The other night I was hanging out in a friend’s basement, listening to Lacey Sturm’s “State of Me” on Radio U. And when she repeatedly sang, “Just get behind me,” I thought of Jesus’ brutal reprimand to Peter in Matthew 16:23: “Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s purposes, but men’s.” Is Jesus calling Peter the actual Devil?
The day of Jesus’ crucifixion was a dark day in history. I mean that literally: the bulk of that afternoon saw Golgotha and its environs shrouded in darkness. It’s not clear from simply reading the gospels whether it was simply overcast, whether a solar eclipse occurred, or whether this was a supernaturally-caused gloom. Nor is it clear whether we’re looking at a localized phenomenon, a global one, or somewhere in between. Scholars have turned to outside sources to figure out just what went down, but we’ll leave it to them to sort out the details. My point is that vision rolls were taking at least a -3 darkness penalty.
Oh, and it was dark in the metaphorical sense too. You know, insofar as the chief priests killed God.
When I said yesterday that Judas’ remorse is just one of the things we’ll find in today’s chapter, I wasn’t kidding. Matthew 27 is full of events: Jesus appearing before Pilate, the crowds demanding the release of the criminal Barabbas, the Roman soldiers flogging and mocking Jesus, the procession to Golgotha, the crucifixion, an earthquake at the moment of Jesus’ death that splits the veil of the temple and opens several tombs (out of which after Jesus’ resurrection come several saints’ bodies, which is weird), and Joseph of Arimathea providing a tomb for Jesus’ own body, which Pilate secures with a guard of Roman soldiers. See? Lots of events. But in particular, the chief priests and scribes quote Psalm 22 to mock Jesus on the cross, and from the cross, Jesus responds with another verse from Psalm 22. I’m curious what’s going on there, so let’s check it out.
Just as the transfiguration divided the gospel of Luke in half, so it divides Matthew. It’s a momentous, supernatural event that marks a shift in the narrative no matter which gospel you’re reading it in. And when you reach Matthew’s account of the transfiguration here in chapter 17, you know you’re not too far from the endgame in Jerusalem, in part because it suddenly starts hitting the disciples: hey, there’s going to be an endgame in Jerusalem.
My childhood saw a lot of messages emphasizing the brutality of the crucifixion. Some of these details one probably shouldn’t share with, say, kindergartners, but I’m guessing that by as early as age ten, I had a pretty good idea from sermons and event speakers what Rome’s best-known method of execution entailed. I remember one message from a Saturday event while I was in junior high that particularly impressed upon me the physical suffering and torture that Jesus was willing to endure for my salvation. Beatings, floggings, nails, slow asphyxiation: I heard it all. And I came out of high school with a strong conviction that understanding what Jesus physically suffered was crucial to appreciating the gospel.
The first eight verses of Philippians 2 loom large in my high school memories. I loved the passage, memorizing the third and fourth verses, committing to its ethic of unselfishness–or at least advocating for it. I knew my attempts to live up to Jesus Christ’s standard of sacrificial giving would inevitably fall short, but I made his example my goal anyway. Eighteen years of adult experience have opened my eyes to how hard it can be to give yourself to others, and part of me wants to remark on my high-school self’s idealistic naiveté. But I gotta give the kid credit: at least he tried. I’ve had periods in my adult life, like years, where I did as much living for self as I could hide.
I feel like Paul’s got more going on in these chapters than I can hit in one post without merely skimming the surface. Yesterday, he opened 2 Corinthians 4 with a barrage of metaphors that I didn’t even get to talk about–more of the veil thing from chapter three, then Christ as light and Satan as a blinding agent, and treasure in earthen vessels–because I was digging into the “endurance under persecution” theme from the latter half of the chapter. And now in the fifth chapter, Paul’s starting off with a tent metaphor for the body, like it’s just temporary housing while we wait for God to take us to our actual house, to be present with him. And there’s the famous “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature” verse (17), and Paul’s discussion of the ministry of reconciliation, but it looks like I’m not gonna get to hit that stuff, because I’m zeroing in on a single word in a single verse because that’s what grabbed me today.
1 Corinthians 13, Paul’s description of love, is one of the best-known passages in the Bible. I first got wise to it in early high school. and since then it’s been a regular point of visitation in my Bible reading. For me, it’s surprisingly easy to forget the importance of love in my day-to-day life, but entirely too often I turn on that cruise control and coast through my days. But love isn’t a switch you can flip.
I’ve been having the hardest time writing Thursday’s post, as is evidenced by the fact that it’s technically Friday. Fortunately, though, this psalm is about forgiveness.
Hey, look. It’s Good Friday. And it just so happens that the next instance of the word “gospel” in Mark is where the woman in Bethany with the perfume anoints Jesus for burial. How about that.