Isaiah 53: John’s Metaphor

DSCN2889Bareback riders must have a terrible time finding tuxedo’s that fit.  It must be difficult to find a jacket that has one arm 6 inches longer than the other.  Bareback riders wedge their hand into a riggin’ and then hang on for dear life for 8 seconds as their body gets contorted into shapes that make Cirque du Sole seem like beginners yoga class.  When asked: “why do you fight bulls?” my answer is simple: “I wanted to be involved in Rodeo without harnessing my self to any large animals!”  Bareback riding is exactly what I was trying to avoid.  Bareback riders arms is how they make their money.  The bend in the elbow, the compression of the bicep, and the grip in the hand make their arm and their power pay off.  See it wasn’t just Isaiah who saw the importance of a powerful arm.

John uses Isaiah’s metaphor of God’s arm (aka. His power) to understand Jesus’ ministry to this world.

I have written about what this metaphor means elsewhere (here and here) but a short summary is needed to flesh out how John is using it.

The imagery of the arm of the Lord is used throughout the Old Testament.  It is in reference to God’s power to redeem his people (Deut. 4.34), as Creator (32.27), performer of the miraculous (Deut. 26.8), and Judge (Jer. 21.5).  The underlying message, however, is the power and the capability of God to accomplish his purposes.  Be it a showdown with Pharaoh or a conquering people, the Old Testament authors knew their God had the upper hand…or should I say arm.

As for Isaiah, the “arm of the Lord” was one of his favorite metaphors. Fourteen times from his pen, we find this imagery.  In every instance it is used in the context of salvation.  God will save his people!  Isaiah wants to make this overwhelmingly clear.  John would  later expand on one of his salvation passages (Isaiah 40.10-11), where Isaiah is describing the arms of the Lord like a shepherd looking after his sheep.  It is a metaphor Jesus would get great use of in John 10.  Isaiah uses the idea of “the arm of the Lord” as a description of the past and a prescription of the future.  A God who has done wonders for his people and a God who will some day bring back his people from exile.  He would accomplish this future mission by sending a servant with his power described in Isaiah 53.

But why does John use this verse on this occasion in John 12.38?

John 11.37-38 says: “Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still did not believe in him.  This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet: ‘Lord who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?'”

The reason, I think, is because it is in these few verses that all of the book of John comes to a head.  It is a convergence of sorts, where all the aspects of John’s testimony come together.

  • Jesus Ministry:  His worldly ministry began when he first changed the water to wine in chapter 2.  He then spent all of his time in the public eye, doing ministry in the world, but beginning in chapter 13, all of his time will be spent pouring into his disciples.  This quotation is an epilogue to his public ministry in John.
  • Division in John: John might be the only guy ever to center his narrative around division.  Throughout the entire gospel people are divided over the question: “Who is Jesus?”  In our text: “Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him (37)….Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in him (42).”  When Jesus arrives, people divide.
  • Signs in John: Jesus began his public ministry by turning the water to wine in Cana (John 2).  This was the first of seven signs that Jesus would perform in John’s gospel.  The last of the signs was Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead (John 11) in the prior chapter, thus concluding his public ministry as mentioned before.  Our text, John 12.37 mentions these “signs”.  John refers to them as signs, where as the other gospel writers use the term miracles.  As it pertains to our text, the word “miraculous” in the NIV does not appear in the greek text…just in case you were wondering.  The sign discussion leads me to the next point…
  • Belief in John:  “Even after he had done all these signs in their presence, they still would not believe…”(37)  Ninety-Eight times is the word translated “believe” (gk. pisteuo) used in John’s gospel.  That is nearly half of the times in the New Testament.  Belief is often used in connection with the signs that Jesus performed.  Jesus even sums it up in John 6, immediately after feeding the 5,000 (sign 4) and walking on the water (sign 5), when he answers the question: “What must we do to do the works God requires?”.  Jesus answered: “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”  Belief is paramount.
  • The Purpose:  John’s purpose for writing is stated in John 20.30-31:  “Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book.  But these things are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”  Again, “miraculous” is added by the NIV and not in the greek, but still, the signs recorded here were meant to bring them to belief.  But what does our text say?  “Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous sings in their presence, they still would not believe…”(12.37)  Diametrically opposite!

