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The Crucifixion October 28, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 27:32-44.

Summary: In this passage, Pilate’s soldiers and Jesus go forth out of Jerusalem with His cross. When they arrive at the skull place, they crucify Him and part His garments by gambling for them. They then sit down and stay on guard. Two robbers are crucified on either side of Him.

He is then continually reviled by:

  • careless passersby, who challenge Him to destroy (and rebuild) the temple and come down from His cross
  • the religious wicked, who assert that although He has healed others through His miracles, He cannot heal Himself in this instance
  • the two robbers on either side of Him.

Thoughts: A tenet of Christianity is that Jesus was crucified for our sins. Ryle offers some thoughts on this point:

Last, but not least, let us learn from the story of the passion always to hate sin with a great hatred. Sin was the cause of all our Saviour’s suffering. Our sins twisted the crown of thorns; our sins drove the nails into his hands and feet; on account of our sins his blood was shed. Surely the thought of Christ crucified should make us loathe all sin.

Ryle rightly highlights the connection between the passion of Christ and our sinfulness. One thought is that if we loathe our sinfulness, we should desire to be free from sin in this life. Yet we cannot be perfect; indeed, we fall short of perfection on a daily basis. How do we address this conundrum? One idea is that we must not be complacent about our sinfulness. While we remain cognizant of our inherent limitations in this life, we must continue to loathe our sins and strive against them – as God can bear fruit through our struggles.

In Luke 23:39-43, we learn that one of the robbers who was crucified beside Jesus actually repents of his sins before his death; moreover, Jesus asserts that he will join Him in paradise. This caused me to ponder the following question: how does that event relate to Jesus’ earlier discussion concerning sheep and goats? Indeed, this may lead to a broader question: how do deathbed confessions relate to that earlier discussion? If one does not perform good deeds for believers, and then makes a deathbed confession, will they truly join Him in paradise? If one lives as a “goat,” and then makes a deathbed confession, do they instantly become a “sheep?” Are deathbed confessions essentially unrelated to that earlier discussion? These are challenging questions that (I believe) do not possess simple answers. In any event, I believe that we should strive to live as “sheep,” as that will please Him.

The Soldiers Mock Jesus October 26, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 27:27-31.

Summary: In this passage, Pilate’s soldiers take Jesus into the common hall and gather the entire cohort around Him. They then mockingly give Him homage as a king before leading Him out of the common hall to be crucified.

Thoughts: This passage sharpens the contrast between the righteousness of Jesus and the unrighteousness of all others. Here, Pilate’s soldiers reveal their unrighteousness. While I struggle to identify with Pilate’s soldiers – especially in light of their actions in this passage – I need to remember that my sinful thoughts, words and deeds fueled the mockery and scorn that they heaped on Him. Indeed, the passion of Christ reminds me that:

  • I need Him as my Savior
  • I should be grateful that He endured the highest level of suffering to fulfill His calling.

Jesus Before Pilate October 21, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 27:11-26.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus stands before Pontius Pilate. The Jewish leaders then accuse Him of leading a rebellion against Rome – yet He does not respond to their charges, to Pilate’s amazement.

Now Pilate has a custom where he releases a criminal during Passover to show mercy to his subjects. In particular, he has a prisoner of note named Barabbas. He then asks the crowd before him – including the Jewish leaders – if he should release Barabbas or Jesus (their anointed).

The Jewish leaders persuade the rest of the crowd to demand that Pilate 1) release Barabbas and 2) crucify Jesus.

Pilate initially refuses to meet their demands, as 1) he has found Jesus to be righteous and 2) his wife has endured a nightmarish dream that has confirmed Jesus’ righteousness.

Yet the crowd persists in their demands to the point of starting a riot.

Eventually Pilate relents and frees himself from the guilt of Jesus’ execution. He releases Barabbas and has Jesus scourged in preparation for His crucifixion.

Thoughts: This passage sharpens the contrast between the righteousness of Jesus and the unrighteousness of all others. Here, Pilate reveals his unrighteousness. Ryle offers some thoughts on this point:

Pilate appears to have been inwardly satisfied that our Lord had done nothing worthy of death…Left to the exercise of his own judgment, he would probably have dismissed the charges against our Lord, and let him go free…But Pilate was the governor of a jealous and turbulent nation; his great desire was to procure favor with them and please them: he cared little how much he sinned against God and conscience so long as he had human praise.

