Pastor's Blog

It's the Most Glorious Time of the Year

Empty Tomb

In 1963, when Andy Williams released his song, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” He had the Christmas season in mind. In the midst of Mr. Williams’ song not mentioning Jesus Christ or His birth, which I see as a departure from the “reason for the season,” I do agree with Him that it is a wonderful time of the year. 

When rightly appropriated, it is a blessing that there is a time during the winter each year that is set apart for remembering a pivotal moment in history, the incarnation of our Savior. It’s the time when, as John says in John 1:14, “the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us.” There is such value in marveling at the weight and gravity of verses like Paul’s in Phil 2:5–7, where he writes, “Have this way of thinking in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although existing in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, by taking the form of a slave, by being made in the likeness of men.” What a balm this is for our souls when we consider the condescension of God, robing Himself in flesh. 

In speaking of Jesus’ first advent, Owen asked in light of this ineffable truth of God becoming man, “What will he not do for us? He who thus emptied and humbled himself, who so infinitely condescended from the prerogative of his glory in his being and self-sufficiency, in the susception of our nature for the discharge of the office of a mediator on our behalf, — will he not relieve us in all our distresses? will he not do all for us we stand in need of, that we may be eternally saved? will he not be a sanctuary unto us? …If there be anything, therefore, in a coalescence of infinite power with infinite condescension, to constitute a sanctuary for distressed sinners, it is all in Christ Jesus.” That’s a quote worth its weight in gold.

Christmas is a wonderful time of the year, but I am not convinced that it is the most wonderful time of the year. I think there is another season that is most glorious, and the crown goes to the time of year that we are in right now. While the world around us celebrates bunny rabbits, colorful plastic eggs, chocolate bars, and large family meals… we celebrate sorrow and love that flow mingled down; we celebrate the precious flow that makes us white as snow; we celebrate that on the cross Jesus paid it all, and all to Him we owe, and that while sin had left a crimson stain, He washed it white as snow. 

To be clear, you can love the Lord and hide plastic eggs with candy in them around your yard, but what we are truly celebrating is that Jesus Christ died on a cross, where He laid down His life for His sheep, and then on the third day, He took His life back up again (cf. John 10:11, 15, 17). We are celebrating the continuance of Paul’s argument from Phil 2, where in verses 8–9 he says in speaking of Jesus, “​​Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore, God also highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name.”

To consider the most glorious time of the year, it will be beneficial to go to a location that most people do not traverse at this time of year… Psalm 41. Now, Psalm 41 is not overtly Messianic like Psalm 2, for example. But as Psalm 2 connects to the work of the Messiah at the beginning of the first book within the Psalter, so too does Psalm 41 connect to the work of the Messiah at the end of the first book within the Psalter. Both psalms revolve around blessing and are linked in particular ways to Jesus. 

Psalm 41 is a powerful psalm written by David. He writes in order to show the people of Israel that God is gracious toward His people in their time of need. It is a tangible psalm that showcases the primacy of the greatest commandments in loving God (10–13) and loving others (1–3). Both of these realities bookend the psalm and the first book of the psalter for that matter. Psalm 41 begins and ends with a blessing, “How blessed is he who considers the poor; Yahweh will provide him escape in a day of calamity… Blessed be Yahweh, the God of Israel, From everlasting to everlasting. Amen and Amen.” To go back to Psalm 1:1, “How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, Nor stand in the way of sinners, Nor sit in the seat of scoffers!” It seems to be intentional that Psalms 1 and 41 are placed where they are within the canon of the psalms. 

Having said that, the middle of the psalm (4–9), is of particular importance in considering this time of year. David says in verse 4, “As for me, I said, “O Yahweh, be gracious to me; Heal my soul, for I have sinned against You.”” David appeals to the Lord through prayer for grace… for the Lord’s favor amid his present situation–which he got himself into. The situation, in part, is seen in verses 5–8, “My enemies speak evil against me, “When will he die, and his name perish?” And when he comes to see me, he speaks worthlessness; His heart gathers wickedness to itself; When he goes outside, he speaks it. All who hate me whisper together against me; Against me, they devise for me calamity, saying, “A vile thing is poured out upon him, That when he lies down, he will not rise up again.”” 

David is suffering physically which might be due to the same bout of illness that he was dealing with in Ps 38. The majority of Ps 38 concerns the effects of David’s sin on him physically. Sin wearies the soul. David knows the reason for his distress is that he sinned against God… it’s the burden of his heart. Then he comes to the Lord in a posture of confession to acknowledge he needs restoration. That’s the right response. Not only does David desire physical healing from his ailments, but most importantly, relational restoration with the Lord. 

