Important Easter Passages in the New Testament

Title: Important Easter Passages in the New Testament

Text: Mark 10:32-34

Time: March 6th, 2013

 

 

Well, we’re into the Easter season for the year 2013; there are only four more Sundays to go until the day. I love teaching on the Easter theme every year because there’s always so much to say. For example, the gospel accounts in the New Testament – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – all give disproportionate amounts of time to describing the events leading up to, during, and immediately after Easter Sunday. Yes, there’s a lot of accounts of the miracles of Jesus, and of course his teachings also, but most of the gospel material revolves around Christ’s death, burial and resurrection.  This is as it should be because after all this is the main purpose of Christ’s mission on earth – to die for the sins of the world in order to bring salvation to everyone who believes. It makes sense that the gospels would emphasize this particular time in the life of Christ. This is the essence of the gospel or “good news.” And there’s a verse that perfectly summarizes the Easter theme that I’d like to explain today. Have you ever wondered for yourself what is the core or essence of the Easter celebration? Have you ever been in a conversation with someone who asked you to explain from the Bible the main points of the Easter holiday? If you were to quote one passage in the whole Bible to summarize Easter, which verse would it be? Well, I’ve got just the verse for you to summarize Easter – Mark 10:32-34, “They were on their way up to Jerusalem with Jesus leading the way, and the disciples were astonished, while those who followed were afraid. Again he took the Twelve aside and told them what was going to happen to him. ‘We are going up to Jerusalem,’ he said, ‘and the Son of Main will be betrayed to the chief priests and teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise.’” That pretty much sums up the whole Easter scene, before, during and after. It talks about what happens immediately before – the betrayal by Judas and the trial by the Jewish leaders; it talks about what happens during – the torture and crucifixion by the Romans; and it talks about what happens afterwards – the glorious resurrection. So in this one verse we have a complete summary of the entire Easter account in the gospels. Why is it important to return to a simple summary from time to time in our Christian faith? Because if we don’t summarize things once in a while we might run the risk of losing perspective in our Christian faith. The Bible contains a lot of teachings; even just the New Testament alone includes so many things to learn that we can spend a lifetime learning them. But the one thing we don’t want to miss is the main point or essence of the gospel. That’s why we need summaries like Mark 10:32-34. So let me attempt to explain this Easter summary briefly.

 

First, there’s the betrayal by Judas and the trial by the Jews. Mark 10:33, “We are going up to Jerusalem and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and hand him over to the Gentiles.” Over the last few years there has been somewhat of a controversy over who is to be blamed for the death of Christ. The controversy of late started after the creation of the movie The Passion of the Christ by Mel Gibson a few years ago. Jewish groups in the U.S. and around the world were up in arms of the portrayal of the Jews as responsible for the death of Jesus. They were particularly offended at how the movie depicted the Jewish leaders as handing over Jesus for death. But the curious thing about the whole controversy is that the movie The Passion of the Christ showed nothing that hadn’t already been known for centuries – namely, that the Jews, particularly the Jewish leaders, but also many of the Jewish people – did in fact hand Jesus over to the Romans for death. That’s what Jesus said would happen in the passage I just read. That’s what the Bible uniformly states. It’s a historical fact that without the Jews handing Jesus over for death, he wouldn’t have been put to death. But because the Jewish leaders did hand Jesus over to the Romans for crucifixion, he was put to death. There’s no way to get around it unless we are prepared to re-write history. It seems that some people are willing to do just that. For example, the last Pope Benedict XVI, who is usually a fine biblical scholar and theologian apart from his role as pope before he recently stepped down due to health reasons, tries to explain in a recent book how the Jews are not really responsible for the death of Christ. He interprets the controversial phrase that the Gospel of Matthew records the Jewish crowd crying out, “Let his blood be on us and on our children,” Matthew 27:25, as being prophetic and a reference to the atoning blood of Christ on the cross providing forgiveness for all. But that is most definitely not what the crowd meant; they were so sure of Christ’s guilt and his deserving of death that they dared place the guilt of his death upon themselves, and even upon their children. So it is accurate, according to the New Testament, to make a general statement that “the Jews” are guilty for the death of Christ. But we need to also remember that all sinners, Jews, Gentiles, you and me, everyone, is in fact responsible for Christ’s death, because he came to die in order to save us from our sins. We are the cause of his coming to die; he did it out of love for us. But in the historical context, the Jews – particularly the Jewish leadership, and the Romans – particularly Pilate and the soldiers, were directly guilty.

 

Second, there’s the torture and crucifixion by the Romans. Mark 10:34, “Who (the Romans) will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. . . .” In the movie The Passion of the Christ, if the Jewish leaders are portrayed in a negative light, accurately following the New Testament record itself, then the Romans aren’t portrayed in any better light either. I was particularly struck by the brutality of the Roman soldiers in the way they handled Jesus while he was under their guard. The movie shows this graphically, but the gospel accounts also reveal the violent brutality Jesus underwent at the hands of the soldiers. The point is, they didn’t have to treat him so bad; they could have held him and even executed him without the extra violence and torture that they threw in for good measure. Whereas the Jews showed an inner hatred and animosity towards Jesus because they perceived him to be an impostor Messiah, the Romans showed an outer cruelty and brutality. The Jews showed an emotional anger towards Jesus, but the Romans didn’t care one way or the other; their’s was a cruel indifference towards Jesus. It just goes to show that it took all of sinful humanity, Jews and Gentiles, at their worse, to bring about the death of Christ. Now contrast the hatred of the Jews and the indifferent cruelty of the Gentiles with the love of Jesus towards both while he was on the cross. He wasn’t angry; he was forgiving. He wasn’t full of emotional hate towards his fellow Jews for handing him over for death. He wasn’t violently lashing out at the Gentile Romans for torturing him; he was keeping silent. And it wasn’t a seething, resentful silence; it was a loving, forgiving silence. “Father forgive them for they know not what they do,” Luke 23:34, was directed at both the Jews and the Gentiles, and ultimately at all sinners in all places in all times. We shouldn’t look down our noses at the Jews or the Gentiles who were immediately responsible for the death of Christ, because we too are guilty of sin and rebellion against God. No, we haven’t taken our sin as far as the intensity of the Jews or the brutality of the Romans, but we’ve all rebelled against God in thought, word and deed. We’ve all sinned willingly and deliberately against God with our lives. It’s interesting to speculate how directly we would all have been in the death of Christ had we been alive at the time in the context of Jerusalem. Would we have gotten caught up in the call for the death of Christ? Would we have wanted to see the torture and crucifixion of Christ as entertainment? Would we have really spoken out against Christ’s death at the risk of personal injury or social rejection within the social context? It’s easy to sit back thousands of years and thousands of miles away from the scene and judge others for their sins. What would we have done?