The Jewish leaders have found themselves in a collision of greatest importance.  Before them stands Jesus Christ, with all his signs, all his statements, all his accolades…and all his Power.  That is what this is really all about.  Jesus and his power.

In Hebrew prophecy and poetry, there is a literary device known as parallelism.  The second line, in our case “to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”, repeats the message of the first line.  This device equates the two ending clauses.  Therefore, the “arm of the Lord”, a metaphor extolling the “Power of God”, is equated with the “message” being preached in line 1.

If its been a while, you should go back and read John 1 and answer the question that has plagued us the entire book of John: “Who is Jesus?”  John 1 begins: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  Jesus Christ was the message of God to the entire world and in him was the Power of God.  Isaiah 53.1 and John 12.38 is where the message of God, “For God so loved the world…” (John 3.16) and the power of God, “My Father, whom yo claim as your God, is the one who glorifies me” (John 8.54) stand before them in the person of Jesus; and it will soon be shown greater still in his death and resurrection, yet they could not bring themselves to believe.  So John lifts the question from Isaiah 53.1:

Who has believed our message; and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?



Dawn Sunday

"Moment of Impact" Cushenberry Memorial Bullfight 2010
“Moment of Impact”
Cushenberry Memorial Bullfight 2010

“Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark…” (John 20.1)

I felt great going into a freestyle bullfight one time, until I saw the others there. Kyle Lippencott, one of the best freestyle bullfighters I had ever seen, was in Manhattan that night as well. I should have just handed my $100 entry fee to him and saved the Rodeo Secretary the time. I was beaten before I ever tied on my cleats. But it was my own misconception that hurt me that night. I wasn’t going against Kyle, but a little cross-bred bull of Matt Williams (happy birthday today by the way). One common mistake that people make about Rodeo is that you are competing against another person. If I couldn’t beat my bull, there was no way I could beat Kyle. Subsequently I got run over a bunch and he ended up winning anyway. Still, we look at competition as me vs him, but really its me vs the animal. Sometimes faith can look like that. Belief isn’t a contest between two people. Each person’s journey with God takes on a different pace. On the Sunday morning in John 20 the first guy to the tomb was going a different pace than the second.

Peter and John raced to the tomb that morning. They both got word from the women that the stone had been rolled back and the tomb was empty. In a footrace, John dominated. “The other disciple outran Peter.” (John 20.3) John was that other disciple and frankly I am impressed that he didn’t brag on that point in his book. I would have made a major point of my dominance. Anyhow, they ran to the tomb and John beat Peter. John looked in the tomb, cautiously, but Peter, in a way that is completely in his character, walked right in. He never was a bashful one. After he had taken in all the sights of the tomb, John followed him in.

It is advantageous for us at this point to understand a little bit about John. He was most likely the youngest of the disciples. He was from a fishing family, until Jesus had called him to follow. He was a witness to the proceedings concerning Jesus, as he had some kind of connection to the high priest (john 18.15). He stood near the cross, seeing Jesus first hand and even spoke to Jesus’ death in his final breaths (John 19.26). He was “the disciple whom Jesus loved”.

Peter’s last 48 hours were very similar in John. There seems to have been a weird “envy”, which is probably too strong of a word, between Peter and John. If you recall the Last Supper, Thursday night, Peter asks John to ask Jesus to clarify some of his remarks (John 13.22). It is out of character for Peter. He hadn’t had any problems asking questions before. Maybe he had used up all of his question tokens with Jesus earlier in the night (John 13.6ff). Even Jesus had to be getting to point where he wanted to tell him “Dude why don’t you set the next few conversations out.” Still, Peter followed Jesus into the courtyard of the High Priest during Jesus’ trial where his path and John’s differ. Peter, 3 times deny’s knowing Jesus. (John 18.15-16, 25-27) In the grand scheme of things, with all that has happened since, it seems like forever ago that Peter stood in the darkness of pre-dawn Friday and dis-associated himself with Jesus. Now with the news the women brought Sunday at dawn, the promises Jesus made coupled with the actions of Peter are brought to the forefront.

