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The year is 1632, the beautiful remote town of Oberammergau nestles nearby in the Bavarian Alps of Southern Germany, quietly and securely isolated from the turmoil and torment that ravages the rest of Europe. A humble wood carver, Kaspar Schisler returns to his home in Oberammergau from his labours in a nearby village. But now unbeknown to him in the other inhabitants of that town, he silently carries with him the seeds of a calamity that will wreak havoc, terror and destruction on Oberammergau and its people.
Within a year of this day, about one quarter of the residents of the town will be dead, claimed by the dreaded plague, the Black Death. This will give rise to an extraordinary covenant with God that still resonates to this day. On arriving home in Oberammergau, the farmer begins to develop a fever, followed by severe stomach pains and vomiting, early symptoms of the Black Death or bubonic plague to give it its correct name. Caused by bacteria carried and spread by the bite of fleas, the same fleas that feed on the blood of the infected black rat. In the days to follow, the lymph nodes in his armpits, groin, and on his neck, become hideously swollen, darkened by the infected blood. The risk of exposure is ever present as lesions rupture, oozing the black puss.
The pain is unbearable, till death overcomes. The Black Death caused panic and terror in the Oberammergau community. Little wonder, it was to claim nearly 200 million lives over the centuries that had ravaged humankind. With no known treatment or cure for this plague. It seemed only a matter of time before the entire population of Oberammergau would be wiped out. Many of those who died between 1632 and 1633 are buried here in the graveyard of the village church. Back then, with no end of the plague in sight, the Oberammergau village council of elders gathered in a state of total desperation in this very church on the 27th of October 1633. In a despairing last ditch attempt to bring an end to this suffering, these town people prayed for divine intervention. History doesn’t record how the idea came to them or whose idea it was.
But somehow someone came up with the idea of making a sacred covenant with God. Here beneath the original church cross. This was the deal. If God would spare the town of Oberammergau and its people from the Black Death there and then, from that day forth, the survivors and their descendants, would make a solemn commitment to reenact and perform the Passion of Christ, once every 10 years for all time, in return for God’s mercy and ongoing protection. So the covenant was made. And from that day, October 27th 1633, not one more villager in Oberammergau died, or was ever again infected by the Black Death. It’s as if focusing on Christ death gave them life.
Today Oberammergau is home to about 5000 people. And this picture postcard town has become famous throughout the world for a very special and very infrequent event. True to the covenant made by Oberammergau elders back in 1633, for well over three and a half centuries, the townspeople have faithfully performed a reenactment of Christ’s crucifixion, death and resurrection once every 10 years. Such as the importance and fame of Oberammergau’s once in a decade reenactments. That these days they draw up to half a million people from all over the world, to experience and witness the drama and spectacle of villagers acting out the last week of Christ’s life on an open air stage. As dramatic and spectacular as the Oberammergau Passion play is, the point is not just to put on some entertaining theatre, to pull in the tourists. The point is to touch lives with the story of Jesus. How the play affects people and changes their perspectives is reflected in the experiences of the actors themselves.
Not so many people have the chance to read and to learn and to talk about Jesus over a long time except he studies theology for example, but I’m like, every one in Oberammergau, we all have a regular job. And so, for me it was a gift to have the chance to learn so much about about Jesus and to get so close to him and I soaked up the words of Jesus and every day here when we play and learn something new or I noticed a word, what does this word say? Oh, it’s very meaningful. And, of course you get closer to to Jesus and it enriches my personal beliefs.
So being on stage, being in front of 5000 people and having the honour of playing such a big role. It changed a lot with me. I’m 25 years old and there aren’t that much people in my age that are just reading the Bible, just went to church, just think about the whole history. And so it changed me a lot. I talk to people that watch the play and I said, “Oh, I have nothing to do with religious things.” And they come out and say, “okay, maybe I have to think about it. “Maybe I have to learn more about it.”
