11 Who among the gods is like you, O Lord? Who is like you - majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders? 12 You stretched out your right hand and the earth swallowed them. 13 In your unfailing love you will lead the people you have redeemed. In your strength you will guide them to your holy dwelling. 14 The nations will hear and tremble; anguish will grip the people of Philistia. 15 The chiefs of Edom will be terrified, the leaders of Moab will be seized with trembling, the people of Canaan will melt away; 16 terror and dread will fall upon them. By the power of your arm they will be as still as a stone - until your people pass by, O Lord, until the people you bought pass by. 17 You will bring them in and plant them on the mountain of your inheritance - the place, O Lord, you made for your dwelling, the sanctuary, O Lord, your hands established. 18 The Lord will reign for ever and ever.
33 Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable His judgments, and His paths beyond tracing out! 34 Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been His counsellor? 35 Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him? 36 For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever! Amen.
In 1952 JB Phillips published a book called, “Your God Is Too Small.” The title of that book says it all. So many of us have reduced the might and power of God to simple human terms. As a result of this, our concept of God is much smaller than who He really is. We have Him neatly defined and kept in a box of our own making.
If your God is too small, maybe you need to take another look at the God of the Bible. Throughout history theologians have come up with words to try and describe His essence: Sovereign, Almighty, Omnipotent, Omniscient, Omnipresent, Infinite, Eternal, and Immortal, to mention only a few.
But no human attempt, no matter how eloquent or impressive our words may sound, could possibly come near the real truth. He is so big that we don’t even have the proper words to describe Him adequately. He is bigger than our biggest words and grander than our grandest ideas. Because He is God, no words or thoughts of mere mortal men and women could ever truly describe His greatness. He is far bigger than we can imagine. His presence fills the universe, He is more powerful than we know, wiser than all the wisdom of the wisest men and women, His love is beyond human understanding, His grace has no limits, and His holiness is infinite. He is the one true God. He has no beginning and no end. He created all things and all things exist by His divine power. He has no equals. No one gives Him advice. No one can fully understand Him. He is perfect in all His perfections. Our best efforts fall so far short of His divine reality that we flatter ourselves to think that we can ever understand Him at all.
It is against that backdrop that we need to tread very carefully and even fearfully as we try to comprehend just a fraction of His awesome nature and power.
He says through the prophet Isaiah in 55:9, “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
Yet, despite this infinite chasm between us and God, He has chosen to reveal a mere fraction of just who He is and what He is like. And even that tiniest of glimpses is enough to take our breath away when we take time out of our own little bubbles and see the evidence of Him all around us.
There is a clear distinction between God and His creation. His thoughts are higher simply because He is God and we are not.
This is why it shouldn’t surprise us that He does many things we don’t understand. Or that most of our questions about life will go unanswered. Job discovered this when God engaged him in a long series of questions starting with “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?”
When we find ourselves in times of struggle, it may help to remember just who God really is. The greater our view of Him, the more strength we will have to face the trials of life. Similarly, the lower our view of God, the more likely we are to crumble under the pressure when the troubles come.
Paul’s doxology at the end of Romans 11 is only 4 verses, but in that short passage there is so much truth about the awesome greatness of God.
One commentator called it a “doxology of theology” and an “explosion of praise.” There is enough in these 4 short verses to keep us busy for eternity.
There are depths of truth here that we could never hope to fully explore, much less to understand.
And so it is with much fear and trembling that we will try to unpack just some of the immeasurable mysteries of Romans 11:33-36 today…
“Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!” (33a)
The Apostle Paul had as intimate a relationship with God as is humanly possible, yet he was at a loss to know the depth of God. How deep is God? So deep that Paul could only stand at the edge and peer into the deep. The setting of this doxology in Romans is important. Paul was writing to his fellow Christians in Rome, teaching them deep theological truths, and suddenly in the middle of his teaching, he basically says, “Let’s just stop all this reasoning and theory for a moment and simply praise our God for His incredible plan of redemption.” Head knowledge of God is good. He encourages us to learn more about Him, but every now and then we should step back from the pursuit of knowledge and just gaze in wonder at the awesome might of God. Theology needs to change to doxology at times. If it doesn’t, there is a danger that we might fool ourselves into thinking we truly understand God. When we restrict Him to a small manageable box of our own making, we have no reason to fall at His feet and worship Him.
In Samuel Francis’ best known hymn, he wrote, “O the deep, deep love of Jesus, vast, unmeasured, boundless, free! Rolling as a mighty ocean in its fullness over me! Underneath me, all around me, is the current of Thy love, leading onward, leading homeward to Thy glorious rest above!”
The wise people will eventually come to the same conclusion. The astronomer gazes at the stars that fill the sky. As the most powerful telescopes take us to the edge of the universe, the wise man will reach a point where he finally bows his head and says, “How great Thou art.”
Robert Jastrow was an interesting character. He was a scientist and astronomer who held a senior position at NASA during the Apollo missions to the moon in the 60’s and 70’s and was still there when the space shuttle program began.
He was a self-proclaimed non-believer, but just after he retired he was interviewed by Christianity Today.
During this interview he said, “Astronomers now find they have painted themselves into a corner because they have proven, by their own methods, that the world began abruptly in an act of creation to which you can trace the seeds of every star, every planet, every living thing in this cosmos and on the earth. And they have found that all this happened as a product of forces they cannot hope to discover. That there are what I or anyone would call supernatural forces at work is now, I think, a scientifically proven fact.”
One of his more famous quotes is in his book ‘God and the Astronomers.’
“This is an exceedingly strange development, unexpected by all but the theologians. They have always accepted the word of the Bible: In the beginning God created heaven and earth, but for the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; and as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.”
Jastrow finally learned something that King David learned thousands of years before:
“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.” (Psalm 19:1-4)
God is deeper than our minds can fathom. Not only is His wisdom and knowledge deeper than we know, it’s deeper than we can even imagine. We have no mental category for the depth of God’s character. We simply know that it is, and that we know nothing about it except what God has chosen to reveal. Trying to understand God is like trying to empty the ocean with a bucket. Dip your bucket in a thousand times and you haven’t made a dent in the vast expanse of water. Your bucket is too small, your arms are too weak, and the ocean is too large, too wide, too deep.
And so it is with God.
The chorus of an old Southern gospel song asks the question, “Has it ever occurred to you that nothing has ever occurred to God?”
Things occur to us all the time, but not God. He never wakes up and says, “Hey, I’ve just had a great idea!”
Firstly, He never sleeps, so He never wakes up. Secondly, all His ideas are great, and thirdly, nothing ever occurs to God. He knows all the great ideas all the time from the beginning of time.
He knows everything that could ever be known. Not only is His knowledge deep, but it is also wide. He knows everything that has been, everything that is, and everything that will be. He even knows everything that could have been, or could be, or could ever be. Not only does He know it, but He has known it all from the beginning of time.
If you have done the Walk to Emmaus weekend, you’ll be familiar with the term, ‘prevenient grace of God.’ It basically means the grace that goes before us. In every situation of life, God is already at work before we get there. He is working creatively, strategically and redemptively for our good and His glory.
You see, we need to look outside of this little box we’ve made for Him. So often we limit our thinking to the fact that God’s presence goes with us as we move through life. That’s true, but it’s only part of the story. He’s not only with us now, He’s already far up the road ahead of us. While we are struggling with the problems of today, God is at work providing solutions for the things we are going to face tomorrow. He’s already there, working creatively in situations we have yet to face, preparing them for us and us for them. He knows the future, because He is the future.
God is already at work providing solutions for problems we don’t even know we have yet. Are you worried about next week? Then take comfort from the reality that God is already there.
It would be enough for us if He simply walked with us through the events of life as they happen, in the here and now. But He does much more than that. He goes ahead of you, clearing the way, arranging the details of life so that when you get there, you can have confidence that God has already been there before you. That’s the prevenient grace of God. He goes before His people. He’s at work in the future while we live in the present. He can do that because He knows everything there is to know.
In the second part of verse 33, Paul writes, “How unsearchable His judgments.” This refers to God being so far above our understanding. The Message paraphrase says, “It’s way over our heads. We’ll never figure it out.”
Not only does God make plans we don’t know about, but even if we did know about them, we couldn’t understand them. That explains why some things remain unexplainable forever. It’s not that God is unwilling to explain, it’s that our little minds can’t begin to comprehend the infinite purposes of God. John Wesley said it this way: “Show me a worm that fully comprehends a man, and I’ll show you a man that can comprehend God.” It can’t be done. If you find yourself frustrated because you can’t see God’s purposes or plans, just remember that there are many things about Him that are just beyond your understanding. It is way over your head…
There are some things that we just do not have the answers to, but we can take encouragement from this truth. The things we do need to know, He has made very clear to us. The most important thing we could ever learn in this life is how a sinner can be reconciled to a holy God. Jesus has given us the answer in John 14:6. “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” When you draw your final breath in this life, that is the only thing that will really matter. The rest will all be details.
In this life there are many things that happen that we simply do not understand. Sickness, accidents, crime, poverty, divorce, broken dreams, terminal diseases, natural disasters, evil triumphing over good, lost jobs, ruined lives, children dying, others promoted while we are not, our ideas stolen and used by others, and good things we do that others take credit for. I could go on, but I hope you get the point. The list is endless, and it is heart-breaking.
Only God knows why things happen. Most of the time we can only wonder.
Paul writes in verse 34, “Who has known the mind of the Lord?”
Many people think they know what God is like, but the only things we know about Him are things He has chosen to reveal to us.
Who among us can claim to fully understand the infinite and Almighty God of the universe? No one knows enough to fully explain God.
Paul continues, “Who has been His counsellor?” The Message translation asks, is there “anyone smart enough to tell Him what to do?”
God needs no counsellor or advice because He is infinitely wise.
When we consider the infinite wisdom of God, all we can do is hold up our hands and surrender to His greater power and knowledge.
But undoubtedly, the biggest reason we have to worship and honour the God of creation is for His infinite mercy and grace.
The next time you feel that God has been unfair to you, or that He owes you some sort of explanation, just stop for a moment and think about where He has taken you from, and where He is taking you to.
Just think about what God has done for you.
He restores His rebellious people (that’s you and me) by granting us the righteousness of Jesus.
We need to be very clear on this. God is under no obligation to save us. He could have destroyed the human race and obliterated us from existence. But He didn’t. What He did instead was quite literally unthinkable.
The Infinite became finite. The Almighty became one of us and went to the cross to pay the price of our rebellion.
Martin Luther put this way: “He whom the worlds could not enwrap, yonder lies in Mary’s lap.” No one but God Himself would ever have dared to think of that. And then in the Father’s wisdom, Jesus died a miserable, humiliating, excruciating death on a cross. The just dying for the unjust, the sinless one bearing the sins of the world.
Through Jesus, God has done everything necessary for you to go to heaven for eternity.
How dare we accuse God of unfairness, when His offer of salvation is made to the entire world? No one who believes in Jesus will ever be turned away.
No one will end up in hell except those who choose to reject Jesus Christ, and no one will end up in heaven except those who have been saved by God’s grace in Christ.
In verse 35 Paul writes, “From Him and through Him and to Him are all things.” How do we even begin to try and understand just these mysteries, let alone the others? St Augustine once wrote, “You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find rest in you.” All things are made by God, and through God, and for God. He is the source, the means, and the goal of all of creation.
And as Paul concludes his doxology, we can only echo his words, “To Him be the glory forever!”
The awesome, unmeasurable mysteries of God leaves each of us having to make a choice. Either you give up your faith altogether and become a skeptic or you bow the knee before the God who is too great, too vast, too awesome for you to fully comprehend.
God always leaves us with a choice. You can believe and be saved, or you can doubt and be damned.
But either way many of your questions will never be fully answered. If you choose to believe, you are able to proclaim with Paul, and countless other believers who have seen the glory of God, “To Him be the glory forever!”
Homegroup Study Notes
Read Romans 11:33-36
The Bible scholar Stuart Briscoe writes, “You can’t put the sea in a thimble, but you can get enough sea in a thimble to understand some of the characteristics of the sea.”
How, as finite beings with limited understanding and wisdom, do we even begin to understand the true nature of God?
Read Romans 1:20 and Philippians 3:10-11
We would all agree that we will never completely know God, yet the Bible teaches and encourages us to know Him better.
How have you grown in the knowledge and understanding of God?
What are the most important lessons you have learned about Him?
“Where is God in all of this?” is a question we hear often, and we have all asked it ourselves at times.
How do we keep our faith in Jesus alive during times of struggle?
How would you answer this often-asked question” Why do bad things happen to good people?”
Close by using Romans 11:22-36 as a prayer of praise.
13 I pray to you, O Lord, in the time of your favour; in your great love, O God, answer me with your sure salvation. 14 Rescue me from the mire, do not let me sink; deliver me from those who hate me, from the deep waters. 15 Do not let the floodwaters engulf me or the depths swallow me up or the pit close its mouth over me. 6 Answer me, O Lord, out of the goodness of your love; in your great mercy turn to me. 17 Do not hide your face from your servant; answer me quickly, for I am in trouble. 18 Come near and rescue me; redeem me because of my foes. 19 You know how I am scorned, disgraced and shamed; all my enemies are before you. 20 Scorn has broken my heart and has left me helpless; I looked for sympathy, but there was none, for comforters, but I found none.
