In the days of slavery in the United States, southern slaves were living under brutal conditions. They composed some deeply moving songs with haunting melodies, rich with emotion. These ‘spirituals’ were songs of hope and anticipation. They were the soul-cry of the slave longing for freedom. They embraced Jesus as their Saviour and *Lord* and, in the midst of almost unbearable suffering, they experienced his grace, peace and hope for the future. From this relationship they were able to sing: |||*Were you there when they crucified my Lord?* In the New Testament passage for today, we see the background to the extraordinary claim of the New Testament that the one ‘*they crucified*’ is in fact *my Lord*. God is described in the Old Testament as ‘*The Lord*’. The original Hebrew word for ‘Lord’ (YHWH) had no vowels and was not vocalised. It was considered too sacred to pronounce. For that reason, when vowels were added to the original Hebrew texts they weren’t added to ‘the name’ (YHWH). There has been much debate in modern times as to what vowels should be used – it used to be thought it should be ‘Jehovah’, but most scholars now think ‘Yahweh’ is more accurate. In the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint, this sacred name (YHWH) is translated *Kyrios* (Lord). It really is quite extraordinary, therefore, that the New Testament writers (who were Jewish monotheists) made this fundamental Christian affirmation that ‘*Jesus is Lord*’ (*Kyrios*) (Romans 10:9; 2 Corinthians 4:5; Acts 2:36) and that *our Lord* has been *crucified for us*.
Love the Lord
David urges, ‘Love the Lord, all his faithful people!’ (v.23a). To love the Lord is the first commandment. This is a two-way relationship of love. We love because he first loved us (1 John 4:19). Our love is a response to his love.
David writes, ‘Praise be to the Lord, for he showed his wonderful love to me’ (Psalm 31:21a). Meditate on how much God loves you. ‘What a stack of blessing you have piled up for those who worship you’ (v.19, MSG).
He hides you in the ‘shelter of [his] presence’ (v.20a), he keeps you safe in his dwelling (v.20b). He protects youfrom ‘accusing tongues’ (v.20b). He hears your ‘cry for mercy’ when you call ‘for help’ (v.22b). ‘God takes care of all who stay close to him’ (v.23, MSG). Therefore, you can ‘be strong and take heart’ (v.24a), even when things seem difficult. ‘Be brave. Be strong. Don’t give up’ (v.24, MSG).
Lord, I praise you for the wonders of your love. Thank you that you hear my cry for mercy when I call to you for help. Lord, help…
Jesus is Lord
‘Were you there when they crucified my Lord?’ I find it heart-rending to read the account of the abuse, torture and crucifixion of Jesus. They crucified my friend and my Lord. Jesus is:
1. My King
Jesus accepts the title of ‘king of the Jews’ (Mark 15:2). The soldiers use it as a term of abuse (v.18) and it is the name written on the cross as the charge against him (v.26). However, Jesus is the fulfilment of the great longing of Israel and the many promises of a Davidic king (see Isaiah Chapters 9 and 11). He is a king with a difference.
He is handed over to Pilate out of envy (‘Sheer spite’, Mark 15:10, MSG) by the religious leaders. Be careful of envy. It is sometimes described as the ‘religious sin’.
Jesus is subject to insults and false accusation. If you are slandered or bad-mouthed be thankful that God allows you, in a tiny way, to enter into the sufferings of Jesus and pray that God will help you to respond as he did – with love and forgiveness.
2. My Messiah
It is ironic that the religious leaders mocked him and described him as ‘this Christ’ (vv.31–32), because that is exactly what he was and is. The English term ‘Christ’ is derived from the Greek Christos, which translates the Hebrew Mashiah or Messiah. Both the Greek and the Hebrew literally mean ‘anointed’. We have seen Jesus as the anointed High Priest of God. Here we see him as the anointed King.
