Luke 18:31-34. “Jesus took the Twelve aside and told them, ‘We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled. He will be turned over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him, spit on him, flog him and kill him. On the third day he will rise again.” The disciples did not understand any of this. Its meaning was hidden from them, and they did not know what he was talking about.”
Our Lord Jesus Christ helps and saves us in three ways, as our prophet, our priest and our king. You see it in these verses before us; he speaks as a prophet about what faces him in the future, and the theme he speaks on is his own death (that is, his priestly work), and finally he shows his kingly authority over the future and even over death itself when he tells them he will rise again from the grave.
JESUS PROPHESIES HIS SUFFERINGS AND DEATH.
i] What the prophets had written about the Son of Man would be fulfilled. Jesus is talking about what is written in the Bible, your Bible, the book that is with you in the pews now. In its first 39 books the coming and the sufferings of the Lord Jesus are often mentioned. In the most extraordinary detail what the prophets predicted would happen to the promised Messiah actually did happen to him. It is like finding an old book in your attic, it is many centuries old and the paintings gathered in it have been compiled by many brilliant artists. You blow the dust off and open the book and to your amazement, when you look at the scenes it portrays, you discover it contains picture after picture of people and places you know so well, members of your family, and scenes from their lives in incredible detail, the birth of a boy, family pets, weddings and funerals, 21st birthdays, crowds gathering on special occasions, some scenes remind you of those difficult times in your family’s life. There are other experiences captured in this book of paintings which people you knew passed through, some of the events you yourself actually witnessed, others you heard of through senior members of the family. They are all extraordinarily accurate, more like photographs than paintings, but they had been made hundreds of years before the events themselves took place, and yet they exactly capture scenes you witnessed to the minutest detail. Let me give you eighteen pictures of the last days of Jesus from the Scriptures, some of them being described as far back as a thousand years before they happened, and all of them hundreds of years earlier.
For example here is a picture that a man called Zechariah has put in the book. It is of the Lord Jesus on a triumphant entry into Jerusalem riding a donkey (Zech. 9:9). Then Isaiah is another contributor and his picture is called ‘Rejection.’ He will be a rejected Messiah he says, by his own people (Isaiah 53:3). David the psalmist in Psalm 41 has a portrait called “Betrayal” and he says that Jesus would be betrayed by a close friend (Psalm 41:9). Zechariah announces that he would be sold for thirty pieces of silver (Zech. 11:12-13). David in Psalm 35 announced that he would be accused by false witnesses (Psalm 35:11). Isaiah the prophet said that he would just be totally silent in the face of all these accusations (Is. 53:7); “like a lamb before his shearers is dumb so he opened not his mouth”. Isaiah also said he would be spat upon and hit (Is. 50:6). David in Psalm 35 said that he would be hated for no reason (Psa. 35:19). Psalm 22 says that he would be pierced through his hands and his feet (Psa. 22:16). Isaiah said that he would be put to death alongside criminals (Isa. 53:12). Psalm 22 says that he would be scorned and mocked in his sufferings (Psa. 22:7-8). Psalm 69 says that he would be given vinegar and gall to drink (Psa. 69:21). Psalm 109 says that he would pray for his enemies (Psa. 109:4). Psalm 22 also begins by saying that he was forsaken by God and then it says that men would gamble for his garments (Psa. 22:1&18). Psa. 34 tells us that none of his bones would be broken (Psa. 34:20). Zechariah tells us that his side would be pierced (Zech 12:10). Isaiah says that he would be buried with the rich (Is. 53:9).
There are more, but that will give you some idea of what God had told his servants beforehand about the sufferings of the Messiah in Scripture. In our text we are told that on one occasion the Lord Jesus took the twelve apostles aside and he told them that “everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled” (v.31). Firstly, what does that tell you about the Scripture that you have before you in the pews? Doesn’t it say to us that it is a miraculous book, that it comes from God, a saving gift to this world, that it is one that is true in all that it predicts, and I include in that what it predicts about you and your future, and the future of the world? Don’t these words of Jesus also tell us that he is a remarkable person, that all these prophecies about his sufferings were fulfilled? Of course there were many more prophecies about him, that he would be born of a virgin, and the place of his birth would be Bethlehem, and that he would rise on the third day from the grave, and so on, but what we are looking at now is the fact that Jesus sat his disciples down one day and he told them that in Jerusalem – where they would soon be – the old prophecies that had been given to us in the Bible about God’s suffering Servant-Messiah would be all fulfilled in his dying. So the death of Jesus would not be due to the wickedness of men alone. It was not to be regarded as an unexpected death, and certainly not a failure. It was a death that had been prophesied in great detail in the 39 books of the Old Testament.
ii] The Lord Jesus gives further details about the events of his death. He predicts the following: “He will be turned over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him, spit on him, flog him and kill him” (v.32). What do we say about this?
