Gambling for a Seamless Tunic

During these weeks leading up to Good Friday, I am writing about the apostle John’s references to fulfilled prophecy. John points to several details about our Lord’s crucifixion which were prophesied in the Old Testament.

Of course anti-Christian antagonists deny this. I remember the publication of a controversial book by Hugh Schonfield in the mid-1960s. In The Passover Plot the author claimed that Jesus was a fanatical genius who thought himself to be the Jews’ Messiah. He brilliantly and subtly organized his ministry to make it appear that everything he did was a fulfillment of biblical prophecies.

According to Schonfield, this involved a plot to fake his own death. He included his disciples in this audacious strategy. They conspired with him to try to make it appear that he had died on the cross and to contrive an artificial “resurrection.” According to Schonfield, Jesus did not claim to be the divine Son of God, and he did not rise from the dead. He was merely a mortal man who believed himself to be the Messiah. His supposed death and resurrection were to bring about the launch of his reign as king of the Jews.

There are too many problems with this far-fetched theory to answer them all. One of the most obvious is how a group of uneducated Galileans could have persuaded Jesus’ enemies to go along with such an elaborate scheme. The powerful religious leaders of Israel were the very ones who wanted him dead and who turned him over to the Roman authorities!

John, in fact, was writing as an eyewitness to the events he described in his gospel. He was present at the crucifixion of Jesus, along with the Lord’s mother and a few other faithful women. What he wrote has the ring of truth. He recognized that these events fulfilled what the ancient Hebrew scriptures had prophesied.

He personally witnessed what he described in John 19:23-24: “When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom. ‘Let’s not tear it,’ they said to one another. ‘Let’s decide by lot who will get it.'”

Then John adds this telling word: “This happened that the scripture might be fulfilled that said, ‘They divided my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment.’ So this is what the soldiers did.”

Are we to believe that the dying Jesus would have contrived in advance for his Roman torturers to gamble for his clothing? These were people who had no knowledge of the prediction of this event in Psalm 22:18. They had no idea they were fulfilling a prophecy written hundreds of years before. Their actions showed contempt for the dying prisoner, not cooperation with his followers.

Psalm 22 is one of several Messianic psalms. It is the psalm which is quoted the most in the New Testament. It’s author is probably King David who was a prophet as well as a poet. The psalm begins with words Jesus spoke from the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (v. 1, Matthew 27:46). Surely one cannot read the opening words of Psalm 22 without thinking of Jesus.

This psalm, in verses 14-16, prophetically describes crucifixion. This was unknown as a method of execution at the time it was written. It graphically pictures a dying man who is being shamed by mocking, tortured by thirst and asphyxiation, an object of horror to all who look on his emaciated frame and nail-pierced hands and feet. Yet unlike other psalms, this one contains no prayer for retribution or confession of sins by its speaker, facts which align with the Lord’s righteous character and forgiving spirit.

Three spiritual lessons have been advanced based upon John’s citation of Psalm 22:18. First, fulfilled prophecy is evidence for the truth-claims of Christianity. No false pretender could have devised a plot which involved controlling other people’s reactions. The betrayal, false accusations, torture, and crucifixion of Jesus were all prophesied in scripture and were carried out by hostile actors, not co-conspirators. This includes the precise detail about his clothing being taken by the executioners. This happened as prophesied in Psalm 22:18, according to the apostle John.

Second, in dying on the cross for the salvation of sinners, Jesus endured public humiliation. E.A. Blum has written, “That Jesus died naked was part of the shame which he bore for our sins. At the same time He is the last Adam who provides clothes of righteousness for sinners.”

Third, The seamless tunic which the soldiers valued may have been the type of garment worn by the high priests of Israel. If this is true it suggests the priestly ministry of our Lord on behalf of his people as he now prays for us continually as our defender, advocate and friend at the Father’s right hand (1 John 2:1-2; John 17:20).

Pastor Randy Faulkner

Jesus Predicted his Death

We have entered the season of the year when Christians worldwide call special attention to the death and resurrection of Jesus. We make preparations to observe Good Friday and Easter. In keeping with this tradition, for the next several weeks I intend to write on the apostle John’s use of the word “fulfilled,” in chapters 18 and 19. John wants his readers to remember that Jesus’ death was planned and purposeful.

For example, John 18:32 says, “This took place to fulfill what Jesus had said about the kind of death he was going to die.” What had Jesus said about his death? John records several statements of our Lord in which he explicitly predicted the purpose and manner of his impending death.

In his famous dialogue with the Jewish scholar Nicodemus, Jesus said, “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up” (John 3:14). “Son of Man” was Jesus favorite term for himself. It denotes both his humanity (Numbers 23:19) and his messiahship (Daniel 7:13-14). “Lifted up,” in this context, signifies hoisting up on a stake, or a pole, or, as John intends for us to conclude, on a cross. The snake incident was an Old Testament event which Jesus used to illustrate  and foretell the death by which he would die (Numbers 21).

Jesus went further in John 8:28. “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he and that I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me.” Jesus was not merely hinting about his death, he was explaining the manner of his death. He would be “lifted up,” a term that could also mean “exalted.” Not only was his death an agonizing public execution, but it was the first stage of his ultimate exaltation and return to the Father’s glory (Philippians 2:9).

In addition, Jesus foretold his crucifixion in John 12:32-34. “‘And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.’ He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.” The lifting up of Jesus was his crucifixion. He is saying that his death will be for all kinds of people, without regard to nationality, race, social or economic status. It is significant that when Jesus said this he was in the presence of Gentiles (v. 20).