Again, lest we, as modern-day believers, assume that we are superior to Pilate, we should remember that if we had been in his position, we would also have attempted to free ourselves from the guilt of Jesus’ execution. Indeed, no modern-day believer would have had the fortitude to reject the crowd’s demand that He be crucified. We are reminded that although we would have condemned Him, He still graciously chose to save us from (eternal) condemnation. We must regularly meditate on this point through the peaks and valleys of our walk with Him.

We also see that the Jewish leaders stirred up the crowd before Pilate to clamor for Jesus’ crucifixion. Ryle offers some thoughts on this point:

They hated him because he told them the truth; they hated him because he witnessed that their actions were evil; they hated the light, because it made their own darkness visible. In a word, they hated Christ because he was righteous and they were wicked – because he was holy and they were unholy – because he testified against sin, and they were determined to keep their sins and not let them go.

This reminds me of the fact that I – and many others, I presume – struggle to accept criticism. Legitimate criticism can be painful, especially when the one who criticizes me does not soften their tone. When I am criticized, my mind instinctively rejects that criticism and judges the one who delivers it. Thus, I usually need to exercise significant self-control in order to 1) refrain from attacking the one who criticizes me and 2) assess the merits of their words (I see the value of thinking before speaking in these situations). Indeed, if criticism has merit, we must accept it, even if the one who delivers it does not even attempt to soften their tone, e.g. Jesus’ interactions with the Jewish leaders during the latter part of His ministry.

Judas Hangs Himself October 20, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 27:1-10.

Summary: In this passage, the Sanhedrin formally votes against Jesus at sunrise. They then take Him to Pontius Pilate, as they lack the legal authority to execute Him.

When Judas sees that Jesus has been condemned to judgment, he feels sad and attempts to return the money that he has received from the chief priests, asserting that he has sinned in betraying an innocent man.

The chief priests are indifferent to Judas’ sadness, though. He responds by going to the Holy Place and throwing down his silver coins in angry defiance. He then hangs himself.

The chief priests know that these silver coins were illegitimately paid to kill Jesus; thus, they cannot be put in the temple treasury. Instead, the chief priests use these silver coins to purchase a potter’s field where Gentiles could be buried – thereby fulfilling a prophecy in Zechariah 11:12-13.

Thoughts: In verses 9 and 10, Matthew notes that when the chief priests use Judas’ silver coins to purchase a potter’s field, they fulfill a prophecy of Jeremiah – not Zechariah. Ryle offers some thoughts on this point:

It is a great and undeniable difficulty, that the words quoted as having been used by “Jeremiah the prophet” are not to be found in any writings of Jeremiah that we possess, and that they are found in the prophet Zechariah…A question of this sort, which has puzzled many interpreters, is not likely to be settled at this date.

In John MacArthur’s sermon on this passage, he notes:

But it is a direct prophecy from Zechariah. You can’t make it fit into Jeremiah. The category of the prophets in rabbinic tradition, in rabbinic manuscripts and in the Talmud is always headed by the book of Jeremiah. So to a Jew the three sections of the Old Testament would be the law, Jeremiah and the Psalms. So when the writer refers to Jeremiah, he is simply taking the name that was at the top of the prophetic roll…

MacArthur appears to furnish a straightforward explanation of this issue; thus, I am curious as to how this explanation eluded Ryle. Have there been nontrivial advances in Biblical scholarship since the 19th century, enabling modern expositors such as MacArthur to resolve baffling details in Scripture? Did Ryle grasp the concept of “authorial intent” as it relates to the Old Testament? Did Matthew actually commit an error when writing this passage? Is MacArthur’s explanation of this issue actually correct? I anticipate meeting Matthew, Ryle and MacArthur at some point and probing them on this issue.

Peter Disowns Jesus October 14, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 26:69-75.

Summary: In this passage, one of Caiaphas’ maids mockingly states that Peter has been with Jesus. Peter denies her assertion.

This assertion is repeated twice by others outside Caiaphas’ house; each time, Peter denies it. He also:

  • makes a personal pledge of truthfulness before God
  • pronounces death upon himself at the hand of God in the event that he is lying.