At Mary’s word, a footrace ensues. Knowing John, the careful crafting of his book, and the reflective nature of his account, its is likely that the foot race in verse 4 was foreshadowing the events of verse 8.

John did to Peter what Usain Bolt did to the field at the Olympics. He cruised to the tomb. John may have had foot speed, but in his arrival at the tomb he proceeded like he does with his book, methodically taking in all the evidence and feeling his way around. Peter, though slow of foot, was never slow to act (or speak for that matter). He arrived after John, but busted right into the tomb.   Verse 9 says this:

“They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.”

The question is who is the “they”? John made his way into the tomb and instantaneously believed [pisteuo]. Three different words for “see” are used in the greek text for what they did when they came to the tomb…they “looked” [blepei] at the wrappings; they “saw” [theorei] the strips of linen; and John “saw” [eiden] and believed. For John seeing was believing. Think back to the blind guy in John 9 and his story. Think ahead to John’s purpose of writing this book;

“These things have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20.30-31)

The 7 signs were meant to bee seen. The people were meant to be encountered. The speeches were meant to be heard. For John seeing is believing and how much more true it was when he reached the tomb. Over half the uses of the word “believe” [pisteuo] in the New Testament from John’s pen in this book. He has been trying to get to the end of the story from the beginning.

For Peter on the other hand (as well as the women), they are the “they”. John was the first to the tomb in the race and he was the first to put together Jesus’ words and the empty tomb. Peter and the girls…not so much.

Belief is easy for some of my friends. In the midst of struggle, temptation, crisis, or mockery, their faith is constant. They heard about Jesus and instantly believed and never have struggled. They are like John. Their quiet times are vibrant, their trust grows daily, and their faith is assured constantly. They are winning the foot race.

My faith is more like Peter’s. Some of it is guilt that I hold onto for not being more faithful. Some of it is doubt that I can’t quite find answers for. Other times it is fear or worry that stands in the way of my belief. It may not be a pace that can win a foot race, but it will get me to the finish line. That is what Peter is dealing with. He may not have set a world record, but he did finish the race. Peter, who failed Friday morning, struggled at the empty tomb Sunday morning, 40 day’s later would wow a crowd with his faith in Acts 2.

Regardless of pace, both ended up at the tomb and regardless of the splits each arrived at belief in the Risen Jesus. Whichever one you associate with, what ever pace you are running, don’t let other’s pace dictate your race.

“Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark…” (John 20.1)


DSCN2824“The next day, the one after Preparation day…” (Matthew 27.62)

When things fall apart, we return to the familiar. It is human nature. That is why when a bullfighter gets pushed out wide, the first thought is to run away (that gets you run over); but for the experienced (like Chris Munroe, Daniel Unruh, or Lucas Littles), they get to the shoulder, make their circle and make it through. When a new bullrider gets in trouble, the familiar, their inclination, is to look off or get on the end of their arm. But for the experienced, those who have retrained their mind and their body on the drop barrel or the mighty bucky, they are able to execute the moves to get them back into position to make the ride. It is no different for any other sport or skill. When the game plan falls apart, how do teams respond? Mike Tyson once said, “everyone’s got a plan until they get hit in the mouth.” The disciples had a plan. Jesus was going to take on the Romans, reinstitute the physical kingdom of Israel, and they were going to live their lives free of Roman rule. But the arrest and subsequent crucifixion, hit the disciples in the mouth.

It was the Sabbath, so no one was working, planting, traveling, or playing. It was a day of mourning for the followers of Jesus, but a day of liberation for the rest of the Jews. Thousands of years ago, on this day, they were released from their bondage in Egypt. Now they look out their windows, watching Roman soldiers wandering by as the occupying force, the ruling overlords, and they asked when their next liberation would come. Like I said, that was for most of the Jews. Those that followed Jesus, however, were questioning the way they spent the last three years.

It was Saturday and the disciples were questioning. John depicts the disciples hiding in an upper room scared of what might become of them; the ones who were duped by the condemned and executed “Messiah” (John 20.19). Life would go on in a while when they returned to fishing or other jobs. It was familiar for them to return to. With the events of the last 24 hours, the routine would be welcome. Their plan had fallen apart and there was nothing left but to return to the life they had before they became disciples.