Then, in a fashion different from Ps 38, David speaks primarily about his enemies. His enemies are speaking evil against him. While we may have a general understanding that David was liked during his years as king, he certainly had enemies. There was jealous King Saul, jealous Absalom, his son, the Philistines, the Arameans, the Moabites… so on and so forth. Here we see some enemies that David is aware of, have been speaking ill of him. They’re longing for David to die… and for his name to perish. Without diving too deep into the implications of this statement, without the name of David living on through an heir, what won’t you have? You won’t have the Son of David, Himself. You will not have the fulfillment of the Davidic Covenant. 

One of David’s enemies in particular in verse 6 speaks of worthless things… he speaks of vanities. This enemy is like a sponge of the world, he soaks up sin and then verbally squeezes it out of himself for all around him whether or not people desire to hear of sin. Plato, who is not a good resource for all things spiritual, once said, “Wise men speak because they have something to say, fools because they have to say something.” This enemy has to say something sinful. 

Then in verses 7–8, it’s clear that there is a union among David’s enemies. There is a collective desire that they have. They whisper and conspire against David. The words of Prov 16:27–28 come to mind, “A vile man digs up evil, And the words on his lips are like scorching fire. A perverse man spreads strife, And a whisperer separates close companions.” These individuals are perverse. 

And this leads into verse 9 which is the most disheartening verse to read in this string of prayers from the heart of David to the Lord. David says, “Even my close friend in whom I trusted, Who ate my bread, Has lifted up his heel against me.” If you are familiar with the Hebrew word shalom, “שָׁלוֹם,” you know that the word means peace. Historically, the word has held the same meaning, but there is some flexibility as seen in this text. The word can mean “friend.” In Jer 20:10, the word is included in the phrase “all my trusted friends.” In Jer 38:22 it's seen as “your close friends.” This is precisely what makes this verse so easy to understand, and yet so difficult to comprehend. 

Verse 9 speaks of betrayal. In David’s life, there was a man of peace or a dear friend that David trusted. This was someone that David didn’t feel he needed to question. It was a man whom David believed he knew his character. They shared meals together and fellowship with one another. This was the kind of individual that you open up to, confide in, and bank on in any circumstance… that is, until you cannot any longer. 

It could be that David is speaking about Ahithophel. Ahithophel is an example of betrayal–with him there is much overlap with where we are going in this article. Ahithophel was one of David’s right-hand men, who turned his back upon the king for Absalom, his son. David’s concubines were violated because of Ahithophel’s evil counsel, and immorality was promoted in Jerusalem because of it. Ahithophel even went on and conveyed a desire to kill David, but when unable to do so, He committed suicide. It was utter betrayal from someone that David cared about.

This individual whom David trusted, turned against David and lifted up or enlarged his heel against him. The weight of betrayal cannot be understated in terms of the sheer damage it causes. It deeply affected David. The force of this statement is that this friend who showed himself to be an enemy at a particular moment in time, came down with his heel upon David, in the sense that he betrayed him. David was stomped upon.

That concept is precisely what we see take place in the gospels. On the night of our Lord’s betrayal, He gathered His disciples together for one final time of fellowship before going to the cross. It was a time where He would speak about His death, the inauguration of the New Covenant, the arrival of the Holy Spirit, and so much more. But before any of those wonderful realities took place, Jesus would first… as One who came not to be served, but to serve… took on the posture of a slave and washed the feet of his disciples. He washed the same feet that in just around three hours would run away from Him at his betrayal (Mark 14:50). He would even wash the feet of the one whose feet would bring about His betrayal. 

In John 13:5, John writes, “Then He poured water into the washbasin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel which He had tied around Himself.” After teaching Peter a lesson concerning the need for him to have his feet washed, Jesus said in verse 10, “He who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you.” Jesus turned and shifted the conversation from the physical to the spiritual realm. Not all of the disciples there on that evening had been cleansed by faith. John clarifies this in verse 11, “For He knew the one who was betraying Him; for this reason, He said, “Not all of you are clean.”” 

Betrayal is in the water. It is lurking around. Back in verse 2, John included this comment, “And during supper, the devil having already put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon, to betray Him…” the wheels were in motion. Days previous, Matthew recorded this in Matt 26:14–16, “Then one of the twelve, named Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, ‘What are you willing to give me to deliver Him to you?’ And they weighed out thirty pieces of silver to him. And from then on he began looking for a good opportunity to betray Jesus.” 

