Christ is Risen (Matthew 28:1-10; 1 Corinthians 15:12-20) The sun has risen upon a brand new Day. From this day forward, everything is going to be different. The foolish will become wise, the last shall be first, and the sinner will be a saint. Jesus Christ, Messiah, the Son of God rises from His grave. Paul placed all of his hope on this one aspect of Jesus’ life as we see in our passage. Paul has been speaking about the gospel, reminding the Corinthians of it in this chapter. He made it a point to say that Christ was raised (v. 4) and appeared to many people (vs. 5-8), confirming through the eyes of many witnesses of the truth of Christ’s resurrection.
When Paul gets to our passage of focus, he is combatting the idea that there is no resurrection from the dead. He moves rather past the idea that this is all there is to life, and instead focuses on what it would mean if there was no resurrection for Jesus.
He lists three consequences of there being no resurrection, which crystallize for us the enormous importance of the resurrection: If Christ wasn’t raised, then people’s faith in Him and preaching of Him would be futile. Who places any ultimate hope in a dead person? A dead person is just like the rest of us, finite. Anything else we put our hope in ultimately decays and dies, and if Jesus wasn’t raised, then He would be no different than money in the bank or an author who wrote your favorite book. But since Jesus is alive, you can place all of your hope and faith in Him because not even death can separate you from Him!
If Christ wasn’t raised, then you are still in your sins. This shows us that Christ’s work was different than any other religious figure. Other people down through history have tried to convince us with basically the same message: be a good person by following these rules to please God or find peace. Every religion, apart from Christianity, boils down to that basic formula. Christ came with a very different message. He said that we cannot save ourselves; we are too sinful to be pleasing to God because the standard is perfection (Matthew 5:48). The consequences or payment of that sin is death (Romans 6:23), so Jesus came to take that penalty for us. However, if Christ didn’t rise, then we would know that the penalty hasn’t been paid in full. But He did rise, and that’s what makes Him different. No other figure has risen from the dead, and no other figure paid your penalty.
Finally, if Christ wasn’t raised, and you were hoping only in Him in this life, then you are a most pitiable person. If you are following after a dead savior, then you truly don’t have any hope, and you might as well just live for yourself however long your life will last. It would be such a pity to endure the life that Christ calls us too, only to find out that it was all for nothing. But Christ was raised! Now instead of being pitied, we are in the most envious position in all the universe. This isn’t because we will have an easy life. In fact, it will be the opposite of that (see Matthew 5:1-12). But if Christ is raised, then we have a hope that far exceeds this life. If we find forgiveness of our sins in Christ because He paid for them all, then it doesn’t really matter how life goes for us here for the eighty or so years we have on Earth. The life we look forward to in heaven will last for all of eternity. There is no point in pitying ourselves. Our hope and joy is secure in the arms of the risen Jesus.
Paul closes this line of reasoning by saying that Christ did, indeed, rise and is the first-fruits of those who have died already. This means that Christ is the preview for all of those who trust in Him. Though they die, just like Christ, they shall live.
Thoughts for prayer: Thank God for the resurrection, and all the blessings that this brings into your life today. Thank Him for the joy and hope that His resurrection provides.
Christ in the Grave (Matthew 27:50-66) After Christ died, He was laid in a tomb. What a dark day for the world! Even the sun failed to shine (Luke 23:45). The stars and soil alike mourned the death of Jesus, the centurion was astounded, and the disciples were scattered. By all accounts, it was over. Maybe some hoped that Christ would come down from that cross in another miraculous display, but such a thing was not to happen. It turns out that all those times that Jesus predicted that He would die were to come true despite Peter’s assurances that it wouldn’t happen (Matt. 16:21-23).
