This week’s reading: Matthew 26:36-68
This week we will begin talking about the Passion of Christ. His suffering and death was always the Plan on how our Savior would save us. Here, we will discuss His final struggle in the Garden of Gethsemane, His unlawful arrest by the religious, His predicted abandonment by His closest friends and His mock trial at the Sanhedrin counsel. Please understand this if nothing else: the reason Jesus freely and willingly, (see Free Will here), endured all this for us is because of His devoted Love for the Father which moved Him to always obey His Holy Will. May we continue to learn to follow in His mighty footsteps, even if it means displaying our own “passion” for Christ. Listen to these sad verses:
“While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, arrived. With him was a large crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests and the elders of the people. Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: ‘The one I kiss is the man; arrest him.’ Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, ‘Greetings, Rabbi!’ and kissed him. Jesus replied, ‘Friend, do what you came for.’ Then the men stepped forward, seized Jesus and arrested him.” Mt 26:47-50 NIV
His final struggle. (Mt 36-46: Mk 14:32-42: Lk 22:40-46) Jesus knowing His Time had come, displays His great wisdom by praying. We see that He is filled with immense sorrow and is deeply troubled. Understandable, yes? He knew what He was about to face. The physical torment and cruelty, in addition to the soulful humiliation and rejection, were certainly nothing to look forward to. But the spiritual separation from the Father? Not to sense the Oneness He had always known? To truly undergo the devastating separation from Life, that death would cause? You and I cannot perceive such anguish because, even in our darkness moments on earth, when we have turned away from God and cannot sense His Light, God is still Present with us. Just because we cannot feel His Presence, does not mean He has abandoned us. Always remember Hebrews 13:5! But Jesus was about to be fully forsaken because He was taking upon Himself all the sin of the world. Light and darkness cannot coexist, (2Co 6:14), and so the Father must turn His back on Jesus Who has always been in perfect union with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Think sci-fyi here. Imagine having our spirit ripped out of our body so that we are only a shell of the person we used to be. This is sort of what will happen to Jesus. Sin will enter into a place that never knew sin. (2Co 5:21) Jesus will experience all the shame and guilt and horror of sin and its penalty, spiritual, soulful and physical death, and worse, a separation from the Trinity. I don’t claim to completely understand that last part, praise God none of us on earth can, but if we do not at least understand the Love of God behind this Passion of Christ, then one day, we will know this separation and know it for all eternity. Make sure that you, your loved ones and those God places in your path are aware of His final struggle. Because only God’s Love is the Way to true and everlasting Life.
What was His final struggle? Like you and me, Jesus had the potential to choose His Human Will over that of the Father’s Holy Will. Here in Gethsemane, we clearly hear the fight He was battling between the two opposing desires. The Father wanted Jesus to sacrifice Himself for the sake of Humanity, and thus fulfill His mission on earth. Jesus the Human, of course, did not want to experience any of the terrors we discussed above. And so He had to fight His urge to fall into Prideful temptation, by choosing what He wanted instead of the Will of the Father. This is our struggle too, isn’t it? As children of God, our hearts have chosen to follow Him, yet as children there remains that immaturity within that wants what we want a little more than we want what God wants. And we do this because we do not fully trust God yet. This is why growing in Christ is vital for the quality of our lives. The more we live by Faith in God, knowing that He loves us and would never tell us to do anything that would lead to our final demise, the more we will act like Jesus here and obey the Father, no matter what challenging things He may require from us. You see, it is only the Father’s Will that leads to true fulfillment. He has prepared good works for us to do while we are in this life, that will enhance this life, and prepare us for the next Eternal Life. (see Eph 2:10) I have often said, if we can only live in “the Gethsemane Moment,” like Jesus right here, pouring out to God our hesitations and questions, but then choosing to obey anyway, then our lives would be filled with a greater sense of peace, even in chaos, deeper joy, even in sorrow, and a wonderful sense of righteousness that would give us extraordinary strength and lead to a deeply satisfying life. Like us, Jesus would have to face the three real enemies: Satan, this world, and the hardest enemy, ourselves. Jesus had battled with the deception of Satan in the Wilderness and won by holding on to the written Word of God. (Mt 4:1-11) Jesus had dealt with the unbelief of the religious and the skepticism of the world throughout His worldly ministry by holding on to His Identity and Authority as the Incarnate Word of God. Now here, He battles Himself. Will He forsake the Father’s Will for His own? Of course not! Let us learn from our Lord how to win every battle we encounter by holding on to Scripture, by continuing to learn WHO we are in Christ and by surrendering our will to God’s with every choice we must make. Yes, I know this is a process- we are not going to get it all right, all the time- but too often we battle with the wrong enemy and fail. Instead, let us do what Jesus does here, turn to God, pray being honest, but then choose to surrender our hearts, submit our minds and obey whatever He commands of us. Because only God’s Love is the Way to true and everlasting Life.
