Malankara World Journal - Christian Spirituality from a Jacobite and Orthodox Perspective
Malankara World Journal
Theme: Good Friday, Gospel Saturday
Volume 7 No. 410 April 13, 2017
II. Good Friday Reflections

Great and Holy Friday

by Monk James Silver

The services of Passion Week reach their climax on Holy Friday, when the faithful are called to assemble at three points. The first time calls us to the Morning Service, with its twelve Passion Gospels, often held on Holy Thursday evening, since at 1:00 AM -- the time prescribed by the Typikon -- we will probably still be 'dragged down by sleep'.

We come together a second time at midmorning to read the Royal Hours, so called because in Constantinople (as at Nativity and Theophany) the Roman emperor (basileus in Greek) would serve as psalmreader, or at least be present. This practice was often observed by orthodox monarchs in other countries long after the fall of the Roman Empire in 1453. Now there is no emperor of the Christians, but One King Whose 'reign is not of this world' (JN 18:33-38).

So, at the 'third hour', about nine in the morning, at the same time (MK 15:25) as Jesus was lifted up on the cross, we begin to read the Royal Hours with a very different royalty in mind as we contemplate the King of Glory nailed to the tree.

On this most somber day of the liturgical year, the holy Church directs our attention to the awful and awesome sufferings which the immortal Son of God endured for our sake. 'The One Who is without passions now comes to His voluntary passion' (Triodion). 'When I am lifted up from the Earth, I will draw everyone to Myself' (JN 12:32).

'Lifting up' was a Roman euphemism for crucifixion, a hideous form of torture to death, and humiliation even after death, from which they spared their own citizens, but savagely inflicted on their unruly slaves and rebellious subject peoples. This is why (according to ancient tradition) St Peter was crucified, but St Paul beheaded (ACTS 22:22-29). 'Today, the One Who suspended the heavens is suspended between Heaven and Earth.' (Triodion)

What can we say as we behold this incredible sight? The Son of God is hanged, naked and tortured on a shameful gibbet; He endures it, although the very elements protest (MT 27:45, 51-52; MK 15:33; LK 23:44-45).

In His awesome suffering, He speaks but a very few words. He has already said everything He had to say; now He fulfills the destiny He accepted when He accepted a human body and soul for our sake (JN 18:37).When Jesus says 'It is finished.' (JN 19:30), He means that the redemption of the human race has been accomplished, and that His work is over. His obedience, even to the point of death on the cross (PHP 2:7-8), annulled the effects of Adam's -- and our own -- disobedience, if only we will claim that annulment. No human being could perfectly fulfill al of the 613 laws of the Old Covenant, which the rabbis say were imposed on Israel as a result of their sin of idolatry at Sinai (EX 32), and which were regarded as a curse from which Christ ransomed us (GAL 3:13), since only He, by His perfect obedience as the Son of God and Son of Man in one person, could observe the Old Law perfectly (MT 5:17).

The Old Law is finished and abolished, completed and done, and we are now free to become by grace what Christ is by nature: by His death and resurrection, the only Son of God made it possible for us to become adopted children of God, and His royal heirs along with Christ (ROM 1:17).

Naturally, this is cause for our great joy. But, at the same time, we must also accuse ourselves of the sins which made it necessary for so great a Savior to save us, and we would be much worse off for ignoring and despising the Savior than if He had never come at all (HEB 2:1-3).

Oh, how Jesus loves us! What can we do to return such great love? He tells us: 'If you love Me, you will obey My commandments' (JN 14:15).

The last service on Holy Friday is actually the first service of Holy Saturday. This is the Evening Service, sometimes called the 'Un-nailing' or 'The Descent from the Cross', not only because of the late afternoon time of this service in our literal commemoration of the six or so hours of our Lord's crucifixion and death, followed by His hasty burial, but also because, in many places, there is a liturgical reenactment of the event: the image of the dead Christ is removed from the cross, and solemnly brought out and placed on a bier in the center of the nave for our veneration This is the first of our two liturgical movements with our Lord's dead body.

As affecting as these rites are, we would do well to note that they are of relatively recent origin, as is the outdoor procession with the 'shroud' (Greek epitaphios), certainly not more than two centuries or so in general usage. This is important as a brake on our native conservatism in liturgical practice: what we seek to conserve may not be all that old -- it's just that we're used to it -- and we might want to consider restoring ancient practices or developing new ones even now.

