order to bring them to God in right relationship. Here, Jesus glorified God, answering the call upon Him and executing His ministry without fail. Here, Jesus demonstrated the greatest love of all, laying down His life for others. Here Jesus completed the job He came to do. “It is finished”! And with this pronouncement Jesus “gave up His spirit.”

This final act prior to His death settles once and for all who is responsible for Jesus’ fate. Though anti-Semites want to slap blame on the Jews for handing Him over and others want to find Pilate and the Roman government guilty for actually performing the execution, this verse makes it abundantly clear. No one took Jesus’ life. He, because of His own authority, gave it up of His own accord (see John 10:17-18) in this final act of obedience (see John 8:29; 14:31).

So What?

It is still finished today! This is the good news—that because Jesus went through the horrors we saw in these four perspectives of the cross, we do not have to. This is the good news—that because sin has already been punished through Jesus, we can apprehend the grace of God and not His wrath demonstrated in this passage. This is the good news—that because Jesus stood in our place, we can stand in right relationship with God. This is the good news—that because Jesus was faithful to the end, we through faith will know no end. Because Jesus was able to say, “it is finished” we can say “we are not finished” in this world in which we live.

Do you know that “it is finished”? Have you apprehended in faith all that is to be gained because of what Jesus accomplished on Golgotha 200 years ago?

Poem by S.W. Gandy:
    He hell in hell laid low;
    Made sin, he sin o’erthrew
    Bowed to the grace, destroyed it so,
    And death, by dying, slew. 

Have you forgotten, O’ Christian that “it is finished”? Do you find yourself doubting that you are really saved, that you have to add something to what Jesus has accomplished, or believe you are still somehow guilty and at risk of receiving punishment for your iniquities.

The beauty about Jesus’ terse statement is that it portrays His death as a once-for-all kind of event. Christ died once for all sin. His completed act is as present today as it was when John wrote these incredible words! Let them reverberate in your mind and resonate in your heart. It is finished, and because it is finished, you, believer are not finished at all! Praise God! 

Monday, March 20, 2017

Long Night's Journey into Day Pt. 3 Mark 14:32-42

As Brianna and I look forward to welcoming our third child into the world I am again reminded of the significance of preparation. Car seats, setting cribs at the right height, getting the swing out of storage, rearranging the furniture—it all has to get done sometime and the time is now. However, at the same time I'm preparing for baby number three,  we are preparing our hearts for the celebration of Easter. During this time, I want us to reflect on what Christ did to get ready for what would be the most difficult part of His earthly ministry. No doubt the preparation he made for his long night’s journey into day was directly proportional to how well he persevered all the way to the cross. When we observe Jesus’ Christ’s example—how he prepared himself for the darkest moments of his life—we can learn how to prepare ourselves for the same in our own. In Mark 14:32-42 Jesus finds himself in a dark garden following the scene in the upper room. While there, he gives five statements that work together to teach the invaluable role of preparation in the life of every disciple as he or she seeks to do God’s will—even when it proves exceedingly difficult.  


Though many envision this scene as having taken place in a garden full of olive trees, some scholars believe that Gethsemane was an oil press located on the Mount of Olives in a spacious cave. In fact, the word Gethsemane means “oil press” in Aramaic. Such a location close to the city would have been a perfect spot to spend a chilly night (later in Mark 14:54, others are shown to be kindling themselves by fires). It provided privacy, protection from the elements, and plenty of space for Jesus and His disciples to spread out and do what He would ask them to do in this first statement.

Having been on the move for some time now (see john 14-17) Jesus, after celebrating the Passover in the Upper room, moves into Gethsemane and finally has His disciples “sit.” This change from movement to being stationary signals a shift in the greater story. What would happen in Gethsemane would set in motion the events leading to Jesus’ death. However, before things get underway, Jesus requests that his disciples “sit…until I have prayed” (14:32b).

Don’t believe prayer is worth much? Feel like there are better things to do with your time? Consider that Jesus himself stopped to pray before big events in His own life. In His final ministry moments, Jesus begins an important lesson on prayer that begins with committing oneself to stop and take time out to give oneself over to this important practice. Prayer is priority number one.