For some perspective, thirty pieces of silver was the restitution price of a slave who was killed by an ox in Ex 21:32. Not to demean a life made in God’s image, but isn’t Jesus worth tremendously more than the life of one fallen man? Jesus and the salvation He brings is the treasure hidden in the field of Matt 13:44 that you sell everything for. He is the pearl of great value in Matt 13:45–46. Jesus is worth absolutely everything. You can gain the whole world, not just thirty shekels, but the whole world, and yet lose your soul (Matt 16:26). Jesus is worth more than the whole world. If Satan took Judas to see all the kingdoms of the world as he did with Jesus in the temptation account, the kingdoms of this world would not be a worthy price for this betrayal. Nothing would be. 

This was the same Jesus who called Judas as a disciple (Mark 3:19). He’s the same one who empowered Judas for ministry (Luke 10:9). He’s the same one who provided for Judas and cared for Him (Matt 16:1–12). This is the same Jesus who spoke to Judas, was with Judas, ate with Judas, was persecuted alongside Judas… Jesus had not changed. But what we cannot miss is that neither had Judas. Judas never loved Jesus. Judas looked like a friend externally, like the betrayer of David’s day (Ps 41:9). But in this betrayal, Judas revealed where his heart truly was… it was consumed with money (John 12:6). Judas was a thief and his master was money, therefore he could not serve the Lord (Matt 6:24). After three-and-a-half years of ministering alongside Jesus with little to show for it monetarily, Judas decided it was time for a payday.

Jesus says in John 13:15–19 in speaking of the fulfillment of Ps 41:9, “For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master, nor is one who is sent greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them. I do not speak about all of you. I know the ones I have chosen; but that the Scripture may be fulfilled, ‘He who eats My bread has lifted up his heel against Me.’ From now on I am telling you before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe that I am He. (emphasis mine)”  

After speaking further about the example of service that Jesus left for the disciples, Jesus makes a very clear statement about who His people are. Jesus has chosen a particular people who line up with those the Father gave to Him (John 6:37–40). In contrast to those individuals, we see that a Scripture would be fulfilled and then Jesus quotes from Ps 41:9. 

After again speaking about His betrayal, no one suspects Judas among the disciples as the betrayer. Judas spent over three years with them, teaching the same things, healing others in the same fashion, walking with them, eating with them, and the disciples all thought of themselves as the betrayer before they thought of Judas. He was like a chameleon. He blended into a setting he didn’t belong in, outside of the Scriptures being fulfilled. 

Jesus quotes from David’s betrayal. The place that lines up with what took place with Judas turning on Jesus was perfectly described by David over 900 years earlier. The betrayal of David was a foreshadowing that looked toward this greater betrayal that would occur. The weightiness of this betrayal is heightened even further when we are reminded that Satan entered Judas. Satan, who rose up against the Lord in heaven before the fall of Adam and Eve was now rising up against the same Lord on the earth. 

Jesus says in speaking of Judas eating his bread in John 13:26, “...‘He is the one for whom I shall dip the piece of bread and give it to him.’ So when He had dipped the piece of bread, He took and gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot.” Judas ate of Jesus’ bread. They were so close to one another externally. With this, Judas would enlarge his heel against Jesus which would be seen in his summoning of the religious leaders of Israel and around 420 Roman soldiers. 

If we fast forward to the betrayal proper which took place a few hours after the last supper, we find an insightful comment from Matthew. Some people are quick to point out what Jesus omits from Ps 41:9 in John 13:18. Here they both are side by side, 

“Even my close friend in whom I trusted, Who ate my bread, Has lifted up his heel against me.” 

“I do not speak about all of you. I know the ones I have chosen; but that the Scripture may be fulfilled, ‘He who eats My bread has lifted up his heel against Me.'” 

The most notable difference is what is left out on the front end. Jesus does not call Judas a man of peace or a close friend. He doesn’t speak about the trust that He had in Judas. In John 6:64 Jesus says, “'But there are some of you who do not believe.' For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who it was that would betray Him.” There is an intentional break that Jesus makes from the original. Jesus did not trust Judas because He knew who Judas truly was where the other disciples did not. Yet, there is some overlap as well. 

After praying in Gethsemane, Jesus came to meet His betrayal head-on. Matthew records in Matt 26:48–50, “Now he who was betraying Him gave them a sign, saying, “Whomever I kiss, He is the one; seize Him.” And immediately Judas went to Jesus and said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” and kissed Him. And Jesus said to him, “Friend, do what you have come for.” Then they came and laid hands on Jesus and seized Him.” Did you notice what Jesus called Judas? Friend. The word that is used here, isn’t the word used for close, intimate friends which would be “φίλος.” Instead, the word “ἑταῖρος” is used which is more of a word of general familiarity. While the word is used of children playing in Matt 11:16 it also possesses a more formal meaning. 

