Which Role Is Yours?

Which Role Is Yours?

Matthew 26:47-56

Dr. Jim Denison

A woman tells you that she is 20 years old today and has great-grandchildren. She looks fantastic for her age. Of course, she was born on February 29, 1924.

A leap year occurs in every year which can be evenly divided by four; thus we’re meeting for worship on leap year day today. However, the years 1600 and 2000 had a February 29 but 1500 did not, because the only century years that are leap years are the ones which can be divided evenly by 400. Is that clear?

It is somehow appropriate that we are confused today as we begin a sermon series on questions. Difficult, perplexing, common questions. More specifically, questions on the cross. As you know, Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ was released this week. Many of you have already seen it. You know that is not a movie one “sees” but a movie one experiences. It is the most realistic portrayal of the crucifixion ever filmed. For the first time, we can see what actually happened. And ask the most profound questions as a result.

Today we begin with the most foundational question of all: who killed Jesus? Who was really responsible for his death—the Romans? The Jews? You may be surprised at the answer you hear this morning.

Who arrested Jesus?

The setting of the text is familiar to most of us.

The Garden of Gethsemane was a private olive grove on the western slope of the Mount of Olives. Jesus and his followers often went to this secluded garden for prayer. I’ve been to the area twice, and found it as quiet and peaceful as it must have been for our Lord.

On this occasion, however, Jesus went there not to find peace but a sword. He went there so Judas would know where to find him. He could have fled into the Galilean hills and evaded arrest forever. Instead, he went to the one place where his arrest was assured.

He could have hidden in the Garden, and escaped from the soldiers marching through its trees, but he waited for the soldiers to come.

He could have used his disciples to prevent Judas from identifying him. Instead he said, “Friend, do what you came for.”

John gives us more of the story:

“Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to him, went out and asked them, ‘Who is it you want?’ ‘Jesus of Nazareth,’ they replied” (John 18:4-5a). Note the irony of this situation. They are looking for him, but don’t know that this is the one they seek. Clearly he could direct them elsewhere, or flee under the cover of anonymity.

Instead, the narrative continues, “‘I am he,’ Jesus said. (And Judas the traitor was standing there with them.)” (vs. 5b). His Greek words were actually, “I am,” echoing the solemn and holy name of Yahweh himself. Note what comes next: “When Jesus said, ‘I am he,’ they drew back and fell to the ground'” (v. 6). Here is a second chance to flee.

Instead we find this response: “Again he asked them, ‘Who is it you want?’ And they said, ‘Jesus of Nazareth.’ ‘I told you that I am he,’ Jesus answered” (vs. 7-8). And finally they seized him. Have you ever heard of a person who worked so hard to be arrested?

But the story isn’t done. Peter then drew his sword and attacked Malchus, the servant of the high priest (John. 18:10). Such an armed resistance could well have been successful, but Jesus stopped it immediately. He could have called “twelve legions of angels” (a legion was 6,000 soldiers; this would be 72,000 angels, sufficient for the task at hand, one would think). But he did not.

Who was actually responsible for Jesus’ arrest? These incompetent soldiers, men who didn’t even know their subject? The disciples? Judas? Or our Lord?

Why was he arrested?

Here’s a second question: why did they arrest him? He asked them: “Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me?” (v. 55). Why did they seize him? Who did they think he was?

The religious authorities arrested him as a blasphemer, a heretic, one who claimed that he was God. He would soon confirm their charges: “The high priest said to him, ‘I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.’ ‘Yes, it is as you say,’ Jesus replied” (Matthew 26:63-64).

The civil authorities executed him as a rebel, a traitor to Rome. Pilate made his crime clear: “Above his head they placed the written charge against him: This is Jesus, the king of the Jews” (Matthew 27:37). And there could be no king but Caesar.

Note what didn’t happen.

No one thought to claim that he didn’t exist. It is instructive that even his strongest enemies never considered such an attack. No one in all the literature of the period suggested that Jesus never lived. Not the Jewish responses, nor the Roman. Not the most hateful critic and opponent. We know too much from Tacitus, Suetonius, Mara bar Serapion, Josephus, and Pliny the Younger to dismiss his existence.

No one thought to claim that he was simply a religious teacher or leader, as The DaVinci Code and other modern critics claim. The Romans didn’t crucify Sunday school teachers or denominational officials. The authorities executed him because they understood who he claimed to be: the Son of God, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Nothing else. Nothing less.

Why did he die?

