Roman Guards Seal the Tomb

After Christ’s body was placed in the tomb, the Jewish priests and elders then went and made a request to Pilate for a guard of Roman soldiers to watch over the tomb. They were afraid that some of Christ’s disciples would steal the body and say that He had risen. Roman soldiers would make sure the disciples would not steal the body. So that no chance of deception would take place, a seal was placed on the stone (Matthew 27:60-66). Scripture tells us much detail about His burial, because God knows that there will always be those who will doubt that the event of the resurrection ever took place. For instance, why did the Jewish leaders request that Pilate order Roman guards to be placed around the tomb? Why didn’t they guard it with their own men? It’s possible that the Jewish leaders knew that many in Jerusalem were followers of Christ and were followers of Him. They possibly thought that the Roman soldiers had never listened and that the Jewish leaders could trust that they would guard the tomb more safely.

The Roman soldiers had been highly trained; they knew that it was at the cost of their lives if any of them lost a prisoner. In the book of Acts, we read of Peter the Apostle being put in prison with four squads of four soldiers guarding him. When an angel brought him out, Herod had all sixteen men executed for losing their prisoner (Acts 12:4-19). There would be no sleeping for the Roman guards, for their lives were on the line if the body had been stolen.

People look for excuses as to why they should not live their lives in obedience to the claims of the Gospel. Many will concede to the fact that there was a man by the name of Jesus, that He did many miracles of healing, and that He was even a great prophet, but the resurrection is the stumbling block for them. Some people cannot bring themselves to believe in the divinity of Christ. If Jesus was God and He did rise again, what is our response to Him and to the claims that He has made? What impact does Christ’s death and resurrection have on our lives?

It is a common response to avoid any personal responsibility to God by explaining away the resurrection by a number of possible explanations, e.g. saying that the disciples and the women went to the wrong tomb, or that the body was stolen, or that Jesus only fainted on the cross and then woke up in the tomb and rolled the stone away. The Gospel writers go into detail on such things because on this point hangs the crux of the Gospel story. If there is no resurrection, then there is no hope, no life after death, and our Christian faith would be non-existent. As Paul once stated;

12But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith (1 Corinthians 15:12-14).

The fact is that Christ did die as a substitute in full payment for our sin, His death for our death:

24but also for us, to whom righteousness will be credited—for us who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. 25He was delivered over to death for our trespasses and was raised to life for our justification (Romans 4:24-25).

God does not leave us in doubt, there is plenty of evidence that Jesus has conquered death for you and me. Let’s look at some of the facts of the resurrection tomorrow.

Taken from the series on the Gospel of Luke, found in the middle column near to the top. Click on study 64 at this link, The Resurrection of Christ (Luke 23:50-24:12). Keith Thomas.

My God, My God, Why Have You Forsaken Me?

We continue our meditation on the last seven sayings of Christ while His life was slowly ebbing away on the cross. The fourth thing Jesus said was, “‘Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?’ – which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”‘ (Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34). The question arises, if Jesus had never sinned as the Scriptures teach, and that He was totally pure and innocent of all charges of blasphemy brought against Him, why would Christ feel forsaken of God near the hour of His death?

Paul wrote to the church at Corinth, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21). On the cross, the sin of the world was placed upon Christ. He became the sin-bearer for the whole human race. Scripture tells us that God is too pure to look upon evil (Habakkuk 1:13), so for the first time in eternity, fellowship between the Son of God and the Father was broken as the Father turned away from Christ. Christ came to be the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world. As death drew near, He spoke for the fifth time:

5) “I am thirsty” (John 19:28).

We cannot tell what Christ was experiencing at this point. Some have said that He is beginning to suffer the thirst of a man without God. The thought is that because Christ was bearing the sin of many, the Father had withdrawn from Jesus. We cannot tell for sure if this is so, but if it was, perhaps Christ was experiencing the thirst that the rich man in hell suffered upon death (Luke 16:24). The rich man had been thirsty and desired Lazarus to dip his finger into water to cool his tongue.

Because of lack of blood, Christ’s body was shutting down, and as the prophecy in Psalm 22:15 states, His tongue was sticking to His mouth, that being a normal process of crucifixion. Jesus had now drunk the cup of God’s judgment to the full (Luke 22:42), so he looked for some relief to be able to shout His next words of victory. This time there was no myrrh, no narcotic; it was sour wine on a sponge that was put to His mouth. “A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips (John 19:29). It is interesting that Scripture tells us that it was a sponge on a hyssop plant that was lifted to His lips, because this was the same plant that was dipped in the blood of a lamb and used to strike the doorposts and lintels at the time of the Passover from Egypt (Exodus 12:22), the very same festival time that Jesus was being crucified.  The children of Israel were delivered from the slavery of Egypt by a substitute lamb’s blood, just as we are delivered from the slavery of sin, by the substitutionary blood of the Lamb of God, Jesus.