Moving out of the cave and into the garden itself, Jesus decides to bring along with Him some of His closer confidants, “and He took with Him Peter and James and John” (14:33a). These were the same disciples who had been allowed to watch Jesus heal Jairus’ daughter in Mark 5 and witness Christ’s transfiguration in Mark 9. These were Jesus’ closest associates—the same compatriots whom He hand-picked to rely on in times like this.

In this particular moment, Jesus was “very distressed and troubled” (14:33b). The words together describe astonishment and overwhelming anguish. After all, his death was around the corner and sin still needed to be eradicated. That death was even present in the world at all and that God’s judgment rested on mankind also contributed to Jesus emotion as the climax of His ministry was now in view.
Jesus communicates as much to his close associates when he says, “My soul is deeply grieved to the point of death” (14:34). In so many words, Jesus tells the three that his soul was overwhelmed with such sorrow that it threatened to kill him! “The full impact of His death and its spiritual consequence struck Jesus and he staggered under its weight. The prospect of alienation from his Father [also no doubt] horrified him” (BKC).

In light of this growing pressure and pending series of difficult events, Jesus simply asks that his disciples would remain nearby and “keep watch” (14:34).

But what could his disciples possibly learn at this point? By singling out these three and bringing them with him to this solitary place on this night, Jesus alludes to the importance of fellowship in times of great grief. Jesus himself looked to others for support in the dark points of His ministry, teaching all who read this that no matter how bad things get, none should proceed through the fires of life alone.


With the larger group presumably praying in the warmth  of the cave, and his close associates supposedly giving their own support nearby, Jesus then proceeds “a little beyond them,” falls to the ground, and begins “to pray that if it were possible, the hour might pass Him by” (14:35). The typical Jewish prayer posture was to lift one’s hands toward heaven and to pray aloud while standing. When one was in particular distress, he or she would prostrate his or herself on the ground. Here, Jesus assumes this position, which, in many ways, resembled the posture many took before him to make their requests. Jesus approached God on that night in the same manner as those who came before him for healing—desperate, broken, and humble.

If Jesus approached the Lord God in this way, why don’t we? Entitlement, pride, and self-sufficiency have no place in prayer.    

After assuming this posture of humility, brokenness and desperation before God, Jesus voices His prayer before the Lord and begins with adoration, “Abba! Father! All things are possible for You” (14:36a). Knowing what lied ahead and the suffering, pain, and betrayal that waited for him outside of the garden, Jesus takes time to praise the Lord! This commitment to praise satisfies Psalm 34:1 (“I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth”) and Paul’s later encouragement in Thess.  5:18 to “Rejoice always;  pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” Here, Jesus praises God because he has a close relationship with him (“Abba”) is in total control and possesses all authority (“Father”) and is all powerful (“all things are possible for You”). 

Jesus commends God in these specific areas perhaps because these attributes were sympathetic to the nature of his supplication, “remove this cup from Me” (14:36b). Jesus asks for this in light of his intimate relationship with God. Only the Father’s authority would authorize such a request and only God in his power could turn the events in a different direction than where they were headed. This cup that Jesus’ asks to be removed is the cup of God’s incredible wrath against sin—the very cup that Jesus anticipates being spilled on Him while hanging on the cross. Jesus, who had enjoyed a perfect and intimate relationship with God from eternity past did not now want that to be broken with wrath and judgment. He had never experienced God’s wrath before and more than anyone else wanted to avoid it if possible.   

However, in spite of his own desires, Jesus concludes that ultimately it is not up to Him and submits Himself to the God’s will saying, “yet not what I will but what You will” (14:36c). This is true submission. Christ-like submission recognizes that while God can do anything, preference is given to His will over our desires. The same Jesus who said "All things are possible with You" and "Let this cup pass" also said "yet not what I will but what You will."

Here, Jesus demonstrates in the most grievous and desperate situation he has faced up to this point, that there is always room for prayer. Even further, he has shown that there is always time to praise God in distress, ask for whatever it is that you want, and ultimately submit yourself to God’s will over your own desires. To pray in this way is to pray like Christ.


