Perhaps Shakespeare’s tragedy, Julius Caesar, brought the idea of the Ides of March to English speakers. Without his play, it seems that March 15 might not be remembered as the day Julius Caesar was assassinated. A Roman seer warned Caesar to be wary of that day. Before the day dawned, Calpurnia, Caesar’s wife, had a nightmare. In it, she was holding her murdered husband. That morning Caesar hesitated to go to the Senate but was convinced he had nothing to worry about.
Unless you read history or study Shakespeare, the date would mean little. But in March and April this year and other years, we celebrate another death that means a great deal—the death of Jesus. His death was announced by more than a nightmare or a seer with a vague warning of the Ides of March. Details of his death were sprinkled throughout the Old Testament.
Centuries earlier, Isaiah was clear: “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him” (53:5). Even before that, David almost seems to be watching Jesus’ death and recording Jesus’ thoughts. He wrote, “All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads. ‘He trusts in the Lord,’ they say, ‘let the Lord rescue him.’ . . . My tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth. . . . They pierce my hands and my feet. . . . They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment” (Psalm 22:7,8,15-18).
Christians mark Good Friday, the death of Jesus, on the Friday after the first day of spring. Instead of a specific day like March 15, we match the calendar in use at the time of his death.
Caesar’s death and the death of Jesus are different, of course. Caesar did not wish to die. Jesus willingly died. He said, “I lay down my life. . . . No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord’ (John 10:17,18). Caesar’s death influenced the Mediterranean world for a time but now is important only to those interested in history. The death of Jesus continues to influence and be of importance to millions of people.
The Ides of March may not matter much to us. But it does matter what Lent is all about—the death of Jesus and the assurance of our forgiveness.
Why? As Isaiah said, “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. . . . He poured out his life unto death. . . . For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors” (53:6,12). We are justified by his sacrificial death for us and all sinners. That’s something neither Caesar nor anyone else in all of history could or can do.
There’s one more huge difference. Caesar is dead. Jesus is not. Jesus said, “I have authority to lay [my life] down and authority to take it up again” (John 10:18). Caesar with all his power could not do that. Jesus did and promised us something no one else can: “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life” (John 10:27,28).
The Ides of March may not matter much to us. But it does matter what Lent is all about—the death of Jesus and the assurance of our forgiveness. It also matters that Easter follows Lent, and we again celebrate victory over death. Jesus has the power and authority not only to take up his own life but also to call us out of our graves to eternal life with him. Let us celebrate and then proclaim his promises so other sheep might hear his voice and follow him.
Author: John A. Braun
Volume 108, Number 3
Issue: March 2021