Sapphire Sky

November 29, 2015

The First Three Hours

Filed under: encouragement, theology — Tags: , — Steve Knaus @ 8:58 pm

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In the first century A.D., The Roman empire stretched across Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East. This was a time of peace, called the Pax Romana, where the Roman government was able to manage all of the various languages and cultures under its single rule.

However, the thought of revolution terrified the Roman government. Rome needed to control a massive empire with a much smaller force. Any revolts in the Roman provinces could cause a disaster. The Roman governors in various provinces must keep the peace at all costs!

Rome’s most effective way to keep peace in the provinces was through fear and intimidation. Any man who was caught trying to revolt against Rome would be made an example. He would be subjected to one of the most cruel, lingering, and public executions ever devised by mankind: the crucifixion [5].

Crucifixion was invented by the Assyrians and the Persians as a way to execute a condemned criminal away from their “mother earth” [6]. However, the Romans had taken and perfected the crucifixion into a hideous instrument of torture and death.

According to Josephus, more than a thousand people were crucified by Rome on 33 A.D. [9]. By that year, the Romans had also crucified more than 3,000 men in Palestine alone [10].

The crucifixion was intended to be cruel [5]. The shame and the horror that were dealt on the victim were more than we can even imagine. The victim was first scourged, being beaten so severely that his back was cut open, exposing raw flesh (see here). The victim himself would carry the wooden crossbeam through the city to the place of execution. At the place of execution, the soldiers would remove the victim’s clothes, then drive large nails through the victim’s wrists, nailing him to the crossbeam [7]. Soldiers would then lift the crossbeam onto a permanent post (about 6 feet tall). Finally, another large spike would be driven through the victim’s feet and into the post.

The crucifixion was so painful that the word “excruciating” came from this experience. The crucifixion was so shameful that proper folk would not use this word in public [6].

“There is one difference between a guillotine and a cross: the guillotine was designed to be merciful; the cross was designed to be hideously cruel.” – Doug Bookman [5]

The crucifixion was intended to be lingering. A person cannot properly breathe when suspended by his arms, but the Romans placed a wooden seat, or “sedulum” on the cross. This allowed the victim to push himself up to breathe, but it also prolonged the agony for up to a week [6]. The victims would finally die from shock, blood loss, exposure, predators, or suffocation. The soldiers could hasten the victim’s death by breaking his legs, thereby forcing the victim to quickly suffocate to death.

The crucifixion was also public. The Romans would place the crucified victims on a low hill outside the city gates, where people would commonly pass. Everyone who passed by and looked at the dying victims on the crosses would be afraid to go against the power of Rome.

Finally, the crucifixion was a guaranteed death. The attending Roman soldiers needed to personally guarantee that the victim was dead before he was removed from the cross. If there was any life left in the victim after he was removed from the cross, every one of the attending soldiers would be put on crosses.

When Jesus humbled Himself and came to earth, he chose this death, the death by crucifixion, in order to pay for the sin of all mankind!

Philippians 2:5-8
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

“Christ was on the point of making atonement for sin, therefore sin must be revealed in all its enormity.” – A. W. Pink [8]

It was customary for four Roman soldiers to be assigned to a prisoner that was sentenced to crucifixion. We have no reason to believe that it was any different for Jesus’ crucifixion. The four soldiers would tie the prisoner’s arms to the crossbeam and lead him through the city streets to the place of execution. They would carry a sign containing the list of the prisoner’s crimes for all to see.

The sign for Jesus had only one statement, written in three languages, “The King of the Jews”. This so infuriated the Jewish leaders that the immediately petitioned Pontius Pilate to have this sign changed. Pilate refused.

Pilate surely intended for his sign to show that “This is the best of the Jews, and he is no match for Rome!”, or “This is the best of the Jews, and they want to kill him!”. Little did Pilate know that this sign would be the first written notice of who Jesus truly was.

At some point along the way, Jesus was unable to carry the crossbeam at the pace for the Romans. The soldiers pressed a passing traveler, Simon of Cyrene, into carrying the crossbeam for Jesus.

They led Jesus from Herod’s palace to the north of the city, the “place of the skull”, or Golgotha. Once they reached Golgotha, they stripped Him of His clothes and nailed His wrists to the crossbeam. They then placed the crossbeam on the post and completed the crucifixion by nailing his feet to the cross.

It was 9:00 a.m.

The four soldiers divided up Jesus’ personal belongings among themselves. One took His turban, another His outer cloak, another His belt, and the last one took His shoes. Jesus had a seamless inner tunic which could not be divided so they gambled for it. Little did these pagan Roman soldiers know that they helped to fulfil a thousand-year-old prophecy about the Messiah:

Psalm 22:18:
They divide my garments among them,
   and for my clothing they cast lots.