This is a play, which is really inspiring hope once or should inspire hope, love and faith. And I think, by this way of living tablets, by the music by the committed actors, there’s a chance. And I’m a hotel owner and I have many guests from Great Britain, for example, and again and again, they tell me, “this was for me an important religious experience “because Jesus can be… “You can see him here as a living person, down to earth “and has extremely interesting relationship “to his disciples and yeah, and this is inspiring.”
This is one story, that no matter how hard the sceptics might try, we’ll never be erased from human memory. Remember, this is the story of the crucifixion of Christ. It’s the story of the murder of an innocent man. And it encompasses the ugliest side of human existence, and the incredible love that God has for the human race. Today, let’s take a closer look at the crucifixion of Christ and examine some of the forces that were so intent on destroying him. Who exactly were these people? And why were they so intent on killing a man that the Bible says went about doing good? Well, one of the first groups to turn against Jesus was the Sanhedrin, an important governing body in Jerusalem. In the Gospel According to Mark, there is the story where Jesus is brought before his enemies, having been arrested by an unruly crowd in the middle of the night. And even though it was technically illegal to carry out those kinds of trials at night, the Sanhedrin began the work of finding something to condemn Jesus with. Mark 14:55 says this,
“And the chief priests and all the council “sought testimony against Jesus to put him to death.”
Now, let’s focus carefully on what we’ve just read. It says that the Sanhedrin was actually looking for people who would testify against Jesus. They set out to recruit people who held him grudge against Jesus, people who were against him from the beginning. They were supposed to look for ways to compassionately acquit a man on trial, innocent until proven guilty. But that night, they actually hired witnesses to give false evidence. They already had a guilty verdict in mind. They just wanted to justify it to make a sure thing of Jesus conviction. So the bribed witnesses came forward, charging Jesus with all kinds of things. They said he wanted to disrupt the laws of the land that Jesus had spoken of destroying the temple. And what they did, was take Jesus own words and twist them to fit the supposed crime. But the amazing thing is that through the accusations, Jesus kept completely silent. So finally, a frustrated high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ? “I am.” Jesus said. Here’s what Mark says happened next from Mark 14:63 and 64.
“Then the high priest tore his clothes “and said, What further need do we have witnesses? “You have heard the blasphemy! “What do you think? “They all condemned him to be worthy of death.”
The odds were stacked against Jesus. He didn’t stand a chance. They already crucified Him in their minds before the trial even began. That was the first blow specifically designed to silence Jesus for good. But when you read the story carefully, you’ll discover that it wasn’t just the religious leaders that worked to destroy him. The tide of public opinion also turned against Jesus in what seems like a heartbeat. Some of the people who had marvelled at Jesus’ miracles and were captivated by his teachings quickly and completely change their minds, as they sense the weight of opinion shifting against him. According to the Bible, Jesus was taken to Pilate where a large crowd was beginning together. The idea was that the Roman governor would quickly rubber stamp the death sentence and ratify the Sanhedrin decision. But Pilate hesitated. Something about the Son of God kept him from pronouncing the verdict he’d made so many times before, and he decided that a good flogging should be punishment enough. But after Christ back had been torn open by the Roman whip, the unexpected happen, Pilate turned to the crowd and said, “Do you want me to release him?” Back in those days, it was customary to let one prisoner go each Passover season, and Pilate hoped they would choose Jesus. But the crowd did the unthinkable and asked for the release of Barabas, a man who was convicted of murder. “So what do you want me to do with Jesus?” Pilate asked. And then the Bible records one of the most awful moments in the history of the human race. From Mark 15:13 and 14.
“So they cried out again, Crucify Him. “Then Pilate said to them, “Why, what evil has he done? “And they cried out more exceedingly, Crucify Him.”
