John T. Willis

Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Crucifixion and Death of Jesus--Luke 23:26-49

The account of the crucifixion and death of Jesus in Luke 23:26-49 is roughly parallel to Mark 15:21-41; Matthew 27:32-56; and John 19:16b-30. The details and order in each account are different because each evangelist is dealing with a different time and a different community of faith. John 21:24-25 emphasizes that a biblical composer "selects" certain events and concepts and sayings and parables, etc., out of a much larger body of material. Each evangelist addresses a different set of problems and needs in a different church, so Matthew differs from Mark, and Mark differs from Luke, etc. The account of the crucifixion and death of Jesus in Luke 23:26-49 naturally falls into FOUR parts.

I. Jesus warns people about the future as they walked to the cross. Luke 23:26-31.
   a. The chief priests, leaders, and people ("they"--see Luke 23:4, 13, 18, 23) led Jesus away from Pontius Pilate to the place where Jesus would be crucified. A man named Simon of Cyrene was coming in from the country, and the authorities told him to carry the cross of Jesus because the weight was too heavy for Jesus. Simon walked behind Jesus, as a follower or disciple of Jesus would follow Jesus. Simon was probably a Jew, but at that time not a follower of Jesus. Ptolemy I Soter, son of Lagus, founded a Jewish colony in Cyrene on the coast of north Africa (modern Libya). Acts 2:10; 11:20 refer to Cyrenians. See also Acts 6:9. 23:26.
   b. Many people from Jerusalem and visitors from elsewhere who had come to attend the annual Passover followed Jesus, and also women who were beating their breasts and wailing for him. They were probably professional mourners. See this practice in 1 Samuel 31:11-13; Zechariah 12:10-14. 23:27.
   c. As this was happening, Jesus turned to the women and called them "Daughters of Jerusalem." Then he warned them not to weep for Jesus, but to weep for themselves and their children. Because the days are surely coming when they will say that women who are barren are blessed because of the destruction of Jerusalem at the hands of the Romans in 70 A. D. See Luke 21:23; Isaiah 54:1. Jesus then says that the people of Jerusalem will utter the cry of Hosea 10:8 to the mountains: "Fall on us," "Cover us," describing Israel's wailing for relief from Yahweh's punishment because of God's people's sins. The wood of Jesus' cross is green and thus flames of fire will not consume it, but in bold contrast the wood of Jerusalem is dry and thus flames will destroy this city. See Isaiah 10:16-19; Ezekiel 20:47; Proverbs 11:31; 1 Peter 4:17-18. 23:28-31.

II. Jewish Authorities and People Mock Jesus Three Times on the Cross. Luke 23:32-38.
     a. The authorities led two criminals to be crucified with Jesus. When they came to the place called The Skull, apparently named because of the physical shape of the hill, those in charge crucified Jesus and the two criminals, one on the right of Jesus and one on the left. 23:32-33.
     b. While hanging on the cross, Jesus prayed to his heavenly Father: "Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing." This is a tremendous demonstration of the power of returning good for evil. Ultimately, the purpose of Jesus' death on the cross was for the forgiveness of sins (see Acts 10:39-43; 13:38-39). Jesus' prayer is very similar to that of Stephen when his assailants stoned him to death in Acts 7:60. Alluding to Psalm 22:19, Luke tells his audience that the soldiers cast lots to see who would get Jesus' clothing. 23:34.
     c. While Jesus was hanging on the cross, three groups of people mocked Jesus in different ways. First, the "leaders" of the Jews scoffed at Jesus, saying, "He saved others [very bitter sarcasm]; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one." Such mocking is an allusion to Psalm 22:8-9, 19. Second, the soldiers in charge mocked Jesus, mimicking the words of the "leaders": "If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself!" To make the situation worse, they offered Jesus "sour wine" to drink ["sour wine" is dry wine in contrast to sweet wine]. Third, someone under the direction of the Jewish authorities placed an inscription in derision over Jesus' cross: "This is the King of the Jews," to emphasize that this person is really no king at all and is helpless. This is the only inscription that has been preserved from Jesus' lifetime on earth. 23:35-38.

