Jesus bared his soul to his friends. “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death: remain here, and watch with me.” Leaving them, Jesus fell on his face crying, Father, if there is any way possible to accomplish Your will without going through this, BUT “Nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” Battling all the dark forces of the universe marshalled against him trying to force his I don’t want to but I WILL TO I won’t! But that meant that repairing the divide between humans and God was not worth it. This was Satan’s message –They are not worth the pain and suffering. Go ahead, break God’s heart Jesus and say no! Jesus returned to his disciples, hoping to find some comfort in their prayer support. They were not praying but sleeping. “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not watch one hour? Watch and pray with me that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.’” Words not just for Peter – Jesus is describing his own battle! No human comfort or support to soften the blow, Jesus moves away from them into the deep darkness. Slithering around him, the serpent whispering that he need not drink this cup of sorrow…Surely in your humanness you will not be able to do this! Use your divinity to rescue yourself. Humans are not worth it…look at your so-called friends! They could not even watch for an hour! Excruciating pain racks his body. Blood to pools closer to the surface of his skin coming out in the sweat that saturates his robe. Jesus prays, “Abba, Father…Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” Jesus accepts. NO, Jesus embraces his condemnation…his death. “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of salvation to all who obey him…” Hebrews 5:7-9
Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus to the priests which led to his arrest and crucifixion. Oh, how indignant we are! We would never do such a thing.
Judas was in the inner circle and he did it anyway. And as Christians we are in the inner circle when we attend church. But we betray Jesus all the time. Judas did it for the reward. Likewise, we betray Jesus when we allow cruelty to go unchallenged because we prefer the reward of the good favor of the world over that of Christ. Judas identified Jesus to the priests by giving him a kiss. How many times do we sing a song of praise and then turn around and behave completely unlike what Jesus wanted?
The sin in Judas lives in all of us.
Having been betrayed, scorned and arrested, Jesus is finally
brought before Pilate. The chief priests and elders charge him, yet Jesus gives
them no response - leaving all witnesses amazed. And so Pilate brings Jesus
before a great crowd and that crowd is given the choice: to free either
Jesus or Barabbas. Startlingly, the crowd crows the name of Barabbas, and
Pilate asks what, then, they would have him do with Jesus? At this, the
overwhelming response was "Crucify him."
We tend to distance ourselves from these people, refusing to recognize how these same events have transpired in our own lives. Our empathy is irrevocably clouded by pride - glorifying our own agendas in hasty “what-ifs” and “I wouldn’t do that-s”. Are we so blinded to the fact that the actions of Pilate and the crowd mimic the treatment of God in our own lives? Just as Jesus was prosecuted by Pilate, we too put God on trial. How often do we accuse God; demanding recompense, compensation? As Pilate hears the accusations of the chief priests and elders, he looks to Jesus for an excuse, an apology - something to diffuse the conflict. Yet Jesus gives them no satisfaction. Similarly, we tend to accuse God, pleading him for a clear answer - crying out for satisfaction. Yet truly that satisfaction would be empty and God needs no justification. God's grace is freely given - not a product of our indiction.
God's grace is furthered with context. Jesus didn't come to forgive the sins of a faultless people. Rather, he came to forgive those of a broken people - the same people that would try and crucify him. Is that not good news? In this season of Lent, take a moment to reflect on how you've prosecuted God in your own life. What have you demanded as compensation? Remember that in the midst of all of this, God is listening, patiently allowing us to level our charges against him. How fortunate are we to serve a God who has already given his grace freely, whether we are those defending - or those prosecuting.
Empty of belief, Jesus’ persecutors gave him empty homage: a crown, but of thorns; an “Ave!” spat in the face. Such mockery was meant to scourge the soul, to tear open and bleed out a man’s dignity. How could such words—spoken in ignorance—fail to lodge in the heart of one who had once known glory beyond human comprehension?
Can you hear the hiss of an ancient serpent blending with every jeer and howl? Surely an army of invisible angels looked on as well, straining to hear one word that might command their forces to end this massacre of justice! Every insult, every blow dealt was a slap in the face of God, Himself—and yet, Jesus accepted their false tribute in silence. Why did he allow it? Why did he not speak?!? As the guilt of his tormentors piled up before heaven, Jesus inexplicably took their shame and bore it as his own.