There is an ancient tradition describing St James, the Brother of God, serving the Divine Liturgy on a table covered with the original shroud of Christ, and this may be the origin of the image usually found on the antimension, not to mention the epitaphios itself, and possibly even the 'Image Not Made by Hands', since often only the image's face was exposed.

The 'Holy Shroud' preserved at Torino presents a prototype of all of these: the full-length figure, front and back, of a crucified man Who appears to be standing or suspended in mid-air rather than reclining in death, hands crossed over His abdomen. We notice that the right hand is placed over the left, the right hand which we venerate with our kisses. This is just the opposite of how we place our hands on our breasts as we approach the Holy Cup, when we place the right hand over the heart and the left hand over the right.

There is a very loud silence, a palpable emptiness, which palls the holy Church on the evening of Holy Friday. As we struggle to comprehend the horror of the suffering and death of the very Son of God, each of us stands ashamed and wonders: Since He was crucified for me, since my sins went far beyond my poor ability to atone for them, it is I who crucified Christ. More than Judas, more than the Jews, more than the Romans, I crucified Christ. How can I escape the wrath of God for putting His Son to death like this? How can creation itself endure it? Even 'the sun goes dark, unable to bear the sight of God outraged' (Triodion).

But it is the very death of Christ which 'tramples Death', since He rises from the dead and liberates us from death as well, allowing us to escape the ultimate punishment we deserve for our sins. This is why we describe God's mercy as 'great'; this is the very definition of 'grace'. This is the divine forgiveness and reconciliation with God for which we hope and pray, and which is ours for the asking if only we will return His love by accepting the salvation He offers us uniquely through His Son, our Lord and God and Savior, Jesus Christ.

'We adore Your passion, O Christ! Also show us Your holy resurrection!' (Triodion).

The Forsaken Christ

by Dr. Ray Pritchard

Gospel: Matthew 27:45-46

Killing Time

It is Friday morning in Jerusalem. Another hot April day. It's killing time. Death is in the air. The word has spread to every corner of the city. The Romans plan to crucify somebody today.

A crowd gathers on the north end of town. Just outside the Damascus Gate is a place called Skull Hill. The Romans like it because the hill is beside a main road. That way lots of people can watch the crucifixion.

On this day more people than usual have gathered. They come out of the macabre human fascination with the bizarre. The very horror of crucifixion draws people to Skull Hill.

This day seems like any other, but it is not. A man named Jesus is being crucified. The word spreads like wildfire. His reputation has preceded him. No one is neutral. Some believe, many doubt, a few hate.

Three Hours of Darkness

The crucifixion begins at nine o'clock sharp. The Romans were punctual about things like that. At first the crowd is rowdy, loud, raucous, boisterous, as if this were some kind of athletic event. They cheer, they laugh, they shout, they place wagers on how long the men being crucified will last.

It appears that the man in the middle will not last long. He has already been severely beaten. In fact, it looks like four or five soldiers have taken turns working him over. His skin hangs from his back in tatters, his face is bruised and swollen, his eyes nearly shut. Blood trickles from a dozen open wounds. He is an awful sight to behold.

There are voices from all three crosses, a kind of hoarse conversation shouted above the din. Little pieces float through the air. Something that sounds like "Father, forgive them" something else about "If you are the Son of God," then a promise of paradise. Finally Jesus spots his mother and speaks to her.

Then it happened. At noon "darkness fell upon all the land." It happened so suddenly that no one expected it. One moment the sun was right overhead; the next moment it had disappeared.

It was not an eclipse nor was it a dark cloud cover. It was darkness itself, thick, inky-black darkness that fell like a shroud over the land. It was darkness without any hint of light to come. It was chilling blackness that curdled the blood and froze the skin.

No one moved. No one spoke. For once even the profane soldiers stopped their swearing. Not a sound broke the dark silence over Skull Hill. Something eerie was going on. It was as if some evil force had taken over the earth and was somehow breathing out the darkness. You could almost reach out and feel the evil all around. From somewhere deep in the earth there was a sound like some dark subterranean chuckle. It was the laughter of hell.

It lasted for three long hours. 12:30 - still dark. 1:15 - still dark. 2:05 - still dark. 2:55 - still dark.

3:00 P.M. And just as suddenly as the darkness had descended, it disappeared. Voices now, and shouting. Rubbing the eyes to adjust once again to the bright sunlight. Panic on many faces, confusion on others. A man leans over to his friend and cries out, "What in God's name is going on here?"