As Jesus was on His way, the crowds almost crushed Him. 43 And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years, but no one could heal her. 44 She came up behind Him and touched the edge of His cloak, and immediately her bleeding stopped. 45 “Who touched me?” Jesus asked. When they all denied it, Peter said, "Master, the people are crowding and pressing against you.” 46 But Jesus said, “Someone touched me; I know that power has gone out from me.” 47 Then the woman, seeing that she could not go unnoticed, came trembling and fell at His feet. In the presence of all the people, she told why she had touched Him and how she had been instantly healed. 48 Then He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace.”
This story is often called the miracle on the way to a miracle. In all three accounts (Matthew 9, Mark 5, Luke 8), this miracle takes place as Jesus is on His way to raise Jarius’ daughter from the dead. As Jesus began to walk with Jairus toward his house, hundreds, if not thousands of people began to press in on Him, many of them no doubt hoping for their own cure, many others listening to His every word, and still others attracted by all the commotion.
The streets in those days were very narrow, so the scene must have been chaotic and confusing with Jairus on one side of Jesus tugging at His sleeve, saying, “Hurry, Lord, my daughter is dying,” the disciples forming a moving wave like bodyguards for a celebrity, and the crowd of people pushing, pulling, shouting, stretching out their arms to touch Him as He passed by. Meanwhile, totally unnoticed, a frail, stooped, sickly woman pushes her way through the crowd. Her face is partially covered so no one will recognise her. Her arms are thin; her hands shake as she stretches them toward Jesus. Now she is right there next to Him. No one notices as she reaches out to touch the corner of His cloak.
The Bible is not very specific about her bleeding disorder, but what we do know is that she was desperate, having tried everything else. Isn’t the grace of God amazing? Even when we turn to Him in desperation, even when He is our last resort, He receives us with grace.
In Mark’s version he wrote in 5:26, that she “had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse.” So, we can only imagine how desperate she was. But living with such an ailment was only the beginning of her misery. We need to remember the Jewish customs of the time. Leviticus 15 contains detailed regulations for women with an uncontrollable flow of blood. Such women were to be considered unclean and defiled as long as the flow of blood continued. Furthermore, anyone who touched her would become unclean and defiled. So this poor woman had become an outcast in her own community.
The English Bible teacher George Campbell Morgan wrote, “By the law of Moses this woman was not allowed to touch any human being, and no human being was allowed to touch her. The law demanded that a woman suffering in this way should be segregated. For twelve years this woman had been excommunicated from the Temple and from the synagogue, from every religious place of assembly. She would have been forced to be divorced from her husband, shut out from her family, ostracised by society, and treated as a pariah.”
This poor woman had been living in a personal nightmare for 12 years. She had endured incurable illness, social isolation, constant pain, financial poverty, and personal humiliation. It is hard to imagine a more pitiful situation. One writer said that she had been among the living dead for twelve long years. And now, Jesus comes to her village.
His reputation as a miracle worker had clearly preceded Him. This is why there was such a large crowd, plus Jarius of course, to meet Him. Even this woman, a social outcast, had managed to hear about Jesus, and so she somehow managed to force her way through the crowd to get to Jesus, believing that if she could just touch His clothing, she would be healed.
She was embarrassed and ashamed of her condition, so she didn’t dare speak to Him.
After twelve years of public humiliation, she couldn’t risk exposure and more taunts of the crowd. She planned to simply touch Him, receive her healing, and then slip away unnoticed. After so many years, she was used to coping with life that way.
And so she reaches out and touches the edge of Jesus’ cloak, and incredibly, the unthinkable happened. Her healing was instantaneous, and it was complete.
Jesus was going the other direction, with Jairus frantically tugging at Him and talking and crying all at the same time. Meanwhile, the crowd was so tightly packed in the narrow alleyway that a person could hardly breathe, much less move. The disciples were trying their best at crowd control, but there was just chaos. No-one saw this woman suddenly appear, and somehow make her way through the crowd to Jesus. No-one noticed as she elbowed her way to the centre, no-one paid any attention as she reached out her hand, no-one spoke to her and she spoke to no-one.
What a thrill it must’ve been for her to feel instantaneous physical healing, her strength returning to her immediately. All of her pain and misery disappeared in the blink of an eye.
I’d like to think that she had a huge smile on her face – her first smile for twelve years, as she tried to slip back into the crowd, but suddenly Jesus stopped, looked at the crowd and said, “Who touched me?” The disciples thought this was an absurd question to ask. Hundreds of people were milling around and He wants to know who touched Him? Everybody was touching Him. So many people were crowding around Jesus it could have been anyone. Besides, what difference does it make? A touch is a touch is a touch.
But that’s not true. In the gospels there are three kinds of touches.
First, there is the touch of hostility. That’s the touch of the religious leaders and Roman soldiers when they beat and tortured Jesus before and during His crucifixion.
Second, there is the touch of curiosity. That’s the touch of the crowd milling around. The autograph hunters and hangers-on who just want to be seen with Him. I wonder how many selfies would have been taken with Jesus that day had the technology existed then? So many people just want to be part of the in-crowd.
And then there is the touch of faith. That’s the touch of this poor woman. If the disciples couldn’t tell the difference, Jesus certainly could. He knew that someone had touched Him in faith. He felt the faith in the passing brush of her fingers on His cloak.
Of course, He didn’t ask the question for His own benefit. He had known for all of eternity what was going to happen, and who would reach out and touch Him that day. He asked not for His sake, but for her sake and for the sake of the crowd.
He asked for her sake so that He could raise and strengthen the level of her faith. If she went away without a further word, she might actually believe there was some magic power in His clothing, and she needed to be assured that it was her faith in Him that made the difference. As Christians, our faith is in the person and saving grace of Jesus Christ alone, and not in religious symbols and trinkets. Jesus also wanted her to know that her healing would be permanent. And He wanted to establish a personal relationship with her. For all those things to happen, she needed to identify herself to Jesus and to the crowd.
He also asked, “Who touched me?” for the sake of the crowd. Jairus needed to see what Jesus could do, because by the time they reached his house, his daughter was no longer ill, but had died.
The people needed to see His power too, but even more importantly, they needed to know that Jesus wasn’t ashamed to be touched by the untouchable.
This woman had taken a real chance and broken all kinds of social taboos by touching Him. According to the law, her touch would make Jesus unclean. But because He is God, His power of healing overcame her uncleanness.
This is such an important point for us to see. Jesus was not ashamed to be touched by the untouchable, and He was not embarrassed to be publicly identified with the outcasts. He was comfortable with sinners like you and me. He sat around the dinner table with the outcasts of society, He welcomed prostitutes and tax collectors, He touched the lepers, and, in this story, He is not ashamed to be touched by an unclean person.
Jesus was not ashamed to be touched by the untouchable.
In fact, He would have been delighted that she had the courage to reach out to Him and touch Him.
Our sin has made us outcasts. Because of the stain of sin, we have been driven away from God and have no way of getting back to the God who created us, except through Jesus. Don’t ever think that God will not accept you when you reach out to Him through Jesus Christ. Jesus Himself said in Luke 15:10, “There is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
And Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 2:1-6, “I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone - for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Saviour, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all men.”
You will never be so far away from God that His grace cannot reach and save you. With God there are no untouchable people. In Jesus’ eyes, everyone is touchable.
Verse 47 is important in our story today. “Then the woman, seeing that she could not go unnoticed, came trembling and fell at His feet. In the presence of all the people, she told why she had touched Him and how she had been instantly healed.”
When Jesus asked, “Who touched me?” she came trembling and fell at Jesus’ feet. Then she publicly declared what Jesus had done for her and how she had been instantly healed.
So many Christians are reluctant to share the truth of God with non-believers. If this is your struggle, just do what this woman did:
“In the presence of all the people, she told why she had touched Him and how she had been instantly healed.” Just tell people what Jesus has done for you. You don’t need to become some deep-thinking theological boffin.
In John 9 Jesus healed a blind man on the Sabbath. This really annoyed the religious elite who were furious that Jesus would do such a thing, so the man who was healed was grilled by the Pharisees. They even tried to put him on the spot by asking if he agreed that Jesus was a trouble-making sinner because He healed on their precious Sabbath. Just listen to his simple, yet profound reply: “Whether He is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!” You don’t need to defend God. He can do that Himself. Just tell others that once you were blind, but now you can see.
And so Jesus looked at the woman and says, “Daughter, your faith has healed you.” The word He used for daughter in the original Greek is unusual. It’s the only time the gospels record Jesus using this particular word, and it means more than a female child. Strong’s Greek Lexicon describes it as a “daughter of God, acceptable to God, rejoicing in God’s peculiar care and protection.”
Then He said, “Go in peace,” or quite literally, “Go into peace,” meaning “Go from this place and walk in good health. You are healed physically and spiritually.”
This story gives us a wonderful picture of the character and nature of God.
As He walked down a crowded street, hundreds of hands reached out to Him. Yet He felt a weak hand of faith. He felt it. He felt her touch, He stopped, He turned, and He spoke to her. He was not offended or angry with her. Nor was He too busy or too tired to bother with her. Just think about that for a moment. This woman did what even satan couldn’t do. She stopped Jesus in His tracks.
And He spoke to her as if she were the only person in the crowd. When He turned, it was just Jesus and her. No one else mattered. He loves you as if there were only one person in the universe to love. He hears you as if you were the only one speaking to Him.
All that touches you touches Him. If it is pain, He feels the pain. If it is sorrow, He feels it. If it is rejection, He feels the rejection. If it is loss, He feels it too. If it is failure, He feels your failure. Whatever it is that hurts you, He feels it. If it touches you, it touches Him. That’s what Hebrews 4:15 means. “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses.”
God has not left us to our own devices. He didn’t set the world in motion and leave us to figure it out for ourselves. Even when we rejected Him, He did not leave us. He came Himself to redeem us. God is intimately involved in your life, and He cares for you much more than you or I will ever know or understand.
This story gives us a wonderful picture of the character and nature of God, and at the same time it gives us a glimpse of the amazing power of feeble faith. The woman didn’t have a huge amount of faith. All she had was a mustard seed, and through it God moved the mountain of her illness.
We don’t have to agonise over the right or wrong way to approach God in faith. There is no right or wrong way – when you come through Jesus, you simply come to Him, just as you are. He sees your pain, your sin, and all your heartaches. Be like that woman, and just touch the Master.
You don’t have to know the Bible off by heart and don’t need a doctorate in theology. Just reach out and touch Him. He will not turn you away.
Do you ever feel that your problems keep you from coming to God? Do you ever feel so dirty and unclean that you think Jesus would not have anything to do with you? Jesus is not surprised at your sins. He knows them all. And He died for those things. This is why He invites you to reach out to Him.
He will not turn you away.
All it took for this woman was to touch Jesus. She didn’t promise to do better. She didn’t promise to do something in return. She didn’t need to strike a deal with God. All she had to do was in her misery, to reach out a trembling hand and in an instant, she was healed.
Jesus did it for her, and He longs to do the same for you.
Homegroup Study Notes
Read Luke 8:42-48
One of the central doctrines of the Christian faith is the incarnation of Jesus – the fact that God took on human flesh and entered the world in search of lost sinners.
The plan of salvation is God’s plan, and in the words of one commentator, the only thing we bring, is our desperate need of salvation! This is illustrated in how Jesus healed the sick: in most cases He reached out and touched those who needed healing, yet in this case the woman touched Jesus.
Discuss the uniqueness of this particular miracle.
What does it teach us about putting faith into action?
We often hear that we don’t have to “do” anything, as God has done it all for us through Jesus, so what are the things we need to guard against when reading about this miracle?
The woman had been used to keeping to herself and avoiding attention, yet her reaction to being identified by Jesus in verse 47 is important.
What are we able to learn from a) her humility in falling at Jesus’ feet, and b) her willingness to tell others about why she touched Jesus, and what He did for her?
1 Corinthians 15:12-26
12 But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that He raised Christ from the dead. But He did not raise Him if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. 20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when He comes, those who belong to Him. 24 Then the end will come, when He hands over the kingdom to God the Father after He has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. 25 For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death.
Easter has always had its doubters. Today is no different. For many this is no more than an extra-long weekend, and an excuse to overindulge in chocolate. To a large degree, the world looks at Easter, shrugs its shoulders and says, “Easter. So, what?”
What difference does Easter make? From the very first Easter morning people have doubted the authenticity of the Risen Christ.
That morning, when the chief priests heard that the tomb was empty, they called the men who had been guarding the tomb and offered them money to say that the disciples of Jesus had stolen His body during the night. You could call that the original Easter conspiracy. It was the first but not the last.
The years have passed. Decades, generations and centuries have come and gone, and each time the authenticity of the Christian faith is questioned, the attacks are almost always centred on the empty tomb and the resurrection of Jesus.
Good Friday doesn’t pose this sort of problem because the world understands death. We’re faced with death every day.
There is enough historical evidence outside of the Bible to support the fact that Jesus of Nazareth was a real man who was put to death by Roman crucifixion in or around the year 33AD. Somewhere in a remote province at the edge of the Roman Empire, a man named Jesus died. Death happens to all of us eventually. That Jesus died is no problem for most people. But the world has enormous problems with Easter because the world knows nothing about resurrection.
