Lessons in Lent

The Trials of Jesus

The Gospel accounts of the trials of Jesus before Annas, Caiaphas, Pilate and Herod have considerable agreement, and some interestingly unique statements. While all four accounts agree on the essential details of what happened early in the morning of Good Friday, only Luke records that Jesus was interrogated by Herod Antipas (see Luke’s Sources). Only John—writing long after the three synoptic Gospel writers—adds the detail of the name of the location in Jerusalem where the trial took place (Gabbatha). And in writing that one word John left a great clue for modern archaeologists to find the location of the trial before Pilate.

There is so much to be gleaned about the veracity of the Gospel accounts from reading about the trials of Jesus. The accounts are not identical—but they are not inconsistent. An argument could be made that if this material was contrived, all four accounts would be more homogeneous in the narrative details.

Archaeologist Dr. Shimon Gibson conducted a dig of the Gabbatha site in Jerusalem, and reached some conclusions that even his critics concede are probably correct, rewickering the traditional Via Dolorosa (“Way of Suffering”) in the process. This type of work, and online resources, can help us see the Bible in context.

Among all that occurred at His trial, Jesus mocked Pontius Pilate—the judge who had the power to set Him free—with sarcasm. I don’t know why that detail is so important, but somehow it just is.

The following video highlights the corroboration of the Gospel accounts of one of the most carefully documented events in ancient history, then explores the setting where these events took place.

 

If you research the work of Dr. Gibson, be careful—there are high-profile misrepresentations of his work, as he himself is quick to point out. Unfortunately there are those who seem to be motivated more by the need to entertain than a desire to get the facts right.

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How To Live

Plumb LineIn Matthew 25:14-30 Jesus gives us a clear parable about God’s expectations for His people. The basic point of the story is that God has given every one of us gifts, and that He will turn away those who fail to use their gifts wisely. Some parables are difficult to understand, but not this one. It’s a tough object lesson.

N.T. Wright comments on these verses that, “Each of us is called to exercise the primary, underlying gifts of living as a wise, loving human being, celebrating God’s love, forgiving, praying, seeking justice, acting prudently and courageously, waiting patiently for God’s will to be done.”

Okay…how?

To tell you the truth, I’ve never been big on taking a spiritual gift inventory or getting wound up about discerning God’s will for my life. That’s just me. I trust that God has a plan for my life. But the parable does beg the deeper question: How ARE we to live?

God obviously has expectations for us. Wouldn’t it be great if there were some plumb lines we could apply to our lives from the Bible to help answer that big question? It turns out that the apostle Paul had some very specific guidelines. In one of his earliest epistles, 1 Thessalonians, Paul laid it out plainly.

12 Now we ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you. 13 Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other. 14 And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone. 15 Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else. 16 Be joyful always; 17 pray continually; 18 give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 19 Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; 20 do not treat prophecies with contempt. 21 Test everything. Hold on to the good. 22 Avoid every kind of evil.

1 Thessalonians 5:12-22 (NIV84)

It’s amazing how helpful these verses can be when you find yourself needing discernment. They are packed full of specific and practical instruction, that if committed to memory can really make a difference in how you live your life.

How are we to live with each other? In peace. How are we to treat the timid and the weak? Encourage and help them. Verse 15 is one of the most wonderful compound-complex sentences ever composed. When should we try be kind? Always. To whom are we to be kind? Everyone (us and them). When are we to be joyful? Always. What are we to test? Everything. What are we to avoid? Every kind of evil. No loopholes.

If you trace the writings of Paul in chronological order, you will find these values at the beginning of his ministry, and later in Romans 12 and elsewhere. Paul taught them consistently. They are foundational to Christian ethics.

1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God–this is your spiritual act of worship.
2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.
3 For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.
4 Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function,
5 so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.
6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith.
7 If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach;
8 if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.
9 Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.
10 Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.
11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.
12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.
13 Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.
15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.
16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody.
18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.
19 Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.
20 On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Romans 12 (NIV84)

Romans 12:4-8 bookends Jesus’ parable from Matthew 25:14-30. And that is pretty much how we should live our lives—following these proof texts.

 

Painting Jesus

Christ Driving the Merchants from the Temple

Christ Driving the Merchants from the Temple by Jacob Jordaens, c. 1650

Left to your imagination, what would Jesus look like?

In Matthew 21:1-22 we see Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, with an adoring crowd shouting joyfully and laying palm branches on the road. They shout “Hosanna!” which is a Hebrew expression for “Save!” and an exclamation of praise.

If you would like to get a sense for the setting of the Palm Sunday processional, here’s a brief video on the Golden Gate in Jerusalem that documents an extraordinary archaeological find.

One theme throughout the Gospels is that Jesus is on a mission, and that mission includes the fulfillment of prophesies made centuries before He appeared on earth. In this case, the parade was foretold by the prophet Zechariah—who prescribed a donkey for the processional. Not some big chariot, not with a military escort as a show of power, not on the elbow of a king, not on a great horse, but on a donkey—as a display of humility.

If you’re painting a portrait of Jesus, it’s best to leave out the opulent and accentuate the meek. From cradle to grave Jesus is all about humility. God values humility. So much for prosperity theology.

But Jesus hasn’t come for a parade celebration. The great healer soon makes it clear there’s a new sheriff in town. His mission includes taking on the “den of robbers” and overturning tables and benches at the temple, as prophesied in Jeremiah 7:6-16. This is angry Jesus. Not some glad-handing pitchman. Not some pious religious official decked out in priestly habiliments. Not some mild-mannered milquetoast.

Wrapping up today’s devotional verses, in Matthew 21:18-22 Jesus gives us an object lesson in power. In wilting the fig tree Jesus demonstrates power over living things and the consequences for being unproductive. He teaches that if we have faith and do not doubt, our belief will be rewarded through prayer. (There are lots of people trying to cash in on that promise without fully appreciating the qualifiers.)

Among the many things that impress me about the trustworthiness of the Gospels—and Matthew’s Gospel in particular—is the picture they paint of Jesus, and specifically how far off this picture is from something you and I would expect to find in classical heroic literature. In heroic literature the good guy answers questions directly. With Jesus, most questions directed at Him are answered with questions. One of my favorite Bible expositors, Michael Card, says plainly in Part 2 of this video that Jesus disappointed practically everyone who came to Him. That’s a provocative statement, but hear Michael Card out. Everyone wanted something from Jesus, and He frequently gave them something other than what they asked for. He spoke in parables, which confused them, and most often when they questioned Him, He would respond with a deeper, more directed question that got to the heart of the matter. He seldom gave them exactly what they asked for immediately. He was full of rebukes. Not a picture of a classical hero, but a trustworthy picture of God in the flesh.

If you were to paint a portrait of Jesus, capturing all these qualities and values, there’s just one more thing to remember—this is paint-by-numbers. Jesus had to fulfill hundreds of prophecies. And as exemplified in Matthew 21, these prophecies are very strict plumb lines that we should hold up to examine Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah. As Lee Strobel points out in this video, mathematician Peter Stoner determined the odds of any one person in all of human history fulfilling just 48 ancient prophesies pertaining to the Messiah are one chance in a trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion. That’s an astoundingly specific fingerprint!