Though we can benefit from what Jesus did by reading it here, the disciples who were supposed to be alert and learning these things for themselves firsthand were missing their opportunity, “and He came and found them sleeping” (14:37a). When all the world is about to change and the greatest challenges are about to be confronted, the disciples are sleeping on the job, turning an already bleak evening even darker.

Jesus confronts this slumber head on and while incredibly frustrated, Jesus graciously asks Peter, the spokesperson and pseudo leader of the twelve, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour?”(14:37b). In other words, Jesus says, “could you not even stay alert for a little while?!”
Jesus then requests, once again their alertness and involvement in prayer, saying, “keep watching and praying that you may not come into temptation” (14:38a). In this request, Jesus spells out for his disciples exactly what it is that they should be doing at this time of great significance—praying. Specifically, they are supposed to be praying that they may not come into temptation. However, what “temptation” is Jesus referencing? The answer might most nearly be the very temptation that he now faced, the temptation to side with his own desires and back out of God’s will. Truly, this is at the heart of any and all sin. Sin, by definition, is the rejection of God’s will for one’s own pursuits. Whether these pursuits include self-preservation, satisfying lusts, earthly success, etc., if they are contrary to the will of God, they are sin. Therefore, Jesus asks his disciples to, like himself, pray that God would give them the strength to choose God’s will over their own, knowing full well that although the “spirit is willing” often times the “flesh is weak”(14:38b).

Immediately after waking His disciples to remind them of what they should have been doing, Jesus returns to prayer, demonstrating what He hoped to see in the lives of the twelve.

What Jesus encourages here is the very same thing He encourages of us as His disciples today—vigilant, persistent, alert prayer that God’s will, not our personal preferences, would be realized on the earth.  Anything less opens us up, as it would His disciples, to falling prey to giving in to the flesh over the spirit. We too must recognize how weak our flesh is and remain alert in prayer so that when pressures rise we may not be found asleep. Jesus looks at His church today and says “Wake up! Give yourselves to prayer! The times are desperate and things are about to get really hard.”

Romans 12:12- "Rejoice in hope, persevere in tribulation, be devoted to prayer."

Ephesians 6:18- "Pray at all times in the Spirit . . . with all perseverance."


May we not be guilty of what the disciples were guilty of in verses 40-41, “and again He came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy; and they did not know what to answer Him.” It is obvious that the disciples did not understand how serious things were, what was about to happen, and the urgency that was required.

Jesus “came the third time, and said to them, ‘Are you still sleeping and resting? It is enough; the hour has come; behold the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners” (14:41). Though Jesus had encouraged his disciples to be alert in prayer, knowing full well what they were about to face, they neglected this sacred and most precious privilege in order to catch some Z’s. There was no time to fix this and soon all of them no doubt would wish they had spent their time in Gethsemane more wisely.

“Get up” Jesus says “Let us be going; behold, the one who betrays Me is at hand!”(14:42). “Start Out, it has begun” and by “it” Jesus was referring to the events that would inevitably lead down the road we will soon come upon in our series, the road to Golgotha. Having prostrated Himself before the Lord in fervent prayer, Jesus would be able to stand before His accusers, remain faithful, and proceed in the Spirit, never giving in to the desires of His flesh. However, because the disciples had neglected to do the same, one would betray Him, one would deny Him three times, and all would cower under the pressures they would soon face.

So What?

These five statements that were given in the darkness of the garden work together to teach the priority and primacy of prayer in the life of Christ. Prayer proceeded his most difficult episode, was encouraged in a group of like-minded individuals, was offered from a heart that was humble, broken, and desperate, included adoration, supplication, and submission to the Father’s will, and was persistent in its desire to see God’s will executed over fleshly desires. While Jesus succeeded in praying this way, his disciples failed miserably and were therefore unprepared for what was in store. All of them would soon choose self-preservation and other selfish pursuits over God’s will and demonstrate their inclination toward the flesh instead of the Spirit.