We have a category for death. It’s a subject that no-one is really comfortable with, but we know it’s there and that it is real. When we see a hearse drive past, we know what that’s all about. But we have no category for rising from the dead.
So again, what difference does Easter make? Or maybe we should do what Paul did in 1 Corinthians 15 and turn the question completely the other way around.
What difference would it make if Jesus had not risen from the dead? How different would our world and our lives be if Jesus was still dead? What if some archaeologist discovered the tomb and proved beyond all reasonable doubt that the bones in that tomb were the bones of Jesus?
What difference would that make? The question may sound rather strange to ask on this morning of all mornings, and possibly even blasphemous, but Paul asked it, so why shouldn’t we? What if Jesus didn’t rise from the dead?
It’s actually not a new question, and has, in fact been asked for nearly 2000 years. It’s a Biblical question, one that you can find in 1 Corinthians 15. Seven times in these verses Paul uses the little word “if.” He is raising the question in order to show us how much our faith hinges on the bodily resurrection of Jesus.
This is where our faith finds it root, and what Paul is doing is what we commonly call playing the devil’s advocate in order to teach us what matters most.
We need to be reminded that an astounding miracle lies at the heart of our faith, and that consequently we need to be absolutely clear in our minds that the resurrection is true. If not, our faith will be on very shaky ground.
We believe something absolutely incredible - that a man who was dead came back to life three days after He died. We believe that God raised Him from the dead. That’s an incredible claim to make. Just think about it - if you were to go to a cemetery and stay there waiting for a resurrection, you’ll wait a long time. There are lots of people going in, but no one comes out. We see plenty funerals and no resurrections. What are the chances that a man who had been tortured, crucified and then buried in a tomb would be raised from the dead?
Remember that Paul wrote the letters we know as First and Second Corinthians to the Church – to Christians.
He asks them to consider just for a moment what if the resurrection did not happen. What if? What if Easter isn’t really true?
He then goes on to answer the question by showing us four disastrous consequences if Jesus did not rise from the dead. We’ll look at each of these, because these things would be true if the resurrection is false.
Firstly, if there is no resurrection, our preaching is useless.
Verse 14-15: “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that He raised Christ from the dead. But He did not raise Him if in fact the dead are not raised.”
The word ‘useless’ kind of jumps off the page as you read this.
If Jesus was still dead, then all we’ve ever learned about Him means nothing.
The Church as we know it, would cease to exist. In fact, it would never have begun in the first place. But just hold onto this thought for a while. The Church does exist, and it still proclaims the message of hope to be found in the Risen Christ.
But if the resurrection were not true, there would be no Church, no preaching and no proclamation of the love of God.
If the tomb is not empty, we’re wasting our time here.
Secondly, if there is no resurrection, our faith is without forgiveness.
Verse 17: “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.” Something which is futile is something which produces no results. The KJV says that our faith would be in vain.
It’s a promise with no fulfillment. It’s a trip with no destination. It’s a story with no end. It’s a seed that produces no crop. It’s a dream that never comes true.
It’s like a company with no product to market and sell.
Just think about this: As Christians we say that Jesus died for our sins. But if He is still dead, how would we know that His death actually accomplished anything? If He had remained in the tomb, we would never be sure that God had accepted His sacrifice. This would be one of the greatest tragedies – to not know if our sins have been forgiven. As long as Jesus remained in that tomb – and He did for three days, during that time no-one would know the joy of forgiveness. As long as He remained in that tomb, it looked as if the devil had won and Jesus had lost the great battle. Jesus said on the cross, “It is finished.” What was finished? If He doesn’t rise from the dead, then Jesus is finished, the story is over, and we are still in our sins.
That is why the resurrection is so important. One commentator wrote that Easter is God’s great “Amen!” to Good Friday.
Jesus cried out, “It is finished.” And three days later God said, “Amen!”
He raised Jesus from the dead, and because He now lives forever, we can know our sins are forgiven forever.
You can see what Paul is doing here as he plays the devil’s advocate. He wants the Corinthian Church to ask themselves if they can know with absolute certainty whether they are forgiven or not, and he gives them the two possible options, and how they can know which is the correct one. If Jesus has been raised, the answer is yes, but if He is still in the tomb, the answer is no, and they are still “in their sins” – still condemned.
The third “if” he poses is, if there is no resurrection, our death is without deliverance.
Verse 18: “Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost.” The NLT says, “In that case, all who have died believing in Christ are lost!”
Paul says that Christians who have died have “fallen asleep in Christ.” The Greek word for fallen asleep is the word koimao from which we get another Greek word koimeteria from which we get the English word cemetery. In the early days, the word “cemetery” was a distinctively Christian word. It means quite literally the “sleeping place.” That’s where the early Christians buried their dead - in the “sleeping place.” Why is this important to know? Because when you go to sleep, you expect to wake up. Christians have always believed that one day those who have died in Christ will wake up in the coming great day of resurrection. Paul encourages us in Romans 13:11-12 when he writes, “The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here.” That is the firm hope of the resurrection the Church has proclaimed for nearly 2000 years.
But if Jesus is not risen from the dead, then death wins. If He is still in the tomb, there is no hope for anyone, this life is all there is, and all who are dead will stay dead forever. With the resurrection, Christians have an endless hope, but if Jesus is still dead, all we have is a hopeless end.
And the fourth point Paul makes is that if there is no resurrection, our very existence and serving each other has no point.
Verse 19: “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.”
For Paul this is the ultimate argument because he means that if Jesus is not raised, we are just fooling ourselves. If He is still in the tomb, then all of the scoffers, sceptics and doubters are right. We’re just cosmic accidents floating briefly in time and space with no purpose and no meaning. (What a miserable way to live – believing that at the end of your life, that’s it. Game over.)
If the resurrection is not true, then we have a reason to be just as miserable.
If there is no foundation to our faith, then we are nothing but self-deluded fools.
If Christ is not raised, we have no message to preach.
If Christ is not raised, there is no God to hear our prayers.
If Christ is not raised, we are not saved.
If Christ is not raised, let’s close every church permanently.
If Christ is not raised, then every Christian for 2000 years has been wrong.
If He is still in the tomb, you have nothing, and you are nothing, because beyond this life, when you breathe your last and your heart beats for the final time, there is nothing. Game over, thank you for playing.
What Paul means by saying that we are to be pitied more than all men is that if this whole thing is a lie, then we deserve pity more than any other group of people because we have believed the greatest lie.
So if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is without purpose, our faith is without forgiveness, our death is without deliverance and our very lives are without purpose.
And then we come to verse 20: “But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” (NKJV).
He answers all of his “what ifs” with “But now.”
The chorus of Robert Lowry’s hymn answers all of Paul’s “what ifs.”
But now… Up from the grave He arose,
But now… With a mighty triumph over His foes.
But now… He arose a victor over the dark domain,
But now… He lives forever, with His saints to reign!
But now… He arose! He arose! Hallelujah! Christ arose!
The resurrection of Jesus 2000 years ago is God’s way of saying, “One day all my children will rise from the dead.” Not one of us who put our faith in the saving work of Jesus on the cross will be left in the grave.
We will all be raised. We will marvel at the grace of God forever, we will see Jesus and bow down before Him, and we will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
I mentioned earlier that it is an historical fact that Jesus died in about 33AD. There is just as much factual evidence to prove the resurrection. The Bible is not the only source of the reality that Jesus rose from the dead 3 days after He was buried in the tomb. There are writings and documents from the time which unequivocally support the resurrection. Those who still deny it are simply ignoring the facts. Jesus Christ is alive today.
This is our hope, our faith, our confidence, this is the faith of our ancestors who believed then what we believe now. This is what the earliest Christians believed, and this is what Christians around the world believe today.
It is an astounding claim to say that a person who dies will someday rise and live again, but this is precisely what God has promised, and He has proven that He will deliver on that promise because Jesus walked out of that tomb on Easter morning.
Two thousand years ago Jesus came back from the dead never to die again. He was taken up to heaven where He now sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. And one day soon He will return as King of Kings and Lord of Lords for His bride, the Church, and on that day the dead in Christ will rise.
Let the doubters doubt if they will. Today we join our Christian brothers and sisters across the world in declaring that Jesus Christ is alive.
Because He lives, we will live. Death will not have the last word. The grave will not win.
Our preaching has purpose, our faith has forgiveness, our death has deliverance and our lives have meaning.
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!
Homegroup Study Notes
Read 1 Corinthians 15:12–19
The actual resurrection of Jesus is often referred to by Christians as one of the most important doctrines of our faith.
Why is this? Why is the resurrection so important?
Read Matthew 28:1-8
Pay particular attention to the reactions and emotions of the two women. Discuss some of the feelings they must have experienced that morning.
How do you think you would have behaved had you been there that day?
The Christmas and Easter stories are so well known in the Church, yet there is a danger that we can easily lose the wonder of the mystery of just what God has done for us.
What can you do to guard against taking the love of God for granted?
In which ways have you missed the awesome truth of the empty tomb?
Why did Jesus have to die?
That may be the most important question we face because no one can truly understand the Christian faith without knowing the answer to that question.
Why did Jesus have to die?
Some, who acknowledge Him as a real person who lived some 2000 years ago say Jesus was executed because He was a troublemaker, a first-century rabble-rouser who got on the wrong side of the law and ended up paying with His life. No doubt He was a troublemaker (at least in the eyes of the religious authorities of that day), but that doesn’t really answer the question, because it does not explain the divine motives at work in the death of Jesus.
We will never understand the Christian faith without understanding the cross of Christ, and we will never understand the cross until we see God’s hand at work in the death of Jesus.
Christians understand that the cross is at the very heart of our faith, and without the cross we have no faith at all. What happened on Calvary was the most important event in world history. No event can be compared to it, and it is the key to understanding the message of the Bible.
So why did Jesus have to die?
There are three answers to that question in Romans 3:23-26.
“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in His blood. He did this to demonstrate His justice, because in His forbearance He had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished. He did it to demonstrate His justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.”
The first answer to the question as to why Jesus had to die, is in verse 25: “God presented Him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in His blood.”
The phrase ‘sacrifice of atonement’ is derived from the word propitiation. It’s a word we don’t really hear in modern English, but a simple definition is to turn away wrath by the offering of a gift. As we look at the cross, it means that the death of Jesus turns away God’s wrath.
The wrath of God is something we don’t hear about enough these days. So much of modern gospel preaching is anaemic because many churches preach less than the whole truth to guilty sinners. If all we say to the lost is “God loves you,” we are in danger of making them think that their continued rebellion doesn’t matter to God. Instead, we should be warning them about the impending wrath of God.
The best illustration of propitiation comes from the Old Testament Day of Atonement, when the high priest would enter the Holy of Holies with the blood of a goat. Leviticus 16 describes the ritual in detail. It had to be the high priest and him alone, and it had to happen on the Day of Atonement, and on no other day. On the Day of Atonement, the high priest would take off his regular clothes and put on a sacred linen tunic. He would sprinkle the goat blood on the lid of the Ark of the Covenant. That lid, which was made of gold, was called the Mercy Seat. Inside the Ark was a copy of the Ten Commandments, representing the Law of God. By the sprinkling of the blood, the sins of the people were covered. That covering by means of blood was called the atonement. The sacrifice of blood turned away the wrath of God. Why is this important? Because God’s justice demands death as the ultimate punishment for sin.
The symbolism here is important. On any other day, whenever God looked down, He saw the Ten Commandments inside the Ark. The Ten Commandments stood as a testimony against the sins of the nation of Israel. But on the Day of Atonement God saw the blood of the sacrifice that covered the sins of the people of Israel.
The sacrificial system had one major problem though. It provided temporary forgiveness because it was based on the blood of animals. It could not and did not bring complete forgiveness – compete atonement.
But when Jesus died on the cross, the blood that He shed was like the blood on the Mercy Seat. It turned away the wrath of God and covered the sin of the entire human race.
How could that be? In the Old Testament it is the blood of bulls and goats, in the New Testament it is the eternal blood of Jesus Christ which has eternal value in the eyes of God. When Jesus hung on the cross, He cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” At that moment all the wrath of God was poured out on Jesus. He became sin for us. All the sins of the whole world were poured out on Jesus. At that moment God turned His face away from His own Son. To call the death of Christ a propitiation means that God’s righteous wrath against sin was now satisfied through the death of Jesus.
So when a sinner accepts Jesus as Saviour, God accepts that sinner on the basis of the sacrifice Jesus made when He died on the cross.
Why is this the only means of reconciliation to God?
Because He is an infinite God of infinite holiness, so all sins committed against Him are infinite in their magnitude. Only a gift of infinite value could turn away the infinite wrath of God. And only God Himself could make such an infinite gift. That’s why our own efforts to turn aside God’s wrath are doomed to failure. We think that going to church every week or taking Holy Communion once a month or saying our prayers or being good or stopping a bad habit will somehow turn away the infinite wrath of God. There is nothing we can do which will turn Gods wrath away.
The wonder of propitiation is that the offended party (God), who has every right to be angry at sinners – He Himself, offers the means to turn away His own wrath, so making it possible for guilty sinners to be forgiven.
