‘To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken.
If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one…’
CS Lewis, The Four Loves
Does this ring true for you? Why does loving another person so often involve pain and self-sacrifice?
What does it say about us that we can be so painful to love?
Ever since Jesus set out on his journey to Jerusalem, the tension has been mounting. Luke has portrayed the significance of this journey in two starkly contrasting ways. On the one hand, Jesus is coming as the long-promised Jewish Messiah – when he enters Jerusalem he does so like a returning king coming to rescue his people from oppression (Luke 19:28–40). On the other hand, he’s a dead man walking. Repeatedly Jesus has told his followers that awaiting him in Jerusalem are betrayal, arrest and execution at the hands of the authorities (Luke 18:31–32).
How can Jesus be both a conquering king and at the same time one who is going to be murdered by his enemies? We join Luke’s narrative at the point of Jesus’ arrest; the following episodes occur over a two-day period.
47 While he was still speaking a crowd came up, and the man who was called Judas, one of the Twelve, was leading them. He approached Jesus to kiss him, 48 but Jesus asked him, ‘Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?’
49 When Jesus’ followers saw what was going to happen, they said, ‘Lord, should we strike with our swords?’ 50 And one of them struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his right ear.
51 But Jesus answered, ‘No more of this!’ And he touched the man’s ear and healed him.
52 Then Jesus said to the chief priests, the officers of the temple guard, and the elders, who had come for him, ‘Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come with swords and clubs? 53 Every day I was with you in the temple courts, and you did not lay a hand on me. But this is your hour – when darkness reigns.’
Jesus’ arrest occurs late at night because the authorities are afraid of how ‘the people’ might react.
What options are open to Jesus at the moment of his arrest?
How would you describe his behaviour and state of mind when he is arrested?
66 At daybreak the council of the elders of the people, both the chief priests and the teachers of the law, met together, and Jesus was led before them. 67 ‘If you are the Messiah,’ they said, ‘tell us.’
Jesus answered, ‘If I tell you, you will not believe me, 68 and if I asked you, you would not answer. 69 But from now on, the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the mighty God.’
70 They all asked, ‘Are you then the Son of God?’
He replied, ‘You say that I am.’
71 Then they said, ‘Why do we need any more testimony? We have heard it from his own lips.’
The religious leaders interrogate Jesus about who he considers himself to be. Why do you think this is such an issue for them?
Jesus twice answers in a way that puts the focus on what his interrogators think about him. Why do you think he does this?
The titles ‘Christ’, ‘Son of Man’ and ‘Son of God’ are each tied up with the Jewish hope for a Messiah. The Jews of Jesus’ day were waiting and hoping for a long-promised king – the Christ – who would restore Israel as a great kingdom embodying God’s ideals for humanity. ‘The Son of Man’ was Jesus’ preferred way of referring to himself but it is no less provocative. Jesus here is invoking an ancient prophecy that envisioned ‘one like a son of man’ reigning with God over the world. The significance of this claim was not lost on the Jewish leaders. The one who reigns at God’s right hand is elsewhere in the Jewish Scriptures declared by God to be his Son. Jesus is claiming to be the promised deliverer king, the ruler of the world and the Son of God. It was just this claim that led to his death.
13 Pilate called together the chief priests, the rulers and the people, 14 and said to them, ‘You brought me this man as one who was inciting the people to rebellion. I have examined him in your presence and have found no basis for your charges against him. 15 Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us; as you can see, he has done nothing to deserve death. 16 Therefore, I will punish him and then release him.’
18 But the whole crowd shouted, ‘Away with this man! Release Barabbas to us!’ 19 (Barabbas had been thrown into prison for an insurrection in the city, and for murder.)
20 Wanting to release Jesus, Pilate appealed to them again. 21 But they kept shouting, ‘Crucify him! Crucify him!’
22 For the third time he spoke to them: ‘Why? What crime has this man committed? I have found in him no grounds for the death penalty. Therefore I will have him punished and then release him.’
23 But with loud shouts they insistently demanded that he be crucified, and their shouts prevailed. 24 So Pilate decided to grant their demand. 25 He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, the one they asked for, and surrendered Jesus to their will.