May this not be said of US! May we not be caught asleep or dreary-eyed when we should always be watchful, alert, and prayerful! May we, like Christ, adore God for who He is no matter how bad things may be, ask for him to do incredible things on our behalf, and ultimately submit ourselves to his plan over our desires. May we always approach God out of desperation, humility and brokenness as we, like Christ, head into difficult situations in order to bring life to this dead and dying world. May we always spend time kneeling before the Lord so that we, like Jesus demonstrated, may have the strength to stand before any and all oppression, difficulty, and darkness for the glory of God. Wake up Christian! Wake up Church! It is time to be like Christ in the way that we pray! 

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Long Night's Journey into Day Pt. 2-Lk. 19:37-44

Last week we took a stroll with Jesus down Zacchaeus' street and learned the reason behind Jesus’ long night’s journey into day—Jesus came to seek and to save the lost. This week the scene changes and we are thrust into a very public and populated celebration that, on the surface, looks inspiring, but in reality, betrays the fact that along this long night’s journey into day, so many are still in the darkness.

Image result for The Red Carpet

Recently, the Oscar’s were in the news for reasons that I’m sure no one expected nor would have preferred. After some three hours of awards, performances, jokes, and speeches, everyone sat on the edge of their seats in anticipation for the most coveted honor of the night—best picture. Though I didn’t watch this unfold myself, this award was really the only one I cared about as my favorite movie of the year, La La Land, was predicted to win in a landslide. Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway came out dressed to the nines, said a few words, introduced the nominees, and then opened the envelope. After a few moments of hesitation, the wait was over, “La La Land” was uttered and the entire theatre erupted in applause. The cast, production staff, and other affiliated with the acclaimed film eagerly walked up to the stage grinning ear to ear and began taking turns thanking the academy. However, little did they know that all of their joy and excitement was for not. In a few short moments, reality trumped the mirage and it was discovered that the wrong envelope had been given to Beatty. La La Land had not won after all, much to their and the Oscar production staff’s embarrassment.

Imagine being the only one or the first one who knew who really won in that moment. Everyone is celebrating and all the while you are uneasy, just waiting for all to be exposed. This must have been what Jesus felt upon his entrance into Jerusalem—the next leg of our long night’s journey into day. In Luke 19:37-44, two responses are given during Jesus’ triumphant entry that betray the reality behind the mirage and the unfortunate truth behind the merriment. Ultimately, we will learn that praise and adoration must not be mistaken for saving faith.


As we enter into this story Jesus’ disciples have already made the final preparations for His entrance into the city. This passage describes the ascent to Jerusalem from the town of Bethany. The responses described here took place once the city of Jerusalem was in sight as they descended down from the mount of olives, “…as soon as He was approaching, near the descent of the Mount of Olives,…”(19:37). This small range of mountains stands 2660ft above sea level and lies directly across from the Temple. Luke, in his own style, includes this detail in order to add to the drama that is about to unfold. The more frequent use of geographical notes heightens the drama and suggests that the anticipated key events in Jesus’ life are drawing close just as Jesus drew close to the city.

It is almost as though the pace of the story goes into slow motion so that we don’t miss any details (much like I’m sure it felt for those anticipating the announcement of the winner of best picture)

It is important to realize that the “disciples” mentioned in verse 37 included the “whole crowd” that had followed Jesus for some time now on the pilgrimage to Jerusalem. The two Greek superlatives used to describe the immensity of the group are literally translated “the whole of the multitude of the disciples.”

Think about the red carpet event before the Oscars begin. Not only do you have the celebrities there, but thousands of screaming fans and media reporters are also present to catch a glimpse of who came with who and who is wearing what! All kinds of people comprise these masses, and so it was with Jesus.

This enormous crowd comes complete with loud cheering and joyous praise—something that Luke alone mentions (19:37d). It is clear, as Luke reveals, that their cheers found their source in God’s miraculous works. Jesus’ ministry had been characterized by a continuous demonstration of God’s power: The deaf speak, the blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the gospel is preached! Their praise was in response to these wonders they had beheld in these last three years of ministry. It was obvious that the crowd understood that Jesus was extraordinary.