His unlawful arrest. (Mt 14:47-56; Mk 14:43-50; Lk 22:47-53; Jn 18:1-11) The Bible says a crowd armed with swords and clubs guided by one of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus, comes to arrest Him. We read in the Gospel of John, when Jesus asks who they are seeking, and they say, “Jesus of Nazareth,” Jesus responds by saying, “I am He.” Immediately, they all draw back and fall to the ground. (Jn 18:4-6) What an amazing scene! It brings to mind the words of St Paul: at the mention of His Name, every knee will bow! (my paraphrase of Php 2:10) Every being, in heaven, on earth and under the earth will either bow out of humility, inspired by reverential respect for Jesus OR out of rebellious humiliation, inspired by rejection of Jesus. Here these oblivious guards do not even know why they fall to the ground, but fall they did. Judas then continues his betrayal by giving them the agreed upon sign of a kiss. You see, when a student kissed his rabbi, he was showing him respect and honor, as well as submission to his teaching and authority. Do we see how dreadful this kiss is? Of all the ways Judas could choose to betray Jesus His Master, this must be the most disgraceful one. Something meant as a loving action, becomes the complete polar opposite. And how does Jesus respond to this contemptible act? Listen to His words, “Friend, do what you came for.” Did you see it? Jesus calls Judas “friend”! I believe this was the final struggle of Judas. Would he repent or would he continue full force with his own agenda and follow his own will? We are going to spend more time talking about Judas next week, but for now, please notice how Jesus is still reaching out to Judas, calling him His friend. No matter what we have done, no matter what we are planning to do, please see Jesus reaching out to us, as well. He never gives up on us, until we give up on Him. Here Judas has passed the point of no return, but you and I have not, praise God! This arrest is unlawful because of the way it is being carried out. This arrest is unlawful because of the way they are treating the innocent Jesus. But this arrest is unlawful mostly because Judas is breaking the highest Law: Love. To the end Jesus is offering Love to His friend, but Judas refuses to receive it. May we not follow in his deadly footsteps. May we seek to trust God and love Him with as much love as we can muster. Because only God’s Love is the Way to true and everlasting Life.
What else happens during His unlawful arrest? After Judas betrays Jesus, one of His disciples pulls out a sword and cuts the ear of one of the guards. We learn in the Gospel of John that it is Peter who, surprise, acts impulsively to protect his Master, and it is Malchus, the high priest’s servant who pays the price. (Jn 18:10) Peter cuts off his ear, but Jesus puts a stop to the whole conflict before it turns into a raging battle. Jesus tells them all basically that violence just begets violence. God’s way of fighting battles is very different than that of humans. Instead of fighting back, trying to defend Himself physically, Jesus will surrender to the Father and choose to fight the most vital war, that of eternal sin and death. He freely and willingly, (again see Free Will here), submits to mankind and allows Himself to be arrested. In yet another act of Love, Jesus heals the ear of Malchus as He reminds His followers Who their Master is. Jesus says, “Do you think I cannot call on my father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?” (Mt 26:53-54) Jesus is the Commander in Chief of the entire Universe. Yet His main concern was fulfilling Scripture. Giving up His life so we may be saved and live forever, was always in the Plan. Ever since The Downfall, we humans having been breaking God’s Law of Love, and so, it was the mission of Jesus to fulfill that Law in our place. By taking on our sin, by dying to pay its penalty, by living love, Jesus makes it possible for us to follow in His magnificent footsteps. Does this mean we might be exposed to unlawful actions against us? Perhaps. But in the words of Jesus, “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (Jn 15:13 NLT) May we learn to fight the way Jesus did, instead of reacting like Peter. While his heart may have been in the right place, Peter’s actions did not display those of his Master. They do not lead to the life God desires for us to have, enjoy and share. Because only God’s Love is the Way to true and everlasting Life.