Mortally Wounded

All eyes focus on the center cross. It is clear the end is near. Jesus is at the point of death. Whatever happened in those three hours of darkness has brought him to death's door. His strength is nearly gone, the struggle almost over. His chest heaves with every breath, his moans now are only whispers. Instinctively the crowd pushes closely to watch his last moments.

Suddenly he screams. Only four words, but they come out in a guttural roar. "Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?" The words are Aramaic, the common language of the day. The words form a question that screams across Skull Hill and drifts across the road. "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"

Take Off Your Shoes

In his book, The Hard Sayings of Jesus, F.F. Bruce discusses 70 of the hard-to-understand sayings of our Lord. The last one he discusses is this statement. Of these words of Jesus, Bruce comments, "This is the hardest of all the hard statements." (p. 248) All the commentators agree with him. No statement of Jesus is more mysterious than this one. The problem is not with the words. The words (in Aramaic or Greek or English) are simple. The words we can understand. But what do they mean?

The story is told that the great Martin Luther was studying this text one day. For hours he sat and stared at the text. He said nothing, he wrote nothing, but silently pondered these words of Jesus. Suddenly he stood up and exclaimed, "God forsaken by God. How can it be?"

Indeed, how can it be? How can God be forsaken by God? How can the Father forsake his own Son?

To read these words is to walk on holy ground. And like Moses before the burning bush, we ought to take off our shoes and tread carefully.

What Do These Words Mean?

Let me say frankly that it is far beyond my meager ability to fully explain this saying of Jesus. My problem is not that I do not have enough time; I have plenty of time. And in the time I have, I will tell you what I know. But what I know is only a fraction of the story. There are mysteries here which no man can explain.

Let us begin by surveying some of the inadequate explanations that have been given to the question, What do these words mean? To say the following ideas are "inadequate" is not to say they are necessarily wrong. It is only to say that they do not tell the whole story.

1. It has been suggested that this is a cry stemming from Jesus' physical suffering. Without a doubt, those sufferings were enormous. By the time he uttered these words, he had hung on the cross for six hours - exposed to the hot Palestinian sun and exposed to the taunts of the crowd. He was nearly dead when he cried out, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Perhaps (it has been suggested) he said that in view of all that had happened to him.

There are two problems with that view. For one thing, the consistent emphasis of the New Testament is that Jesus died for our sins. Although the gospels speak of Jesus' physical suffering, they do not emphasize it. The central issue of the cross was not the physical suffering of our Lord (as terrible as it must have been); the central issue was our Lord bearing the sins of the world. This suggestion tends to weaken the truth that Jesus died for our sins and at the same time it tends to overemphasize his physical sufferings.

2. It has been suggested that this is a cry of faith. A surprising number of commentators take this view. They note that "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" is actually a quotation from Psalm 22:1. In that particular Psalm, David speaks of his own sufferings at the hands of his enemies in a way that ultimately pictures the death of our Lord. Although Psalm 22 begins with a description of intense suffering, it ends on a note of confident trust in God. For that reason, some believe that Christ quoted verse 1 (a cry of desolation) as a way of expressing his trust in God even while he was on the cross.

Unfortunately, that view seems to turn the words of Jesus upside down. It virtually makes the words mean something like this: "Although it appears that God has forsaken me, in truth he has not, and in the end I will be vindicated." As true as that might be (he was ultimately vindicated in the resurrection), that does not seem to be the meaning here. The words of Jesus ought to be taken at their face value - as a cry of utter desolation.

3. It has been suggested that this is a cry of disillusionment. Skeptics read this as proof that Jesus ultimately failed in his mission. To them these words mean something like "God, you have forsaken me and all is lost. I came to be the Messiah but my mission is a failure." To those who hold such a cynical view, we can only say, Read the whole story! Keep reading and you will discover what happens to your "failed" Messiah. Whatever else these words might mean, they are not the words of a defeated man.

The God-Forsaken Man

What, then, do these words mean? I suggest that we will never grasp their full meaning until we see that Jesus was truly forsaken by God. In that black moment on the cross, God the Father turned his back on God the Son. It was, as Martin Luther said, God forsaking God. True, we will never plumb the depths of that statement, but anything less does not do justice to Jesus' words.

The word "forsaken" in very strong. It means to abandon, to desert, to disown, to turn away from, to utterly forsake. Please understand. When Jesus said, "Why have you forsaken me?" it was not simply because he felt forsaken; he said it because he was forsaken. Literally, truly and actually God the Father abandoned his own Son.