In the parable of the wedding feast, there is the account of the individual that entered into the wedding avoiding the king’s conditions in coming to the feast. Jesus is narrating the account in Matt 22:11–14 uses the same word for friend, “ἑταῖρος,” which He used with Judas. “But when the king came in to look over the dinner guests, he saw a man there who was not dressed in wedding clothes, and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you come in here without wedding clothes?’ And the man was speechless. Then the king said to the servants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.'” The king called this man who was not welcome, “friend.” It’s not as though the king was being disingenuous. It was simply a general designation for someone that the king did not know well (cf. Matt 20:13). Note that not only is the same word for friend used, but the same end would be carried out for the son of perdition, Judas, for whom it would have been better if he wasn’t born. Jesus said in John 17:12, “While I was with them, I was keeping them in Your name which You have given Me; and I guarded them and not one of them perished but the son of perdition, so that the Scripture would be fulfilled.” Judas fell away because he wasn’t one that the Father gave to the Son. 

Judas, from the weight of guilt, just like Ahithophel who didn’t run to the Lord, ran to suicide (Matt 27:1–10). After Judas handed Jesus over to the religious leaders… they handed Jesus over to Pilate… then Pilate handed Jesus over to be crucified. All of this was according to plan. The choosing of Judas, the years spent with Judas, the betrayal of Judas, the cross because of Judas was all ordained so that the Scriptures would be fulfilled. Peter says it this way in Acts 2:22–23, “‘Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God did through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know⁠—this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of lawless men and put Him to death.’” Jesus was delivered over by God for what purpose and what end? Isaiah says in Is 53:10–11, “But Yahweh was pleased To crush Him, putting Him to grief; If You would place His soul as a guilt offering, He will see His seed, He will prolong His days, And the good pleasure of Yahweh will succeed in His hand. As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied; By His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, As He will bear their iniquities.” 

For a son or daughter of Adam to have fellowship and communion with the living God, he or she must be forgiven of sins. The only way for this to occur is through believing in the sinless life, substitutionary death, and glorious resurrection of our Lord to life. Jesus became a curse for us when He was nailed to the tree for six hours (Gal 3:10–14). In the final three hours, Jesus bore the Father’s wrath in His body that was stored up for the sins of His people. Jesus bearing God’s wrath is the only explanation that satisfies the requirements of Rev 14:10, where unbelievers will drink God’s wrath forever, and Rom 5:9 where we see there is no wrath for those that love Christ. The wrath was paid for in Jesus such that John says in 1 John 4:10, “In this is love, not that we have loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” Jesus satisfied the Father’s wrath by bearing it towards His people in His death. This was in line with His prayer in Gethsemane concerning the cup the Father would give to Him to drink. 

At this reality every knee should bow, and per Paul’s argument in Phil 2 as it continues, one day everyone will. “... At the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Even with all that has been shared, you might be thinking… how is this the most wonderful time of the year? You’ve spoken a lot about enemies, betrayal, death, and blood. Notice the title of this article again, it is the most glorious time of the year. The word wonderful works as well, but sometimes the word wonder evokes images of sunshine, rainbows, fresh dew in the morning, and the artwork of the board game Candyland. This event was wonderful… but not in the sense that we often use the word. This moment in history should awaken wonder as you see Jesus, the spotless Lamb of God, who, as our Passover, took upon Himself our sins, and then was punished as our representative, so that we might be declared righteous through faith in Him. Jesus died and was punished for the eternal death we earned for ourselves in those hours on the tree. He now lives as our representative, as the One in whose likeness we will be raised. 

There was no other way for justice to be satisfied except through the death of God the Son. There was no other way for our sin to be atoned for, except through the blood of the Lamb who was slain (cf. Eph 1:7; Heb 10:4). There was no way for a sinful, guilty people to be made righteous except through Jesus dying for us (2 Cor 5:21). And there was no way for any of this to occur unless you had Judas who ate the Lord’s bread, lift up his heel against Him.

The early spring is the most glorious time of the year. As the seasons change, it is a reminder that what was once dead in winter, comes to life in the spring. We are reminded even within the weather pattern that the Lord has established of the life that Christ has in His resurrection. Martin Luther said, “Our Lord has written the promise of resurrection, not in books alone, but in every leaf in springtime.” 

Without the betrayal of Ps 41:9… without the betrayal of John 13:18, you do not have the death and resurrection of Jesus. Without Psalm 41, we do not have the full picture of the most glorious time of the year. And while Psalm 41 might not be a normal place that you stop when considering this time of year, I hope it is now a text that you will meditate upon when you think of the glory and wonder of the cross. 

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