Flashback Episode — Hollow Worship in the Face of the Cross: Mark 15:16-20

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The passage we are focusing on this week may be short, but the implications it shares are powerful when we pause and think about them. We have come to the morning of Jesus’ crucifixion, and are looking at an event that happens following Jesus being condemned to death, but before He begins the walk to the place where He will be crucified.

Three of the four gospels share this event, and for our episode today, we’ll look at Mark’s version of what happened. We can find this event in the gospel of Mark, chapter 15. Reading from the New International Version and beginning in verse 16, Mark tells us that:

16 The soldiers led Jesus away into the palace (that is, the Praetorium) and called together the whole company of soldiers. 17 They put a purple robe on him, then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on him. 18 And they began to call out to him, “Hail, king of the Jews!” 19 Again and again they struck him on the head with a staff and spit on him. Falling on their knees, they paid homage to him. 20 And when they had mocked him, they took off the purple robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him.

This is one of the cruelest parts of the Bible, and it has been reserved for describing how Jesus was treated by the ruling government of humanity. However, what the soldiers miss in their abuse and treatment of Jesus is that His very existence and self-sacrifice made Him worthy of being king. The Roman soldiers’ only picture of a king was the military king that Rome had in its emperor.

An empire focused on ruling through military strength could only see a neighboring king as a potential threat. If the neighboring king’s forces were weaker than the military empire’s, then the empire would attack, capture, and absorb the neighboring king’s territory. Only in a case where there were two kings of somewhat equal strength, could there be a co-existing set of kingdoms.

All the Roman soldiers saw in Jesus was a weak threat to their empire. Jesus didn’t walk like any leader they respected, He didn’t talk strategy like they talked strategy, and He was wholly uninterested in military conquests like they were. But what is interesting is that while they were mocking Jesus, they were actually speaking something very profound.

While Jesus was dressed up like an earthly king and they were hitting Him and spitting on Him, Mark tells us in verse 18 that they began calling Him, “King of the Jews”. This is significant because as God’s promised Messiah, Jesus would technically be King of the Jews – if He were only the Messiah for the Jews.

However, Jesus came as the promised Messiah for all humankind because He was promised and foreshadowed from the very first sin and sacrifice. In a subtle way, these Roman soldiers didn’t realize that even by mockingly claiming that Jesus was the King of the Jews, they were incriminating themselves because Jewish scriptures pointed to God’s Messiah being humanity’s eventual King.

While the Jewish leaders had rejected their King and handed Him over to the Romans to crucify, the Romans, who represent the broad group of gentiles living throughout history, also reject Jesus as their King. This is significant because while Jesus had a few followers, they were nowhere to be found which meant that they were not a threat – at least in the Roman government’s eyes.

However, as we are talking about this together, even though they don’t believe Jesus to be special or even significant, these Roman soldiers call Jesus a King, and Mark tells us that they fell on their knees and paid homage to Him. One synonym for the word homage is worship. Even if they didn’t worship Jesus from their hearts, we see evidence that they acknowledged Jesus’ role as King and His right to be respected and worshiped.

But did their admission mean anything if everything they did and said was rooted with the motives of hostility? That I cannot say for sure, but I am just sharing an interesting parallel that is worth us paying attention to.

When talking about hollow and shallow worship hurting God, I wonder how many of us today have ever fallen into this category of people. While we weren’t among the Roman soldiers who were actively hurting Jesus with their words and their actions, I wonder if we at times are not unlike these soldiers when we choose to bring hollow, shallow, and meaningless worship to God.

God desires our hearts, and there are remarkable similarities of cruelty between us and these Roman persecutors if we approach God with our hearts in worship only to pull away and return home still holding the gift He desires the most.

In this record of Jesus’ torture, I wonder if Satan had a hand in the empty worship that the Roman’s presented to Jesus – knowing that it would hurt Him and God on a spiritual level just like the hollow and shallow religion of the Jews at that time was nothing like what God had intended.

