Easter Sunday, 2017
Welcome to Easter Sunday at Ridgewood! We are very honored that you have chosen to join us. Millions of Christians the world over are gathering today to celebrate the resurrection of our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. The fact of the resurrection changed everything that Jesus’ disciples had come to believe about Christ’s Kingdom and their role in it. Prior to his death, they were confused, competitive, and covetous concerning their roles in the Kingdom. But with the miracle of the resurrection they finally came to fully understand the teachings that Jesus had given them and they were ready to sacrificially serve the Lord even to the death. The resurrection was a game changer!
With this morning’s message we will be tackling a series of three exceptionally important questions. We will take one question a week through the end of this month. These were burning questions within the congregation pastored by the Apostle John in Ephesus. They were questions he wanted to carefully answer. They are questions that are still relevant for us today. We pray that you will make a special effort to be present the next two Sundays as we pursue these questions in the text of Holy Scripture. Here are the three questions with some clarifying observations.
- Why did Jesus have to die? – The more we learn of the mounting evidence that was available in Jesus’ day testifying to the fact that he was truly the Messiah sent from God, the more that we find we wrestle with a nagging question of “Why?” Given the preponderance of signs and powerful discourses offered by our Lord during his life here on earth how could anyone have missed the fact that this was the Promised Seed, God’s Chosen One? As we become thoroughly convinced that Jesus was the fulfillment of hundreds of Old Testament prophecies we struggle with the seeming injustice of his death on that cruel cross. If Jesus really was God in human form, why did he have to die? Why did the Jews of his day, especially the religious leaders, angrily reject every miracle and contradict every teaching? Wasn’t his death a tragedy? If we had been present then wouldn’t we have seen who he really was and wouldn’t we have embraced him as our Lord? The fact of his death raised numerous questions among believers for many years after the resurrection. John wanted to conclusively answer these questions. We will study his answers in today’s message from chapter 18 and the early section of chapter 19.
- How did Jesus die? – Why the torture? Why the mockery? Why the humiliation? If it was his death that was necessary to pay for our sins, why all the added injustice? The shocking details of our Lord’s crucifixion deeply troubled believers in John’s day. They bother us today, too. What really happened when Jesus was put to death? John will furnish us with the necessary details in chapter 19. Though graphic and heart wrenching, the fact is, the story of his death is a part of the great glory that God the Father poured out on the Son.
- What happened after Jesus died? – With the disciples scattered, the worship at the Temple confused, and rumors flying fast and furious throughout Judea, it was essential that the record be set straight. No one was more qualified to do that than the Apostle John. We will learn the story of the resurrection from the one who out ran Peter to the Garden Tomb. We will hear the intimate details that prove the resurrection and have defended it against relentless attack for centuries. Our study of John 20 will be a highlight of this series in the Gospel of John. Our own Mike McCutcheon will lead us in that special study the last Sunday of this month.
Let me clarify one important point before we dig into this body of evidence. The role of the Apostle Peter in the events leading up to and including Jesus’ arrest and trial is a very important one. It occupies most of the first 27 verses of chapter 18. However, I have decided to treat this story of Peter’s actions and subsequent denial at the same time we study our Lord’s restoration of Peter as told in chapter 21. I am hopeful that by combining this passage with the resurrected Jesus’ tender treatment of Peter during breakfast by the lake we will come to understand more about spiritual restoration. It is a sorely needed subject in our day when we tend to throw away our spiritually wounded. I hope you’ll be here Sunday, May 7th when we study this in detail.
Since the middle of the 19th century there has been a steady stream of relentless attacks on this fourth Gospel. The self-proclaimed “higher critics” start from the premise that there is no such thing as the supernatural. In their view, everything has a natural explanation. There are no miracles in the Bible. There was no resurrection of Jesus from the grave. And there is no evidence of the supernatural active today. As you might expect, beginning from that kind of premise these liberal scholars have their work cut out. If you try to erase all the miraculous out of the Bible you don’t have much left! The Gospel of John has been one of their favorite targets. Since there could be no such thing as supernatural inspiration then John only had two options. One, to simply copy from what earlier authors had already written. This has been a favorite theory since there is a large portion of John’s Gospel that closely parallels the Gospel of Mark. Or, two, fabricate his story using historic facts only when convenient or necessary. When liberals follow this pathway of criticism they love to call into question the things that John either left out of his accounts or added to his accounts. Let’s consider the evidence. In the main, the Gospel of John agrees substantially with the other gospel accounts. Notice…
Where all four Gospels record the same facts:
- Jesus and the disciples departed from the city for a location on the West side of the Mount of Olives.