In English the phrase "God-forsaken" usually refers to some deserted, barren locale. We mean that such a place seems unfit for human habitation. But we do not literally mean "God-forsaken" even though that's what we say. But it was true of Jesus. He was the first and only God-forsaken person in all history.

A Father's Chief Duty

As many people have pointed out, this is the only time Jesus addressed God as "My God." Everywhere else he called him "Father." But here he said, "My God," because the Father-Son relationship was broken at that moment.

Is it not the chief duty of a parent to take care of his children? Is it not our job to ensure that our children do not suffer needlessly? Will we not do anything in our power to spare them pain? And is that not what makes child abuse such a heinous crime?

I ask you, then, what would cause a father to forsake his own son? Can you explain it? Is that not a breach of a father's chief duty? I ask myself, what would cause me to abandon my sons? As I ponder the question, I cannot even imagine the answer.

But that is what God did when Jesus died on the cross. He abandoned his own Son. He turned his back, he disowned him, he rejected the One who was called his "only begotten Son."

We may not understand that. Indeed, it is certain that we do not. But that is what these words mean.

In Time and Eternity

That brings us to the great question: Why would God do such a thing? One observation will help us find an answer. Something must have happened that day that caused a fundamental change in the Father's relationship with the Son. Something must have happened when Jesus hung on the cross which had never happened before.

At that precise moment Jesus was bearing the sin of the world. During those three hours of blackness, and in the moments immediately afterward, Jesus felt the full weight of sin rolled onto his shoulders. All of it became his. It happened at that moment of space-time history.

(Someone may ask, "Does not the Bible teach that Jesus was the ‘lamb slain from the foundation of the world?'" The answer is yes. But the slaying itself happened at a particular moment in time - specifically a Friday afternoon in April, A. D. 33. But since Jesus Christ had a divine nature, what happened to him in history has eternal implications. I admit that I don't fully understand that last sentence, but I am sure it is true. The death of Christ was a historical event in every sense of the word, but it is historical with eternal implications.)

The Trinity Disjointed

Let's go one step farther. We know from Habakkuk 1:13 that God cannot look with favor upon wickedness. His eyes are too pure to approve the evil in the world. The key phrase is "with favor." God's holiness demands that he turn away from sin. God will have no part of it. His holiness recoils from the tiniest tinge of wickedness.

Therefore (and this is a big "therefore"), when God looked down and saw his Son bearing the sin of the world, he didn't see his Son, he saw instead the sin that he was bearing. And in that awful moment, the Father turned away. Not in anger at his Son. No, he loved his Son as much at that moment as he ever had. He turned away in anger over all the sin of the world that sent his Son to the cross. He turned away in sorrow and deepest pain when he saw what sin had done. He turned away in complete revulsion at the ugliness of sin.

When he did that, Jesus was alone. Completely forsaken. God-forsaken. Abandoned. Deserted. Disowned.

There's an old Southern gospel song called "Ten Thousand Angels." It speaks of the fact that Jesus, by virtue of being the Son of God, could have called 10,000 angels to rescue him from the cross. He didn't do that, and the chorus ends with these words, "But he died alone for you and me."

It is true. When Jesus bore the sins of the world, he bore them all alone. Christ is now abandoned, the Trinity disjointed, the Godhead broken. The fact that I do not know what those words mean does not stop them from being true. Let it be said over and over again: When Jesus cried out, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" he was really and truly forsaken by God.

He Became Sin for Us

To say that is to say nothing more than the Bible itself says:

1. II Corinthians 5:21. "God made him (Jesus) who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." Think of it. The sinless One was "made sin" for us. When God looked down that day, he saw - not his sinless Son - but sin itself.

2. Galatians 3:13. "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.'" Think of it. When Jesus was baptized, the voice from heaven said, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." No longer would the voice say that. At the cross, the beloved Son became "a curse for us."

3. Isaiah 53:6 "We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all." Think of it. All the iniquity, all the evil, all the crime and hatred of this world - all of it was "laid on him."

Thus did the Son of God make complete identification with sinners. Jesus become a curse for us. He died in our place. And all our sins were laid on him. It was for that reason - and only for that reason - that God the Father forsook his beloved Son.