The cross is the place where grace and wrath meet. When we come to God through Christ, we come to a friendly Father and not to an angry God.
The second answer to why Jesus had to die was to demonstrate God’s justice.
In verses 25 and 26 Paul says that God presented Jesus as a sacrifice of atonement. He did this to demonstrate his justice.
At the very heart of the gospel is the question, why would God put His own Son to death, especially to save people who had rebelled against Him?
Or to put it another way, if God is both all-powerful and infinitely gracious, why doesn’t He simply offer forgiveness to anyone who says, “I’m sorry?”
The answer is that sin must be punished. God’s character and nature demands it.
Because God is holy, He cannot allow sin to go unpunished. His justice demands that every sin be punished - no matter how small it may seem to us. If He were to forgive sin without proper punishment, He would cease to be holy and just. God would no longer be God because He would have denied His own character. That could not happen. All offences against God must be punished. That’s why sinners can’t simply say, “I’m sorry” and instantly be forgiven. Someone has to pay the price.
Picture the scene: A man is on trial for some terrible crime, and is found guilty. Before passing sentence, the judge asks him if he has anything to say. The condemned man bursts into tears and with absolute remorse and sincerity apologises for his crime and begs for forgiveness. The judge, clearly moved by how genuine the plea for mercy is, tears up the charge sheet, and tells the man he is free to go.
What would happen to that judge? He would be arrested and thrown in jail. Why? Because he has failed in his duty to bring justice. He has abdicated his responsibility, and failed the justice system.
In our society we understand the principle of justice. As the old saying goes, do the crime and you’ll do the time. You can’t simply let people off just because they say they’re sorry and they promise they won’t do it again.
And the exact same principle applies in the spiritual realm. Sin must be punished, because the justice of God demands it. But because He loves us so much, He can’t bear for us to be separated from Him. There had to be an alternate plan in place whereby God would remain holy and just, but still provide a way of forgiveness for guilty sinners. Somewhere, somehow, there had to be a place where grace and wrath could meet. And that place is the cross of Jesus Christ.
This is the paradox of salvation. God is a God of love, and because of this He wants to forgive sinners. But He is also a God of holiness and justice, who must not and cannot overlook sin. How could God love sinners and yet not overlook their sin? The answer is found in the most famous verse in the Bible. “For God so loved the world that He sent His only Son…”
God sent Jesus to die for sinners. In doing so, the just punishment for sin was fully met in the death of Jesus, and sinners who trust in Him are now freely forgiven.
This is the heart of the gospel: God’s holiness demands that sin be punished, while at the same time God’s grace provides the sacrifice. What God demands, He supplies. Salvation is God’s plan from start to finish. It is conceived by God, provided by God, and applied by God.
The third answer to our question is, Jesus died so that we are justified freely by His grace. (Romans 3:24)
The word “freely” here literally means “without a cause.” Salvation comes “without a cause” in us. In other words, God saves us despite the fact that He can’t find a reason or cause within us to save us. This is what makes salvation a free gift, and not something we could ever hope to earn or buy. There is nothing in us that causes God to want to save us. No good works, no inner beauty, no great moral standards, no intellectual merit of any kind. When God saves us, He does it despite the fact that we don’t deserve it.
That’s what grace is really all about. Grace is what I need but do not deserve. God declares us righteous when we have nothing but the stain of sin in our lives. This is the doctrine of free grace. God saves people who don’t deserve it. God saves people who actually deserve condemnation instead. God saves us in spite of ourselves and contrary to what we deserve.
When He saves us, He doesn’t do it because of any potential He sees in us.
We’d all like to think that there must have been something in us worth saving, but human pride dies hard. Our problem is that because of sin, without the grace of God, the only potential we have is the potential for eternal damnation.
There is a story about a man who had a very basic education who became a Christian. One of his sceptical friends heard about it, and trying to make fun of him asked, “are you now an expert in theology?”
“No. I just know that God loves me enough for Jesus to die for me.”
His friend asked him, “Is that all you know about it? Can you at least explain what being saved by grace means? That is one of your central doctrines, isn’t it?”
The man thought about it for a while and said, “Jesus stood in my shoes at Calvary, now I’m standing in His.”
Sometimes the simplest answers are the most profound…
God’s gift of salvation costs us nothing, but it cost Jesus everything.
“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him. Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” (John 3:16-18)
Have you turned in faith to Christ yet?
Jesus has made propitiation for you. He has turned away the wrath of God. He shed His blood and what was a place of judgment is now a mercy seat for you, if you would come to God through Jesus.
1 The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, and their ways are vile; there is no one who does good. 2 God looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. 3 Everyone has turned away, they have together become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one. 4 Will the evildoers never learn - those who devour my people as men eat bread and who do not call on God? 5 There they were, overwhelmed with dread, where there was nothing to dread. God scattered the bones of those who attacked you; you put them to shame, for God despised them. 6 Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion! When God restores the fortunes of His people, let Jacob rejoice and Israel be glad!
27 Then the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole company of soldiers around Him. 28 They stripped Him and put a scarlet robe on Him, 29 and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on His head. They put a staff in His right hand and knelt in front of Him and mocked Him. “Hail, king of the Jews!” they said. 30 They spit on Him, and took the staff and struck Him on the head again and again. 31 After they had mocked Him, they took off the robe and put His own clothes on him. Then they led Him away to crucify Him.
32 As they were going out, they met a man from Cyrene, named Simon, and they forced him to carry the cross.
Last Sunday we ended with a rather chilling verse in Matthew 27. Pilate “released Barabbas to them. But he had Jesus flogged, and handed Him over to be crucified.”
Like so many verses in the Bible that we are familiar with, this one doesn’t give us much detail, but the Bible and other historical writings of the time give us some idea of the extent of the punishment Jesus endured. I mentioned last week that we don’t really want to be reminded of just He went through even before the torture of the cross, but we do need to understand that none of this would’ve been necessary were it not for the way we have allowed sin to destroy our lives.
Most of the detail we have regarding the severe punishment people were subjected to in those days has been handed down through historical writings. We know from the Old Testament prophecies that Jesus was beaten beyond recognition. It’s hard enough for us to try and comprehend the spiritual anguish of Jesus as He bore the weight of our sin, but even the physical torment is hard for us to grasp. He had been beaten mercilessly, and yet the abuse continued. The Romans soldiers and the baying mob – the very same people who had proclaimed Him as the King just a few days before - were not satisfied with the physical abuse already inflicted. They were determined to add to Jesus’ suffering. Most historians agree that by now He would barely have had the strength to stay on His feet after the flogging and scourging at the hands of His tormentors, but there was no respite. Jesus now endured a time of emotional abuse at the hands of His accusers.
As we consider the ongoing torture and abuse of Jesus on His journey to Golgotha, we should always remember that He endured all of this for you and me. He willingly subjected Himself to unimaginable pain and suffering so we might escape the pain and suffering of death and condemnation we deserve.
Pilate has handed Jesus over, and He is taken into the Praetorium by the soldiers. The KJV talks of the common hall – a place within Pilate’s palace which was accessible to the common soldier. We’re told that the whole company of soldiers gathered around Him. That’s 600 snarling, intimidating, battle-hardened soldiers, the vast majority of whom hated the Jews, and who were quick to inflict maximum pain and suffering on any Jew they could lay their hands on. They were a long way from home, so it’s safe to assume that they would grab any opportunity they were given to take out their frustrations and anger against any Jew they had access to. We’ve all heard stories of soldiers mistreating and abusing POW’s but in those days there was little or no control over what they did to amuse themselves at the expense of a defenceless Jew.
There can be no doubt that the physical abuse already inflicted on Jesus by now would have been unbearable, but the soldiers seemed intent on adding to His suffering. They publicly humiliated Him before the crowd who were also baying for His blood. The crowd had been whipped up into a frenzy, and there seemed to be no limit to just how far they would go.
Verse 28 says, “They stripped Him and put a scarlet robe on Him.” The cloak Jesus had been wearing was removed and they put a scarlet robe on Him instead. Just the act of removing His garment would have been painful after the flesh had been ripped from His back and the blood was beginning to clot, but the soldiers were determined to ridicule Jesus. The scarlet robe was put on Him to add to His shame.
Scarlet, or any variation of purple, was considered the colour of royalty. The soldiers were displaying a beaten and battered man to the crowd. In their minds, this man only claimed to be a king. They either didn’t know or didn’t care about the Old Testament prophecies. To them, they were Jewish writings meant just for the Jews, so by putting a royal cloak on Him, in effect they were saying, “Behold your King! Doesn’t He look like royalty?” Unknowingly though, the soldiers’ treatment of Jesus bore witness to the provision that He would soon make for not only the Jews, but all of humanity, including the very people who were taunting Him that day. Isaiah 1:18 says, “Come now, let us reason together,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.”
And then they continued the mockery of the alleged royalty of Jesus by making a crown of thorns for Him and forcing it onto His head.
This further added to the suffering and misery of Jesus. As the thorns were pressed into His head, fresh blood would have run down His face, intermingling with the blood already on His body. This too paints a picture of the provision of Jesus for us. The thorns take us right back to the Fall in the Garden of Eden where God said to Adam, “Cursed is the ground because of you. Through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field.” (Genesis 3:17-18)
The thorns prophesied in the garden were a picture of the curse of our sin that was thrust upon the head and shoulders of the Lamb of God for us.
The crown of thorns, a mockery of His alleged royal authority became a painful reminder of the curse of sin. Jesus would bear the curse of sin for each of us as He endured the wrath of God in our place.
And then we read that they put a staff in his hand. They further mocked His claim to be a king by placing this staff in His hand to represent the sceptre of a sovereign king. They never recognised Jesus as the sovereign King, but He holds a place of pre-eminence that no one can rival. Hebrews 1:8 says, “Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever, and righteousness will be the sceptre of your kingdom.”
When Jesus returns in power and glory, there won’t be a wooden stick in His hand, but a rod of iron as He rules and reigns.
The soldiers then bowed down in front of Jesus, saying “Hail, King of the Jews!” Of course, this was not a display of honour or submission to Him, but yet another form of mockery and denial of who He really was. They refused to bow in submission to Jesus then, but one day that will change, when all of humanity will finally bow and proclaim Him as Lord over all. Paul writes in Philippians 2:8-11, “Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death - even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
One day Jesus will be proclaimed as the eternal King of Glory by every person who ever has or ever will live. The saved choose to do it here and now, in this life. Those who reject Him will suffer the consequences of that choice for all of eternity but make no mistake – everyone will know and confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.
Jesus suffered unspeakable suffering and ridicule as He went to the cross, and He continues to suffer ridicule in our world today. Not much has changed, to be quite honest, but when He returns in glory and power, He will not be mocked, despised and rejected as He is now.
His return will be in great power and glory. Revelation 19:11-16 gives us a glimpse into the future and gives us some idea of His return: “I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice He judges and makes war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on His head are many crowns. He has a name written on Him that no one knows but He Himself. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and His name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following Him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. Out of His mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. He will rule them with an iron sceptre. He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. On His robe and on His thigh He has this name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.”
What a day of triumph and victory that will be when Jesus returns for His bride, the Church. But not everyone will welcome Him. Those who continue to reject and scorn Him will see things very differently, and then it will be too late, as this age of grace in which we now live will come to an end.
Revelation 6:15-17 gives us a chilling prophecy of how the mockers will react: “The kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and every slave and every free man hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. They called to the mountains and the rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?’”
In the words of Psalm 53, The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”
They will bow the knee and confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father, but it will be too late…
For Jesus, the ridicule and mistreatment at the hands of the Roman soldiers continued. Matthew 27:30 says, “They spit on Him, and took the staff and struck Him on the head again and again.”
Spitting at someone is one of the greatest insults. There is little more degrading than being spat on. The soldiers displayed their utter contempt and disdain for Jesus as they spat at Him. It’s really hard to imagine the vitriol, the hatred and cruelty of such behaviour. Jesus had already been beaten beyond recognition, publicly humiliated, and now they resort to the greatest display of contempt.
But what is happening in our world today? The name of Jesus Christ is still hated and being spat upon by those who reject Him.
The soldiers then took the staff from Jesus and began to beat Him on the head with it. This would’ve caused the thorns to drive deeper into His flesh, adding more physical pain. This was a further display of their rejection of Jesus as King. It showed their disapproval of His claims.
Finally, they decided to remove the scarlet robe and put His own clothes back on Him before He was led away to be crucified. This was all part of God’s greater plan. John 19:23-24 says, “When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took His clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom. ‘Let’s not tear it,’ they said to one another. ‘Let’s decide by lot who will get it.’ This happened that the scripture might be fulfilled which said, ‘They divided my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing.’ So this is what the soldiers did.”
This is the prophecy in Psalm 22: “My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death. Dogs have surrounded me; a band of evil men has encircled me, they have pierced my hands and my feet. I can count all my bones; people stare and gloat over me. They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing.”
God’s sovereign plan for the redemption of humanity was being carried out to the minutest of details. The soldiers thought they were in control, but this was going according to God’s plan. Even in this darkest of days, God remained sovereign and He remained in control.