His predicted abandonment. (Mt 26:56; Mk 14:50) After the arrest of Jesus, and as He had predicted, “Then all the disciples deserted him and fled.” (see Mt 26:31& Mt 26:56) It is so difficult going through frightening situations when you have others around you, but can you imagine if you had to go through it all alone? This does not surprise Jesus, but I am sure it broke His troubled heart. The One Who promises to never leave nor forsake us, is left and forsaken by every human being in the world. And worse, by His closest friends! You and I were never created to live alone, to go through any situation- good, bad or ugly- all by ourselves. But here, Jesus has to endure the worst unrighteous act with no one by His side. And as we mentioned above, not even with the Father’s Loving Presence either. All alone. I have heard before, one of the most awful forms of torture is solitary confinement. Here this is, in essence, what Jesus begins to experience. No one to talk to. No one to lean on. No one to rescue Him. Yet Jesus knew what He knew. Scripture was His language. Jesus knew the Father loved Him and was well pleased with Him. Jesus knew He could trust the Father, no matter what the circumstances appeared to be. Jesus knew Who He was and what He came to do. As I have been writing this article, I have been envisioning scenes from the amazing movie, “The Passion of The Christ.” If you have never watched it, I hope you will humble yourself and submit to viewing it, and receive the depth of the Love of God as you watch it. Right here I am seeing the part where Jesus, bloodied from the scourging, and beginning His long walk to Calvary, He literally embraces the Cross. Certainly not because He loves the pain He is enduring. Certainly not because He is looking forward to the full abandonment, humiliation and death. But certainly because He knows what the result will be of His faithful obedience: the Salvation for Humanity. Fully abandoned, Jesus never abandons His purpose: to display His love for the Father by sacrificing His Life for God’s children. He gives up His earthly life so we may have Eternal Life. That. Is. Love. And that is what He came to give us. Because only God’s Love is the Way to true and everlasting Life.
His mock trial. (Mt 57-68; Mk 14:53-65; Jn 18:12-13, 19-24) Jesus must undergo two mock trials. First here before the Sanhedrin, His own people. Then later before the Gentiles, with the Roman puppet King Herod and the governor of Jerusalem, Pontus Pilate. The moment Jesus is taken to these religious, they begin looking for false evidence to condemn Him. This is what the Bible says, they “were looking for false evidence against Jesus”! (Mt 26:59) Oh my goodness! One must wonder at the state of the hearts of these religious, right? It is one thing to believe that someone is guilty and look for legitimate evidence to support that, but it is a whole other kind of wickedness to try to conjure up false evidence against someone. They started with an agenda- arrest and kill Jesus- then they tried to come up with lies that would justify their selfish desires. In the beginning Jesus does not say a word, and why should He? He does not have to dignify any of that falsehood. He does not have to justify Himself against such deceptive fabrication. He IS Truth and until He hears any truth being said, He remains silent. Imagine the strength that took! I know I have a hard time holding my tongue when someone says something wrong about me! Jesus remains silent in the midst of all His sorrow and troubled heart, after enduring the most unlawful arrest, while feeling abandoned by everyone, and here, being mocked at this joke of a trial. Jesus. Remains. Silent. That is until He finally hears a kernel of truth. He is commanded by the high priest, “I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” (Mt 26:63) Then Jesus does what He always does, He speaks Truth. And for this what does He get? The greatest form of injustice, condemned to die and die upon the Roman’s torture device, the Cross. Again this does not surprise Jesus, but I am sure it broke His troubled heart. And why was He so troubled? Yes, for all the reasons we have mentioned so far, but furthermore, God has always been, and continues to be, troubled at the depth of the sinfulness of humanity. We are each so self-centered, self-absorbed, selfish that we seek only to fulfill our own will. That is, until we hear the Truth. The Truth is we are sinners who cannot save ourselves. Because of this, we are doomed to an eternity of separation from God and all that is good. But praise God the Truth does not stop there. For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Begotten Son that whosoever will believe in Him, will not perish, but have everlasting life. (Jn 3:16) When we hear this Truth, when we begin to grasp this Love, when we desire this Eternal Life, more than anything else, then we can surrender our hearts, submit our minds and obey God’s Will. Then we can receive God’s Love and live by it. Because only God’s Love is the Way to true and everlasting Life.
His amazing Passion. We will continue with this most selfless act of Love by our Lord for the next couple of weeks. But again, if you do not grasp anything else except that God loves YOU that deeply, that He would send His one and only Begotten Son to pay for YOUR sin debt so that YOU could be with Him in Heaven for all Eternity, then you have understood the most important message of the Good News. Again I say, God loves YOU. This Truth should move us to respond with a similar, albeit immature love, as well. This is what our Father desires, for His children to return some of the great Love He has lavished upon us, by first surrendering our lives to Him, then by beginning to live a life reflecting we have done so. Every time I allow the Passion of Christ to stir my own passion for Christ, I love Him with all I’ve got and I love my neighbor too. This leads to my life being more fulfilling and abundant. Want that too? Then won’t you join me?
Until we meet again, keep lifting your eyes to God, He’s closer than you think.
<>< Peace, Diane