It was Saturday and the Leaders were questioning. They had heard that Jesus had said that he would rise from the dead. They had Jesus arrested at night to avoid an uprising. They had him killed to avoid a riot. Now, if his body turned up gone, all their work would have been in vain. Pilate had been such an accommodating ally over the last 24 hours that they felt they could ask one more favor. They wanted guards at the tomb to make sure the body remained there. Pilate would give them what they asked for, stationing soldiers at the tomb and sealing it with his authority.

With the fast paced events of the last 24 hours, Saturday seems like a let down. Outside of the 4 verses that Matthew writes at the end of chapter 27, the day is undocumented. For the key characters in the story, Saturday was familiar, the old familiar. Pilate was looking out for his career, the Jewish leaders were trying to squelch those who would try to usurp Moses, and the disciples? They had a great 3 year ride, seeing things unexplainable, learning things they never thought they would be privy too…but now they went back to wondering. There was something that Jesus saw in them when he called three years ago. Following him had become their purpose. Now they sat…questioning.

There are Saturday’s in our lives; where the familiar looks more and more appealing. When stress hits at work, the familiar beckons. When a bad diagnosis arrives, the familiar seems more pleasing. When family strife takes place, the familiar is alluring. The familiar could be alcohol, porn, deceit, envy, or any other number of things.

Saturday was a 24 hour period, the Sabbath the Jews called it, where rest was prescribed. A reminder that the world was created in 6 days and God rested the 7th. It was an object lesson that God would provide…if the Jews would just rest in Him; a reminder that if humanity takes a break, the world will still function. On this Sabbath, it the disciples questioned. Sunday seems so far away, but God was asking, just as Jesus asked them to trust in Him and his words. He told them that Saturday would come, but Sunday would make it worth it. When Saturday comes, what will we do? Or will the familiar take a hold.

“The next day, the one after Preparation day…” (Matthew 27.62)


529293_10150920001125754_1493193119_n“So as evening approached…” (Mark 15.42)

As the pressure increases, the true identity of a person shines through. When situations get punchy, the true motives and identities show through. The old cowboy proverb says: “If your guts have turned to fiddle strings, it ain’t good for you and it aint safe for me.” When situations get tense, your first inclination is acted upon. When a bullfighter gets in a tight spot, if his focus is on the bull he will step around it. But if his focus is on self preservation its on stepping up on the fence. When Jake Joeckle is on a bronc, if he is about saving his skin, he double grabs; but too many times I have seen that kid lift on his rein and goes to spuring one. Why? Because safety-ing up is not in him and when situations get tense, he is going to give it his all, even If it means a little pain. When situations get tense, our heart tends to come to the forefront. Sometimes it means an action different from normal and other times it means our first inclination shines forth. In the situation of John 19, the true colors, outside of the political and social concerns, is acted upon.

The last twelve hours have been a blur. For Joseph and Nicodemus it has been a long and eventful day. The disciples have been a no show for quite some time. They deserted when the crowd showed up to arrest Jesus. Peter and John followed from a distance, but ever since Jesus arrived at the doorstep of Pilate before dawn, they have made themselves scarce. At the end of the passion narrative two guys come into the spotlight. For the gospel writers, they are not completely unknown characters but they certainly haven’t been central to the story. Now they and their character are in the spotlight. Their contrast is striking.

On the one hand, there is Joseph of Arimathea. He was part of the Sanhedrin (Mark 15.33; Luke 23.50), but a dissenter in the case of Jesus (Luke 23.51). Apparently, he had not made a big plea in the case for Jesus before the Sanhedrin. It was, after all, a case in the early morning, a late night, and he was apparently in the minority. Despite his view, Jesus was destined to die with the vote of the Sanhedrin. From the wording of John it would seem that Joseph of Arimathea did not make a real strong push to get Jesus out of his sentence of death. He was a secret disciple. Usually the greek word for “secret” is translated as “hidden”. A disciple in hiding until…

