A Day of Discouragement and Then Rest

“For dogs have surrounded Me;
The congregation of the wicked has enclosed Me.
They pierced My hands and My feet” Psalm 22:16

As a member of the religious class and a Sadducee, I am allowed to be within feet of the crucifixion.  The mother of Jesus, her sister (also named Mary),and the wife of Clopas (a third Mary)  (also known at Salome) are restricted as to how near to Jesus they could stand.  With them are the only two male disciples (James and John) that had not run off.

As the crowd and the three scheduled for crucifixion stumble to the place where they will die a horrible death, the soldiers began to move people back and proceeded to methodically lay the two criminals on the cross and lift them up for all to see. Then they came to Jesus.  Putting him last is designed to make him suffer the thought a little longer that he will follow a similar fate.  It is like watching your family killed before it happens to you.

The soldiers are very rough.  They strip off the seamless tunic and his other outer garments.  The executioners had been careful to not damage  one thread of the tunic because it  is a very nice garment.  Later, the soldiers would gamble for ownership of it.  Jesus is striped down to nothing but a small cloth around his mid-section.  They want to disgrace him and cause great suffering.  He is shoved violently onto the wooden cross.  His weakness prohibit his arms from catching  Him or breaking his fall.  So He falls face down with a thud right on top of the cross.  His face is further marred and scratched.  He was already bruised and swollen from the merciless beatings.  The crown of thorns are embedded in His skin like they were part of his head.

The soldiers rudely and cruelly flip Jesus over quickly.  They are surprised when Jesus does not fight them.  Each of them  pause as Jesus stretches out his hands and places his palms up at the exact spot where they will nail them to the rough wooden cross!  The nail bag tingles with the sound of cold iron as one of the soldiers reaches in to take out the first long spike.  He pricks his finger on the sharp tip of one of them and curses as he pulls out the first mini weapon. He feels only a microscopic amount of pain that Jesus has felt or is about to feel.  Then the soldier places the spike in the soft fleshy center of his palm .  He draws back the heavy wooden mallet and swings hard to the nail head.  It is driven through skin, dodging bone, and piercing muscle before entering the wood to cut the lovely hands of Jesus used only to bless, heal, and soothe.

The routine is repeated on the other hand. I hear Jesus praying for these men by their names!  The look at him in wonder and amazement!  But, they shake it off and bring his feet together.  A specially long nail is used here to go through both feet and on to the small platform that will bear most of the weight of Jesus’ body.

Jesus moans, but does not let out any cry for mercy.  The three men line up the cross with the four-foot deep hole.  They pick it up from the top part where Jesus head is and walk it into the hole as it quickly falls to its final resting place with a thud.  As it hits bottom, cries from the crowd can be heard as if it was  each person felt the ripping pain.

The women weep and bow their heads!  They are then allowed to move closer.  They ignore me and look up into the bleeding face of Jesus!  How long can He last?  What will become of Him, His family, and His followers?  At this point no one knows.  The religious leaders have an idea and begin to put together their next strategy to make sure this is the last they see of Jesus.

The soldiers begin to drink and gamble.  It is not long before the alcohol kicks in and Jesus seamless tunic is thrown into the dirt for the prize of casting lots.  The other garments are made into four parts before the gambling begins.  They are like dogs!  So are the religious leaders who are consumed by the spirit of hatred for Jesus.  They curse Him and tempt Him.

” “He saved others; Himself He cannot save. If He is the King of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe Him. He trusted in God; let Him deliver Him now if He will have Him; for He said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” 

They were still angry over the fact that Pilate had placed a sign over Jesus head in the three languages:  Greek, Latin, and Hebrew:

THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS.

Even the robber are reviling him!  Finally, one of them has a change of heart and rebuke the other robber and says to Jesus something that made some sense to me, based on what I heard Jesus teaching earlier in the week about the second coming.  The robber said,

 “Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong.”  Then he said to Jesus, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” 

I think I actually saw Jesus smile when the thief said this!  It was the only encouraging thing He has heard all day. Jesus turns, the best and He can, and looks at the repentant man who want to be remembered.  Jesus confirms his request. Jesus looks at him and says,

“I say to you today, you will be with Me in Paradise.”  