Not only did the religious leaders condemn Jesus to die, but a raging mob did too. And symbolically in that mob. We find the whole of the human race, expressing their hatred for God. On the day of the crucifixion, the odds were stacked against Jesus. Both the government and the people wanted him dead. But there was still one more force working against him the weight of the Roman Empire. You see, the judges were corrupt, and the people were vicious. And you would think some disciplined Roman soldiers could put a stop to the whole thing. But they didn’t. Instead, they took the easy way out, they let it happen. If executing Jesus could smooth out a tense situation in Jerusalem, then Jesus simply had to go. And worse than that, the Romans treated the whole thing as some kind of sick and cruel fun. Here’s what Mark says happened in Mark 15:16-18.
“They call together the whole garrison, “and they clothed him with purple “and they twisted a crown of thorns, “put it on his head and began to salute him, “Hail King of the Jews.”
It was Roman soldiers who blindfolded Jesus. It was Roman soldiers who hit him on the head spat on him and then taunted him. It was Roman soldiers who put the beams of wood on Christ’s back. It was Roman soldiers who led him to the place of the skull, Golgotha. It was Roman soldiers who nailed Him to the cross and lifted it up and waited for him to die. It was Roman soldiers, who made sure that the Sanhedrin got their man. It was Roman soldiers who made sure that the voices of the crown prevailed, and the might of the Roman Empire finally thrust a spear into Jesus’ side. On the cross, you see the Son of God condemned to die by the people he created. He was crushed by the power of Rome, and left utterly alone, rejected by us for his righteousness, and seemingly rejected by heaven because of our sins. But the thing that really draws us to the cross is that it isn’t the end of the story. Jesus came back from the impossible, back from death itself. Three powerful forces conspired to destroy him, but he ended up defeating them all. First, he took on the irresistible force of the Roman Empire. A Roman guard was posted at the entrance to the tomb where Jesus was buried. And this was a squad of really tough, disciplined soldiers. They were men who knew that they would pay with their lives if a prisoner got away. And more than that, a Roman seal had been placed on the stone that covered the tomb. So anybody who broke that seal would have to face the wrath of Caesar himself. In other words, the Roman Empire was making sure that the body of Jesus of Nazareth stayed exactly where they put it in the tomb. But according to Matthew, here’s what happened on that Sunday morning.
“And behold, there was a great earthquake, “for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, “and came and rolled back the stone from the door “and sat on it. “His countenance was like lightning, “and his clothing as white as snow. “And the guards shook for fear of him “and became like dead men.”
That might have been the best guarded tomb in history. But Jesus walked right out of it. The seal flew off the stone, and the guards went into shock. They were so afraid they became as stiff as corpses A resurrected Christ, walked right past the best the Roman army had to offer. Even the most horrifying method of execution imaginable wasn’t enough to stop the Son of God. But Jesus wasn’t finished yet. He had to defeat the power of the Sanhedrin. And to let them know that they were completely powerless against God. So when the soldiers came to tell them that the body had disappeared, they turned as white as sheets. It just wasn’t possible. How in the world did it happen? If the public found out that Jesus was missing, it might turn public opinion against them. So they came up with a story, handing the soldiers a big bag of hush money. They said, “Listen, here’s what you’re going to say. “The disciples came by last night and stole the body “while you guys were sleeping.” Now, perhaps that was the best they could do. But if you think about it, there’s a big hole in that story. Because how in the world would the soldiers know that’s what happened if they were sleeping? And furthermore, what Roman soldier would ever admit to sleeping on duty? And even more than that? How would they ever explain the people who had actually seen Jesus after his resurrection? The apostle Paul actually tells us that Jesus appeared to a whole series of people right after the resurrection. And that was something those people would talk about for the rest of their lives. Here’s what Paul says.
“He rose again the third day according “to the Scriptures, “and that he was seen by Cephas, “then by the twelve. “After that, he was seen by over 500 brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. After that, he was seen by James, then by all the apostles.