Now, if he was the Son of God, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, able to call twelve legions of angels to his side, why did he die? Why did he allow them to crucify him? Who was really responsible for his death?

Note his own answer to the question: “How then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen this way?” (Matthew 26:54). He repeated himself: “All this has taken place that the writings of the prophets might be fulfilled” (v. 56). “Scriptures,” plural; “writings,” plural.

What did he mean? Listen to the plan which he and his Father created.

How would he be betrayed? “Even my close friend, whom I trusted, he who shared my bread, has lifted up his heel against me” (Psalm 41:9).

For how much? “They paid me thirty pieces of silver” (Zechariah 11:12).

How would his followers react? “Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered” (Zechariah 13:7).

Who would accuse him? “Ruthless witnesses come forward…They repay me evil for good and leave my soul forlorn” (Psalm 35:11-12).

How would he respond? “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth” (Isaiah 53:7).

What would happen next?

How would he suffer? “I offered my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard” (Isaiah 50:6a).

How would he die?” They will look on me, the one they have pierced” (Zechariah 12:10).

How would the crowd react? “I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting” (Isaiah 50:6b).

With whom would he die? “He poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors” (Isaiah 53:12).

How would these criminals respond? “They hurl insults, shaking their heads; ‘He trusts in the Lord; let the Lord rescue him'” (Psalm 22:7-8).

At his death:

He would suffer thirst: “They put gall in my food and gave me vinegar for my thirst” (Psalm 69:21).

His bones would not be broken: “”I can count all my bones; people stare and gloat over me” (Psalm 22:17).

They would gamble for his robe: “They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing” (Psalm 22:18).

He would cry to the Lord, “”My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1).

At the end he would pray, “Into your hands I commit my spirit” (Psalm 31:5).

Why did Jesus die? To fulfill the plan of his Father as “the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world” (Revelation 13:8). Because this was their strategy before time began, before the first human was created, before the first sin was committed.


It comes to this: you cannot kill God. The soldiers didn’t arrest him—he gave himself to them. The authorities didn’t kill him—he chose to die, to fulfill the Scriptures, the plan he and his Father had made from the foundation of the world. God intended to have Jesus crucified before time began.

So know this: we are the ones responsible for his death. We are the reason he gave his life. God knew his only begotten Son would die for you before he made you. Consider that fact for a moment.

A family is moving into the vacant house next to yours. Somehow you know that your son is going to befriend their drug-addicted daughter and save her life. But her drug dealers will kill him for it. Would you introduce them?

Your daughter calls to say that she is driving home from college this weekend with a friend. Somehow you know that this friend is going to drive drunk, and steer the car into oncoming traffic. At the last moment, your daughter will grab the wheel and save her friend’s life, but she will die. Would you allow the trip?

A friend’s kidneys have failed, and a transplant is his only hope of survival. The only possible donor is your son. Somehow you know that his kidney will save your friend’s life, but your son will not survive the operation. Would you allow it?

Absurd questions, aren’t they? Do you love anyone that much? Does someone love you that much? Actually, someone does.

You may know that Mel Gibson, the director and producer of The Passion of The Christ, appears in the movie himself. When Jesus’ hand is stretched on the cross, a fist holds the spike which is driven into the Savior’s flesh. The hand which holds that spike, the hand which crucifies the Lord, is Mel Gibson’s. He was asked why he did it that way. His answer: because I killed him. We all did.

I understand and appreciate what he means. But we can’t kill Christ. He chose to die, for you. Before he made you, he knew he would die for you. That’s how much he loves you. The passion of the Christ is you.

Women And The End Times

Women and the End Times

2 Timothy 3:1-9

Dr. Jim Denison

As a public service announcement, I’m here to remind all gentlemen that this Saturday is Valentine’s Day. Here’s the story.

For 800 years, the Romans held an event each mid-February during which young men drew the names of teenage girls from a box; the girl would become his sexual companion for the next year. Understandably wanting to change this practice, Pope Gelasius around A.D. 496 changed the lottery to draw the names of saints to emulate during the rest of the year. Many young Roman men were not pleased.

To encourage support, the pope named his event for St. Valentine, a martyr who was beheaded in A.D. 270. The emperor had forbidden his troops to marry, so Valentine performed their weddings in secret. He was sentenced to death, and fell in love with the blind daughter of his jailer while awaiting execution. He sent her a farewell note signed, “From your Valentine.” And a tradition was born. One you’re supposed to continue this week.