A] This was not at all a unique saying. Such details in fact are found three times in Luke’s gospel alone, and every one of those three predictions is also found in the gospels of Matthew and Mark. So nine times in the first three gospels we meet prophecies just like the one in our text made by Jesus himself about the sufferings that were looming up ahead of him. We will just look at the other two in Luke’s gospel. They were made on three separate occasions in different historical settings, and each one, as you expect, is different from the others. They are not duplicates of one another copied by a scribe from the preceding prophecy. First in Luke 9 verse 22, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” So a year earlier he had spelled out to them details of how he would die, and such a prophecy is also recorded in Mark chapter 8 and Matthew chapter 16. Then we come across a second prophecy in Luke 9 and verse 44, where Jesus tells them again, “Listen carefully to what I am about to tell you: The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men” and that is also repeated in Mark chapter 9 and Matthew chapter 17. Then finally we have the words of our text which are also found in Mark chapter 10 and Matthew chapter 20. So, I say, these predictions of the kind of sufferings that lay before our Lord were recorded three times in three gospels. Then I want to go a little further and say this;
B] There were many other predictions that Jesus himself made about the violent way his life would end. For example, early in his ministry he announced that the Son of Man would be lifted up. He told his disciples that they should not fast while the bridegroom was still with them, but a day would come when he would be torn away from them, and then that would be a time for fasting. He told some, “It cannot be that a prophet should die outside Jerusalem” (Lk. 13:33). He told the parable of the wicked tenants of a vineyard who abused the master’s servants sent to them to collect the rent, and they finally killed the master’s son when he came. He described discipleship as a taking up of their own crosses and following him – as he’d have to bear his cross. He came, he told them, not to be served by thousands of servants but he had come to give his life as a ransom for many. He spoke of the greatest love being shown in a man laying down his life for his friends. He told them of a grain of wheat falling into the ground and dying. He declared that he was the good shepherd who would lay down his life for the sheep. He defended Mary pouring expensive oil over his feet. “Let her keep the rest until the day of his burial,” he said. His coming death was always at the centre of his thinking. In the Upper Room he told them that they would see him no longer because he was going to the Father, and he further said that the bread they ate was his body given for them, and that the wine he poured out for them to drink was a sign of the new covenant in his blood which would be shed for many for the remission of sins. He prayed that the cup his Father had given him might be taken from him, but still he would submit completely to God’s will. He said on the cross that his mission in coming, living the righteous life and dying an atoning death was complete, “It is finished.”
So you see what I am saying about Jesus’ prediction about his dying in our text, that you have these three such predictions in Luke’s gospel alone, and the three are repeated in two other gospels, and also that there are many references like this that Jesus makes concerning his coming death. He was always returning to the subject of his death, warning them about its violence, and he sought to explain this to them throughout the three years he was training them. The death of the Lord Jesus Christ was not the failure of his mission. It was a predicted death; it was a purposeful death; it was an essential death. It was an atoning death. Jesus knew this, that there could be no cosmic redemption without the death of the Creator of the cosmos. So we are told that he set his face steadfastly to Jerusalem, and when Peter and the others tried to dissuade him from giving his life in crucifixion Jesus was most severe in his words to the big fisherman, “Get thee behind me Satan,” he said to Peter. “That’s the way men in the world think.” It was utterly necessary for him to give up his life on the cross.
