I’ve been reading in John’s Gospel these last few days and listening to the story of Jesus’ last days, His trial and crucifixion on the audio Bible, trying to visualize what was going on and taking in some of the details I so often hurry over. The accounts written by the apostles are rich in detail and I wish I knew more background so I could better understand how the people of that time, and especially the disciples, would have understood what was happening.
The first thing to catch my attention was in the scene where the religious leaders brought Jesus to Pilate. It’s fairly common knowledge that the Jews hated the Romans and wanted desperately to be free from their oppressive rule. But. But, when they wanted something from Rome, they made no qualms about using them to achieve their own purposes. Since Jesus claimed to be God, the Jews said He had to be sentenced to death. But the Romans, if I understand this correctly, did not allow the Jews to mete out capital punishment. So, the hands of the Jews were tied. What did they do? They went to the Romans to get them to do what they wanted done. The Jews did not like to give allegiance to Caesar, but when it was convenient, they professed their allegiance. They went so far as to tell Pilate that the only king they have is Caesar. You can read it in John 19.
The other thing that presented itself in this part of the story is that it was not what many would call “the world” who were seeking the death of Jesus. It was the religious establishment. I wonder how often this still happens?? They thought they were doing the “right thing”; as it turns out they missed it entirely.
The other part of the story that caught my attention was where Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus ask for the body of Jesus so they could bury Him. Such a beautiful, beautiful scene, where they take enormous risk and essentially give up the privilege of taking part in the Passover since they were ceremonially unclean by coming into contact with a dead body. These secret disciples were willing to do something that even Jesus’ closest known disciples were not willing or did not think to do. I’m sure there is more to this and someday I will take the time to delve into it.
But what I really love is something I heard N.T. Wright talk about on the radio a few days ago. A detail that I’ve passed over countless times because I didn’t realize that it was significant. We all know how Peter denied Jesus three times during the long, dark night leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion the next day. John records that Peter was warming himself at a fire in the courtyard when he denied Jesus. What I didn’t realize is that John uses a specific word to describe the fire – a charcoal fire that had a particular scent associated with it. Then, in John 21, after the resurrection, some of the disciples are out fishing and when they come in, there is Jesus, cooking a breakfast of fish and bread on – you guessed it – the same kind of charcoal fire. It is said that certain smells bring back vivid memories and we can be sure that when Peter smelled the fire that morning, he couldn’t help but remember that other fire at which he denied Jesus. But then Jesus, being the Redeemer that He is, redeems that scene of the first charcoal fire at the scene of the second charcoal fire by asking Peter three times if he loved Him, correlating to the three times Peter had denied Him. What a wonderful picture of love and redemption. There is more to it than what I have gone into here, and I’d encourage you to listen to the broadcast where N.T. Wright talks about it. You can find it by clicking here. The part I’m referring to starts at about 16 minutes if you want to skip to that.
These few small portraits are what I’ve been pondering this week and it’s helped me get a clearer picture of what might have been going on during the week leading up to Jesus’ death. I’ve intentionally stopped reading and listening at the end of John 19. I think we so often want to hurry over to Sunday morning and the resurrection, and we don’t take the time to sit in the pain and in the darkness of Friday and Saturday. I hope to gain a deeper understanding by sitting with the hard parts of Scripture, and to more fully appreciate the glory of the Resurrection on that Sunday morning so long ago, a reality that lives on – this resurrection life – and is available to all who call on Him.
“Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jewish leaders. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away. He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds. Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs. At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid. Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.” John 19:38-42