Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Mar 11 2013 - Mark 15:1-47 – And the crucified him

The bluntness and brevity of Mark's phrase, "And they crucified him" (Mark 15:24), hits like the blow of hammer upon nail. The whole of this cruel and unjust act is summed up in just three words. This act which shakes the foundations of the cosmos and brings darkness at noon, which rends the curtain in the temple and reconciles humankind with God, all of this is described with a few strokes of a pen; "they crucified him". So very much is contained in so very few words.

Of course, there are many who have attempted to explain the meaning of Jesus’ death. Here are just a few of the many theories:

The Moral Influence Theory. By being willing to go to the cross, Jesus shows how much he loves us. His love should move us to love him in return. Such love will be characterised by obedience to his commandments and following Jesus in selfless service of others. “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” John 14:28.

Christus Victor. The cross is the battleground between Christ and Satan; between God and the powers of darkness. It seems that the powers of darkness – human wickedness, injustice and corrupt political and religious powers – have won the day when Jesus is put to death. But by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus breaks their power and demonstrates that he is victor or conqueror. Justice and righteousness have the last word. By his risen power Jesus gives us victory over the powers of darkness – we also are more than conquerors. “Having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (Col 2:15).

Penal Substitution. God had declared that sin leads to death – “The wages of sin is death…” (Romans 6:23). At the cross, Jesus suffered the penalty that we deserve. He suffered and died for us – as our substitute. “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5). The justice of God has been satisfied and our slate is wiped clean. “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8:1).

New Creation. When God’s good creation rebelled against him, he warned that it would end in death. We live in a dying world. Jesus, in identifying himself fully with fallen humankind and a fallen creation, endures death – its death. His death is the end of that fallen creation and his resurrection is the beginning (or firstfruits) of the new creation. Those who come to trust in him have passed from death to life – judgment day occurred for them at the cross. They share in Jesus resurrection life and belong already to the new creation that will be fully manifest when Jesus returns and all things are made new.

All of our theories are imperfect attempts to get our minds around the cosmic significance of what was happening at the cross. As Jim Packer once remarked, such theories are often right in what they affirm but wrong in what they deny. They are partial pictures, each capturing one facet of something that defies our complete comprehension. It will take all of eternity for us to fathom the depths of what took place on that hillside.

And can it be that I should gain
An interest in the Saviour’s blood?
Died He for me, who caused His pain –
For me, who Him to death pursued?
Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

Heavenly Father, I am filled with wonder when I read that you so loved the world that you gave us your one and only Son. Lord Jesus, I am amazed that you should have loved me and given yourself for me. Holy Spirit, who raised Jesus from the dead, I am filled with humble gratitude that you have come to me and given me a share in his resurrection life. Help me to bring the life of Christ to a dying world, even if that means sharing now in Christ’s sufferings.

Mar 11 2019 - Leviticus 25:1-24 – Land Sabbath and Jubilee

Today's reading reminds us that the weekly Sabbath was only a part of the Sabbath observance given to Israel. In addition there was a one-year-in-seven land Sabbath and one-in-50-years year of Jubilee – it is from this legislation that we derive the term "Jubilee".

The Sabbath laws were God's gracious provision for his people, not only to provide them with rest but to remind them that they were a redeemed people and to focus their minds on the day when their redemption would be complete and there would be blessing without labour and without pain.

The weekly Sabbath was a perpetual reminder of how God had rescued them from slavery in Egypt and brought them to live before him as a free people. Yet the six days of labour each week reminded them that they must continue to eat their bread through the sweat of their brow – they still lived in a fallen world. After the six days of labour there was the seventh of Sabbath rest, reminding God's people that the great day of their final redemption was coming. Celebrating Sabbath anticipated the joy of that coming day.

The seventh year land Sabbath and the year of jubilee extended that principle. For one whole year in seven Israel was to eat the fruit of the land without sweat or labour and in so doing anticipate, ceremonially at least, the complete removal of curse and the perfection of redemption in the renewal of creation. The theme of paradise restored is clearly present in the description of Leviticus 25: there is to be no arduous labour (vv. 4, 5, 11); servants, strangers and cattle all enter into rest (vv. 6, 7); people are to enjoy the fruits of the land as the gift of God (vv. 7, 12, 19); there is to be release from bondage (v. 13 etc.); God's people are to dwell with him in the land (v. 23).

Jesus began his public ministry by reading from Isaiah 61:1-2 in his home synagogue in Nazareth:

The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
    and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
    to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.

He then declared, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing." Isaiah 61 refers back to the instructions concerning the year of Jubilee that we have read in Leviticus 25. Jesus is saying that with his coming the kingdom of God has arrived, "The year of Jubilee has come!"

By his life, death and resurrection, Jesus has freed those who were made captive by sin and death. He calls those who are burdened and heavy laden to enter into his rest now but also to anticipate that fulness of Sabbath rest that will be ours when he returns. In that day, all creation will enter into the rest which God has promised in the Lord Jesus Christ.

We no longer struggle on through our week looking forward to the Sabbath. We begin our week with the Lord's Day in which we celebrate the triumph of our Saviour. We live our week in the light of his triumph, though still looking forward to the fulness of redemption which will be ours at his coming.

Heavenly Father, thank you for the reminders you gave your people of old that they were a redeemed people. Thank you that you taught them to look forward to the day when one, anointed by your Spirit, would free them from all oppression. Thank you that Jesus the Messiah has come and has redeemed us through his shed blood and triumphant resurrection. We long for that day when "creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God." As we look for that day, help us to point others to our glorious redeemer.

Peter Misselbrook