Jesus was then led away to suffer an horrific death, condemned to the fate of a common criminal. Death by crucifixion was not uncommon in Jesus’ day. Historians tell us that the roads into Jerusalem were often lined with those who suffered this fate as a means to deter criminal activity. However, crucifixion was reserved for the vilest of criminals who had committed the most heinous crimes.
And then we come to Simon of Cyrene. There is an interesting story behind Simon. He wasn’t just a random person picked out of the crowd. God was working in his life too.
As we’ve seen, Jesus was now beyond the point of exhaustion. Victims of crucifixion were expected to carry the cross beam to the upright of the cross which was already planted in the ground, but He had been beaten so badly that He didn’t have the strength to carry this large piece of wood.
The soldiers chose Simon, a man from Cyrene, the capital city of Libya. Mark identified Simon as the father of Alexander and Rufus. Apparently these men were
known to Mark and others as fellow believers. This encounter on the road to the Cross with Jesus would’ve had a profound impact on Simon, and eventually his family as well.
It seems that this encounter with Jesus changed Simon’s life. The point is that you cannot look Jesus in the eye and simply walk away unchanged. Simon was forced to make a decision regarding Jesus and so must we.
This is something I’ve stressed throughout this series. The death and resurrection of Jesus are not merely important historical facts. We have to decide for ourselves just who He is. In the words that we’re about to sing, “What will you do with Jesus? Neutral you cannot be. Someday your heart will be asking, ‘What will He do with me?’”
The mockery and ridicule of Jesus that day saddens those who have chosen to believe that He is who He says He is.
The tragedy is that the rejection and mockery of Jesus continues today.
Many deny and ridicule the name of Jesus and fail to see He is their only hope of salvation. For those of us who believe, we need to constantly be thanking God for opening our eyes to the truth. At the same time, we need to be praying or those who still deny Him. They are not the enemy. satan is the enemy, and non-believers have been taken captive. They are the victims of the lies of the world, and they desperately need our prayers, because they desperately need Jesus.
Homegroup Study Notes
Read Matthew 27:27-32
It is hard for us to try and comprehend the extent of the physical suffering of Jesus, even before He went to the cross, yet the Roman soldiers, egged on no doubt by the people continued to mock and scorn Him.
Discuss the significance of the scarlet robe, crown of thorns and the wooden staff.
How does the mockery and hatred of Jesus continue to this day?
Of all the many different religions in the world today, Christianity is the one which receives the most criticism and hatred. Why is this?
Read Philippians 2:8-11
Discuss the prophecy in verses 10 and 11.
What does this mean to a) Christians, and b) unbelievers?
As with last week, close by praying for those (especially your loved ones) who may not necessarily openly ridicule Jesus, but nevertheless have yet to turn to Him in faith.
33 Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked Him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”
34 "Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?”
35 “Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “It was your people and your chief priests who handed you over to me. What is it you have done?”
36 Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.”
37 "You are a king, then!” said Pilate. Jesus answered, “You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”
38 “What is truth?” Pilate asked. With this he went out again to the Jews and said, “I find no basis for a charge against Him. 39 But it is your custom for me to release to you one prisoner at the time of the Passover. Do you want me to release ‘the king of the Jews’?”
40 They shouted back, “No, not Him! Give us Barabbas!” Now Barabbas had taken part in a rebellion.
15 Now it was the governor’s custom at the Feast to release a prisoner chosen by the crowd. 16 At that time they had a notorious prisoner, called Barabbas. 17 So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them, “Which one do you want me to release to you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?” 18 For he knew it was out of envy that they had handed Jesus over to him.
19 While Pilate was sitting on the judge’s seat, his wife sent him this message: “Don’t have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of Him.”
20 But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed.
21 “Which of the two do you want me to release to you?” asked the governor. “Barabbas,” they answered.
22 “What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called Christ?” Pilate asked. They all answered, “Crucify Him!”
23 “Why? What crime has He committed” asked Pilate. But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify Him!”
24 When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!”
25 All the people answered, “Let His blood be on us and on our children!”
26 Then he released Barabbas to them. But he had Jesus flogged, and handed Him over to be crucified.
Today we continue our journey from the Upper Room to the empty tomb. As I mentioned at the beginning of this series, we don’t have time to get into all of the many scenes in this dramatic week, so just to put the story of Barabbas into its correct place, we need to have a quick look at the timeline. We have moved from Jesus’ prayers in Gethsemane, which we looked at last Sunday. Jesus has been arrested and is brought before the Sanhedrin where He was put on trial before Caiaphas, the high priest. They falsely accuse Him of blasphemy, but because they did not have the authority to pass or carry out the death sentence, they send Jesus to Pilate, the Roman governor. Pilate quickly saw through their plan and not wanting to get involved in what he regarded as an internal Jewish matter which didn’t really concern him, he sends Jesus to King Herod. Despite the many questions that Herod asks Jesus, He says nothing in response, so Jesus is sent back to Pilate, and that is where we pick up the story this morning.
Pilate had tried to pass the buck and avoid his responsibilities as the highest authority in Palestine, but the problem now landed firmly in his lap once more.
It is at this point where Barabbas enters the scene. Of course, knowing the bigger picture helps us to better understand what really went on during the hours before Jesus was crucified. Barabbas was released, and Jesus was condemned to death. Jesus takes the place of a condemned man. The innocent was declared guilty so the guilty could be set free. An innocent man died so one who was worthy of death could go free. What an amazing picture of the salvation Jesus would provide for us all within a matter of hours.
We are so familiar with the stories of Jesus’ betrayal, the sham trials, the flogging and torturous death on the cross, which means there is a danger that we don’t stop often enough to really try and consider just what Jesus did for us as He bore our sin and stood in our place. He endured the righteous wrath of God against sin, so we could escape it. He died on that cross, so we might have eternal life.
And this is why the account of Barabbas is such an important detail in the greater story. This is more than just a criminal being released because that is what the crowd wanted. Barabbas’ release was an important custom of the time, but of course, as we spend time looking at the bigger picture, we soon realise that Barabbas represents each of us – the innocent condemned, in order that that the guilty might go free.
We are given an insight into some of the judicial practices of Jesus’ day during His second appearance before Pilate. Matthew 27:15 says, “it was the governor’s custom at the Feast to release a prisoner chosen by the crowd.” The question is, how did that custom come about?
Remember that the nation of Israel was under Roman domination and rule at this time. Pilate was the governor over that region of the Roman Empire. The relationship between the Romans and the Jews was one of mistrust, resentment, and hostility. For thousands of years the Israelites had been reminded each year of their release from slavery in Egypt during Passover. Every year, and this particular year was no different, tens of thousands (if not hundreds of thousands) of Jews went to Jerusalem to remember and celebrate the Passover, and how God had freed them from slavery, so this was a particularly volatile time of the year. It was volatile because at the Passover they were reminded of how God had delivered them from Egyptian tyranny, but they did this while under the cruel oppression of Rome. They celebrated freedom, but the reality was that they were in pretty much the same situation as their forefathers in Moses’ day.
It wouldn’t take much to spark a rebellion with so many angry young men in Jerusalem all together at the same time. Pilate was aware of this, so each year he would release a prisoner to the Jews in an effort to appease the masses that gathered in Jerusalem, hoping to prevent a riot. Enter Barabbas.
Barabbas was a nasty piece of work. He’d been arrested and sentenced for robbery, murder, and plotting to overthrow the Roman authorities. He was just the kind of person that Pilate did not need roaming the streets, especially at this time of year so he probably couldn’t wait for him to be executed.
So when, as was the custom, he asked which criminal he should release to the Jews because it was the annual Passover, Barabbas was the last name he expected to hear. He knew that Jesus was innocent and as far as he was concerned, releasing Jesus would be nothing more than a mere formality, so he must have been stunned to hear the crowd asking for Barabbas to be released instead.
Pilate was now backed into a corner. He knew that Jesus was innocent of the charges brought against Him, so in Pilate’s mind, the choice between Jesus and Barabbas was a simple one.
We might not be seated in a courtroom setting with Jesus standing before us physically, but we are given the same choice as the Jews did in Jerusalem that day. At some point, everyone must choose between Jesus and Barabbas. Barabbas represents the wicked, sinful nature of mankind. He stands as a picture of those who choose to live their lives in order to please themselves, regardless of what God says.
Strangely enough, history has been rather kind to Pilate. He is seen as someone who was kind of caught between a rock and a hard place – an innocent victim of circumstance. But this is just not true.
He knew that Jesus was innocent, but he backed down from his convictions. Even his wife pleaded with him to release Jesus, but he refused.
Pilate wasn’t concerned with the welfare of Jesus or with justice. He was simply trying to appease the Jews and avoid an uproar which might lead to an open rebellion. Rome would not be pleased if he allowed things to get out of control. Pilate was first and foremost a politician, and he wasn’t concerned with wrong or right. So long as his position was secure, the Jews were kept under control and Rome was pleased with him, he was quite happy.
However, God used someone who had access to Pilate – his wife - to warn him. He was given a final opportunity to acknowledge Jesus and His innocence.
Pilate was given an opportunity to view Jesus as the Christ. He had examined the evidence and knew there was no guilt in Him. His wife had even cautioned him.
The Holy Spirit speaks to the heart of every human being about Jesus, and who He is. Some will respond by faith and others will continue to deny His deity and His provision of salvation.
The tragedy is that this trend continues to this day. Like Pilate, many choose to ignore the truth.
John’s gospel records a crucial conversation between Jesus and Pilate (our first reading today). During that conversation, Pilate asked Jesus the greatest and most important question any human being can ever ask: “What is truth?”
The theologian Ravi Zacharias says this: “When Pilate looked at Jesus and said, ‘What is truth,’ and walked away, Pilate walked away from the greatest authority on the greatest question and committed the greatest crime.”
The Pharisees also knew the truth but decided to reject it. Matthew 27:20 says, “The chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed.” Here we have a perfect example of how the masses can be swayed by just a few. The chief priests and elders persuaded the multitude that they should ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus instead. Like Pilate, they too had a choice to make, but the religious elite had their own agenda and were determined to see Jesus condemned and crucified. They knew there was no fault in Him and their accusations were baseless, yet they influenced the multitude to choose Barabbas over Jesus. And in many ways, their crime was greater than Pilate’s. They knew the prophecies about the Messiah, and they knew just who it was that stood before them, but instead of embracing the Messiah they regarded Him as a threat to their position and authority. Those who should have recognised Jesus as the Christ persuaded the multitude to reject Him. Many false prophets today still try to persuade and influence others to reject Jesus as well. False religions and cults thinly disguised as Christian churches today continue to do the same.
The Apostle Paul, in 2 Timothy 4:3-4 wrote, “The time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.” Don’t allow yourself to be taken captive by the lies of the devil. If you are a Christian, you have the Spirit of God within you, the Spirit that will lead you into all truth, so if you read or hear something that doesn’t sound quite right, and you sense an alarm bell or two, don’t ignore it. Test it against Scripture. What does the Bible say? 1 Thessalonians 5:21 says, “Test everything. Hold onto the good.”
Twice Pilate gave the crowd the opportunity to choose Jesus over Barabbas, but as verse 23 says, “they shouted all the louder, ‘crucify Him.’”
Faces, circumstances, and venues may change, but the cry of humanity remains much the same. When presented with a choice, maybe for the second or third time, the vast majority will choose the world and the pleasures of the flesh over Jesus Christ the Lord.
And so Pilate, instead of choosing the truth and using the authority he had as the most powerful man in the land, makes a farce of the whole thing by trying to shift the blame to the people. He washes his hands, and in so doing refuses to accept responsibility for his actions, or more accurately, his inaction.
Pilate knew that they wanted an innocent man put to death. However, he did not allow the knowledge of this truth to persuade his decision. He wanted to avoid trouble and please the crowd more than he wanted to see justice. In a ceremonial show, Pilate washed his hands of the matter in an effort to declare his innocence in the verdict. He hoped to place the guilt of an innocent man being condemned on the shoulders of the Jews. Now, this might have made him feel a bit better by throwing up his hands as we often do by saying, “Don’t ask me. It’s got nothing to do with me.” But the point is that who is Jesus, and what is truth had everything to do with him, and it has everything to do with each of us.
Although all of this was within the sovereign will of God, Pilate stood guilty of rejecting Jesus Christ and denying Him before the Jews.
We can’t be like Pilate, because shrugging our shoulders and saying, “Whatever,” is not an option when it comes to deciding who Jesus is.
We cannot simply wash our hands on the matter. We must all decide for ourselves what we are going to do with Jesus.
You either accept Him as your Saviour and Lord and all that He claims to be, or you reject Him and face the eternal consequences of that option. There is no neutral, middle ground. Indecision is rejection.
So Pilate deceives himself into thinking that this whole sorry mess had nothing to do with him, and the crowd makes a rather chilling statement: “Let His blood be on us and our children!”
We’ve already touched on the eternal consequences of this rejection of Jesus, but many Biblical scholars agree that this cry from the people has to a very large degree, been answered since then.
Because the Jews had allowed themselves to be swayed by the warped teachings of the Pharisees, they were willing to bear the responsibility for rejecting Jesus and so cursed their children – their descendants - in the process. They were undeterred in their efforts to have Jesus put to death, even though they knew He was innocent, and had experienced God’s provision and protection for centuries. They, of all people, should have embraced Jesus and confessed Him as their Messiah, and many historians agree that their decision to deny this was costly for them as a nation. God hasn’t forsaken the Jews, but He isn’t dealing with them as
He once did. One commentator writes, “A people without the hand of God upon them faces great misery and distress.”
