Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 13 April 2017, Maundy Thursday

Otherwise, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins. It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.  Hebrews 10, verses 2-4.

Today is Maundy Thursday 2017.   Today is the reason why animal sacrifices became unnecessary.  Today we commemorate God giving Himself up so that they would no longer be necessary.   That sacrifice we commemorate tomorrow, on Good Friday. But for now, today is a sad day of celebratory mourning, a time when we remember Jesus instituting the miracle of communion and forgiveness while facing the spiritual torment of Gethsemene, then Golgotha tomorrow.

As part of my own remembrance, yesterday I watched “The Passion of the Christ.”   I try to do this every year during Holy Week because it keeps my faith edgy.   The movie is so graphic and rightfully so since it portrays the most graphic murder ever perpetrated on a man.  I kept it on the TV in my office while I worked, and glanced over at it throughout the afternoon.  The more I watch the movie, though, the more I reach the same conclusion.

I feel sorry for Judas.

I’ve written this before but I feel sorry for Judas Iscariot.   He brought his woes on himself.   Nobody forced Him to betray the Son of Man but Judas did it willingly, even enthusiastically.  I know:  he was a greedy, selfish, sinful, detestable bastard.   Conniving, evil, deceitful; sounds like many of my friends and fellow sinners, actually.  No, I’m not equivocating because I’ve never sold out the Son of God for 30 pieces of silver.   My sins are my own and they have denied Jesus as surely as did Judas, Peter, or any of His other best friends who abandoned Him in His most desperate hours.

Yet I feel sorry for Judas because he is pathetic.

When Judas absorbed the guilt of his sins, he forgot all about Jesus.   Maybe it was that he couldn’t bring himself to even think about Jesus or what he had done to his friend and savior.   Perhaps the guilt was too crushing and he simply gave in to the worst temptation.   It’s possible that Judas didn’t understand the new covenant that Jesus had just explained to him in that Passover supper that first Maundy Thursday evening.  Or how it would supersede those sacrifices that dated back to the days of Noah or before.

Whatever happened, Judas snapped and killed himself.   He was cold and dead before Jesus was even nailed to the cross that Good Friday.  I feel sorry for him, have pity on him, and I honestly hope something in him turned back before the life snuffed out of his body.   It isn’t up to me, but I hope there’s a place in heaven for Judas.   If there isn’t a place for people who do things as supremely reprehensible as what Judas did, then there isn’t a place for any of us.   The key is belief.   Judas lost his belief, his faith, in Jesus if he ever really had it in the first place.

He lived in a time when people still fully believed that animal sacrifices atoned for human sins.   The whole purpose of the Jewish temple was to worship Yahweh, the almighty I AM.   Integral to that worship was the Mosaic sacrificial system where doves, lambs, and bulls were slaughtered and brought to the altar.   There was even an annual Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur, which is still commemorated by Jews today) in which the high priest took that animal blood and sprinkled it on the articles in the Most Holy Place.   By the time of Jesus and Judas, the Ark of the Covenant (God’s mercy seat) was long gone from the temple, having disappeared hundreds of years before.   Yet the Temple still contained a Most Holy Place – a Holy of Holies – where worshippers thought God was still present.  Once a year, the priest went into the Most Holy Place and sprinkled animal blood.

And it did nothing.  Yes, I said that.   It did nothing.   Even from the start of sacrifices it was only faith in God that would bring atonement.   Only God could fully atone for man’s sins because imperfect man could not.   The sacrifices were an expression of that faith, not the actual atonement.  Thus, when Jesus died, He and only He fully atoned as a true sacrifice for the terrible sins of His most cherished creation, man.

This was the world in which Judas lived and from which he committed suicide.   Even as a disciple closely walking with the incarnate God for years, he never made the connection between Jesus and sacrifice.  I feel sorry for him.   “The Passion of the Christ” shows him to be mentally anguished up to the end, tortured by demons, tortured by his sins.   The Bible doesn’t insist that people who commit suicide are damned, though it does paint suicide as a sin.   If Judas felt such terrible anguish that he couldn’t go on, I sincerely hope that, in his final seconds here, he found comfort in repentance and a place in paradise beyond.   That isn’t up to us:  it’s up to God.   Someday, hopefully many years from now, we’ll learn what happened.

For further reading:  Hebrews 9:9.

Lord, I praise You in mourning and celebration for the sacrifice You gave of Yourself.   Have mercy on Judas and others, and .

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 9 March 2016

Wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them. He had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified. Mark 15, verse 15.

Have you ever watched “The Passion of the Christ?”   My wife and I went to see it in the theaters when it first came out years ago, and I remember being transfixed by the imagery of it. Every year during Lent I try to watch it to remind myself of just what crucifixion really looked like.   The movie is so vividly gruesome and violent. If you want to know the truth, I think it was understated.   That goes hand in hand with the Gospel of Mark.