Today we’ll talk about women in the Bible and in Christian faith. And we’ll talk about the end times. I can’t imagine two more controversial or practical subjects.

Be holy in unholy days (vs. 1-5)

First we deal with the “last days”: “But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days” (v. 1). “Mark this” means “pay attention to this”—it’s an imperative, a command. We must know what follows. Know what?

In the “last days” there will be “terrible” times, literally “grievous” or “dangerous” times. This is the word used of “violent” demoniacs (Matthew 8:28) and by Greek writers of an “ugly” wound.

When will they come? What did Paul mean by the “last days?” It may surprise you to know that the Jews divided history into two categories: the “former” days before Messiah comes, and the “latter” or “last” days after he arrives. And so, in this era after Jesus’ advent, we are in the “last days.”

At Pentecost, Peter quoted Joel’s prophecy about the “last days” and said they were fulfilled with Jesus (Acts 2:17; Joel 2:28-32).

Hebrews 1:2: “…in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.”

James 5:3: “You have hoarded wealth in the last days.”

1 Peter 1:20: “He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake.”

1 John 2:18: “Dear children, this is the last hour….”

Paul tells Timothy to “have nothing to do with them” (v. 5), indicating that this period included his son in the faith. And in verse 6 he begins to describe those who are misleading others in the “last days,” using the present tense: “They are the kind who worm their way into homes….” Clearly Paul’s warnings about the “last days” have to do with Timothy’s present circumstances. And with ours.

Even though the Messiah has come, these “last days” are “terrible.” Paul lists eighteen reasons, painting a complete picture of the culture of his day. Read through the list and ask yourself which of these God finds within your heart today.

Here are the priorities of the last days: “lovers of themselves,” “lovers of money” (v. 2), and “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” (v. 4). According to a recent Time magazine article, pornography online has increased 1800% since 1998. Nearly one in five movie rentals is a pornographic film. Hollywood produces 400 feature films a year; the porn industry makes 11,000. One in four American adults admitted to seeing an X-rated movie in the past year.

Here are the ways these people treat others: boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited (vs. 2-4).

Here is their deception: “having a form of godliness but denying its power” (v. 5a). They are even in the church. They look and act godly, but “deny,” refuse and thus do not produce, its power. You can know them by the degree to which God uses them.

Last Sunday’s Super Bowl was one of the best games in the history of the event. Tragically, all anyone is discussing is its horrendous, scandalous half-time show which culminated in obscenity seen by a billion viewers around the world, many of them children. What are Muslim clerics in Saudi Arabia saying about our nation this week? What are we to do with such a culture?

Paul says, “Have nothing to do with them” (v. 5), literally, “turn away from these.” The Greek has the strongest possible condemnation in it—avoid them with horror. Do not be like them. Choose to be holy in an unholy day.

His injunction does not mean that we withdraw from attempting to influence the world. Salt is no good in the saltshaker, or light under the basket. I once saw a poster which pictured a ship at sea, sails billowing in the wind, speeding through white-capped storm-driven waves, and the caption: “Ships in the harbor are safe, but that’s not what ships are built for.”

Rather, he means that we are to change the world without allowing it to change us. A ship in the water is a good thing; water in the ship is a bad thing.

How do we keep water out of the ship? By keeping the Spirit in control. By asking him to empower, cleanse, and fill us every morning. By communing with God in prayer, Bible study, and worship. By staying so close to Jesus that the world must come through him to get into us.

These are the “last days,” and will be until Jesus returns. That could be tomorrow, or in a thousand more years. But this could be your last day or mine. So be conformed to the image of Christ. Be holy in unholy days. What steps should you take first?

Be gracious with each person you meet (vs. 6-9)

A nurse writes, “During the second month of nursing school, our professor gave us a pop quiz. I was a conscientious student and had breezed through the questions, until I read the last one: ‘What is the first name of the woman who cleans the school?’ Surely this was some kind of joke. How would I know her name? I handed in my paper leaving the last question blank. Someone asked if the last question would count toward our quiz grade. ‘Absolutely,’ said the professor. ‘In your careers you will meet many people. All are significant. They deserve your attention and care.’ I’ve never forgotten that lesson. I also learned that her name is Dorothy.”

To be holy in unholy days, be gracious with each person you meet.

Those in the church who “have a form of godliness but deny its power” have done the opposite, as they are victimizing the church.

They dominate “weak-willed women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires” (v. 6b). As a result, they are “always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth” (v. 7). They are fascinated by the heresies advanced by these deceivers, and so unable to see the truth of God’s word.