Luke then gives us the content of the crowd’s response, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord; Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” (19:38). The use of Psalm 118:26 here depicts the king leading pilgrims to the temple and receiving a greeting of welcome from the priests at the temple, probably on the occasion of some major victory. The key difference between these two passages is the addition of “the King.” While Luke has already made mention of Jesus’ Davidic connection in his gospel, here he explicitly calls Jesus “King.” Truly, the implication was that Jesus, the King of the Jews, was coming to reign and for the time being, these Jews believed that.

The phrase, “peace in Heaven and glory in the highest!” acknowledges God’s work in Jesus’ ministry. Jesus’ message is a message of hope for the future and peace between man and God in the present, which, in its entirety brings glory in the highest! As Jesus enters the city He presents Himself as the king who brings the nation the hope of peace for which they had so desperately longed.

While the crowd sang its praise, a few can be seen standing in a shadowy corner in no hurry to jump on this bandwagon. Some of the Pharisees quickly tell Jesus to silence the chorus that is growing louder with every stanza, “teacher, rebuke your disciples” (19:39). This presumptuous command given by the Pharisees suggests that they are offended by this confession the crowd is lifting up. They regarded this praise as inappropriate because they could not swallow the fact that Jesus is the Messiah who has been prophesized. This is why they were quick to call on Jesus Himself to put an end to this hellacious carnival outside Jerusalem’s walls.

Jesus reacts to this desperate command with deep irony. In an ardent refusal to stop this messianic confession of his followers, Jesus claims that if they ceased in their praise, creation itself would cry out in testimony to Him (19:40). Creation itself is aware of Jesus! Inanimate, base, lifeless creation, is in tune with Jesus’ authority and yet the leadership of the nation of Israel was not! In this reply, Jesus ultimately says that which is lifeless knows life when it sees it, even though that which believes it is living does not. (Luke is the only one of the gospels to portray the Pharisee’s rejection as a tragic stinging indictment of their lack of judgment).

A triumphant entry to say the least! Jesus is greeted by those already in Jerusalem with a king’s reception, songs of praise, and all of the honor due His name. Not even the Pharisees can ruin this moment! However, there is something insidious lurking under the surface of this joyful spectacle—something that Jesus can see when He looks out into the crowd. A dark truth that will soon overshadow the gleeful mirage.


Undeterred by the Pharisees, Jesus continues down main Street Jerusalem on the red carpet rolled out for Him. Once again the word, for drawing near appears in order to suggest that Jesus is inching closer to His destination (both physically and ministerially). However, as soon as Jesus sees the city, He does something unexpected—He weeps, “When he approached Jerusalem, He saw the city and wept over it.”(19:41). But why with all the pomp and circumstance would this be his response?

Jesus, like that accounting firm, knows the truth about the people who are cheering, believing that they have arrived.

But what does know that upsets Him?  Jesus mourns because Jerusalem as a whole has missed the nature of the times. Although this day held potential for God’s restoring peace, their failure, the same failure that Jesus had warned them about, cut the celebration short. The note of sadness is introduced by this contrary to fact condition, “if you had known in this day, even you, the things which make for peace! But now they have been hidden from your eyes…”. This reference to peace is a reference to the gospel message, which, much to Jesus’ dismay would be ignored, or refused by the same people waving their branches just days later. The Gospel was hidden from the city’s eyes. Blindness was a result of their failure to know Jesus. Instead of one day enjoying the peace that comes from salvation, they would be destroyed. These are the tears of one who knows that the people have already turned their backs on God’s message. Regardless of appearances, they haven’t won anything, let alone God’s affection.

Jesus continues this inner monologue by saying “For the days will come upon you when your enemies will throw up a barricade against you, and surround you and hem you an every side…”.  Here, like an Old Testament prophet, Jesus suggests that important events are about to take place. This would be the payment for Jerusalem’s rejection. Just as the nation had been taken into exile after God’s judgment in the OT, Jesus predicts judgment for the generation He is staring at along the sidewalks. What was supposed to be a visitation for salvation, would become a visitation of judgment.

To convey this message, Jesus uses war terminology, primarily of a siege, in which barricades are raised and an impenetrable perimeter is established. The historical event foreshadowed here is clearly the attack of Rome that led to the collapse of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.

