Category Archives: Easter

Issue 298 – The Resurrection of Jesus

Issue 298    —    The Paregien Journal    —    January March 31, 2015

The Resurrection of Jesus

by Stan Paregien Sr.

You may be among the large number of busy folks who have never really made a serious study regarding the evidences (or lack thereof) for the reality of the resurrection of Jesus. You may be from a passively religious family or even from an anti-religious family. Or maybe you just never thought too much about it. You’re certainly not alone.

However, I sincerely invite you to read the following article for William Lane Craig, a university professor and scholar who does a pretty darned good job of explaining why most Christians really do believe in the resurrection of Jesus and that it has made a wonderful difference in their lives.

The Resurrection of Jesus

by William Lane Craig

I spoke recently at a major Canadian university on the existence of God. After my talk, one slightly irate co-ed wrote on her comment card, “I was with you until you got to the stuff about Jesus. God is not the Christian God!”

This attitude is all too typical today. Most people are happy to agree that God exists; but in our pluralistic society it has become politically incorrect to claim that God has revealed Himself decisively in Jesus. What justification can Christians offer, in contrast to Hindus, Jews, and Muslims, for thinking that the Christian God is real?

The answer of the New Testament is: the resurrection of Jesus. “God will judge the world with justice by the man He has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17.31). The resurrection is God’s vindication of Jesus’ radical personal claims to divine authority.

Resurrection of Jesus -- 16 - Luke 24 v02-03

So how do we know that Jesus is risen from the dead? The Easter hymnwriter says, “You ask me how I know he lives? He lives within my heart!” This answer is perfectly appropriate on an individual level. But when Christians engage unbelievers in the public square—such as in “Letters to the Editor” of a local newspaper, on call-in programs on talk-radio, at PTA meetings, or even just in conversation with co-workers—, then it’s crucial that we be able to present objective evidence in support of our beliefs. Otherwise our claims hold no more water than the assertions of anyone else claiming to have a private experience of God.

Fortunately, Christianity, as a religion rooted in history, makes claims that can in important measure be investigated historically. Suppose, then, that we approach the New Testament writings, not as inspired Scripture, but merely as a collection of Greek documents coming down to us out of the first century, without any assumption as to their reliability other than the way we normally regard other sources of ancient history. We may be surprised to learn that the majority of New Testament critics investigating the gospels in this way accept the central facts undergirding the resurrection of Jesus. I want to emphasize that I am not talking about evangelical or conservative scholars only, but about the broad spectrum of New Testament critics who teach at secular universities and non-evangelical seminaries. Amazing as it may seem, most of them have come to regard as historical the basic facts which support the resurrection of Jesus. These facts are as follows:

FACT #1: After his crucifixion, Jesus was buried in a tomb by Joseph of Arimathea. 

This fact is highly significant because it means, contrary to radical critics like John Dominic Crossan of the Jesus Seminar, that the location of Jesus’ burial site was known to Jew and Christian alike. In that case, the disciples could never have proclaimed his resurrection in Jerusalem if the tomb had not been empty. New Testament researchers have established this first fact on the basis of evidence such as the following:

1.  Jesus’ burial is attested in the very old tradition quoted by Paul in I Cor. 15.3-5:

“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: . . . that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve.”

Paul not only uses the typical rabbinical terms “received” and “delivered” with regard to the information he is passing on to the Corinthians, but vv. 3-5 are a highly stylized four-line formula filled with non-Pauline characteristics. This has convinced all scholars that Paul is, as he says, quoting from an old tradition which he himself received after becoming a Christian. This tradition probably goes back at least to Paul’s fact-finding visit to Jerusalem around AD 36, when he spent two weeks with Cephas and James (Gal. 1.18). It thus dates to within five years after Jesus’ death. So short a time span and such personal contact make it idle to talk of legend in this case.

Placement of Jesus in the tomb -- 07

  1. The burial story is part of very old source material used by Mark in writing his gospel. The gospels tend to consist of brief snapshots of Jesus’ life which are loosely connected and not always chronologically arranged. But when we come to the passion story we do have one, smooth, continuously-running narrative. This suggests that the passion story was one of Mark’s sources of information in writing his gospel. Now most scholars think Mark is already the earliest gospel, and Mark’s source for Jesus’ passion is, of course, even older. Comparison of the narratives of the four gospels shows that their accounts do not diverge from one another until after the burial. This implies that the burial account was part of the passion story. Again, its great age militates against its being legendary.
  1. As a member of the Jewish court that condemned Jesus, Joseph of Arimathea is unlikely to be a Christian invention. There was strong resentment against the Jewish leadership for their role in the condemnation of Jesus (I Thess. 2.15). It is therefore highly improbable that Christians would invent a member of the court that condemned Jesus who honors Jesus by giving him a proper burial instead of allowing him to be dispatched as a common criminal.
  2. No other competing burial story exists. If the burial by Joseph were fictitious, then we would expect to find either some historical trace of what actually happened to Jesus’ corpse or at least some competing legends. But all our sources are unanimous on Jesus’ honorable interment by Joseph.

For these and other reasons, the majority of New Testament critics concur that Jesus was buried in a tomb by Joseph of Arimathea. According to the late John A. T. Robinson of Cambridge University, the burial of Jesus in the tomb is “one of the earliest and best-attested facts about Jesus.”1

FACT #2: On the Sunday following the crucifixion, Jesus’ tomb was found empty by a group of his women followers.

Resurrection of Jesus -- 12

Among the reasons which have led most scholars to this conclusion are the following:

  1. The empty tomb story is also part of the old passion source used by Mark. The passion source used by Mark did not end in death and defeat, but with the empty tomb story, which is grammatically of one piece with the burial story.
  2. The old tradition cited by Paul in I Cor. 15.3-5implies the fact of the empty tomb. For any first century Jew, to say that of a dead man “that he was buried and that he was raised” is to imply that a vacant grave was left behind. Moreover, the expression “on the third day” probably derives from the women’s visit to the tomb on the third day, in Jewish reckoning, after the crucifixion. The four-line tradition cited by Paul summarizes both the gospel accounts and the early apostolic preaching (Acts 13. 28-31); significantly, the third line of the tradition corresponds to the empty tomb story.
  3. The story is simple and lacks signs of legendary embellishment. All one has to do to appreciate this point is to compare Mark’s account with the wild legendary stories found in the second-century apocryphal gospels, in which Jesus is seen coming out of the tomb with his head reaching up above the clouds and followed by a talking cross!
  4. The fact that women’s testimony was discounted in first century Palestine stands in favor of the women’s role in discovering the empty tomb. According to Josephus, the testimony of women was regarded as so worthless that it could not even be admitted into a Jewish court of law. Any later legendary story would certainly have made male disciples discover the empty tomb.
  5. The earliest Jewish allegation that the disciples had stolen Jesus’ body (Matt. 28.15) shows that the body was in fact missing from the tomb. The earliest Jewish response to the disciples’ proclamation, “He is risen from the dead!” was not to point to his occupied tomb and to laugh them off as fanatics, but to claim that they had taken away Jesus’ body. Thus, we have evidence of the empty tomb from the very opponents of the early Christians.

One could go on, but I think that enough has been said to indicate why, in the words of Jacob Kremer, an Austrian specialist in the resurrection, “By far most exegetes hold firmly to the reliability of the biblical statements concerning the empty tomb.”2

FACT #3: On multiple occasions and under various circumstances, different individuals and groups of people experienced appearances of Jesus alive from the dead.

This is a fact which is almost universally acknowledged among New Testament scholars, for the following reasons:

  1. The list of eyewitnesses to Jesus’ resurrection appearances which is quoted by Paul in I Cor. 15. 5-7guarantees that such appearances occurred. These included appearances to Peter (Cephas), the Twelve, the 500 brethren, and James.
  2. The appearance traditions in the gospels provide multiple, independent attestation of these appearances. This is one of the most important marks of historicity. The appearance to Peter is independently attested by Luke, and the appearance to the Twelve by Luke and John. We also have independent witness to Galilean appearances in Mark, Matthew, and John, as well as to the women in Matthew and John.
  3. Certain appearances have earmarks of historicity. For example, we have good evidence from the gospels that neither James nor any of Jesus’ younger brothers believed in him during his lifetime. There is no reason to think that the early church would generate fictitious stories concerning the unbelief of Jesus’ family had they been faithful followers all along. But it is indisputable that James and his brothers did become active Christian believers following Jesus’ death. James was considered an apostle and eventually rose to the position of leadership of the Jerusalem church. According to the first century Jewish historian Josephus, James was martyred for his faith in Christ in the late AD 60s. Now most of us have brothers. What would it take to convince you that your brother is the Lord, such that you would be ready to die for that belief? Can there be any doubt that this remarkable transformation in Jesus’ younger brother took place because, in Paul’s words, “then he appeared to James”?

Even Gert L¸demann, the leading German critic of the resurrection, himself admits, “It may be taken as historically certain that Peter and the disciples had experiences after Jesus’ death in which Jesus appeared to them as the risen Christ.”3

FACT #4: The original disciples believed that Jesus was risen from the dead despite their having every predisposition to the contrary.

Think of the situation the disciples faced after Jesus’ crucifixion:

  1. Their leader was dead. And Jews had no belief in a dying, much less rising, Messiah. The Messiah was supposed to throw off Israel’s enemies (= Rome) and re-establish a Davidic reign—not suffer the ignominious death of criminal.
  2. According to Jewish law, Jesus’ execution as a criminal showed him out to be a heretic, a man literally under the curse of God (Deut. 21.23). The catastrophe of the crucifixion for the disciples was not simply that their Master was gone, but that the crucifixion showed, in effect, that the Pharisees had been right all along, that for three years they had been following a heretic, a man accursed by God!
  3. Jewish beliefs about the afterlife precluded anyone’s rising from the dead to glory and immortality before the general resurrection at the end of the world. All the disciples could do was to preserve their Master’s tomb as a shrine where his bones could reside until that day when all of Israel’s righteous dead would be raised by God to glory.

Despite all this, the original disciples believed in and were willing to go to their deaths for the fact of Jesus’ resurrection. Luke Johnson, a New Testament scholar from Emory University, muses, “some sort of powerful, transformative experience is required to generate the sort of movement earliest Christianity was . . . .”4 N. T. Wright, an eminent British scholar, concludes, “that is why, as a historian, I cannot explain the rise of early Christianity unless Jesus rose again, leaving an empty tomb behind him.”5

Summary

In summary, there are four facts agreed upon by the majority of scholars who have written on these subjects which any adequate historical hypothesis must account for: Jesus’ entombment by Joseph of Arimathea, the discovery of his empty tomb, his post-mortem appearances, and the origin of the disciples’ belief in his resurrection.

Now the question is: what is the best explanation of these four facts? Most sholars probably remain agnostic about this question. But the Christian can maintain that the hypothesis that best explains these facts is “God raised Jesus from the dead.”

In his book Justifying Historical Descriptions, historian C. B. McCullagh lists six tests which historians use in determining what is the best explanation for given historical facts.6 The hypothesis “God raised Jesus from the dead” passes all these tests:

  1. It has great explanatory scope: it explains why the tomb was found empty, why the disciples saw post-mortem appearances of Jesus, and why the Christian faith came into being.
  1. It has great explanatory power: it explains why the body of Jesus was gone, why people repeatedly saw Jesus alive despite his earlier public execution, and so forth.
  1. It is plausible: given the historical context of Jesus’ own unparalleled life and claims, the resurrection serves as divine confirmation of those radical claims.
  1. It is not ad hocorcontrived: it requires only one additional hypothesis: that God exists. And even that needn’t be an additional hypothesis if one already believes that God exists.
  1. It isin accord with accepted beliefs. The hypothesis: “God raised Jesus from the dead” doesn’t in any way conflict with the accepted belief that people don’t rise naturally from the dead. The Christian accepts thatbelief as wholeheartedly as he accepts the hypothesis that God raised Jesus from the dead.
  1. It far outstrips any of its rival hypotheses in meeting conditions (1)-(5).Down through history various alternative explanations of the facts have been offered, for example, the conspiracy hypothesis, the apparent death hypothesis, the hallucination hypothesis, and so forth. Such hypotheses have been almost universally rejected by contemporary scholarship. None of these naturalistic hypotheses succeeds in meeting the conditions as well as the resurrection hypothesis.

Now this puts the sceptical critic in a rather desperate situation. A few years ago I participated in a debate on the resurrection of Jesus with a professor at the University of California, Irvine. He had written his doctoral dissertation on the resurrection, and he was thoroughly familiar with the evidence. He could not deny the facts of Jesus’ honorable burial, empty tomb, post-mortem appearances, and the origin of the disciples’ belief in the resurrection. So his only recourse was to come up with some alternate explanation of those facts. And so he argued that Jesus of Nazareth had an unknown, identical twin brother, who was separated from him as an infant and grew up independently, but who came back to Jerusalem at the time of the crucifixion, stole Jesus’ body out of the tomb, and presented himself to the disciples, who mistakenly inferred that Jesus was risen from the dead! Now I won’t bother to go into how I went about refuting this theory. But I think the example is illustrative of the desperate lengths to which scepticism must go in order to refute the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. Indeed, the evidence is so powerful that one of the world’s leading Jewish theologians, the late Pinchas Lapide, who taught at Hebrew University in Israel, declared himself convinced on the basis of the evidence that the God of Israel raised Jesus of Nazareth from the dead!7

The significance of the resurrection of Jesus lies in the fact that it is not just any old Joe Blow who has been raised from the dead, but Jesus of Nazareth, whose crucifixion was instigated by the Jewish leadership because of his blasphemous claims to divine authority. If this man has been raised from the dead, then the God whom he allegedly blasphemed has clearly vindicated his claims. Thus, in an age of religious relativism and pluralism, the resurrection of Jesus constitutes a solid rock on which Christians can take their stand for God’s decisive self-revelation in Jesus.

 Notes

1 John A. T. Robinson, The Human Face of God (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1973), p. 131.

2 Jacob Kremer, Die Osterevangelien—Geschichten um Geschichte (Stuttgart: Katholisches Bibelwerk, 1977), pp. 49-50.

3 Gerd L¸demann, What Really Happened to Jesus?, trans. John Bowden (Louisville, Kent.: Westminster John Knox Press, 1995), p. 80.

4 Luke Timothy Johnson, The Real Jesus (San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 1996), p. 136.

5 N. T. Wright, “The New Unimproved Jesus,” Christianity Today (September 13, 1993), p. 26.

6 C. Behan McCullagh, Justifying Historical Descriptions (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984), p. 19.

7 Pinchas Lapide, The Resurrection of Jesus, trans. Wilhelm C. Linss (London: SPCK, 1983).

Read more: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/the-resurrection-of-jesus#ixzz3Vv63kuXw  [as of March 30, 2015]

 ***********************************************

William Lane Craig is Research Professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology and Professor of Philosophy at Houston Baptist University. His web site is titled, “Reasonable Faith,” and the address is at the end of the above article.

At the age of sixteen as a junior in high school, he first heard the message of the Christian gospel and yielded his life to Christ. Dr. Craig pursued his undergraduate studies at Wheaton College (B.A. 1971) and graduate studies at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (M.A. 1974; M.A. 1975), the University of Birmingham (England) (Ph.D. 1977), and the University of Munich (Germany) (D.Theol. 1984). From 1980-86 he taught Philosophy of Religion at Trinity, during which time he and Jan started their family. In 1987 they moved to Brussels, Belgium, where Dr. Craig pursued research at the University of Louvain until assuming his position at Talbot in 1994.

He has authored or edited over thirty books, including The Kalam Cosmological ArgumentAssessing the New Testament Evidence for the Historicity of the Resurrection of JesusDivine Foreknowledge and Human FreedomTheism, Atheism and Big Bang Cosmology; and God, Time and Eternity, as well as over a hundred articles in professional journals of philosophy and theology, including The Journal of PhilosophyNew Testament StudiesJournal for the Study of the New TestamentAmerican Philosophical QuarterlyPhilosophical StudiesPhilosophy, and British Journal for Philosophy of Science.
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Issue 297 – The Day Jesus Died

Issue 297    —    The Paregien Journal    —    March 25, 2015

The Day Jesus Died

by Stan Paregien Sr.

1968-001 Cover of The Day Jesus Died

Franklin D. Roosevelt denounced the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese, calling that moment in his­tory “a day of infamy.” I was much too young to recall the wave of terror and outrage which swept our nation when the news of the attack shattered an otherwise peaceful Sunday afternoon, but the films and historical accounts of the slaughter have sent chills down my spine.

However, as tragic as was December 7, 1941, it cannot begin to compare with the day that my Savior died.

 That Awful Day

 The day began calmly and quietly; there was no indica­tion that this day would be much different from any other. Jesus and his disciples were gathered in a small second- story room where they had gone to observe the Passover Feast. The observance of this Jewish holy day was nearly finished. The disciples were somewhat perplexed over the manner in which Jesus presided at the memorial, for he indicated to them that certain portions of the Passover Feast would take on greater meaning in the near future. But their theorizing was temporarily discontinued as they joined together in the singing of a hymn or psalm, a custom which marked the end of the Paschal Supper.

One by one they made their way downstairs to the nar­row street. The fine meal and the lateness of the hour had combined to make them drowsy, but the chill of the Pales­tinian night air quickly revived them. The streets were streaked with rays of light which es­caped from the doorways, but few people stirred. Only an occasional bark of a dog some distance away challenged the stillness. Slowly the dedicated group made its way along the winding streets, through the great Wall, and down the sharp slope of the hill.

At the bottom of the hill the group paused and then walked across the tiny brook named Kedron. “There a symbolic thing must have happened. All the Passover lambs were killed in the Temple, and the blood of the lambs was poured on the altar as an offer­ing to God. The number of lambs which were slain for the Passover was immense. . . . We may imagine what the Temple courts were like when the blood of all these lambs was dashed down on to the altar. From the altar there was a channel down to the brook Kedron, and through that channel the blood of the Passover lambs drained away. When Jesus crossed the brook Kedron it would still be red with the blood of the lambs which had been sacrificed. And surely as he did so, the thought of Jesus’ own sacrifice would be vivid in his mind (William Barclay, The Gospel of John, II, 259).

In a few moments the party reached its destination: the Garden of Gethsemane, a peaceful spot where Jesus had often come before.

Sensing that their journey had ended, the disciples be­gan seating themselves, some even reclining. But the Mas­ter had other plans for his closest disciples, Peter, James and John. It was this trio which had stood by Jesus when he preached in Capernaum (Mark 1:21-29), when he raised the ruler’s daughter (Mark 5), and when he was transfig­ured (Gospel of Mark 9:2-8). He needed them again, perhaps as he never had before.

Calling them aside, Jesus said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” One account continues the story this way: “And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, ‘My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.’ And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, ‘So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.’ Again for the second time, he went away and prayed, ‘My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, Your will be done. And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy” (Gospel of Matthew 26:39-43).

Not even the chill of the morning breeze could ward off the drowsiness which now overwhelmed the men. But no matter, the Master’s duty was clear; his mind was made up. Resolutely, he awaited the inevitable intrusion of the tranquil scene before him.

He didn’t have long to wait. Earlier in the evening Judas left the upper room to solidify his compact with the authorities, and to personally lead them to their prey. For “Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place; for Jesus often met there with his disciples. So Judas, procuring a band of soldiers and some officers from the chief priests and Pharisees, went there with lanterns and torches and weapons. Then Jesus, knowing all that was to befall him, came forward and said to them, ‘Whom do you seek?’ They answered him, ‘Jesus of Nazareth.’ Jesus said to them, ‘I am he.’ Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them. When he said to them, I am he, they drew back and fell on the ground. Again he asked them, ‘Whom do you seek?’ And they said, ‘Jesus of Nazareth.’ Jesus answered, ‘I told you that I am he; so, if you seek me, let these men go.’ This was to fulfill the word which he had spoken, ‘Of those whom You gave me I lost not one.’ Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s slave and cut off his right ear. The slave’s name was Malchus. Jesus said to Peter, ‘Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup which the Father has given me?’ So the band of soldiers and their captain and the officers of the Jews seized Jesus and bound him” (John 18: 2-12).

“The final absurdity in the arrest of Jesus was the binding of our Lord with ropes they had brought along. A monument to the stupidity of mob action is this ridiculous act. Nothing could have been more obvious than that Jesus had no intention of attempt­ing escape. He did not walk to the cross because ropes bound his hands and feet. He went there be­cause “God so loved the world.” He went because the work of the devil had to be undone. He went because he wept for the sins which separated man from God. The ropes could not have held him any more than a stone at the mouth of a tomb, or grave clothes … or death itself” (Roy F. Osborne, Great Preachers of To­day: Sermons of Roy F. Osborne. J. D. Thomas, ed., p. 79).

The tempo increases now, like a wide and quiet river which downstream becomes a cascading, rushing torrent as it enters a narrow canyon.

The Trial before Annas,

The Jewish Leader

The scenes flash across the screen with breathtaking speed.

There is the inquisition at the hands of Annas. From a legal standpoint, there was no reason for the soldiers to bring Jesus before this man. But the niceties of judicial procedure were to be of only minor interest in this diaboli­cal plot. Annas was almost ecstatic over the capture of this young rebel who had made such a nuisance of himself. Having been the chief beneficiary from the sale of animals in the temple, Annas had wanted to get his hands on Jesus ever since he had driven the animal sellers and money changers from the temple. Even though Annas had not held the official office of high priest since A.D. 15, he was nevertheless the real power behind his puppet-high priest (and son-in-law), Caiaphas.

The interrogation was brief and to the point. Jesus was questioned “about his disciples and his teaching. Jesus answered, ‘I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all Jews come together; I have said nothing secretly. Why do you ask me? Ask those who have heard me, what I said to them; they know what I said.’ When he had said this, one of the officers standing by struck Jesus with his hand, saying, ‘Is that how you answer the high priest?’ Jesus answered him, ‘If I have spoken wrongly, bear witness to the wrong; but if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?’ Annas then sent him bound to Caiaphas the high priest” (Gospel of John 18:19-24).

At this juncture, we must retrace our steps and bring the lives of two other men into focus: Judas and Peter.

Judas

The name Judas is the Greek form of the Hebrew name Judah, a name which obviously was associated with great persons, events and places in the history of the Jews. But a scant few years after Judas Iscariot’s actions in the Gar­den of Gethsemane, parents no longer named their sons “Judas.” The name became a synonym for a person with no ethics; it still brings to mind the idea of dishonesty and treachery.

Exactly what his reason was for betraying Christ is not clear. Perhaps he was sulking under the stinging rebuke which Jesus administered at the supper in the house of Simon the leper (Gospel of Matthew 26:6-16). Perhaps he simply in­tended to force Jesus into a position of militancy toward the Romans and the Jewish establishment, a desire shared by the rest of the disciples. Perhaps he had simply fallen victim to the love of money, for John reveals many years later that Judas had decided quite early that his job as treasurer of the disciples entitled him to a few extra fringe benefits (John 12:6). Whatever the reason or rea­sons, Judas deliberately and methodically carried out his plan.

The irony of his sordid act was that instead of bringing any degree of satisfaction, it brought shame, guilt and bitterness. “When Judas . . . saw that he was condemned, he repented and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, saying, ‘I have sinned in betraying innocent blood. They said, ‘What is that to us? See to it yourself. And throwing down the pieces of silver in the temple, he departed; and he went and hanged himself” (Gospel of Matthew 27:3-5).

Peter

 Then there was Peter. If ever a man lived who had to be where the action was, it was this fisherman from Galilee. Other than his persistent and peculiar knack of placing his feet squarely in his mouth, there was nothing about him to suggest that he would ever get far away from being an average disciple. But he was destined to soar to great spiritual heights, as well as to plummet to the bottom of the barrel.

Peter’s problems were many, but one of his greatest was his unwarranted confidence in himself. Fishermen, like farmers, are hardy, tough-minded, independent individuals. Therefore, one of the difficult adjustments which Peter faced was in learning that there is a spot in the continuum of life where enlightened self-confidence becomes arrogant self-assertiveness.

There in the upper room Jesus warned the eleven that they would all fall away from him that very night. In his characteristically impulsive manner, “Peter declared to him, ‘Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Truly, I say to you, this very night, before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.’ Peter said to him, ‘Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you'” (Gospel of Matthew 26:33-35). Peter’s affirmation reflects not a spirit of bravado, but a kind of leap-before-you-look impetuousness.

Two trials took place when Jesus was brought to the high priest, Caiaphas. One involved Jesus, the other Peter. Per­plexed by his Master’s refusal to be defended by the sword, Peter found himself following the crowd of soldiers from a safe distance. Periodically he caught a glimpse of Jesus in the sea of unfamiliar and unfriendly faces. He watched from the shadows as the guards led Jesus into the house of Caiaphas.

Not knowing what to do or where to go, and perhaps hoping against hope that Jesus would be released, Peter de­cided to wait below in the courtyard. Some of the guards had built a coal fire, so Peter sat down beside them. He stared motionlessly into the dancing flames.

And then it happened. His face, illumined by the light from the fire, drew the attention of one of the high priest’s maids. “She looked at him, and said, ‘You also were with the Nazarene, Jesus.’ But he denied it, saying, ‘I neither know nor under­stand what you mean.’ And he went out into the gateway. And the maid saw him, and began again to say to the by­standers, ‘This man is one of them.’ But again he denied it. And after a little while again the bystanders said to Peter, ‘Certainly you are one of them; for you are a Gali­lean.’ But he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, ‘I do not know this man of whom you speak.’ And immediately the cock crowed a second time. And Peter remembered how Jesus had said to him, ‘Before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.’ And he broke down and wept” (Gospel of Mark 14:67-72).

Inside the house the Jewish leaders were carrying out their plot with meticulous precision. “The chief priests and the whole council sought testimony against Jesus to put him to death, but they found none. For many bore false witness against him, and their witness did not agree. And some stood up and bore false witness against him, saying, ‘We heard him say, “I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.”‘ Yet not even so did their testimony agree. And the high priest stood up in the midst, and asked Jesus, ‘Have you no answer to make? What is it that these “men testify against you?’ But he was silent and made no answer. Again the high priest asked him, ‘Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?’ And Jesus said, ‘I am; and you will see the Son of man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.’ And the high priest tore his mantle, and said, ‘Why do we still need witnesses? You have heard his blasphemy. What is your decision?’ And they all condemned him as deserving death. And some began to spit on him, and to cover his face, and to strike him, saying to him, ‘Prophesy!’ And the guards received him with blows” (Gospel of Mark 14:55-65).

The Trial before Pilate,

The Roman Governor

“And as soon as it was morning the chief priests, with the elders and scribes, and the whole council held at con­sultation; and they bound Jesus and led him away and delivered him to Pilate” (Gospel of Mark 15:1).

Interestingly, John tells us that these men who conspired to destroy a good man were still so “pious” that they would not enter Pilate’s palace for fear that they would be cere­monially defiled (Gospel of John 18:28). They avoided “incurring a defilement which, lasting till the evening, would not only have involved them in the inconvenience of Levitical defile­ment on the first festive day, but have actually prevented their offering on that day the Passover, festive sacrifice, or Chagigah” (Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, II, 568).

Pilate understood their cus­tom, so he stepped outside to find out what all the shouting was about. Pilate’s patience with the Jews was understandable. He had been sent to Judea just a few years earlier to bring peace to this troublesome Roman territory, but he had failed miserably. The arrogant policies which he first adopted had in fact caused several riots. The emperor ex­pected his orders to be obeyed. So Pilate recently had be­gun shifting his tactics with the Jews from a show-of-power to a policy of appeasement, hoping they would co­operate with him.

He listened to their charges and said, “Take him your­selves and judge him by your own law.” But he knew, and they quickly reminded him, that under Roman law they were unable to carry out capital punishment. The death decree had to come from the Roman governor.

The Trial before Herod,

Governor of Galilee

Pilate tried to get off the hook again. Upon hearing that Jesus was from Galilee he decided to send the fellow over to Herod. “Let him handle this hot potato,” Pilate reasoned. “When Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad, for he had long desired to see him, because he had heard about him, and he was hoping to see some sign done by him. So he questioned him at some length; but he made no an­swer. The chief priests and the scribes stood by, vehe­mently accusing him. And Herod with his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him; then, arraying him in glorious apparel, he sent him back to Pilate. And Herod and Pilate became friends with each other that very day, for before this they had been at enmity with each other” (Gospel of Luke 23:8-12).

Back to Pilate

Then Pilate had a brainstorm. “Why I almost forgot what day this is—I’ve got a way out of this mess after all,” he thought with a sigh of relief. He began to implement his plan: “He went out to the Jews again, and told them, ‘I find no crime in him. But you have a custom that I should release one man for you at the Passover; will you have me release for you the King of the Jews?’ They cried out again, ‘Not this man, but Barabbas!’ Now Barabbas was a robber” (Gospel of John 18:38-40).

Pilate’s bag of tricks was almost empty but he didn’t give up easily. He thought awhile and decided that the fickle Jewish leaders would probably be satisfied with see­ing the man from Nazareth beaten within an inch of his life. After all, everyone knew how vicious Roman punishment was. No man was ever the same after a Roman soldier had cut his back to pieces with a whip which had sharpened bits of metal and bone embedded in the leather strands. “No reason to kill him if we can help it,” he mur­mured to himself.

“Then Pilate took Jesus and scourged him. And the soldiers plaited a crown of thorns, and put it on his head, and arrayed him in a purple robe; they came up to him saying, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ and struck him with their hands. Pilate went out again, and said to them, ‘Behold, I am bringing him out to you, that you may know that I find no crime in him.’ So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, ‘Here is the man!’ When the chief priests and the officers saw him, they cried out, ‘Crucify him, crucify him!’ Pilate said to them, ‘Take him yourselves and crucify him, for I find no crime in him.’ The Jews answered him, ‘We have a law, and by the law he ought to die, because he has made him­self the Son of God.’ When Pilate heard these words, he was the more afraid; he entered the praetorium again and said to Jesus, ‘Where are you from?’ But Jesus gave no answer. Pilate therefore said to him, ‘You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?’ Jesus answered him, ‘You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above; therefore he who delivered me to you has the greater sin’ ” (Gospel of John 19:1-11).

The hardened Roman governor was visibly shaken by his conversation with Jesus. “What kind of a nightmare is this? Can this be for real? Why won’t he defend him­self? Is he … is he just a man?” Pilate wondered and worried. Once again “Pilate sought to release him, but the Jews cried out, ‘If you release this man, you are not Caesar’s friend; everyone who makes himself a king sets himself against Caesar.’ When Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judgment seat at a place called The Pavement, and in Hebrew, Gabbatha. Now it was the day of Preparation of the Passover; it was about the sixth hour. He said to the Jews, ‘Here is your King!’ They cried out, ‘Away with him, away with him, crucify him!’ Pilate said to them, ‘Shall I crucify your King?’ The chief priests answered, ‘We have no king but Caesar” (Gospel of John 19:12-15).

Pilate could hardly believe his ears. Ever since the Ro­man occupation of Judea, they had demanded—to no avail —that the Jews acknowledge Caesar as their king. But since the Romans considered their emperor to be a god, the Jews refused to acknowledge him as their king on the grounds that they would be committing idolatry. “How strong their burning hatred of Jesus must be to drive them to such inconsistency,” the governor reasoned.

Still seeking an escape from any blame for this act, and realizing that the Jews were adamant in their unholy desire, Pilate “took water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, ‘I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it your­selves’ ” (Matt. 27:24). And he sent Jesus to be executed. But the guilt for this crime could not be dismissed so light­ly. It may have been a guilt-ridden conscience which many years later caused Pilate to commit suicide.

The Place Called Golgotha

 Jesus was silent as the death march began. His bleeding back was so painful that every step brought a groan to his throat. And it was on this crimson-stained back that a rough, heavy cross was placed. The pathetic procession made its way through the narrow, winding streets. The multitudes filled the side streets and the doorways. Some of the bystanders jeered and laughed at this young rebel. Others, both men and women, wept freely. Most of the crowd watched quietly and curiously.

Time and time again Jesus stumbled and fell. It became evident to the soldiers that they would never make it to the place of execution at this rate. A Roman soldier turned toward the crowd and surveyed it. “You! Come here!” he bellowed. And a large, dark man named Simon, from the city of Cyrene in northern Africa, stepped forward. This religious pilgrim was forced to carry the cross to its desti­nation, a small hill outside Jerusalem named Golgotha.

“Two others also, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. And when they came to the place which is called The Skull, there they crucified him and the criminals, one of the right and one of the left. And Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. And they cast lots to divide his garments. And the people stood by, watching; but the rulers scoffed ‘at him saying, ‘He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!’ The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him vinegar, and say­ing, ‘If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!’ There was also an inscription over him, ‘This is the King of the Jews.’

“One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, ‘Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!’ But the other rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we are receiving due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.’ And he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come in your kingly power.’ And he said to him, ‘Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise'” (Gospel of Luke 23:32-43).

As the spikes were driven through Christ’s hands and his feet, Mary felt them pierce her heart. She watched the proceedings from the foot of the cross and through the eyes of a mother. Her son, whom she knew to be right­eous, was falsely accused and convicted. Now this man, her own flesh and blood, was was dying in muted agony.

“When Jesus saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved stand­ing near, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, behold your son!’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold your mother!’ And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home” (Gospel of John 19:26, 27).

The end was near.

Mark tells us that when noontime came, there was darkness over the entire land until 3:00 p.m. And then “Jesus cried with a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’ And some of the bystanders hear­ing it said, ‘Behold, he is calling Elijah.’ And one ran and, filling a sponge full of vinegar, put it on a reed and. gave it to him to drink, saying, ‘Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.’ And Jesus uttered a loud cry, and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that he thus breathed his last, he said, ‘Truly, this man was the Son of God!'” (Gospel of Mark 15: 34-39).

If this had been the death of a simple Galilean crackpot, a rebel against the religious establishment or a would-be politician on the make, his death would hold little meaning to us today. If his suffering had been inflicted because he rightfully deserved punishment, we would feel no pangs of sympathy. But that’s just the point. His death was dif­ferent. He gave his life—willingly and freely—for others. His crucifixion was an expression of God’s love: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (Gospel of John 3:16).

The body of a certain Civil War soldier lies in a cemetery in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania. The soldier’s tombstone tells the date of his birth and death, plus these three words: “Abraham Lincoln’s substitute.” During the darkest days of the war, when thousands were dying on the battlefield, President Lincoln decided to honor one particular soldier as his substitute, thereby making him a symbol of the fact that those who died in battle were dying that others might live.

In a similar way, when I think of the suffering Savior dying, I realize that I could write across the beam of that old, rugged cross these words: “My substitute.”

And so could you.

Graphic--DayJesusDied--Page-67

NOTE:  This post, “The Day Jesus Died,” is Chapter 6 in my e-Book by the same name. You may purchase the entire e-Book in one of seven formats (including PDF, Kindle and Apple) at: 

http://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/StanParegien .

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STAN’S PARADISE REPORT

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