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Know the Whole Story
Many people know some stories from the Bible, but not how the narrative fits together. The Bible is one story that begins in a garden, ends in a city, and all the way through points to Jesus Christ. Open is your guided journey through this powerful, life-transforming story.
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Jesus Before Pilate

23:1 Then the whole company of them arose and brought him before Pilate. And they began to accuse him, saying, “We found this man misleading our nation and forbidding us to give tribute to Caesar, and saying that he himself is Christ, a king.” And Pilate asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” And he answered him, “You have said so.” Then Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, “I find no guilt in this man.” But they were urgent, saying, “He stirs up the people, teaching throughout all Judea, from Galilee even to this place.”

Jesus Before Herod

When Pilate heard this, he asked whether the man was a Galilean. And when he learned that he belonged to Herod's jurisdiction, he sent him over to Herod, who was himself in Jerusalem at that time. When Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad, for he had long desired to see him, because he had heard about him, and he was hoping to see some sign done by him. So he questioned him at some length, but he made no answer. 10 The chief priests and the scribes stood by, vehemently accusing him. 11 And Herod with his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him. Then, arraying him in splendid clothing, he sent him back to Pilate. 12 And Herod and Pilate became friends with each other that very day, for before this they had been at enmity with each other.

13 Pilate then called together the chief priests and the rulers and the people, 14 and said to them, “You brought me this man as one who was misleading the people. And after examining him before you, behold, I did not find this man guilty of any of your charges against him. 15 Neither did Herod, for he sent him back to us. Look, nothing deserving death has been done by him. 16 I will therefore punish and release him.”1

Pilate Delivers Jesus to Be Crucified

18 But they all cried out together, “Away with this man, and release to us Barabbas”—19 a man who had been thrown into prison for an insurrection started in the city and for murder. 20 Pilate addressed them once more, desiring to release Jesus, 21 but they kept shouting, “Crucify, crucify him!” 22 A third time he said to them, “Why? What evil has he done? I have found in him no guilt deserving death. I will therefore punish and release him.” 23 But they were urgent, demanding with loud cries that he should be crucified. And their voices prevailed. 24 So Pilate decided that their demand should be granted. 25 He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, for whom they asked, but he delivered Jesus over to their will.

The Crucifixion

26 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. 27 And there followed him a great multitude of the people and of women who were mourning and lamenting for him. 28 But turning to them Jesus said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. 29 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!’ 30 Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ 31 For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?”

32 Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. 33 And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. 34 And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”2 And they cast lots to divide his garments. 35 And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” 36 The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine 37 and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38 There was also an inscription over him,3 “This is the King of the Jews.”

39 One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him,4 saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

The Death of Jesus

44 It was now about the sixth hour,5 and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour,6 45 while the sun's light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46 Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last. 47 Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, saying, “Certainly this man was innocent!” 48 And all the crowds that had assembled for this spectacle, when they saw what had taken place, returned home beating their breasts. 49 And all his acquaintances and the women who had followed him from Galilee stood at a distance watching these things.

Jesus Is Buried

50 Now there was a man named Joseph, from the Jewish town of Arimathea. He was a member of the council, a good and righteous man, 51 who had not consented to their decision and action; and he was looking for the kingdom of God. 52 This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. 53 Then he took it down and wrapped it in a linen shroud and laid him in a tomb cut in stone, where no one had ever yet been laid. 54 It was the day of Preparation, and the Sabbath was beginning.7 55 The women who had come with him from Galilee followed and saw the tomb and how his body was laid. 56 Then they returned and prepared spices and ointments.

On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment.

Footnotes

[1] 23:16 Here, or after verse 19, some manuscripts add verse 17: Now he was obliged to release one man to them at the festival
[2] 23:34 Some manuscripts omit the sentence And Jesus . . . what they do
[3] 23:38 Some manuscripts add in letters of Greek and Latin and Hebrew
[4] 23:39 Or blasphemed him
[5] 23:44 That is, noon
[6] 23:44 That is, 3 p.m.
[7] 23:54 Greek was dawning

(ESV)

Overview

Everything God had planned to do since the beginning of time was accomplished at the cross. Bearing our sin, Jesus purchased our forgiveness. Enduring our hell, Jesus secured our entrance into heaven. Forsaken by the Father, Jesus reconciled us to God.

The day that Jesus died was the darkest day in human history, and yet this was the day when God’s plan of salvation was accomplished.

If you had been at the cross, you would have seen nails driven through the hands and feet of Jesus, fixing Him to a wooden beam that was raised up and dropped into the ground. You would have seen two criminals crucified on either side of Jesus (Luke 23:33), and soldiers gambling over His garments (23:34). You would have heard the crowds and the soldiers mocking Him (23:35–36), and you would have seen the inscription over His head that read: “This is the King of the Jews” (23:38).

What happened at the cross was the Garden of Eden in reverse. In the garden, God declared man guilty; at the cross, man declared God guilty. In the garden, God pronounced the sentence of death on man; at the cross, man pronounced the sentence of death on God. God had driven man out of His garden, and man would now drive God out of His city.

Jesus hung on the cross for six hours, and what happened during that time of unrelieved and excruciating agony takes us to the heart of the Bible story.

Forgiveness is Released
Our sin reached its full horror and its most awful expression at the cross. Having disobeyed God’s commands, we were now crucifying God’s Son.

If there was ever a moment in human history when God’s judgment had to fall, this was it. But Jesus cried out, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (23:34).