This all prompts me to wonder why Jesus would go through with a death with this much torture and pain when any death would appear to work. While tragic, Jesus could have written prophecy to describe a death from a heart attack in the garden while in prayer. However, I think that through the type of death Jesus chose, we are able to learn more about God and His character.

By dying in the way that He did, Jesus demonstrated to the entire world and universe how much God loves everyone He created. He chose humanity because we are the ones actively rebelling against Him, and we are the ones Satan had successfully blinded. Jesus came to show us how much God loved each of us, and through the torture on the road to death that Jesus was willing to face for us, we can see a glimpse of just how much we are valued by God.

As we come to the end of another podcast episode, here are the challenges I want to leave each of us with:

First, be thankful towards God for loving us through Jesus and for showing us how deep and amazing He loves each of us through the way Jesus chose to die. Jesus could have written prophecy and history to include any type of death He that could be imagined. When we look at how Jesus chose to die, it appears as though He picked the worst, most painful, humiliating death that humanity has ever invented.

Also, be sure to study the Bible for yourself and pay special attention to the week of the crucifixion, because nothing in this week happened by chance – everything that we read was strategically planned out from the beginning of history. When we do study, we should prayerfully come before God and give Him our hearts in worship. After giving our hearts to God, we should be willing to submit our lives to Him and His will. While our physical heart stays in our body to pump blood through our veins and arteries, we should always leave our spiritual hearts with God, and any time we are tempted to take it back, we should remind ourselves of what Jesus did for us. In the big picture, a gift of our heart is the least we could do to say thank you for everything God has done for us.

And as I always end each set of challenges by saying in one way or another, never stop short of, back away from, or chicken out of where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Flashback Episode: Season 3 – Episode 47: Cam discusses the torture Jesus receives before being led away to the cross, and something hidden within this torture that is profound for us to pay attention to.

Join the discussion on the original episode's page: Click Here.

A Death that Brings Life: Matthew 27:45-56

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For the past three episodes, we have focused in on Jesus’ final moments on the cross, using Mark, Luke, and John’s gospels. For this episode, let’s look at the moment Jesus takes His last breath from Matthew’s gospel, and discover an event that only Matthew includes and an event that would make this weekend stand out in history as completely unique.

Our passage is found in Matthew’s gospel, chapter 27, and we will be reading from the God’s Word translation. Starting in verse 45, Matthew tells us that:

45 At noon darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 46 About three o’clock Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” 47 When some of the people standing there heard him say that, they said, “He’s calling Elijah.” 48 One of the men ran at once, took a sponge, and soaked it in some vinegar. Then he put it on a stick and offered Jesus a drink. 49 The others said, “Leave him alone! Let’s see if Elijah comes to save him.”

50 Then Jesus loudly cried out once again and gave up his life.

51 Suddenly, the curtain in the temple was split in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split open. 52 The tombs were opened, and the bodies of many holy people who had died came back to life. 53 They came out of the tombs after he had come back to life, and they went into the holy city where they appeared to many people.

54 An army officer and those watching Jesus with him saw the earthquake and the other things happening. They were terrified and said, “Certainly, this was the Son of God!”

55 Many women were there watching from a distance. They had followed Jesus from Galilee and had always supported him. 56 Among them were Mary from Magdala, Mary (the mother of James and Joseph), and the mother of Zebedee’s sons.

Did you catch the crazy detail that Matthew includes? While other gospel writers include the detail that the temple curtain rips in two, from top to bottom, only Matthew includes the detail that there was an earthquake right at the moment of Jesus’ death and that this earthquake resulted in the resurrection of many holy people.

We can speculate that the holy people who were raised were many of the Old Testament prophets, but really the text doesn’t give us any clue. All we know is that those raised were holy, or righteous, people who had died.

All this brings to focus an amazing truth: Jesus’ death brings life. Jesus’ death on the cross opens the way for all those who have died believing in and trusting Jesus to be raised to life when He returns.

