For Part 4 go HERE
In the course of researching this blog post I cried solidly. The enormity of what Jesus was doing struck home in an overwhelming way that it never has done before. I don’t know why, I’ve been reading these verses for a decade now, but suddenly it was all so shockingly personal; as if every so often I was seeing the word ‘Rachel’ written through it. Jesus did this for me and he did it for every single other person who reads these chapters and responds to it.
I can’t think for a minute that I’m going to do justice to this subject. Any failing is wholly my own. Jesus however is… I’m struggling. There aren’t good enough words to describe what he’s doing here.
Actually, perhaps there is one: Love.
It’s Passover week in Jerusalem, the festival that remembers the time when God rescued the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt. After striking the Egyptians with plague after plague (and Pharaoh still not letting them go), God sends a final terrible plague: The death of all Egypt’s firstborn.
To spare the Jewish families, God asked them to slaughter a ‘perfect’ lamb and smear its blood on the top and sides of the door-frames of their houses (Exodus 12). That way they would be protected from death. The lamb was then roasted and eaten as it still is today, as a remembrance of the amazing rescue plan that God put in place for them.
Passover is a very special meal. It’s full of meaning and requires special preparation. That’s why a couple of disciples were sent ahead to make the preparations for it.
Jesus chose to share this Passover with his disciples and perhaps they may have sensed that this was no ordinary meal. That sense would have been confirmed when Jesus did and said two things that didn’t usually happen: He took the bread, gave thanks to God for it and broke it. He handed it to those around the table saying that it was his body that was broken for them. He later took the cup of wine, gave thanks to God for it and passed it around, saying that it was his blood that was poured out for the forgiveness of sins; a new covenant between God and people (Matthew 26: 26-29, Mark 14:22-25, Luke 22:14-20).
The bread and the wine are integral parts of the Passover meal, but here they become something new. A new way of remembering another rescue plan that just like that first Passover, hadn’t taken place yet. But this isn’t just another rescue plan, this is the ultimate rescue plan. This wasn’t about being rescued from slavery, this was about being rescued and redeemed from sin itself.
And this is not a matter of paying lip service to the word ‘sacrifice’. Jesus’ body HAS to be broken, his blood HAS to be shed, he HAS to die to enable this redemption to happen. Jesus knew this, Jesus said this and as you might expect, his disciples are having a hard time accepting it. They’ve been with him pretty much every day for three years and now he’s talking about crucifixion and dying? It’s a given that they are going to try and talk him out of that one.
So he went to great lengths to explain it. You can read what he said in John chapters13-17. This is the bit that I cried the whole way through. May be it’s just the very plain and simple way the New Living Translation puts it, but I was completely transported to that room and imagined that I was one of the people that Jesus was speaking to. What came across to me was overwhelming love and servanthood. This isn’t an act, these are no trite, well-meaning words that are going to look good in the leather-bound gold-embossed edition of the Bible; these are the words from a man who who is utterly devoted, to his Father God, to every one of the men in this room and ultimately, to every one of us.
It starts with simple foot-washing, the job of the most lowly household servant and ends with Jesus praying for each and every person who will ever read his words and believe them! I dare you to read it! But please, don’t read it in the King James version. I know it’s much prized and it’s just celebrated its 400th birthday, but it’s not the English you would use everyday. Read it in a modern translation; in plain, simple, everyday English. I would completely recommend the New Living Translation. If you don’t have one, you can read it HERE.
When the Passover meal was finished, the group (minus Judas, who had left to go and do what he sadly needed to do), went over to the the garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives. Here, Jesus asked them to stay with him and keep him company (keep watch) while he prayed. They didn’t of course, being most likely overcome by the effects of a large meal and the exhaustion from the grief of Jesus’ repeated statements that one of them was going to betray him and he would be crucified.
Again we don’t see an anodyne cardboard cut-out Jesus who swans about as if nothing affects him. Luke 22:39-44 shows us a man who is in extreme agony from what is about to happen. He knows what’s coming, he knows what needs to be done and he asks that the task be taken from him – an acknowledgement of how much this hurts. But in the end there is no wimping out from Jesus, there is only the stark “Yet I want your will not mine.”
Our Father who art in Heaven, Hallowed be thy name, Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done…
How many times have we said those words and as Aldous Huxley said, never had the slightest intention of letting anyone’s will be done but our own? For Jesus there is no such option; God’s will prevails.
And then we move into the endgame. A group of soldiers and priests arrive and Judas, as we all know, betrays Jesus with a kiss of greeting. He isn’t going to come to a very happy end, but if he didn’t do this and if Jesus hadn’t stopped Peter from fighting off the soldiers, then Jesus may not have been crucified and 2.5 billion people around the world today (and countless more throughout history) would never know the reality of what he’s about to do for them.
Jesus is dragged away under arrest to the house of the High Priest where he is subjected to a mock trial. They have nothing to convict him of apart from one thing: His answer to the question “Are you the Messiah, the Son of God?”
He answers without hesitation: “Yes, it is as you say…”
It’s the truth, but they don’t want to to see it. To them it’s blasphemy and there is only one punishment for that: Death.
Outside, Peter has followed the soldiers and is in the courtyard waiting to see what will happen to Jesus. He’s recognised as being one of Jesus’ followers, but he denies it repeatedly. As the rooster crows to meet the dawn of Friday, Peter is suddenly struck by the truth of the words Jesus said to him earlier, when Peter was adamant (Mark 14:29), that he would die for Jesus:
“75Suddenly, Jesus’ words flashed through Peter’s mind: “Before the rooster crows, you will deny three times that you even know me.” And he went away, weeping bitterly.
Peter, like so many of us are happy to stand by Jesus in the good times and pledge our allegiance to him. But how many of us will stand when we face persecution for being Christians? But unlike Judas who didn’t feel able to come back to Jesus, Peter did. Peter messed up as we all do from time to time, but he asked Jesus’ forgiveness and through Peter, God went on to do some amazing things. Never underestimate God’s ability to do something astonishing through a person who specialises in getting it wrong.
But right now, Peter is running as fast as he can away from a scene of utter failure. The disciples are scattered, Judas has betrayed their friend, Jesus has been convicted of blasphemy and condemned to death. It’s dawn on Friday and in order to have Jesus crucified, the priests need to get him before the Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate.
What can possibly be good about this Friday…?