Authentic worship is when you have nothing to gain: the descent from the cross.

“As evening approached, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who had himself become a disciple of Jesus. Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body, and Pilate ordered that it be given to him. Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock. He rolled a big stone in front of the entrance to the tomb and went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were sitting there opposite the tomb. (Matthew 27 v 57-61)

There are no details, except that Joseph and Nicodemus (according to John) took the body down from the cross.

How did they do this?

Nails had to be pulled from his feet and his hands. They would have needed ladders. Ropes would have to be untied. The thorns removed from his head. Blood wiped away.

We don’t know how they went about it. Christian icons and art forms have emerged throughout the centuries exploring what might have happened, for example, the early 17th century Rubens painting, ‘Descent from the Cross’ which you can see online.

Joseph was a disciple (according to Matthew), a secret one (John), a prominent member of the Jewish Council (Mark) but who had not consented to their decision and actions with Jesus (Luke). Nicodemus (John) was the one who had encountered Jesus at night and had been taught on being ‘born again’ (John 3). John the closest disciple was there and so were the women who had followed Jesus from Galilee (Luke) including the 2 Mary’s mentioned in what we have just read.

These disciples led by Joseph and Nicodemus all help in some way with the descent of Jesus’ body from the cross. They would all have their own thoughts and emotions. Grief was obviously there but numbed after all the wailing and tears. A poignancy based on the realisation that this is the last time they will see Jesus before he is placed in the tomb forever. Thankfulness for how he had changed their lives even for a short time. Awe and wonder at his determined self-sacrifice which none of them could have prevented even though they had longed to do so.

If you pause and look at any of the paintings or even if you meditate on the words, “So Joseph bought some linen cloth, took down the body, wrapped it in the linen …” then you will see an amazing truth.

It will cost you (bought some linen). You will have to act (took down the body). You will have to go carefully (wrapped it in linen).

Your journey to the cross can be one of struggle as you surrender and learn obedience. Your journey from the cross has to be worship, you have nothing left; there is no other way.

Authentic worship is when you have nothing to gain.

Maybe you can describe your situation today as descending from the cross. Death and disappointment are in your hands. However, you still have choices. Dignity is still in your grasp. Worship is still in your heart. Love is still consuming you. Jesus may be silent. It may feel like He has gone from you. But don’t forget, He always returns! So descend well, choose right; don’t give up.

God is at work today. What He did at the cross He is doing every day.

“At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people. When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!” Many women were there, watching from a distance. They had followed Jesus from Galilee to care for his needs. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph,[f] and the mother of Zebedee’s sons.” (Matthew 27 v 51-56)

The high priest had torn his robes but God tore the curtain of separation between Himself and man.

The religious and the rebel heaped insults from hearts harder than rocks for God split the heart of rocks.

(Matthew has probably included the earthquake of the resurrection here)

The faithful people of God whose life had ended years previously discover with God life is never over as they emerge from their graves.

A seasoned centurion who had seen many crucifixions experiences something new as God turns their darkness into a realisation of His glorious light.

(Apart from John), all the men were gone, but the women endured watching 6 hours of the most cruel and horrific deaths imaginable, this was no place for a woman, but they were there out of their love for Jesus.

God is still doing this same work today.

That what separates is removed; hearts are broken for the good; graves of disappointment are opened; resurrection life is known; declarations of faith are given and even if the unexpected walk away there are always the courageous enduring the cross of Christianity.

Let the Bible speak into and through your pain

“From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”)When some of those standing there heard this, they said, “He’s calling Elijah.” Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge. He filled it with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. The rest said, “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to save him.” And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.”(Matthew 27 v 45-50)

All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord,
and all the families of the nations will bow down before him,
for dominion belongs to the Lord and he rules over the nations.

All the rich of the earth will feast and worship; all who go down to the dust will kneel before him—those who cannot keep themselves alive.
Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord.
They will proclaim his righteousness, declaring to a people yet unborn: He has done it!

The above was what was in the mind of Christ as he hung on the cross.

We have just read how Jesus said the following:

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish?

He wasn’t calling upon Elijah obviously. And in a sense though the pain of the judgment was the wrath of the Father he wasn’t even calling upon Him.

So why did Jesus say what he did?

It is because as he went through hell the power of the Word of God held him.

What was Jesus saying? Maybe this:

“Though I feel abandoned and am going through hell, I still trust Him. And I know later in this Psalm that I am quoting, a Psalm that speaks of me, that vindication will come after the suffering.”