Jesus was silent during this time but now He spoke. Looking at the Roman soldiers dividing up His clothing, he said, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do”. He did not just say it once, but repeatedly. For every roll of the “dice”, as they fought over His clothes, Jesus repeated, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do”.

Jesus was now the public spectacle. He was soon taunted by all of the people who passed by. The travelers taunted Him, believing that He was going to destroy the temple. The Jewish leaders made a special trip from the temple to counter Pilate’s sign, and now followed the travelers in their own taunts of Jesus on the cross. The Roman soldiers, on duty for the crucifixion, also joined in the same taunts at Him.

But Jesus was not alone. He was crucified between two robbers, who also joined in the chorus of taunts against Him. Even the men condemned to die threw the same abuse at Him!

One of the robbers stopped his taunting and looked at the sign above Jesus. He knew that Jesus was innocent and he read the sign saying that He is the king of the Jews. He looked at the sign and believed.

He then stopped the other robber from his taunting, “Do you not fear God? We deserve our punishment but this man has done nothing wrong!” Then, turning to Jesus, he said, “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

Jesus replied to the robber with His second statement from the cross, “Today, you will be with me in Paradise.” The robber who repented would be with Jesus that day!

There was one final scene during the first three hours on the cross. A small group of faithful women were standing near the cross, including Mary, Jesus’ mother. Jesus’ third statement from the cross was to give his mother to the care of the disciple John.

It was three hours since Jesus was nailed to the cross at Golgotha. In the eyes of the world around Him, He was simply a Roman prisoner who was executed that day. He showed no power, nor did He defend Himself against the crowds of people who abused Him.

But in the midst of the agony and the shame, He made three very personal statements:

  • Forgiveness for the ignorant men who caused His pain
  • A way to heaven for the wicked man who believed in Him
  • Care for the faithful ones who stood with Him

May we learn to love and appreciate the sacrifice that our Lord Jesus Christ made on our behalf. He gave Himself so that we may live.

May we thank Him as we identify with the different groups of people around the cross, that we would ask for forgiveness and be faithful to Him.

May we let Him be our example as we endure suffering in our world. He committed Himself to the all-knowing God (1 Peter 2:23-25).

On a gray April morning as a chilling wind blew
A thousand dark promises were about to come true
As Satan stood trembling, knowing now he had lost
As the Lamb took his first step on the way to the cross

They mocked his true calling and laughed at His fate
So glad to see the Gentle One consumed by their hate
Unaware of the wind and the darkening sky
So blind to the fact that it was God limping by

The poor women weeping at what seemed a great loss
Trembling in fear there at the foot of the cross
Tormented by memories that came like a flood
Unaware that their pardon
Must be bought with His blood

This must be the Lamb
The fulfillment of all God had spoken
This must be the Lamb
Not a single bone will be broken
Like a sheep to the slaughter
So silently still
This must be the Lamb

– Michael Card

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November 15, 2015

Before the Governor

Filed under: theology — Tags: , — Steve Knaus @ 2:14 pm

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During the Roman time of peace in the first century (the Pax Romana), Rome would allow the provinces a level of self-government. This self-government allowed vassal kings to rule over their own provinces as long as they swore allegiance to Rome.

Herod (also known as Herod the Great) ruled all of Palestine until his death in 4 BC. After Herod’s death, his kingdom was divided among his three sons: Archelaus, Antipas, and Philip. Philip ruled the regions to the East, Antipas ruled Galilee and Perea, while Archelaus ruled Judea and Samaria.

Archelaus proved to be the worst of the three sons. He was corrupt and inefficient and by 6 AD, the Jews had begged Rome to replace him. The Romans removed Archelaus and replaced him with a series of governors (also known as procurators). These governors were Roman commanders who were responsible for governing the regions and reporting to Rome.

The Roman governor over Judea from 26-36 A.D. was a man by the name of Pontius Pilate. Pilate had problems with the Jews from the start. On three separate occasions, Pilate had caused such a riot among the Jews that Rome had to directly intervene [6].

On the first occasion, it was customary for the Roman governor to enter the city with his banners and the Roman standard, consisting of an eagle and the bust of Tiberius Caesar. The Jews would not allow the bust of Caesar, believing that the image of the emperor was an idol. Previous governors had obliged the Jews by removing the bust of Caesar, but Pilate refused.