Nicodemus, on the other hand, is a vexing character in the book of John. He makes three appearances, which is uncommon for a minor character in a book that is clearly well thought out and planned.   He visited Jesus at night in John 3. John never uses words without a plan and the night meeting was recorded to show something about the true identity of Nicodemus. For the remainder of his acknowledgments in the book he would never slip that meeting with Jesus at night. In chapter 7 of the book, as the Pharisees are discussing Jesus rise, Nicodemus tries to vouch for Jesus without tipping his hand. But even then he is introduced as “the man who had gone to Jesus earlier”. (7.50) He tried to stick up for Jesus in a way. Now he shows up at the cross with Joseph of Arimathea. John says that he was “the man who visited Jesus at night” (John 19.39). Can you imagine your life being defined by the worst thing you have ever done?

They are two men who similarities abound. They both are members of the Sanhedrin; both with money; both invested in the honoring of the deceased criminal Jesus (Joseph giving his tomb [Matt 27.60]; Nicodemus with a significant amount of spices costing a great deal [John 19.39]); and both putting their reputations on the line burying a condemned criminal.

The burial had to done in a hurry. Jesus died around 3 pm and the sun was setting soon. His death, the quickness of it, took Pilate, the Centurion, and most other people by surprise. Joseph and Nicodemus didn’t have a lot of time to ponder a method of action. They went to Pilate and asked for the body. They wrapped it in linen, packed it with spices, and laid it in a tomb. This was all done by dusk so that they could still celebrate the Passover.

It is amazing how, when we don’t have the time to spare to think about how we will be perceived, our actions are true to our beliefs. Nicodemus has live the true politicians life; by remaining ambiguous on key issues, hiding his beliefs from the ruling class, and acting in secret. The abbreviated schedule, the approaching dusk, and the quick death of Jesus has brought him to decision time. What does he truly believe about Jesus? Is he worth honoring? Is what he said true? As a member of the Sanhedrin, he was privy to the scope of Jesus ministry, now how would he respond? Still, fear seemed to stand in his way. Despite his visiting Jesus after his death, one cant help but feel that Nicodemus missed the boat. Fear kept him from seeing all of Jesus. In the same way that Pilate traded a political career for a relationship with Jesus, so too Nicodemus seemed headed down the same path. As Mark Moore said, “the biggest thing Nicodemus ever did for Jesus, was bury him.”

Joseph, by all indications was different. He was a disciple “in secret” only by John’s account. He feared repercussions from the Jews by John’s account. But in the haste of the situation and the rest of the Gospels, his true understanding of Jesus was brought forward. Joseph, by all other gospel accounts, was a disciple of Jesus. He has no negative comments amongst the other gospel. Despite John’s description of him as a secret disciple, Joseph of Arimathea was waiting for ‘the Kingdom of God’ (Luke 23.51) and ‘a good and upright man’ (Luke 23.50). He faced his fear, risked his political career and asked for the body of Jesus!

In haste our true understanding, faith, and belief shine through? When quick decisions happen, how do you respond? Are you faithful when its easier to forget? Do you trust when its easier in the spur of the moment to turn

Joseph trusted in Jesus…his approach of Pilate, offering the tomb, and taking the body shows. Nicodemus, as it reads in John, seems to have missed it. His accolades, resume, wealth, and standing aside, missed it. Joseph, by testimony of the other gospels saw the truth in Jesus where Nicodemus hid behind his fear.

In times of haste, the truth shines through.

“So as evening approached”, two men carried the body of Jesus, but only one man knew him.

The Ninth Hour

ethan hugPairing youth ministry and ranching has always been one of my passions.   I believe there is an awful lot to be learned by urban youth on a ranch. Most times it goes well. They have learned to use a chainsaw and cut down trees, ridden horses with me, set fence posts, and even gotten on a bull (and rode it!). But there is always that one time.