They wrapped His lifeless body in a shroud and placed it in a tomb. They didn’t even have time to fully prepare the body with the customary spices and ointments as the Sabbath day was about to begin (days are counted as sundown to sundown). The women who followed Jesus only had time to prepare the spices and ointments with the plan to go and prepare the body properly once the sun came up on Sunday (Luke 23:55-56). Oh, that they could have gone up Saturday night, but it would be too dark and dangerous. They would just have to wait. What a hard wait that must have been! Every time one of them passed the basket with the necessary supplies inside, they were reminded of the horrible truth that the One they called Lord and Savior was gone.
This must have been such a numb Sabbath for everyone. Not but a week ago, the entire city of Jerusalem was ablaze in praise for this King riding a donkey. Now, He lies dead in a tomb sent there by that same city. Perhaps they spent the day remembering what Jesus taught and did. The servant Malchus (John 18:10), whose freshly cut-off ear Jesus healed (Luke 22:51) might have spent the day reflecting. Could it be possible that he experienced the last healing that Jesus would ever have done? Could it be true that someone with as much grace, authority, and teaching truly be dead forever?
The disciples were likely anything but truly resting. The man that they had followed for the last three years performing miracles of soul and body, preaching in a way that even the scribes and Pharisees had no answer, the One who had every answer to every question and who knew their very thoughts, was gone. Their thoughts must have pivoted from grief from their loss to fear of what this might mean for them. That’s why when they would meet, they locked the doors (John 20:19). There were about a dozen other Messianic movements around this time that they would have heard of, and perhaps they were thinking that they had gotten duped by yet another one. All those other movements ended in the death of the supposed Messiah. All they could do was try to rest and wait. Nothing was going to happen that day. But there was at least one group of people who were, rather unusually, quite busy on this Sabbath day (Matthew 27:62-66). The priests and Pharisees were able to put their Sabbath laws aside for a moment in pursuit of the goal of making sure that Jesus stayed in that tomb. They appealed to Pilate to ask for guards for the tomb. They didn’t believe that Christ would rise again, but they were afraid that those disciples might try to steal the body and claim resurrection. Soldiers were granted, a stone was placed in the mouth of the tomb and sealed. If those disciples were going to steal the body, they would have to come through Rome’s finest. These soldiers must have thought that they had the easiest job to date. Fishermen would be no match for them. Only after that tomb was sealed could the Pharisees and the priests rest themselves. What a relief! Imagine if they had forgotten to put all of this in place! Why, people the world over might have thought Jesus rose when it was just deceptive fishermen. How kind of them to relieve the world of that lie. Their work was more important than they thought. Thoughts for prayer: Christians are no stranger to dark and uncertain times, but even when it seems the enemies of God are busiest, He is still in control. Thank Him for this providence, and trust Him in your own dark times of waiting.
The Son of God was on a cross. This should be the most incomprehensible sentence that is possible to write. The hanging of someone on a tree was the most disgraceful way to die in both cultures present at this crucifixion, Roman and Jewish. For the Romans, crucifixion was the method of execution that provided the greatest intersection of pain and shame. Counterintuitively, victims wouldn’t die because of the holes in their hands and feet. Victims would die due to being unable to breathe. Each breath would be tortuously earned by pulling on the hands and pushing with the feet to lift oneself up for a gasp. Death’s embrace would sometimes be days away, and in the meantime the public walked past you assuming you had done something to deserve such a fate. There was no worse way to die for the Romans.
The Jews also saw being hung on a tree to be the worst way to die. While the Jews didn’t torture those who were to be executed under their government, Deuteronomy 21:22-23 spells out a particular way of display post-execution that entailed a divine curse: hanging. Usually, capital crimes were paid for by stoning, but if the crime warranted, the body would be hanged from a tree as a brutal reminder of what that crime deserved. This would be an enormous shame, and even if done, the body would not be allowed to be displayed past sundown, lest the ceremonial defilement of the dead body spread to the community. The shamefulness of this is declared, yet allowed by God.