After his third denial, a rooster crows, causing him to recall Jesus’ prediction of his denials and weep audibly.

Thoughts: Here, Peter emphatically disowns Jesus. Ryle offers some thoughts on this point:

We see a man who had followed Christ for three years, and been forward in professing faith and love towards him – a man who had received boundless mercies and loving kindness and had been treated by Christ as a familiar friend. We see this man denying three times that he knows Jesus! This was bad.

This passage sharpens the contrast between the righteousness of Jesus and the unrighteousness of all others. Here, Peter reveals his unrighteousness. Indeed, he – along with James and John – was especially close to Jesus, possibly viewing himself as the leader of the Twelve. In light of this fact, his denial of Jesus was egregious. We see that none – not even His closest disciples – were willing to take a stand for Him as He endured unjust suffering and punishment. This shows that even His closest disciples were in need of a Savior; even they needed His complete righteousness to cancel out their complete unrighteousness.

Before the Sanhedrin October 13, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 26:57-68.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus is taken to the house of Caiaphas. There, the scribes and elders attempt to find liars who will witness against Jesus – giving them a pretext to kill Him. Yet none of these liars can agree on their fabrications.

Eventually two liars come forward and concur on the following assertion: Jesus declared that He would destroy the temple and restore it in three days. Caiaphas responds by coming out of his seat and asking Him to respond to this accusation – yet He continues silent.

Caiaphas then calls Him to make a solemn oath before the living God that He is the Son of God. Jesus responds by:

  • asserting that He is the Son of God
  • reinforcing this point by quoting from Daniel 7:13; thus, He will be exalted to the right hand of God and will return to Earth to establish His eternal kingdom.

Caiaphas responds by rending his garments and asserting that since He has dishonored God, they can now condemn Him to death. The scribes and the elders then repeatedly mock Him.

Thoughts: In verse 61, two false witnesses accuse Jesus of asserting that He would destroy the temple and then rebuild it in three days. When I read that verse, I was baffled, as I could not recall Jesus making that statement in this Gospel. Had I actually overlooked that quotation while strolling through an earlier chapter? After some sleuthing, I found that in John 2:19, Jesus does make a similar statement. In that instance, though, He does not state that He will destroy the temple; He only states that if the Jews destroy it, then He will rebuild it. This shows that in that instance, He was actually referencing His body. Indeed, it is amazing that Jesus was able to maintain His integrity before this kangaroo court, refusing to succumb to a plethora of assaults on His character.

This passage also sharpens the contrast between the righteousness of Christ and the unrighteousness of all others (especially the chief priests and the Pharisees). Again, lest we, as modern-day believers, assume that we are superior to the chief priests and the Pharisees, we should remember that if we had attended this kangaroo court, we would also have mocked Him. Indeed, no modern-day believer would have had the fortitude to stand up and defend Him against the assaults on His character. Instead, we would have condemned Him to death. This is a sobering thought. Thus, we should be eternally grateful that although we were His enemies, Christ still chose to extend His grace to us.

Jesus Arrested October 12, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 26:47-56.

Summary: In this passage, Judas appears at the Garden of Gethsemane; he is joined by a great multitude carrying daggers and nightsticks. As they need to identify Jesus in order to arrest Him, Judas affectionately kisses Him.

Jesus responds by addressing him as “fellow” and telling him to carry out his act of betrayal. He is then seized by the great multitude.

Peter responds by using his dagger to slice off the ear of Malchus, a servant of Caiaphas.

Jesus responds by:

  • commanding Peter to put away his dagger, as those who kill others will be executed
  • stating that He has actually refrained from calling on His Father for more than 72000 angels – as He must allow Himself to be arrested in order to fulfill the Scriptures
  • asserting that since He was not arrested while He taught in the temple, the chief priests and the elders are now guilty of wrongful arrest – thereby fulfilling the Scriptures.

His disciples respond by fleeing.

Thoughts: Here, Jesus resists the temptation to call on His Father to rescue Him from His enemies. Ryle offers some insights on this point:

He was not taken captive because he could not escape: it would have been easy for him to scatter his enemies to the winds if he had thought fit…He came on purpose to fulfill the patterns and promises of Old Testament Scriptures and, by fulfilling them, to provide salvation for the world. He came intentionally to be the true Lamb of God, the Passover Lamb.