Jesus follows the three descriptions of verse 43 with two more portrayals of the nation’s demise. First, the nation and its children will die—“ and they will level you to the ground and your children within you.” The image invoked here of “level to the ground” is a scene of corpses filling the streets (19:44a). Secondly, the description of one stone not being on another pictures the city being completely leveled—“ and they will not leave in you one stone upon another…”. The defeat is total. Nothing is left standing. While the stones might have cried out in praise, they are now spoken of being completely obliterated.

This is the antithesis of what God desired for his people, (peace, protection, salvation). But the choice would be theirs and Jesus knew that they would soon chose rejection. 

The reason for this horrific prophecy and ultimate fulfillment in A.D. 70 is that the nation missed the opportunity to respond to the moment of Christ’s visitation for all it meant. Jesus would not prove to be what they wanted Him to be, (a political figure). Although they should have welcomed Jesus as the Savior of their souls, their blindness proved fatal and less than a week later, this same crowd full of praise and love, would be cheering not for salvation, but for the death of the man who triumphantly entered on a donkey days before on the red carpet.

So What?

Having looked at these two responses, it is clear that praising Jesus is not enough for salvation. Acknowledging Christ for His miracles won’t bring peace to your life. Joining the bandwagon of worship will not satisfy God’s wrath. Faith, must be in the person of Christ Himself after having learned exactly who He is! He is God, King, Savior, Deliverer, Messiah, and Lord. And some of you in here today may be living in Palm Sunday, blinded by the lights and the celebrity of this world. Life has dealt you a good hand, things are going well, and praising Jesus fits your personality and schedule, just like it did for these Jews for the time being. But if you really examined your life, you would discover that you do not know Him intimately. Jesus looks into the envelope which is the Lamb’s book of Life and does not see your name printed there. As a result, he weeps because He knows that it is just a matter of time before life changes or some event rocks your world causing you to turn on Him and curse His name! For many, Jesus won’t be what they want Him to be, do what they want Him to do etc. and because of this, they will turn on Him. We are not called to have Palm Sunday faith (fickle faith that does not save). Do not let the spectacle of Palm Sunday fool you. For the most part, those who lined red carpet would also line the path to Calvary.  We are called to resurrection Sunday faith (faith that remains when the miracles cease, when God can’t be heard, and when all hope seems lost). That is the glorious day to follow the long night that we are traversing in this series. However, before we get there, things become even more bleak.  

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Long Night's Journey into Day Pt. 1-Luke 19:1-10

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth; 
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day! 
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference. 

This famous poem by the great Robert Frost makes the case that to experience the best that life has to offer, one must be willingly to courageously traverse previously uncharted territory. This theme is accentuated in life experience and permeates the Scripture in phrases like “narrow is the way to life and few who find it.” Jesus Himself also seems to play upon this theme in the unusual way that He provided salvation. By taking the road less traveled in His own ministry, Jesus set’s Himself apart from every other presumed deity, carved idol, and false god. This new series will journey with Christ in His last days, following His every turn on the road to Calvary, the grave, and beyond, demonstrating that His unusual trek into previously unchartered territory makes all the difference for those who believe in Him.

The first leg of our long night's journey into day involves Jesus’ interaction with a chief tax collector. At the end of His ministry, Jesus, unlike anyone before Him, travels on the much avoided street to Zaccheus’ house in order to demonstrate His purpose for coming to the world in the first place. Join us as we pass three checkpoints on Zaccheus’ street from Luke 19:1-10.


The story of Zaccheus together with the parable of the ten minas bring Jesus’ final journey to Jerusalem to a close in the gospel of Luke. Jesus has been making His way to Jerusalem for some time now for the Passover Festival. As a good Jew, Jesus made His pilgrimage to the holy city to participate in the celebration as he had twice before; however, this time would be His last. The sun is setting on His earthly ministry, rendering His personal ministerial choices highly suspect for large amounts of foreshadowing. Making His way to Jerusalem, Jesus is now passing through Jericho, 13miles to the northeast of His destination.