Emptying the Sewer

Imagine that somewhere in the universe there is a cesspool containing all the sins that have ever been commit-ted. The cesspool is deep, dark and indescribably foul. All the evil deeds that men and women have ever done are floating there. Imagine that a river of filth constantly flows into that cesspool, replenishing the vile mixture with all the evil done every day.

Now imagine that while Jesus was on the cross, that cesspool is emptied onto him. See the flow of filth as it settles upon him. The flow never seems to stop. It is vile, toxic, deadly, filled with disease, pain and suffering.

When God looked down at his Son, he saw the cesspool of sin emptied on his head. No wonder he turned away from the sight. Who could bear to watch it?

Think of it. All the lust in the world was there. All the broken promises were there. All the murder, all the killing, all the hatred between people. All the theft was there, all the adultery, all the pornography, all the drunkenness, all the bitterness, all the greed, all the gluttony, all the drug abuse, all the crime, all the cursing. Every vile deed, every wicked thought, every vain imagination - all of it was laid upon Jesus when he hung on the cross.

Two Great Implications

I take from this solemn truth two great implications. It reveals to us two things we must never minimize:

1. We must never minimize the horror of human sin. Sometimes we laugh at sin and say, "The Devil made me do it," as if sin were something to joke about. But it was our sin that Jesus bore that day. It was our sin that caused the Father to turn away from the Son. It was our sin floating in that cesspool of iniquity. He became a curse and we were part of the reason. Let us never joke about sin. It is no laughing matter.

2. We must never minimize the awful cost of our salvation. Is it possible that some Christians become tired of hearing about the cross? Is it possible that we would rather hear about happy things? Without the awful pain of the cross, there would be no happy things to talk about. Without the cross there would be no forgiveness. Without the cross there would be no salvation. Without the cross we would be lost forever. Without the cross our sins would still be upon us. It cost Christ everything to redeem us. Let us never make light of what cost him so dearly.

"Where Was God When My Son Died?"

Somewhere I read the story of a father whose son was killed in a tragic accident. In grief and enormous anger, he visited his pastor and poured out his heart. He said, "Where was God when my son died?" The pastor paused for a moment, and with great wisdom replied, "The same place he was when his Son died."

This cry from the cross is for all the lonely people of the world. It is for the abandoned child … the widow… the divorcee struggling to make ends meet … the mother standing over the bed of her suffering daughter … the father out of work … the parents left alone … the prisoner in his cell … the aged who languish in convalescent homes … wives abandoned by their husbands … singles who celebrate their birthdays alone.

This is the word from the cross for you. No one has ever been as alone as Jesus was. You will never be forsaken as he was. No cry of your pain can exceed the cry of his pain when God turned his back and looked the other way.

Thank God it is true.

  • - He was forsaken that you might never be forsaken.
  • - He was abandoned that you might never be abandoned.
  • - He was deserted that you might never be deserted.
  • - He was forgotten that you might never be forgotten.

You Don't Have to Go to Hell

And most importantly …

  • - He went to hell for you so you wouldn't have to go.

If you go to hell, it will be in spite of what Jesus did for you. He's already been there. He took the blow. He took the pain. He endured the suffering. He took the weight of all your sins. So if you do go to hell, don't blame Jesus. It's not his fault. He went to hell for you so you wouldn't have to go.

What is the worst thing about hell? It's not the fire (though the fire is real). It's not the memory of your past (though the memory is real). It's not the darkness (though the darkness is real). The worst thing about hell is that it is the one place in the universe where people are utterly and forever forsaken by God. Hell is truly a God-forsaken place. That's the hell of hell. To be in a place where God has abandoned you for all eternity.

That's the bad news. The good news is this. You don't have to go there. Jesus has already been there for you. He went to hell 2,000 years ago so you wouldn't have to go. He died a sinner's death and took a sinner's punishment so that guilty sinners like you and me could be eternally forgiven.

If after everything I have said, you still don't understand these words of Jesus, be of good cheer. No one on earth fully understands them. Rest in this simple truth: He was forsaken that you might never be forsaken. Those who trust him will never be disappointed, in this life or in the life to come. Amen.

© Keep Believing Ministries

Four Immediate Results of Jesus' Death on the Cross

by Msgr. Charles Pope

The Gospel of Matthew recounts four immediate results of Jesus' death, and while they describe historical events, they also signal deeper spiritual truths.

And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment, the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split, and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs after Jesus' resurrection, went into the holy city, and appeared to many people. When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, "Surely he was the Son of God!"
(Matt 27:50-53)

Let's consider the four results described in this passage, each in turn.