- Judas arrived with a crowd to take Jesus into custody.
- Jesus was examined by the High Priest.
- Jesus was examined by the Roman Pontius Pilate.
- Pilate inferred Jesus’ innocence and offered the release of one of his prisoners.
- The crowd called for Barabbas’ release rather than Jesus.
- Pilate gave the order for Jesus’ crucifixion.
- Jesus was crucified with two men.
- The soldiers divided Jesus’ clothing.
- Jesus was offered wine.
- Jesus died.
- Joseph of Arimathea requested the body of Jesus.
But it is fair to say that there were some differences that are significant. This is where the liberal scholars who want to assert that John merely copied from existing sources but evidently his abilities were lacking! Notice…
Details omitted by John:
- Judas’ betrayal with a kiss.
- Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane.
- The sleepiness of the disciples.
- The healing of the servant’s ear.
- The role of Simon of Cyrene.
- The mocking of the crowds.
- Jesus’ cry from the cross.
Why would John not mention these facts? Perhaps it was because they had already been sufficiently established by the other writers and these facts had been known for over 25 years. Perhaps it was because John was intentionally taking the story a different direction in order to address the lingering questions that were pervasive in the church. How did John refocus the story? Notice…
Details added by John:
- Roman soldiers falling to the ground in the arrest scene when Jesus identified himself.
- Jesus’ conversation with Annas.
- Jesus’ conversation with Pilate.
- John’s emphasis on the inscription on the cross.
- A full description of Jesus’ garments.
- Mary given to the beloved disciple at the cross.
- Jesus’ body threatened with the breaking of legs.
- Jesus pierced with a soldier’s lance.
- Nicodemus’s joining Joseph at Jesus’ burial.
The Apostle John wrote from a very unique perspective. He had been a companion of our Lord’s from the earliest days and had witnessed all Jesus’ earthly ministry. He truly knew Jesus! Also, he knew that those who would eventually read his gospel account would have already read the accounts published over 25 years before his gospel. There was much that he didn’t need to reproduce for his readers. But there was something he needed to accomplish. He needed to defeat the inroad of the Gnostics and he needed to answer some burning questions that would not go away. Why did Jesus have to die? How did he die? What happened after he died?
Why Did Jesus Have To Die?
- Because the human leaders had run out of options.
- The Jewish religious leaders were out of options.
- The Jewish people were servants to Rome. There was no Jewish nation. They had no independent standing. They had to function as best they could within the confines established by the iron fisted Roman government. They were allowed to practice their religion but only partially. They certainly did not have autonomy.
- One primary factor in this whole Passion narrative was the fact that the Jews did not have authority to execute anyone. Did Jewish law demand death for the sin of blasphemy? Yes. Leviticus 24:16 demanded the death penalty for the sin of blasphemy. We could debate the meaning of blasphemy. Some, including the leaders in Jesus’ day, understood the sin of blasphemy to be a broad sin that included any misrepresentation of their God. There are many Jewish scholars, however, who hold that the sin of blasphemy in the Old Testament law was only a theoretical sin. Their definition stipulated that blasphemy occurred when someone described God as cursing God. Since that could never happen those scholars held that there was no real threat of death penalty. But certainly, the Jews of Jesus’ day understood any misrepresentation of God as being blasphemy, and that it was definitely punishable by death.
- Yet, convinced as they were that Jesus was guilty of blasphemy, and deserved to die, their hands were tied. They were not allowed to execute and so they were dependent on Rome to do the dirty work for them. The questioning of Jesus by Annas and Caiaphas was meaningless. Their attempts to get Jesus to incriminate himself failed. They had hit a dead end and were out of options.
- Pontius Pilate was out of options.