With the setting established, Luke introduces the readers to a unique character, Zaccheus. He is the first checkpoint on this particular leg of our journey to Calvary and beyond. The text describes this man in two ways, “and there was a man called by the name Zaccheus, he was a chief tax collector and he was rich” (19:2). Luke more than any other gospel  is interested in those who were normally outcasts in Jewish society. This includes gentiles (2:32), moral outcasts (7:36-50), social outcasts (19:1-10), and the economically deprived (14:12-14)(perhaps this is why this account is only given in this gospel). Therefore, this short introduction establishes Zaccheus as the ultimate of Israel’s outcasts as he is not just a hated tax collector (and outcast himself), but a chief tax collector, who made outcast of others by robbing them of their own fortunes.

Both the Romans and Jewish local authorities required taxes of first century Jews. These taxes required the employment of individuals that managed the collectors who retrieved the funds from individual residing in Rome. Jewish tax collectors were viewed as traitors because they took the money from the Jews and handed it over to their perceived oppressors (Rome). Zaccheus was one of these managers, and a fairly significant one at that. His unique title “chief tax collector” suggests that Zaccheus may have been given charge over a greater region than normal or that he was a director over other tax collectors.

This is the first strike against Zaccheus. The second is his financial standing. Zaccheus is “rich.” This is especially damning in the context of the first century as many people were not well off and in desperate need. Many of the rich during this time were perceived as being crooked or deceptive—especially tax collectors (one perceived cause of poverty).

All of these contributing factors would have made Zaccheus one of the most unpopular individuals in his region. The road leading to his home was never frequented by guests, friends, or even family. Aside from messengers and servants, no one turned on Zaccheus’ street!

To complete the image of this unique character, Luke describes his physical stature, “Zaccheus was trying to see who Jesus was, and was unable because of the crowd, for he was small in stature” (19:3). Though a powerful man would have enjoyed a commanding presence before others, to his embarrassment, Zaccheus was a little man in a big crowd.

Jesus had gained a large following up to this point in His ministry. His growing popularity along with the upcoming Passover celebration would have made the crowd that now surrounded Him massive. No doubt, no one would have been sympathetic to his requests to stand in front so that he could catch a glimpse of Jesus. 

Taking matters into his own hands, Zaccheus runs ahead of the crowd and scales a tree to improve his perspective, “so he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree in order to see Him, for He was about to pass through that way” (19:4). In so doing, Zaccheus breaks convention and participates in two activities you never would have seen a rich man perform in the first century—running and tree climbing. It is clear that Zaccheus really wants to see this man that has become the talk of Jericho and every other neighboring township and the low-lying branches of this oak-like tree would have provided Zaccheus with the easy access he wanted to catch his glimpse of Jesus. 

Regardless of his motivation at this point, Zaccheus was seeking Jesus and there could be only one result.


With Zaccheus now precariously perched in the branches of the sycamore, Luke proceeds to take the reader to the next checkpoint. This checkpoint is not so much seen as it is heard. “When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, ‘Zaccheus, hurry and come down, for today I must stay at your house’” (19:5). Literally, Jesus’ unusual request would have been more forceful, “come down in a hurry!” the implication being, “there is no time to lose.” Truly, the situation as Luke describes it implies, whether Zaccheus realized it or not, that Jesus knew this interaction would have taken place way before Zaccheus decided to make his attempt to see Jesus that morning.  Jesus comes right up to the very tree upon which Zaccheus is perched and calls Him of all people down, requesting him as a host.

When everyone else ignored him, Jesus not only speaks to Zaccheus, He chooses to make the house of this unclean man his rest stop!

Two things happen as a result of Jesus’ unusual request. First, Zaccheus responds with immediate and exact obedience. Even further, he obeys with a grin on his face, “…And he hurried and came down and received Him gladly…” (19:6). This eager and joyful response to the totally unexpected events is understandable when one remembers how much company Zaccheus had been enjoying up to this point,…um…none! No self-respecting Jew would have anything to do with him. None would greet him or extend the basic courtesies, much less offer warmth and friendship. Then along comes the man he hoped to see, declaring in front of everyone that He is going to spend time with him! This grace extended to Zaccheus, undeserved and far beyond anyone’s comprehension, is received with joy and excitement.