While there seemed no hope, Jesus was promising him on this day of pain and grief that he would be with Jesus in Paradise when He comes into His kingdom.

There areno more encouraging words for the remainder of the day.  Many people walked by and wagged their heads repeating the words of the priests,

“If You are the King of the Jews, save Yourself.”

The wind begins to pick up and the sky starts to turn dark.  Jesus appears to be tiring. He is suspended between heaven and earth with no comfort from anyone.  It seems the mental anguish of loneliness and the sin of us all is hurting him more than the nails.  He is suffering greatly as the sun refuses to shine and the clouds gather as if they planned to attack everyone around the hill.  There is a low rumble as the earth begins to shake lightly as first.

Then Jesus cries out for the first time.  He says in Hebrew,

“Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?”

The Jews think he was calling for Elijah. But this made no sense.  Why would he call for Elijah if He isthe Son of God.  Would He not call for his heavenly Father? Anyway, I know some Aramaic and he said,

“My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”

The soldiers put a sponge on the top of a stick soaked in a mind-numbing liquid to bring some relief, but after He tasted it (He is expecting water), he spits it out and denies it.

The rumble is now louder. We are having a major earthquake. The wind is turning into a massive storm.  Jesus cries out something else to the heavens loudly and then he drops his head and dies.

Word has come up from the religious leaders to break the legs of those on the cross to hurry the appointment with death.

 The thieves legs are immediately slammed with a heavy large mallet.  Within seconds they die because they can not lift up on their legs to get a breathe.  So they smoother from their own weight.

When they come to Jesus, one of the soldiers draws back the mallet, but the other says, “Wait! He is already dead!”  But, to be sure, one of them brings out a sword and pushes it into the side of Jesus.  Out comes water and blood all over the soldier.  He stands transfixed and bewildered.  He seems to be melting in the liquid that is spilled on him.  He bows his head and cries out loud for mercy!

Then I remember!  The scripture says that His bones would not be broken and that He would be pierced.  Thank God for the prophecies of the Tanakh!  They do speak of Jesus!

 “Not one of His bones shall be broken.” And again another Scripture says, “They shall look on Him whom they pierced.”

Now the storm rises even more and the earthquake hits us all strong.  Many are knocked to the ground.  Later, I will hear from the fearful religious leaders that the massive curtain between the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place in the temple has been perfectly torn in half from top to bottom.  It is if some unknown powerful hand has ripped the curtain that  separated priest and sinner from the presence of God.  This room was visited only once a year on the day of Atonement and only by a high priest.  Now, everyone could look into the Most Holy place!  The Spirit of God seems to have departed.

As I watc all this events, a centurion cries out what I am thinking and feeling in my,

“Truly this was the Son of God.”

This all happened between the 6th and 9th hour (12:00 PM and 3:00 PM).

I race back into Jerusalem, with this mixture of emotion (disgust, fear, anger, and a tinge of hope) choking me.  The city is an uproar and commotion!  People have fear on their face as if they are waiting for judgment and eternal death. The sacrificial animals have all escaped and fled.  There are cracks in the rock pavements and the buildings.  It is like God is angry.  Many of the people begin to pray for mercy thinking they will be destroyed like Sodom.

There are people who had died and buried walking the streets talking of the love of God and His son Jesus.  These people are known for their righteousness and closeness to God. Many of the priests who only hours had been cursing Jesus were now falling to their knees screaming for forgiveness and mercy.

I have never seen anything like this!  I manage to find the disciples who had managed to find each other.  They are in a small room gathered in fear.  They are fearful of many things including the same fate as Jesus.  What we all do?  Our leader has died!  We have killed the Son of God!

Later as it became close to the beginning of the Sabbath, a man named Joseph takes down the body of Jesus from the cross.  I help him and feel the lifeless cold body of Jesus as we pry out the nails from the wood.  Pilate has been given him permission by Pilate himself to bury Jesus in a tomb owned by Joseph and his family.

We are accompanied by soldiers who will guard the tomb.  The unconverted and cold religious leaders know that Jesus promised to rise on the third day.  It is ironic, but Jesus followers have forgotten this or simply to refuse to believe it is possible.  I feel the same as they do.

