Forty days after Easter brings us to the Feast of Ascension. Which means that people all over the world are today celebrating the ascension of Jesus into heaven.
I’ve been thinking about the post-Easter period because I’ve recently added several hundred verses to the Grace Commentary, many of them having to do with the story of Christ’s crucifixion. This means I spent the better part of two weeks immersed in one of the Bible’s best known stories.
I learned so much! I discovered many gems that are now on display in the commentary. Let me share three of them with you here.
How Jesus hijacked the chief priests’ plan
One thing that stood out was how the chief priests planned to kill Jesus, but God changed their plan. I’m not talking about their plan to crucify Jesus. I’m talking about their plan to crucify Jesus without anyone knowing about it.
The chief priests and the elders of the people … plotted together to seize Jesus by stealth and kill him. But they were saying, “Not during the festival, otherwise a riot might occur among the people.” (Matt. 26:3-5)
The festival was the combined Festival of Passover and Unleavened Bread which ran for a week. From the perspective of the chief priests, this was the worst possible time to kill Jesus, because Jerusalem would have been packed with hundreds of thousands of pilgrims.
But from God’s perspective, Passover was the perfect time for the crucifixion. Why? Because the city was full of potential eye-witnesses who could take the Gospel all over the world.
You probably know how Jesus was killed immediately prior to the festival, on the day we now call Good Friday. But what you may not appreciate, is how Jesus made it happen. He basically picked the day of his death to maximize the impact.
“I thought Judas made it happen.”
Not really. The more I studied Judas’s involvement in the story, the more I came away thinking he wasn’t a smart guy, and that if everything had been left to him, the crucifixion might never have taken place.
Yes, Judas went to the chief priests offering his services as an informant, and yes, the chief priests were pleased to recruit him. But look carefully at the terms of their agreement:
Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went off to the chief priests in order to betray Him to them. They were glad when they heard this, and promised to give him money. And he began seeking how to betray him at an opportune time. (Mark 14:10-11)
Note the phrase “at an opportune time.” For the chief priests, an opportune time meant “not during the Passover Festival.” So Judas was instructed not to betray Jesus at Passover, but then he did it anyway.
Because Jesus told him too.
Let’s set the scene. Jesus and the disciples are enjoying the Last Supper when Jesus says, “One of you will betray me.” He means Judas of course, but Judas plays dumb. He doesn’t get up and leave. He just sits there, enjoying his lamb and hummus, while the disciples start freaking out.
“Surely not, Lord. Who is going to betray you?”
Jesus replies, “It’s the one who dips his hand in the bowl with me,” and then Jesus pins Judas’s hand in the olive bowl.
Gotcha. You can’t hide now, Judas. Go do that wicked thing you planned.
But still Judas doesn’t leave. He just sits there like a deer caught in the headlights.
So Jesus gives him a third nudge. “What you do, do quickly” (John 13:27). In other words, “Go now, Judas!” Then Judas finally leaves, and everything is set in motion.
Within 24 hours Jesus is in the tomb and a short time later he’s out of the tomb, and all this happens when Jerusalem’s population is swollen with potential evangelists such as the 500 people who saw the risen Lord (1 Cor. 15:6). Those 500 witnesses each told two people who told two people and so on all the way down to you.
Do you see?
If everything had gone according to the chief priests’ plan, you might not have heard how Jesus died and rose again, but everything went according to God’s plan and you have. You are the living proof that God’s plan was genius. What the chief priests meant for evil, he turned around for good.
That’s just one of the Easter gems I discovered. Here’s another.
The mockery that became a prophecy
He saved others; He cannot save Himself. He is the King of Israel; let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe in Him. (Matthew 27:42)
The chief priests mocked Jesus at the cross. “You come down, then we’ll believe in you.” It was a jest but a prophetic one, because Jesus did come down and many priests did believe him (Acts 6:7).
Isn’t that wonderful?
I love the way God turns things around. God could have revealed himself using angels with trumpets, but he used the wicked words and schemes of wicked men. Truly, he is the Great Redeemer. Okay, last gem.
His blood on our heads
Perhaps the best example of God’s redemptive superpowers came from the angry crowd:
And all the people said, “His blood shall be on us and on our children!” (Matt. 27:25)
What a terrible thing to say. Yet even these hateful words were redeemed because Jesus’ blood was poured out for the forgiveness of sins, including the sins of those who wanted to kill him. May his redeeming blood be on all our heads, because nothing else can save us.
For the disciples, Easter was the worst of times, but the weeks that followed were the best of times. The same men who saw Jesus nailed to a cross, saw him ascend to heaven in glory.
That’s a timely word for us. We’re in the middle of a pandemic, and you may have lost your job, your loved ones, and your health. Take heart and remember the message of Easter. No matter how bad things are, Jesus always has the last word.
And thank God he does.
The Grace Commentary is a great place to find answers to common questions, like these:
1. If God loves the whole world, why does he hate Esau?
2. What is predestination?
3. What did Jesus mean when he said, “Hold fast, so that no one will take your crown?”
4. Why did Jesus and the disciples celebrate Passover at the Last Supper, while the chief priests waited until the next day?
5. What is the “one baptism”?
6. How do we confess our sins?
7. Why does Paul say “doers of the law will be justified”?
8. Who is a pillar in the church?
9. Why did Jesus say, “See you in Galilee?”
10. What is the hour of testing coming on the whole world?