An interview with Mary Magdalene

Interviewer: Mary Magdalene was a committed follower of Christ. She was at the cross during his crucifixion, visited the tomb that first Sunday morning, and was the first to see Jesus upon the resurrection. Mary welcome. Your friendship with Jesus goes back to the beginning of his ministry. Can you tell me about it?

Mary: I was a resident of the city of Magdala, on the hillside of Galilee. Three years ago Jesus came into those hillsides preaching, healing, and casting out demons. My friends spoke to me about him, because he had the ability to cast out demons. It was public knowledge that I had struggled in this area. I’d sought help again and again but to no avail. The torment was awful. The demons ignited my desires to do shameful things–things that shouldn’t be spoken of. Afterwards the guilt would be unbearable. Sometimes demon possessed people attempted to take their lives. I understood the temptation. You just wanted to live like everybody else, but something else was living in you. I was without hope.

The seven demons in me recognized Jesus. They trembled as he approached me. I could feel their fear. They wanted out. Everyone else looked at Jesus and saw a man, but those spirits recognized him to be something more than that. It was the first time I felt hope. I remember thinking, “They’re going to leave.” And at his words they fled. I became a disciple of Jesus after that. Wherever he went I followed.

Interviewer: I suppose such gratitude makes one a devoted follower.

Mary: I was thankful, but it wasn’t my gratitude that kept me following.

Interviewer: What was it then?

Mary: It was his love. No one loved like Jesus. He especially loved those that no one else would. In a crowd, most looked for those who were important. Jesus looked for those who were forgotten. He had a special interest in the ones who were cast aside. He tenderly touched lepers to heal them. He was patient with the woman caught in adultery. And when he said, “I forgive you,” you knew you were forgiven. Those that others forgot – those were the ones Jesus loved.

Interviewer: And you?

Mary: I was one of the forgotten.

Interviewer: I suppose that made his death especially hard.

Mary: I never left the foot of the cross. I kept praying for a miracle.

Interviewer: Did you see one?

Mary: [Mary nods and smiles knowingly] Three days later.

Interviewer: Can you tell us about it?

Mary: We had prepared the spices and ointments on Friday. I was numb then – still unable to grasp the reality of his death. On Saturday we rested, as was the custom. We all arranged to meet early on Sunday. We left for the tomb while it was still dark.

Interviewer: What did you notice about the garden?

Mary: The stone had been tossed aside. Like someone might flip a coin. The tomb was open. We assumed the body had been taken.

Interviewer: And what did you do?

Mary: I ran to tell the disciples. They were locked in a room, afraid of what might happen to them. John and Peter took off running for the tomb, and I followed behind. They desired to see the scene for themselves. But I followed for another reason.

Interviewer: Which was?

Mary: I just wanted to be where he’d been. I knew the body wasn’t there, but somehow the garden made me feel closer. By the time I reached the tomb, John and Peter were there and gone. I was breathing heavy and my head was spinning. The tears flowed freely then. I could not contain them. I summoned the courage to look into the tomb, and saw two angels. I turned to leave and realized I was not alone. There was a man there. I had not heard him approach.

The tears came in great sobs then. I had hoped to find solace in just being near his resting place. I had planned on anointing his body with the spices as my final act of thankfulness. Now that opportunity was gone too.

I heard the man’s voice: “Woman why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?”

I replied, “Mister, if you took him, tell me where you put him so I can care for him.”

Interviewer: And what did he say?

Mary: He said my name. Mary. And that’s when I knew. He wasn’t dead. He was alive.

Interviewer: Wow. That must have been a surprise.

Mary: My tears  of pain turned to tears of joy. I fell to my knees and worshipped him. I thought I’d lost him once, I didn’t want to lose him again so I clung to him.

Interviewer: For how long?

Mary: I lost track of time. His voice interrupted my sobs of joy. “Mary, go tell my brothers I am going to my Father and yours. My God and yours.”

As I returned to the disciples, I just kept hearing his voice running through my head: Mary. My father and yours. My God and yours.  

Jesus had made a way.

He had made a way for his God to become my God and yours.

The trials of Jesus – part 3: An interview with Pilate

Pontius Pilate was the appointed governor over the southern portion of Israel during the time of Jesus. While declaring Jesus innocent 7 times, he still gave the release for his execution. If Larry King could have interviewed him a few years later, perhaps it would have sounded like this.