I. Return - At that moment, the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.

The significance of the tearing of the Temple curtain and the way in which it happened ought not to be underestimated. Consider that God had walked intimately with Adam and Eve in the garden in the cool of day (cf Gen 3:8), but that after sin, they could no longer endure His presence; they had to dwell apart from the paradise that featured God's awesome presence. Consider, too, how terrifying theophanies (appearances of God to human beings) were after that time.

For example, the appearance of God on the top of Mt Sinai is described in the Book of Exodus:

When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance and said to Moses, "Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die"
(Ex 20:18-19).

Had God changed? Was He different from when He walked with Adam and Eve in intimacy? No. We had changed and could no longer endure the presence of God.

Throughout the Old Testament, a veil existed between God and Israel. There was the cloud that both revealed God's presence and concealed it. There was also the curtain in the sanctuary, beyond which the High Priest could only venture once a year, and even then in fear and trembling.

Sin had done this. Mere human beings could no longer tolerate God's presence.

But with His Death on the cross, Jesus has canceled our sin. We once again have access to God through Christ our Lord. His blood has cleansed us and the ancient separation from the Father and from God's presence has been canceled. But we will not encounter God in a merely earthly paradise; He has now opened the way to Heaven.

It is now up to us to make the journey there, but the way has been opened, the veil has been rent. Through this open veil the Father now says, "Come to me!"

II. Rendering of Judgment upon the World - The earth shook, the rocks split …

Judgment has now come; Earth stands judged. This refers not merely to the created world, but also to the forces of this world, the forces of this age, which are arrayed against the Lord and His kingdom. These are forces that do not acknowledge the sovereignty of God but rather insist that political, social, cultural, and economic forces are what must hold sway and have our loyalty.

This earthquake, which has significant historical corroboration, demonstrates that the foundations of this rebellious world ultimately cannot stand before God. The foundations are struck; the powers of this world quake. Scripture says,

1. People will flee to caves in the rocks and to holes in the ground from the fearful presence of the LORD and the splendor of his majesty, when he rises to shake the earth (Is 2:19).

2. For thus says the LORD of hosts: Once more in a little while, I am going to shake the heavens and the earth, the sea also and the dry land. I will shake all the nations; and they will come with the wealth of all nations, and I will fill this house with glory, says the LORD of hosts (Haggai 2:6-7).

3. In my zeal and fiery wrath, I declare that at that time there shall be a great earthquake in the land of Israel (Ez 38:19).

4. The kings of the earth rise up and the rulers band together against the Lord and against his anointed, saying, "Let us break their chains and throw off their shackles." The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them. He rebukes them in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath, saying, "I have installed my king on Zion, my holy mountain" (Psalm 2:2-6).

5. In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever (Daniel 2:42).

6. The LORD will roar from Zion and thunder from Jerusalem; the earth and the heavens will tremble. But the LORD will be a refuge for his people, a stronghold for the people of Israel (Joel 3:16).

7. A ruin! A ruin! I will make it a ruin! The crown will not be restored until he to whom it rightfully belongs shall come; to him I will give it (Ez 21:27).

Yes, the world shakes; the world is judged. And, most important, as Jesus says, Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out (John 12:31).

Do not doubt, dear reader, that no matter how powerful this world may seem in its pride and glory, it has already been shaken; it has already been judged. The world has been conquered and shaken to its very foundations. Do not put your trust or hope in any worldly reality; the world has been judged and shaken; it cannot stand the test of time. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come (Heb 3:14).

III. Resurrection to New Life

… the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs after Jesus' resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people.

"Death is struck and nature quaking. All creation is awaking, to its judge an answer making." (from the Dies Irae). Yes, by dying, Jesus has destroyed our death.

Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God. He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
(1 Corinthians 15:55-57).

Note well that although the text says that many of the dead appeared in Jerusalem, these appearances occurred after Jesus' resurrection. Hence, we ought not to imagine ghosts or corpses walking around at 3:00 PM on Good Friday! Rather, they appeared on or after Resurrection Sunday. In this, they witness to the truth of resurrection and the initial fulfillment of the text from Ezekiel:

Behold, I will open your graves and cause you to come up out of your graves, My people; and I will bring you into the land of Israel. Then you will know that I am the LORD, when I have opened your graves and caused you to come up out of your graves, My people! I will put My Spirit within you and you will come to life.
(Ez 37:12-14).