III. Jesus and the Two Criminals Engage in a Discussion on their Crosses. Luke 23:39-43.
      a. One of the criminals beside Jesus joined in the leaders and soldiers and crowd to deride Jesus. He said to Jesus: "Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!" These are sneering, sarcastic words. The biblical text does not tell the hearer or reader whether these criminals were Jews or Gentiles. 23:39.
      b. The other criminal rebuked the deriding criminal, giving two reasons: (1) The first criminal obviously has no fear of God, whether fear means terror or respect. After all, both criminals are justly condemned to be crucified. They are guilty and deserve to die. (2) Unlike them, Jesus has done nothing wrong. Even Pontius Pilate and Herod Antipas had admitted this officially to the Jewish public. 23:40-41.
     c. Then the second criminal said to Jesus: "Remember me when you come into your kingdom," openly acknowledging Jesus as KING. Jesus replied, "Today you will be with me in Paradise." The term "Paradise" actually comes from the Persian language and culture, meaning an enclosed park or garden. This calls to mind the Garden of Eden in Genesis 2:8 and the Garden of God in Genesis 13:10. This would be a place of bliss--Ezekiel 31:8, the dwelling place of the righteous after death. Thus Paradise is another term for Heaven in the spiritual sense. 23:42-43.

IV. Jesus Dies on the Cross. Luke 23:44-49.
      a. Luke tells his audience that this was on the "sixth hour" of the day, thus high noon, 12:00 noon. Suddenly darkness came over the whole land of Palestine and lasting until the "ninth hour," that is, 3:00 p. m. The sun became dark. Also, the curtain of the temple [the veil between the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place] was torn in two. The tearing of the veil or curtain in the Jerusalem temple is a strong symbol of tearing down the dividing wall of hostility between Jews and Gentiles [and thus, obviously between all races] as Paul emphasizes in Ephesians 2:14-16. 23:44-45.
      b. Jesus then cried out with a loud voice to his heaven Father: "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit," deliberately quoting Psalm 31:6. In this and similar contexts, "spirit" obviously means the whole person. See for example, Genesis 45:27; Psalm 51:10. Having said this, Jesus breathed his last. 23:46.
      c. After realizing that Jesus was dead, three groups of people give different responses. First, the Gentile centurion at Jesus' execution "PRAISED GOD [the heavenly Father] and said, 'Certainly this man [Jesus] was innocent.'" Second, the crowds who had gathered at the cross returned home, "beating their breasts," a well-known gesture expressing woes on the people speaking and the people mistreated. Third, all of Jesus' acquaintances, including the women who had followed Jesus from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching all that was taken place. It is clear that the women meant here are the very same women who supported Jesus during his ministry as stated in Luke 8:2-3. The women were Mary called Magdalene, Joanna, wife of Chuza (Herod's steward), Susanna, and many others, probably including Mary, the mother of James--see Luke 24:10.

The crucifixion and death of Jesus is the most important event in human history. May all God's people rejoice in the great sacrifice that Jesus gave for each and every one of us.

Share YOUR encouragements and hopes and dreams and reservations and fears with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis   

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Stand Against the Wiles of the Devil

Paul writes in Ephesians 6:10-17:
     "Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Put on the whole armor of God, SO THAT YOU MAY BE ABLE TO STAND AGAINST THE WILES OF THE DEVIL. For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the SPIRITUAL FORCES OF EVIL IN THE HEAVENLY PLACES. There, take up the whole armor of God, SO THAT YOU MAY BE ABLE TO WITHSTAND ON THAT EVIL DAY,  and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. With all of these, take the shield of faith, WITH WHICH YOU WILL BE ABLE TO QUENCH ALL THE FLAMING ARROWS OF THE EVIL ONE. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God."