And so Barabbas is released, and is free to go. The one condemned for murder and insurrection against the government was set free as Jesus took his place. This was clearly just a physical act, but it reveals a great spiritual truth. Jesus took the place of sinners as He submitted to death on the cross. The guilty was released and the innocent stood condemned. Jesus bore the punishment we deserved so we could be pardoned for our sin and reconciled to God. 2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”
Verse 26 says that Jesus was flogged. There isn’t much detail in those few words, but when we look at the track record of the Roman executioners and the Old Testament prophecies, we know that this wasn’t just a hurried flogging or whipping. Jesus was beaten mercilessly, to the point He was unrecognisable. He was beaten with a cat of nine tails, a whip that had nine cords, each having a piece of bone, metal or stone attached to the end. This was done to deliver maximum punishment. The pieces attached to the end of the whip would grab the flesh, and as the soldier pulled it back to deliver another lash, it would literally rip the flesh from the body of the condemned. Isaiah 50:6 says, “I offered my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard; I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting.” And 52:14, “Just as there were many who were appalled at Him - His appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and His form marred beyond human likeness.”
These are the prophecies and images that we prefer not to be reminded of, but we have to understand that because of our sin, we are all implicit in this. The Son of God who, in the greatest miscarriage of justice in history, was handed over to be crucified and scourged at the hands of the very people He created and loved. He willingly endured untold suffering to secure our salvation. He was beaten, mocked, and ridiculed as a common criminal. He offered His sinless body as the sacrifice for our sin. If you ever doubt the love of Christ, just look at the Cross of Calvary and the blood that ran down that cross for you.
He did that for you and me because He loved us and was determined to go through with His eternal plan of salvation.
John 1:10-11 says, “He was in the world, and though the world was made through Him, the world did not recognise Him. He came to that which was His own, but His own did not receive Him.” That is exactly what happened in Barabbas’ day. Jesus stood condemned to death before His own people, and yet they cried out for Him to be crucified. His love and compassion was met with hatred and unconcern. Through His condemnation, a guilty man walked away free, cleared of all charges and exonerated of all guilt. That is what Jesus’ death on the cross accomplished for humanity. He provided the means of salvation, the only way we can be cleared of all guilt and viewed as righteous in the eyes of a holy God. The good news of the Gospel is in the next 2 verses of John 1: “Yet to all who received Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God - children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.”
My prayer is that you are in the second group, those who choose to believe that Jesus is who He says He is.
He endured the cross for you.
Have you received Christ as your Saviour? Have you believed in Him by faith or are you like the Jews and Pilate that day, rejecting the only means of salvation? It is impossible to wash your hands of Jesus. You have to decide whether you will receive Him or reject Him. If you have rejected Him, your mockery of Jesus continues to this day. Jesus still had much to suffer between leaving Pilate’s court and the cross, and this is what we’re looking at next week.
Each of us is just like Pilate and the people in the crowd. Are we going to choose Jesus or Barabbas? The truth of God, or the lies of satan?
Your eternal destination rests on the choice that you make.
Homegroup Study Notes
Read Matthew 27:15-26
The story of Barabbas being freed and Jesus being condemned in his place gives us an insight into our own salvation.
How do you feel about being compared to Barabbas?
Why did the Pharisees demand the release of Barabbas instead of Jesus?
How did they influence the crowd to make the same choice?
The rejection of Jesus that day is a picture of the choice every human being needs to make. Our eternal destiny depends on our choice, so why do you think that so many choose to reject, rather than accept Jesus?
Pilate tried to avoid making a decision.
The problem is that indecision or neutrality is exactly the same as rejecting Jesus.
Do you agree with this statement? Why, or why not?
Close by praying for those who continue to reject or are indecisive about accepting salvation through Jesus.
2 Timothy 1:3-12
3 I thank God, whom I serve, as my forefathers did, with a clear conscience, as night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers. 4 Recalling your tears, I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy. 5 I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also. 6 For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. 7 For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline. 8 So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me His prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God, 9 who has saved us and called us to a holy life - not because of anything we have done but because of His own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, 10 but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Saviour, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. 11 And of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher. 12 That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him for that day.
32 They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to His disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” 33 He took Peter, James and John along with Him, and He began to be deeply distressed and troubled. 34 “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” He said to them. “Stay here and keep watch.”
35 Going a little farther, He fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from Him. 36 “Abba, Father,” He said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”
37 Then He returned to His disciples and found them sleeping. “Simon,” He said to Peter, “are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour? 38 Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.”
39 Once more He went away and prayed the same thing. 40 When He came back, He again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. They did not know what to say to Him.
41 Returning the third time, He said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Enough! The hour has come. Look, the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 42 Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!”
Today we continue to follow Jesus on His journey toward the cross. His impending betrayal and crucifixion are drawing closer with each passing moment. Supper has ended, and along with remaining eleven disciples, Jesus makes His way from Jerusalem to the Garden of Gethsemane. It is now late on the Thursday evening as He approaches the garden. The struggle that Jesus faced in Gethsemane is one we all know well, but we cannot begin to imagine the difficulty of these moments. It’s one of the great mysteries that we don’t fully understand, but Jesus was fully God and fully man at the same time, so His anguish and suffering was both physical and spiritual. It is here in the Garden of Gethsemane that He began to suffer in agony under the load of sin, soon to be borne on Calvary. His agony was so intense that Luke’s gospel describes His sweat becoming as great drops of blood. Luke tells us “being in anguish, He prayed more earnestly, and His sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.” It’s interesting that Luke is the only Gospel which records this, because Luke was a doctor, and for years the sceptics have been trying to explain away this idea of sweat looking like blood, but it does happen, albeit very rarely. The phenomenon is called “hematidrosis”, and it occurs when someone is under extreme stress. The blood capillaries in the sweat glands rupture, and blood is mixed with sweat. Remember that Jesus knew exactly what lay ahead for Him. In a few hours’ time He will have been betrayed, brought before the Sanhedrin, Pilate, and Herod. He would be condemned to death, scourged mercilessly, and crucified on the cross. The struggle in Gethsemane gives us an insight into the agonies Jesus faced in His final hours before the cross.
These were very intense moments as Jesus struggled and suffered under the burden of human sin. Verses 33-34 say, “He began to be deeply distressed and troubled. ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.’”
These words are very expressive, describing the agony He faced, but I’ve always been struck by the word sorrow in this verse. If I was about to be executed, I can only imagine the emotions that I would be going through: probably fear, terror and anger. Sorrow though, is a human emotion we usually go through when we lose or are about to lose someone we love deeply. When our hearts are broken we are filled with sorrow, and I think the use of this word in verse 34 gives us a glimpse of what Jesus was experiencing that night. The eternal God, the God of creation was about to die for the sins of the people He created in love. And it filled Him with sorrow. It broke His heart that we had fallen so far from what He created us to be.
Of course, the physical suffering alone that was to come was enough to cause Him to be filled with anguish that night. We can’t begin to imagine what Jesus felt in His humanity as He began to look towards Calvary and the suffering He would endure. The physical torment is beyond comprehension, but the greater agony was of the holy, sinless Saviour bearing the sins of the world. All that He was about to face was contrary to His very nature and deity.
The KJV says that Jesus “began to be sore amazed, and to be very heavy.” This is a phrase that also is very expressive. It means to be extremely troubled and distressed. A closer look at the original root word reveals another key aspect. It has the idea of being away from home and out of one’s usual surroundings. Jesus had never known a time when He was separated from God the Father. The Trinity of God the Father, God the Son and God the Spirit had existed for eternity in perfect union. There had never been a time when that precious, holy fellowship had been broken. There had never been a time when the sinless Son had felt the effect of sin. But on this night, things were very different. Jesus was now facing the certainty that He would soon (because of the awful weight of human sin), be separated from the Father. He had never experienced that before as He began to feel the weight of sin and the separation it brings. It was a glimpse of the eternal damnation that hell will be for those who reject salvation through Jesus. Hell is a place where God is not…
There can be no doubt that His deity – His “Godness” was repulsed by what He felt. Jesus experienced and endured that heavy affliction for sinners like you and me.
Verse 35 says, “Going a little farther, He fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from Him.”
There was a separation from the disciples. He brought the eleven to the Garden, taking Peter, James, and John a little deeper, but even the closest of the “inner circle” could only go so far. This was a burden that Jesus had to bear alone. He was the only One who was worthy to bear the cup of suffering. He was the only One who could atone for human sin. Jesus had to bear the agonies of His suffering alone.
We all know how it feels to face a trial or burden. We’ve all been there, and some of us are there right now. We have all had times in life when it seemed as if our world was falling apart. It is in those times that we need the comfort, encouragement and companionship of those that we love. But not Jesus on this occasion. He endured it alone.
Matthew records that He went a little further. When disciples had gone as far as they could go, Jesus kept going. In fact, Jesus went all the way. He went a little further for you and me, willingly bearing the burden of our sin Himself. There was no-one to help Him carry the load. Had He not gone “a little further”, in fact all the way, we would have no hope.
And then we come to part of His prayer which has created so much confusion. “He fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from Him. ‘Abba, Father, everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”
Firstly, He addresses God as Abba, Father. Abba is the Aramaic word for ‘papa’ or ‘daddy.’ This was what a small child called his father. It expressed a child’s love, trust and total dependency. This is exactly the kind of relationship that Jesus in His humanity had with the Father, and it is because of this relationship that Jesus knew He could call on God for strength in this time of need. Jesus knew the Father was in complete control and that all things were possible with Him. We can find tremendous comfort in these words of Jesus. We have been adopted into the family of God. We can call upon God, our Abba Father, as a child who needs His mighty hand of provision. With God all things are possible. We may not understand why certain things are happening or not happening, but we can take strength and comfort in the truth that God is sovereign, and that He remains in control.
The Gospel singer Matt Redman captures this truth brilliantly in the words of one of his songs: “Blessed be Your name when the sun’s shining down on me, when the world’s ‘all as it should be’, blessed be Your name. And blessed be Your name on the road marked with suffering, though there’s pain in the offering, blessed be Your name. You give and take away, still my heart will choose to say Lord, blessed be Your name.”
And then we come to the request of Jesus which has caused so much controversy. “Take this cup from me.” We must never view this as a sign of disobedience or unwillingness on the part of Jesus. We must consider the agony He endured. Jesus knew that He must die on the cross. He had already confirmed that to the disciples. He knew He had come for this very purpose. However, in His humanity Jesus was not looking forward to the shame and suffering of the cross. Remember though, Jesus, in His deity, was repulsed by what He was experiencing and what He would soon face. His deity cried out because of the sin and separation; His humanity cried out because of the suffering. The suffering which we mistakenly regard as what He was trying to “avoid” was not a painful death. He was horrified at the thought of being separated from the Father. That was an infinitely greater suffering, but He was prepared to do it in order that we wouldn’t be separated from the Father. And I think that if we ever really understood all that Jesus endured for us, we would not be the complacent, apathetic Christians that we so often are.
“Yet not what I will, but what you will.” That prayer of Jesus is recorded in the Bible for our benefit. God wants us to see just what our sin has done. Our sin is so evil and so depraved, that the only way it could be redeemed was to destroy the perfect, eternal harmony of the Holy Trinity. This is what broke the heart of Jesus, but He did it anyway, because there is no other means of salvation for us.
Jesus didn’t want to be separated from the Father, but He wanted the will of God to be completed more than He wanted to avoid the cross. Jesus willingly submitted Himself to the suffering and shame of the cross in order to fulfill the will of God and redeem sinful men. In His deepest agony, Jesus never wavered in His love and devotion for the Father’s will or His commitment to provide the means for our salvation. Hebrews 5:8-9 says, “Although He was a son, He learned obedience from what He suffered and, once made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him.”
The obedience of Jesus was necessary for Him to stand as the sacrificial Lamb for the sins of the world.
J Vernon McGee writes in his commentary, “This cup evidently represents His cross, and the contents are the sins of the whole world. More than the death itself and the terrible suffering of crucifixion is something else that we do not seem to realise. It is this: Jesus, holy, harmless, and separate from sinners, was made sin for us. There on the cross the sin of humanity was put on Him - not in some forensic or academic manner, but in reality. We cannot even imagine the horror He felt when that sin was placed upon Him. It was a horrendous experience for this One who was holy. Notice that He was not asking to escape the cross, but He was praying that God’s will be done. It is impossible for you and me to enter into the full significance of Gethsemane, but I think it was there that He won the victory of Calvary. Undoubtedly, He was tempted by satan in Gethsemane as truly as He was in the wilderness. Notice verse 42: “He went away again the second time, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, Thy will be done.” He was accepting it. To say that our Lord was trying to avoid going to the cross is not true. In His humanity He felt a repugnance and the awful horror of having the sins of the world placed upon Himself, and He recoiled for a moment from it. But He committed Himself to the Father. He came to do the Father’s will.”
And then we come to the disciples. In His time of suffering Jesus gave a simple command: “Stay here and keep watch. Watch and pray.”
