As we approach Good Friday and Easter Sunday, some brief thoughts on this most powerful of stories. Let’s begin in the garden.
Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray.” And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”
Last year, I had the privilege of visiting Israel. We spent a day in Jerusalem, a location that my father-in-law (a retired missionary) had wanted to visit all his life. We visited the garden, and it was a disappointment. To quote from a previous post . . .
The trees are very old—around eight hundred years—but there are hardly more than ten left. The reason? They’ve built churches and religious buildings all over the place. The Basilica of the Agony is a huge structure right next to the garden. And then there’s the Tomb of the Virgin on the other side. Much has changed in the past two thousand years. I had imagined a large, tree-filled space in which we could wander. Instead, in the church, you can kneel next to the rock where Jesus is believed to have wept his tears of agony. I’m sure you can donate to the church also.
But let’s return to the passage. Jesus tells his disciples that his soul is “very sorrowful, even to death.” This is an insight into an emotional man. Never let it be said that Jesus was some buttoned up stiff-upper-lip ascetic who held it all in. Keep calm and carry on! Not Jesus. He got angry, cried, became frustrated and showed us in many ways that emotions are innately human. He joined us in our humanity, and there are few things more human than weeping. I love him for this. I just love that he has felt as I feel. He understands perfectly what I feel, not because he is me, but because he made me human, in the divine image, and has felt the whole gamut of human emotions in a human body. The tightening of the stomach, the stinging tears, the ache inside, all those physical responses that we feel, he has been there.
So I do not weep alone. He weeps with me.
Before the trial, the arrest.
In that hour Jesus said to the crowd, ‘Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? Every day I sat in the temple courts teaching, and you did not arrest me. But this has all taken place that the writings of the prophets might be fulfilled.’ Then all the disciples deserted him and fled.
This has all taken place that the writings of the prophets might be fulfilled. Over and over, Jesus reminds his followers that his path is decided. Things must happen a certain way. It has been prophesied. So Jesus lived his life in a particular way, one already mapped out for him.
Right now, I’m listening to the Harry Potter novels through Audible, read by the inimitable Stephen Fry. In the final book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, we find these memorable lines.
“So the boy…the boy must die?” asked Snape quite calmly.
“And Voldemort himself must do it, Severus. That is essential.”
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. J.K. Rowling
There are dozens of similarities between Harry Potter and the Christian gospels. Harry frequently exhibits Christ-like attributes and the story culminates, of course, in some dramatic final scenes during which he dies, returns, and triumphs over his adversary, Voldemort. Yet in the quote above, the similarity relates to his destiny. Harry doesn’t know it, but his destiny is being overseen by a father-figure in Albus Dumbledore, a god-like character, who declares that he must die. His death is planned, and the actions of both Snape and Dumbledore are required to ensure it happens.
In the gospels, Christ’s self-knowledge far exceeds Harry Potter’s. He knows what’s coming, submitting to his father and the Scriptures that outline the path he is to take. He submits himself to his destiny. It is one of the most remarkable things about the Lord Jesus, that in every moment of the Passion narrative, he willingly chooses to lay down his life. He has completely surrendered to his destiny—to be the sacrificial lamb foretold many centuries before.
Oh the beauty of such a life, and oh how often we struggle to follow in his footsteps.
For instead of submitting to our submissive Christ, we continue to rail against him, complaining, and rebelling, and thinking we know best. We always need to be wary not to sit in judgement over the Scriptures, assessing whether our God has acted according to our modern sensibilities. So, some devotional questions to consider.
Am I guilty of judging God?
Do I submit to his ways?
This year, what is God teaching me about himself through the Passion narratives?
There they offered Jesus wine to drink, mixed with gall; but after tasting it, he refused to drink it. When they had crucified him, they divided up his clothes by casting lots. And sitting down, they kept watch over him there. Above his head they placed the written charge against him: this is jesus, the king of the jews. . . In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. ‘He saved others,’ they said, ‘but he can’t save himself! He’s the king of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, “I am the Son of God.”’ In the same way the rebels who were crucified with him also heaped insults on him.
Matt 27.34-37; 41-44
Did you notice that? When they had crucified him, they divided up his clothes by casting lots. Scholars differ in their opinions, but many believe that Christ was crucified naked. Completely naked. It was part of the humiliation, and must have been excruciating. These hours on the cross are situated right at the heart of the Christian faith. Sometimes I think the theological implications of these events overwhelm our appreciation for the depth of suffering taking place. The physical agony we know about. Movies have shown it in agonising detail. But lest we forget, what takes place in those three hours is a profound and mysterious agony for God and wrenching dislocation for Creation. And it is done willingly for our sakes. This is our God, who went through a kind of torment that we will never truly understand nor appreciate. How great the Father’s love, we sing. Indeed. What grace, what mercy, when Christ took upon himself our sin and its penalty. No greater agony can be imagined.
Yet he did this for you. And for me.
As you meditate on the Passion this year, may you see its truth and wonder with new eyes. Pray both for eyes to see and ears to hear.
He loves you. Oh, he loves you with a love far beyond your imagining.
Worship him today.