However, this isn’t the only thing we can see that is amazing during the moment Jesus died. Matthew describes how an army officer, along with others present, were terrified during the earthquake, and at the resurrection of these people, this officer proclaimed that, “Certainly, this was the Son of God!” (v. 54)

Luke’s gospel describes this officer praising God and declaring that Jesus was indeed innocent. This is also powerful, given that this officer would have been present for plenty of deaths, crucifixions included, and nothing like this had happened before.

It’s also interesting to think that both thieves were still alive when Jesus died, so they would have experienced the earthquake as well and perhaps even seen some of those who were resurrected.

In this passage, we discover that the temple curtain that separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place was split in two, specifically from top to bottom. While this would have occurred at the same time as the earthquake, I wonder if both were connected in any way beyond simply being two things that happened at the exact moment Jesus died.

We’ve already seen how the earthquake was connected with the holy people who were resurrected, but the temple curtain tearing is included in other gospels without the earthquake or the resurrections. Both Mark and Luke include the detail that the curtain was split in two and they do this without connecting this detail to an earthquake – which might mean that the curtain tearing from top to bottom was more significant than a group of dead people returning to life.

So then, what is so significant about this curtain split?

In the temple, there was a space where only one person, the High Priest, could go, and he could only go there one time a year. In this space, which is called the Most Holy Place, was the Ark of the Covenant, and formed into the lid of the ark was a special place called the mercy seat. The mercy seat represented God’s throne and the place where He sits in judgment. It’s worth noting that the place God sits in judgment is characterized and described with the term mercy.

A thick curtain separated the Most Holy Place and God’s presence from the rest of the temple because God’s Holiness consumes and destroys sin, and as sinners, we would be consumed because of our sins. The entire temple on earth shows us God’s desire to live among His people while also protecting them from His presence.

However, when Jesus died, the temple curtain tearing in two symbolized the end of the separation. The curtain now open symbolized that sinners can come before God and ask for forgiveness because Jesus’ sacrifice covers their sins. God’s justice and justness has not changed; God simply took the punishment we deserved and handed it to Jesus, who was able and willing to accept it.

The curtain ripping in the temple is one of the biggest literal and symbolic events that prove Jesus’ sacrifice was accepted by God. If the temple curtain had not split, Jesus’ sacrifice would not have been enough to end the separation between God and His people, and the hope we have in Jesus’ sacrifice allowing us to come before God would be in vain.

At the darkest part in history, while Jesus is dead, the curtain that split in two marks an accepted sacrifice and an accepted sacrifice is a hope and promise we can hold on to when we face dark places in our lives. Even if our faith is weak and people want to discount Jesus’ life, His death, and His resurrection, remember that God validated it all by ripping the temple curtain into two pieces, from top to bottom, which is something no human could do.

As we come to the end of another podcast episode, here are the challenges I will leave you with:

Always seek God first and place Him first in your life. If you stumble and feel as though you have failed God, remember that God accepted Jesus’ sacrifice on your behalf, and that He is more than willing to forgive you and accept you back when you come and ask. Because the temple curtain was torn in two, we know Jesus’ sacrifice was accepted, and because Jesus’ death caused holy people to live again, we can know that His death assures us of life – and it makes our promise of eternal life a reality we can count on!

Also, always pray and study the Bible for yourself to learn, grow, and be challenged by the Holy Spirit personally. While other people can give you ideas to think about, never let your relationship with God depend on someone else. Intentionally keep your connection with God strong through continual prayer and regular Bible study.

And as I end every set of challenges by saying in one way or another, never stop short of, chicken out of, or drift away from where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Year of the Cross – Episode 47: At the moment Jesus died, Matthew records two amazing events occurred. Discover what these two events were, and what they mean for us living 2,000+ years later.

Join the discussion. Share your thoughts on this passage.

Flashback Episode — Being a Son of God: Luke 22:66-71

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On the morning of Jesus’ crucifixion, as the religious leaders are trying to build the case for execution, the gospel of Luke includes a profound series of statements that the religious leaders use to build their case for Jesus’ crucifixion.

