Episode 145 - The Road to the Cross, part 2 - Opening Up the Gospels

Hey everyone, I’m Josh Hawkins, welcome to episode 145 of Opening Up the Gospels. In Episode 144, we looked at Jesus’ journey from the Praetorium out the gate of the city toward Golgotha, the place where He would be crucified. I talked about how Jesus’ strength was completely depleted and how Simon the Cyrenian was compelled by the Roman soldiers to carry His cross out of expediency, not necessarily out of sympathy. Today we’re going to look at some specific details Luke gives us that he probably obtained from the testimony of Simon or his sons Alexander or Rufus, or even some of these women themselves. So let’s pick up today from Luke 23: “And as they led him away, they seized one Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, and laid on him the cross, to carry it behind Jesus. And there followed him a great multitude of the people and of women who were mourning and lamenting for him. But turning to them Jesus said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?”” (Luke 23:26–31 ESV) Notice how Luke describes a large crowd and specifically many women who were following Jesus on the path to His death. Back in Episode 85, I talked about how Luke chapter 8 tells us that a number of named women were going with Jesus on His journey. And here we see the women again, having been with Jesus at least through the entire 9 months leading up to the cross. Mark also mentions the women in Mark 15. Gospel scholars believe this is strong evidence for Luke’s knowledge of the period I called the Late Perean and Judean ministry as he appealed directly to the eyewitnesses themselves who were likely part of the early Christian community. Now here in this scene, we see Jesus actually speaking. Throughout the past 8 or 9 hours, most of the sounds that were heard from Jesus were cries of pain and agony. Before the Jews, he was largely silent. Same before Pilate and Herod. But now, in excruciating pain and utter exhaustion, Jesus musters the strength to speak some very significant words to the mourning women. First, he calls them “daughters of Jerusalem”. This is precisely the way the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament, refers to the inhabitants of the city. We see this in passages in the prophets like Micah 4, Zephaniah 3, and Zechariah 9, also throughout the Song of Solomon. Jesus is addressing not only the women and crowds behind him, but also the city as a whole. Now remember, as I’ve developed at length already, those who were in Jerusalem for the Passover certainly would not have been in approval of this judicial murder being carried out by the Jewish authorities. Yet like we saw with people like Simeon and Anna all the way back in episodes 24, 25, and 26, there was a remnant of those in Jerusalem who feared God and were eagerly waiting for the redemption of Israel as God had promised. Now look what Jesus says: “do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children.” What a statement of His selflessness. In all of the other opportunities He had to speak, He did not defend Himself. And now, as He breathed laboriously, His wounds still oozing and His face covered with sweat and blood, He gathered the strength to utter His concern for the future of those who were mourning for Him. He says: “For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’” This is horrific. The coming catastrophe on the nation and the city will be so traumatic that the woman who does not have any children that she can’t lose will be better off than the women who have children. Why? Barren and childless women will have less to worry about in the coming distress, since they will not have to undergo the pain of seeing their babies being put to death. Goodness, that’s so intense. Jesus has already said something similar when He spoke of the final judgment on Jerusalem back in Matthew 24: “And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a Sabbath. For then there will be great tribulation…” (Matthew 24:19–21 ESV) Now in the next part of the passage, Jesus quotes the book of Hosea. He says: “Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’”. Jesus is specifically quoting Hosea 10:8. So let’s read a little bit from Hosea 10 to get the context: “Israel is a luxuriant vine that yields its fruit. The more his fruit increased, the more altars he built; as his country improved, he improved his pillars. Their heart is false; now they must bear their guilt. The Lord will break down their altars and destroy their pillars. For now they will say: “We have no king, for we do not fear the Lord; and a king—what could he do for us?” They utter mere words; with empty oaths they make covenants; so judgment