In the crucifixion, both cultures hurl the greatest weapon of pain and shame that they can possibly think of. Yet here, in this place of pain, shame, and cursing hangs One who does not deserve it: the Son of God! The One on this tree is the Beloved of God the Father (Mark 1:11)! So why—how—is Jesus the One in this place? It is because Christ is taking someone else’s place. He is taking my place and your place. That place is not the place of some Roman or Jewish citizen politically condemned. It is the place of every sinner who would be condemned by God.
You see there is a final element to this particular cross that isn’t shared by any other cross. The wrath of God against all of sinful humanity is aimed at that cross, more accurately, aimed at the Person being hung on that cross. There, Jesus absorbed the full shame, pain, and curse that God Himself would wield against sinners like you and me. This is something that only Jesus could do. Only the Son of God could live a life that could be offered as a perfect substitute for us. If He committed even one sin, then all of that wrath, shame, pain, and curse would be deserved. But since His life was perfect, He could absorb the wrath on behalf of others. Since He was God, He could absorb the wrath for all others who would repent of their sins and follow after Christ.
The Son of God was on a cross. It’s an incomprehensible sentence, yet even more incomprehensible than that is that the Son of God was on your cross. He took your pain, yourshame, your divine curse on Himself. He then took it all away such that you will never have to bear it. In fact, you shall receive His reward for His perfect life.
This is why this day bears the name “Good Friday.” This is as good a news as you could possibly receive, yet that news wasn’t free. It cost the Son of God a cross.
Thoughts for prayer: Meditate on what your sin deserves. It deserves pain, shame, and curse, yet those things have been taken from you and placed on Christ. Remember and rejoice.
1Eugene Merril, Deuteronomy. New American Commentary.
It is hard to overestimate the importance of the Passover in the thinking of the faithful people of God, which makes the ending of it so much more dramatic and significant. This meal was intended to be an annual reminder of the faithfulness of God (Ex 12:26-27). It pointed to God’s foundational work of preserving His people, namely, setting them free from slavery in Egypt. A lamb was roasted, and its blood was spread on the doorposts, a sign that they were to be under the protection of God from the wrath of God. The fact that the disciples were having this meal these centuries years later is a testament to God’s upholding of His promise. God has freed and preserved for Himself a people.
This is a cherished command, but this is the last time it will be done by the faithful people of God. It is called the “Last Supper” because, yes, this is the last meal that Christ will have prior to His crucifixion, but it is also the last official celebration of the Passover. The covenant that the Passover remembers is going to blossom into a new and glorious covenant, just as predicted (Jeremiah 31:31-40). God is about to do something very new, so we are going to need a meal to remind ourselves about it.
Just like God instituted the Passover meal before the Passover event happened, Christ institutes the Lord’s Supper before His crucifixion happens. In the midst of the ordinary, the profound is revealed. The Passover meal consisted of roasted lamb, bitter herbs, unleavened bread, and wine. Jesus is about to pick out out these elements for the Lord’s Supper, the New Covenant meal.
Christ’s hand moves over the roasted lamb, a symbol of sacrifice meant to picture Jesus’ own sacrifice for sins (1 Corinthians 5:7) to instead pick up the bread. The new symbol for the sacrifice made for us is now going to be the bread. He takes it, breaks it, and tells His disciples that it represents His body which is given for them and all other disciples of Christ. The action that Christ is about to undergo isn’t a painless one. His flesh will be torn, and His body will be brutally beaten. But Jesus choses that this will not be symbolized by the lamb sitting on the table. The answer to why is in His choice of the wine.
The disciples don’t have any time to process that Jesus is doing something very different with this Passover before Jesus picks up the chalice of wine. It symbolizes the new covenant sealed, made official, permanently-in-effect, by Jesus’ own blood. This spilling of blood will be the last time payment is made for sin. No more lambs will be slain for the covering of sin because no more shedding of blood will be necessary! There is no forgiveness of sins without the shedding of blood (Hebrews 9:22), but because of Christ’s work all sin in the elect is about to be wiped away forever (Hebrews 10:4-14,17)!