3. My Saviour
Again we see the extraordinary irony of the mocking words of both the passers-by, ‘Come down from the cross and save yourself!’ (v.30), and the religious leaders, ‘He saved others… but he can’t save himself!’ (v.31). This was exactly true – in order to be the Saviour of the world he could not save himself. He had to go through the agony of the crucifixion in order to save you and me.
The incident with Barabbas provides us with a picture of what Jesus has done as Saviour of the world. Barabbas, like me, was guilty and deserved punishment. He was ‘in prison with the rebels who had committed murder in the uprising’ (v.7). Jesus, on the other hand, was totally innocent. As Pilate remarked, ‘What crime has he committed?’ (v.14). Yet Barabbas was ‘released’ and set free, whilst Jesus was ‘handed... over to be crucified’ (v.15). The innocent one faced the punishment of death so that I, the guilty one, could go free. We may not be murderers like Barabbas, but all of us need rescuing by the Saviour of the world.
4. My Lord
In yesterday’s passage we saw how when Jesus was asked by the High Priest, ‘are you the Messiah, the Son of the blessed one?’ he answered, ‘I am’ (14:61–62). The high priest’s response was to accuse Jesus of blasphemy – that is claiming to be God. Why was this? When God revealed his name YHWH to Moses (Exodus 3:14–15), he also explained its meaning. It comes from the Hebrew phrase ‘I am who I am’ or simply ‘I am’. The high priest’s response to Jesus’ statement suggests that Jesus was declaring himself to be none other than YHWH (the Lord).
This amazing truth is the background behind St Paul’s extraordinary soul-cry in Philippians 2:5–11 (which forms the basis of the prayer below).
Lord, help me to have the same attitude as Jesus, who humbled himself and became obedient to death. Thank you that you exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth and every tongue acknowledge that *Jesus Christ is Lord.*
Worship the Lord
There is a great emphasis in this passage on the ‘holy name’ (22:2) of God. In chapter 22 God says to his people ‘I am the Lord’ nine times (vv.2–3,8–9,16,30–33). Why does God emphasise his name in these verses?
Names were very significant in the ancient times. They were believed to tell you something important about the person in question. As we have seen, God’s name was no exception. The name YHWH declared the uniqueness and greatness of God.
God’s name also reminded the people of his unique relationship with them. It was a name that had been revealed to Moses as a sign of God’s promise to be with his people (Exodus 3).
Each time God declares ‘I am the Lord’ it reminds us both of his greatness and of our relationship with him. Each of the laws in the chapter is built upon these truths and is designed to point towards them.
The theme of Leviticus 21 is God’s holiness and the need for the priesthood in order for the people to be able to approach God. In the New Testament we see that Jesus is the Great High Priest and it is through him that we approach God. Jesus is:
1. Completely holy
The high priest had to be ceremonially clean (21:11b). Jesus was morally perfect. Jesus is ‘completely holy, uncompromised by sin’ (Hebrews 7:26, MSG).
2. Dedicated to God
The High Priest had to be dedicated to God (Leviticus 21:12), as Jesus was (Luke 2:22).
3. The anointed one
The High Priest had to be anointed with oil (Leviticus 21:12) as a symbol of the Holy Spirit. Jesus was anointed by the Holy Spirit at his baptism. He is the anointed one: the Christ.
If we are reminded of the need for a perfect priest in chapter 21, we are also reminded of the need for a perfect sacrifice in chapter 22. The sacrifice has to be ‘without defect’ (22:19,21). Jesus was both the perfect priest and the perfect sacrifice.
Take these three passages together and meditate on the extraordinary soul-cry: ‘Jesus Christ is Lord’ (Philippians 2:11) and on his wonderful love for us demonstrated by his crucifixion on our behalf, and our appropriate response to ‘Love the Lord’ (Psalm 31:23a).
Lord, I want to worship you. It is you who makes me holy. It is you who rescues me from captivity. You are the Lord. I love you Lord.
‘Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the Lord.’
I need lots of strength today. Actually, most days! More strength please, Lord.
Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790. Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.