1. Many people erroneously assume that there are no invisible beings. All we know are what we can see and hear and touch and taste and smell. Thus, they dismiss the existence of the devil or Satan, evil spirits, angels, even God Himself. Paul emphatically declares that the REAL ISSUE IN LIFE is spiritual struggles with REAL INVISIBLE BEINGS.

2. Paul insists that all of God's people must be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. The little known word "wiles" means trickery, deceit, subtlety. Satan is the great deceiver. He pull out all the stops to make us believe that evil things and evil people are good. John describes the fall of Satan in Christ's Second Coming in this way in Revelation 12:9:
     "The great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, THE DECEIVER OF THE WHOLE WORLD--he was thrown down to the earth, and HIS ANGELS were thrown down with him."
     Revelation 20:2-3 further expands this description:
     "[The angel] seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and threw him into the pit, and locked and sealed it over him, so that HE WOULD DECEIVE THE NATIONS NO MORE, until the thousand years were ended." Revelation 20:7-10 continues: "When the thousand years are ended, Satan will be released from his prison and will come out to DECEIVE THE NATIONS at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, in order to gather them for battle; they are as numerous as the sands of the sea. They marched up over the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city. And fire came down from heaven and consumed them. And THE DEVIL WHO HAD DECEIVED THEM was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever."

3. The great conflict between Jesus and Satan=the Devil in the wilderness included this "temptation" of Satan for Jesus: "Again, the devil took him [Jesus] to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, 'All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.' Jesus said to him, 'Away with you, Satan! for it is written, Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.'" (Matthew 4:8-10). Satan claimed that he was in control of all nations. This was a blatant lie. God alone is in control of all nations.

4. Peter gives this warning in 1 Peter 5:8-11: "Discipline yourselves , keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering. And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory is Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the power forever and ever. Amen."

Satan is the great deceiver. He will do everything he can to turn us away from God the Father through Jesus Christ and to follow the easy road to destruction. The Bible is full of warnings against the wiles or deceits or trickery or subtlety of Satan.

Share YOUR experiences and thoughts and understandings and reversals and fears with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis

Monday, January 20, 2014

Jesus Handed Over Unjustly to be Crucified--Luke 23:1-25

Luke says that after the Jewish authorities attacked Jesus in various ways, they handed him over to the Roman and Jewish authorities: Pontius Pilate and Herod Antipas. When Pilate and Antipas could find no fault in Jesus, the Jewish crowds demanded that Pilate officially have Jesus crucified. This portion of the Gospel of Luke appears in Luke 23:1-25, and naturally falls into four parts.

I. The Jerusalem Sanhedrin hand Jesus over to Pontius Pilate. Luke 23:1-5. Compare Mark 15:1b-5; Matthew 27:2, 11-14.
    a. The "assembly" in 23:1 is the same as the Sanhedrin named in Luke 22:66. The Jerusalem Sanhedrin brought two accusations against Jesus to Pilate: (1) Jesus forbids the Jews to pay taxes to the emperor; (2) Jesus claims that he is the Messiah, a king. The hearer or reader of Luke already knows very well from Luke 20:20-26 that the first accusation is clearly false. Jesus told his audiences to "give to the emperor the things that are the emperor's." The taxes intended here are the capitation fees imposed by Rome on the populace in all the provinces such a police taxes, guard taxes, bath taxes, poll taxes, and the like. The Jewish authorities had been trying to find some fault with Jesus for a very long time. As to the second accusation, Jesus had sternly told his disciples to tell know no one his identity as the Messiah. Luke 9:20-21. 23:1-2.
    b. Knowing that the first accusation is obviously false, Pilate ignores this and turn to the second accusation. In Roman thought, it was a violation of the law for a person to declare himself a king or emperor as a rival to the present emperor. So, for verification, Pilate asked Jesus point blank: "Are you the king of the Jews?" Jesus refused to answer this question, saying to Pilate: "You say so." By responding in this way, Jesus immediately in completely in control of the whole situation. 23:3.
    c. Knowing that Jesus is right, Pilate turns to the chief priests and the crowds, saying, "I find no basis for an accusation against this man." At best, Pilate considers Jesus a harmless enthusiast, who certainly does not deserve capital punishment. 23:4.
    d. Grasping for straws, the Jewish authorities said that Jesus stirs up the Jewish people by teaching throughout all Judea from Galilee where he began even to this place. Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judah, but his parents lived in Nazareth in North Israel, where Jesus spent most of his life. 23:5.