After judging Jesus guilty of blasphemy, the religious leaders still need the authority of Rome to pass the death penalty. Pilate, the Roman governor, judges Jesus to be essentially harmless, but sends him on, for reasons of diplomacy, to the regional Jewish monarch, Herod. Herod also determines Jesus to be powerless and ridicules him before sending him back to Pilate. Here we see Pilate eventually and with some reluctance handing Jesus over to be crucified.
Pilate is not interested in Jewish theological disputes. Why does he sentence Jesus to be crucified, despite his verdict that he is innocent?
32 Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. 33 When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals – one on his right, the other on his left. 34 Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.’ And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.
35 The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, ‘He saved others; let him save himself if he is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.’
36 The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar 37 and said, ‘If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.’
38 There was a written notice above him, which read: this is the king of the jews.
39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: ‘Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!’
40 But the other criminal rebuked him. ‘Don’t you fear God,’ he said, ‘since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.’
42 Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’
43 Jesus answered him, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.’
44 It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, 45 for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46 Jesus called out with a loud voice, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.’ When he had said this, he breathed his last.
47 The centurion, seeing what had happened, praised God and said, ‘Surely this was a righteous man.’ 48 When all the people who had gathered to witness this sight saw what took place, they beat their breasts and went away. 49 But all those who knew him, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.
Crucifixion was both brutal and humiliating. For the Romans it served as a public display of failure and weakness designed to discredit those who dared rebel against their authority. For the Jews it had an additional significance: to be ‘hung on a tree’ was to be under God’s curse.
Hanging on the cross, Jesus is ridiculed by the crowds, rulers, soldiers and a criminal alongside him. What is the substance of their mockery?
How is the second criminal’s response so different? What could have inspired such a response?
What does this second criminal ask for? What does Jesus seem to be promising him?
Luke records two very public portents indicating the cosmic significance of what was taking place. Darkness in the Old Testament signalled God’s presence as judge and the tearing of the massive temple curtain includes Jerusalem’s religion in that judgement. Later, Christians would see additional significance in this event: the barrier separating God and people that the curtain represented was, with Jesus’ death, torn down.
In verse 46, Luke records Jesus’ death. How does he describe the manner in which Jesus dies?
What do you think the centurion sees in Jesus that causes him to respond as he does?
The centurion’s exclamation is deeply significant. It recalls a famous prophecy spoken by Isaiah 700 years earlier about one described as God’s ‘righteous servant’. In the hours before his arrest Jesus had pointed to this prophecy as holding the key to the events about to unfold (22:37):
My servant...was despised and rejected— a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.
We turned our backs on him and looked the other way. He was despised, and we did not care.
Yet it was our weaknesses he carried; it was our sorrows that weighed him down.
And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God, a punishment for his own sins!
But he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins.
He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed…
He was led like a lamb to the slaughter. And as a sheep is silent before the shearers, he did not open his mouth...
Because of his experience, my righteous servant will make it possible for many to be counted righteous, for he will bear all their sins (Isaiah 53).
How does the prophecy resonate with the events Luke describes? What does it say about why Jesus died?
The cross, perhaps the most gruesome form of execution ever devised, has become the symbol of the Christian faith. This striking fact speaks of the importance and immense value Christians gave to Christ’s death. Writing around AD 55, Paul of Tarsus represented early Christian belief when he said:
God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them.…God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God
(2 Corinthians 5:19, 21).
As the theologian John Stott explains:
… the essence of sin is man substituting himself for God, while the essence of salvation is God substituting himself for man. Man asserts himself against God and puts himself where only God deserves to be; God sacrifices himself for man and puts himself where only man deserves to be.
If this is it true, what does Jesus’ death say about our human problem? What does it reveal about God?
The gospels are full of people telling their stories - people asking questions, seeking relationships, searching for something more.
A central character, woven throughout each story, is Jesus, a historical figure surrounded by mystery. Join us as we explore these stories, and build up a picture of Jesus through the people he meets and the accounts that are written about him.