To stop His tongue from sticking to the roof of His mouth, as the prophecy in Psalm 22 says, He took a drink from the sponge on the hyssop. Matthew and Mark record that Jesus shouted out something from the cross before giving up His spirit: And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit” (Matthew 27:50). He pushed one more time on the wedge of wood under His feet, and He shouted loudly His next words. It is John who tells us what He shouted in a victorious shout. Let’s talk about that tomorrow.

Taken from the series on the Gospel of Luke, found in the middle column near to the top. Click on study 63 at this link, The Crucifixion of Christ (Luke 23:26-49). Keith Thomas.

Darkness Covers the Land

We are meditating day by day on the drama that took place at the crucifixion of Christ, specifically on the seven last sayings of Jesus while He hung on the cross with death approaching (Scroll down for earlier meditations). The third thing Christ said was to His mother and to John the apostle. “He said to His mother, ‘Woman, behold your son!’ Then He said to the disciple, ‘Behold your mother!’” (John 19:26-27).

His mother Mary was obviously broken hearted as she looked up at Jesus. John the apostle was also near. We don’t hear of Joseph, Mary’s husband, being around during Jesus’ ministry, so he had obviously died at some point. By this time, she was probably in her late 40s or early 50s and as far as we know, had no visible means of support. The Scriptures speak of honoring one’s parents (Exodus 20:12; Deuteronomy 5:16), so Jesus, being the firstborn of the family, did not pass on responsibility to His half-brothers. He asked John, the disciple whom He loved, to take care of Mary, His mother. In the midst of His pain, Christ is still caring for those around Him. What an example He is to us. He does not call her mother, but woman, lest people attribute divinity to her, as some do. Mary was a sinful person in need of a Savior just as much as any of us. She had already acknowledged her need of a Savior for her sin (Luke 1:47).

At midday, the sixth hour by Jewish reckoning, darkness covered the whole land. The laughter, comedy, and scorn by the religious elite was over at this point, for God Himself shows up. Yes, the Lord who “dwells in unapproachable light” (1 Timothy 6:16), also visits in thick darkness. He made darkness his covering, his canopy around him– the dark rain clouds of the sky” (Psalm 18:11). In another place, Scripture says of God, “Clouds and thick darkness surround Him; Righteousness and justice are the foundation of His throne” (Psalm 97:2). When God showed up at Mount Sinai, Moses wrote of Him, “You came near and stood at the foot of the mountain, and the mountain burned with fire to the very heart of the heavens: darkness, cloud and thick gloom” (Deuteronomy 4:11). The very air was pungent with the presence of the Holy One, who drew near bringing judgment for sin on His Son instead of us. It was during that time of darkness, this writer believes, that every sin and act of rebellion while on this planet, past present and future, were laid on Christ:

He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed (1 Peter 2:24).

In the midst of the darkness after midday, Jesus spoke again: “‘Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?’ – which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”‘ (Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34). This is such an important saying, we have to wait until tomorrow to talk about it. Let me leave you with a question to ponder: In the midst of the terrible darkness of that day, why would Christ feel forsaken of God?

Taken from the series on the Gospel of Luke, found in the middle column near to the top. Click on study 63 at this linkThe Crucifixion of Christ (Luke 23:26-49). Keith Thomas

The Seven Last Sayings of Christ on the Cross

The last things a person speaks before he dies are usually very important things that they want to convey. There are seven last sayings of Christ while He was on the cross. We will examine these sayings in order:

1) “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).

Who was Jesus forgiving because of their ignorance? This first saying is directed to the soldiers guarding Him as they divided His clothing among themselves. John writes that the four soldiers guarding Him cast lots for his clothing in fulfillment of another prophecy (John 19:23-24; Psalm 22:8). Most pictures of Christ on the cross usually show an undergarment over his loins, but in reality crucified criminals were usually hung naked for reason of humiliation and to dissuade others from criminal paths. It seems that as soon as the cross had settled into its socket, the chief priest and elders mocked Him. He did not retaliate or curse or wail. In the midst of His pain, He did the opposite. Amazingly, He forgave the soldiers, even as they were casting lots for His clothing. It was not their business to question their leaders. They were given a job to do, and they were doing it in ignorance of Christ’s identity. They did not see the enormity of what they had just done, i.e. that God was the One being crucified. There was also His critics and enemies that were gathered around His cross, breathing out their curses and scorn against Him.

39Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads 40and 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!” 41In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. 42“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. 43He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God’” (Matthew 27:39-43).