II. Pilate sends Jesus to Herod Antipas. Luke 23:6-12.
     a. Knowing the insistence of the Jewish authorities, Pilate asked whether Jesus was a Galileean. When he learned that Jesus was from Galilee, Pilate send Jesus to Herod Antipas, who was over the jurisdiction of the people in Galilee, and right now Antipas was in Jerusalem, apparently to participate in the annual Passover, probably visiting in the family's Hasmonean palace in Jerusalem. 23:6-7.
     b. Antipas had wanted to see Jesus in person for a long time--Luke 9:9. Now, he has a golden opportunity to speak with Jesus face to face. Antipas had heard a great deal about Jesus, and now hoped that Jesus would perform a "sign" or a "miracle" before Antipas. See further Luke 11:16, 29; John 12:21. 23:8.
     c. Antipas questioned Jesus at some length, but Jesus refused to respond. The Jewish chief priests and scribes were standing by, vehemently accusing Jesus. In time, Antipas became angry with Jesus because Jesus did not respond, and Antipas and his soldiers treated Jesus with contempt and mocked him. To mock him, they put an elegant robe on him gesturing that no king would receive such mockery without responding. Not knowing what else to do, Antipas sent Jesus back to Pontius Pilate. 23:9-11.
     d. That very day Herod Antipas and Pontius Pilate became friends; prior to this, they had been enemies. Ironically, Jesus reconciles enemies before him. If Antipas and Pilate had been honorable, upstanding, courageous people, they would have released Jesus. But, like many people in high positions, they were cowards, fearful of their position, fearful of the crowds. 23:12.

III. Pilate makes his Decision about Jesus. Luke 23:13-16.
      a. When Pilate appeared before Jesus and the Jewish authorities, he told the Jewish authorities that Pilate had examined Jesus in their presence, "and have no found this man guilty of any of your charges against him." Furthermore, Herod Antipas had examined Jesus and sent Jesus back to Pilate, and declared that Jesus "has done nothing to deserve death." It is very clear in Pilate's mind that Jesus is innocent. 23:13-15.
     b. In a desperate attempt to pacify the Jewish authorities and crowds, Pilate declares that he will flog Jesus and release him. 23:16.

IV. Pilate hands Jesus over to the Jewish Authorities to Crucify Him. Luke 23:17-25.
      a. A careful study of the Greek text reveals that Luke 23:17 does not have good support in this gospel.
      b. When Pilate said he would release Jesus, the Jewish authorities shouted out together, "Away with this fellow! Release Barabbas for us!" Luke tells his audience that Barabbas had been put in prison for an insurrection in Jerusalem and for murder. The Aramaic word Bar-abbas means "Son ofo the father." It is ironic that the Jewish authorities wanted to release an individual like this with this name. 23:18-19.
      c. Pilate still thought it was only right to release Jesus. So he made another effort to persuade the Jewish authorities. But they insisted: "Crucify, crucify him!" 23:20-21.
      d. Pilate tries for a third time to change their minds, saying, "Why, what evil has he done? I have found in him no ground for the sentence of death; I will therefore have him flogged and then release him." Pilate was trying to bluff the crowd because of his authoritative position. 23:22.
      e. But the Jewish people far outnumbered Pilate, and finally their cry to crucify Jesus prevailed. So Pilate gave in and granted their demand that Jesus is to be crucified, and that Barabbas was to be released to the people. 22:23-25.