Paul mentions Jannes and Jambres, the names given by Jewish tradition to the Egyptian magicians who opposed Moses. Like them, they “oppose the truth” and are “rejected” in the faith (v. 8). One day “their folly will be clear to everyone” (v. 9).

There is some place in your heart and mine where we can be deceived and attacked like this. Some place, some secret sin and shame, some area of spiritual or moral weakness where the enemy has a foothold. Expect such deception wherever you are weakest and most susceptible. And stay close to Jesus when it comes.

Paul’s reference to “weak-willed women” raises another issue for us today, the larger question of women in the Bible. The bestseller The DaVinci Code states, “The power of the female and her ability to produce life was once very sacred, but it posed a threat to the rise of the predominantly male Church, and so the sacred feminine was demonized and called unclean. It was man, not God, who created the concept of ‘original sin,’ whereby Eve tasted of the apple and caused the downfall of the human race. Woman, once the sacred giver of life, was now the enemy” (p. 238). What should we believe in response?

First, understand that Paul is by no means condemning all women here. Rather, he is dealing with a specific problem already in existence in Ephesus, where a specific group of women have been victimized by these deceivers. Because they are “loaded down with sins,” they are more easily swayed or influenced by evil desires.

It is possible and even likely that the apostle is specifically addressing former temple prostitutes. The shrine of Diana was there, the pagan goddess of fertility. Thousands of women were employed as temple prostitutes. The Christian church was willing to help them when no one else would, so that many came to Christ and their faith family. But they are still dealing with their sins and guilt, and are victims now of deceivers.

Whatever the historical context, the apostle is not describing women in general, or summarizing the larger biblical picture. How did Jesus relate to women?

Our Lord spoke to a Samaritan woman when no one else would (John 4).

He befriended an immoral woman no one else would welcome (Luke 7:36-50), decidedly not Mary Magdalene.

He commended a widow’s offering at the Temple (Luke 21:1-4).

He cast seven demons out of Mary Magdalene (Luke 8:2), and called her and others to be his disciples.

What was their status in the Scriptures?

Miriam was a prophetess (Exodus15:20), as were Deborah (Judges 4:4) and Huldah (2 Kings 22:14).

The New Testament cites Anna (Luke 2:36) and Philip’s “four unmarried daughters who prophesied” (Acts 21:9).

Paul cautioned a woman to cover her head when she “prophesied” in the church (1 Corinthians 11:5).

Paul recognized Priscilla as the leader of the church in Rome with her husband Aquila (Romans 16:3-5).

He commended Euodia and Syntyche as his “fellow workers” (Philippians 4:2-3).

And he listed Junias as “among the apostles,” the highest level of leadership in the early church (Romans 16:7).


Remember that the resurrected Christ chose to appear first to Mary Magdalene, and to send her to the disciples with the news of Easter as the first evangelist in Christian history (John 20:17). Remember that Paul’s first convert in Europe was Lydia, one of the leading citizens of Philippi; she soon established the church which met in her home (Acts 16:14-15, 40).

And remember Paul’s instruction to the Galatians: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:28-29).

Choose to be holy in these unholy “last times.” Stay so close to Jesus that deception cannot “worm its way” into your soul. And choose to be gracious with each person you meet, for every person you know is the created child of God. This is the simple word of God for us today.

The greatest among us will be such servants.

I read this week of one bitter cold Virginia evening, where an elderly man waited on a path by a river, hoping for someone on horseback to carry him across. His beard was glazed with frost and his body numb before he finally heard the thunder of horses’ hooves. Anxiously he watched as several horsemen appeared. He let the first pass by without making an effort to get his attention, then another and another.

Finally, only one rider remained. As he drew near, the old man caught his eye and asked, “Sir, would you mind giving me a ride to the other side?” The rider helped the man to his horse and, sensing he was half-frozen, decided to take him all the way home, several miles out of his way. As they rode, the horseman asked, “Why didn’t you ask one of the other men to help you? I was the last one. What if I had refused?”

The elderly man said, “I’ve been around awhile son, and I know people pretty well. When I looked into their eyes and saw they had no concern for my present condition, I knew it was useless to ask. When I looked into your eyes, I saw kindness and compassion.”

At the door of the elderly man’s house the rider resolved, “May I never get too busy in my own affairs that I fail to respond to the needs of others.” With that, Thomas Jefferson turned and directed his horse back to the White House.

Who will ride on your horse this week?

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