Taken on their own, what Jesus shares in response to the religious leader’s demands is simply countercultural. But when we look at an earlier portion of Luke’s gospel, we see the most rational grounds for who Jesus claimed to be, and in this claim, as well as in the religious leaders’ reaction, we see how far from God’s plan these spiritual leaders had fallen.

Let’s read how Luke describes this event, from the gospel letter that is named after him, using the God’s Word to the Nations translation. Reading from chapter 22, starting in verse 66, Luke tells us that:

66 In the morning the council of the people’s leaders, the chief priests and the experts in Moses’ Teachings, gathered together. They brought Jesus in front of their highest court and asked him, 67 “Tell us, are you the Messiah?”

Jesus said to them, “If I tell you, you won’t believe me. 68 And if I ask you, you won’t answer. 69 But from now on, the Son of Man will be in the honored position—the one next to God the Father on the heavenly throne.”

70 Then all of them said, “So you’re the Son of God?”

Jesus answered them, “You’re right to say that I am.”

71 Then they said, “Why do we need any more testimony? We’ve heard him say it ourselves.”

The religious leaders in this passage build the case for Jesus’ execution on the idea that Jesus claimed to be the Son of God. This claim comes immediately after Jesus side-steps the question about whether He is the Messiah that the Jews were expecting.

On the surface, the Messiah question was a much simpler question to answer, except that Jesus knows that they have a narrow view of their Messiah, and Jesus knew that their narrow view had drifted away from what God had prophesied throughout history.

Jesus knows that these leaders are only interested in building a case for His death, and they are not interested in a discussion or a debate, so Jesus gives them something they can build their case on – except that it is one of the weakest foundations for them to stand on.

While the Old Testament law held the death sentence for people who committed blasphemy, the religious leaders had over-extended the definition of what blasphemy actually was. While claiming equality or superiority to God is breaking laws regarding blasphemy, as we will soon see in Luke’s gospel, claiming to be a son of God is completely valid for someone – really anyone to do.

Throughout Jesus’ ministry, He seemed to gravitate towards the self-descriptive name “son of man” which echo’s back to a prophecy from the book of Daniel. While technically, Joseph was not Jesus’ biological father, it is likely Jesus used this name in a more general sense to describe Himself as a “Son of humanity”.

The reason that these leaders frowned upon the idea of Jesus being God’s Son is that it appeared as though He was elevating Himself into being equal with God – which is wrong for a sinner to do. However, if we look at the last verse in Luke chapter 3, we see that at the very end of Luke’s version of Jesus’ genealogy, Luke tells us that Adam, the first human, was “the son of God”.

Here at the beginning of Luke’s description of Jesus’ adult life, we see a solid, rational case for Jesus being God’s Son because everyone who has ever lived is technically a child of God. Everyone alive at any point in history has breath because God gave it to them, and regardless of whether they use their breath of life to give God glory or to curse God to His face, their existence is directly connected to a gift from God.

The religious leaders foundation for Jesus’ crucifixion, which was them putting words in His mouth about being a Son of God is the weakest foundation for them to stand on. They would have a better case standing on what Jesus had just said in verse 69 when He tells them that, “From now on, the Son of Man will be in the honored position—the one next to God the Father on the heavenly throne.

This statement, which cannot actually be validated in this life, could only be spoken by someone who is delusional, or by someone who actually lived their lives so close to God that God would choose them for the honored position at His side. This statement is one that challenged the religious leaders at their core, because not only was a human unworthy to be even considered honored before God, it would be prideful for someone to place themselves in this position on their own merit.

In this passage, Jesus uses the term Son of Man in His response to the religious leaders, and they shift His words in their reply to Son of God. If Jesus was to avoid lying to the leaders, there was no way around admitting to being God’s Son because of how Luke described Jesus’ ancestry.