The Jews followed Pilate through the streets of Jerusalem, begging him to remove the image of Caesar. They then followed him back to his home in Caesarea and pursued him for five days, protesting the image. Finally, Pilate brought all of the Jews into the amphitheater, surrounded them with soldiers and demanded that they stop their protest. The Jews all bared their necks and told Pilate to go ahead and kill them. Pilate was defeated. He knew that he could not massacre these Jews without getting in trouble with Rome so he had to back down and remove the image of Caesar.

On another occasion, Pilate needed funds to build a new aqueduct into Jerusalem, so he raided the temple treasury. The furious Jews rioted and Pilate sent his soldiers among them, dressed in common clothes. Upon his signal, the soldiers pulled out their swords and began to kill the Jews around them. The massacre of the Jews reported in Luke 13:1 may have been from this occasion.

On a third occasion, Pilate had shields hung in Herod’s palace in Jerusalem. The shields had the picture of the emperor, which the Jews believed to be an idol. The Jews protested the images to Caesar and Pilate was ordered to take them down.

The Roman governor had two jobs: collect taxes and keep the peace [1]. Tiberius Caesar cared little about what happened in the provinces as long as the money and stability remained consistent. But the governor was in trouble if the revenue stopped or if Rome needed to send in troops to crush a revolt.

Pilate was already in trouble with Rome because of the Jewish revolts under his leadership. His position in Rome was even more tenuous since his sponsor in Rome had been executed shortly before the trial of Jesus Christ. Pilate knew well that one more problem would cause him to lose his position and likely his own life.

This was the context when the Jewish leaders brought their prisoner to Pontius Pilate. Pilate’s home was in Caesarea, but he came to Jerusalem to oversee the city during the Passover celebration. It was there, at Pilate’s temporary abode in Herod’s palace [7], in the early morning hours that the priests came to him with their case.

The Jewish leaders had tried their prisoner but they needed the Romans to execute him (see here). They wanted Pilate to order this man’s crucifixion.

This trial was no surprise to Pilate. Pilate was holding court in the early morning hours (probably about 4:30 a.m.) out on the pavement in front of his residence. The Jewish leaders must have prepared him that they would be bringing Jesus to him.

“What are the charges?”, asked the governor.

The Jewish leaders responded that they would not have brought the man if he was not guilty. When pressed further, they brought a list of charges including misleading the nation and claiming that He was a king.

The charge of being a king got the governor’s attention. The Romans feared any types of insurrection in the provinces and there was no room for a new king. But Pilate was also suspicious of the Jews. He took Jesus away for a private conversation, asking him, “Are you the King of the Jews?”

Jesus’ response unnerved Pilate. “Are you asking this for yourself or you only interested in the charges?” Pilate seemed to dismiss the question as an issue for the Jews. But Jesus continued, “My kingdom is not of this world”. In other words, “My kingdom does not come by force”. He is not going to start a war with Rome. His kingdom is a kingdom of truth.

Pilate emerged from the private conversation announcing that Jesus was not guilty. He would declare Jesus’ innocence five times during this trial. Furthermore, two additional witnesses testified to Jesus’ innocence: Herod Antipas and Pilate’s wife.

Pilate realized that he was in a difficult position. He knew that the Jewish leaders demanded that he execute an innocent man. If he gave in to them, he would have violated Roman justice and empowered his enemies. He was interested in hearing about this man, but he could not afford a riot from the Jews by setting Him free.

Pilate then began a series of attempts to free Jesus without starting a riot from the Jews. Any riot would bring swift retribution back to him from Rome.

 

First Attempt: Send Jesus to Herod

Pilate learned that Jesus was from Galilee. Gallilee was Herod’s (Herod Antipas’) jurisdiction and Herod was also in Jerusalem at that time. Pilate sent him to Herod. Perhaps this could become Herod’s problem. Not only would this absolve Pilate of any blame, but the Jews had less power over Herod. Herod would be free to render judgement with much less pressure from the Jews.

Herod looked forward to meeting Jesus but was soon disappointed. Jesus did not perform any miracles, nor did he reply to any of Herod’s questions. Herod and his soldiers mocked Him, put him in a fancy robe, and sent Him back to Pilate.

 

Second Attempt: Compromise with the Jewish Leaders

Pilate called together the leaders of the people and announced that neither he nor Herod had found Jesus guilty. Pilate offered a compromise. He found the man innocent, yet he offered to punish Him and release Him.

Luke’s gospel account says that the Jewish priests and elders would not change their mind. Jesus must be killed.

 

Third Attempt: Trade Jesus for a Criminal

The Jews had a tradition of freeing one prisoner at Passover. Pilate attempted a shrewd political move by offering to release a criminal for this Passover. He appealed to the Jewish people, who were enamored with Jesus, and gave them two choices for a prisoner to release.