The second response to Jesus’ request is from the crowd. The unfolding events surrounding Jesus’ question for unusual lodging sent shockwaves through the masses around Him and caused a negative stirring. “When they saw it, they all began to grumble, saying, ‘He has gone to be the guest of a man who is a sinner’…” (19:7).

Simply speaking to such a hated figure in this region would have been anathema. However, participating in table fellowship with a notorious sinner like Zaccheus would have been beyond belief. Eating and lodging with someone in the ancient world carried great social significance. In fact, for a religious-minded Jew to eat with someone like this chief tax collector would have brought ceremonial defilement as well as social ostracism. But, let’s face it, when has that ever stopped Jesus?


Having passed checkpoints 1 and 2, Luke ushers the reader to the final checkpoint in this leg of Jesus’ journey. At this checkpoint, we witness a gift for an unworthy recipient. However, Luke does not disclose at which point the gift is actually bestowed on our small sinner. Instead, we are immediately thrust into the effects of the gift.  Once at Zaccheus house, the chief tax collector states, “Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much…” (19:8). What a transformation from his former practices of corruption, greed, and selfishness! Zaccheus, it would seem, is a changed man as demonstrated by his resolution.

Almsgiving was a sign of piety in ancient Judaism. However, even in charity, rabbis considered it unwise to give away more than twenty percent of one’s goods, lest one become a burden themselves. Here, Zaccheus takes the overwhelming step of giving away half of everything he owns! Also, Zaccheus takes the unprecedented step of promising restitution for his wrongful apprehension of funds fourfold! Normal restitution according to the Old Testament for a wrong committed was to add one-fifth or 20 percent to the value of the goods lost.

What has Zaccheus so charitable all of a sudden? What has he hit his head on to make these promises? What has so affected his life that he would be transformed so radically? The answer is simple, a gift called salvation.

Jesus says “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too, is a son of Abraham” (19:9). Grace has made the difference in Zaccheus’ life, the grace of a Savior who freely gives salvation to those who do not deserve it. Nowhere is this witnessed so acutely than here (at least in Luke). Many commentators consider this passage to be the most epitomizing episode in all of Luke’s writing. The most hated, most crooked, most neglected character in all of Luke’s gospel is given the greatest possible gift. He who was an outcast and a traitor, Jesus Himself says is now a son of Abraham (that is, in the truest spiritual sense).

But why? “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost” (19:10). It is Jesus’ expressed purpose for coming to the world in the first place to seek out the lost and provide them with salvation (undeserved, and unmerited). Where better to demonstrate this purpose on His way to the cross than on Zaccheus’ street in the estate of one of the most infamous sinners described in the New Testament?

So What?

In Luke 19:1-10, Jesus took the road less traveled, Zaccheus’ street, and it made all of the difference for this chief tax collector. The checkpoints along the way, the small man in the large crowd, the request for unusual lodging, and the gift to an undeserving recipient work to demonstrate that Jesus’ purpose for coming to the earth was so that He might seek and save the lost through grace. This radical notion in and of itself is a road less traveled as all other deities and worldly religious fabrications demand works of some kind in exchange for rescuing.

Truly, Zaccheus’ story is emblematic of all who enjoy salvation. We all are wicked sinners in the large crowd of this world that for the most part ignores our needs and gets in the way of the truth of Jesus Christ. Praise be to God that Jesus took the road less traveled for you and for me. The Bible promises that those who seek the Lord, much as Zaccheus did by running ahead and scaling a tree, will find Him and the grace that He wants to bring, regardless of how much sense it makes.

Matthew 7:7-8-“Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you”

Matthew 6:33 – “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.”

However, for those who have already been given so much, what evidence is there for your radical transformation? Hitting your head: A confrontation with God’s overwhelming grace renders someone eternally changed into a new creature. Hitting your heart: A confrontation with God’s overwhelming grace leads to a change of heart toward others. Hitting your walk: A confrontation with God’s overwhelming grace leads to demonstrations of godliness that involve your hands, move your feet, open your wallet, share your belongings, change your perspective, and put words in your mouth that need to be spoken. Quit living alone and let God take up residence in you.