Yes, on Good Friday, Jesus awakens the dead with the words,

"Awake, sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you."
(Eph 5:14).

IV. Realization of Who Jesus Is

When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, "Surely he was the Son of God!"

Jesus most clearly showed His identity as the Son of God through His obedience to the Father. According to the Gospel of John, as Jesus rose from the table of the Last Supper, He said,

The prince of this world is coming. He has no hold over me, but he comes so that the world may learn that I love the Father and do exactly what my Father has commanded me. Come now; let us go forth.
(Jn 14:30-31).

The centurion, in seeing Jesus die this way, somehow recognizes in Him the obedience of the Son of God, who loves and obeys His Father.

By His obedience, Jesus has canceled our disobedience; His humility has canceled our pride. Yet the weakness of God is more powerful than any worldly force. The centurion, who knew power and was trained to respect it, saw in the earthquake and the other occurrences, an indication of the Lord's glory. The Lord's way to that glory is not our way. But His glory and Sonship cannot remain forever hidden! Scripture says,

See, he comes amid the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all peoples on earth will mourn because of him. Even So. Amen (Rev 1:7).



Five Who Tried to Stop Easter... and Failed

by Liz Kanoy

Have you ever thought about how many people tried to stop Jesus' life, death and resurrection, whether for good or bad? Some wanted Jesus dead, and they thought His words were blasphemous. Others looked out for their own interest and rule, but there were some who wanted to protect Jesus - and they were distraught at His death. But God is sovereign over all, and He knew the path that His Son must follow in order to save mankind once and for all.

Here are 5 who tried to stop Jesus' life, death, or resurrection and failed according to God's plan:

1. King Herod: The Paranoid Manipulator

King Herod and many of the people he governed did not want to welcome a new King. Herod feared for his throne, and his people feared his vengeance. Once Herod learned information about the Messiah from the Magi, he asked them to return with a location so that he too could worship the King.

But being warned in a dream, the Magi traveled home a different way. Then Herod in his anger and paranoia decided to take matters into his own hands and tried to kill every Hebrew baby boy that fit the age range of the Messiah.

"When Herod realized that he has been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi."
 –Matthew 2:16

But God sent an angel to warn Joseph in a dream, and he took Mary and Jesus to safety in Egypt. Herod failed to stop the Messiah, and God's sovereign plan for His Son continued.

2. Satan: The Evil Deceiver

Satan tried to stop God's plan by tempting Jesus with empty promises and bribes that he could not fulfill. Jesus, both fully divine and fully human, experienced temptation as a man the same way that we do, but He did not yield or sin.

"Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. 'All this I will give you,' he said, 'if you will bow down and worship me.' Jesus said to him, 'Away from me, Satan! For it is written: 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only. Then the devil left him…" –Matthew 4:8-11

Can you imagine the fury Satan felt when Jesus remained strong in His choice to choose us—even to death? Though the Bible does not tell us, I think it is plausible to think that Satan was there at the crucifixion. We know he entered Judas Iscariot; Luke 22:3 says, "Then Satan, entered Judas, called Iscariot, one of the Twelve. And Judas went to the chief priests and the officers of the temple guard and discussed with them how he might betray Jesus."

If he couldn't stop God's ultimate plan, he surely wanted to cause as much pain and havoc as he could while the Messiah suffered on earth. Satan failed, and not only did he lose the battle…he lost the war. God's plan prevailed unhindered as prophesied.

3. The Sanhedrin/Chief Priests: Wickedly Insecure Men

The Sanhedrin was the supreme council of the Jewish people in the time of Christ and earlier. Matthew 26:59 tells us,

"The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for false evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death."

They really didn't like Jesus…and their desire was to trap Him into what they considered blasphemy. They already had it set in their minds that they would find a way to execute Him.

"Early in the morning, all the chief priests and the elders of the people made their plans how to have Jesus executed. So they bound him, led him away and handed him over to Pilate the governor."
–Matthew 27:1

And they didn't stop there…

"But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed."
-Matthew 27:20

They wanted Jesus dead, and they succeeded as God had planned. But they failed in thinking that they were in control; they had no power when it came to Jesus' life, death, or resurrection…the power and plan was God's alone. They could not stop the resurrection, nor could they stop the news of it. The tomb was found empty; death could not hold Him. He is risen indeed.