This is also the last covenant that will ever be made. When God made His covenant with Abraham, animals were slain (Genesis 15:7-21). When God made His covenant with the nation of Israel, animals were sacrificed, and blood was sprinkled on the people (Ex. 24:3-8). But here, with this new covenant, blood will be shed, but it will be the blood of the Son of God. There is no higher, more royal, more pure blood that could be shed, so if the blood of a lamb could cover sin, how much more could the blood of Christ take sin away forever (Hebrews 9:14).
No more sacrifices. It is finished. The cup and the bread symbolize His death for us, and when we eat that supper, we not only remember and proclaim this reality, but we dine with Jesus Himself, for He is a risen, living Savior. Thoughts for prayer: Take a moment to remember Christ’s physical and spiritual sacrifice for you. Christ shed His real blood and offered His real, physical body for you.
Jesus Washes His Disciples’ Feet (John 13:1-30) The hour has come. The feast of the Passover has been prepared. Jesus is aware that His Father has given all things to Him. He knows that He is ascending back to heaven from whence He came. He also knows that He is going to be betrayed by Judas (vs. 26-27), one of His own disciples. Tonight represents a culmination of thirty-three years of life on Earth, three of which have been spent in intensive ministry. More than that (if it can even be said that way), tonight represents thousands of years of planning and providence of God, as Christ is about to institute a new covenant to bring in the nations of the world into fellowship with God. This table, this last Passover, is bursting with significance and anticipation as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the Messiah, takes His seat at the table that for the last fifteen hundred years represented His work He was about to do.
But then He gets back up. He lays aside his outer garments. He wraps a towel around His waist, so He could dry the feet of the disciples after He washes them. This is a story that has been dulled because we are so familiar with it, but this is truly shocking behavior. The job of foot washing was necessary because roads were made of dirt, and everyone wore sandals. This job was only done by the lowliest of slaves, a sort of glorified doormat. In fact, Jewish slaves weren’t even allowed to do this, as it was considered to be so lowly as to only be fit for Gentile slaves. The closest modern example of this would be like the CEO of a Fortune 500 company being found in stained scrubs plunging one of the clogged commodes in the bathroom right before a large presentation before the board. Yet even this example is more comprehensible than what we find in John 13. Here is Jesus, the King of the world, washing the disciple’s feet, doing the job of an outsider slave. Truly, He is taking the lowest of low positions.
It also bears notice that He is washing every disciple’s feet, including Judas’, the one Jesus knows is going to betray Him. He is rendering this level of service to the one who is mere hours away from delivering Him into the hands of the Romans to be crucified, the lowliest death imaginable. That is the level of service that Christ is calling us to in following after Him in verses 14 and 15. It’s not the act of washing feet specifically, as the need for that is past, but it is the depth of service that Jesus has in mind. It is one thing to serve people that you like and consider friends and brothers in deep and hard ways, but it is quite another to do the same level of service for the one who has hurt you and is trying to betray you. Obviously, there are people and situations in which it would be unwise and ultimately unhelpful to them to serve, but as a general rule, we cannot see ourselves as “above” any sort of service that God calls us to in our lives. The calling might be unpleasant, seemingly beyond your gifting, or outside your comfort zone, but God is not calling you to anything that He hasn’t already done Himself. He has led by example (v 15), and He gives us the power to serve in these radical ways. As one final motivator, in a certain way, this is not the only betrayer Christ would serve. He would go to the cross the next day for you and me. Whether we realize it or not, every time we sin we betray God. We act as though He is not in charge nor deserves our allegiance and devotion. By our disobedience, we commit the same sins that Christ had to die for in the first place. Yet Christ served us on the cross and continues to serve us in our daily lives. He gives us bread for our bellies, air for our lungs, and yes, even water to clean our feet. Christ still serves those who betrayed Him. He has forgiven and continues to forgive. Let us not take this for granted, but use the amazing display of grace to inspire in us greater service for Him. Thoughts for prayer: Thank God for the many ways that He has served you even today, then ask Him whom He has in mind for you to serve.