C] In our text he is very precise aboutabout the nature of his last hours. He says “He will be turned over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him, spit on him, flog him and kill him” (v.32). That was exactly what happened. The chief priests of Israel hated him so much that stoning was too good for him. They wanted him crucified, and that was a Gentile punishment, not a Jewish one, and so they found him guilty of blasphemy, but also they accused him of stirring up rebellion against Caesar and they used that as the reason for handing him over to the Roman governor, Pilate. They then brought all kinds of political and social pressures to bear on Pilate threatening him in order to get from him a guilty verdict even though Pilate found no fault in him. He sentenced Jesus to be whipped within an inch of his life, feeling that that would be enough to satisfy the blood lust of the chief priests and Jewish leaders. It was not. The rentamob chanted “Crucify him” and “Release unto us Barrabas,” and so Pilate finally washed his hands of him and condemned our Lord to be crucified.
Then his soldiers continued from where the Sanhedrin had begun in entertaining themselves by mocking Jesus, dressing him in a purple robe, with a crown of thorns on his head, and asking him to prophesy to them. They also hit him in the face and asked him to prophesy who’d hit him. They cried “Hail king of the Jews.” They mocked him, and insulted him and spat in his face. They finally drove big nails through his hands and feet into a cross and lifted him up, mocking him as he hung by those nails for hours there. Jesus knew that all this would happen. He knew it from what the Old Testament had said, and we must believe that he’d received from God alone some of that detailed information and that he had shared it with these men here; “He will be turned over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him, spit on him, flog him and kill him” (v.32), and all he told them on that never-to-be-forgotten day was fulfilled. That was his mission. He never acknowledged his coming into the world was a failure, that he had come to introduce into the world a kinder, better way of life and that he’d not succeeded in his dream. He never spoke like that, and he didn’t abandon his mission in despair and flee again from the horrors of this horrible coming death to go and live in distant Egypt – as his father had taken him there to save him from being killed by Herod when he was a baby. God could easily have planted that conviction in his mind to flee, but he didn’t. Jesus had a messianic calling to redeem sinners by his death. He said, “I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is completed” (Lk. 12:50). Without the shedding of the blood of God the Son there could be no remission of our sins. He only could unlock the gate of heaven and let us in. But thereis more . . .
JESUS PROPHESIES HIS RESURRECTION FROM THE GRAVE.
But he did not stop there; Jesus added this, “On the third day he will rise again” (v.33). At the beginning of the 20th century there was a young London lawyer called Frank Morrison. Like millions of others in Europe he had become influenced by the German critics of the Bible who debunked the scriptures and rejected all that was supernatural in them. He came under the influence of Thomas Huxley who said, “miracles do not happen,” and he read with appreciation the writings of Thomas Arnold and his message of ‘Sweet Reasonableness.’ But Frank Morrison was an earnest and consistent man and when he identified himself with the skeptics he set out to write a book to show that there was little place for the miraculous in Christianity. There was a place for saying, “Jesus Christ is a very impressive person, a man of purity and noble manhood” but not that Christ was the incarnate Son of God come to the world for our redemption as our sin-bearer. So Frank Morrison read the New Testament and began to study the life of Christ to prepare himself for this critical book, but as he did so something remarkable happened, his whole opinion of our Lord changed, and he finally wrote a very different book, one that was to become famous. It was first published 80 years ago called, “Who Moved the Stone?” It is a book which is still in print and has sold its hundreds of thousands of copies and is a fine defence of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. I first read it many years ago, but I took down my copy from the shelf this week because I remember where the book started. It began by highlighting this phrase “the third day” or “after three days.” Morrison shows how significant the words are. In all the predictions of our Lord, in Matthew, Mark and Luke he is recorded as saying that on the third day he will rise again. They are the pith and the core of his anticipation about his last days, sufferings, yes, death, yes but also resurrection on the third day. “If they kill me I will rise again soon from the dead.” That is an incredible claim to make, resurrection after three days in which the heart was not beating, knowing what 72 hours of death does to any corpse! Now I want to show you three ways in which this claim to a three day resurrection impacted the life of God, his hearers and his enemies.