He could either release Jesus or Barabbas. Barabbas was a known robber, insurrectionist, and a murderer. Surely the people would want to release Jesus over this man!

But the priests and the elders had influenced the people. When Pilate presented them with the question, they all shouted to release Barabbas and have Jesus crucified!

 

Fourth Attempt: Appease the mob with torture and humiliation

Pilate had Jesus scourged. This horrible beating was the first step of the Roman execution. The goal of the scourging was to cut open the prisoner’s back in order to maximize the pain and agony when hung on a wooden cross.

After Jesus was scourged, the Roman soldiers twisted together thorn branches in order to form a mock crown. They pushed the thorns on to his head and placed a purple robe on his bleeding back. The soldiers then mocked Him, pretending that he was a king, and hitting Him with their hands.

Pilate then presented the bleeding and bruised Jesus to the people, still in His crown of thorns and purple robe. Pilate said, “Behold the man!”. Surely this man is no threat!

Pilate even tried to reason with the crowd but they only became more agitated. They shouted all the more, “Crucify Him!”

 

Response by Jesus

The Jews told Pilate that Jesus must die because according to their law, He was guilty of blasphemy. He made Himself out to be the Son of God.

Pilate brought Jesus into the headquarters for another private conversation. Pilate was looking for an answer from Jesus that would help release Him, but Jesus was silent.

Jesus replied to Pilate that the only authority over Him had been granted by God Himself. The most wicked one is not Pilate but the high priest (Caiaphas) who had brought Him to Pilate and demanded His death.

 

Threats by the Jews

Pilate tried to release Jesus after talking with Him, but the Jews made a final threat. They would report Pilate to Caesar if he released Jesus. Pilate knew that he was already in trouble with Rome, and so he gave in.

Pilate took water and washed his hands before the crowd. He used the same ritual from the Old Testament for an unsolved murder to say that he was free from the guilt of this man. The Jews quickly jumped in to accept any guilt for Jesus’ death.

Jesus was handed over to the Roman soldiers for further torture and abuse while they prepared for the crucifixion.

 

Remember!

Jesus was our example for how to answer for our faith:

1 Timothy 6:13-16

I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which he will display at the proper time—he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.

“Either the blood of Jesus is on our hands, or the blood of Jesus covers our hearts” – Stephen Davey [8]

 

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November 7, 2015

Before the High Priest

Filed under: encouragement, theology — Tags: , — Steve Knaus @ 9:56 pm

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It was Thursday night before the Passover. At some time after midnight, Judas had led the temple guards and the Roman soldiers up the slopes of the Mount of Olives to where they found Jesus. There it was that the entire crowd fell down when this Rabbi called upon the name of God. There it was that one of His disciples charged into the crowd with a sword, severing a servant’s ear. There it was that Jesus healed the man’s ear and made His disciples leave (see here).

The soldiers bound Jesus and took Him back to the high priest’s palace in the city of Jerusalem. There, at the palace, were two of the most powerful men in Judea. Annas was the former high priest who had been deposed by the Romans. But Annas still directed the religious leadership in Jerusalem and he had placed in his own son-in-law, Caiaphas, in the position of high priest (see here).

Annas and Caiaphas had been trying for several months to capture Jesus and now they had him! They had successfully hired one of Jesus’ own disciples to turn Him in. They desperately wanted to kill him, and now all they needed to do was convene a trial so that He could be executed.

As Jesus was being brought into the palace, they hurriedly gathered the ruling council (the Sanhedrin) so that they could get a guilty verdict. It was imperative that they finish this trial and execution before morning. The crowds had shouted His praises when He entered Jerusalem (see here) and they may not like to see their prophet on trial. No one wanted a riot.

Everything about this trial was illegal. It was done hastily, without proper witnesses, without a defense, at night, and the only evidence they could find was a forced confession (see here).

Jesus’ eleven disciples had all scattered at his arrest. Two of these disciples, Peter and John, had apparently gathered enough courage to follow Jesus to the high priest’s palace. John knew the high priest, so he was able to gain entrance to the courtyard for both himself and Peter. There, from this courtyard, Peter could watch the events of Jesus’s trial unfold.

Jesus was first brought to Annas while Caiaphas gathered the Sanhedrin. Annas began to question Jesus, looking for an admission of guilt. Jesus simply answered that he had done nothing in secret. He was telling Annas that if he had charges against him, he needed to bring forth witnesses. The priest’s attendant struck Jesus (literally, punched him in the face) for his response, but even that did not cause Jesus to react in anger. Annas could find nothing incriminating against Jesus, so he sent Him to Caiaphas.