When I strolled through this passage, I pondered the possibility of Jesus actually calling on His Father for assistance – and then working with a plethora of angels to defeat His enemies. This spurred me to ponder the following questions:

  • is this passage similar to Matthew 4:1-11, since both passages caused me to ponder the fact that Jesus is both divine and human?
  • if Jesus had actually disobeyed His Father in this instance, what would have been the effect on the intimacy of the Trinity?
  • if Jesus had actually disobeyed His Father in this instance, did God have an alternate plan for saving sinful humanity?

These questions do not have simple answers; even pondering them is unpleasant. Thus, as believers, we should be eternally grateful to Jesus that He chose the immeasurably difficult path of obedience in this instance. Indeed, He sought long-term rewards and eschewed short-term benefits; we must pray that we can hew to His example in this regard.

Detroit Historical Museum October 8, 2018

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I recently visited the Detroit Historical Museum in Detroit. The museum showcases the history of Detroit.

Here are seven nuggets that I gleaned from my time at the museum.

1. Antoine Laumet de La Mothe Cadillac founded the city of Detroit in 1701 (“detroit” is actually the French word for “strait”). Cadillac founded Fort Ponchartrain at the present-day location of Detroit; its namesake was the French Marine Minister. Fort Pontchartrain was replaced by Fort Lernoult after the Seven Years’ War. American forces took control of Fort Lernoult in 1796 and renamed it Fort Detroit.

2. The city of Detroit was devastated by a fire in 1805. Augustus Woodward played a critical role in the rebuilding efforts, creating a street plan modeled after the diagonal streets in Washington, D.C. The development of Detroit was spurred by several factors, including:

  • the construction of the Erie Canal, which reduced the travel time between Detroit and the East Coast
  • Lewis Cass, who extolled the virtues of Michigan to prospective pioneers; he served as the governor of Michigan Territory from 1813 to 1831
  • the construction of the Soo Locks, which connected Lakes Superior and Huron; the Lower and Upper Peninsulas furnished the timber, iron, and copper that was used to build railroads, ships and stoves.

3. African-American inventors with Detroit ties included:

  • Elijah McCoy, who invented an automatic lubricator, enabling the oiling of moving trains; his sundry innovations inspired the phrase, “real McCoy”
  • William Davis, who invented the refrigerator car; George Hammond bought the associated patent from him and used a refrigerator car to ship a load of beef to Boston.

4. August Fruehauf hitched a modified wagon to his neighbor’s Model T; that wagon served as the first “semi-trailer,” as it carried his neighbor’s pleasure boat. Some of Fruehauf’s other innovations included:

  • using hydraulics to develop dump trailers
  • developing the first refrigerated trailer, which featured a trap door above its ice and salt
  • the first container trailer that could carry liquids.

5. The discography for Motown includes several protest songs, such as:

6. Abolitionism in the United States extended to Michigan. For example, on the Underground Railroad, “midnight” and “Canaan land” were cryptonyms for Detroit and Canada, respectively. One of the conductors on the Underground Railroad, William Lambert, founded the “Colored Vigilant Committee” which was Detroit’s first civil rights organization. Finney’s Barn was one of the Detroit-area stops on the Underground Railroad; ironically, it was near a hotel that was frequented by slave catchers. In 1855, a personal liberty law was enacted in Michigan in response to the Fugitive Slave Act; it gave slaves the right to an attorney.

7. The Algiers Motel incident was sparked by police reports of sniper fire from the vicinity of the motel. One unarmed black youth was slain while lying in bed, while a second black youth was slain while obeying an order to assemble. A third black youth was slain while several policemen intimidated a group of seven blacks and two whites. Two all-white juries would later acquit one officer of murder and two other officers of conspiracy, respectively; both trials occurred outside Detroit.

The museum had a neat exhibit featuring toy trains at its basement level; I marveled at the skill that was required to assemble it. I also enjoyed an exhibit that highlighted machinery from an actual Cadillac plant, where a robotic arm repeatedly lowered a car body onto a chassis. In addition, I was enlightened by the exhibit on the fiftieth anniversary of the Detroit riots.

I don’t have any quibbles with the museum at this time.

Overall I enjoyed my time at the museum, and I would recommend it to tourists in Detroit.