God’s written Word is at the centre of the cross. Psalm 22, the Messianic Psalm, was in the mind of Christ. He was being held together by the Word.

Are you going through your own personal hell or you know someone who is? Let the Bible speak at these times. Memorise, meditate and speak it out. Jesus needed the Word and so do we.

Staying on the cross

The voice of reason may be the taunting of your enemy.

“In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! He’s the king of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” In the same way the rebels who were crucified with him also heaped insults on him. (Matthew 27 v 41-44)

Yesterday a friend texted me data from the US when last month Barna released a study that says 38% of pastors have seriously considered quitting over the past year. For pastors under the age 45yrs that number jumps to 46%.

Save yourself.

To not have is as tempting as to have.

It is so hard to stay on the cross when the pain overshadows the purpose.

“We train our people to stay.” That was the incredible answer to my question on what happens when persecution in northern India becomes too much for the church planter.

Is it tough for you today?
We are so conditioned now for the next chapter. Prophesies are about the next season. Destinies are in our mind.
Life isn’t always about moving on.
Sometimes it is about digging in and staying.

This is the lesson of the cross.

Clothed by an unclothed Christ

The first Adam came into the world naked. But he turned his back on God and his sin brought humiliation and he sowed fig leaves together and made coverings.

The second and last Adam, Jesus, went to the cross, sinless and clothed. They stripped him of his dignity and he died naked.

“They came to a place called Golgotha (which means “the place of the skull”). There they offered Jesus wine to drink, mixed with gall; but after tasting it, he refused to drink it. When they had crucified him, they divided up his clothes by casting lots. And sitting down, they kept watch over him there. Above his head they placed the written charge against him: this is jesus, the king of the jews. Two rebels were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left. Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!” (Matthew 27 v 33-40)

As a shepherd was tending his sheep, two wolves attacked. One of the wolves killed the mother of one of the youngest lambs; the other wolf killed a small lamb as its mother looked on helplessly. The shepherd finally succeeded in driving the wolves away, but he was left with a dilemma. He had lost one mother and one small lamb. Now he was in danger of losing a second lamb because its mother had been killed and none of the other sheep would nurse the lamb since it was not their own. Then the shepherd came up with a plan.

He took the skin of the dead lamb and put it over the live lamb. In doing this, he caused the grieving mother to recognise the orphaned lamb as her own. So the mother accepted the little lamb, nursed it and it became her own.

When Jesus went to the cross He laid His coat of righteousness over our unrighteousness so that we are now clothed in Christ. We are accepted by God because His clothes of righteousness are on us.

No one likes being humiliated. To be made small, to flatten and to be weakened. Things may go wrong in your life. However no matter how you try and cover over, whether it be by clothes of education, success, popularity, wealth or religious duty, it is futile.

“Rather clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ.” Romans 13 v14

Carrying the cross

What are you carrying today? Is it something that was unexpected and you have not been able to refuse it, you could do nothing about it, it seemed it was chosen for you. Some would say it was fate and an unlucky roll of the dice. However you describe it, one day you woke up and your life changed forever.

“As they were going out, they met a man from Cyrene, named Simon, and they forced him to carry the cross.” (Matthew 27 v 32)

He was from what we know as Libya and the reason for being in Jerusalem was the same as all the others in this crowded city, the Passover celebration.

The flagellation of Jesus had been too much. The soldiers were concerned that Jesus would die before they got to the execution site. Pilate had ordered the crucifixion and now they were close to not carrying out these instructions. This was no willing volunteer, this was a man seized from the crowd, in the wrong place at the wrong time and there was nothing he could do but carry the cross behind Jesus.

Simon was forced. How may he have reacted do you think at that?

I can’t do this. I don’t want to do this.

But 2,000 years later we are in admiration for what he did.

You may have many questions revealing your deep reluctance and anxiety. However the world is watching. How will you do? What will you say?

Will your family be able to say when you are long gone, ‘they carried the cross of Jesus’?

“Even when it was really tough they surrendered their life to follow Jesus.”

What is the cross for you today that you are carrying? Luke says “And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:27). How you carry it impacts and inspires those who are watching you. You can change lives by carrying your cross. Make sure you carry it well.

You are more than what is said about you or done to you.

When you know who you are in Christ then the belittling only serves as a reminder. People and circumstances can knock you down but all they do is confirm what God has done and who He has made you. You are more than what is said about you or done to you.