I had just run about 150 ft of barbed wire between a couple end posts. I had stretched it tight, and wrapped it snug around the two h-braces at both ends of the field. All my line posts were set in place, all that was left to do was to drive a staple into each post to finish off the strand. I thought I had given plenty of direction and guidance. I am a firm believer that most of the time middle school students don’t follow expectations or understand what to do because I am not explicit enough with instruction and direction. This was not the case this time. I went to another part of the property and began to set some more posts in the ground for our next run. About 30 minutes later, I hadn’t heard any hammering from his direction. I crested the hill to see him laying down on the job. I was upset, until I got closer. He had managed to make himself the fillings of a barbed wire burrito. He had become a human spool for 12-guage-4-point-barb-wire. The only word that I could muster between laughs was “how?” His answer: “Mr. Travis it all happened so fast…”

The question of “how” makes a few assumptions. In the first place, “how?” Implies that there was a process involved. “How?” never happens in a vacuume. Anywhere between 2 and a million steps take place for a “how” event to occur. When you tell a person about how you have three broken ribs, both a sprained ankle and ego, and make a cracking noise when you walk, in the same sentence with your kid-broke gelding, the question is not of why? but how?. When your farm truck is upside down in the ditch with a bovine dallied off on the bale spear, the question is not of why? but how?. For the record, the why? question often has great bearing on the how? and often provides great insight and background information to making the how? answer that much more entertaining.

Secondly the “how?” question is much more convenient to ask. Why? often deals with philosophies, worldview, learning, cultural influence and personal perspective. Asking someone why they’re a poor cowboy? begs the answer that generations ago they settled the land and many years down the line it was inherited by the poor guy being interrogated. Its been years since he had any desire to do a 9-5 job that pays well. Asking someone how they became a poor cowboy? The answer is simple: when his buddies went to college to be accountants, he spend $50,000 on an education in ranch management, then he bought a horse trailer and went to rodeoing. Not really much Greek philosophy in his answer, though it does bear resemblance to a Greek tragedy.

The “how?” question is quite intriguing and a statement of “how” is equally so.

At the 9th hour, the world has been dark for three hours and Jesus time on the cross is approaching six. For the guy standing at the foot of the cross in Mark’s gospel, this has been an interesting experience. He is a centurion, a leader in the Roman army. He is not at the front of the Roman legions conquring unknown territories, expanding the glory of Roma, and gaining honor battling foreign nations. He is stationed in Judea on a peace-keeping mission. The days are long, tiring, and boring. It is easy to see that the soldiers need to find entertainment. Crucifixions are a common occurrence in Judea. So common that the soldiers have to find ways of spicing it up by gambling on the victim’s clothes, mocking the condemned and playing games with those sentenced. This centurion has undoubtedly seen many crucifixions in his lifetime and presided over a good many. Seeing another Jew die is just part of the job.

Mark says this about the guy: “And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, heard his cry and saw how he died he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15.39) This death-hardened soldier knew something was different about this execution, but what was it?

At the 9th hour, Jesus lets out a loud cry and dies (Mark 15.37).   Was it Luke’s “Father into your hands I commit my Spirit” (Luke 23.46) or John’s “It is finished” (John 19.30)? Mark doesn’t say what the cry was, just that he let out a loud cry. Jesus has made three statements in Mark’s gospel since he was arrested. In front of the Sanhedrin, he answered the High Priest’s question about his identity as the Christ:

“I am and you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One coming on the clouds of heaven.” (Mark 14.62)

In front of Pilate, when asked, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered:

“Yes, it is as you say.” (Mark 15.2)

Jesus silence before Pilate amazed him (Mark 15.5). Mark made the effort to show Jesus as the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 52-53, in the depiction of his life, his mission statement (“the Son of man came not to be served, but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many” [Mark 10.45]), and now his silence before his accusers. And finally he speaks with God as he proclaims “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”(Mark 15.34). Could this be the “how” that the centurion saw? His silence in the midst of suffering? His connection to God in the midst of suffering?

Perhaps the “how” is referencing the miraculous darkening of the land for 3 hours (Mark 15.33). This wasn’t an everyday occurrence. The fact that it happened when the sun was supposed to be the highest wasn’t lost on him. Darkness [skotos] is referenced in Acts when Paul told Elymas that he would be blind for a time and he began to grope around in the darkness [skotos] (Acts 13.11). This is not your average nighttime darkness, this is eerie, creepy darkness that you can feel. Was the darkness and miraculous around Jesus death, the “how” that the centurion saw?