Interviewer: My guest tonight is Pontius Pilate—the governor of Judah during the time of Christ. Pilate, tell us about yourself and your terms of service in the land of the Jews.

Pilate: I was appointed by Rome to oversee Jerusalem in 26 AD. My term lasted approximately 10 years. When you’re 1500 miles away from Caesar, you’re given some liberties, and I took them. Governors were appointed after all to make decisions, not get Rome’s permission on everything. We were usually sent out with a sufficient army to enforce the peace. But Caesar’s idea of sufficient was pretty optimistic. You had to be fast learner on the job, and, well, let’s just say you learned to be politically expedient.

Interviewer: Meaning?

Pilate: Meaning your 1500 miles away from Rome’s support. You had to be willing to do what it takes to keep the peace.

Interviewer: If you could do it over again would you change anything?

Pilate: I think I initially underestimated the Jewish commitment when it was something they really wanted.

Interviewer: Can you give an example of that?

Pilate: I was serving in Caesarea, the city up on the coast of the Mediterranean. And I ordered some banners be taken into Jerusalem bearing Caesar’s image. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but the Jews went ballistic, something about violating their religious laws. Before I knew it a large constituency had gathered outside of my palace. It was my first lesson on Jewish resolve. They were willing to die rather than endure Caesar’s image in their city.

Interviewer: And what did you learn from that?

Pilate: I learned that you couldn’t cross the Jewish leaders. They had an amazing ability to manipulate the multitude. And once the multitude got out of control, everything was in jeopardy, including my position.

Interviewer: Is there anything else you regretted?

Pilate: [Pause] There was the matter of Jesus.

Interviewer: Can you tell us about it?

Pilate: What’s to tell? The Sanhedrin brought him to me at 6:00 AM. Because I was a Roman they wouldn’t even cross the threshold of my house. “Didn’t want to become impure,” they said.  Hypocrites. Like you can keep your purity when you demand the execution of an innocent man?

Interviewer: Did you believe Jesus was innocent?

Pilate: Without question he was. I told them that seven times, but they wouldn’t listen. I had underestimated their resolve again. Then they brought up Caesar and they left me no choice.

Interviewer: So what did you do?

Pilate: I appealed to their compassion. I had him scourged – beaten ‘til the blood flowed freely. Stood Jesus before them, and said, “Behold the man.” “Crucify him,” they cried.

So I appealed to their logic. I took the worst prisoner I could think of: Barabbas – his crimes were vile. He deserved to die. I stood the two of them side by side, and said you choose. The moment the words left my lips, I knew what was coming. “We choose Barabbas,” they said. What about Jesus? “Crucify him!” they cried.

So I appealed to their responsibility. “You take him and do with him what you want.” They just threw that back in my face. “We don’t have permission to execute. You Romans took that from us. Where’s your courage, Pilate? Do what you should do.”

Interviewer: So you washed your hands of it?

Pilate: Washed my hands? You ever kill an innocent man? You can claim you’re not responsible, but in your heart you know you are. Ironic. My wife was sleepless that first night—bad dreams, she said.  She sleeps fine now. But I’ve been sleepless nearly every night since. You can wash the dirt off your hands, but you can’t wash the dirt off your past.

Six hours one Friday

When the history of mankind is fully written, the most painful moment will be 6 hours one Friday on a hill outside Jerusalem. For there God’s punitive discipline fell its hardest on the one who had never committed a sin in word, deed, or thought.

When we think of the cross, we often limit the scene to his physical suffering. Yet of the seven statements Jesus made from the cross, not one of them referenced physical pain.

The cross also speaks about of physical death. The Romans were meticulous about this. Crucifixion was to deter rebellion. The cross, therefore, was to bring certifiable death. If there were any signs of life after the body was removed from the cross, the entire Roman cohort overseeing the execution would be crucified.

But the cross-crisis for Jesus was not about physical pain nor physical death. By the Spirit’s power, Jesus had revealed that neither of these elements were to be feared, a truth he made clear at the tomb of Lazarus when he said, “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25).

There is a pain greater than physical pain, and there is a death more severe than physical death. While physical death separates the spirit from the body, no pain is as painful as the spirit being separated from God.

