The Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ
Broadly speaking we may divide the Gospels into two main parts: the story of our Lord’s ministry and the story of His Passion. Whereas the ministry is presented as a series of incidents strung together on a slender thread of continuity, the passion takes the form of a continuous narrative. The probable explanation for this is that the Gospels were written backwards! The first thing people wanted to know about is the death and resurrection of Jesus. It was only as people came to accept the Risen Jesus as Lord and Saviour, in the fellowship of the church, that there was a growing interest in the events of His life. Thus the Passion story was the first part of the Gospel tradition. By the time Mark, our earliest Gospel came to be written the Passion story was fairly well established. This would explain its continuity and homogeneity. Nowhere do the four Gospels agree as in their respective accounts of our Lord’s passion, though there is evidence that the compilers saw the Passion differently. E.g. Source criticism suggests that Matthew’s Passion narrative is a reproduction of the Marcan narrative, with some alterations and expansions and that Luke combines Mark’s narrative with a different Passion source of his own. Hence each of the four evangelists view the Passion story through their own eyes, showing differences of order, emphasis and tone. Thus Mark sees Jesus as the strong Son of God. Matthew sees Him as the long awaited Messiah of Jewish prophecy. Luke sees the Lord as the righteous Man of God, the compassionate Son of Man. John sees Jesus as the Word – the expression of the mind of God, the Saviour of the world, the Way, the Truth and the Life.
Furthermore, the Passion narratives reveal a threefold conception of atonement; the death of Christ gives victory by deliverance from the power of evil and is a sacrifice for sin bringing about reconciliation between man and God – a revelation of the love of God, moving men to repentance.
We must remember that Christianity first spread among the Jewish community. The immediate concern of the first disciples was to win converts from among their fellow countrymen. Hence Paul writes (in 1 Cor 15:3) of our Lord’s death as taking place for our sins according to the scriptures, i.e. the Old Testament passages that could be taken to prefigure His suffering. These were sought out and quoted as evidence that all that led up to Calvary was in keeping with God’s will – according to the scriptures.
The Cross and the Crown of Thorns
In this brief summary of our Lord’s Passion (the period of time in His earthly life between the Last Supper and His death on the Cross) we shall not enter into rewarding theological debate, but view the passion of Christ in terms of His humanity, then go on to look briefly at the Cross and the Crown of Thorns.
The story of the passion is the strongest possible evidence that clearly marks out Jesus the Christ as human. To be human is to be given over to all the weaknesses of humanity, caught up in suffering and given over to death. However, we should not lose sight of this truth: Christ’s Cross and Passion is the culminating point of His saving work; His passion and death reveal the human Jesus as the Christ of faith. As such Jesus fulfilled and raised the potentialities of human existence to a new level, so that His disciples could experience this life in themselves.
The whole drama of the passion story is far too wide to be included in a short study, so I commend the biblical verses covering the last few hours of our Lord’s earthly life to you, namely, those moments in the drama of the Passion, which include the agony in the garden (Matt 26:30-56), the betrayal and the arrest (Matt 26:47-65), the trial and the scourging (Matt 27:11-26), the crucifixion and the burial (Matt 27-54).
In the garden our Lord’s anguish was extreme, “My soul is sorrowful, even to death” (Mark 14:33-34). Many of you will not have failed to observe that a note of perfect obedience is prominent and continues to be seen in the remaining scenes of the passion. When we ourselves are obedient – unconditional surrender to the word of God – it will be made clear to us what we have to do in any given circumstance.
Have you ever been betrayed? Jesus could not have done more for His disciples, yet one of them felt called to betray Him; this man thought he had sound reasons for doing so, but was mistaken – he acted on a false impression. Every time we act on impulse or impressions, we had better be sure it reflects the Word of God; otherwise we may be led astray.
The trial and scourging of Jesus has received much attention in various books and films endeavouring to capture the scene; whatever the motives or intentions of the writers, the scenes of the passion should not be viewed as entertainment, but as a clear reminder that Jesus is heading for the Cross, which will change the lives of those who embrace it.
Crucifixion was common for criminals and thieves in those days; yet the innocent Lamb of God was slain as one of them and He forgave His persecutors as they did it; dying in the Spirit in which He lived. It is through His death that we share in His life. That is when the Spirit of the Son of God enters our spirit. May God open our eyes to the wonder of it.