Could it be the enemies that surrounded him? Perhaps the centurion, who makes a living putting down the underdogs, was drawn to this man who was insulted by: 1) the soldiers (15.16-20); 2) those who passed by (15.29); 3) the chief priests and teachers of the law (15.31); and those crucified with him (15.32). Mark doesn’t record the criminals repentance that Luke does. Maybe the centurion sees the uniformed hatred by everyone around the scene and is drawn in by this man who seems to unite everyone against him? Could that be the “how” that the centurion saw?

In Mark’s book there are many times when the true identity of Jesus was almost exclaimed. The disciples almost got it (4.41), the crowds got close (6.2-3; 7.37), and Peter gave it an effort (8.29-32). But the man who finally got it was this Roman Centurion. From 1.1, “the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” to “surely this man was the Son of God.” (15.39)   The Centurion’s “how” could be all these things, but “how” Jesus died was unique. It was a cursed mans death, but a glorified man in the eyes of the Centurion. Before his eyes, a criminal was seen to be the King.

The “how” was clear to the centurion.

I am so thankful for the “why” Jesus died. “He who knew no sin, became sin for us, so that we may become the righteousness of God.” But I to often forget the “how” he died? It’s a little more uncomfortable for me because the “how” he died is expected of me. “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Mark 8.34)

The centurion may not have understood the “why” but he knew the “how” better than anyone who has ever lived. I know the “why” but need so much practice on the “how”!

And this was the 9th hour when he breathed his last.

The Sixth Hour

35131_412100294721_507004721_4238373_4158788_nAs one man entered the light, the land descended into darkness.

High-noon conjures up images of western towns, renegade tumbleweeds, and sauntering outlaws. The showdown on main street has been the subject and climax of many westerns. The tension at noon would run high as two men squared off with the sun high in the sky. At midday, the 6th hour, on Good Friday in the book of Luke, a meeting of epic proportions takes place on Calvary. Two criminals face Jesus and tensions run high; so high that the physical world (under the control of God) weighs in during the interaction.

Jesus was crucified between two criminals. Most likely they were Barabbas’ men who hung there. It is likely that Barabbas was the one who was supposed to be hanging between them. One of the criminals made use of their unstructured time affixed to the cross by mocking Jesus. Apparently he was familiar with the work that Jesus was doing and the reputation he had gained. He said: “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!” (Luke 23.39)

The other criminal’s words were profound. He understood that their punishment was just, getting what they deserved. He saw in Jesus, innocence.

Luke has a heart for the outcast. Be it physically impaired, women, the poor, or gentile. There is no person to small, to despised, or too ostracized for Luke to take notice of. In Mark, written for a Roman audience, the great confession at the cross came from a Roman Centurion. John saves the great confession in his book for a post-resurrection account from the mouth of Thomas, a man who finally believes. Luke, though places the statement of the identity of Jesus on the lips of a condemned criminal. Just like in his ministry and so too in his death, Jesus spends his time with losers, outcasts, and downtrodden.

They were at his birth (Luke 2.8), showed great faith in the midst of trials (Luke 7), anointed and worshipped him (Luke 7.36ff), healed by his hand (Luke 8,40ff.), the hero in his stories (Luke 10.29ff), and called to make dinner (Luke 19). Jesus refused to give up on the outcast.

As the sun shined the brightest, at noon that Friday, a criminal, an outcast stepped from darkness into the light of a relationship, based on trust, with Jesus.

But also at noon that Friday, the sixth hour (Luke 23.44), when the sun was supposed to shine the brightest, the land became dark and the sun stopped shinning.

While on the cross, Jesus became the sin we commit (2 Cor 5.21) and the curse we deserve (Gal. 3.13). Darkness was a sign of judgment (Amos 8.9-10) and even Jesus would ask why God had forsaken him (Matt 27.46 quoting Ps. 22.1) The Greek word for ‘forsaken’ [enkataleipo] is the same word Paul used when his buddies ‘deserted’ him in 2 Timothy 4.10, 16.   Jesus felt the distance between him and his Father. It was no longer “Abba, Abba” but “My God, My God”. His relationship with his heavenly Father was stressed and strained. The physical sign of this was the darkness that overtook the land.