springs up like poisonous weeds in the furrows of the field. The inhabitants of Samaria tremble for the calf of Beth-aven. Its people mourn for it, and so do its idolatrous priests— those who rejoiced over it and over its glory— for it has departed from them. The thing itself shall be carried to Assyria as tribute to the great king. Ephraim shall be put to shame, and Israel shall be ashamed of his idol. Samaria’s king shall perish like a twig on the face of the waters. The high places of Aven, the sin of Israel, shall be destroyed. Thorn and thistle shall grow up on their altars, and they shall say to the mountains, “Cover us,” and to the hills, “Fall on us.”” (Hosea 10:1–8 ESV) Notice some of the imagery I’ve talked about a lot already in this series – Israel as a vine or vineyard and the idea of producing fruit is there in verse 1. But as they produced this fruit for themselves, as some other translations say, their altars and pillars increased in number. In other words, Israel began going after other gods. Remember what Jesus had just said the night before to His disciples as well – that He was the true vine, and that only by abiding in Him would they bear much fruit. But in verse 2, because Israel produced fruit for themselves instead of for their God, Yahweh is going to break down and destroy the altars they’ve made to other gods. The following verses say that Israel is a nation that no longer fears Yahweh. They make empty promises and covenants, and therefore God will bring destruction upon them and lead them into captivity because of their covenant breaking. Verse 8 speaks of how God will judge those who worship idols, depicting them as people who run into caves and rocks seeking refuge from the catastrophic judgment, even to the point where they cry out “crush us, mountains and rocks, surely that is better than enduring the terrible suffering of God’s judgment!”. Wow. So why is Jesus quoting this? He’s extending His hand toward Israel one final time, appealing to them for their repentance. Just as Israel had done in Hosea’s day, they forsook the covenant God made with them at Sinai, they went after other gods, they committed idolatry, and they dishonored Yahweh. And so as God had promised in Deuteronomy 28, curses would come upon them – not to display a vindictive, hateful God, but as a faithful, covenant keeping God who disciplines those He loves. His name and character is at stake, and the God of Israel has bound Himself to that particular nation in a unique way, and the display of His judgment is a display of His faithfulness. Now the final part of the verse says: “For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?” The basic idea of this imagery here is that dry wood burns more easily than green wood. Of course fire is yet another way that the Old Testament pictures God’s severe and consuming judgment. And there are even several passages from the prophets that compare God’s judgment on Israel with fire that consumes a tree – passages like Isaiah 10:16-19, Jeremiah 5:14, Jeremiah 7:20, Ezekiel 15:1-8, and Joel 1:19. Other Old Testament passages compare Israel with a green or fruitful plant, like Isaiah 5:1, Jeremiah 11:16, and Hosea 10:1, as we just looked at. The green of the plant often times represents righteousness, like in Psalm 1, Proverbs 11:30, Jeremiah 11:19, and Hosea 14:8, and a dry and unfruitful plant often times is described as unrighteousness and unfaithfulness, like in Isaiah 37:27, Hosea 9:16, Joel 1:12, and Nahum 1:10. So what’s Jesus describing here? Many commentators see the “green wood” as Jesus Himself, and the “dry wood” being Israel. If Israel and God Himself had put Jesus, the green wood, the righteous and innocent one, through the fate of crucifixion, what will become of the dry wood, the apostate and rebellious people of Israel, when God’s judgment comes upon them? We know from history that this prophesied judgment came upon Israel in 70AD when the Roman general Titus sieged and destroyed the city of Jerusalem. The people of Israel were scattered in yet another exile away from the land God had promised them. But as we know, this was not the end of the story of the Jewish people. The promises to Abraham were not in jeopardy, they were not about to be redefined, and neither was this God’s rejection of the Jewish people as the nation through which all the other nations would be blessed. This judgment came upon them for real transgression and covenant breaking. Yet as we’ve seen, there’s always been a remnant of the faithful in Israel in the midst of their judgment, and this time is no different. Well, in the next couple of episodes I’ll take a look at the actual events of Jesus’ crucifixion upon His arrival to Golgotha.