Williamsburg Community Chapel

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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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!

 

 

 

Framing John the Baptist

The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne and Saint John the Baptist, Leonardo da Vinci, c. 1499

The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne and Saint John the Baptist, Leonardo da Vinci, c. 1499

Today’s Lenten devotional by N.T. Wright (Week 2, Wednesday), focusing on Matthew 11:1-19, explores the character and mission of John the Baptist, and the love of our Lord.

Two Gospel writers (Matthew and Luke) relate the account of John the Baptist sending his followers to ask Jesus if He was indeed the true Messiah. So John had doubts when the heat was on. Got it—he was human.

In response, Jesus cited His miracles as proof of His messianic authority. (You can’t get away from the purpose of miracles in the Bible.) But Jesus went further than merely answering the question—he set John the Baptist apart as the greatest man born of women. He recognized John’s doubt, addressed it, and restored John’s reputation. That grace in the face of doubt reveals how much God really loves us.

But left to the three synoptic Gospel writers, we would have an incomplete picture of John the Baptist. The apostle John, writing much later than the other Gospel writers, is filling in details that do not appear in the first three Gospels. Approximately 92% of the content of the Gospel of John is unique, and those later details help complete the portrait of John the Baptist.

So much of the Bible is told from different perspectives, often by different writers describing the same people, events, or circumstances. It takes the whole breadth of Scripture to get a complete picture. The repetition is not contradiction, it’s completion. And so it is with the apostle John—his love for details to fill in the gaps completes much of the history of the New Testament.

Here’s a video that demonstrates using the Glo Bible to explore John the Baptist in the Gospel of John. It shows some of the historical sites associated with John the Baptist, including the most plausible site for Bethany Beyond the Jordan (where Jesus was baptized by John), Machaerus (where John the Baptist was beheaded), and evidence recently discovered by credible archaeologists suggesting that John performed baptisms in this particular cave.

Matthew’s Gospel Truth

“One of the great lies of our time is to suppose that because Jesus brings forgiveness, and urges us to be forgiving people, meek, and gentle, there is no sharp edge to his message. To hear some people, you’d think the whole of the Christian message was simply a call to accept one another, never to judge another person.”
N.T. Wright, Lent for Everyone, Matthew, Year A

Personally, if I had to pick one word to sum up Jesus Christ (and the Bible, and the Christian faith for that matter), it would be ‘veracity’—partly because Jesus called Himself “the truth” in John 14:6. We’re dealing with the truth when we’re dealing with Jesus. Really.

Certainly as much as any other Gospel writer, Matthew gives us a fully-developed, true picture of Jesus Christ and His message—and it’s not the saccharine depiction many people make it out to be (just wait until we get to chapter 23!). But Matthew is also a synoptic Gospel, ending with the Great Commission: to make disciples and baptize in the name of our triune God.

So…just how are we to present the Gospel (which is Old English for “good news”) in carrying out the Great Commission? Do we represent Jesus as loving us no matter what, forgiving all our shortcomings, and able to give us the good life we ask for—or is there more going on with Jesus?

On one hand, Jesus said in Matthew 11 that he is gentle and lowly in heart, and that he will give us rest for our souls. Sounds great, but in Matthew’s verses right before that claim, Jesus condemns an entire town to Hell. Jude, the Lord’s half-brother, wrote passionately in his New Testament letter that we are to contend earnestly for the faith, and he provided harsh warnings and condemnations for those who do not adhere to the “faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.” So how do we contend for the faith?

If you seek to follow Jesus Christ, you will find yourself constantly in contention. But we are not called to fight with harsh words or criticism—we are called to fight with love, compassion, understanding, and gentleness and respect, just as Jesus modeled for us. If you find yourself being contentious, it might help to remember that Matthew noted that Jesus was a friend to sinners.

In many respects it’s a matter of understanding things in the proper order, and appreciating that God works through processes. He doesn’t just poof everything into place immediately. The way we understand the Gospel, is not necessarily the way we are to present the Gospel. Too many of us proceed with “ready, FIRE, aim.” Dump the whole truck, right now. However, like Matthew, we need to have some street smarts. We need situational awareness and we need to follow the model of the apostle Paul. This isn’t a sales approach. The Great Commission is not about selling—it’s about making disciples.

One of the things I really appreciate from this N.T. Wright study is discovering a new voice to add to my devotional life. New voices, the Gospel of Matthew, how to present the Gospel?—here’s a rap video to land the plane. It’s about as good a presentation of the Gospel as I have come across.