By building the case against Jesus on the grounds of being God’s Son, and not on the statement that Jesus would be honored by God, the religious leaders unknowingly set themselves up to be on the side that is against God.

They build their case on the ground that Jesus was merely a human, and not that Jesus was ungodly. They incriminate themselves with their argument and reveal how un-Godlike they really are by rejecting and condemning a person who was clearly helping people in God’s name. Even if Jesus was not directly God’s Son in a first-generation sense, He was the most God-like person living in that culture during the first century, and that in itself builds a solid case for God adopting Jesus as His Son.

No way one looks at this event do the religious leaders come out appearing positive or justified. Instead, their accusation and the foundation they build their case on is the weakest one available – but they pick it because they are blinded by their hatred of Jesus. The leaders latch onto whatever they can easily take a hold of because they want to see Jesus killed.

Which leaves the question in my mind: If Jesus knew that they would use this response against Him as the foundation for His death, why would He still say it?

Critics might argue that Jesus had no way out of this scenario, but all Jesus would have needed to do is simply answer in the same way that He answered before, by stating that they would not believe His response, even if He told them an answer.

Jesus instead chose His words carefully because He knew His path included the cross. Jesus was willing to face death in order to open up a way for new life for each of us. While the religious leaders chose a weak foundation for their case against Jesus, Jesus chose death because He knew His death was much more significant from the perspective of eternity. Jesus’ death opens the way for all of God’s people to experience eternity.

As we come to the end of another podcast episode, here are the challenges I want to leave you with:

Be sure to intentionally seek God first and make Him the most important focus of your life. Regardless of what others might think or believe, think of yourself as a child of God, if for no other reason than God is responsible for there being life in your body. Because God has given you breath, know that He wants to adopt you into His very literal and spiritual family that will be rewarded with eternity.

Also, study the Bible for yourself to learn, grow, and know God better. Prayerfully study and ask God to teach you what He wants you to learn. While a pastor or podcaster such as myself can give you ideas and insights from what we have learned, God wants your relationship with Him to be personal and not dependant on any third-party intermediary.

And as I always end each set of challenges by saying in one way or another, never stop short of where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Flashback Episode: Season 3 – Episode 46: Cam discusses the case the Jewish leaders build against Jesus, which centered around the claim that Jesus was the Son of God.

Join the discussion on the original episode's page: Click Here.

The Final Request: John 19:18-27

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For the past two episodes, we have focused in on Jesus’ time on the cross. First we looked at Mark’s gospel, which closely parallel’s Matthew’s gospel two episodes ago, and in our last episode, we spent some time looking at Luke’s gospel and what it shared. For this episode, let’s take the few minutes we have together and look at John’s gospel, and what we can learn from how it records this event.

Just as Luke’s gospel is similar while also different from both Matthew and Mark, John’s gospel is similar but unique from the other three gospels. Our passage for this episode is found in John’s gospel, chapter 19, and we will read it from the New International Version of the Bible. Starting in verse 18, John tells us that:

18 There they crucified him, and with him two others—one on each side and Jesus in the middle.

19 Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: jesus of nazareth, the king of the jews. 20 Many of the Jews read this sign, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the sign was written in Aramaic, Latin and Greek. 21 The chief priests of the Jews protested to Pilate, “Do not write ‘The King of the Jews,’ but that this man claimed to be king of the Jews.”

22 Pilate answered, “What I have written, I have written.”

Let’s pause for a moment because I want to highlight something fascinating I see in these first five verses. First, I find it interesting that this sign was written in Aramaic, Latin, and Greek. This is interesting because these likely were the common languages of the Roman Empire. It’s also interesting because Hebrew was not one of the languages in the mix. Perhaps the Jews primarily spoke Aramaic during the first century, or perhaps Pilate intended this to be a subtle message for those traveling into Jerusalem at that time.