As we wrap the body of Jesus in a clean cloth, the women observe the body and decide to rest according to the Sabbath. Anyway, they are tired and it is now dark.  They will return when it is light in the morning on the 1st day of the week to prepare his body with burial spices.

That night and the entire next day (Sabbath), there is nothing to report.  All his disciples including myself as a new one quietly talk about Jesus.  They try to bring comfort to each other knowing they will never see Him again.  Thomas is not with us.  He is so disappointed and discouraged that He goes to his own home to rest and think.  He has always been the doubting type and all this seems to confirm his skepticism.  He is likely to never be the same.

As I rest my head for the night, I determine to rise early and head to Emmaus with one of the other disciples called Cleopas.

The Day Jesus Gave a Bible Study

A Jesus Journey

If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. John 5:46

He gave sermons, taught parables, and read passages in the synagogue, but there is only one time recorded where Jesus gave a Bible study to prove who He is; why He must die on a cross; and that He would be resurrected the third day.  Because of the amount of  scripture He covered, we have no way of knowing what else  he discussed, but this we know for sure, it was all about Him!  What a powerful study that must have been!

At first, the study was given to only two disciples, but later that day, Jesus repeated it to all His disciples except Thomas.  Thomas would meet the live Jesus  8 days later.

This story is found in Luke 24: 13-45 and  is the basis for the following first person account.

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It was early afternoon, the sun was high in the sky as I walked the dusty road speaking in low tones with my friend Cleopas about the things that had transpired over the last few days.  So many things!  All very bad!

It started with the arrest of Jesus in the Garden east of the city.   During the night and into the early morning of the Preparation Day (Friday) the soldiers and mob began to move Him between the governor and religious leadership. Then they beat Him to a pulp and eventually crucified Him on a Roman cross on the hill outside of Jerusalem later in the afternoon of the Preparation Day.  I watched from afar as He hung His head and took his last breath.  He said something at the end, but I was unable to hear because I was trying to stay far enough away so that no one would try to connect me with Him .  I would certainly be labeled as a fanatic believer in this prophet who the clergy labeled as a blasphemer.  I think I saw Peter off in the distance.  He appeared to be on his knees with his face in his hands.  His disappointment must be very great!

There had been an earthquake and the sun refused to shine.  Darkness took over the land like a thick smothering blanket.  Everything seemed out of place…frightening.  The large curtain in the temple had been ripped from top to bottom by some unseen hand. There were even reports of  people, considered saints,  coming out of their graves and appearing to many in the city! (See Matthew 27: 51-53)

My personal disappointment was great, because I believed everything He said and was amazed at His great miracles and works of kindness. His followers thought Him to be the Messiah prophesied by many of the prophets hundreds of years ago.  He was going to set up His kingdom and deliver our people from the iron rule of Rome.

He was the coming king upon which I hung all our hopes.   But, it seemed like He did not want to be king.  I had left everything to follow Him and learn His teachings, but all this seemed to come to nothing on that Friday afternoon when He died.  Now only doubt, sadness, and disappointment hung on Cleopas and me like a heavy smelly cloak belonging to someone else.  I  want explanation, but the reality of deception was creeping into my thoughts and it made me feel sick and foolish.

On top of everything else, the body of Jesus is missing!  The women said He was alive, confirmed by a couple of other disciples, but I know better.  It is just wishful thinking on their part. No one could have survived the beating, the nails, the loss of blood, and finally the sharp sword in the side.  I saw it and refuse to believe anything but what my eyes can confirm. There was no mistaking… the vision of so much blood and the pale appearance of death was real.

We are on our way to Emmaus to start over;  a walk of about 7 miles. It will take me the usual 2 1/2 hours or so to walk…maybe longer today because of our conversation and heavy heart. This will give us plenty of time to try and put all the pieces together….to try to understand and make sense of everything and to decide what to do with the rest of our lives.

All of a sudden and unexpected, a stranger walks up from behind and joins us.  He asks,

Why are you so sad and what are you discussing?”

I find these two questions odd in the light of the excitement and well-known events of the weekend. Slightly agitated and amazed Cleopas speaks before I can open my mouth and he answers the question with a question.  He throws in some sarcasm  for good measure.

Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem that does not know the things which happened there this last few days?”

 I am even more amazed when the stranger asks,

What things?”

In disbelief, we began to explain to the stranger the events of the weekend.  Reviewing everything does not help my disappointment and we rush through them as a courtesy to the stranger.

About Jesus of Nazareth,” we replied in unison! “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people.  The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place.  In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning  but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.”

Then the stranger calls Cleopas and me “foolish ones” and that we are “slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken”  This is certainly not so! I have always believed the prophets.  I have come from a family who believes in the Tanakh (Old Testament) and I have read it often.  The prophets said, that the Messiah would come and deliver Israel from its enemies.  But the stranger began to recite the writings of Moses (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy) and all the Prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Micah, Malachi, etc)  of the Tanakh and explain things I had missed before.

The stranger clearly points out passages that were references to Jesus.  For the next 3 hours, I am amazed at the knowledge and clarity of the stranger’s words.  As I listened to the stranger recite our ancient books, I begin to see that it was necessary for Jesus to die for the sins of the world, but that He would be raised up the third day!  How had I missed that?  Why had we not believed Jesus when He said it was necessary for Him to die and that he would rise again?  It was like I had been reading the scripture the way I wanted it to read instead of letting it talk to me!  Indeed, we felt foolish, but encouraged by the words of the stranger.  My heart burned within me!  I wanted to hear more!  This was all exciting and new to me!

As we get near the village where we are going it is almost dark. I don’t want the stranger to go and I look for excuses for Him to stay the night so we can hear more. Thankfully, He agrees to have supper with us.  As He breaks the bread, I recognize those hands and the manner in which He breaks the bread!  I finally look across the table into his eyes about the same time as Cleopas.  It is Jesus!  As soon as we recognize him, He disappears!  We had been talking to Jesus the whole time and we didn’t recognize Him!

With intense excitement and joy, Cleopas and I jump up and run the 7 miles back to Jerusalem in the dusk that eventually turns our path to darkness!   We must tell the 11 and the others who were behind closed doors when we left them. They, too, share our confusion and disappointment.

When we arrive,  we find them excited and questioning  Simon Peter about his encounter with! There is a strange mixture of doubt and hope in the room.  We then  begin to tell them what had happened over the last several hours.  Still some doubt, but hope is getting brighter by the moment.  As we are talking with them and answering their questions, Jesus appears in the room!

Everyone jumps back.  They think they are seeing a spirit, but Jesus tells them it is Him and that He is not a spirit. To prove it, He invites them to touch Him and He asks for something to eat.  We give Him some  fish and some honeycomb.  My heart beats fast!

After everyone settles down and the scales of their eyes begin to fall away as it did with Cleopas and me, Jesus repeats  the same type of study we heard on the road to Emmaus.  This time, He uses the entire Tanakh including the Psalms to explain how He is found all through scripture. All the disciples begin to understand that He had to die, but that He would rise on the third day.  How could we have missed this?  It was right there!

Then He said to us,

These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you.  that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me.  And He opened our understanding that we might comprehend the Scriptures.”

Now our hearts are filled with joy and conviction!  We spend the next hour or so talking with Jesus.  Then He tells us that the Father will send us the gift of the Holy Spirit, but we must wait for it and stay in the city.  Our message will go to the world in power.  It will be a message of repentance and forgiveness of sins!

He is risen!

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Do we need  Jesus to open our understanding of Scriptures?  Have we missed Jesus as we have read the Old Testament?  What detail did Jesus teach these disciples when He explained passages from all the books of the Old Testament?  Is the Old Testament not relevant to New Testament Christians?  Have we missed something in our understanding of Jesus?  Thomas was the only one not there in that room when Jesus appeared and taught them from the scripture about himself.

 Next, we will take a look at Jesus through the eyes of a well-known doubter,  Thomas.  We will attempt to understand why the resurrection of Jesus is an absolute cornerstone of the Christian faith. In fact, without it, Paul says we are most pitiful of all men. But, after we see through the eyes of Thomas we will exclaim as he did:

“My Lord and My God.”  John 20:28