This was a very dark day in human history. Satan and his forces persuaded wicked people to do what is unjust and sinful. They set the stage to crucified Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

Share YOUR insights and shortcomings and fears and beliefs and aspirations with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Trust in God's Control over All Nations

Many are very fearful about the power of one person over other people and of one nation over other nations. Repeatedly, biblical speakers and composers address such issues. Here are a few biblical thoughts about God's control over all nations. Essentially, this concept comes from Isaiah 40.

1. From God's perspective, all nations are like a DROP HANGING FROM A BUCKET.
    The prophetic composer of Isaiah 40:12-15a says:
         "Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand
                and marked off the heavens with a span,
            enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure,
                and weighed the mountains in scales
                and the hills in a balance?
           Who has directed the spirit of the Lord,
                or as his counselor has instructed him?
           Whom did he consult for his enlightenment,
                and who taught him the path of justice?
            Who taught him knowledge,
                 and showed him the way of understanding?
      In the ancient world, it was very common for people to take buckets down to a stream to scoop up water and bring it back to their campsite or tent to heat water, to drink water, to use water in cooking, etc. When they did this, after they poured the water out of the bucket, one drop of water would hang on the lip of the bucket. The prophet is saying that all the nations of the world are like a drop of bucket hanging from a bucket. Obviously, all who trust in Yahweh have no fear of any nation, because God is fully in control even when a nation appears to be dangerous and powerful.

2. From God's perspective, all nations are AS DUST ON THE SCALES.
    The prophetic composer continues in Isaiah 40:15b-c:
     "Even the nations . . . are accounted AS DUST ON THE SCALES'
       see, he takes up the isles LIKE FINE DUST."
    In the ancient Near East, merchants would measure weights on scales. To be fair to the buyer and the seller, they would carefully wipe the scales so that no speck of dust would increase the weight or price. The prophetic composer says Yahweh accounts all nations as a speck of dust on the scales. Obviously, all who trust in Yahweh have no fear of any nation, because God is fully in control even when a nation appears to be dangerous or powerful.

3. From God's perspective, all nations are LIKE GRASSHOPPERS.
    The prophetic composer continues in Isaiah 40:22-23:
    "It is he who sits above the circle of the earth,
          and its inhabitants are LIKE GRASSHOPPERS;
      who stretches out the heavens like a curtain,
          and spreads them like a tent to live in;
       who bring princes to naught,
           and make the rulers of the earth as nothing."
    The Bible contains numerous stories about a locust or grasshopper plagues. Peoples in the ancient Near East were very familiar of grasshoppers. But before human beings, grasshoppers are helpless. The prophetic composer compares the nations with grasshoppers. God is in control of all nations, even when they seem to be powerful or daunting. Obviously, all who trust in Yahweh have no fear of nations of any kind.

4. From God's perspective, all nations are AS NOTHING and LESS THAN NOTHING before the Creator of the Universe. The prophetic composer says in Isaiah 40:17:
     "ALL THE NATIONS are AS NOTHING before him,
          they are accounted by him AS LESS THAN NOTHING and EMPTINESS."
    Throughout human history, nations have risen and fallen. At the time, some nations have appeared to be invincible, but soon they fell and became nothing. Think of Pharaoh and Egypt, Tiglath-pileser III and Sennacherib and Assyria, Nebuchadrezzar II and Babylon, Cyrus the Great and Persia, Alexander the Great and Greece, the Caesars and Rome, Adolf Hitler and Germany--the list goes on and on.

God alone is victorious. God alone will prevail. This is a TRUST ISSUE, a HEART ISSUE, for God's people. God is in control even when wicked people seem to be in control. History has proved that this is true.

Share YOUR fears and shortcomings and failures and experiences and beliefs with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis