April 5, 2020. Passion Sunday. TLW12A
Sunday Bible readings from the Revised Common Lectionary, Year A, shared across the denominations.
Theme: Jesus paid a high price for us to be able to call Him Lord
Read the passage first and let it speak for itself. The link takes you to the NIV text which combines accuracy with clarity. The order follows the sequence of the Bible, which is a progressive revelation from Old Testament, to a Gospel account, to the teaching of the early church who knew the perspective and empowering of the Holy Spirit. Following the Bible’s own sequence makes it much easier to grasp the overall thrust of what God is saying through it.
Then there are links to the verse-by-verse commentary and brief application.
Isaiah 50:4-9 — The messenger of good news knows God’s purpose will bring pain and shameful accusation – but also vindication
Matthew 27:11-54 — Following Pilate’s sentence, as Jesus surrenders His life on the Cross, an earthquake destroys the temple curtain
Philippians 2:5-11 — How God became man in Jesus, the humble servant put to death under a curse and now honoured as Lord of heaven and earth
And also read: Psalm 31:9-16
Isaiah 50:4-9 — The messenger of good news submits to God’s purpose
There will be pain, and shameful accusation – but also vindication
4-5 The Sovereign LORD has given me a well-instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary. He wakens Me morning by morning, wakens My ear to listen like one being instructed. The Sovereign LORD has opened My ears; I have not been rebellious, I have not turned away.
“A well-instructed tongue” – in this third Servant Song the Messiah, submissive to God, is being perfected through unwavering persistence.
“The word that sustains the weary” – refers back to an earlier prophecy, that the Lord, “who will not grow tired or weary”, sends His messenger with the good news that “He gives strength to the weary”, Isaiah 40:28-31.
6 I offered My back to those who beat Me, My cheeks to those who pulled out My beard; I did not hide My face from mocking and spitting.
“I offered My back” – and other torment, what Jesus experienced at His crucifixion, Matthew 26:67, 27:30.
“Mocking” – see Matt. 27:27-31 (below).
7 Because the Sovereign LORD helps me, I will not be disgraced. Therefore have I set my face like flint, and I know I will not be put to shame.
“Shame” – at first, but the servant foresees the God-ordained outcome.
8 He who vindicates me is near. Who then will bring charges against Me? Let us face each other! Who is My accuser? Let him confront Me!
“Vindicate” – or justifies. Christ fulfilled this prophecy. As the human but sinless Saviour, He is uniquely empowered to cancel charges brought against those who choose to belong to Him.
9 It is the Sovereign LORD who helps Me.
This preview of what Jesus went through for us, helps us regain God’s perspective when we are wearied by the constant attacks of the enemy of our souls.
“Who is My accuser?” is the language of a legal victory in a courtroom. “Accuser” is similar in meaning to satan, adversary, reminding us that our spiritual enemy relies on finding legal grounds to oppress (our sin) and is stymied by the removal of those grounds (by finding grace, in Jesus).
When life is draining and we feel discouraged, where do those thoughts come from?
Matthew 27:11-54 — Pilate sentences Jesus to be flogged and crucified
As He surrenders His life, an earthquake rips apart the temple curtain
11 Meanwhile Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked Him, “Are You the king of the Jews?”
“You have said so,” Jesus replied.
“The governor” – the Roman historian Tacitus records Christ’s execution after sentencing by the prefect Pilate “in the reign of Tiberius”. The blasphemy accusation held little sway for a Roman official, so the Jews framed Jesus as a political rebel deserving of death.
12-14 When He was accused by the chief priests and the elders, He gave no answer. Then Pilate asked him, “Don’t you hear the testimony they are bringing against You?” But Jesus made no reply, not even to a single charge — to the great amazement of the governor.
“Great amazement” – Pilate has not encountered a defendant who did not plead for mercy; if allegations of treason were true, Pilate would have been forewarned.
15-16 Now it was the governor’s custom at the festival to release a prisoner chosen by the crowd. At that time they had a well-known prisoner whose name was Jesus Barabbas.
17-18 So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them, “Which one do you want me to release to you: Jesus Barabbas, or Jesus who is called the Messiah?” For he knew it was out of self-interest that they had handed Jesus over to him.
19 While Pilate was sitting on the judge’s seat, his wife sent him this message: “Don’t have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of Him.”
“That innocent man” – a disturbing nightmare was a significant sign to people of that time, Roman law was clear that an innocent man should not be put to death, and Pilate’s judicial instinct told him the charges were constructed. Yet he was more influenced by fear of the crowd.
20 But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas, and to have Jesus executed.
21 “Which of the two do you want me to release to you?” asked the governor.
“Barabbas,” they answered.
22 “What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” Pilate asked.
They all answered, “Crucify Him!”
23 “Why? What crime has He committed?” asked Pilate. But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify Him!”
“Why?” – Pilate clearly thought the crowd would want the release of a doer of good, rather than Barabbas, seen as a violent robber in Mark 15:7, John 18:40. The crowd that noisily acclaimed Jesus as He entered the city, now proved strangely fickle.
24 When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!”
25 All the people answered, “His blood is on us and on our children!”
“His blood is on us” – the self-curse found fulfilment among those present in the Jerusalem’s bloodshed and destruction in AD 70 (but is not an indictment against Jews in general).
26 Then he released Barabbas to them. But he had Jesus flogged, and handed Him over to be crucified.
“Flogged” – Roman flogging was so brutal it sometimes killed the victim. The “By His stripes” quotation about our healing being in Jesus’ wounding sees this as part of the execution, Isaiah 53:5. 1 Peter 2:24.
27-29 Then the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole company of soldiers around Him. They stripped Him and put a scarlet robe on Him, and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on His head. They put a staff in His right hand. Then they knelt in front of Him and mocked Him. “Hail, king of the Jews!” they said.
“Mocked Him” – Isaiah 50:6 (above). His trial by the Jews, Matt. 26:67-68, mocked Him as a prophet; now He is mocked as king. See also vv. 37-44 below.
• For further study: Jesus’ unique spiritual authority combines that of prophet, priest and king, Hebrews 1:1, Hebrews 10, and Hebrews 2:8.
• Read also Isaiah 52:13-53:12.
30-31 They spat on him, and took the staff and struck Him on the head again and again. After they had mocked Him, they took off the robe and put His own clothes on Him. Then they led Him away to crucify Him.
32-34 As they were going out, they met a man from Cyrene, named Simon, and they forced Him to carry the cross. They came to a place called Golgotha (which means “the place of the skull”). There they offered Jesus wine to drink, mixed with gall; but after tasting it, He refused to drink it.
“A man from Cyrene, named Simon” – Simon, from N. Africa, is named as someone later known in the community of believers.
The place of the skull” – either a skull-like rocky place, or where skulls remained from previous executions – or both. None of the gospels mentions a hill.
35-37 When they had crucified him, they divided up his clothes by casting lots. And sitting down, they kept watch over him there. Above his head they placed the written charge against him: THIS IS JESUS, THE KING OF THE JEWS.
38 Two rebels were crucified with Him, one on His right and one on His left. Those who passed by hurled insults at Him, shaking their heads and saying, “You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save Yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!”
41-43 In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked Him. “He saved others,” they said, “but He can’t save Himself! He’s the king of Israel! Let Him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in Him. He trusts in God. Let God rescue Him now if He wants Him, for He said, ‘I am the Son of God.’”
“Let God rescue Him” – “let God deliver Him”, an allusion to Psalm 22:8.
44 In the same way the rebels who were crucified with Him also heaped insults on Him.
“Rebels… crucified with Him” – as predicted, He was “numbered with the transgressors,” Isaiah 53:12, Luke 22:37.
45 From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken Me?”).
“Why have You forsaken Me?” – Jesus had to experience the full extent of God’s wrath (holy requirement for justice) for the sins of humanity – possibly the bitterest blow of all. Matthew translates the Aramaic for us.
47 When some of those standing there heard this, they said, “He’s calling Elijah.”
48-49 Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge. He filled it with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. The rest said, “Now leave Him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to save Him.”
50 And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, He gave up His spirit.
“Cried out” – not anguish but the victory shout of “It is finished!”, John 19:30. Jesus had completed His purpose in coming into the world and in this tortured death had settled the redemption charge for the sin of all mankind.
51-53 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people.
“Curtain” – the Holy of Holies in the Temple was divided off by heavy woven barrier; remarkably the earthquake ripped it. At this point, the order of priesthood was made redundant because through Jesus it was now possible for every believer to come into God’s presence, needing no other intermediary.
• For further study, see Ephesians 2:11-22; Hebrews 6:19; Hebrews 9:1-10:25.
54 When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely He was the Son of God!”
“Terrified” – the earthquake, and the prisoner like no other, revealed the divine connection.
Any one part of what Jesus took on Himself is too much for us – false accusation, shame, brutality at the whipping post – and the horror of dying a cursed death on a cross taunted by mockers. Jesus knew it would be horrific. Yet He understood that He had to satisfy the wrath, the legal remedy of justice, for His Father. Only a sinless human being could pay the price for us to know Him as Savour and as Lord, – and Jesus did.
Given the enormity of what Jesus did for us, what inhibits us from joy and praise?
Philippians 2:5-11 — How God became man in Jesus
The servant put to death under a curse is now honoured as Lord of heaven and earth
5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
6-7 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage; rather, He made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.
“Being in very nature God” – this hymn of praise contrasts Jesus’ pre-existence and divinity with His incarnate existence in which “He made Himself nothing” in human likeness, but drew on the Holy Spirit’s empowering. We can live above ourselves with Jesus-like love for others, continuing His ministry, by the enabling of the same Holy Spirit.
8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross!
“Even death on a cross” – Jesus went voluntarily to the most shameful of deaths possible for a Jew. This divine exchange included coming under a curse from God on our behalf, Deuteronomy 21:23; Galatians 3:13.
9-11 Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
“Jesus Christ is Lord” – “Lord” refers to the right to rule. Disciples of Jesus “bow the knee” by acknowledging His Lordship of our lives, as well as all creation.
How do we go about having the same mindset as Jesus? This praise hymn to Jesus both raises the question, and ends with the answer, which is about celebrating His Lordship of us.
Like the old saying, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” When we hold someone in awe, we’ll want to do what they do and take on their values. This sets us wanting to live above ourselves – and welcoming the enabling of the Holy Spirit, the Helper, makes it possible.
Calling Jesus our Lord is not, ultimately about obedience. That is being a Pharisee. It is about loving who He is so much, that we WANT to grow like Him.
Which comes first, doing what Jesus says, or being with Him and wanting to grow more like Him?
Father God, we are so grateful for Jesus, making a way for us to You in such a horrific self-sacrifice, so we can have fellowship with Him as Lord of our lives.
We thank you, too, that in Jesus we have His authority to say ‘no’ to evils like the present pandemic, and a welcoming ‘yes’ to what we hear You saying.
Humbly we give You charge of our lives again — and volunteer again as junior partners in Your saving strategy. Amen.