i] In its link with Jesus’ words about rebuilding a destroyed Temple. In John’s gospel chapter two after Jesus has cleansed the Temple; “Then the Jews demanded of him, ‘What miraculous sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.’ The Jews replied, ‘It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?’ But the temple he had spoken of was his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the Scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken” (Jn. 2:18-22). The conquest of death was Jesus’ goal from the beginning of his ministry. Now the next scene is in Matthew’s gospel, right at the end of his life, where he is on trial for blasphemy. Do you remember the climax? It was an exchange that meant an unavoidable death penalty for our Lord Jesus; “The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for false evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death. But they did not find any, though many false witnesses came forward. Finally two came forward and declared, ‘This fellow said, “I am able to destroy the temple of God and rebuild it in three days.” ’Then the high priest stood up and said to Jesus, ‘Are you not going to answer? What is this testimony that these men are bringing against you?’ But Jesus remained silent. The high priest said to him, ‘I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.’ ‘Yes, it is as you say,’ Jesus replied. ‘But I say to all of you: In the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.’ Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, ‘He has spoken blasphemy! Why do we need any more witnesses? Look, now you have heard the blasphemy’” (Matt. 26:59-65). Then it was all over and the spitting and the hitting and the slapping and the mockery began. There is a palpable sense of relief that now they’ve get him and he’s as good as dead. The words of Jesus about something extraordinary happening in three days had stuck in the minds of his enemies. He claimed he was the coming Lord of glory prophesied by Daniel, and the proof that he was this Son of Man would be his rising from the dead. So there was the well-known prophecy of Jesus rebuilding a destroyed temple in three days.
ii] In Jesus’ answer to the people who only gathered around him to watch him perform miracles. “Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, ‘Teacher, we want to see a miraculous sign from you.’ He answered, ‘A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth’” (Matt. 12:38-40). It’s no sign that you have strong faith that you have an itch to see miracles. Herod wanted to see Jesus perform a miracle. People love to see tricks and laugh at one another and say, “How does he do it?” But Jesus refused to perform a miracle for them saying, “You are going to see one great miracle of mine. It will only be for three days that the Son of Man will lie dead in the heart of the earth, then he will rise! Some of you excuse your doubts saying to me that if you saw a man rise from the dead you would become a Christian. A man has risen from the dead! Then there is one more reference to the third day resurrection which I want to draw to your attention . . .
iii] In the appointing of the guard at the tomb. It’s in Matthew’s gospel and the 27th chapter, and this is what we read; “The next day, the one after Preparation Day, the chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate. ‘Sir,’ they said, ‘we remember that while he was still alive that deceiver said, “After three days I will rise again.” So give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, his disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that he has been raised from the dead. This last deception will be worse than the first.’ ‘Take a guard,’ Pilate answered. ‘Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how.’ So they went and made the tomb secure by putting a seal on the stone and posting the guard” (Matt. 27:62-66). Even his enemies could not rub out of their minds his declaration that he would rise from the dead.
So here are three great corroborations from Scripture all affirming our Lord’s conviction that he would conquer death and rise the third day. This was an integral part of his message. He must die in Jerusalem. It was inconceivable that he the greatest of the prophets would escape from the death that so many of God’s faithful servants had suffered for speaking his word. He knew that to go to Jerusalem would be to shed his blood, but he also declared to all and sundry that on the third day he would rise from the dead, and he turned his face to Jerusalem with that conviction paramount in his life. Of course he knew the Scriptures that encouraged him to have a resurrection faith, knowing that Elijah had raised a boy from death, and so had Elisha. He knew that Job has affirmed, “I know that my Redeemer liveth.” He knew that David had affirmed in Psalm 16 that God would not allow his holy one to see corruption. He knew that the prophet Hosea had said, “In the third day he will raise us up” (Hos. 6:2). He had himself displayed his power over death in the raising of three people. Couldn’t he raise himself from the grave? What is mightier, the preacher of the Sermon on the Mount or death? Isn’t Christ ultimate reality, not death?
THE DISCIPLES UNDERSTOOD NONE OF THIS.
They had been with him for almost three years. They had heard his preaching, seen his character, watched him command the winds and the waves to obey him. He had healed every disease and even raised the dead before their very eyes. They were eye-witnesses of all that, but when he spoke to them about all the prophecies about himself in the Scriptures being fulfilled when they reached Jerusalem, they looked blankly back at him. When he spoke of men tormenting and killing him, they didn’t know what he was talking about. When he again spoke of rising from the dead they didn’t understand what he meant.