“He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.” Isaiah 53:7
“Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” John 3:14-15
This comparison of Jesus on the cross and the snake on Moses’ staff was given to a Pharisee named Nicodemus. He would have known the story well, being a Jewish scholar. By all accounts, He was known by many as “Israel’s teacher”. Yet, he was stunned when this Rabbi named Jesus began to teach about being born again. “How can this be?”, was his question for Jesus. Not knowing that not long after their meeting, Jesus would be crucified.
Such a cruel and dehumanizing practice, to force the death row prisoner to carry their cross – as if to say “You’ve done this to yourself – now think about what you’ve done as you walk this last road – alone.” What was going through Jesus’ mind as he carried that cross? Almighty God, wrapped up in broken and bloody flesh in unspeakable pain – yet we know that His heart was still full of love.
“How can this be?”
It was the Pharisees and religious leaders who led the cheers as Jesus was given his method of torture and death, but we know from John 19 that Nicodemus was not among them. His encounter with Jesus changed him, and he, with Joseph of Arimathea, prepared Jesus’ body for burial. I imagine Nicodemus might have been thinking, “How can this be? This Rabbi that spoke of eternal life is now dead in my arms. And still, I believe. I’ve never been the same since He spoke with me, and I won’t turn away now.”
My doubt does not negate my belief. It means my faith is alive.
Jesus, flogged and beaten, now stumbles under the weight of the cross, the instrument of his own torture and death. We see his humanity on display, the weakness of his physical body. More than that, we witness his submission to the Father unto death, a costly sacrifice of love.
Jesus understood that his death was necessary in order for life to be available for many. God is good to reinforce this truth to us in myriad ways in his creation. Every fall and winter, we watch nature die, trees and plants shedding their leaves and flowers. The seemingly dead and insignificant detritus that clutters our yards and sidewalks already contains the beginning of new life, seeds of promise hoping to find a home in the soil and bloom once more. Even though we have seen it so many times, it is hard to trust that something beautiful will be born from all that seems barren and dead.
Death grieves God. He does not want it for us nor for his precious Son. And yet death is often required to make room for what is new, both in this life and as we are ushered into the next. Even as we grieve what is lost, even as we watch Jesus stumble and fall, can we also trust that with God, something new might emerge? Can we hope for spring?
Truly, truly, I say to you,
unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies,
it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.
If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” Matthews 16:24
I imagine that carrying a man sized, heavy, rough cross through dirty streets and up hills to the cacophony of an angry, bitter, jeering crowd would not have been Simon’s first choice for a job following in the kingdom of God. Was he a part of the crowd of spectators moments before he was grabbed and a cross was thrust on him? Was Jesus’ blood already dripping into the dust from his beatings and crown of thorns? Did it make it harder to walk, harder to keep pace when Jesus stumbled and staggered?
I am convicted by this image because, if I am honest, I don’t want a heavy cross. I want to follow Jesus but, I’d rather take a car than walk that road next to Him.
It is easy for me to worship comfort over the cross.
I am willing to say yes when it is simple or fits into my plan, or brings me praise. It is much less appealing when it costs me, when it hurts, when I am criticized by people. When Jesus walked on toward death He also was nearing the resurrection, to follow Him takes both. I do want all of Jesus and the wholeness of life as a daughter of the King. His heir not only gets the riches but also the task to carry on her father’s work.
I won't find real peace in comfort but, I will find it in his footsteps.
The Gospel was suffocated in a time when it breathed.
Today, the Gospel message is shared distant of a time when God walked among us demonstrating the type of relationship He was after with His children. How much more is it rejected since then, when Jesus’ presence was not in question. A relationship with Jesus was a little more physically tangible.
What we long for, they had. Yet they rejected Him, stripping Him of the same creation gifts the Father had given them. They did not realize they were cutting themselves off from God by removing Christ.
Such irony. Christ becomes their dead branch much like our kindling for a fire. Living branches produce only smoke, but a dead branch is able to burn; in turn producing heat to stay warm. Through Christ’s resurrection His sacrifice becomes the source for life.