He didn’t ask them to accomplish some great or difficult task, other than to just stay and watch. He wanted them to remain with Him and be diligent for Him. Jesus knew He must bear the cup of suffering alone, but He wanted His closest friends to watch and pray for Him in His difficult moment. They couldn’t bear the burden with Him, but they could offer their prayers and support.
There is so much we can learn from this simple command. We often get so wrapped up in the things we feel are important, that we fail to do the simple things that are really important. We must be diligent to accomplish what God has called us as the Church to do: pray, study, witness, love, and serve Him.
Verse 37: “He returned to His disciples and found them sleeping. ‘Simon,’ He said to Peter, ‘are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour?’”
As Jesus returned from His first prayer, He found the disciples asleep, rather than doing what He had instructed them to do. We can assume by His addressing Peter, that Jesus regarded him as a leader among the disciples. There is no doubt that Jesus was disappointed in the three. He had asked a simple thing of them, something that each of them could have done, and He fully expected them to have done what He asked. We have no excuse for abandoning the work we’ve been called to do. Jesus fully expects us to remain faithful to the task. James 4:17 puts it like this: “Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.” Are we doing all that God expects of us? If not, we are willfully disobeying the Lord and sinning in the process.
Jesus then said something very interesting to them. “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.”
Jesus had not asked them to watch and pray just to give them something to do. He was in His hour of need, and if He ever needed the support of the disciples, it was now. But Jesus had a greater reason for asking them to pray. He knew what they would all soon face. Their faith was about to be put to the test and they needed to be prepared.
Prayer and seeking God’s help was the only way they would find the strength they
needed. In themselves they were doomed to fail, and so are we. We need to understand that it is for our benefit to pray and seek God. We’ll never make it without Him.
Jesus would soon be betrayed, and the disciples would be scattered and fearful. Their opportunity for preparation was squandered as they slept. Had they been praying instead of sleeping, they may not have abandoned Jesus as quickly as they did in the following hours.
When Jesus returned and found them sleeping a second time, we’re told that they did not know what to say.
They were at a loss for words. As Jesus rebuked them for their failures they didn’t
know what to say. They had failed Him and there was no excuse. He had asked them to support Him and pray for themselves and they had not done it. There was nothing to say. There was no way they could justify their lack of commitment.
When God calls us to do something and we fail, we have no excuse. Remember that He will equip us for whatever task He calls us to. So, when things go wrong, the fault lies with us – not with God.
How many opportunities to make a real difference in the lives of those who don’t know Jesus are lost because instead of watching and praying, we have dozed off and fallen asleep at our posts?
The last moments for the disciples to pray had been spent sleeping. Rather than finding strength and help for their hour of need, the disciples were weak and unsure. When Jesus was arrested soon after that, they all fled in fear. Their complacency and lack of commitment hindered their walk with God. Had they spent time in prayer as Jesus commanded, their reaction to His arrest may have been far different.
It is important that we spend time with the Lord and seek His strength and guidance. In the good times we must be preparing for the storm, because the storm is coming. It will hit soon enough and the time for preparation will be gone. If we fail to gain strength and wisdom on the mountain, the valley will be much more difficult than it needs to be. Don’t allow an attitude of complacency to weaken your faith in God.
God will give us all we need for the tasks He calls us to, but we need to be faithful and obedient in our response to Him.
As Paul said to Timothy in our first reading today, “God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline. So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me His prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God, who has saved us and called us to a holy life - not because of anything we have done but because of His own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Saviour, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.”
Jesus provided the means of our salvation through His immeasurable sacrifice on the cross. Do you know Him as your Saviour? If you do, Jesus is calling us to watch and pray, just as He did with His disciples that night.
How will you respond to His call to watch and pray?
Homegroup Study Notes
Read Mark 14:32-42
See Jesus’ prayer in verse 36.
This has created much debate and confusion over the years, but why is it a mistake to say that Jesus, in a moment of weakness, was trying to avoid going to the Cross of Calvary?
What is the “cup” He prays about?
Three times Jesus left His disciples, asking them to watch and pray, but each time He returned, He found them sleeping.
How does this picture relate to the Church today?
In which areas where we need to be diligent and praying, is the Church “dozing off and sleeping on duty?”
What can we learn from Paul’s encouragement to the young Timothy in 2 Timothy 1:6-10?
What changes do you think are necessary for the Church to make a real difference in our world today?
Next week: Barabbas
John 13: 1-17
1 It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for Him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved His own who were in the world, He now showed them the full extent of His love. 2 The evening meal was being served, and the devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray Jesus. 3 Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under His power, and that He had come from God and was returning to God; 4 so He got up from the meal, took off His outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around His waist. 5 After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash His disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around Him.
6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to Him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”
7 Jesus replied, “You do not realise now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”
8 “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”
9 “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”
10 Jesus answered, “A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” 11 For He knew who was going to betray Him, and that was why He said not every one was clean.
12 When He had finished washing their feet, He put on his clothes and returned to His place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” He asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.
These events in the Upper Room took place on the Thursday evening of Holy Week. Much later that evening Jesus anguished over what was to come in the Garden of Gethsemane (we will be looking at that in some detail next Sunday), and He was arrested in the early hours of the next morning. He would then be falsely accused and tried by the Sanhedrin, after which He would stand before Pilate, where He would be condemned to death, scourged, and crucified. Within 24 hours of washing the feet of His disciples, Jesus would give His life for the sins of the world.
A twenty-four-hour period may seem a short amount of time, but a lot can happen in a day. The events of that Thursday night and what transpired in the next few days, are the most important three days in all of human history.
Fortunately, the Bible goes into great detail, recording much of what happened during that time, and in the coming weeks we’ll be looking at some of the key events of Holy Week as we journey from the Upper Room to the empty tomb on the Sunday morning.
Today we are looking at this rather strange episode of Jesus taking on the role of a servant as He washed the feet of His disciples.
We have the benefit of knowing the end of the story. We know that Jesus humbling Himself in this manner pointed to the Cross. We also know that He was preparing His disciples for the roles of servant-leadership as the Church was established after Pentecost. As He said to Peter, “You do not realise now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” But try putting yourself in the position of those 12 men that night. What a strange sight it must have been, and how embarrassing that their Lord and teacher would do such a menial and degrading thing for them.
This was a stressful time for Jesus and His disciples, and He was well aware of the circumstances and what lay ahead for Him. Verse 1 of John 13 tells us that “He knew that the time had come for Him to leave this world and go to the Father.”
Jesus knew that the hour of His crucifixion was fast approaching. He had faced threats before, but His hour had not yet come, but now things were about to change. Now, for the last time, He sits among His disciples, about to celebrate the annual Passover Meal, but His eyes and His heart were looking toward the cross. He knew the suffering He would endure and the sacrifice He had to make. He knew the disciples would be scattered, alone, afraid, confused, and doubtful.
So even on the eve of His death, Jesus is found giving comfort to those He loved. He knew the emotional and spiritual rollercoaster they were about to experience, so in their hour of need He didn’t desert them, even though they were about to desert Him. But that’s the nature of Jesus and His selfless love for us.
Jesus was concerned about the disciples, and He knew they would need to look back on this remarkable way in which He ministered to them when they needed it most.
He is also fully aware of our struggles today. He knows we are living in difficult times and He continues to be the anchor for our souls today. He will never leave us or forsake us.
Without doubt, one of the most amazing things about Jesus washing the feet of His disciples is that Judas was included. If you look at the timeline of events, he left halfway through the meal, after Jesus had washed the feet of the 12.
Jesus was well aware of the condition of Judas’ heart. He knew he would betray Him. 1 Samuel 16:7 says, “The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” In John 10:14 Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me.” Jesus sees more than the outward appearance. He sees the heart.
Jesus knows those who are His. He is aware of the condition of the heart. We may deceive others, but not God.
Judas is just one example of the complete betrayal of Jesus. From a purely human perspective as we just look at the facts, there has never been a greater injustice than the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. He was holy, sinless, the Son of God, and yet He was condemned to die, a man without any guilt or shame. We’ll look at the story of Barabbas in a couple of weeks - a vile, convicted murderer was released and Jesus was crucified instead. This was the greatest injustice ever committed, but it wasn’t in vain. This was God’s plan. It is why Jesus came. He was born to die for our transgressions. Jesus knew that He was sinless. He knew He had done nothing worthy of death, but He also knew this was the Father’s will. His death at Calvary was part of the eternal plan of salvation.
He left the splendour of heaven and took on human flesh to purchase our redemption. Philippians 2:6-8 says of Jesus, “who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death - even death on a cross!”
Jesus knew that by submitting to the cross, He was fulfilling His Father’s will. He was fully aware of why He came, so if you think about it, it’s amazing that He came at all, knowing what was in store. But we don’t really know the heart of God. There was no hesitation, and no question of Jesus backing down. The doubters and scoffers will usually point to Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane at this point, saying that Him asking that this cup of suffering would pass was a sign of weakness, but that is to miss the point entirely. We’ll look at this in detail next week.
Jesus knew what was coming, and what does He do in preparation? He washes their feet. In many Christian traditions foot washing still happens. We’ve done it in our Church in the past, and if you have ever served on a team at a Walk to Emmaus weekend, you’ve probably experienced it too. The idea is a good one, as it is a lesson in humility, but it is sometimes done with false humility and pride. In verses 14 and 15 He says, “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” Unfortunately, some do just that and nothing more – they wash the feet of someone else, then tick that box and move on. What Jesus really meant was that we should surrender and yield to each other in love and humility, and anyone who has ever really tried to do that will know that washing someone else’s smelly feet is a lot easier!
False humility though, wasn’t Jesus’ goal. As the text tells us, He wanted to show them the full extent of His love. The disciples that night would have understood a lot more about the significance than we can today. Foot washing was the work of slaves. Not even a Jewish servant was expected to perform this demeaning task.
We forget too easily in our custom of closed shoes and fresh socks each day that these people wore open sandals on untarred roads littered with dust, refuse, animal faeces and all other kinds of unimaginable things. These are the filthy feet that Jesus kneeled down to wash.
He teaches his disciples a profound lesson in humility, and we can only imagine what they must have been thinking.
They see the Christ, their Master, the Bread of life, the Resurrection, the King of glory bowing to wash their feet…
The feet of Peter – the man that He knew would deny even knowing Him. The feet of Thomas, who would not believe the reports of His resurrection. And of course, even Judas. One of His closest friends who was soon to betray Him for 30 pieces of silver. Knowing all that, we see a humble Servant, washing all their feet, and no-one was left out.
Jesus came as a sacrifice for all. Human history records the most despicable and evil people that have ever walked this earth. And Jesus died for them too. There is no sin that is too great for His sacrifice on the cross.
We can thank God that Jesus doesn’t see people with the same judgmental, critical eyes that we do. He doesn’t see a worthless addict, an abusive spouse, or a convicted killer. He sees a soul in need of salvation. It is here where His words, “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you,” should pierce our hearts. Our efforts at evangelism and bringing God’s truth to the lost and hurting needs to be the same as His: consistent, unconditional and without prejudice. Every person you have ever met or will ever meet is an immortal being, created in the image of God, and loved by Him with an intensity that would scare us if we were able to measure His love.
Jesus is God Himself, but He was the only one worthy of washing their feet. The reason that He was the only one worthy for them and for us is that this was never really about hygiene and physical cleanliness. What He did that evening in the Upper Room, and more importantly what He did at Golgotha the following afternoon was all about our deepest spiritual need.
The disciples had no hope of spiritual cleansing without Jesus, and neither do we.
Only God could do that.
Jesus alone has the power over sin.
He has served us in the most incredible way by giving His life for us, and we as Christians, are duty and honour bound to point the lost to Jesus.
As we’ve seen in the past, the English translations of the Bible often miss the finer details of the original Greek text. Another example is found in the conversation that Jesus has with Peter.
He came to Simon Peter, who said to Him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”
Jesus replied, “You do not realise now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”
“No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”
“Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”
Jesus answered, “A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.”
The disciples were only thinking in physical terms. Peter was almost certainly speaking for them all when He questioned Jesus. Jesus had to explain what He was doing by washing their feet. In fact, they received far more than just clean feet. He revealed an eternal truth by His simple act of humility. There are two different words translated wash in the English text. In the first part of the conversation - “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me,” the Greek word louo is used. Louo means to bathe all over, a complete cleansing. But then Jesus says to Peter, “A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” Here He uses the word nipto, which means to wash part of the body, such as the hands, feet, or face.
The deeper spiritual implication here is that we must first be completely cleansed (louo) in Him if we are to be saved.
There are so many people who seem to want to only clean up certain areas of their lives (nipto), but we must be washed (louo) in the cleansing blood of Jesus first. As one commentator put it, He is either Lord of all, or not at all. You can’t withhold part of your life for yourself, and only allow Him to be Lord over the bits you’re prepared to surrender to Jesus. You can’t say, “Lord, I’ll see you in Church every Sunday. I’ll put money in the bag every week, and I’ll even get involved in the odd ministry task every now and then, but there are some lines I’d prefer you not to cross.”
Discipleship of Jesus doesn’t work that way. It is impossible to receive salvation apart from Jesus, so it stands to reason that clean feet are no good if the heart is still dirty. Salvation comes from a complete surrender, and we are to remain surrendered.