Gethsemane October 7, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 26:36-46.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus – who is in deep anguish, knowing that He is away from home – and His disciples come to a garden called Gethsemane. He tells them to wait at the entrance while He pours out His heart to God. After bringing Peter, James and John with Him into the garden, He tells them that He is surrounded by sorrow – enough to kill Him.

He then:

  • tells them to keep watch over Him and pray for Him – and for themselves
  • goes a stone’s throw from them and prostrates Himself
  • calls on His Father, praying that if there is another way for His divine plan of salvation to be fulfilled, then He should let it happen
  • resigns Himself to the will of His Father
  • returns to His disciples and finds them sleeping
  • rebukes them, noting that although they have a renewed spirit, it is often defeated by their humanness.

This sequence of events is actually repeated two times. He then tells them to arise, as those who have come to arrest Him have arrived. In particular, they should go and meet Judas, who has come to deliver Him up.

Thoughts: Here, Jesus wrestles with His impending suffering and death. Ryle offers some insights on this point:

Why is the almighty Son of God, who had worked so many miracles, so heavy and disquieted? Why is Jesus, who came into the world to die, so ready to faint at the approach of death…There is but one reasonable answer to these questions…the real weight that bowed down the heart of Jesus was the weight of the sin of the world, which seems to have now pressed down upon him with unique force…

When I strolled through this passage, I focused on Jesus’ impending physical suffering – influenced by my vivid memories of The Passion of the Christ. Yet Ryle’s thoughts compelled me to ponder Jesus’ impending spiritual suffering. In particular, we cannot begin to comprehend the intimacy of the union that He enjoyed with His Father and the Holy Spirit. When He assumed the burden of the sins of the world, that intimate union was marred (albeit temporarily). Imagine the depth of the anguish and pain that must have engulfed Him at the mere thought of being separated from the Father and the Spirit! How could He emerge victorious over those torturous feelings? Indeed, this passage sheds valuable light on the intimacy of the Trinity.

Jesus also rebukes His disciples for failing to keep watch and pray for Him – and for themselves – “for one hour.” This caused me to ponder the fact that I have never prayed continuously for even one hour (to the best of my knowledge). While I attended several prayer meetings as a graduate student, the prayers during those meetings never lasted an hour. While I do pray before I sleep, those prayers never exceed twenty minutes. Perhaps this is related to the fact that I rarely wrestle with God in my prayers (though I will wrestle with Him after hearing about a tragic event, as that causes me to ponder the inevitability of evil and suffering in this world). At this point, I fail to appreciate the value of wrestling with God in prayer, as I believe that His will is paramount and that He will accomplish it regardless of my struggles. This raises the following questions:

  • is God pleased when believers wrestle with Him in their prayers?
  • will wrestling with Him actually enrich my prayer life?
  • how can I refrain from sinning when wrestling with Him?

Jesus Predicts Peter’s Denial October 6, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 26:31-35.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus asserts that His disciples will be trapped because of Him – thereby fulfilling a prophecy in Zechariah 13:7. In particular, Peter will even deny that he knows Him.

His disciples – led by Peter – respond by asserting that they will die before allowing themselves to be trapped in this manner.

Thoughts: Here, Jesus’ disciples – who have just celebrated the Lord’s Supper with Him – affirm their loyalty to Him. Ryle offers some thoughts on this point:

It shows us plainly that we must not make great knowledge and great strength of grace an indispensable qualification for communicants. People may know but little, and be no better than children in spiritual strength, but they are not on that account to be excluded from the Lord’s table…Doubtless we must do all we can to exclude unworthy communicants: no graceless person ought to come to the Lord’s Supper.

While Ryle’s latter suggestion is sound, I am unsure as to how a church would actually implement it. As a longtime churchgoer, my impression is that churches are generally more liberal – not conservative – when observing the Lord’s Supper. Some presiders will note that one should be a baptized believer in order to receive Communion – yet I have never seen a Communion server prevent an attendee from receiving the Communion elements. It seems that churches trust that the recipients of the Communion elements have already assessed their own spiritual state. This raises the following questions:

  • if a Communion server actually prevented an attendee from receiving the Communion elements, how would that attendee respond?
  • if that attendee were to raise a ruckus, would that affect the other recipients of the Communion elements?
  • should churches continue to trust that God will judge those who receive the Communion elements in an unworthy manner?