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Sunday, January 23, 2011

Jesus Dies on the Cross for our Sins

Jesus Dies on the Cross for our Sins

Journeying Through John (chapters 17-19)

The terrible story of Jesus’ arrest, trial and crucifixion are told in these three chapters of John. But Jesus in His prayers mentions the glory of His coming death. “Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted Him authority over all people that He might give eternal life…” (John 17:1b-2) His terrible death paid the price for our glorious salvation! Was His crucifixion both terrible and filled with glory?

The last thing Jesus did before He was taken away to die was to pray for us. There in Gethsemane He sweated drops of blood, agonizing over His own followers. (Luke 22:39-46) Instead of worrying about Himself, He was praying for us! One of the last things He asked was that we believers would be united and loving to one another. I wonder are we disappointing Him?

And He also asked that God would keep us from evil. (John 17:15) The Lords’ prayer also teaches us to ask for deliverance from evil. (Matthew 6:9) And real evil is out there! We will come across temptations, trials and traps along life’s pathway that can bring us down. We must pray and be on guard, keep the commandments and take extra care when we are passing one of these pitfalls. There are places we believers have been forbidden to go and we need to heed the warnings.

When Jesus finished praying, a detachment of soldiers stormed into the Garden of Gethsemane. They surrounded Him with shouts and drawn swords and lighted torches. Judas, the betrayer, led them in and they bound Jesus and took Him off to the Caiaphas, the high priests’ house for questioning. The religious leaders all joined together in Caiaphas courtyard to accuse Jesus. (Mark 14:53-54)

When we were in Israel we visited the ruins of an elegant house that archeologists have uncovered on Mount Zion in Jerusalem. Archeologists have estimated that the ruins we saw were standing during Jesus’ time. After studying ancient texts and scrolls that give descriptions of Caiaphas’ elegant home, some Bible scholars believe that the ruins we visited might possibly be those of Caiaphas’ house. These ruins were found on an ancient main road near the heart of old Jerusalem. Could these ruins possibly have been Caiaphas’ house?

The ruins we visited had an elegant courtyard outside-perhaps like Caiaphas’ courtyard described in Scripture as the place where Peter denied Jesus to the group and the rooster crowed. – But the real surprise came when we went inside the ruins of the house... Inside we found large round holes in the floors which were the openings to underground caves beneath. Prisoners back then didn’t sleep on cots in lighted cells behind bars. Instead they would be let down through a hole in the floor of the high priests’ house to a cold underground cave. According to the archeologists’ reports, many of the wealthy homes in Jesus’ day had these underground prison cells. After being judged, spit on, and slapped around by the priests and religious officials in Caiaphas’ courtyard, Jesus had been imprisoned there in the house overnight. I had never thought about where Jesus slept that night at Caiaphas’ house.

While inside the ruins of the home we climbed down a ladder into the dark dugout below and saw imprints on the walls of the cave where prisoners long ago had been tied and beaten. It was an emotional moment for us as the lights were turned off and we stood alone in the darkness of this dreadful place. Did Jesus spend His last night in chains in this very underground hole, or one like it?

Jesus was taken from Caiaphas’ house the morning after His arrest and led to Pilate’s court, the Praetorium, by the angry religious authorities. “Then they led Jesus from Caiaphas house to the Praetorium, and it was early morning. But they themselves did not go into the Praetorium, lest they should be defiled, but that they might eat the Passover.” (John 18:28) Just one little line here tells us so much! These legalistic priests were afraid of defiling themselves by going inside the Praetorium on their holy day. While these supposed men of God were plotting to murder the Son of God they were careful to stay “pure”! Back then Jesus hated this kind of self righteousness. Does He have reason to still hate it today?

Pilate didn’t find anything wrong with Jesus even though the religious crowd tried to threaten and pressure him. Finally Pilate asked the crowds which prisoner should be released, Barabbas, a murderer, or Jesus. The fickle crowds who had waved palm branches and hailed Jesus as their king earlier that week shouted out their answer. Release Barabbas and crucify Jesus.

A crown of thorns was placed on Jesus’ head and He was beaten and forced to carry His cross through the streets of Jerusalem and outside the city walls to Golgotha. On the way Jesus fell under the weight of the cross and Simon the Cyrene carried it for Him. The Roman soldiers crucified Him on the hill of Calvary as the crowds mocked and jeered. Jesus hung there on the cross in terrible pain between two criminals for nine hours before He finally died.

Even nature responded to this terrible sacrifice that the Son of God was making. “At the sixth hour darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour.” (Mark 15:33) The earth couldn’t keep quiet at that terrible moment. Just when Jesus died an earthquake shook Jerusalem and the curtain of the temple was torn from top to bottom. As this happened even the Roman soldiers standing by proclaimed that Jesus was the Son of God. (Mark 15:38-39)

The curtain in the temple, now torn down, had long separated a sinful people from their holy God. Several millennia in the past Moses had been instructed by God to place the heavy curtain in the temple to keep sinners apart from a righteous God. If sinners got too near they would be consumed. The curtain of separation had been there in the temple through the ages. But now at Jesus’ death it had been torn in half!

When Jesus died that terrible day, the price for our sins was paid and the wall of separation keeping us from God was torn down forever. Our sins were washed away and can no longer keep us apart from our heavenly Father. “There is therefore now no condemnation (separation) to those who are in Christ Jesus…” Romans 8:1a) We can now freely come into the presence of God our Father through Jesus Christ our Lord and our Savior! He did it all for us! Hallelujah!

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