Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Good Friday?

It is quite common to hear preachers build sermons or talks around why we call Good Friday good, when something indescribably bad happens. And the main thrust is that, even though the events that we remember are terrible, the results are amazing.  Because Jesus died, we can, if we confess with our mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in our hearts that God raised him from the dead (Romans 10v9), then we can experience a renewed and restored relationship with God, our Creator and Sustainer. Or to put it as Paul puts it, we are saved.

That would be a ‘Good Friday?’ talk. This blog is a ‘Good Friday?’ blog        .

Now, the traditional view of the Easter weekend is that Jesus was crucified in the afternoon of the Friday, buried in the evening, stayed in the tomb on the Saturday, and was raised back to life on the Sunday morning.  As the Jews measured their days from sunset to sunset, then this is only really 1½ days in the tomb. But this isn’t what Jesus was expecting himself.  Listen to some of the things he himself said about his death.

For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. (Matthew 12v40 ESV)

Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple [meaning his body], and in three days I will raise it up." (John 2v19 ESV)

Now, you might be able to stretch an argument, however shaky, to say that Jesus was in the tomb for parts of three days – but you can’t say that he was there for three nights. So, is Jesus lying, or mistaken? Of course not!! So we must be missing something!!

Consider, then the following verses.

When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. (Mark 16v 1 ESV)
Then they returned and prepared spices and ointments. On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment. (Luke 23v56 ESV)

If you try and put those two verses together, it is quite hard. The women prepared spices before the Sabbath, but bought them after the Sabbath…?

This only really makes sense if Mark and Luke are referring to different Sabbaths. I am not going to go into the full technical explanation, but the Passover festival which the Jews remembered every year was classed as a Sabbath, but it did not have to fall on the same day as the weekly Sabbath. Passover was the festival that marked the beginning of the Exodus, when the Jews left slavery in Egypt, headed for the Promised Land. There was to be a special feast, when the Israelites would kill a lamb, and this was completed before sunset on the day before the Passover. If you want to read more, this is to be found in Exodus 12.

So, Jesus was killed on the day before the Passover Sabbath, which would have been a Thursday. After this Sabbath, the women went to buy the spices, and prepared them the same day, but finished the task before sunset, when the weekly Sabbath started. After the Sabbath, in the morning, which would be Sunday, they took the spices to anoint the body; but they didn’t find a body.

Jesus was crucified on a Wednesday, and placed in the tomb before sunset, which marked the beginning of the Passover Sabbath. This was entirely fitting with the way the Israelites had to prepare the Passover Lamb, and Jesus is elsewhere in Scripture called ‘the Lamb of God’. So the three days and nights that Jesus was in the tomb were Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Don’t forget though that the Jewish day runs from sunset to sunset. This means that Jesus would actually have been raised sometime after the sunset of the third day – it wasn’t noted that his body had gone until the morning, but this doesn’t mean that this was when he actually was raised.

But why is this important? Well, of course, the most important thing is that we remember why Jesus died, and what this means – and I will return to this in my next post.

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