Again, this was something that God had foretold through the prophet, king David. The Lord had shown David that one of his descendants, the One who would one day become king and heir of all things, would be despised and scorned by men. This is evidence to us of the genuineness of the Holy Scriptures, that these things were foretold hundreds of years before they happened so that, when it did happen, we might realize the truth of the Scriptures and place our faith in God and in His Messiah, Jesus. Here’s David’s prophecy as it relates to those who scorned Christ while He suffered:

7All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads.
8“He trusts in the LORD,” they say, “let the LORD rescue him.
Let him deliver him, since he delights in him.” 12Many bulls surround me; strong bulls of Bashan encircle me.
13Roaring lions that tear their prey open their mouths wide against me. 16Dogs surround me, a pack of villains encircles me; they pierce my hands and my feet (Psalm 22:7-8; 12-13; 16).

Just because Jesus prayed for His Father to forgive the soldiers and those who were in ignorance, does not mean that they would be forgiven without repentance and faith in God. Forgiveness was the very reason Christ was dying. What this passage shows is that God is willing to forgive those who have sinned against Him, but this forgiveness is only received when one repents (changes their mind and direction towards God), and believes in the good news of the substitutionary blood covenant that was made for us and as us by Christ.

Taken from the series on the Gospel of Luke, found in the middle column near to the top. Click on study 63 at this link, The Crucifixion of Christ (Luke 23:26-49). Keith Thomas

The Via Dolorosa, (The Way of Suffering)

We are meditating on the drama that led up to the crucifixion of Christ (Scroll down for yesterday’s meditation). In the scene presented to us in the gospels, we see a picture of man behaving at his worst to the Creator of the Universe. After Pontius Pilate had washed his hands of the whole affair, the religious elite were allowed to have their way. The whole company of soldiers were laughing and jeering at the humiliation of the One Who is the true King. They clothed Him in a scarlet or purple cloak, the color of a king, and put a reed into His right hand instead of a scepter. They then kneeled before Him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews,” mimicking the “Hail, Caesar!” that was spoken to declare allegiance to the Roman emperor, while at the same time spitting upon Him. With all the open wounds in His back, they then pulled the purple robe away, causing further blood loss, before putting His own clothes back on Him (Matthew 27:27-31).

Typically, the Roman soldiers would then tie the cross beam, the Patibulum, usually weighing at least one hundred pounds, to the victim’s shoulders. At the front of the procession to the place of crucifixion, one carried a sign that was written in Aramaic, Latin and Greek, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews” (John 19:20). This would give an indication of His “crime.” The chief priests objected to this statement, demanding that it be changed to read, “He said He was the king of the Jews,” but by this time, Pilate was so disgusted with them, he answered, “What I have written I have written” (John 19:22). A guard of four soldiers led by a centurion would lead Christ out to the public place where He would be crucified. They would part the garments of Jesus among themselves as a “benefit of the job.”

The route that day was a circuitous route, for Rome wanted as many people as possible to see an example of those that stood again the Roman empire. John tells us that Christ was taken to the Place of a Skull, which was called Calvary, or Golgotha in Aramaic (John 19:17). Some say that the place was so called because of skulls of other victims were left lying there, but this is unreasonable when one considers the Jewish passion for cleanliness and holiness of the land. It was more than likely a hillside that was shaped like a skull. Crucifixions took place on major thoroughfares and outside city gates so that many people would see and fear the same fate. The Lord was severely weakened by having no sleep, scourged, beaten in the face by the whole company of Roman soldiers, humiliated, spat upon, and hit about the head with a staff. Jesus needed help to carry the cross as His body was already weakened by the loss of blood. Victims of crucifixion would not usually undergo other punishment prior to their execution.

26As they led him away, they seized Simon from Cyrene, who was on his way in from the country, and put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus. 27A large number of people followed him, including women who mourned and wailed for him. 28Jesus turned and said to them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children. 29For the time will come when you will say, ‘Blessed are the barren women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ 30Then ” ‘they will say to the mountains, “Fall on us!” and to the hills, “Cover us!” ‘31For if men do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?” 32Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. 33When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified him, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left (Luke 23:26-33).

In His weakened condition, the one-hundred-pound crossbeam, i.e. the patibulum, was too much for Jesus to carry, so the Roman centurion compelled a traveler just arriving into Jerusalem for Passover, Simon from Cyrene, North Africa, to carry it. On the Via Dolorosa, the Way of Sorrows, Jesus was concerned for the women who were crying and wailing for Him. Christ told the mourners to wail for themselves and for the judgment that will follow. In a proverb (vs. 30-31), He compared Himself to a tree that is green and full of life. Righteous green Jesus was not a natural object to be burned in the fire of judgment, but the dry, lifeless nation of Israel that had rejected mercy and grace, would have to face the fires of judgment by the Roman government in 70 A.D.

Taken from the series on the Gospel of Luke, found in the middle column near to the top. Click on study 63 at this link, The Crucifixion of Christ (Luke 23:26-49). Keith Thomas