4. Simon Peter: The Brave Defender

Peter tried to stop Jesus from being taken by the Roman guards. He succeeded in cutting off the ear of the high priest's servant before Jesus stopped him. John 18:10-11 says,

"Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest's servant, cutting off his right ear (The servant's name was Malchus.) Jesus commanded Peter, 'Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?"

"Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?"
–Matthew 26:53-54

Can you imagine how hard it must have been for the disciples to accept that Jesus must die to fulfill His plan as Messiah—and that there was nothing they could do to help or stop it? They did not fully understand yet why Jesus must die, and they doubted before they saw Him again. Peter failed to protect the Messiah and save Him from the cross, but later he understood that it wasn't Jesus who needed saving. Oh what grace God bestows on us.

5. Pontius Pilate: The Reluctant Judge

Even Pilate's wife tried to dissuade him from crucifying Jesus:

"When 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.'"
–Matthew 27:19

Dr. Ray Pritchard shares,

"All four gospels make it clear that Pilate knew Jesus was innocent of any crime. If you put the gospel accounts together, it appears that Pilate tried four times to avoid sentencing Jesus to death:"

"What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called the Messiah?' Pilate asked. They all answered, 'Crucify him!' 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!'"
–Matthew 27:22-24

Pilate did not understand Jesus completely, but he knew that He was innocent. Rather than standing up for Jesus at great personal cost, he faltered to blackmail from high-ranking Jewish officials and mob mentality letting the people choose Jesus' fate as God had planned.

"Pilate's crime in many ways was worse than the sin of the chief priests. They thought Jesus was guilty and wanted him dead; Pilate knew he was innocent and sent him to die anyway. He stalled and hesitated and tried to pass the buck. He wouldn't decide so the mob decided for him," writes Dr. Pritchard.

As believers, we can be thankful that God did not let any man or spirit stop His plan to send His Son to die on a cross and rise from the dead. God's plan for salvation could not be stopped, and because He paid the only price that could be paid there is hope for all who believe.

Source: Today's Topical Bible Study

Why Did Jesus Die in His Thirties?

by Msgr. Charles Pope

Why did Christ die in his early thirties rather than as an older man? This would have permitted Him more time to teach and to set forth His Church. St. Thomas Aquinas answered the question in the following way:

Christ willed to suffer while yet young, for three reasons. First of all, to commend the more His love by giving up His life for us when He was in His most perfect state of life. Secondly, because it was not becoming for Him to show any decay of nature nor to be subject to disease …. Thirdly, that by dying and rising at an early age Christ might exhibit beforehand in His own person the future condition of those who rise again. Hence it is written (Ephesians 4:13), "Until we all meet into the unity of faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the age of the fullness of Christ" (Summa Theologica III, 46, 9 ad 4).

Speculations such as these strike some as purely arbitrary. Others consider the reasoning to be a post hoc justification: Christ died at the age of 33, so let's make something up to try to explain it.

St. Thomas' reasoning, however, is not based on wild speculation. There are premises to his reasoning.

First, there is the premise that God does nothing arbitrarily and we do well to allow even seemingly minor details in Scripture (e.g., the time of day) to teach us.

Another premise is based on the nature of perfection. Perfection can be harmed by either excess or defect. Consider the case of age: A young person may lack physical and intellectual maturity (youth being a "defect" in age), but there comes a time when age becomes problematic in the other direction as time takes its toll on the body and the mind becomes less sharp (old age being an "excess" in age). Thus, there is a period of time when one's age is in the "perfect" range: harmed neither by excess nor defect.

In St. Thomas' time one's thirties was considered to be that time of perfection. This is arguably still so, though we do seem to take a lot longer to reach intellectual and emotional maturity these days.

St. Thomas notes that because Jesus died while in the prime of His life, the sacrifice was greater. His apparent lack of any disease or physical imperfections also increased His sacrifice. This is a model for us. We are to give the best of what we have to God in sacrifice; not merely our cast-offs, or things of which we might say, "This will do." The Lord once lamented, through Malachi,

If I am a Father, then where is my honor? When you offer blind animals in sacrifice, is that not evil? And when you offer those that are lame or sick, is that not evil? Present that to your governor; will he accept you or show you favor? says the Lord of hosts (Mal 1:8).

And thus what might seem to some to be an unremarkable detail (Jesus' age) actually provides important teachings to the sensitive soul. Christ gave His all, His best - and He did so when He was in the prime of His life. We too are summoned to increasing perfection

Source: Archdiocese of Washington Blog


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