Jesus appeared in the flesh to all these people. He talked to them, he ate with them, he touched them, and they touched him. So there was no why the Sanhedrin was going to be able to convince them that Jesus was still dead. And so in his most glorious moment, Jesus completely reversed the plot against him by the rulers. But there was still one force that had to be reckoned with. It was the voices of the angry mob that it called for his execution. And Jesus tackled the court of public opinion through the preaching of his disciples. In Acts chapter two, Peter is standing in the courtyard of the temple, just weeks after the crucifixion. He’s speaking to a large crowd that has gathered for the day of Pentecost, and he reminds them of some of the Old Testament prophecies that predicted the Messiah. And then he utters these words found in Acts chapter two.
“Jesus of Nazareth, “a man attested by God, “being delivered by the determined counsel “and foreknowledge of God. “You have taken by lawless hands, “have crucified and put to death, “whom God raised up, “having loosed the pains of death, “because it was not possible that he should be held by it.”
On this day, even though he’d once failed Jesus, Peter was fearless. He stood up to the crowd and told them, “You are responsible for the death of Jesus, “but now he’s alive.” According to the Bible, the people were cut to the heart. It finally sunk in that they’d killed God’s Son. And so they screamed out. “What are we going to do?” That day, about 3000 people put their faith in Jesus Christ, about the same number of people this theatre seats. A crowd that had once called for Jesus’ death, now called for Jesus’ mercy. They became part of a growing movement that would turn the world upside down for the kingdom of God. Today those voices are still telling the story. Jesus has conquered the grave. The Sanhedrin couldn’t stop him. The crowds couldn’t stop him. The Roman Empire couldn’t stop him. And even death itself couldn’t stop him. And why did Jesus do it? The answer is very simple. He did it for you. He wanted to close the impossible gap between God and the human race.
He wanted to find a way to redeem you and restore you to the kingdom of God. As he hung on the cross, it wasn’t just the nails that held him there. It was actually his overwhelming love for you. And because Jesus overcame against all odds, he can offer you a better life. You might feel as if the winds of life are whipping you senseless, as if you can’t possibly face another challenge or another day. But today, Jesus asks you to take heart. Even the grave couldn’t stop him. And by holding his nail scarred hand, you can face just about anything too.
Today, you can make a comeback. You can make a comeback from divorce, you can make a comeback from cancer. You can make a comeback from financial disaster. Even if your life is falling apart. You can go through the worst and come out with flying colours. With Jesus, you can have new hope. Maybe the crowd has turned against you. Maybe the government has let you down. Maybe those who are supposed to protect you have done just the opposite. Don’t forget that Jesus faced all that too. And he promises to turn all the tables one day soon. You see, this old world is not going to last forever in its present condition. The promise of God is that he will one day personally wipe away your tears and give you a better life in a world where these things don’t happen anymore. And on that day, you will finally see Jesus face to face. And you’ll be able to thank him in person for what he did at the cross for you. If you’d like to know more about Jesus and Passion Week, and what it really means for us, as well as the positive changes that can bring to our lives, then I’d like to recommend the free gift we have for all our Incredible Journey viewers today it’s the easy to read booklet, “The Story of Redemption.” This booklet is our gift to you and is absolutely free. I guarantee there are no costs or obligations whatsoever. So take this wonderful opportunity to receive the free gift we have for you today.
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If you’ve enjoyed today’s journey to Oberammergau, and the story of Passion Week, then be sure to join us again next week, when we will share another of life’s journeys together. And now I’d like to invite you to join me as we pray. Dear Father in heaven, thank you for overcoming all those obstacles for us. Thank you for conquering even death itself. We want to place our bruised lives in your hands. We want you as our hope and our future. So we accept the gift of Christ’s pardoning grace, the gift of Christ rising from the grave for us, and the gift of his living a sinless life for us. Thank you for making us part of this great reversal of fortune. And thank you for making us part of your resurrected life. We know that right now. you’re preparing heavenly mansions for us, and we eagerly anticipate the day that we shall inhabit them and spend eternity with you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.