Each day of Holy Week, I am going to be posting a few thoughts on the week of Christ's Passion here on the blog. I hope these simple meditations will help prepare your heart as we advance towards Easter. Palm Sunday (Matthew 21:1-11) Can you imagine being in Jerusalem the day that Jesus entered on that colt? First, imagine being one of the disciples. Your sandals aren’t even hitting the street as the people have lined up their cloaks and tree branches. You can barely hear yourself think as the shouts of joy are so loud. Here, finally, the people seem to see what you’ve seen in Jesus for the last three years: He’s the Messiah. Jesus has come in the name of the Lord and finally everyone else can see it. Maybe any lingering doubts that were festering in your mind are finally silenced in the cheers of the crowd. Maybe the humiliation that you’ve endured at the hands of the Pharisees turns into a slight smugness as now all they can do is look cross in the face of Jesus’ obvious success. Maybe your years of service are finally going to pay off, and perhaps there is a seat of power waiting for you (if John and James don’t take them!). For a disciple, it seems as if the golden years are all in front of them.
Now imagine being a member of the crowd. Here, you are thinking that the deliverer of all Israel is riding in. The educated members of the crowd might remember the prophecy that said the coming King of Israel would ride in on a colt (Zech. 9:9). Finally those Romans were on their way out. Israel could finally get some power back as they looked forward to their kingdom reaching to the ends of the earth! After a whole history of oppression, the people can finally see their deliverer. Is it any wonder that the cloaks are spread out on the dusty road, palm branches are torn from their trees, and the chorus “Hosanna” meaning “save now” fills the ancient streets?
But what is going through Jesus’ mind? It is completely different from what is happening in everyone else’s mind. The people are celebrating Him now, but this celebration isn’t going to last. The people of this city are going to be turned to despising Him. Jesus is going to go from having cloaks spread out before Him to having His own cloak spread out to be gambled away (Matthew 27:35). The people have joyfully shouted to Him “Save us now,” but that will turn to derisive jeering of “Save yourself” (Matthew 27:39). The disciples who are with him in this moment will all flee when the soldiers come (Matthew 26:56). There is hardly anyone in the sight of Jesus at this moment who will not abandon or outright betray Him within the week.
Yet He rode on. He arranged to enter the city in just this way. He had to fulfill the word He gave the prophet Zechariah centuries ago. Nothing that is going to happen to Him this week is unexpected or unplanned. It’s been the plan from the beginning (Acts 2:23). Christ has been about His Father’s business His whole life, and it has now all led up to this week. Now Christ is riding through a crowd of future betrayers and cowards who all at the moment profess love and admiration of Him.
Oh, wouldn’t it be simpler to just be their political ruler? Wouldn’t it be easier to just let the cup of the Father’s wrath pass Him by? Wouldn’t it be easier to dismiss the crowds with a word so at the very least He wouldn’t have to endure the hypocrisy? But the prophecy had to be fulfilled. The work had to be done. Salvation had to be bought. He rode on.
What could motivate such action? How does one find the strength to go on? Even divine patience hates lying or those with plans to do evil (Proverbs 6:16-19). He does it because the Son loves the Father (John 17:1-5). It doesn’t matter what these people do, the Father has called Him to this work. Jesus will not turn and abandon. Jesus will not be distracted by the temporary advantages of political power. His mind strives on in love for His Father and the people He gave Him, and because of that our salvation is as secure as God’s perfect love.
Thoughts for prayer: Take a moment to rest in the fact that salvation rests on the mutual love of the Father and the Son. Thank God for your salvation acquired at great cost yet with great love