It was with these words, and others, that our Lord indicated the kind of death that he was going to die. These words were fulfilled in exacting detail. What does this mean?

For one thing, this is a demonstration of his divine nature. He foretold and fulfilled, the future, his own future, as only the Son of God would be able to do. In the same passage (John 10) where he claimed “I and the Father are one,” (v. 30), he also foretold his own death (v. 15) and resurrection (v. 17). “This command I received from my Father” (v. 18). For this, his opponents resolved to try to do away with him, because he was claiming to be God (vv. 31-33).

Also, his “lifting up” was necessary in order for him to fulfill his purpose in coming to earth. This term fulfills the prophecy of Psalm 22, an Old Testament description of crucifixion. But, going deeper, it means that he would die the death of an accursed one. Jesus did not die by the normal Jewish method of execution, stoning. He died as he had said he would, by being “lifted up.” In this way, “Christ delivered us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole'” (Galatians 3:13, Deuteronomy 21:22-23). Jesus died on the cross as an innocent sacrifice to bear the curse of the law in the place of sinful people. This was the plan of God  to provide salvation for those who will believe.

A final thing, people cannot understand the message of the cross without the convincing ministry of the Spirit of God. The very idea of one who claimed to be the Jews’ Messiah, being lifted up to be crucified as a criminal, was utter foolishness to Gentiles. It was a massive stumbling block to Jews. People whose reliance is on the mere wisdom of the world, will not be able, Paul said, to perceive the higher wisdom of the cross.

He wrote, “For since in the wisdom  of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe” ( 1 Corinthians 1:21). What seems like foolishness to unaided human wisdom is really the powerful logic of God’s salvation! “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18).

Saved! It is possible to be saved from eternal judgment! This is the message of the cross. This is why Jesus was lifted up on the cross and why he talked so much about it. He wants us to be saved. “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31). Yes, you. My appeal is to you. Believe in him.

It is for this reason that the cross is to be the main theme of Christian preaching and worship. “For I resolved to know nothing among you . . . except Jesus Christ and him crucified” ( 1 Corinthians 2:2). This is why we rely upon the power of the Holy Spirit to make this message plain to people. “My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power” (1 Corinthians 2:4-5).

This is the reason Jesus repeatedly called attention to the kind of death he was going to die. And he kept his word. He was lifted up on the cross. It was for sinners like us.

Pastor Randy Faulkner


Is Sleep Over-rated?

From my boyhood I fondly remember hearing Bing Crosby sing over the radio: “When I’m worried and I can’t sleep/ I count my blessings instead of sheep/ And I fall asleep counting my blessings./ When my bankroll is getting small/ I think of when I had none at all/ And I fall asleep counting my blessings.”

That’s a beautiful sentiment and advice worth following. We should always remember where our blessings come from and thank God for them. But is that a sure cure for insomnia?

Medical professionals remind us of the importance of sleep to our health. We are told that good sleep improves brain power, concentration, blood pressure, heart health, the immune system, weight control, and athletic performance, among other benefits. That’s great. But what if we have trouble sleeping?

I was reading the psalms recently when I was reminded of a theme that is repeated several times. Some of the writers of psalms apparently had trouble sleeping. But instead of complaining or looking for a remedy, they used insomnia as a call to prayer.

I am not the first to notice this biblical trend. If you do an internet search of insomnia and prayer you will find plenty of folks who have discovered that sometimes God calls us to fellowship with him in the silent, solitary hours of the night. They are learning from David, Asaph, the sons of Korah, and other anonymous writers that there are times when sleep may be over-rated.

Instead of expressing frustration, these inspired hymnwriters yielded themselves to God in prayer. And it does not seem that they were thinking of prayer as a solution to the problem of sleeplessness. In fact, they did not seem to think of it as a problem at all. It was rather, an invitation.

I made a list of references. Here are some things I have been learning about meeting with God when sleep is elusive.

1. God invites us to think about him and to praise him. “On my bed I remember you and think of you through the watches of the night” (Psalm 63:6). “In the night I remember your name O Lord.” . . . “I rise to give you thanks” (Psalm 119:55, 62).

2. God invites us to examine ourselves and to open our hearts to him. “When you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent” (Psalm 4:4). “Even at night my heart instructs me” (Psalm 16:7). “You probe my heart and examine me at night” (Psalm 17:3).

3. God invites us to call out to him when we are saddened by troubles. “My tears have been my food day and night” (Psalm 42:3). “All night long I flood my bed with weeping.” . . .  “The Lord has heard my weeping” (Psalm 6: 6, 8). “Weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5).

4. God invites us to sing to him (maybe silently, in our minds, remembering hymns and songs of praise). “I remembered my songs in the night” (Psalm 77:6). “Let the saints sing for joy upon their beds” (Psalm 149:5).

5. God invites us to review his promises we have memorized. “My eyes stay open through the watches of the night that I may meditate on your promises” (Psalm 119:148).

All this is not to discount the value of a good night’s sleep. The Lord knows we need it. An afternoon nap is appealing as well. (This is one of the things I enjoy about retirement!) Sleep aids are sometimes the only way for us to get the refreshing sleep we need. Personally, I am thankful for Melatonin.

But there is a spiritual dimension to this issue too. It seems there are times and seasons when our heavenly Father is calling us to pray instead of sleep. Did not our Lord Jesus give us an example when he sought solitude to pray all night? Occasionally, or more often,  this may be God’s invitation to draw closer to him.

Then, in God’s mercy, there will also be those delicious times when we can say with King David, “In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety” (Psalm 4:8).

Pastor Randy Faulkner