It tells us of the fearful state of the inward man, that it is impossible for a man, rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief all by himself to understand the gospel and enter the kingdom of God. They need a work of the Holy Spirit in their lives first of all. You hear a great deal about the benefits of doing a religious course in the church for 6 or 10 weeks and how quickly people understand Christianity if they take the course. I have three things to say about that . . .
i] These twelve men had had the most brilliant teacher for three years as well as seeing Lazarus rise from the dead on the third day. And yet when Jesus preached the simple gospel to them they were unimpressed and confused. It takes more than a course and a communicator to save people. It takes a great inward work of God. Jesus told them, “No man can come to me unless the Father that has sent me draw him” (Jn. 6:65).
ii] There are some people in whom God has been secretly working for a long time so that the first time they hear the gospel they believe it. They don’t need a few months’ course to understand his death and resurrection. God can make some people grasp the truth in a moment. The incident before us in our text happened before Pentecost and the pouring out of the Spirit on each of them. Then they understood, and it is then that you also will understand when God gives you a new heart and a new spirit and a new birth and makes all things new and makes you a new creation. Then you will understand this simple gospel, “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that he was buried and that he rose again on the third day according to the Scriptures.” You must cry mightily to God that he will change your hearts, and you must keep crying until you know that he has heard and answered your prayers and you say to God, “I believe!”
iii] There are people in the world who never go to church, but they can have a better theological and moral grasp of Christianity than some people who go to church each Sunday. It was Jesus’ enemies who couldn’t forget the words of Christ that he would rise on the third day, and they acted on them and they put a guard on the tomb, but the fearful disciples met in a locked room, and the women went to embalm the body. None of them, men or women, went to the Garden to welcome him back from the dead on that first Sunday. Some of you are coming to church week by week, but you are still ignorant of the meaning of the basic gospel of Jesus Christ! There are men who never go to church who believe more than you do and live better lives. It is a fearful thing to perish under the sound of God’s free grace and mighty salvation.
On the third day Jesus arose and so . . .
Every Sunday is a celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The day of the Sabbath has changed because the victory over death by Jesus is so colossal it has to be celebrated one day every week. It is, Scripture says, the “Lord’s Day” and no one elses.
The resurrection declared Jesus of Nazareth, who had been found guilty of blasphemy and rebellion by man, to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness. It is the resurrection that is the definitive statement about Christ. Golgotha was followed by the empty tomb. It was his resurrection, never to die again, that designated and marked Jesus off. No one else actually predicted that they would rise on the third day . . . and then did rise! So as the gospel spread round the world it was as the apostles gave witness to the resurrection, not the event of the cross, but what happened in the Garden on the third day. Lots of people had been crucified; only one had come back from the dead. The new life proved the death of Jesus had purpose and meaning.
The resurrection vindicated Jesus’ identity as God. He was not raised in order to become God. Jesus already was God, and had for ever existed as God. The resurrection vindicated his claims to absolute equality with God, “I and my Father are one!”
It was the resurrection that declared that Jesus was the promised Messiah. Peter preached in Jerusalem fifty days later, “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36).
The resurrection declared that Christ’s sacrifice was accepted by God. The Lord Jesus had been, “delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification” (Romans 4:25). “And if Christ be not risen then your faith is futile; you are still in your sins!” (I Corinthians 15:17).
Again it is the resurrection that makes our new birth possible. Death cannot give life. The cross did secure atonement for a company of people more than any man could number, but it required an exalted, reigning, powerful Saviour to apply salvation to all those he had died to redeem, that not one of them be lost. Peter said to them at Pentecost that it was the risen Jesus who had poured out his Spirit that they witnessed in the apostles’ lives.
It was the resurrection that brought about Christ’s continuing intercession for his people. “He always lives to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:25). We will never sin or fall without deliberately climbing right over and defying his heavenly intercession.
The resurrection of Jesus makes our own resurrection possible. “But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead” (I Corinthians 15:20-21). ‘Firstfruits’ refers to the first part of the harvest to come in. It represents the rest of the harvest yet to come. When a car manufacturer designs a new car they will, before going into mass production, first come out with the prototype. Christ is the prototype of the resurrection. He is the first of many to follow. All those who are his he will raise up and they will be like him.
29th January 2012 GEOFF THOMAS