Meanwhile, Peter was in the courtyard, looking for a place to warm himself in the cold night air. The guards and servants huddled around a small fire. Peter may have been reflecting on the night’s events. He had single-handedly attacked a Roman cohort of 600 men, failing miserably! Now his master was being arrested and tried by wicked men, and all he could do was watch!

Just then, the voice of a servant girl broke through to Peter’s thoughts. “You’re not one of them, are you?”, she asked. This was not the place to make a scene; it would accomplish nothing. Why couldn’t she just leave him alone?

We can only guess at what Peter was thinking, but we know his reaction. He quickly snapped to the servant girl, “I am not!”

Meanwhile, the trial of Jesus moved to the next stage. Annas could not find any charges against Him, and he was brought before Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin. The Sanhedrin had hastily gathered in the night so that they could form an indictment against this man. They needed two reliable witnesses to charge Him with a crime, but they could not even hire witnesses who would agree! The closest that they could come was when two witnesses claimed that Jesus had said that He would destroy their great temple. But even these witnesses were inconsistent and unreliable.

Jesus kept silent throughout this entire trial. There was no value to speaking in this mock trial, but Jesus also knew the prophecy:

Isaiah 53:7
He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
   yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
   and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
   so he opened not his mouth.

Finally, Caiaphas spoke out in frustration. The morning was coming soon and they still did not have any charges against this man. Caiaphas demanded with an oath that Jesus answer them. “Are you the Messiah, the Son of God?”

Jesus replied, “I am, and I will come back and judge you with the authority of God himself!” Jesus had answered them very directly. He was the Messiah, the king of the Jews. But he also was God. He made it absolutely clear that the only charge against Him was blasphemy. They wanted to kill Him because He said that He was God!

The high priest tore his robes in the feigned horror. “What further witnesses do we need! You have heard it yourselves!” The council replied, “He deserves death!”

Then the members of the high council themselves descended on Jesus, beating Him, spitting on Him, and ridiculing Him. The ones who accused Him of blasphemy now blasphemed His holy name!

The Sanhedrin could not execute a man. They needed to bring Him to the Romans with their charges. But they had conducted this trial in the middle of the night, and they knew that the Romans would never agree to such a mockery of justice. They needed to wait until the morning light in order to give some legitimacy to their affairs before they could bring Him to the Romans.

Therefore, they put Jesus in holding (probably a dungeon or a cellar) until the first light of morning.

Meanwhile, Peter escaped the crowd from the courtyard and had moved to the entranceway of the high priest’s palace. He took little notice of the rooster crowing as he approached the entrance. Peter’s solitude was not to last long. Another servant girl identified him, “You’re not one of his disciples, are you?” Peter answered the crowd with an oath, “ I swear I do not know the man!”

Peter made his way back to the courtyard. An hour passed before Peter was identified for a third time. This time, it was one of the relatives of the servant of the high priest, the very man whom Peter had removed from his ear earlier that night.

The accusations were much stronger and much more specific this time. The servant’s relative remembered him on the Mount of Olives. They all noticed his speech, that he spoke with a Galilean accent. Surely he must be one of Jesus’ disciples!

Peter responded in terror. The account says that he pronounced a curse on himself lest he lie, and swore (affirm with an oath) that he did not know the man!

At the same time that this is happening, dawn is just beginning to break. The Sanhedrin have sent to bring Jesus back from the dungeon so they can finish the trial. As they led Jesus through the courtyard, Peter was in the middle of his oaths, shouting that he did not know the man! Just then the rooster crows, announcing the dawn.

Jesus simply looked at Peter. Peter was crushed! Possibly for the first time that night, Peter realized how far he has fallen. The account simply says that Peter went out and wept bitterly.

Now that dawn is coming, the Sanhedrin brought Jesus back to ask Him again if He was the Messiah. He did not answer them until they asked if He is the Messiah and the Son of God. It is not enough for them to accuse Jesus of simply being the Messiah. He is not going to trial as a usurper, but it must be clear that they are charging Him as a blasphemer. He said that He was God, and that is why they want to kill Him! [1]

 

Remember!

  • The lesson from Peter – we often prepare for the big battles yet fall for the small things. We are ready to fight Roman soldiers but fall when questioned by a servant girl!
  • Peter recognized his failure and repented. What makes a disciple is how we we repent when we fail!
  • Jesus left us an example of how to respond when we suffer unjustly. Peter himself said later in his life:

For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.
1 Peter 2:19-24

 

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