Once we have been washed, we must continue to wash.
Jesus reveals to Peter that we must be clean to have fellowship with Him. “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” He isn’t saying that we must be saved again, but that we must keep our lives clean of sin. When we were saved, we were cleansed (louo), but with time, sin enters our lives and we get dirty again. The only way to have communion with Jesus is to remain in a state of confession, so to speak. We need to be aware of all of the temptations we face, and how often we fail. As the words of the old hymn go, ‘simply to Thy cross I cling.’
He has purchased us with His precious blood. You are no longer your own. It was easy for feet to get dirty in Jesus’ day. They had to be washed daily. It is easy for our hearts to get dirty today, so we need to be turning to Him daily for grace and strength. 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
A life that honours Jesus is a life that has been cleansed (louo) by Him, and remains cleansed (nipto) by Him on a daily basis.
It’s important that we understand the difference here. There will be times that we must confess sin – you don’t need me to remind you of that - but the penalty for our sin has been taken care of. We are secure in Jesus Christ. The saved won’t have to stand before a holy God responsible for sin, because Jesus forever atoned for our sin at Calvary. I will never need to come for another complete cleansing because Jesus washed all my sin away. I stand righteous before the Father, but my feet still get dirty. My heart still gets dirty, so I need to stay in communion with Him for daily cleansing.
Judas had his feet washed, but his heart was still dirty. Many today are trusting in the works they do, or even in their church membership, but that doesn’t provide cleansing. Judas could’ve been saved if he had only believed. Just being in the presence of Jesus didn’t secure salvation. There must be a time in your life when you come to Jesus for cleansing from your sin. Otherwise, you are not clean. Don’t be a Judas, never completely surrendering to Jesus. Your eternity depends on it.
There is much in John 13. He understands our weakness, yet He wants us to be victorious in Him. He has set the bar of servanthood for us, and we are called to serve others as He has served us. This is a vital lesson we’re to learn from this passage. Our mission statement as a congregation is to communicate the Gospel of Jesus Christ, in service of God, each other and the world. Our logo depicts Him washing the feet of His disciples. We are to follow His example and serve in love.
The greatest truth in this passage though, is how Jesus reveals our spiritual condition. And He used a physical example to teach an eternal truth. We must be washed in the blood if we are to be saved. There is no other way.
It is important for us to respond to the call of servanthood as we follow His example, but there is a bigger question for each of us to answer first: Have you been washed in the redeeming blood of Jesus Christ?
Homegroup Study Notes
Read John 13:1-17
This passage deals with two important Christian doctrines: Salvation and Serving
See Peter’s conversation with Jesus in verses 6-10.
Strong’s Dictionary of Hebrew and Greek Words says, λούω lŏuō, a primary verb; to bathe the whole person; whereas νίπτω niptō means to wet a part only.
The word lŏuō is used to describe washing in verses 6 and 8, while Jesus uses niptō in verse 10.
What does this teach us about salvation, and the total and complete forgiveness of sins? (see also Romans 8:1)
Why is it necessary for us to continually confess our sins if we have already been totally forgiven?
Upper Umgeni’s mission statement is to “Communicate the Gospel of Jesus in service of God, each other, and the world.”
Bearing this in mind, how do we practically apply Jesus’ words in verses 14-17?
Next week: The Agony in Gethsemane
1 As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit - just as you were called to one hope when you were called - 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. 7 But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. 8 This is why it says: “When He ascended on high, He led captives in His train and gave gifts to men.”
9 (What does “He ascended” mean except that He also descended to the lower, earthly regions? 10 He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.) 11 It was He who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12 to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. 14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming.
9 And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10 so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ - to the glory and praise of God.
Even the most basic studies of Paul’s letters to the Churches in the New Testament will quickly reveal how much emphasis he placed on spiritual growth, both for the Church in a corporate sense, and also for individual believers.
And nothing has changed during the last 2000 or so years. It is of vital importance that we grow in our faith and understanding of the nature of God, for the simple reason that the opposite of growth is decay. Drifting away from God as our faith slowly but surely weakens can happen even without us realising what is happening. Sadly, we see this happening all too often, as some people who once seemed to be so close to Jesus are now so far away from Him, one wonders if they will ever be able to get back to where they once were.
I wrote in the bulletin today that we should jealously guard our faith in Jesus. The word jealous often has negative connotations, but God Himself says that He is a jealous God. In fact, in Exodus 34:14 He says, “Do not worship any other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.”
So in the context of our relationship with God, asking Him to help us jealously protect our faith in Him is a good thing.
Paul understood the challenges we all face, and this is the reason for his prayer in Philippians 1: “That your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ - to the glory and praise of God.”
Hebrews 3:12-14 says, “See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first.”
The early Christians in Philippi that Paul was writing to had grown tremendously in their faith and work for the Kingdom, but Paul prayed for more progress.
He prayed first for a growth in their love for each other. Most of us know that the Greek language has three words for love: eros (romantic love), phileo (brotherly love), and agape (Godly love).
It would be natural for us to assume that Paul would pray that their phileo love for each other would deepen, but the word he used for love in verse 9 was agape. The agape of God is quite distinctive, and is much deeper than eros or phileo love, yet this is precisely what Paul prayed for the Church – that we would deepen our love for each other to such an extent that we would even love each other in the same way that God loves us.
He also prayed for this love to “abound.” This is not just a one-time event, but rather a continual activity. He speaks of the way God loves us in Romans 5:5. “God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us.” There is an abundance in these words, and the love that Christians are to have for each other is to be the same.
When we love each other with God’s agape love, we move our relationship with each other to a whole new level. It directly confronts the me-first attitude of the sinful heart, because agape love is an others-centred love. It looks for needs in the lives of others and seeks to meet those needs with no thought of expecting favours in return.
It is also a love which is characterised by knowledge and discernment. This is such an important point that we often miss. Many people today want to focus on love with no discernment. That’s the way of the world, especially today.
The world has got love all wrong, because to the non-believing world, love means tolerance, and accepting anyone and everything without questioning right and wrong. This does not mean we are to hate those who stand opposed to God’s truth. Remember, Jesus died for them too. He loved us first, and He loved them first, and it is love that will bring the lost into the Kingdom. For far too long the Church has been critical and judgmental of others, rather than an instrument of the love of Christ.
Once people have had their eyes opened to the truth and have accepted salvation in Christ, the task of the Church is, as 2 Timothy 3:16 says, to teach, rebuke, correct and train in righteousness. What this means is that the correcting and training happens within the Church as we grow in faith and love together. Those who are on the outside need to be loved, rather than have stones thrown at them.
Love must be based first and foremost on truth. Romans 12:9 says, “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.” Hate what is evil, not who is evil. I think we get that the wrong way around far too often.
Again, agape love must be based on truth, which leads to verse 10 in Philippians 1, where Paul prays for a deeper discernment.
He understood the struggles we face in our choices, and so he wanted believers to evaluate the things of life correctly. Many things in life have no ultimate, eternal value, and the Bible reminds us that to find the real worth of things, we must weigh them in the light of eternity and approve the things that are excellent.
If only we would learn to have the question, how important is this in the light of eternity, in the forefront of our thinking when making decisions. We would undoubtedly make much wiser decisions than we often do!
There must be an ultimate standard for us to follow – a standard not to be found in the varied philosophies of mankind, but arrived at only through a knowledge of God’s Word. As Hebrews 4:12 says, “The Word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”
Genuine, mature love, when making a decision, asks questions like:
• Does the Bible speak against it?
• Will it glorify God?
• Will it harm me physically or spiritually?
• Could it cause others to stumble?
• Would I make that choice if Jesus were standing right here?
It takes a tremendous amount of spiritual maturity to not only ask ourselves those kinds of questions in the first place, but also to arrive at a different decision than we would have, had we not asked them.
It’s quite simple if you think about it. The closer we are to Jesus, the more we are in tune with His will for our lives, rather than our own.
Paul goes on in his prayer when he prays for righteousness in the Church.
He prayed that we would be pure and blameless, filled with the fruit of righteousness. You can sense Paul referring here to the opening verses of Psalm 1: “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on His law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.”
Jeremiah 17:7-8 says, “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in Him. He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.”
God wants a bumper crop of righteousness in our lives. This is not self-generated or self-produced fruit. It only comes as we remain grafted into Jesus, the true vine, as He describes Himself in John 15. Righteousness does not come naturally to the sinner. It is something we can develop and nurture only by walking in step with God.
I love the way Paul ends this brief prayer. Here he tells us the purpose of it all: The glory and praise of God.
That was Paul’s goal, and it should be ours too. Again, the world has it all wrong. In our sinful state we think it’s all about I. It’s my life, and I want to have the freedom to live my life the way I want to. Well, the world has tried that philosophy, and it is continuing to try it. Do you think it’s working? What does the state of the world teach us?
Everyone is doing exactly as they please, and all it’s doing is adding to the misery and heartache we already have enough of.
As Christians who are growing in grace and love, God is opening our eyes to the truth that we were created by Him, and for Him. As He changes our hearts and our minds, we learn just what it means to live for His glory instead of our own. It’s a long process which lasts an entire lifetime because we remain stubborn. We are slow learners, but when we see this prayer in Philippians 1 as God intended us to see it, the words of Jesus in Matthew 5 will begin to make sense: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”
We cannot afford to rest on our laurels and think that just because we’ve prayed the sinner’s prayer, everything is right in our lives. There are dangers around every corner. I read a story once of a man who asked his minister if it was ever possible to overcome and defeat the sinful nature completely. His minister replied, “I wouldn’t trust myself until I’d been dead for at least four days.”
The dangers we face are real, and the stakes are immeasurably high. We just cannot afford to relax and think that we’ve got this whole spiritual warfare issue sorted. We have to keep growing. The alternative is to go backwards – back into our old lives where we become so desensitised to God’s truth, that we can no longer discern the difference between His truth and the devil’s lies.
I know I’ve used this illustration before, but it does explain the concept of growth and maturity so well: Two people did the same job in the same company. The first person had been there for 10 years, but just did the job that was required. He took no initiative in learning more about the job than he needed to know. He just did what was expected of him and lived for 5pm each day and payday each month. The second man had been there only 5 years and was doing the same job, but he took an interest in his work. He asked questions of his superiors and made it a priority to learn more about the company and their products. The time came for one of the managers to retire, so his position was advertised among the rest of the staff. Both men applied for the promotion, and the second man got the job. So the first man went to his boss and said, “That’s not fair. He’s got only 5 years’ experience, while I’ve got 10 years’ experience, so I should have been promoted.” His boss replied, “That’s where you’re wrong. You don’t have 10 years’ experience. You’ve got 1 years’ experience ten times. You’ve learned nothing and have made no effort to show any initiative or to grow.”
It is up to us to take the initiative to seek to grow. God will give you the tools you need, but you have to ask Him first.
We need to deepen our walk of faith with Jesus. If you want to grow, you will. But you need to take the initiative of asking Him to do that.
Peter ends his second letter with a command to grow. “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.”
Listen again to Paul’s plea for the Church in Ephesus in chapter 4: “As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort (in other words, there is something we need to be doing) to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. It was He who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming.”
As you read through the New Testament letters, you’ll see this recurring theme. Spiritual growth is not an optional extra for the Christian. It is meant to be a vital component of our daily lives.
2 Peter 1:5-8 says, “Make every effort (there it is again) to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
In the three verses we’ve looked at in Philippians 3 today, the Bible sets a standard for each of us in several areas. And it is no coincidence that in this case, these principles are in the setting of a prayer.
This should serve as a reminder to us to pray for these characteristics to be realities in our lives.
Pray it for yourself. But you can also take it further. Have you ever wondered how you should pray for someone else? We’ve all promised at one time or another to pray for other Christians. Sometimes the need is obvious, and we need to pray into those specific situations, but what about the times when so-and-so just says to you, “Please pray for me?”
Philippians 1:9-11 is a wonderful prayer that you can use as a model to pray for others. Have you ever found yourself just saying, “Lord, bless this person,” because you weren’t sure what to pray for? Paul gives us a model in this prayer for spiritual growth and progress.
So I’d like to challenge you this morning. If you promise to pray for someone, or if they ask you to pray for them, if the circumstances mean that you pray there and then, then do so. But later on, when you have time on your own, pray for that person again, and use Paul’s prayer on Philippians 1. Just try it, and you may be surprised at how your own prayers will deepen in their meaning and maturity, and you will also be praying a wonderful prayer for that person and their needs.
Pray these things for your children, your parents, for your friends, for your fellow church members, and of course, don’t forget to pray it for yourself. Make up your mind, and make every effort to prayerfully grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Homegroup Study Notes
Read Philippians 3:12-14
When talking about being faithful to God, Paul uses the analogy of an athlete straining towards the finishing line.
The implication is that it takes effort and hard work to grow in grace.
Why does spiritual growth not come as naturally as physical growth?
In which ways do you think we drift away from Jesus?
What are some of the warning signs and the consequences of not growing spiritually?
Share with your group some of the personal challenges which you face in your spiritual walk.
Read Philippians 1:9-11
Discuss the areas of growth described in this brief prayer.
How can we use it to pray for a) Ourselves, and b) Others?
Close by using this prayer as a model as you pray for these qualities to grow and mature in your small group.