Jesus’ great mission of HOPE humbly started in the unlikeliest of places . . . And in the most unlikely of ways. On that blessed night in Bethlehem more than two thousand years ago, the eternal King of kings and Lord of lords quietly came to earth – the one He created – as a helpless baby boy. The HOPE of Easter wouldn’t have been possible without the reality of Bethlehem.
The incarnation, God the Son becoming flesh and condescending to earth as fully God and fully man, is history’s greatest miracle. Consider the awe-filled words of Paul and John as they connect the dots between Christ’s preincarnate and incarnate states:
- “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Philippians 2:5-11
- “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.” John 1:1-3
- “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1:14
Aside from a choir of angels announcing Jesus’ birth to shepherds and later a small group of magi who came to pay homage, the night of our dear Savior’s birth went largely unnoticed. Jesus grew, had brothers and sisters, learned his Father’s trade (Joseph was a carpenter), and helped support the family. Only once in Scripture is Jesus’s childhood mentioned (Luke 2:41-52) when he stayed behind at the temple after the Feast of the Passover. When Jesus was about thirty years old, He began His public ministry (Luke 3:23), proclaiming the glorious gospel of salvation and performing incredible miracles to validate His messianic claims. His message was simple and urgent: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:15)
For three years, massive crowds followed Him to hear His unique teachings and see His miraculous works, yet not many actually came to saving faith. The general public believed the Messiah would be a military leader who would free them from Roman rule. Jesus had come to offer the hope of salvation from sin’s curse to all who would turn from their sin, confess Jesus as the Son of God, and be born again to live a new holy life in Him (John 3:15-17), yet they rejected Him.
By the time Jesus made His triumphal entry into Jerusalem during Passover week, the excitement and confusion – and hatred – surrounding Him had reached a fever pitch. The crowds lining the streets that day hailed Jesus as King, expecting Him to overthrow their government and Rome and establish His earthly kingdom. Little did they know that Jesus’ kingdom was not of this world.
Jesus’ message of hope and forgiveness of sin as the promised Messiah angered the religious leaders of the day because His claims outweighed their authority, threatened their religious system and their way of life. They particularly disliked the type of people Jesus associated with and the lack of respect He had for their religious traditions. When the multitudes hailed Him as King of Israel, they were desperate to destroy Him. Plotting in the shadows, they found a willing accomplice in Judas Iscariot, Jesus’ traitorous disciple who agreed to betray the Lord for thirty pieces of silver.
Following the Passover meal, Jesus gave His final instructions to His eleven remaining disciples in His Farewell Discourse and High Priestly Prayer in John 14 – 17. Jesus led them to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray in anguish, knowing the terrible climax of His mission was at hand. There Judas betrayed Him with a kiss and Jesus surrendered Himself to the armed mob. Jesus’ arrest and the ensuing trials were a mockery. He had done nothing wrong. He deserved the mob’s worship and allegiance, not their threats and violence. He was their Creator, yet He would soon willingly die because of their sins. They had no idea. They were spiritually blind.
The Sanhedrin produced false witnesses, who made bogus accusations against the Lord (Matthew 26:59). After settling on a verdict of blasphemy, they brought Jesus before Pontius Pilate, the Roman Governor. Pilate had no interest in getting entangled in Jewish religious affairs but his weak will was no match for the malevolent resolve of the mob. Spurred on by the religious leaders, the mob shouted “Crucify Him!” and chose Barabbas to be released instead of Jesus. All the while, Jesus remained silent. He did not defend Himself or retaliate and made no threats. Instead, He entrusted Himself to Him who judges justly (I Peter 2:23).
Finally, Pilate caved and delivered Him to be crucified. First, the soldiers scourged Jesus. Roman scourging was a horrifying form of torture where the victim was tied to a post and whipped repeatedly with leather straps containing fragments of bone and metal. Next, Jesus was stripped to his undergarments, mocked, struck and spit upon, before being crowned with thorns causing deep, bloody wounds. Then they led away the Son of God to be crucified.
Crucifixion was one of the cruelest forms of death in history. Long spikes were driven through the victim’s hands and feet and into a wooden cross, which was placed upright in the ground. The victim often suffered there for days, eventually succumbing to asphyxiation or the sheer physical trauma. For six hours, Jesus hung in agony upon the cross. Overhead, a supernatural veil of midday darkness, a visible manifestation of God’s judgment on sin, blanketed Palestine.
“Finally, after bearing the weight of humanity’s sin, Jesus said, “It is finished” (John 19:30), and breathed His last. At that moment, a huge earthquake shook the region, dead saints came back to life, and the veil of the temple (measuring sixty feet high and thirty feet wide) that separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place in the temple was torn “from top to bottom” – all clearly divine acts (Matthew 27:51-53). Jesus’ death was a historically momentous event.”
The large crowds slowly dispersed, awed and confused by what they had just witnessed. Two secret followers of Jesus, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, took His body, wrapped it in linen cloths and placed it in a nearby garden tomb. The disciples had given up everything to follow Jesus.
Now, it seemed, their hope was buried.
The resurrection changed everything, and gives us hope and peace even today. Celebrate with us on Easter Sunday at BIXBY’S FIRST BAPTIST CHURCH at 10:30 am
More from this Series
The HOPE of Easter Part 1
The History of Easter Part 2
Our Desperate Need for Hope Part 3
Hope Revealed Part 4
A Living Hope Part 5
A Present Hope Part 6
Joshua Cooley, “The Hope of Easter”, Outreach, Inc., 2016
The Broadman Bible Commentary, Volume 9, Broadman Press, 1970.
Author: Shirley Pittenger
Shirley Pittenger has been the Executive Assistant, Office Manager, and Digital Communications & Social Media Manager at Bixby’s First Baptist Church since 2009. Shirley is married to Bob Pittenger who is the Community Groups Pastor at the Church at Battlecreek in the Tulsa Metro area. Shirley holds a Bachelor of Music degree from the Baptist College of Florida. She enjoys teaching in the youth group, singing, reading, studying God’s Word, and spending time with her family.