Christ knew that God’s judgment would come that day, but He was saying, “Don’t let it fall on them. Let it fall on Me. And on Me alone. Let Me be the lightning rod for Your judgment on their sin.” Just as God had spared Adam when the curse fell on the ground, so now God spared those who stood around the cross, as His judgment for their sins and for ours fell on Jesus.

This is the heart of the gospel. Jesus stood under the judgment of God for our sins. He called on the Father to divert the punishment away from us and He absorbed it in Himself. That is how forgiveness is released.

When Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them,” His prayer included the priests who condemned Him, the crowds who mocked Him, and the soldiers who crucified Him. It also included the disciples who deserted Him and the Old Testament believers who had waited for Him.

The prayer of Jesus covered the sin of every person who would come to Him. And if His prayer could cover the sins of those who nailed Him to the cross, it is big enough to cover all of your sin as well.

Paradise is Opened
A few feet away from Jesus was a man who had made a tragic waste of his life. Having pursued a life of crime, he had faced human justice and was now paying the price. Soon death would relieve his suffering, but then he would enter the presence of God where he would face divine justice. His position seemed hopeless.

This man did not know much about Jesus. A short while earlier, he had joined with another criminal in ridiculing Jesus’ claims. But as death drew near, something changed. He seemed to have a new awareness of what it would mean for a sinner to enter the presence of God. Ridiculing Jesus no longer seemed appropriate.

When Jesus was crucified, He prayed that those who nailed Him to the cross would be forgiven. Perhaps, the man thought, if Jesus could forgive these soldiers, he could forgive me too. So he turned to Jesus and said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (23:42). And Jesus answered, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise” (23:43).

Paradise! This man’s life had been a series of disastrous choices, but Jesus promised him an immediate translation, through death, into a life of unending joy. Before the day was over, Jesus would usher him into the presence of God. Suddenly this man, for whom the world held nothing, found that because of Jesus, he was about to enter the greatest joy a human being can ever know.

This man’s story is a stunning example of what Jesus Christ is able to do for any person who turns to Him in faith and repentance, no matter how late in life. Heaven is Christ’s home. He holds the keys and He opens it to all who turn to Him in repentance and faith, whatever they may have done.

The Sun Stopped Shining
Jesus was crucified at nine o’clock in the morning, and during the first three hours of His suffering, He prayed for His enemies and answered the prayer of a criminal who reached out to Him in faith. Then, at midday, “there was darkness over the whole land” (23:44), and for the next three hours Christ entered into the heart of His sufferings.

What took place in the darkness is beyond our understanding, but there are some things that we know because God has told us.

Jesus carried our sins when He died on the cross. “He… bore our sins in his body on the tree” (1 Peter 2:24). “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin,” (2 Corinthians 5:21). “The LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6). Jesus carried your sins into His death, so that you would not carry them into yours.

Bearing our sins meant that Jesus endured the punishment that was due to us: “upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace” (Isaiah 53:5). Jesus endured all that hell is on the cross. He was in conscious suffering, in blackest darkness, surrounded by demonic powers. He bore the guilt of sin, He absorbed divine wrath, and He endured all this alone, separated from the knowledge of the Father’s love.

People often talk about whether hell is real or not. Hell is as real as the cross. Christ entered into all the dimensions of hell in the darkness, and He did this so that you would never know what hell is like.

In the depth of His suffering, Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). No words can express the depth of this suffering. God the Father and God the Son have always shared one life, one love, one purpose, and one will. But when the Son of God became our sin bearer, the comforts of the Father’s love were beyond His reach. He was completely alone, suspended between heaven and earth, and rejected by both.

But after three hours, the judgment poured out on Jesus was spent. Justice was satisfied, and Jesus shouted in triumph, “It is finished” (John 19:30). God’s righteous judgment for our sin fell on Jesus. He absorbed it. He drained it. He exhausted it. Hell burned itself out on Jesus for all who trust in Him.

Having released forgiveness and opened paradise by offering Himself as the sacrifice for our sins, Jesus had completed all that the Father had given Him to do. The battle was over and the victory was won. All that remained was for Jesus to lay down His life. He called out in a loud voice: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” (Luke 23:46).

Why Jesus Died on the Cross
Many people go through life with the feeling that God is against them. If you feel that God is against you, you will be against Him. If you feel that God does not care for you, you will not care for Him. But if you were to believe today that God loves you, you would come to love Him.

So here is what you need to know: Jesus did not come into the world and die on the cross in order to make the Father love you. He came into the world and died on the cross because the Father loves you.

One way to measure God’s love for you would be to list the joys and blessings of your life. So if you have good health, are surrounded by people who love you, and have work that you enjoy, you can rejoice in these gifts as signs of His love.

But what if you lose that great job? Or what if someone in your family becomes sick? Or what if a person you love loses interest in you? How will you know that God loves you then?

If you try to discern the love of God from your experience, you will always be in confusion. When blessings come, you will feel that God loves you. When hardship comes, you will feel that He must be against you, and you will lose the sense of His love when you need it the most!

Our experience of life in this fallen world will always be confusing. That is why we walk by faith, not by sight. This world is a mess, and if you measure God’s love by your experience of life in this world, you will never be able to come to the settled conclusion that God loves you.

Here is how you can know for sure that God loves you: He gave His Son for you. “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him” (1 John 4:9). “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

  1. What are some of the things you would have seen if you had been there on the day that Jesus was crucified?
  2. When Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them” who did that prayer include?
  3. Do you think Jesus could do for anyone what He did for the thief on the cross? Why or why not?
  4. What was happening during the three hours of darkness while Jesus was on the cross? How do we know this?
  5. Do you think God loves you? Why or why not?
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