This was the crisis of the cross. This is the thing Jesus feared the most — separation from his Father.

In their book, When God Weeps, Steven Estes and Joni Ericson Tada captured Jesus’ challenge most vividly: These writers understood that the Father didn’t simply look away. He poured his holy and justified wrath upon our sin, that was being born by the sinless  Son of God.

From heaven the Father now rouses himself like a lion disturbed, shakes his mane, and roars against the shriveling remnant of a man hanging on a cross. Never has the Son seen the Father look at him so, never felt the least of his hot breath. But the roar shakes the unseen world and darkens the visible sky. The Son does not recognize these eyes.

It was as if the Father said to his Son,

“Son of Man! Why have you behaved so? You have cheated, lusted, stolen, gossiped—murdered, envied, hated, lied. You have cursed, robbed, overspent, overeaten—fornicated, disobeyed, embezzled, and blasphemed. Oh, the duties you have shirked, the children you have abandoned! Who has ever ignored the poor, so played the coward, so belittled my name? Have you ever held your razor tongue? What a self-righteous, pitiful drunk — you, who molest young boys, peddle killer drugs, travel in cliques, and mock your parents. Who gave you the boldness to rig elections, foment revolutions, torture animals, and worship demons? Does the list never end! Splitting families, raping virgins, acting smugly, playing the pimp.— buying politicians, practicing extortion, filming pornography, accepting bribes. You have burned down buildings, perfected terrorist tactics, founded false religions, traded slaves—relishing every morsel and bragging about it all. I hate, I loathe the these things in you! Disgust for everything about you consumes me! Can you not feel my wrath?”

The authors conclude,

Of course the Son is innocent. He is blamelessness itself. The Father knows this. But the divine pair have an agreement, and the unthinkable must now take place. Jesus will be treated as if personally responsible for every sin ever committed.1

 1 Joni Eareckson Tada and Steve Estes, When God Weeps (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1997), 53-54.

The trials of Jesus — part 2

Jesus could not have been publicly crucified without a trial, but that didn’t mean that the trial would be fair or legal. In fact, it was a great travesty of justice.

Consider these ways both the Jews and Romans violated their own laws.

  • The trial was at the wrong time (at night).
  • The trial was in the wrong place (Caiaphas’ home).
  • No indictment was prepared.
  • No counsel was provided the defendant.
  • No witnesses were heard (except for those that were obviously false).
  • The death penalty was given without a night in between the verdict and the sentencing.
  • Court procedure wasn’t followed.

Having completed his Jewish trials with Anna and Caiphas, Jesus proceeds to his trials with Pilate and Herod. While these trials were necessary to bring about a public, Roman execution; from the Scripture’s point of view the purpose of the trials served as a declaration of Christ’s innocence. Eight times Pilate and Herod declare him innocent (Luke 23:4, 14, 15, 22; John 19:4, 6, 12; Matt. 27:25). Yet, in the end Pilate succumbs to the Jewish pressure to execute him.

This is remarkable. The crucifixion was meant to verify his death; the trials were meant to declare his innocence. Jesus certainly died, but he was most certainly innocent.

Paul captured it this way in his letter to the Corinthians.

We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:20-21).

Jesus at the last supper…

When most people think of the upper room they think of Leonardo Da Vinci’s painting.  A long narrow table, with high-backed chairs, and twelve Europeans at the table. But Da Vinci was about 1600 years late to the event. What was the upper room really like? Why were the disciples arguing? How could they could they not know Judas was the betrayer? The following video will give these answers and more through 3D teaching.

This note: If you receive this blog via email you will need to go to this location to watch the video.

Running time approximately 15 minutes. For additional study, after watching the video, reread John 13. As you read pay special attention to the interaction between Jesus and the disciples.

The trials of Jesus – Part 1

There were six trials that Jesus endured prior to his crucifixion. Three of them were Jewish and three were Roman. Two of them involved the Jewish high priest, Caiphas.

Perhaps if Caiphas could have told the story it might have sounded like this.