 

Third, there’s the glorious resurrection. Mark 10:34, “. . . Three days later he will rise.” Jesus not only explained his arrest, his trial, his torture, his death and burial, but also his resurrection! Now this was much too much for his disciples to comprehend. It doesn’t say so in this verse, but in another passage it tells of the disciples lack of understanding. Mark 9:31-32, “Because he was teaching his disciples. He said to them, ‘The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hand of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.’ But they did not understand what he meant, and were afraid to ask him about it.” Now it’s hard to get inside the heads of the disciples exactly at this point, although it would be really interesting to hear exactly what they were thinking. Unfortunately, we don’t have any more explanation. But we can guess that they were overwhelmed by the prospect of Jesus being arrested, tortured and killed. They probably didn’t really compute the last part of what Jesus was telling them, about the resurrection. Maybe they were thinking that Jesus was trying to put a happy ending on a sad tale; that he was just trying to cheer them up. Or maybe they were thinking along the lines of Mary and Martha at the death of Lazarus. Remember what Martha said to Jesus concerning her brother, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day,” John 11:24. Maybe they were thinking that Jesus was referring to the general resurrection from the dead at the last day for all people. If they were, they were misunderstanding Jesus; they were not understanding what he was actually saying. We know from the gospel accounts of the disciples, and by their actions during and after Christ’s death on the cross that they were definitely not thinking in terms of Jesus actually raising from the tomb shortly thereafter. They weren’t cheering each other up with any such hope, such as, “Don’t worry guys, Jesus will be back, he said he’d be back. He’ll come back from the dead, like he said he would.” No, that was the furthest thing from their minds. When they saw Jesus on the cross, saw him die, and helped place him in the tomb, they were settled that he’d stay dead. They lost all hope of Jesus as the true Messiah. I’ll be talking about this point in another message, but in an historical irony, the enemies of Christ were taking more serious Christ’s words about rising from the dead than even his disciples. If you remember, the Jews went to Pilate to ask for a guard at Christ’s tomb, “’Sir,’ they said, ‘we remember that while he was still alive that deceiver said, “After three days I will rise again.” So give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, his disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that he has been raised form the dead. This last deception will be worse than the first,’” Matthew 27:62-64. Little did they know, the idea was the furthest thing from the mind of the disciples.

 

The disciples were grieving over the loss of Christ, but also over the loss of all meaning and purpose in their own lives. Remember, they had given up all in order to follow Jesus. They had believed everything he taught them, everything except, ironically, that he would return from the grave. When Jesus did arise on Easter Sunday morning, they were shocked and amazed, in addition to being joyful and excited! Even though they had been told repeatedly that it would happen, the resurrection of Christ took them by complete surprise. In fact, not one instance in the gospel accounts even hints that any of the disciples or any of Christ’s followers held out any hope for Christ’s resurrection. It was just too amazing. No Jew at the time had any concept of the Messiah dying and rising from the dead immediately. It just wasn’t a part of the Jewish expectation of the Messiah. Now we look back at the disciples, we look back at what Jesus taught them about his mission, about his rising from the dead, and we say, “Why didn’t they see it coming? How could they be so dull and dim-witted?” But aren’t we a lot like that in respect to other teaching of Jesus? Aren’t we dull and dim-witted concerning other spiritual truths we read about in the Bible? We look back at the ancient Jews in the Old Testament, at their trials and troubles and doubts and disobediences, and we say, “How could they be so slow to believe and obey God?” Yet aren’t we really a lot like that today in our lives? We have God’s Word to guide us, but we still make foolish choices. We have prayer available to lead and guide us, but we still go marching forward without God’s direction and get ourselves into trouble. We have the whole Bible to tell us right from wrong, yet we still sin, and sometimes willingly. So it’s not just a matter of knowing right from wrong, or learning truth from error, it’s also a matter of the will – of obeying God from the heart. We don’t always obey God from the heart, even though we know we should. The truth is, there’s nothing that ancient Jews did wrong, or the disciples of Jesus did wrong, that we aren’t also capable of doing wrong also. We make many of their same mistakes. We’ve got a long way to go. But we have some advantages over them – we can learn from their mistakes. We can see how easily they are tempted, and avoid falling into the same sins. We can see how dull and dim-witted they are in respect to spiritual truths, so we can try harder to comprehend the truth when it’s presented to us. Do you learn from your own mistakes and the mistakes of others? Let’s try this Easter season to learn from the examples we see in the gospel accounts, learn from both positive and negative examples. Let’s make this Easter season a time of great spiritual progress in our lives.

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