However, it’s also interesting that the chief priests disapprove of Pilate’s wording on this sign. While Jesus never claimed kingship towards the Jews or even towards anything on this earth, Pilate concluded from his conversation with Jesus that Jesus was not ordinary, and that Jesus probably did deserve the title of king. Pilate gives Jesus the title of king, which is what the religious leaders said was the charge against Jesus when they brought Him to Pilate. But the religious leaders want to distance themselves as far away from Jesus as they can, and Pilate can see this, but I believe Pilate also realizes that Jesus likely was the Messiah that they had been waiting for.

Pilate stood firm with his message declaring Jesus to be the king of the Jews, and with this declaration, comes the subtle jab towards the religious leaders that they were the ones who rejected the King God had promised and sent them.

Not only does John describe the religious leaders bickering with Pilate over the wording of the sign, John takes a few verses describing how pagan Roman soldiers fulfilled a prophecy they likely didn’t have any idea existed. Continuing in verse 23, John tells us that:

23 When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom.

24 “Let’s not tear it,” they said to one another. “Let’s decide by lot who will get it.”

This happened that the scripture might be fulfilled that said,

“They divided my clothes among them
    and cast lots for my garment.”

So this is what the soldiers did.

Pausing again, I am amazed that something like this could have been predicted centuries before Jesus walked the earth so amazingly accurately that it clearly is applicable for this event. Oddly enough, this scriptural prediction foreshadowed Jesus’ death more than a Jesus who would never die, because someone who is alive wouldn’t have their clothing divided or their undergarments gambled for. The first century Jews were looking for a Messiah who would last forever without tasting death; Jesus came as a Messiah who would face death, and ultimately defeat it.

But with all this emotional turmoil, John records a final request Jesus has before He takes His last breath. Picking back up in verse 25 and reading the rest of our passage, John concludes by telling us:

25 Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” 27 and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.

While John’s gospel is one that names and identifies more disciples than not, there are several places where John intentionally avoids naming the disciple. The most notable times John does this are during the Last Supper, here at the cross, and again following Jesus’ resurrection. Tradition holds that this unnamed disciple is John himself, and I don’t have any reason to doubt this.

However, the last thing Jesus focuses on while He is hanging on the cross is the care of His mother. While bearing the weight of the sins of humanity, Jesus focuses on taking care of His mother. While I don’t know where any of the other siblings Jesus had were, or why none of them would have taken Mary in, John honors Jesus’ last request and takes Mary as his mother and cares for her like he would for his own mother. While Jesus wouldn’t stay dead, He also wasn’t staying present on earth either, so this request, while given during the darkest part of history, remained relevant through the triumph of the resurrection, ascension, and the expansion of the early church.

In John’s gospel, we discover that Pilate recognized Jesus in a way that the religious leaders were unwilling to see Jesus, we see an amazing prophecy predicted about the Messiah being fulfilled by a bunch of pagans who would have no idea the prophecy even existed, and we have Jesus remembering His mother during the darkest part of earth’s history. We can look at what John describes here and know that through the rejection, the darkness, and the pain, God has been there, and He will lead us through to the other side.

As we come to the end of another podcast episode, here are the challenges I will leave you with:

Be sure to always seek God first and put your faith in Him. Trust that God knows what will happen and that His goal is focused on saving you for eternity. While our world is filled with pain, trials, and rejection, we know that because Jesus triumphed over death, God will protect His people and save them for eternity.

Also, always pray and study the Bible for yourself to grow closer to God and to discover what God wants to teach you through His Word. While pastors, authors, speakers, or even podcasters can give you ideas to think about, filter everything you hear or read through the pages and truth in God’s Word.

And as I end every set of challenges by saying in one way or another, never stop short of, back away from, chicken out of, or fall away from where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Year of the Cross – Episode 46: John’s gospel describes the religious leaders’ final request of Pilate, one of the last prophecies about Jesus’ ministry being fulfilled by a bunch of pagans, and Jesus’ last request to John regarding His mother. Discover how all these things summarize what God wants to help each of us with in our lives 2,000+ years later.

Join the discussion. Share your thoughts on this passage.