- Clearly, Pilate was in an unenviable position. He was merely a political figurehead. His primary job was to keep the peace in the troublesome Israel community. And it was a difficult job. He also had a close relationship with Caiaphas, the Roman appointed Jewish High Priest. They would eventually serve together for over 10 years.
- Additionally, Pilate was very nervous about having any dealings with Jesus. His wife had warned him to steer clear of the Jesus situation and his political radar was screaming at him that this was a very bad situation. He desperately wanted to find a way to release Jesus. The problem was, the demands of the Jews wouldn’t abate. It was becoming clear that they were on the verge of a mob scene. Pilate’s options were running out. To make matters even worse, it seemed that the heart of their accusation against Jesus had to do with his kingdom and anything related to king language was definitely dangerous ground in Rome.
- The accusations of the Jews finally reached a critical stage when they declared, “If you do not crucify Jesus then you are no friend of Caesar.” They were accusing Pilate of treason! Again, the culture in ancient Rome was very unforgiving. All one had to do was be accused of treason against Rome and their life was over. When the Jewish leaders claimed, “We have no king but Caesar” and when they stirred up the people to shout, “You are no friend to Caesar” it was over. Pilate was totally out of options. He officially sanctioned Jesus’ crucifixion.
- We can see the hand of God in these developments.
- These events leave us stunned. How could things have gotten so out of control? Why wasn’t Pilate able to get Jesus released? But something tugs at the corners of our minds. There must be a reason for this. God must be doing something we would never expect.
- And that is exactly the case. We begin to sense the hand of God in these developments. Let’s take some time to consider.
- Because it was the will of the Father to sacrifice him for our sins.
- God’s sovereign will on display
- In his final exchange with Pilate our Lord made a very important statement. Pilate, nervous and confused by all that the Jewish leaders were saying, came back into the hall to question Jesus further but Jesus refused to talk. Pilate was enraged. “You won’t answer me? Don’t you realize I have the power to condemn you?” But in 19:11 Jesus quietly explained that Pilate had no authority except what had been given him by God.
- This explanation by Jesus directs us to see the crucifixion in a correct way. Jesus did not die because of a bunch of rebellious and wicked Jews. There is no place to condone anti-Semitism. Neither did Jesus die because of the sinfulness of the Roman government. Jesus died because it was the will of the Father. In the great Old Testament prophecy concerning the future Messiah’s death we read Isaiah, the prophet, declaring, “It was the will of the Lord to crush him.” (Isaiah 53:10)
- Why did Jesus have to die? Because it was God’s will. It was God’s plan. We’ve all heard it said or sung, “It was my sin that nailed him on that tree.” Actually, that’s not true. It was the Father’s will that nailed him to that tree. Jesus died because it was God’s will. The events leading up to the crucifixion, including the interchange with Pilate, were all designed to remind us that God’s was sovereign over Jesus’ death. The death of Jesus on the cross was a God thing, not a man thing!
- God’s glory on display
- Throughout our study of John’s Story we witnessed Jesus repeatedly saying, “My hour has not yet come.” But beginning with chapter 12 we saw a change. Jesus began declaring that his hour had come. God’s great plan for our redemption was at hand. The message of the cross is not a message of injustice and tragedy but rather a message of success. God’s timing was perfect. Jesus’ death was right on schedule. And it all led to the glorification of the Son by the Father.
- When we read the crucifixion story we are privileged to see God in all of his glory. His plan from eternity past. His will so that we might be saved. His love that compelled him to sacrifice his Son. These are all things on display when we read the crucifixion. It was more than just something he was passionate about. It was his passion. It was his joy. It was his glory.
Conclusion: Nearly 50 years after the death of Jesus on the cross, the questions continued to be asked. Especially the burning question, “Why did Jesus have to die?” Wasn’t his death a terrible injustice? Shouldn’t the Jews be blamed for his death? Shouldn’t Rome bear blame? But John’s answer was very simple. What happened on the cross and the events leading up to it, although gruesome and grossly unfair from a human viewpoint, was actually the beginning of the display of his glory. And that wonderful display is still being revealed today through Christ’s followers. The death of Jesus was not the low point of John’s Story but the beginning of the great and joyous climax of the story. And we are here today to celebrate that story. It was His Story. It has become our story!