The blood from the whips seeps into the sand. The blood from his crown of thorns runs in rivulets. He is laid on a wooden stake and his arms are stretched out and held fast to crosspieces. He appears to be stretching out to encompass the world in his embrace. But hammers fall over and over as huge nails are driven into the hands that had reached so tenderly for his sheep. More of his blood spills into the sand.
Then he is lifted up, cross and all, and displayed to the people gathered there. They did not know at that time that his blood would lift them up as well.
For thousands of years every time an Israelite sinned they brought an unblemished lamb to the priest and it was sacrificed, for the sin of the people. That had become routine or even resented since one had to sacrifice a very good lamb. Early in Jesus public ministry, John the Baptist had identified him, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” What? Jesus a lamb? What that meant would be played out on a dark Friday. We call it Good Friday. Jesus, the lamb of God was put on the cross and sacrificed for the sin of the people. Death in one of the horrific ways possible marked by suffering and deep shame. This was good? Jesus is not the only one described as a lamb. Isaiah says we all are “all like sheep” and have gone astray; we have turned – everyone – to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” Once a year on the Day of Atonement the people sat while the priests did all the work of sacrificing for every sin, known and unknown. EVERY SIN was covered in a bloody day of hard work until it was “finished.” And the Jesus, the lamb on the cross was doing the excruciating work of atonement both as high priest and sacrificial lamb in his death, until he cried “It is finished.” The Jews in the crowd looking on would have remembered those words uttered by the high priest at the end of the Day of Atonement. The final lamb had been sacrificed. That lamb is still our lamb and Good Friday is good because of the vision John describes in Revelation, “And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain…” Revelation 5:6
“But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for your iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.” Isaiah 53:4
There are rituals around death. Like so many momentous changes in our lives, our communities have constructed ways to process and accept the losses we face. Jesus new that his friends would have to face the loss of Him. He knew that their faith, their hope would be challenged and stretched. They had said he was the Messiah but, what now? I imagine as the women who loved him prepared the oils and herbs that they wept. This was not something they had planned on doing, not now, not for him. When Joseph asked for His body, was he in daze? They wrapped his body, they laid him down, going through the things you do when someone dies. Was it surreal?
The plans I’ve set down for my life, the expectations of how I would live and what my life would be like can be derailed so quickly. Jesus asks me to hold loosely. He asks me to trust him, to walk by faith in His ways, His plan, over mine. It’s so easy to say. It’s much harder to put my plans away and follow Him, by faith.
I am grateful for people in my life who show be their faith and bravery. Their abiding in the Father not on the things they can see. Their faithfulness to change directions if that is where God asking them to go for His glory. It calls me out from seeing the death of my own dreams as the end. It shows me the life in the new morning.
For certain, what I expect must often be buried, replaced by a brave step of obedience and surrender.
I am the good shepherd.
The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.
The Lord has always been our shepherd. He has led us out of slavery, he has led us through the wilderness, and he has faithfully searched for us when we have gone astray. At every juncture, our shepherd has taken responsibility for our wrongdoing, repaired our broken promises, and guided us with discipline and love.
But in Jesus, our good shepherd has drawn even closer. We have held him as a child, eaten with him, poured oil upon his feet, wept with him. He has felt our hunger and our thirst, healed our wounds. He has known the scourge of betrayal, persecution and pain. Always, our benefit lies before him. Because this is his heart, he briefly leaves us, in order to walk alone into the darkest night. For three days he journeys alone, far from his sheep, and away from his own family. He does this so that we, his sheep, will be with him forever.
Now he rises. Glory! This is the moment that was ordained from the beginning of time, the grand reconciliation of the Father with his children through his son. Like our shepherd, we are now clothed in white and fully welcomed into the fold. Our robes have eternal significance. We may now follow our shepherd into everlasting life. And yet, such power and good news remains close and personal. Always, our Lord sees the one. Once more, even in his glorified form, he greets the women. He walks with those who are sad and confused on the Emmaus road. He dines with his disciples. He takes Thomas’ hand and places it on his scars. In John 10:10, our shepherd Jesus says, “I have come that they may have life and have it in all its fullness.” Thank you, dear Shepherd, for the gift of your life for our life. Shepherd us always, from now into eternity. Amen.