When the sun was supposed to be at its brightest, the darkness over took the land.

One man entered the light and the world was dark. Isn’t this the story of life? The darkness of the world, the sin surrounding us, yet we can still see the light of Jesus. Jesus was hanging there, surrounded by the insulting crowds, the mocking authorities, between the crucified sinners, as physical darkness sets in. The darkness is all to familiar. Its made up of selfish ambitions, painful suffering, inward focus, divorce, cancer, greed, addiction. Like the criminals, we have done plenty to deserve our cross. But we are called out of this darkness into a relationship with Jesus. A relationship with him, who knows what it is like to be innocent and pure, but also to feel betrayed, abandoned, tortured, and forsaken. And like the criminal who saw the truth and innocence in Jesus, we too cannot help but be drawn to him.

In the 6th hour, midday, one man entered the light and the land descended into darkness.


205375_10150948166057687_1855399445_nAmber rays crest the horizon, illuminating and revealing the undertakings of the night prior.  Whether the destruction of a storm, who’s fury is first seen as the sun begins its ascent for the day, the presence of a deer from its bed of CRP grasses that was hidden in the secrecy of the night, or the flickering of charcoal feathers as a turkey lands in the dew-slick-end-grass.  If morning brings with it new sights, sounds, and experiences, then dawn also brings accountability, the demanding of a reason and explanation for the hours dominated by the darkness.

Dawn is where this story begins.  Unable to be divorce itself from the night before, the events that transpired in the hours of darkness before the dawn are connected and must be discussed before the sun even begins to rise.  The world didn’t cease to exist or stand still on its axis during that night.  Dawn arrives carried along by the momentum of the night.

On this night, in a garden on the Mount of Olives, Jesus is confronted, yet again, with the failure of his disciples.  They are sleepy.  It had been a long week and with the anticipation of the upcoming holiday, the stress of the city, and the duration of their day, their eyes were heavy.  Jesus wakes them up as a familiar face approaches.  Under the cover of darkness, an army wound its way up the hill and into the garden.  With torches lighting the way and light reflecting off their weapons (John 18.3), the mob was on a mission to apprehend Jesus.

The arrest of Jesus had been at the forefront of their plans since he had entered the city 5 days ago causing an uproar.  The leadership, however, was afraid of the people.  What kind of riot would ensue if they arrested a Rabbi and Miracle worker, in the midst of a festival week at that? (Luke 22.1-6)

The leader of the mob was Judas, who himself had had a long night.  He had been with Jesus since the beginning and watched his rise to fame.  Now he was the one with poison on his lips and blood on his hands.  He was the catalyst on that night.  He pulled the pin to the grenade that would start exploding at dawn.

Jesus was bound, led into the city and tried before the courts.  Under the glowing light of oil candles, Jesus stood and was interrogated before Annas, the former high priest (John 18.19) and then Caiaphas, the current high priest (John 18.24).  In he final phase of the Jewish proceedings, Jesus stood before the Sanhedrin.  The judge, jury, and final say in Jewish law.  During the meeting, the sun was rising.

The whole night could be summed up in Matthew 27.1:

“Early in the morning, all the chief priests and the the elders of the people came to the decision to put Jesus to death.”  (see also Mark 15.1; Luke 22.66; John 18.28)

Dawn that Friday, was the result of a trajectory begun that night.  A night filled with betrayals (Judas), denials (Peter), abandonment (the disciples), and kangaroo courts (the Jewish leaders).  The night began with Jesus and his disciples, by dawn he stood there alone.  Dawn calls into account the events of the night.

As the sun rises on the Friday of this story, I am reminded of how appealing the darkness can be.  We can act, hide, run, and deceive in it.  What is done remains hidden so long as the darkness remains.  But eventually dawn comes and the light penetrates the darkness, revealing and illuminating the activities and actions once covered.  Standing there, at dawn, is the condemned to die Jesus…ready to die because of what was done in the dark!