It was harder than we thought it would be. Getting him to the point where Rome would demand his crucifixion.   The arrest was the easy part. We sent 600 guards to ensure it, but in the end we could have gotten by with one. It was almost as if he wanted to be found. The arrest was Annas’s part. The conviction was to be mine. This Jesus was a dangerous man, and I said so. The testimonies flowing out of Bethany were real. There was little doubt among the people that he had raised Lazarus from the dead. We just didn’t know how. The Pharisees were in a panic. The people were beginning to refer to Him as the Messiah. The tide was turning. We would need to act fast before it was too late. We had already lost our popularity, we were frighteningly close to losing our power. Suddenly the thought was just there in my head, crystal clear. I don’t even know where it came from. But I knew it was the thing that had to be done. “You know nothing at all” I said to council, “it is better that one man die for the nation, then the whole nation die.” That thought galvanized the men. We knew what we had to do.

The payment of false witnesses was something we had done before. We weren’t proud of it, but sometimes it was necessary. And believe me when I say this: this time it was necessary. You couldn’t find anyone willing to bring something against this man…It was almost as if he were perfect. But he couldn’t be perfect, when His presence irritated us so much. He had such blatant disregard for our authority. It was like he didn’t recognize the fact that we were in charge. But that would all be different on this night. You don’t try to overturn our religious establishment without paying a price.

The false witnesses were a fiasco. We were trying to do this all so quickly that we had not prepared them well. Their stories contradicted each other. And the more witnesses we brought the more confusing it became. There were those on the council who would not vote for his execution, unless they were fully persuaded. In all of this Jesus sat in silence, and I regret to say this, but his silent defense was effective. Even a fool could see that the witnesses were making this up. I could feel it slipping away. The door of opportunity was closing.  So I took matters into my own hands. I stood up and addressed him directly. “Have you no answer to make to what these men testify against you? I was greeted with the same silence as before. So I goaded him. “Are you the Messiah the Son of the Blessed One?” The question just hung in the air. And for the first time the room was silent, and into that silence Jesus spoke. It’s as if He had been waiting for the question to be asked. “I am the Messiah,” He said, “and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of power and coming with the clouds of heaven.” This was more than I had expected. He had just equated himself with God.  “It’s blasphemy!” I cried. We don’t need these witnesses He has testified against Himself!” I tore my garments, a bit of an act I confess, but it was effective. The rest of the leaders followed by example, it was free-for-all. In the confusion I knew it was time to ask the council the question. So I turned to them and raised my voice above the noise, “What is your decision?” I cried. And to a man they all condemned him to die.

His answer was so unexpected. Why had he not been so forthright in these claims before? It was almost as if He wanted to die, but that’s ridiculous, why would anyone, especially one as popular as he, want to die?

What does a King desire?

What does a king desire? Palm Sunday announces the triumphal entry of Jesus as king into Jerusalem. 500 years earlier the prophet Zechariah told of his coming.

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey (Zech. 9:9)

Jesus fulfilled that prophecy upon his entrance into Jerusalem. He was claiming to be king, and the people were acknowledging him as such.

The phrase King of the Jews is found four times in the Gospel of Matthew. A careful examination of those uses will reveal why the Palm Sunday accolades were superficial at best.

Jesus was born King of the Jews.

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying “Where is he who has been born King of the Jews?”(Matt. 2:1-2)

Jesus was tried King of the Jews.

Now Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus said, “You have said so.” 12 But when he was accused by the chief priests and elders, he gave no answer. 13 Then Pilate said to him, “Do you not hear how many things they testify against you?” 14 But he gave him no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was greatly amazed (Matt. 27:11-14).

Jesus was mocked as King of the Jews.

And they stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, 29 and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on his head and put a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” 30 And they spit on him and took the reed and struck him on the head (Matt. 27:28-30)

Jesus was executed as King of the Jews.

And when they had crucified him, they divided his garments among them by casting lots. 36 Then they sat down and kept watch over him there. 37 And over his head they put the charge against him, which read, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.” (Matt. 27:35-37).

Born, tried, mocked and executed as King of the Jews. The action word that is missing from this list is the word followed.

Yet, follow me was a request that Jesus repeatedly made (Matt. 4:19, 8:22, 9:9, 10:38, 16:24, 19:21). It’s just that so few were listening.

Two thousand years later the King makes the same request of us. Will you follow me?

The lesson from Palm Sunday is this: It’s a lot easier to cheer the king from the sidelines, than to follow him where he leads.