The Cross of Christ
The cross is the symbol of Christianity, it is universally recognised; all the more reason then for Christians to hold it high, but sadly there is a tendency in these days, to gloss over the true image of the cross, so that it might appear less offensive to this generation. Such behaviour is not only short-sighted, but shows a lack of respect and understanding of the sacrifice Jesus made on our behalf. It is the Cross alone that has made eternal life and the presence of the Holy Spirit among us, possible. The Cross represents the crucified Saviour who died on it for a very special purpose; it is for this reason that some find it offensive. Portrait by El Creco 1580
The power that flows from the Cross has not changed; it leads the onlooker to repentance and on to faith and worship of the one true God. All Christians have an interest in the cross; the enemies of Christ are afraid of it. To His eternal glory, the Cross stands as a reminder that it cost Jesus the pain and blood of His body to vanquish the evil in the world. There on the Roman gibbet, ‘the prince of this world’ was judged; sin, pride and lust put in its place. It caused the apostle to the Gentiles to say: may I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ (Galatians 6:14-18).
Have you a cross in your life? Of course you have; it is part of human experience, unlike the Cross of Christ which is a revelation. God the Father gave Jesus the Son His Cross and we have ours too. We are not asked to carry our Lord’s Cross, but to carry our own and embrace His.
As the Nazarene on earth, the Lord Jesus said, If anyone will come after me, let them deny themselves, take up their cross and follow me (Mark 8:34). Is the cross you carry heavy? Then seek the light of Christ and enjoy sweet repose, even in the midst of turmoil. Christians like most people find themselves subject to the stresses of this life, leaving them feeling weary. When our cross proves heavy and the load unbearable, our gracious Lord encourages us to embrace His Cross, lovingly, but be prepared – it bears its sufferings, as well as its joys, so we do well to look beyond the Cross to those things that ‘cannot be seen’ but which have eternal value.
Let us not be so caught up in the affairs of this world that we lose sight of eternal issues. Nothing lasts forever; the things and gifts we are privileged to have are present for a season. God, in His wisdom, allows them to change, or wither away. Why? Because He wants us to give ourselves to Him; He wants us to know and enjoy beautiful things, but not to rely on them. We know only too well that things do not last; promises are broken, relationships are fractured, poor health reverses fortunes.
All this forms part of our Christian pilgrimage, but our hope is in the Lord. He doesn’t want us to feel permanently at home in this world, though we are to value the life we have and work towards excellence. Then in the silent moments of prayer, study and reflection, we come to realise that it is only through the Light of the Cross that one can perceive those things that are invisible to the eye. However, once in the Light, it is our responsibility to persevere and remain in the Light. Though we have to engage with the world in order to make a difference.
Obsessive involvement in worldly activities may cause us to lose sight of those issues that are of eternal value; the safety-net is to listen to the Word of the Lord and develop a relationship with His Spirit. Once a person has heard the appeal of Jesus from the Cross, they begin to find answers about themselves and the world around them.
The Crown of Thorns
Anyone who has experience of picking wild blackberries (a common practice on the roadsides in England) will know how easy it to have their hands and arms scratched by thorns from the prickly branches of this bush carrying the fruit. Pruning roses is another source of injury received from those razor-like claws, protecting this delicate flower. So when the ‘crown’ of thorns was pressed on to the head of our Lord, it does not take much imagination to sense the intense pain He experienced. This insult was made worse by the weight of the Cross He was forced to carry and the outrageous jeers from some in the crowds, filling His Divine ears.
Our evidence for the Crown of Thorns is taken from John’s gospel chapter 9 verse 2. ‘The soldiers wove a crown of thorns and put it on His head …’ the remainder of the narrative is not pleasant, how much worse would it have been for the Lord? Remember He was human too. Jesus accepted suffering, not as a sign of weakness, but as a sign of power. Love is stronger than hate. We shall never know the intense pain Jesus suffered; a suffering He Himself predicted:
‘The Son of man must suffer … and be rejected … He must be killed and on the third day be raised to life …’ (Matthew 16:21).
Peter and the other disciples objected when they heard the Master’s words, but they did not understand the plan of God that the Son of Man must suffer. Jesus carried the cross (a heavy wooden beam fixed to an upright tree or log of wood) to a place outside the city walls. The cross was designed not just as an instrument of execution, but a means of torture, causing a slow, long lingering death; nails would be hammered into both wrists or hands and secured to the wood. As Jesus was lifted up in agony on the cross, a prayer for His tormentors passed from His lips.
What kind of love is this? Surely the love of true submission, fulfilling a truly wonderful, amazing plan, which His disciples could not understand; but let us be in no doubt that it was the human Jesus dying on the Cross. Within a short time of being nailed to it, a strange thing happened. From twelve noon until about three in the afternoon, darkness came over the city as Jesus hung on the Cross and His Divine Voice was heard to call out: ‘It is finished!’ (John 19:30).
When we read the sentence in English, it loses something of its meaning and we may think of it as a cry of despair, but in the original Greek it reads, ‘It is completed.’ Jesus died with a great cry of triumph; His mission on earth was over and complete – Halleluiah Jesus! When He comes again, He will wear the ‘crown of a divine kingdom’. Are you ready?
By The Reverend William Doyle BA (Hons) FRSH
Download Study here: The Cross and the Crown of Thorns
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