“Then the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole company of soldiers around him. They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head. They put a staff in his right hand. Then they knelt in front of him and mocked him. “Hail, king of the Jews!” they said. They spit on him, and took the staff and struck him on the head again and again. After they had mocked him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him. (Matthew 27 v 27-31)

The soldiers led Jesus away into the palace, this is Pilate’s or Herod’s intimidating palace: yet Jesus was from a place of greater authority. After his baptism, “a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” and shortly before his arrest Jesus had said, “I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”

They called together the whole company of soldiers, these would be the ones who committed the brutal and violent death sentences: yet Jesus was guarded by a greater power, during his arrest he said, “Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?”

They put a scarlet robe on him, it represented his royalty: yet the whole world will see Jesus clothed “with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. And the armies in heaven, clothed infine linen, white and clean, followed Him on white horses.” Just as John would see in his Revelation.

They twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on him: yet Jesus will one day receive the crowns of our lives, again John sees in his revelation, “They cast their crowns before the throne, saying, ‘Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.'” 

They began to call out to him, “Hail King of the Jews”: yet Jesus is more than an earthly king of the Jews isn’t he? “On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords”.

They struck him on the head with a staff and spit on him: yet Jesus was the good shepherd who lays his life down for his sheep and his spit is used in the healing of blind people not in offensive ways.

Falling on their knees, they paid homage to him. And … mocked him: yet one day will come when Jesus will be worshipped by every one, as Paul says, “that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Hide your identity in Christ and who He says you are. Let people and circumstances serve to remind you: You are more than what is said about you or done to you.

What will you do with His blood?

Will you wash it off your hands?

Will you claim responsibility for it?

“When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!” All the people answered, “His blood is on us and on our children!” Then he released Barabbas to them. But he had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified.” (Matthew 27 v 24-26)

If you believe then don’t give up, don’t back down and never be intimidated to turn away from what you know is the truth. Don’t be like Pilate.

Our responsibility to the cause of Christ remains. We cannot pass it over. Not one of us can claim to be innocent of His blood and what it represents. We are part of all that is fallen. We don’t wash His blood from us. We must let His blood wash not just our hands but our whole lives.

If you believe them never let anyone manipulate you or bully you to change your praises and cheers to judgment and jeers. Don’t be like the crowd.

One sentence has been used throughout history to support anti-Semitism. The declaration of personal responsibility for the death of Christ has meant that the Jewish people being seen as Christ-killers in every generation. That was not Matthew’s intent in including this into his gospel of love. Don’t line up with the angry and those who hurt others. Don’t copy them.

You do need His blood on you not because you are without sin but because He died also for you.

What kind of Jesus do you want to follow?

The world needs the gospel of surrender not of insurrection.

But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed. “Which of the two do you want me to release to you?” asked the governor. “Barabbas,” they answered. “What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” Pilate asked. They all answered, “Crucify him!” “Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate. But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!” (Matthew 27 v 20-23)

Barabbas’ full name was Jesus Barabbas (v16): Saviour (Jesus) son of the father (Bar abba = Barabbas). So before us are 2 Saviours who are sons of the father. But there is only one Saviour and only one Son of the Father.

The crowd choose the easy option and they still do. Not liking the Jesus of Nazareth that was being portrayed to them, they choose an easier option. Jesus of Nazareth will disappoint our pre-conceived ideas of what he can do for us and what is expected from us. We cannot follow that Jesus, so we create a different Jesus in our mind, one that isn’t too costly for us, not as demanding. We want a Jesus who is a rebel not a Jesus who surrenders and submits. But our world needs the Saviour Jesus, the Son of God the Father, the one who surrendered to the violence of the cross.

Innocent

At the Bema (Judgment) seat Pilate is in control. He is the Governor and the main character. By his word people lost their life or kept it. One day Pilate would stand before the Bema of Christ as we all will but on this day Jesus is before him.

“While Pilate was sitting on the judge’s seat, his wife sent him this message: “Don’t have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of him.” (Matthew 27 v 19)

The cry of this wife is the message Matthew is wanting to proclaim.

We are guilty.

Jesus is innocent.

Many have imagined what her dream was about. She has even received a name and authors have speculated on who she was.  But Matthew simply tells us she is the wife of Pilate and within the gospel message is a declaration that Jesus is innocent and it doesn’t come from where we would expect it to come from.

Can God speak to you in such a way that you become a voice of warning into someone’s life? When was the last time someone corrected you? Did you listen and adjust accordingly? Can you imagine if our lives had such accountability?

Can God burden you with an image or message via a dream, vision, a Bible passage or perhaps simply an overwhelming thought, in such a way that you will act on it?

Can God use you to speak to even your closest friend?

The message? We are guilty but Jesus is innocent.

The innocent died for the guilty.