Consider those four words: “he had Jesus flogged.”   Have you seriously considered what it was like to be flogged?   ISIS would find it entertaining.   First century Romans would flog only those criminals whose crime was so severe that it merited the worst kinds of punishment.   Often the ‘floggee’ wouldn’t survive.   The way it worked was that the Romans used a whip with multiple leather lashes on it.   Attached to the ends of the lashes were pieces of metal or bone.   According to http://gira.cadouarn.pagesperso-orange.fr/english/back_matter/flogging.htm, flogging would consist of no set amount of lashes because the Romans were bound by no law except their own.   Typically, Hebrew whippings were limited to no more than 40 lashes while the Romans could (and did) administer as many lashes as they liked.   The whip would indeed lash and welt bare skin while the metal or bone would dig into the skin, creating deep cuts or contusions.   As the Roman soldier whipped his victim, when he reared back to lash again, very often one of the lashes would embed in the victim’s flesh and rip it out.

If you’re cringing, it’s for good reason.   Mel Gibson made a gory, violent, wrenching movie about Jesus’ last hours and he may have just gone easy on it.

Pilate had Jesus flogged knowing fully well that He was innocent.   The crowd demanded Jesus’ crucifixion knowing fully well that an innocent man would be savagely tortured for no good reason.   The high priest and his cabal of hypocrites arranged for this torture knowing fully well that Jesus had never done anything to deserve it.   You and I would scream and cower while tied to that post at just the first lash.   Imagine if you didn’t know how many you were to receive knowing, at the end, your torturer would force thorns on your head, then make you carry a 100 pound cross up hill to where you’d be nailed to it.   That’s what Jesus endured.   That’s what He chose.

More than any of that, Jesus went to it all willingly.   He could have stopped it but He didn’t.   To paraphrase Max Lucado, Jesus chose the flogging.   He chose to put Himself there in the praetorium while men He created in love brutally savaged Him.   They flogged him until the flesh was torn from His back and sides.   They whipped Him until excruciating agony understated the pain Jesus felt with every lash.   They brutalized Him in ways no human should have to endure and He chose it all. Jesus chose the whip, the flagrum, the blood loss, the hamburger flesh.   The boy from the peaceful manger was being slowly, deliberately murdered in the worst way possible.

And He chose it so we wouldn’t have to.

Lord Jesus, I can’t imagine what You suffered.   Thank You for doing it on my behalf in a debt I can never possibly equal or repay…and don’t have to.

Read Mark 15, verses 1-15.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 16 September 2015

“We are going up to Jerusalem,” he said, “and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise.” Mark 10, verses 33-34.

Why did Jesus tell the Disciples these things?   You know, couldn’t He just have let it happen without making a big deal about it?   It was traumatic enough for those who witnessed it, especially if the real crucifixion was anything like “The Passion of the Christ.” And for those who lived through it, afterwards everything changed and the Apostles spent most of the rest of their lives being hunted as criminals.   Why did Jesus tell these men about how He would die?

If you haven’t considered it before, there are several very good reasons.

First, He needed to tell them He was fulfilling prophecy. In doing so, they would know without a doubt that He was who He said He was and that all He had said and done was true.   There are HUNDREDS of individual prophecies about the Christ in the Bible (meaning in all of Jewish antiquity).   Mathematically, it is nearly impossible for them all to be fulfilled in one person, yet that is what Jesus was saying would happen in Him.   He knew these (relatively) uneducated men wouldn’t understand or remember every prophecy but they would know enough (just from their upbringing) to see how Jesus was identifying Himself as the one and only Messiah. He told them what would happen so that they would know, without a doubt, that He was that Messiah.   They would know this was a miracle and that He was the one true God.

Then, He needed them to be prepared for when it actually did happen (which was only a few days away).   If you care for someone and you know something bad is going to happen, then you try to prepare them as much as possible for it, right?   That’s what Jesus was doing. I mentioned the movie “The Passion of the Christ.” The Jews of Jesus’ day were familiar with crucifixion and how it was used only for the most rebellious and vile of criminals. If the act was as gruesome as Mel Gibson portrayed it then the Disciples would have been familiar with it and would have been shocked, even disheartened, at seeing their Teacher subjected to it. Jesus told them these things to prepare them for the shock of His death…and then for the even bigger shock of His resurrection.

But I think, most of all, Jesus told His closest friends these things just because He loved them. Yes, it’s an act of love to prepare someone, and to identify Yourself as Messiah.   Yet I think Jesus was doing more than just telling these men a simple truth.   I think He told them just because He loved them.   Peter, John and the rest all mattered to Him, enough to die for in fact.  After all, why does He tell us, especially after all these years?

It’s love.   Jesus told them – and us – these things simply because He loves us.

Lord Jesus, I thank and praise You for Your unending love.   I love You too.

Read Mark 10, verses 35-45.